Carol walks out of the kitchen carrying the plate of cookies and the glass of milk and stops short at the sight of Rindy and Therese. They’re both in their pajamas, lying on their stomachs in front of the Christmas tree. Their legs are kicked up behind them, and they’re talking conspiratorially about the presents on display.
“What about that one?” asks Rindy, pointing.
“The one with the kittens on the paper? Oh, I think that must be yours.”
“Well, who else do you know around here who likes kittens so much?”
“I do wish we had a kitten,” sighs Rindy.
Carol knows for a fact that Harge is getting Rindy a kitten for Christmas—something she’s trying not to resent. Her own Christmas presents will never live up to it.
“Well,” says Therese sagely. “I certainly hope there’s not a kitten under this tree—how terrible to wrap a kitten up in a box and stick it under a tree!”
Rindy looks over at her sharply, startled—and then bursts into giggles at the idea. Therese laughs, too, and Carol walks further into the room, glowing with love.
“Ho-ho-ho,” she announces. “It’s time to lay out the treats for Santa.”
“Oh, Mommy!” Rindy cries. “Therese just said the silliest thing about a kitten in a box and putting it under the tree, and—!” she breaks off, rolling over in a fresh fit of hilarity.
“Now you’ve done it,” Carol tells Therese. “We’ll have ourselves a giggle monster for the rest of the night.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” says Therese. “I think this one will be eager to go to bed and fall asleep.”
At once Rindy sits up again, looking indignant. “I will not!” she declares.
Therese rises to her knees with a carefree shrug. “Well, you know, Santa doesn’t come until you’re asleep. There’s no better night in the world to go to bed early. The sooner you’re asleep, the sooner Santa comes and morning comes and you get your presents.”
“It’s true, sweet pea,” says Carol.
Rindy looks momentarily mutinous, but then a pensive expression comes over her, and she says, “I think Daddy said that last year, too.”
“Well, there you have it,” Carol says brightly, even as her thoughts surge with something far from bright. Last year, Harge had Rindy. It was the beginning of the injunction and Carol didn’t even see her. She and Therese were already on the road, and had no idea how much worse things could get. Even now, a year later, thoughts of what Harge did to them are almost enough to crush any Christmas spirit she has.
But she’s determined not to let it. Rindy is with her this year, and Therese is with her, and this is all so much more than she could have dreamed for herself.
“Come help me bring this plate to the fireplace for Santa,” she says, smiling, “and then it’s straight to bed.”
Rindy comes over, accepting the plate of cookies, while Carol holds on to the milk. Together they carry them both to the hearth and set them down, and for a moment Rindy squats before the fireplace trying to look up the chimney. It’s a fake fireplace, all the apartments have them, though Rindy is unaware.
“Are you sure he can fit?” she asks.
“Oh, don’t worry about him,” Carol says. “He’s wily. Now say good night to Therese.”
Rindy practically flings herself into Therese’s arms, getting an oof of surprise and a laugh.
“Merry Christmas, Rindy. I’ll see you in the morning, all right?”
“Merry Christmas, Therese!” Rindy cries, and kisses her wetly on her cheek and springs up to grab Carol’s hand.
“I’ll be right back, Dearest,” Carol tells her. Therese responds with a little wink, which momentarily flusters her, and then an impatient Rindy is dragging her away.
About half an hour later, having changed into her own pajamas, Carol returns to the living room to find Therese still sat before the Christmas tree, gazing up at the lights. Once again, Carol comes to a standstill, watching. Something goes through her then, a flood of sensation that brings tears to her eyes. Therese is so incredibly beautiful, an angel in every sense, and the fact that she is here, that they are here—it is enough to make Carol believe in miracles. Unsticking her feet from the floor, she goes to Therese, and sits down next to her. Therese keeps looking up at the lights, which reflect in her bright eyes.
After a moment, she says, “I never had a Christmas like this.”
Carol runs a soothing hand down her arm, murmurs, “No?”
“The girl’s home was always so loud, and so… crowded. On Christmas Eve, the children were excited and happy, yes, but… all the presents were hand-me-downs or from local charities. Sometimes they were broken. And of course, we had no families. Most years, getting a present only made me sad.”
Carol nods, still gently stroking her arm. She knows that in fact there was only one present Therese ever got at the orphanage that she cared about: a birthday gift of green gloves from Sister Alicia, a gift she’d treasured too much even to wear. Now, there are gifts under the tree for Therese: a new watch to replace the one with its fraying leather band; a sweater she noticed in a shop last month; a new book by one of her favorite mystery writers; and a half dozen other things that Carol hadn’t been able to stop herself from buying her. Therese is actually a little miffed at her for it, because she has not bought her as many gifts, but Carol can bear her disapproval. Spoiling Therese seems like the best possible use of her Christmas bonus.
“Are you sad this year?” Carol asks her, hoping she knows the answer, but still, after less than a year of reunion, she’s anxious sometimes to be reassured.
At once, Therese turns her eyes from the lights, and looks at Carol. Her smile beams; her dimples on full display. She says, “This year I am… unbearably happy.”
Carol’s heart swells, and when she reaches for Therese, Therese takes her face in her hands and kisses her.
They kiss deeply, slowly. There’s a kind of worship in it, a laying down before the altar of all her cares, all her fears. They kiss, and murmur, and moan, and when Therese reaches for the buttons of her pajama shirt, she does it smiling against Carol’s mouth. Carol shivers, sighs, desiring but also cautious.
“Darling, I—I’m not sure—”
“Is Rindy asleep?” Therese asks, flicking her tongue against the seam of Carol’s lips, sliding inside at her first opportunity, a slow caress.
Carol moans, says, “Yes, yes she… she went out like a light.”
“Well then,” says Therese, and keeps unbuttoning, scooting closer to nuzzle at Carol’s throat. “You and I both know she sleeps like the dead for at least the first few hours. And I think she knows better than to cross Santa by coming out here.”
“Why don’t we—why don’t we just go to bed?” asks Carol, nervous, but unwilling to stop Therese’s fingers as they slowly strip her pajama top off her shoulders, leaving her bare-chested and covered in gooseflesh.
Therese kisses the tops of her breasts; kisses the notch in her throat; kisses her mouth and murmurs against it, “I don’t think you understand how long I’ve wanted this.”
Carol blinks confusedly; the barest pressure of Therese’s teeth on her shoulder makes her whimper. “What—what do you mean?” she stumbles.
“You,” Therese murmurs, “Under this tree,” another kiss, “Unwrapped.”
“Oh,” Carol says, softly, breathlessly.
Therese coaxes her onto her back, gentle, insistent, then reaches for the waistband of her pajama pants. Carol lifts her hips obediently, and a moment later she is naked, and Therese is crawling over her, straddling her thighs, bending down to kiss and suck her everywhere—all still fully clothed, herself.
“You—” Carol swallows convulsively, shivering at the sensation of Therese’s teeth scraping her throat, “You—you’ve wanted this?”
Therese groans against her; suckles her collarbone and says, “For ages—since that time I came to your house.”
Therese lifts up enough to give her an amused look. “Carol,” she says. “You spent that night repeatedly stripping me naked with your eyes. You really think I haven’t thought about it since?”
She bends down again. This time she starts to slowly drift down Carol’s torso, lips on her chest, on the swell of her breast. Tongue flicking a nipple that hardens in a flush of aching pleasure. Therese cups her ribs, strokes her skin, licks the other nipple into a tight peak.
Carol moans and arches under her. And yet she has to know— “After—after Harge came that night I was so—so terrible to you. I thought maybe you didn’t like to think about it anymore?”
Therese hums, continuing slowly downward. Kissing her belly, and her hip bones, and the tops of her thighs. “Well,” she murmurs simply, “you were wrong.”
Therese kneels between her thighs, coaxing them apart, and slides her tongue against her. Carol shudders, body rolling like a wave. She lays her head back on the carpet, blinking dazedly up into the lights of the Christmas tree as Therese’s mouth moves against her. It’s slow, but earnest, Therese making little sounds of pleasure against her that vibrate through her body. Carol reaches down to clench her fingers in the silky strands of her dark hair.
“I wanted this,” Therese moans, pausing to run her tongue in slow circles around her clit. “I didn’t even know that this was possible, but I wanted it.”
She trails down, licks inside her as deep as she can, fingers holding her hips to the ground. Carol’s body flexes with pleasure, she whines, eyes rolling back.
“Oh, honey, please—please.”
Therese says, “Tell me. Tell me what you want.”
“Your—your fingers. Oh, God, please, put your fingers inside me.”
A moment later she feels the gentle probing, and then two of Therese’s fingers slide inside, and Therese’s mouth covers her clit again, licking and suckling.
“Fuck,” Carol hisses, and at the curl of those fingers, cries out—too loudly. She covers her mouth with her hand, trying to muffle her own sounds.
Therese pulls back enough to tell her desperately, “Want to hear you.”
Suddenly Therese’s free hand is sliding up her torso. Carol thinks she’s going to force her to stop covering her mouth, but instead her hand lands on her throat, settling firmly. Not squeezing, but feeling—the vibration of Carol’s sounds. The gesture makes Carol flood with excitement and need. Therese starts licking her in tighter circles. Starts stroking inside her with a more insistent pressure. Carol’s eyes flutter shut. She covers her own mouth but doesn’t otherwise restrain her sounds. Moans and whimpers and mumbles an incoherent stream of profanity, knowing that Therese can feel it all. Wanting her to feel it all.
And then something changes, a sharpening of sensation, a lift of pleasure. Carol’s hips start rocking harder, her bare toes pushing into the carpet in desperation. She’s trembling, and there’s sweat gathering across her body and she can hear the messy, wet sounds of Therese’s mouth between her legs. She can feel her own slick, covering her thighs and she—she—fuck—fuck!
Carol bites down on her fist, crying out as Therese lifts her to the heights, and carries her over the edge, into surging waves of bliss. Her sex clenches and ripples around her lover’s fingers. Her clit seems to throb in Therese’s mouth. It’s intense, powerful, and yet so sweet and easy she could weep. She comes for what feels like ages of pleasure, until at last the waves start to retreat. Therese is gentle with her, coaxes her back to shore. She removes her fingers so she can lick delicately at the spill she’s created, earning another little jerk of Carol’s hips. But it feels so good, soothing almost, until at last with a sigh, Carol melts beneath her, Therese’s hand still gently cupped around her throat.
Eyes closed, panting for breath, she reaches for Therese, helping her to climb back up her body and into her arms. Therese lies on top of her; her weight feels perfect, grounding and warm. She runs her hands across her back, slides under her pajamas to feel her satiny skin. They are quiet for long moments, breathing and touching.
At last, with a little breathless chuckle, Carol asks, “Was that my Christmas present?”
Therese giggles against her throat. “One of them, anyway.”
“Hmmm. And you accuse me of spoiling you!”
“You do spoil me,” Therese retorts, and lifts her head. Their eyes meet, both of them smiling joyfully at each other. They kiss. Therese’s mouth is hot and swollen, a delicious reminder of what she’s just done. When she pulls back, her green eyes shine with love. She touches Carol’s face, twirls a piece of her hair, says with aching sincerity, “You’ve made me so happy, Carol.”
Overwhelmed, Carol tightens her arms, wraps her close, and rolls, switching their positions in an instant. Therese squeaks in surprise, just before Carol starts kissing her, hard.
“Well,” Carol mumbles into her mouth, fingers reaching down to her buttons. “Since you got to unwrap one of your presents, I think it’s only fair that I get to unwrap one of mine.”