Chapter 1: "You Do Something to Me"
Saturday, April 18th, 1953
Therese opened her eyes as wide as possible, staring off at the unfamiliar cream-colored walls in the morning light. Everything within her line of sight spun until she gained focus. These weren't the usual walls she woke to each morning, and the curtains didn't entirely mask the bright light that entered the bedroom. The weight of the comforter on the bed was heavier, it draped differently around her shoulders and knees than the one at home. She wore no clothes. Between her legs felt tender, and haphazardly she ran a finger downward to find herself still wet from earlier. She wasn't anxious, she hazily knew where she was, but Therese was wholly incredulous that she could actually be where she wanted to be at that moment. Blinking a few times to gain focus, Therese did her best to wake herself, inhaling her surroundings as a last resort. Now there was truly familiarity of sweetness beneath the undertones of Philip Morris. And a slender arm draped across her hip felt equally familiar.
Turning over, Therese shifted to face the dozing woman beside her. Carol serenely smiled in her sleep, one hand resting atop her pillow, the other under the covers and casually falling on Therese's bare hip. Therese could not resist watching Carol comfortably sleep on her side in the middle of the bed. A blonde wave of hair covered part of her face, obscuring one eye and most of her cheek. The sound of her gentle snores, the wisps of her stray hairs that moved each time she took a breath, the rise and fall of her chest: It was all painfully soothing.
Therese moved herself closer to place her head on the same pillow. She maneuvered the hand that rested beside her face and drew her lips to Carol’s static fingers. Therese could faintly make out her own scent upon them; a pleasant reminder of earlier. She languidly kissed each finger only to return her lips to Carol’s index finger where Therese ever so slightly moved her head back and forth so that it traced along her lower lip. Whatever minuscule remnants of yesterday's application of ruby lipstick there were, they smeared across Carol’s finger, resembling a paper cut on her fair skin. She stopped the tracing and coolly kissed Carol’s index finger once more.
“If you keep that up - ”
She was hardly disheveled for early in the morning, perhaps she had even awoke in the middle of the night to freshen up and then got back into bed. No, no one does that, Therese thought to herself, but with Carol, one should expect the unexpected. Therese beamed as soon as Carol opened her eyes. She leaned in to kiss the scarcely awake woman beside her, yet stopped a breath before they merged. “I love you,” she confessed against her lips. It must have tickled Carol as her mouth twitched and the corners turned up into a smile. “I realize I didn’t say it last night, but you should know.”
“How could I not?” She flipped her hair from her face then tilted her head to kiss Therese’s waiting lips. Carol took her hand from the pillow and the other from Therese’s hip to encourage her as close as possible as she took her head in both hands. Their kisses were not hurried, there were no constraints on time, no desperation, nowhere else they needed to be except with each other. “I love you,” Carol whispered.
They had never woken up together in the same bed before. Therese had never woken up next to someone else, for that matter. She felt safe; she wanted to be there. Carol felt at peace; no longer having to wake alone, she wanted Therese to be there next to her. Every morning. During their road trip, mornings were always rushed, composed of getting dressed, packing, making it to the terrible continental breakfast buffet, the even sadder coffee, and finally heading out on their journey west. There was no more excuse to not linger in bed together in the morning, especially when there was no pressure to be somewhere.
“Are you hungry at all?”
“I am, but I'm afraid I don't want to leave this bed when - ”
“Do you like the bed?” Carol interjected.
Therese smoothed the sheet around her and squirmed into mattress. It felt new, without any indentation or sag into one side or the other. The headboard did not have any pills on the fabric and was perfectly clean. “It’s nice. Very comfy.”
“I thought you might like it.” Drifting off to another moment, perhaps recalling the hasty retreat from Ridgewood when Carol had finally withdrew from the house, bags packed, boxes loaded into the Packard, Carol’s mind wandered away. “If you’re hungry though, we could cobble something together in under half an hour.”
“I don't want you to leave this bed when we could cobble something together here.” Therese pleaded. Carol removed her hands from Therese’s face, giving her a quick peck on the cheek before losing contact. She reached to Therese’s hands to reciprocate kissing her fingertips, bringing each one to her lips. The mere act made Therese shudder, entirely aware of how much she wanted her. When Carol glimpsed down at Therese’s palm, there was a distinct smudge of black ink that had been attempted to be cleaned up earlier. It had almost disappeared, yet there was still the greenish under color tint that tarnished her skin.
With a curious look at her hand and back up at Therese who blushed, Carol raised her eyebrows and inquired, “What happened here?”
Of course Therese debated telling Carol about the party, about Genevieve, how she'd been cornered at the earliest opportunity only to have her write her address on Therese’s hand in that impossible-to-remove black ink. How before heading to the Oak Room, Therese spent a good ten minutes in the washroom trying to fully remove it. She had worked herself into enough of a frenzy that if she had not stopped rubbing her hands raw and simply left, she would have missed the window to see Carol at dinner. Therese had completely forgotten about it until then; Carol clearly missed it the night before when they arrived at the apartment. Granted, there were other things happening in the soft nighttime lighting that were far more interesting than the ink upon Therese's palm.
She leaned closer to Carol. “You,” she implored, “directions to you.”
Carol looked amused; however, didn't convey any air of annoyance. Her hands returned beneath the covers to Therese's body, a thumb repeatedly rubbing against the same spot where she gripped Therese’s hip in the middle of the night. “Tell me.”
With moistened lips, Therese slowly specified what she had in mind. She took a deep breath and molded her body into Carol’s, pressing her cheek against her ear covered with golden hair. “The instructions are very explicit: straddle your face, let you lick me, then make me come. Repeat if necessary.” A low gasp escaped from Carol's throat before Therese could continue, “Not that I don't enjoy when you take charge, but I want to seize this particular opportunity.”
“Show me,” challenged Carol.
Without having to be told again, Therese gently encouraged Carol onto her back, lightly pushing her with one finger that she then used to trail along her shoulder blades. She traced down across her breast, pointedly stopping above her nipple to delicately pinch the sensitive nub. After fully pulling back the comforter to expose the rest of her body, she straddled her, resting upon Carol's thighs before making any other movements. Therese moved her arms back to Carol's breasts, gently fondling them.
Squeezing. Teasing. Adoring.
All accompanied by the sounds of Carol gingerly moaning beneath her.
During their nearly four-month separation, Therese had desperately missed Carol’s touch. Even though they only had a couple nights together previously, being held by her and holding her was the greatest, most loving sensation Therese had ever known.
Carol's hands reached under Therese's thighs and pulled her toward her face. Therese settled around her shoulders, not seated, but precariously balanced by kneeling and clinging to the plush headboard. She felt completely exposed before Carol; exactly how she wanted to appear before her with legs spread open and her own sweet perfume wafting into Carol's space. Therese glanced downward to see Carol looking up at her as she kissed each side of her thighs. Knees were on each side of her face as Carol raised her chin and opened her mouth to commence light, long strokes into warm wetness.
Chapter 2: "I Am in Love"
Saturday, April 18th, 1953
The sound of a light rain shower hitting the window woke Therese from her sleep, without a doubt one of her favorite ways to wake in the morning. However when she woke up this time, she was alone in bed. Hadn’t Carol just been there? She passed a hand under the covers to find the now wrinkled sheets mostly cool. There was some rustling coming from the living room and the scent of bacon frying. Next to the bed was Carol’s red plaid robe, neatly folded on top of the mahogany nightstand next to where Therese had been sleeping.
Just as Therese finished tying the robe closed, the bedroom door opened. Carol entered, as casually dressed as one could expect to find her on a Saturday morning in a cashmere sweater and skirt, carrying a tray with plates, mugs, and a single red tulip in a small glass vase.
“Carol,” Therese sighed, “you didn't have to do that.”
“I wanted to bring you breakfast in bed.”
She placed the tray on the bed and with a quick gesture, motioned for Therese to join her. She leaned back against the headboard, lifting the tray to stabilize it as she sat beside her. She kicked off her heels and tucked her feet under the comforter, angled in the direction where Therese had been sleeping moments earlier, into a space that was still warm. The tray held two plates of flapjacks and bacon as well as two steaming mugs of lightly sweetened coffee. Carol took a plate and a coffee before passing off the tray to Therese.
“Looks delicious, but honestly, you didn't - ” Therese stopped herself. It was no good trying to tell Carol she didn't have to do something. She was trying so hard for her, giving one hundred and ten percent. Before Therese could even take a bite, Carol had already demolished half a flapjack. “You must have been hungry.”
Carol smiled as she took another bite, chewed, and covered her mouth as she started to speak. “Sorry, darling, yesterday I was nothing more than a bundle of nerves. All day fretting over the lawyers, over - over whether you'd show up for tea, and then dinner. I simply couldn't eat a bite.” Therese took a sip of coffee and stilled. “That's not to say I probably didn't drink a quart of rye,” Carol teased.
They ate in relative silence, Carol finishing first and then pushing her plate on the nightstand. Therese took her time to savor each bite as Carol watched.
“What did you want to do today?”
“I have to go to my apartment,” Therese matter-of-factly stated.
“No,” Therese put her plate down and took Carol's hand, not realizing that her tone sounded much harsher than intended, “I mean, I need to stop by my apartment and pick up some things.”
“Ah.” Carol relaxed.
“You can come with me. If you don't have plans, that is.”
“Alright.” Carol's thumb traced the inner curve of Therese’s hand, occasionally wandering down onto her palm. “You could move everything today, if that's more convenient for you. Or, we could always hire a mover if necessary.”
“I don't,” Therese paused, looking down at their joined hands resting in the bed, “have much aside from suitcases of clothes and boxes of photos and books. It shouldn't take too long.”
“No, it came furnished.”
“Well then,” Carol said as she smoothed out her skirt, “this shouldn’t take too long, as you say.” She brought their joined hands to her lips and kissed the back of Therese’s hand.
Carol and Therese made it to the apartment by mid-afternoon, not expecting much in the way of packing. They took a taxi over with some extra suitcases and a couple of boxes from Carol’s recent move to get started. Therese felt a bit self-conscious sitting in the cab wearing the same clothes she had on yesterday. Not that anyone would notice except for Carol.
As soon as they arrived, Therese spoke with her landlady who was irked to say the least about having an apartment to occupy less than two weeks before the end of the month. Either way, Therese couldn’t be bothered by her demeanor and entered the apartment with Carol to begin packing and tidying up.
By the time most of the apartment had been packed up, it was well after ten. Therese was exhausted from cleaning, Carol from folding clothes and then packing them into suitcases. There really wasn't much, but it was tedious and neither had had enough sleep the previous night. Carol insisted they take a break around five in order for her to call to Abby and let her know where she was. They walked over a few blocks to the Horn & Hardart on 59th for a quick dinner and shared a strawberry shortcake with cream. By eight-thirty, they strolled back toward Therese’s to finish.
As Therese unlocked the front door, Carol paused in the entryway. “What if we spent the night here?” asked Carol, “Just for the hell of it. A last hurrah. Then tomorrow we take everything home.”
“Okay.” Therese nodded. “You don’t mind slumming it with me tonight then?” Carol spotted a brief moment of panic on Therese’s face, worry that sleeping here wouldn’t be good enough for her. Thinking back to their trip, her apartment honestly wasn’t much worse than some of the hotels they stayed in.
“Ha! That’s not a worry.”
Upon entering the apartment, Carol looked at the austere wooden-framed twin bed angled against the freshly painted wall. She figured Therese didn’t have the best memories in this apartment, all those dreary nights alone. It was the same reason she didn’t mind in the least the fact she and Harge were selling the house: a farewell to all those bitter remembrances of the past. For Therese, there were those nights when Richard had come over and conveniently invited himself to take over the entire bed, positioned on his back, snoring so loudly Therese could never sleep. She remembered a very annoyed Therese telling her this one day in the car on the way through Defiance.
“I think I could manage to share a twin bed for one last night. Besides, sleeping in a double bed with you?” Therese quipped, “A lady might get spoiled.”
“As you should be.” Carol winked. She made her way over to the small bed to turn down the covers. The blankets were thinner than the sumptuous down comforter Carol had, the pillow flatter, but it was still the place where her Therese had slept so many nights all by herself. “I’ll just go freshen up.”
Carol wandered down the tiny hallway to the bathroom to start getting ready for bed. Outside, she could hear Therese scurry around the apartment as soon as the bathroom door was shut. The poor dear, she thought as she rubbed some cold cream on her face that she found next to the sink. She did her best to hurry so that Therese wouldn’t feel too pressured to have everything perfectly in place. In doing so, she snagged one of her stockings when trying to free it from its clasp. Perhaps she could borrow some from Therese in the morning if the tear was too noticeable. Earrings and a silver ring were left in a small bowl on a shelf where they couldn’t be missed the next day. In no time, makeup was scrubbed off, hair brushed, jewelry removed, and hairline somewhat damp from a deep facial cleaning.
Without saying a word, Carol stood in the doorway as she watched Therese scramble around the room. She was utterly oblivious as Carol stood there in nothing more than a cream-colored silk slip; the strap of the right shoulder precariously clinging to her skin, her weight shifted to one foot as she leaned against the doorframe, merely observing. Her arms were running over with her clothing as she didn’t know where to put them; however, it was too much wonderful entertainment to see Therese in the bedroom putting things away in a flurry movement.
“You know, silly, we’re just going to pack up the rest tomorrow, so no use stashing things here or there.”
Therese abruptly turned around to see Carol watching her. “I didn’t want to seem like a complete slob.”
“Nonsense.” Carol tossed her folded clothes onto a pile other garments on a nearby chair. “Do you have a robe or anything…” she trailed off while looking around the room.
“We packed it already.”
Even for mid-April, there was still a chill in the air. It briefly snowed only a few days prior, and there was a prevalent dampness everywhere. Hopefully it would be the last snow of the year. Therese hadn't thought to heat the apartment when they arrived; she didn't think they'd be spending the night when they could be over on Madison Avenue. Carol glanced back at her stack of clothes and walked over to find the grey and red cashmere sweater she had been wearing earlier. She salvaged it from the pile, quickly rolling up the bottom hem before shimmying it over her head, raising arms, shifting her hips back and forth as she tugged the soft fabric over her. She was cold, but didn't complain too much about it. Although Carol did her best to encourage Therese to hurry up. Carol made herself comfortable on the bed with her long legs curled underneath her, staring off at now empty bookshelves.
Therese walked over to the bed and leaned over to kiss Carol on the cheek, balancing her weight with a hand pressing on the bed and resting against the side of her leg. “You are so beautiful. Even in just a slip and sweater.”
The hand on the outside of her silk-covered thigh wandered down and inward beneath the fabric to tease a spot at mid-thigh. Carol grabbed hold of the hand between her legs, stopping it from going any further and firmly returned the kiss. “I'm freezing. Go get ready and come back here; you can warm me up then.” Therese gave her a sly look and promptly stood to go change and made her way toward the bathroom. Carol heard her take a detour to the kitchen, and after what sounded like rummaging, Therese returned to the bedroom to put Carol's cigarette case and an old glass as an impromptu ashtray on the bedside table. “I'll just be a moment.”
Carol looked at the silver case, but for once wasn't interested in the cigarettes. She didn’t feel like smoking, but a drink though, she certainly would do with maybe a beer. She wandered into the kitchen to check the icebox, finding a couple cans of beer to bring into the bedroom. She still noted the shifting light and movement from under the bathroom door, and walked over to stand outside.
“Do you have a church key somewhere?” Carol asked, fidgeting with the hem of her sweater as she waited for Therese to answer.
“Check in the drawer by the sink,” said the muffled voice, “there’s usually one there.” She must have been washing her face, Carol gathered. She scurried into the kitchen with now frigid bare feet and rifle through the drawers. Sifting through items that were going to remain behind, Carol found an opener underneath some old pot holders and spatulas. Before bringing the metal point to her drink, she ran it under the sink for a brief rinse. Carol made two punches in the top of the steel can and took a quick sip before returning to the bed with the opener and an extra beer for Therese.
This reminded her of college with the small bed, wearing her sweater over her slip, sipping a beer from a can, waiting for that alluring roommate to come back to the room after art history class… This felt differently.
As Carol sipped her beer, Therese made her way down the hall in her ordinary polka dot pajamas. Carol warmed the moment she saw her in those familiar nightclothes, the same ones she so charmingly folded and put on the adjacent bed the morning she left for New York. Therese looked endearingly sleepy and sweet, but with her new haircut even more so.
“Yes, please.” Carol opened the other beer and placed it in Therese’s hand. They studied one another as the drinks clinked together, sipped their beers, and smiled. “Santé.“ Therese scooted herself onto the bed against the wall, precariously holding her beer in her hand. Once settled, she patted her lap to motion for Carol to lie down. Beer held upright in one hand, Carol made sure she didn't spill its contents as she smiled and lay down on her back using Therese’s lap as a pillow. Therese tenderly stroked her hair, occasionally trailing her finger along Carol’s ear and jawbone.
“You need to let me take care of you too, you know.”
Every couple of minutes, Carol would raise the can to her lips and have a sip until it was finally empty. As soon as Therese took the empty can to place on the nightstand, Carol pulled the blankets up around her hands to stay warm. Therese lovingly adjusted the covers draped over Carol, making sure arms and feet were equally covered, then wrapped her arms around Carol’s shoulders and neck to hold her close. The beer can gingerly rested in her hand above Carol’s shoulder. All the while, they were both perfectly quiet in each other’s arms.
Carol was thoroughly moved by the love and care Therese took just in putting the blankets over her. Therese tucked in the corners around the arms, around her middle, and as far down her legs as she could. Despite her short-sleeved top, Therese wasn’t as chilled as Carol and gave her as much of the covers as possible.
Carol knew then she didn’t always have to be so resolute. Therese was thoughtful and loving, and she would be there for her through good and bad times. Perhaps she was young, but there was a calm about her, a peculiar patience that only comes with age. Therese kept on stroking her hair and holding her, sporadically taking sips from her beer. “Let me make you breakfast, pack your lunch, or take you to dinner. Let me pick out what you'll wear or surprise you with theater tickets. Let me make love to you.” Therese leaned down to kiss her forehead for an extended moment, enjoying the contact her lips made with Carol’s skin.
“Please.” Carol whispered as she softly and slowly bit and kissed along the side of Therese's throat. Not a desperate plea, more of a need for Therese to not lose their connection. Therese reached her hand between them, pushing aside some of the precious blanket that kept the heat in and proceeded to hike up Carol's slip well above her hips as to not ruin or soil the delicate fabric. She was clearly pleased, yet not entirely surprised, to find Carol wore nothing else underneath. Her right hand meandered down through the wiry gold curls, dipping lower to feel her arousal, silently persuading Carol's legs to widen even more. With eyes shut, Carol relaxed her shoulders as Therese proceeded to indulge her with the utmost affection.
Carol had never before felt so loved or so needed. Most importantly, she felt no longer so alone.
Chapter 3: "I Get a Kick Out of You"
Friday, October 16th, 1953
Phil confidently nodded as he opened the projection booth door to let Therese in. “No sweat, I love the company up here.”
“Coulda fooled me,” chimed Dannie who was watching the newsreel through the projection window.
“Hi, Dannie.” He looked back over his shoulder to see Therese give a small wave and just as quickly returned to the newsreel.
“Therese!” Phil exclaimed with hands raised in the air. “Where ya -”
“ - been?”
“Exactly!” Phil checked the projector again to make sure everything was in order for the feature. “Yeah, Therese. I saw you in April, and, what was it, June or July? That night at what's-her-name's?”
“Yup, at what's-her-name's.”
“Where the hell you been hiding?”
Dannie looked back at his brother with a blank expression. He knew where she had been, but sometimes his brother was completely clueless.
“Oh, you know. The usual.”
“Well, ‘the usual’ seems to be quite the hiding spot.”
Therese walked behind the projector to sit over by Dannie. Before saying anything to him, Therese took a quick look through the projection window to see what was playing on screen to make sure she wasn't interrupting. “How's Louise?”
Dannie nodded with a smile, “Really good, ya know? She's been busy with work, probably up for a promotion by the end of the year. We went to see Stalag 17 last week. You'd love it.”
“Again with the Billy Wilder?”
“Ah,” Dannie dramatically sighed, “he's the best.” He put down his pencil and turned to face Therese, “So tell me,” he quickly glanced over at his brother who was now too preoccupied with splicing some film strips together, and then back at Therese, “how's Carol?”
Dannie knew. Just from that day looking at the photos from under the sink. And Louise, of course. They were the only people in the city aside from Abby (and not by choice, Harge) who knew about the two of them, and both could truly care less. They lived in Greenwich Village, surrounded by people from every walk of life, every possible living arrangement, every kind of preference. Life was too short to be hung up on those types of things, Dannie said when she told him a few months earlier over lunch.
Therese looked back over at Phil, still busy, yet still spoke in a hushed tone, “She's well. We're doing really well.“
“Is she coming tonight?”
“No, she has an engagement at seven.”
“No, no. It's fine.” Therese tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and crossed her legs at the knee. She was slightly bothered that Carol wasn't there, but she did have work engagements on occasion, such as drinks or dinners with owners or important clients. Therese had the same thing too, usually just drinks with the others in the photo department. “We're going up to Vermont before Christmas, so we'll have some quiet time together before the holidays. Apparently I'm going to learn to ski.”
“Look at you.”
“Yeah, look at me fall all over the place, more like.”
“Nah, you'll be a natural.”
“Is Louise coming?”
“No, she's at dinner with her folks. They're in town for the weekend.”
“Oh, meeting her parents... ?“
“Nothing like that! Well, maybe we'll go to dinner together tomorrow night.”
“Picture's starting, kids.” Phil said. Dannie readied his notebook and pencil. Therese took off her coat and placed on the back of her chair.
Once the movie started, they were all quiet watching, drinking pop, or in Phil's case, working on those reels. They watched, laughed, joked around during the dull parts; overall relished each other's company.
There were no external interruptions until about an hour into the movie when there was a knock at the booth door.
Therese and Phil turned to look at the office door to see who was there. Dannie, too engrossed in his notetaking, kept peering through the window.
“Carol.” Therese did her best to hide her enthusiasm in front of Phil, but there was probably no use. “I thought you had a party.”
Carol assessed the room, seeing only Phil and Dannie, and felt somewhat at ease, particularly knowing Dannie from some prior conversations at get togethers. “I did, but I said to hell with it. Same old, same old. Hope I'm not too late.”
Therese smiled. Always late. “Phil, you remember Carol?”
“Hey, how ya doin’?” Phil cheerfully said as he held out his hand.
“Very well, thank you for asking, Phil. And you?”
“Can't complain.” He looked around the room to see if there enough places to sit. “You wanna sit? I think I could scrounge up another chair downstairs.”
“That's okay, Phil. Carol can have my seat. I was sitting at a desk all day anyways.”
“Yeah, go on.”
Phil busied himself again with the film and turned around to resume working at his desk. Therese stood to offer Carol her seat and help her remove her wool coat which ended up draped over her own on the back of the chair.
“Hello, Dannie.” Carol said in a low voice over his shoulder, knowing very well from Therese to proceed with caution if interrupting him while watching a movie and taking notes.
“Hey, Carol, thanks for comin’. You've made Therese's day by showin’ up.”
Therese stood behind Carol and placed her hands on her shoulders once she sat down. “I like watching movies with you. We don't go often enough.” Therese whispered into her ear. To keep her hands occupied, Therese began to knead Carol’s shoulders through the tweed fabric as best she could. Therese enjoyed doing little things like massaging her shoulders or twirling her hair, all to keep her fidgety hands busy. Carol didn't mind; she thought it was sweet the way her little finger would wrap around an errant strand and twist and turn it in every direction for minutes on end. Even the slightest contact made her heart skip a couple beats, especially when out in public.
Carol asked again if Therese wanted to take the seat, but she declined once more. She liked holding Carol's shoulders, and sometimes Carol would reach a hand up to rest upon Therese's for a few minutes, then politely return it to her lap whenever she thought the boys’ attention might have been wandering.
Moments later, Therese started shifting from foot to foot, stabilizing herself by clinging to Carol's shoulders. Truthfully, standing still in heels was much more cumbersome than she had anticipated. Just like the character in the movie they were watching, Therese took off one shoe to alleviate the fatigue in the heel of her foot and wiggle her toes around. It felt better, but wasn't relaxing enough.
Carol felt the shift in the body weight pressure on her shoulders and knew Therese was uncomfortable. “Come sit,” Carol sweetly beckoned once more.
“No, I'm okay.”
“Yeah, I'm - “
“I mean, it's no - “
“For fuck’s sake, Therese.” Phil didn't even look up at them as he spoke from his desk. “Go sit on your girl's lap already before Dannie makes me start the movie over.”
Dannie burst into laughter, Carol snickered and rolled her eyes. The embarrassment only lasted a moment, that was until Carol tugged one of the hands at her shoulder to pull her in front of the chair where she sat. “You heard him.” she whispered then patted her lap with one hand. Therese obediently sat on Carol's lap without muttering a word, facing forward so she could still see through the projection window. She had initially been embarrassed, but then realized she needn't be. Not with Dannie and Phil. She had good, trusted friends who admired and respected her, plus they both liked Carol who was always charming and witty with them.
Dannie kept writing, Phil kept working. Therese snuggled against Carol as they watched the movie. Carol rested her chin on Therese's shoulder and wrapped both arms firmly around her waist. Her thumb toyed with the pewter buttons of Therese's jacket, opening and closing the buttons to slide a finger against the silk shirt underneath. There were moments like this, particularly when no one else was watching, where Carol could get just as fidgety as Therese. During a particularly raucous scene, Carol turned her neck to move forward and press a lingering kiss to Therese’s right cheek.
“I missed you.”
After five more minutes, they were no longer paying attention to the movie. Not as though Carol had seen all of it from the beginning anyway.
Chapter 4: "Why Can't You Behave?"
Saturday, December 19th, 1953
“C’mon, there’s no way on earth your old lady could drink me under the table,” Phil boasted as he loosened the striped tie around his neck.
“She’s not my ‘old lady,’ Phil,” Therese said as she jokingly punched the corner of his arm. Phil reached for where his arm and shoulder met to rub the spot. “Have some respect.”
“What? You two are practically married. She’s definitely your old lady.” Therese punched him again. “Ow, that hurts!”
The apartment was filled with much of the under-thirty photograph and editorial crowd from the Times along with a variety of Phil’s friends from the theaters and cinemas. It was an impromptu holiday party the weekend before Christmas, all held at Carol's suggestion. The before-Christmas skiing plans had to be scrapped as Carol was needed at the store for last-minute Christmas shoppers who wanted those special one-of-a-kind pieces that only she had a knack for tracking down. Plus the commission earned between Thanksgiving and Christmas was superb; more than enough to buy those first-class steamer tickets to Europe for April.
They never held a housewarming party; it was never the right time after all that has happened in the winter. Their relationship was so new as they moved in together, settled into a daily routine, and more or less nested. While they would go out for dinner or to the movies on weeknights, weekends were almost entirely spent alone together in the apartment listening to music, reading, cocooned in bed, wrapped in each other and their own little world.
Months later, after they were more than settled, it seemed like a silly idea to have a housewarming party. A Christmas party though, that would be perfectly good reason to have everyone over for an evening of merriment. Carol insisted Therese invite her friends from work, being sure to mention that she would not have anyone from the furniture house partake.
“Oh, no, let’s make this a lively affair,” she had insisted.
Carol had positively no idea how lively it would actually get once the party started. Or what would happen when an inebriated Phil commented that she was throwing back those whiskeys like a man.
After a series of four shots in a row between Carol and Phil, Therese stood in their dining room, completely awestruck by what was unfolding in front of her. She had, of course, seen Carol drink. She had been drinking right there with her. But this was something else altogether. “I can't believe they're doing this,” Therese said to herself out loud.
Phil rolled up the sleeve of his plaid shirt, tirelessly pointing to his pink elbow that featured a one-inch purple streak just above the joint. “Baseball bat to the elbow. Age nine. Thanks a lot, Dannie!”
Not to be outdone, Carol lifted her leg onto the dining table. Barely visible through the translucent stockings was an equally long scar on her right leg. Therese had always wondered where that scar came from. “Montclair Country Club. Age none-of-your-business. Riding accident.”
“Yeah, riding Therese, more like,” a female voice shouted from the back.
“I heard that!” A wide-eyed Therese turned around to see who had spoken, but couldn't tell from all the laughter. Probably was Louise, she gathered, no one else would have said that in present company.
The two kept throwing insults and quips at one another, gloating and bragging over (what Therese thought) the strangest things. Shot after shot, Carol and Phil went through the bottle of Old Overholt to the amazement of all the party’s attendees, many of whom were silently drinking along to the contest happening before them.
Finally, Phil loosened his tie even more and undid his collar to reveal the deep red puckered skin just south of his shoulder blade. “38th Parallel. Sniper’s bullet. Clean through.” One more shot.
One of the young men on the couch shouted a salute to Corporal McElroy, for which they all cheered. Must have been one of Phil’s army buddies from back in the day. Therese didn't recognize him.
Carol squinted her eyes as she held onto her shot glass. She tapped the bottom of it on the table, then let go of the glass to reach over for her purse on the credenza. From her bag, she produced her favorite black-and-white photo of Rindy which she dangled in front of Phil.
“Englewood Hospital. Six pounds, nine ounces. No painkillers.” Carol took a shot. “And no twilight sleep.” She pounded back one more for good measure.
Everyone in the room, even Therese, scrunched their faces up and made a loud, disapproving sound. Carol gave the photo a quick kiss before tucking it safely back into her purse and slamming each empty shot glass back onto the table top. Therese cringed when she thought of the expression on Carol’s face if she’d see any rim indentations to her early 19th-century Chippendale table for ten. If there was any damage. Hopefully not, or there would never be another gathering of her friends at their place ever.
Phil held out a shot glass of whiskey and looked Carol straight in the eye. She unwaveringly stared back, challenging him with just a look. Phil didn't need to say a word. He stared her down for a good 30 seconds, until his focus wobbled, and finally threw back the drink without saying another word. Everyone cheered and Dannie readied another shot. The small clear glass sat still on the table, untouched.
Carol raised the glass to her mouth, wetting her lips repeatedly with her tongue, fittingly staring at Phil before she drank. “You forget: The ten years before I met Therese, I was a suburban housewife in New Jersey.” Carol threw back another shot of whiskey, placing it upside down on the table with a tremendous thud. “Housewives. Can. Hold. Their. Liquor.”
All the boys loudly cheered for Carol, clapping their hands and stomping on the floor.
Phil’s head hit the table and it was all over. At least not on the handwoven carpet.
Sunday, December 20th, 1953
Seated on the bed, Therese leaned over Carol while she slept and delicately flipped over the washcloth resting on her brow. Abby stood next to the bed and also leaned in to look at her friend with a pained look. Carol opened her eyes wide to see the two most important women in her life hovering over her, fretting over her with disapproving looks.
At least, she thought, it was Therese and Abby there looking at her. Everything was blurry and spinning. Her mouth tasted like wadded up cotton balls had been left in too long and her throat was scratchy, even her voice came out deeper than usual. “Don’t. Anybody. Move. Either of you.”
“I did warn you.” Therese scorned.
Therese took the washcloth and placed it over her eyes instead. Abby stood up and angled herself toward Therese in order for them to quietly speak. “How much did she drink exactly?”
“Enough to take on a six-foot, 185-pound, 25-year old in a drinking contest.”
“Yikes.” Abby observed her sleeping best friend with a hint of pity and disfavor. “Shame she lost.”
“Oh no, Carol won. The loser is presently sleeping in our bathtub.” Therese gestured toward their en-suite bathroom. She felt oddly proud at the achievement, but didn’t think that she should have felt that way. Abby scurried to the door to look in, quickly seeing Phil all sprawled out in the tub wearing nothing but a tank top and boxer shorts with his trousers dangling from one foot hanging over the edge.
“Then who are those two on the couch?”
“That’s Phil’s brother Dannie and Louise.”
Abby paused. “She’s cute.”
“That’s Dannie’s girlfriend, Abby.”
“You know how Carol is. She insisted everyone still here at two spend the night and not wander home in such a state.” Therese explained. That was Carol for you: always so thoughtful and concerned for others. “You want to look after her while I go make breakfast for everyone?”
“Sooner everyone’s fed something greasy, sooner the hangovers end, the sooner they’ll leave.”
Therese spent a good hour in the kitchen frying up all the eggs, bacon and sausages in the house, ladling flapjack after flapjack onto the griddle, grilling toast, squeezing orange juice, and brewing the strongest blend of coffee she could find. Abby came in once Carol fell back asleep to clean some glasses since every one had been dirtied the night before.
“Breakfast in the dining room.” Therese shouted into the bathroom. Phil looked up and rubbed his head. “At least put your pants on.”
Therese turned and walked over to the bed to wake up Carol, who was still snoozing and now clinging to Therese’s pillow since she wasn’t there in bed next to her. “Carol? Time to wake up. You need to eat some breakfast.” She tried to sound as sweet and as quiet as possible while trying to rouse her. At first there was nothing but grumblings; however, after a few kisses to the forehead, Carol finally sat up. Therese went to the closet to pull out a silk robe for Carol to wear over her slip.
“Did the others leave yet?”
“No, they’re still here. It’s breakfast, then everyone goes.” Therese flung the robe around her shoulders, lifting her arms into each sleeve, and tying it securely around her waist.
“I can’t go out there like this.” Carol sighed. Therese looked at her with a grin and walked over to the vanity to get Carol’s hair brush, eye shadow, and some mascara. She sat behind her on the bed to quickly brush her hair so it was remotely presentable and then turned Carol around so they could face one another.
Therese quickly applied some eye shadow and mascara, silently thanking Carol for teaching her how to do makeup in critical moments like these. “See? You’ll be fine. Don’t worry about the boys and Louise. They could care less.” She didn’t apply any lipstick since they would just be eating and (everyone else) hopefully leaving. “You’re always beautiful, even after drinking all that booze.” Therese pressed a kiss to her lips and scrunched up her nose. “I love you dearly, but you will need to brush your teeth later.”
There were these moments every so often where Carol would become very self-conscious of her appearance and want to hide from everyone except Therese. All Therese could do was tell her how much she loved her and how she was the most beautiful creature in the world. Part of it also had to do with the newness of being open around some of Therese’s friends. She never had many others to talk about these things with; not that it was a big deal, but it felt so personal and had always been something so incredibly private. Times were changing around her though. Therese’s young friends were kind, intelligent, independent thinkers who weren’t concerned with the sex or age of the person you slept next to every night. That was no concern of theirs. They just wanted you to be just as kind, intelligent, and independently minded toward them, and Carol liked that.
As they entered the dining room, Abby was dishing out food to the others already seated. Everyone suddenly started to wake up and chatter among themselves. Their hair was messy, their clothes rumpled, Phil’s tie was upside down, Dannie’s shirt buttoned into the wrong holes. Once Carol and Therese entered the room, Phil quickly stood up, which he soon regretted for moving so quickly, and walked over to Carol’s chair to pull it out for her. Carol was truly touched by the gentlemanly gesture and took her seat at the head of the table, and once she was seated, Phil draped a napkin across her lap like they were at a fine restaurant. Granted, Carol and Therese’s apartment was far nicer than any place Therese’s friends had been to recently. He leaned down at Carol’s side and gave her a chaste peck on the cheek. “Thank you for hosting all of us last night, Carol. Therese is seriously one lucky lady to have you.”
“Don’t think I don’t know that,” she smiled and winked at Therese, who couldn’t stop blushing if she had to, "and thank you for just reminding me how much I don’t miss morning stubble,” she dryly replied.
Abby opened the bar cabinet and found a bottle of vodka, which surprisingly still had some liquid in it. She opened the bottle, poured a hefty amount into her orange juice, and stirred the glass with a flick of her wrist.
“Vodka anyone?” She was met with nothing but painful groans from everyone at the table. “What? I didn’t drink last night away like all you nitwits.”
Chapter 5: "I Concentrate on You"
Saturday, December 26th, 1953
Ham was in the oven, and had been since Carol woke up that morning. She had spent the early morning hours preparing a brown sugar and pineapple glaze; she'd bought so much pineapple that Therese knew they'd be eating it for a week or more. They could have had turkey, but why bother with turkey when it had just been served at Thanksgiving, Therese pointed out. Besides, there was always the chance - strong chance - of Carol overcooking turkey, which, in all honesty, was the real truth of matter. Typically, she wouldn't have cared about overcooking the turkey. Today though, there was no room for error.
Rindy was coming over. Staying over for one night while Harge attended a function in the city the day after Christmas. The party was going to run late and he said dropping Rindy with Carol for the night would be the easiest thing to do, so he could pick her up in the afternoon on Sunday.
Carol was a nervous wreck. It was the first time that Rindy would be coming to the apartment and her first time seeing Therese since last Christmas. The apartment was spotless, but homey and warmed by the central fireplace in the living room. Therese made up the bed in the guest room and helped Carol tidy up every corner of the apartment. With Rindy coming, they decided to forego celebrating Christmas until the next day when Rindy would be there. Neither one of them had ever celebrated Christmas Day by doing laundry, eating liverwurst sandwiches, and drinking pop like it was any other day of the week.
Therese made herself scarce when the doorbell rang, keeping herself busy by folding and putting away clothes in the bedroom she and Carol shared. Carol gave Rindy a quick tour of the apartment to show her where everything was, including implicit instructions to not go out onto the balcony without her or Therese.
Rindy carried her suitcase into the guest room where she stopped in the doorway upon seeing Therese open the curtains.
“Hi,” she shyly said.
“Hi, Rindy. Do you remember me?”
“You play the piano really well.”
Therese smiled and took the suitcase from Rindy, placing it on the bed. “Let me take your coat.” she offered and held out her arms to take it. Rindy handed it to Therese, who in turn hung it up in the closet. Carol then took the suitcase from the bed to place on the desk and turned back to watch Rindy look around the room.
“You’ll be sleeping here, snowflake.”
“And I will be right next door if you need anything.” Therese looked at Carol, wondering if she should say anything about her place in this apartment. It wasn’t the time to be worried about that sort of thing. Carol sensed the apprehension from Therese and right away asked, “You must want to open presents, don’t you?”
“Yes!” Rindy enthusiastically chimed, running into the living room.
Carol took a deep breath before following the little girl into the other room. Therese caught the look on her face and pulled her back into the room, away from Rindy. “Hey. You’re doing great.” Therese placed a hand up around the back of Carol’s head as she angled her toward her for a kiss. “She loves you. I love you.”
With a deep sigh and kiss to Therese’s forehead, Carol shook her head and remarked, "You’re right. You’re always right.”
The three sat in the living room, by the cozy fire and the illuminated Christmas tree with only a couple presents remaining to be opened. Rindy loved all the items from her stocking plus the new rabbit fur hat and muff that she had been given. For this five-year old, it was incredibly exciting to have two Christmases.
“This one is from Therese,” Carol said, handing the box to her daughter seated by the tree.
She shook the box and heard a deep thud from side to side as she shook. “What is it?”
“Open it and find out, sweet pea.”
Rindy tore into the wrapping, eagerly lifted the lid of the box, and pulled out a beautiful honey-colored teddy bear with the softest mohair fur. The little bear had a hand-stitched nose, button eyes, and a curious little smile on its face.
“A teddy bear!” Rindy gave the bear a hug and posed the stuffed animal in a seated position right in her lap. She put her arms around the bear and pressed it up against her. “Thank you, Therese.”
Therese smiled, extremely pleased with herself for picking out something that the little girl would like. She had been so worried Rindy wouldn’t like it. There were also dolls, but at least a bear was easily washable and, in her opinion, far less annoying than a doll that cries and wets itself. She never had a doll when she little, never had a teddy bear either. The bear seemed far more comforting to her; furry, cuddly, and far warmer than plastic or porcelain could ever be. A bear was something she would want, aside from a train set, when she was little. She couldn’t hold a train in arms when she was alone at night, but a teddy bear would always be there to accompany Rindy.
“I - “ Carol immediately corrected herself, “- we have one more very, very special present for you, snowflake.” Rindy looked up at her mother from the floor where she sat on a pile of wrapping paper and ribbons that easily covered her legs that now started to eagerly sway back and forth at the prospect of another present.
“That's mine too?” she eagerly asked.
“Uh huh,” Carol nodded and gestured for her to get it from under the tree. Rindy tottered over to the tree and grasped the large flat item, trying to pull it towards her. Some of the wrapping snagged itself on the tree, loudly ripping some of the green and gold paper in the process. Therese heard the faint “oh no” that fell from Rindy’s lips and quickly stepped in to help. “I got it, Rindy,” she said as she crawled down low to free the present for her. Therese pushed it forward so it was within the little girl's reach and she could do the final pull toward her on her own. Carol warmed when she saw Therese help Rindy, wriggling around on her stomach to get the present out from its precarious location.
The little girl eagerly tugged at it, completely overwhelmed by the size of the packaging and curious what could be inside. “Thank you,” she grinned. Once she sat back down, she urgently started peeling away at the paper of her mammoth present. Rindy unwrapped the train set with its oval track, station, and locomotive. Her mouth hung open as she inspected every aspect of the train set. “A train set, Mommy, it’s a train set. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“It's Therese you should thank. She picked it out.”
Therese sat back to look on, trying to emotionally distance herself from this moment by focusing on the present. It was the first time she had seen the train set not as part of a store display or simply boxed up in the storeroom. Ever since Carol moved into the apartment, the train set sat wrapped on the floor of the hallway closet, same paper and same trimmings as that night Therese had gone to her old house in Ridgewood. Every time either of them opened the closet door, there was the item that brought them together. The first time she'd seen Carol was by the elevator, looking at the train display. Now, Carol was finally gifting the present to her daughter who she loved so much.
Once they were done opening presents, Therese helped Rindy display the train set by the Christmas tree while Carol busied herself in the kitchen. She showed her how to connect the different tracks, assemble the buildings, and display the individual figures. “You know an awful lot about trains,” Rindy pointedly said. “How come?”
“Oh, I like to read. And I used to get to play with them every day.”
“You got to play with them every day?” Rindy exclaimed, incredulous that someone as old as Therese could actually play with trains every single day. Therese nodded. “Wow!”
Carol peered into the living room and saw the two playing with the train set by the Christmas tree. She almost didn’t want to break up the merriment, but she had already reheated dinner one time and didn’t want to go through the hassle of doing it again. The three of them went into the dining room and sat down to their Christmas dinner.
Rindy was so thrilled by her new train set and teddy bear, she tuckered herself out and walked over to her mother rubbing her eyes. Carol recognized the sleepiness in her daughter's eyes and picked her up to carry her into the guest room to take a nap. Rindy circled her arms around Carol's neck and rested her head against her shoulder as she was carried into the bedroom. Carol carefully removed her shoes before tucking her in, planting a long kiss to the little girl's forehead. She sat on the bed for a moment watching her daughter fall asleep. As she got up to leave, Carol paused to see her darling Therese standing in the doorway with Rindy's new teddy bear. She held it out for Carol to take, which she then tucked beneath Rindy's left arm. The sleeping girl made a brief noise and pulled the bear tighter to her under her chin.
They did a quick cleanup of the paper and ribbons, glasses and plates, and coloring books and crayons before sitting down together on the couch by the fireplace. They sat not touching, on opposite ends, listening to the roar of the burning logs. There was a touch of sadness in Carol's eye as she tacitly sat. After too much complacency and quiet, Therese saw her look around the room, no doubt scanning for her nearest cigarette box, or perhaps even bottle of whiskey - if there was one left to be found.
“No, don't,” she implored, reaching for Carol's hand. She had that look of wanting to escape, wanting release and distraction, but she needed to be there and be focused. Therese pulled her to her side of the couch, and encouraged her to lie down with her head in her lap. Carol’s feet hung over the edge, too tall to fully recline with the two of them on the couch. Instead, she compacted her frame onto the cushions, letting her right knee keep her propped up on her side. Arms quickly found Carol’s shoulders and Therese circled her, closing the gap with interlocked fingers. She slumped against the back of the couch to rest her head as Carol soon nodded off in her lap to the sounds of the crackling fire and the smell of Therese's perfume.
Therese sat out on the balcony, bundled up in her wool coat and scarf, casually smoking a cigarette. The air was frosty, the sky clear, and the street below still in a post-Christmas haze, one of those nights where it seemed no one else was in this city of more than seven-and-a-half million. It was nearly bedtime, rather she knew she shouldn’t stay up too late. With the addition of a small child in the house, Therese knew she would most likely be awake very early in the morning because Carol would also be up just as early to make breakfast and get Rindy ready for their museum outing.
It was an exhausting, but memorable day. After Rindy was ushered off to bed around seven, Therese and Carol stayed up quietly listening to the radio and talking. She was ecstatic, Therese noticed, the happiest she had seen her in weeks. Anxious, nonetheless very pleased to have a couple days with her daughter. All the waiting and anxiousness took its toll, and at Therese’s suggestion, Carol took a shower and was in bed before nine.
By herself, Therese aimlessly sat in the living room, listening to music, drinking a beer, waiting for the fire to die down. She still felt restless and decided to take the opportunity to shut herself away in her makeshift darkroom where she wouldn’t be missed to develop the day’s roll of film.
As she developed the photos, she couldn’t help but smile at the precious images she captured during the day. At Carol’s request, she took countless photos of Rindy and Carol together doing the simplest of tasks: mashing potatoes, opening presents, setting the table, dancing around the living room.
The photos came out remarkably well, especially the endearing photo of Carol and Rindy laughing and looking at one another with their noses pressed together. She produced two prints of that; hopefully with one to frame and give to Rindy to take home with her and one for Carol to put up in their bedroom.
Therese couldn’t sleep, even though she knew very well that she should go to bed. Nights like these, cold nights when Carol went to bed before her, she would stay up and make herself a glass of warm milk. Carol never liked it and would usually burn it when she made some, but for Therese it was a familiar and relaxing comfort. Therese found a small saucepan in the cupboard and poured some milk from the glass bottle into the pan on the stove. She kept an eye on the milk as to not burn it or let a skin develop on top.
“Mommy?” came a small voice from outside the kitchen. Therese peeked out from behind the swinging kitchen door to see Rindy in her nightgown wandering into the dark living room.
“She’s in bed,” Therese answered in a low voice.
“Oh.” Rindy looked disappointed and stood on the wood floor with her bare feet, shifting from foot to foot. Therese looked down, immediately noticing she had on no slippers or robe - probably forgotten to be packed in her overnight bag by Harge, or more likely, by the housekeeper. Her small feet were probably cold standing there, so Therese encouraged her to stand in the kitchen on the rug by the sink. Rindy stood on tiptoe to see what was up on the counter and saw one tumbler. “I can’t sleep.”
Therese thought for a second and glanced back down to Rindy. “Would you like some warm milk? I was just heating some up for myself.”
Rindy nodded her head.
“It’s almost done.” Therese shyly looked back to the little girl, waiting for the milk to fully warm. She pulled an extra glass from the cupboard and set it next to hers on the countertop. Since she would be sharing with Rindy, Therese changed her mind about the length of time she kept the saucepan on and swiftly removed it from the burner then turned off the stove. She didn’t want the liquid to be too hot for Rindy to drink. Therese poured equal parts into the two glasses and passed one of them to Rindy. “Careful, it’s warm.”
“Thank you.” Rindy grasped the glass from Therese and tested the milk to see if it was too warm. Therese also tested hers to make sure it wasn’t too warm to drink. Perfect temperature, she thought as she took a sip. The two drank their warm milk together in the kitchen, standing in perfect silence on the small rug in front of the sink. Rindy finished hers first, holding out the empty glass for Therese to take. Therese finished her own drink and put the glasses in the sink, adding some water to each one so that there wouldn’t be a milk ring around the bottom in the morning.
Therese held out her hand to Rindy to lead her back to bed. She eagerly took Therese’s hand and walked with her down the hallway. Once in the bedroom, Rindy pounced onto the bed and inched her way under the covers before Therese could even switch on the bedside lamp. Therese sat on the edge of the bed while Rindy settled in.
“You know what else I do when I can’t sleep?” uttered Therese.
“What?” Rindy whispered.
Therese leaned in and picked up the bear next to Rindy’s pillow. “I grab my teddy bear and cuddle her really, really, really hard.”
“You have a bear too?”
“I do.” Therese smiled. She handed the bear to Rindy as she tucked her in again, this time with her teddy bear snug safely under the covers.
“May I see her?”
“She’s asleep in the other room.” Therese fluffed the edges of Rindy’s pillow and smoothed out any creases. “I wouldn’t want to wake her.”
Rindy nodded her head, definitely agreeing it wouldn’t be a good idea to wake up Therese’s bear. “Do you think you can go back to sleep now?”
“Yes!” Rindy tightly held onto her teddy bear and shut her eyes. Therese checked the blankets one more time before switched off the bedside light and shut the bedroom door.
Therese did a final check of the apartment before heading off to bed herself, double checking the front door locks, ensuring the balcony door was firmly shut, turning off the light in the kitchen, unplugging the Christmas lights. She didn’t want to go to bed, she still felt so awake after a day of so much excitement. Regardless, she had to be up early in the morning to help Carol with Rindy and breakfast and all the things that come with caring for a small child. She pushed down on the handle of the bedroom door as gently as possible to not rouse Carol. Sometimes, the door squeaked and made the biggest racket that would rouse either of them from their sleep. Luckily, this wasn’t one of those nights.
As she walked into the bedroom, Therese saw Carol sleeping curled up on her side and clinging to Therese’s pillow as she usually did when she wasn’t in bed yet. She stood at the foot of the bed for a moment, watching her sleep. Therese began to undress, tossing her dirty clothing into the hamper in the closet, but then realized that with Rindy in the apartment, she needed to wear something to bed. It had been a good while since she wore any kind of clothes to bed. Quickly peeking out from the bedroom door, Therese swiftly walked to the Christmas tree and reached for one of the boxes still resting beneath it. She removed the flannel pajamas that Carol had given her for Christmas, immediately pulled them on, and scurried back to the warmth of their bedroom.
Therese pulled back the covers and climbed into bed. Before she could fully lie down, she pried her pillow from Carol’s grasp, waking her up and eliciting a whimper at the loss of contact. Carol flipped over onto her other side and made room for Therese. She adjusted the pillow so it rested next to Carol’s and whispered, “I’m right here.”
Wedging one arm underneath Carol’s neck and wrapping the other around her waist, Therese pressed Carol flush with her body and rested her chin on her shoulder. Therese tightly held onto Carol and shut her eyes.
When Carol awoke the next morning, she smiled as she observed the two milk glasses in the kitchen sink.
Chapter 6: "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"
Sunday, December 27th, 1953
Rindy always was an early riser. She must have inherited that from her father who had to catch the commuter train every weekday morning at some God-awful hour. Carol also tended to wake on the earlier side, especially whenever Rindy was around, in order to make breakfast and get her ready for the day, but it had been so long since she needed to be awake in the morning for her daughter.
This particular morning, Rindy awoke in an unfamiliar place, clinging to her new teddy bear. Remembering that she was at her mother's and had the cuddly bear Therese had given her for Christmas, she felt more at ease. In the darkness of the early morning, she got out of bed, carrying her bear in one hand, and wandered into the living room to go play with her new train set. She propped up the bear next to her as she pulled out her train, and was very quiet, trying her best not to make any noise until she flipped the power switch.
The train went around and around in a circle, making a whooshing sound as it lapped the metallic tracks. Never altering the position of any of the figures or buildings she and Therese had set up the previous day, Rindy watched with amazement as the train went around and around in a loop.
After about fifteen minutes and bored with watching the train with just her bear looking on, Rindy got up to look for her mother. She wasn’t on the couch, she wasn’t making breakfast, she wasn’t in the bathroom, she wasn’t in the room at the end of the hallway that smelled like funny chemicals. There was one other door she hadn’t checked; however, she was fairly certain her mother had to be in there. Rindy opened the door, once more lacking that characteristic squeak that it often had, and walked into the dark bedroom. The faintest amount of light came in through the curtains which allowed her to see her mother asleep in bed.
Rindy walked up to her mother’s side of the bed, and looked over her mother’s shoulder to see Therese snoring, sprawled out on her back, practically sleeping diagonally. Seeing Therese sleeping near her mother, she felt badly. Did she take Therese’s bed because she was staying over? Was Therese upset because she had slept in her bed and had made her sleep somewhere else? No one seemed upset, she thought, they both looked very comfortable in the big bed.
Looking back over at her mother, Rindy watched her sleep for a moment before speaking. “Mommy?” whispered Rindy. She called out one more time, but still nothing. Not to be stopped, Rindy walked to the edge of the bed and climbed up, flopping onto Therese’s legs beneath the blankets. There was a brief grumble from Therese, who then turned onto her side away from Carol and the ever-curious Rindy, completely unaware of the bed’s tiny intruder. Rindy found a sizable space between both Therese and her mother, and made herself comfortable.
When Carol finally woke about an hour later, she awoke to the sound of quiet humming and the feeling of legs swaying back and forth beneath the covers. “Therese, sweetness, you’re all tangled - “ Carol paused as she turned toward Therese’s side of the bed to see Rindy tucked into the blankets between the two of them. Carol didn’t say a word, utterly embarrassed by her daughter having come into their bedroom in the middle of the night, and crawling into bed between the two of them.
“Hi, Mommy.” Rindy smiled and gave a little wave.
Carol couldn’t recall a time when Rindy had even walked in on her and Harge sleeping in the same bed, and not that was an all-too-frequent occurrence anyhow while they were married. “My, my, you're up… early.” She sat up, raising the strap of her nightgown to her shoulder that had fallen in the middle of the night, and faced her very eager, very alert daughter.
“I’m awake!” she proudly said as she sat up next to her mother. Carol glanced at the alarm clock, seeing it read six-fifty. “You were sleeping!” It was Sunday, their usual sleep-in day, but sleeping in didn’t matter because Rindy was there with them. Plus there was their promised museum outing after breakfast.
A groggy Therese suddenly came to, realizing that she and Carol were not alone in their bed. She opened her to eyes to see Rindy happily smiling at her. There was a moment of panic when Therese wasn't quite sure how to react, but she was definitely glad to have pulled the new pair of pajamas from under the tree the night before and worn them to bed. She smiled back at Rindy who didn't seem in the slightest bothered by the fact she was in the middle of the bed between the two of them. If Rindy wasn't bothered, and she appeared perfectly content, why should she be?
Therese sat up, rubbing her eyes and smoothing out her hair as best she could. It was impossible to be upset by Rindy waking them up so early, especially when she was so precocious. “Good morning, Rindy.”
“Therese,” Rindy excitedly crept toward her, “can we play trains again today?”
“Of course we can.” Therese turned to face toward Carol, looking for some guidance on what to do. Her raised eyebrows said it all as she tilted her head in Rindy’s direction, wondering what to do. She wasn’t familiar with children; playing with them and making small talk, yes, she did that all the time at Frankenberg’s. But she had no clue what entailed getting ready for a day out.
“Rindy, sweet pea, let’s go get you cleaned up and dressed. Why don’t you go pick out your clothes and I’ll be there in a moment.” Rindy nodded and climbed off the bed to make a beeline for the guest room. The moment she left the room, Carol pressed a soft, extended kiss to Therese’s lips. “Good morning, angel.”
“What a way to wake up.” For a moment, Therese thought she was annoyed by Rindy appearing in their bed out of the blue. It wasn't the first time Therese couldn't read Carol's emotions immediately. After a brief reflection, she deducted that she was pleased as well as nostalgic with what had happened.
“She misses you,” Therese softly added.
Carol looked off to the doorway, silently wrestling with a plan for the day. She selfishly wished she could spend the day lounging around in bed with her two girls, sipping coffees, reading to Rindy, listening to music. Someday, she said. Someday Rindy would be old enough to understand their relationship, and she and Therese might be able to be more open with her in the confines of their apartment, but until that day...
“You get yourself ready, I’ll go dress and wash Rindy. When we’re done, you can both ‘play trains’ while I get ready.” Carol smiled.
“You want me to start breakfast?”
“No, no,” Carol replied, “you go play with her so she won’t be too disappointed when you have to pack it up later.”
Therese initiated a kiss this time, and took hold of Carol's shoulders to push her down onto the bed. “I love you,” she said as she leaned over Carol, delicately pressing her right hand against the patch of bare skin on her chest. Therese looked directly into her eyes and held her gaze, and all Carol could do was smile and return the kiss.
It was just before lunchtime when Carol, Rindy, and Therese left the Met. The morning was spent looking at paintings in only a few rooms as to not overwhelm Rindy with wall after wall of artwork. They needed to get home for Harge to pick up Rindy and were en route to the subway stop on Lexington.
Rindy skipped several feet in front of Therese and Carol until she wandered too far ahead. “Come back here and take my hand, please, Rindy.” Rindy stopped walking and waited the couple of steps for the two to catch up. Carol took her daughter's hand and kept walking. Rindy extended her right hand, which Therese immediately grabbed and playfully started swinging.
“Did you like the paintings, Rindy?” Therese asked.
“The ballerinas. They're really pretty.”
“She has excellent taste for a five-year old,” Carol pointed out to Therese with a smile.
“And the animals, I also like them.” Rindy added. She paused for a moment, remembering something important to tell her mother. “Mommy!” she exclaimed with a tug of the hand, “do you know Therese has a teddy bear too?”
Carol gave a confused look to a smirking Therese who kept walking, eyes forward, without saying a word. Carol pulled her coat a little tighter around her, gathering the fur at the collar and pressing the exposed space closed to fight back a draft. “Does she now?”
“Yes.” Therese squeezed Rindy's hand, and the little girl happily squeezed back.
When the day was done, Rindy gone back to Harge’s, and the guest room cleaned, Carol and Therese retired to the comfort of their bedroom. While Carol washed, Therese turned down the covers and fluffed her pillows, then reached over to do the same on the opposite side. That's strange, she thought to herself as she walked into the bathroom to find Carol.
“Carol, you left a hairbrush under your pillow.”
Chapter 7: "All of You"
Thursday, December 31st, 1953
“Did you want to go out?” Therese asked as she meandered her way around Carol’s nude outstretched form. “There's still plenty of time.” Therese's goal was to reach her lips sometime before the new year. The issue was that there were too many other distracting features along the way to Carol’s lips that simply plead for attention. Numerous features that required urgent assistance from either her mouth or her fingertips. Stretched in front of the fireplace, wrapped in blankets, Carol and Therese were immersed in one another. Nothing else needed to exist outside of their muted apartment walls and chilled bottle of Champagne.
For starters, it was the area behind her knee that, when her right leg was raised to rest on Therese’s shoulder, bent directly by the left side of Therese’s cheek as she knelt. Therese found it impossible to ignore the ticklish area, and couldn’t resist peppering the spot with a multitude of kisses. Right underneath Carol’s knee, Therese spent her time kissing and grazing the space with her tongue. Carol almost couldn’t determine if she should be laughing from the kisses to the exceptionally ticklish part of her anatomy or if she should be heavily sighing from the intense stimulation.
Second, there was the inside of her thighs. Each thigh demanded its own unique touch and attention. The right thigh, for example, was best left to the gentle ministrations of her mouth. Quick, darting kisses along Carol’s inner thigh. Lengthy, lingering licks from her knee to just below her curls. Those licks made her moan. And those moans reverberated throughout the living room.
On the other hand, her left thigh clamored for nips of Therese’s teeth, intermittent with kisses to break up the dull pain of the bites. Always the right thigh for biting, never the left. There was something so wonderful about the little marks Therese would leave on the inside of her thigh, little marks that would not appear for a couple days, and when they did, they would be bright purple from the steady nibbling. Then days later while in the shower or getting changed, Carol would look down and see Therese’s enduring bite marks, and then smile at the memory of how they got there.
Third was the curve of her hip; the angle at which it tilted down and joined her waist. Sometimes when they lounged around in bed, Therese would rest her head there, and daydream, or read. From that position, Therese could feel every inhale and exhale of Carol's breath. There was a peacefulness in feeling every breath go in and out. The curve of Carol’s hip was where Therese would stop for a break while coursing kisses around her body.
Easily Therese's favorite, fourth, was her lower stomach. With every touch, it fluttered. She could take her finger, and turn it over to press her fingernail against the skin to trace from side to side. The muscles beneath her skin would ripple and shake at the slightest contact.
There were also those few pink lines on her lower stomach. Small lines that to Carol were a persistent, pleasant reminder of Rindy. She loved their significance. Harge had never cared for them, and liked to make that fact known. He made her feel so ashamed, it was simpler on those rare occasions that they did sleep together, the lights were always off.
Therese couldn't understand why she was drawn to those lines. Perhaps because they were a sign of nurture and love, definitely not something for Carol to be ashamed of. The first time Therese had seen and caressed them, Carol didn't understand why she was doing that and swiftly shied away from her touch. After some calming reassurances, Carol moved her hand and blanket away, allowing Therese to fully see her. For once, Carol felt entirely pleased with her body once she saw the unabashed need in Therese's eyes.
Therese loved them because Carol did, and she adored kissing and cherishing the faint stripes as she worshiped her way around Carol's body.
Fifth, there were her breasts. Exquisite breasts that begged for Therese's mouth. Therese loved when Carol hovered over her and she would dip down far enough so she could take a nipple into her awaiting mouth. The tip of her tongue would circle round and round until she could no longer stand it, and Therese would have to make sure her hands were being put to good use elsewhere on her body.
If Carol was straddling her, Therese could also reach a free hand between them to press her fingers gently inside as she licked her breasts. Or bit. Therese was surprised by all the places Carol loved to be bitten. She made a point though that after every bite, she soothed the spot with her tongue for twice as long as she had bitten down. The concoction of pleasure and pain drove Carol to moan and writhe in Therese's arms each time.
Sometimes, all Carol had to do was lean over her and Therese would instinctively press a cheek to the side of Carol’s breast and turn her head to and fro as means of caressing her. It would happen at the oddest moments, not necessarily when they were in bed; Therese took comfort in the sensation and Carol liked the rush she received from that embrace. There would be the tiniest gasp escape her lips as Therese swept against them, grasping Carol's hips or backside to steady her.
Sixth was Carol's neck. When laying on her back with her head angled so her chin rested upon her shoulder, Carol would expose the length of her neck, always her right side, with eyes closed. Waiting. Waiting for Therese to surprise her with her mouth. The sensations and sounds Therese could elicit with the tip of her tongue could leave a girl speechless.
Occasionally, and Carol's favorite, was not the licking or biting of her neck, but the sweetness of Therese nuzzling her with her nose. She'd nuzzle the entire area, dragging her nose up and down the expanse of neck while emitting warm breath on her skin. Carol always associated the nuzzling with Therese: it was uniquely her. Thanks to their height difference, occasionally when Therese would reach in for a kiss, her nose would graze her neck and her warm breath would raise all the tiny hairs in anticipation of her mouth making direct contact. Every part of her body would flutter. It was one of the sweetest and most sexually alluring things Therese could ever do.
Seventh was something about the way Carol's knees parted when she laid on her back, and how her legs so readily opened before Therese. She would crawl back down her and kiss or lick every possible inch of skin in the vicinity before even thinking about approaching Carol's center with her mouth. Therese promised the anticipation of her tongue with every sensitive gesture making Carol’s hips move to catch any ounce of friction to alleviate the want. She would practically beg for her tongue by finally pushing Therese's head more firmly between her thighs, catching her fingers in her hair and tracing her fingertips around her head. By the time Therese could even get her mouth on her, Carol would be so swollen, so lubricious, and so ready.
Ever since the visit, they had been enjoying an abundance of pineapple and cherries left over from the baked ham. All that delicious, naturally ripened fruit left Carol in particular with an exceptionally delicate, sweet flavor, practically coaxing Therese to lick up every last bit for the past week. Not that she didn't normally do that, but this had indeed become a very special treat. Therese made a mental note for the summer months to keep a constant supply of fruits in the house because it was simply too delectable to describe.
Therese informed Carol exactly how delicious she was; however, Carol, always doubting herself, never believed a word. It wasn't until Therese insisted, telling her to sample for herself, that Carol had an idea of why Therese could spend what felt like hours satisfying her. All week, after every one of their fireplace sessions where Therese would bury herself between Carol's legs, she would eagerly pull Therese to her face after she climaxed to savor the blend of her essence and Therese's lips.
Now, finally kissing her, Therese looked pleased with a flushed and panting Carol beneath her on the rug.
“You didn’t answer me, Carol,” Therese started again. “Did you still want to go out?”
“Not particularly,” Carol stammered just as Therese’s nose swiped from throat to jaw line, kissing just beneath her ear. “No, no definitely not.”
The grandfather clock in the entryway chimed.
“Happy New Year.”
“Happy Anniversary, Therese.”
Chapter 8: “What Is This Thing Called Love?"
Friday, February 12th, 1954
“Thank you for seeing me, Fred.” Carol extended her hand to her lawyer who gave a smile as they shook.
“No, thank you for coming down here on such short notice. Let’s see if we can get this squared away once and for all, shall we?” Fred opened his office door and gestured for Carol to enter. She walked in, looking around the dark office, thinking that for an office on the corner it shouldn't be this dismal. Then again, a lawyer’s office wasn’t always a bastion of joy and cheerfulness. Outside, the natural light didn’t help either as it was extremely cold, windy, and grey. She took the seat closest to Fred's desk, placing her purse on the adjacent chair.
Fred cleared his throat before saying anything else. Carol could sense that he felt, somehow, awkward in this instance, not completely sure of how to proceed. “How is everything?”
“Excellent,” Carol pointedly stated, “far better than I could have imagined from a year ago.”
Fred nodded, perhaps grinned a little if Carol looked hard enough. “So, I take it a final signature on these will make things even better?”
Carol scoffed, “Just give them to me.” Fred turned the papers towards his client who sat looking at the documents without moving. Carol fiddled around in her purse, searching for her black fountain pen to use and finish it once and for all.
She blinked a few times and leaned forward. Carol picked up the copies of the papers and took a deep breath. From the strong odor of printing chemicals, she could tell that documents were hot off the ditto machine. Seemed like everyone just finally wanted all of this to be done and over. She unscrewed the pen cap, placed it beside her right hand, and signed each location in bold, black ink where Fred composedly pointed his finger. Harge's signatures were nowhere to be found yet on the papers.
One final stroke of the pen and that was that. No longer Mrs. Harge Aird. It felt right. One more disconnect from the Airds, New Jersey, and that boring, sheltered, isolated life.
Fred politely smiled and tucked the newly signed documents into a folder that went into one of his lower desk drawers. “Now that's out of the way, drink?”
Carol quickly glanced at the clock by the mantle. “It is after eleven.”
Fred rose from his chair to get the decanter of Scotch whisky and a couple glasses to place on his desk. He quickly popped his head out the door looking for his secretary. “Katherine, could you please bring us some ice?” Then he shut the door behind him. “So what else did you want to see me about?”
Carol patiently sat back in her chair and reached for her purse. “Let's wait for that ice.” Upon opening her purse, she produced a sealed letter envelope that she put down on the desk. Fred returned to his seat and sat down. The two sat in silence, waiting for Katherine to appear with a small ice bucket. Fred added two ice cubes each to the glasses and poured out two fingers of scotch. As soon as the glass was in her hands, Carol took a healthy swig followed by a tremendously deep breath.
“Okay, I’m listening.” Fred leaned back in his chair, hands neatly folded across his chest, waiting for Carol to speak.
“I'm going to be perfectly honest here, Fred. You - know - about Therese. You - know - what she means to me, who she is to me.” Carol took another gulp of her drink and returned the glass to the desk. She picked up the envelope from the desk and handed it to Fred.
“Inside the envelope, I've outlined what I'd like revised to my estate. The trust fund, my life insurance, all the bank accounts, the safe deposit box, stock portfolios, the house in Greenwich, the cottage on the Cape, the real estate in Maine, everything, Fred: it all goes to Therese.
“I'd also like papers drawn up regarding anything medical, permission for visits, important decisions, etc. I want it all, for each of us. I do not need awkward stares or bogus explanations during delicate moments. I'm not sure if this is beyond your legal scope, but you know what I need - what we need - so if you can’t do it, perhaps you know someone sympathetic to our situation who would.
“Now, I am, somewhat, older than she, and Therese has no other family so to speak, and in the event, God forbid, something, anything, absolutely anything, ever happens to me that she is not provided and cared for... it would ultimately break my heart.”
Fred leaned forward in his chair and picked up a letter opener to open the envelope. “Does she know you're here?” he asked as he made a clean slit in the paper.
“For the signatures, yes.” Carol crossed her legs and pressed her back firmly against the chair. She looked down at her hands in her lap and spoke without looking up. “She’s not aware of the other circumstances to name her as my beneficiary.”
“Do you plan to tell her?”
“Of course. I’ll tell her while we’re away.” Carol replied. “I would though like the emergency and medical unpleasantness resolved before we sail to Europe at the end of April. The other things can wait until we return.”
“Beginning of July.”
Fred quickly looked over the pages in the envelope with all of Carol’s requests. He squinted his eyes, scanning the pages and Carol’s broad scrawl to decipher the handwriting. “And Rindy?”
Carol paused and looked around the room as she gathered her thoughts. “Rindy is provided for under her father’s family trusts. Unless something drastic happens to alter that situation, I don’t see the need to include the same level of details as I’ve outlined for Therese.”
Fred simply nodded his head in agreement, and held out his hand. They shook a final time and Carol got up to leave the office.
“By the way, Carol, you’re doing the right thing,” he said with a wink.
Chapter 9: "It's De-Lovely"
Wednesday, April 28th, 1954
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Therese drifted in and out of consciousness, vaguely aware of Carol running about the bedroom, opening drawers, pulling items from the closet, dropping a string of obscenities to make any sailor blush. Curtains were drawn open revealing an impending brightness in the bedroom. She hurriedly knelt down at Therese's side of the bed to try and coax her awake. “Therese? Wake up, sweetie.” Carol murmured into her ear. She tried to speak sweetly and calmly, nonetheless there was a semi-urgent undertone in her timber.
“Bright,” Therese muttered, “too bright,” and pulled the blanket over her head, “gimme ten more minutes.” She didn't really care about the endless barrage of the word “fuck” that had been falling from Carol's lips, not when she was still sleeping and warm and comfortable and naked and -
“Not today, angel, we overslept.” Therese popped her head out from under the covers like a little gopher and looked at the bedside clock. She wasn't alarmed by what she saw and snuggled back down into bed with her blankets cocooning her. “Therese, Sunday we forgot to change the bedroom clock for Daylight Savings.”
Therese once more popped her head from the covers, this time with wide, panicked eyes. “Fuck.”
9:46 a.m 10:46 a.m.
“Darling, I am so sorry.” Carol gave her a peck on the cheek and smoothed her messy brown hair.
“It's not your fault; I didn't think of it either.” Therese looked at the clock once more, trying to see if they could still make their departure. Neither of them had gone to work the days leading up to their trip, so neither had need of the alarm clock, which had been stashed away until Tuesday night when Carol took it out to set for the following morning. “Are you packed?”
Therese looked over her shoulder to where Carol’s trunk sat. “Nearly,” she sheepishly replied. Carol's trunk had piles of cotton, silk, cashmere, and nylon in each corner of the case, without any thought to what was what or where. Therese then looked at her own trunk which hung open; it was more or less filled, only some shoes and books still needed to be added.
It wasn’t every day that Therese had to ready herself in under half an hour in order to catch a steamship to Europe. The plan was to spend about two months abroad, visiting places Carol knew or places she wanted to explore with Therese, gathering images of springtime (especially the tulip season) for the Times, or finding unique décor and suppliers for the Manhattan shop. It would be a mix of business and pleasure, hopefully more pleasure than business.
Therese threw on the most readily accessible clothing she could find, knowing that she would need to help Carol finish up and organize getting the trunks downstairs. “Could you please call for the porter and get him to help us with the trunks? Then ask the doorman to hail a cab once we're both down there?”
Therese bolted into the living room to call downstairs while Carol continued packing. There was so much she wanted to bring along with her, but knew convention suggested putting everything on the bed and take half of the contents. In her case, maybe a third or a fourth would be more appropriate. There were so many different clothes, colors, styles, weights, it was impossible to choose.
Perhaps, she thought, it would have been best to have Therese pack for her. While Carol was perfectly capable, there was something charming about occasionally having her pick out what she’d wear to work, to the movies, or even to just lounge around the house. Therese always picked out the loveliest outfits, always able to gather from her mood, the weather, the daylight, and all the other little factors what would be the best thing to wear for the day.
“Oh, fuck it.” Carol threw her hands up in the air, shut the trunk, and securely latched the brass closures. “I'll just pick up whatever I don't have,” she groaned to herself. Taking the carton from the nightstand, she took out a cigarette, and sat on the edge of the bed, staring at the now closed navy blue trunk.
“All set!” Therese shouted as she sprinted back to the bedroom to finish her own packing. Carol calmly lit her cigarette. Therese reached over once Carol took the first drag to have a puff herself, then handed the cigarette back. Looking at it in her hand, Carol saw the mark from her red lipstick, now smudged from sharing the cigarette with Therese.
“I said, ‘fuck it,’” Carol informed her, then took another drag. Therese could only roll her eyes and chuckle as she sat down besides Carol, resting her head against her shoulder. Carol put an arm around Therese’s waist to pull her close.
There was something to being out in public with Therese, being absolutely unable to hold, kiss, or embrace her at any moment she wanted, that ultimately bothered Carol. “Could I possibly get in a kiss or two now before we head out, as I have no idea when the next time is that I might kiss you today?” Therese smiled, willingly obliging Carol with any request.
“Here is your stateroom.” The young man opened the door and to cart in and arrange their trunks. Immediately upon noticing the one bed, porter appeared puzzled. “I do apologize, Mrs. Aird, but it seems as though you have been booked in a double and not a twin. Let me go check to see if another one is available.”
Therese gave Carol an urgent glance. They had gotten so accustomed to living in their own comfortable bubble at home where they didn't have to be concerned about sleeping arrangements and appearances on a daily basis. Even when staying at hotels, it wasn’t much an issue as Therese would make herself scarce for a moment to gather the luggage from the car. That and it wasn’t often that someone was needed to show them to their rooms. On an ocean liner though, there wasn’t really anywhere else to escape.
A wink from Carol said everything before she laid into the porter. “This is highly irregular. I made it perfectly clear at the time of making these reservations that I request a twin cabin - which I'll remind you was clearly noted by the booking office on my confirmation - with two separate beds. I can't believe the Cunard Line would make sure an egregious error, especially for this class of stateroom. Now let me find that booking slip in my purse…” She made a token, albeit dramatic, effort to drop her large purse on the bed and comb through it, finally flipping it over to sprawl out its contents all over the bedspread. Strips of paper, makeup, pens, pencils, tissues, keys, and a couple Sky Bars covered the foot of the bed, making the porter squirm where he stood watching this elegant woman empty his purse in front of him.
“I will immediately mention it to the staff, ma’am,” said the young man who started to shift from foot to foot, “and we will do our best to see what can be done.”
Carol stopped looking through the items on the bed and turned to Therese, ignoring him. “Therese, would you mind doubling up for the next five nights?”
Therese loudly sighed, eagerly playing along, “If we must. I mean, I think we can manage.” She looked around the room, scratching her head, feigning assessment of the space with their two trunks. “It is a very nice stateroom; it’d be a shame to switch.” It was a suite after all, so it wasn’t truly a hardship for them to have to share. She just made it look like there was.
One by one, Carol started to place items back inside her purse. “If she says we can manage, I see no use in changing staterooms when we're already here and most likely the others are already taken.”
“I'll inform the purser, ma’am. Again, apologies for any inconvenience.”
“Thank you.” Carol extended her gloved hand to tip the highly apologetic porter. He graciously accepted the tip and quickly left the two women alone in their cabin.
As soon as the young porter left, Therese locked the door then undid the buttons of her jacket so it would hang loosely on her frame. “‘Highly irregular,’” she mocked as she walked toward Carol to hold her from behind, wrapping her arms around her waist.
Carol reached down to cover Therese's hands with her own arm. “That poor young man. Did I come off too strong?”
“No, it was a perfect level of ladylike outrage. I like watching you go to battle.” Therese replied and rested the side of her head against Carol's back. There was a comfortable pause in conversation as Therese clung to her, stroking Carol's stomach through the tweed of her jacket. “I didn't get to bathe this morning. Join me?“
“In a moment.” Therese craned upward to kiss the side of Carol's neck, with Therese knowing full well what she was doing kissing her neck like that, and a breathless gasp escaped her lips. She let go of her waist so Carol could stoop to remove her heels and walk over to her trunk in the corner. “I'm going to assess what I’ve actually packed.”
“Alright.” Therese turned to enter the bathroom and left the door ajar. Carol listened for the familiar sound of zippers, clothes falling to the floor, and water running. She knelt down by the trunk to open it. So much empty space. There were namely stockings, sweaters, and skirts smooshed on the bottom beneath a few records, hardcover books, shoes, and her leather dopp kit; luckily plenty of room to bring home a variety of souvenirs, clothes, and shoes.
Carol took out items she needed during their voyage, tossing everything into one drawer. She pulled out a few books to put on the nightstand as well as some records which went on the sitting room table by the portable record player. Carol fully intended to make the six-day crossing into a delightful one.
About twenty minutes after Therese went to bathe, Carol strolled in and sat at the edge of the bathtub. Therese sat mostly submerged in warm soapy water, face covered by a washcloth. For a brief moment, Carol thought she had fallen asleep. “Comfy?” she asked in a low voice, just in case she had actually fallen asleep.
Therese lifted the hot washcloth from her mouth. “So comfy.”
“Did you use the salt water?”
“No, fresh water,” Therese replied. “What's the purpose of the salt water anyhow?”
Carol dragged her fingers through the bubbly water. “Oh, it's - soothing.” Her fingers still ran back and forth in the water, not making any contact with Therese. There were only small bubbles remaining in the water after the twenty minutes Therese had been in the bath. Not that they much of anything anyhow. She leaned forward to Therese's exposed mouth, the only part of her face not covered by the damp washcloth, and kissed her on the lips.
When their lips parted, the corners of Therese's mouth upturned into a glorious smile. “Get in.”
“Okay. Could you add some more hot water?”
Therese removed the washcloth from her face finally to look at the four taps on the tiled wall, turning on the hot fresh water. She ran her washcloth underneath to warm it again, reapplying to her face as Carol undressed. She forgot she had covered her mouth again and immediately uncovered it. “As much as I'd love to watch you strip for me, I'm too tired.”
“Another time, sweetheart.” Carol tested the water with her hand, finding it a perfect temperature and turned off the tap. With hands on her hips, she waited for Therese to move, but no luck. Poor dear, always so exhausted she thought. “Where do you want me?”
“Right here.” Therese finally took the washcloth away so she could see Carol properly and gestured toward the space between her legs. She sat up straighter, holding a hand out for Carol to take. Therese spread her knees apart to make space as she settled into the water.
Carol's skin was chilled from standing on the cool tiles. Once seated, Therese wrapped her arms around her, pressing Carol's against her abundant warmth. Her fingers nonsensically traced figures around her abdomen. If there was anything Therese loved more, it was the ability to wrap her arms around Carol whenever she wanted. Even though she was much smaller in height, there was something alluring about having Therese be the one to envelop her body to provide such warmth.
Carol lounged back, rubbing her shoulders from left to right against Therese and shutting her eyes to intake all the sensations of sharing the bathtub. “Much much better.” Therese draped the warm washcloth across the exposed part of Carol’s chest, making sure she wasn’t cold. A pleasant moan fell from Carol's lips as she snuggled into Therese and finally began to warm up.
“Can we do this every day of the voyage?”
Therese nuzzled the side of her neck, and replied, “Absolutely.”
Chapter 10: "Just One of Those Things"
Saturday, May 1st, 1954
Why were these dinners so boring, thought Therese. Granted, it certainly wasn't Carol's company that bored her. The food was excellent, but everything from the aperitifs to the seven-courses to the coffee to the digestifs felt so… dated. The people, at least most of them, were pleasant, yet, something underneath it all was so terribly phony and droll. Carol said this was similar to all the soirées and dinner parties she used to go to; only difference here was the established old money versus the nouveaux riches types trying to prove themselves traveling in First Class. Not that Therese understood the difference between the two: Rich was rich in her eyes.
She missed their private dinners out in Manhattan at local trattorie, biergarten, or on rare occasions, roadside seafood shacks or Chinese carry-out. Therese smiled at the memory of teaching Carol to use chopsticks one summer night, trying for a good thirty minutes to get her to pick up a sautéed slice of green pepper. Or Carol showing her how to crack into a steamed lobster. Maybe when they actually got to the Continent, things would return to that normal for them, albeit with a far different scenery than that of New York.
Whenever they were out among the throngs of First Class passengers, Carol and Therese could see all those inquisitive minds trying to figure out who the two ladies were based on the published passenger list. The mysterious Miss Belivet, whom no one seemed to have met, and this illusive Mrs. Aird, whose name was misprinted in the passenger list as the divorce was not yet finalized at the time of booking. Carol recognized, but hadn't been introduced to, some of the people she saw listed. Probably better that way, she rationalized.
For the most part, they kept to themselves, either dining alone or taking a leisurely stroll after dinner. They went to the movies at the small on-board cinema, watching Salome and Call Me Madam, sharing a bag of popcorn or, Carol's preferred treat, Junior Mints. There were always some busybodies, but they mostly didn't need to worry about letters.
Therese was late getting to dinner after spending time on the Main Deck taking photographs; another example of Carol's influence rubbing off on her, most likely. While she took photos, Carol either lounged in the library or was a common fixture in one of the smoking rooms. She spent hours undertaking her own photography project of capturing images of the ship and its crew at work. She was impressed by the number of people it took to keep the floating city plowing forward across the Atlantic. As she entered the dining room, she was startled to see Carol not sitting alone. There, seated at the table where they had been dining for the past three nights, was a well-dressed man, perhaps in his mid-forties. Therese couldn't accurately tell from the angle at which she approached as his back was to her. Carol made eye contact with her as she came closer, noticeably widening and rolling her eyes as Therese advanced toward them. When Therese was next to their table, she could finally hear exactly why Carol had been rolling her eyes and inwardly groaned to herself. Carol pointedly greeted her, stopping the gentleman's endless discourse.
“Miss Belivet, thank you for joining me.” Therese could tell from Carol's voice something was amiss, for she never called her Miss Belivet unless they were out in public or along strangers.
“The pleasure is all mine.”
The man sitting at the table turned to look at Therese then stood to properly greet her. He was at least six-feet tall with slicked back hair that all the men had in the 1930s plus some grey around the edges, and wearing a navy pinstripe suit. “Harry Stevens.”
“How do you do, Mr. Stevens.”
“I'm sorry, I seem to have taken your place here.” He played off that he was bewildered about his position at the table, but Therese instantly discerned that he knew damn well what he was doing. Not to mention the Maryland accent grated on her nerves.
“Oh, you haven't taken it,” Therese dryly commented, and took her usual seat across from Carol at the table. She placed the napkin across her lap, waiting for one of the waiters to stop by. “I missed the hors d’œuvres?”
“Salad and entrées as well,” Mr. Stevens added, quickly turning his attention back to conversation with Carol. “Now, Mrs. Aird, what kind of work did you say your husband was in again?”
Not as if Carol could possibly have her own work apart from a man in her life, Therese thought. Therese couldn't understand why she was in such a mood, so fussy over some preening businessman with greasy hair.
“I didn't.” Carol placed a wedge of lemon in her ice water and swirled the glass around. “By the way, it's Mrs. Ross Aird. There was an error on the passenger list printing.” Mr. Stevens looked very pleased by this error, getting cozier in his chair. “Miss Belivet, would you like me to have them bring you something?” Carol asked in a seemingly futile attempt to shift away his attention from her.
“No, thank you. I had some sandwiches and cake at tea.”
Therese nodded then had a sip of water. One of the ice cubes hit her front teeth while she sipped and caused her to cringe.
“Like I was saying before Miss Belivet arrived, the future is plastics, if you know what I mean. Everything's gonna be plastic - no more wood, glass or even Bakelite: Plastic.” Mr. Stevens just didn't give up. He kept droning on, incessantly speaking at Carol, not really paying any attention to Therese. “Surely you don't want to hear about all that,” he chuckled, “but if you want my advice, ladies, plastic is where to invest, why I could…”
Therese ignored the noise of Mr. Stevens who could never stop talking if his life depended on it; on and on about containers and packaging or materials and shipping costs. The glories of Monsanto and its synthetic products and scientific achievements with biochemicals. Forever cordial, Carol finished most of her dinner and listened, nodding, occasionally getting one or two words in between Mr. Stevens’ bites.
“Could I interest you in a stroll around the deck tonight? Nothing like seeing the stars at sea.”
“Here we go,” Therese murmured as soon as Mr. Stevens took a mammoth bite and could probably not hear her over his loud chewing.
There was a brief rustle under the table, followed by Carol jumping in her seat, then laughing at whatever it was, “I apologize, Mr. Stevens, but I'm otherwise taken for the evening.”
Therese wasn't supposed to have caught it, but there was no doubt that Mr. Stevens was being untoward with only one hand visible on the tabletop. Carol rustled again in her seat and tried to nonchalantly angle herself a hair further away from Mr. Stevens, grasping her glass of water in one hand and resting the other beside an unused fish fork. It was barely seven-thirty and, in her mind, far too early on a Saturday evening for this sort of thing. Therese was having none of it.
She removed one of her high-heeled shoes and slowly stretched her leg toward Carol. Her small stockinged foot crept up, finding the hem of her dress to slide beneath. Without making too noticeable a fuss, Carol squinted her eyes at Therese, wondering what she was playing at. Therese knew what the slightest contact to her thigh would do, especially to any bite mark bruises remaining from the previous night. Her heel rested between her leg as her toe caught along the side of Carol’s garter, slipping under the thin elastic strip that touched bare skin and making delicate circles against her thigh. They adored discreetly caressing one another like that in public, particularly at dinners and always at the restaurants with extra-long table linens; seeing how long one of them could hold out before Carol had to request the check.
Regrettably, it didn't take too long before Therese felt Mr. Stevens’ hand right above where her foot rested against Carol, rubbing those little circles. Mr. Stevens quickly removed his hand and turned his head to look at Therese, unconvinced that what he thought was happening was actually happening. She smirked when she then felt his knee press toward her own leg, as though he needed further verification as to what was going on. Without any hesitation whatsoever, Therese angled her head and in an unwavering voice spoke, “Like she said earlier: Taken.”
Mr. Stevens abruptly stood and dropped his napkin into his plate. “Ma’am. Miss Belivet.” Mr. Stevens bolted from the table, nearly forgetting his hat, which Therese held out without giving him a second look.
“Goodbye,” Carol whispered as Mr. Stevens walked away. “That's hopefully the last of Mr. Stevens.”
Therese paused, looking at the ice now melting in her water goblet. “I'm sorry.”
Carol dropped her hand to her lap to find Therese's foot. She lightly squeezed it and left her hand there, lovingly reassuring her. “No, you were perfect, sweetheart,” she declared in a low voice. Therese thought that someday, she would grow out of blushing at the drop of a hat; however with Carol, there were moments like these where not turning any shade of red would be utterly hopeless. Carol reached for her wine glass with her free hand, subtly raising it to Therese, “To my noble defender.”
“I didn't like him getting so - handsy - with you. And at a dining table, with me here.”
“Oh, one gets used to it.”
Therese didn't deflect from her gaze into Carol’s eyes. Why wasn't she as bothered? She picked up the bottle of Bordeaux and poured herself a glass. Carol pushed hers toward Therese who expertly filled it with the pour-and-twist technique Carol had taught her that spring to not drip onto the linens.
“You shouldn't have to get used to it, Carol. It's disrespectful to you.”
Carol didn't say anything else about the matter, but she was undeniably churning it over in her mind. She didn't touch her plate again as the two of them sat in complacent silence for the remainder of the sitting, finishing off their bottle of Bordeaux. As soon as the dessert cart came around and Therese declined any sweets or coffee, Carol reached for her purse, and looked at the door. “Would you like to get out of here?”
Therese looked around her to see if anyone was watching them so she could down the last glass of wine she had just poured. “Yes.”
The two of them casually got up and made their way out of the First Class Dining Salon, heading back to their stateroom. With everyone at dinner still, Therese held out her arm for Carol to take as they walked along the vacant corridor. At first Carol declined, arguing someone might see them.
“We need to walk one hundred feet to our room. Just say I drank an entire bottle of wine on an empty stomach. Let them talk.”
“Partial truths. You've convinced me.” Carol grabbed onto Therese's arm as they walked back to their stateroom.
Upon opening the door to the suite, Therese was surprised by the change in setup.
“What's all this?” Therese exclaimed. The coffee table had been moved against the wall, chairs were out of the way, and a bottle of Champagne on ice sat in a metal bucket, beside it two flutes on a silver tray. “Is this what you get up to when I'm out taking pictures?”
“Well, that and I thought that while everyone else was drinking and dancing tonight, we should enjoy that same.” Carol tossed her purse onto one of the side chairs and immediately went to the Champagne. Therese retrieved the two flutes as Carol opened the bottle with an exuberant pop and poured two glasses. They stood next to each other and clinked glasses, Therese with her head tilted to the side and grinning, and Carol eagerly leaning toward her for a kiss on the cheek.
“This is all very romantic, Carol, but you know I don't dance.”
Carol smiled, “Nonsense, you've never danced with me.” She pushed a final piece of furniture out of the way to create a big enough space for both of them to move around. Her attention soon turned to the record player atop a nearby dresser. She pulled a well-worn record out from the small stack by the record player and put it on the platter. When the music started, Carol stood still with her back to Therese, humming along for a few bars and lightly swaying her hips. Then she turned around, smiling, and held out her hand to Therese. “This arm, line up by my shoulder and rest it on mine.” Carol tapped her own right shoulder. “With the other, take my hand.”
“Is this with you leading?”
“What if I want to lead?”
“Then you put your arm around my waist and take this hand,” Carol replied, “but let me lead this first time.”
“How about my feet?”
“Just follow me.”
While they didn’t quite float around the room like Fred and Ginger, Therese focused on her toes, trying not to step on Carol’s larger feet, and felt more and more at ease as Carol guided her around. Carol was an excellent instructor: very direct, very thorough, very patient.
“There should be some space between the two partners, but I think in our case, we can safely rule that out.” she said, pressing Therese closer and kissing her forehead. Therese smiled and then veered her head to rest against Carol as they danced.
As she moved in time with the music and to Carol’s motions, she realized that she really actually liked dancing. Maybe because it was a woman, and not some boy. Maybe the entire reason she always said she didn’t like to dance was because she would have preferred more than anything to be dancing in the arms of the beautiful blonde who was holding her at that very moment.
Chapter 11: "I Love Paris"
Saturday, May 8th, 1954
“You know what I like?” Therese tore off a small piece of bread that sat next to her plate.
“I like sitting next to you like this. Being here. Springtime. No work. I feel spoiled.”
“You are spoiled, Therese.” Carol joked. “Besides, I promised you someday we'd go to France.”
Even though it was a holiday, the lunch crowds hadn’t shown yet when Carol and Therese arrived at the café around the corner from their Paris hotel. No crowds meant that they didn’t need to sit across from one another at the small table, but could instead sit side by side, facing the street for the best people watching.
“You also promised me you'd tell me how you know Paris so well.”
Carol laughed to herself, putting down her fork and taking her wine glass in her hand. “Why are you so curious?”
Therese shrugged, “I just want to know things about you.”
Shifting back in her seat, Carol drank the rest of her wine and placed the glass back on the table. “My junior year of college started in 1940, so I missed out on the whole year abroad that many of my other friends had. I came here after the war in late ‘46, after I married Harge, before Rindy was born, just before, well, Abby. Harge didn't come, he stayed in New Jersey and worked, so it was just me and a bright studio apartment on the rue de Rivoli. I studied painting, sculpture, traveled around France and England, wherever, whenever. I stayed up late, rode the métro in endless loops, learned how to really cook - learned how to shop at a market, spent hours in museums either looking or sketching. It was my first real taste of freedom to do as I pleased.
“During the summer, Harge came to visit. We weren’t - trying - to have a child, but that’s what happened. I used to think he did it on purpose, poked a hole or some such because he wanted me home, but there’s no use in worrying about that at this point. It was just after I got home that me and Abby opened the furniture store and …” Carol trailed off, noticing a young man sitting at a nearby table writing in a notebook, taking notes from another book in his left hand. “I had to send for my things and haven’t been back until now.”
There was obvious regret in Carol’s voice, not about having Rindy, but leaving the freedom. Therese studied her face, somehow observing every single thing that coursed through her brain. She was distracted by the memories; nevertheless, she knew deep down that with Therese she had that freedom she had always wanted.
“If it had been any different, we wouldn’t have Rindy.” Therese breathed.
Carol grasped her hand underneath the round café table and held tightly. “I know.”
“And you'd have never come into Frankenberg's looking for a doll on that day.” Therese tenderly squeezed her hand back.
“Full circle.” she reminded them both.
Therese casually gestured to their two plates of roast duck. “You also promised me you'd not let me order the same thing so we can try different menu items.”
“I can’t help it if you have good taste,” she bragged with a twinkle in her eye, and set about finishing her meal.
Therese picked up Le Parisien libéré, thumbing through the pages. She couldn’t read some of the text, although she most interested in the photography and the types of images they were publishing. The day’s images were more or less grim with pictures of the fall of Dien-Bien-Phu, the day before. She no longer wanted to look and put down the paper.
“What time is your fitting?” she asked.
“At two.” Carol picked up Therese’s wrist to look at her watch. “We have plenty of time still.”
Therese poured the remainder of the wine into their glasses and relaxed, watching the world go by.
“Are you certain I can’t get you something?” Carol looked at herself in the mirror again, smoothing the fabric down her thighs.
Therese sat back in her plush armchair, legs crossed, smoking her second cigarette while watching Carol try on suit after suit. “When would I wear something like that, Carol?”
“You never know,” Carol pursed her lips and grinned, “but I sure as hell know you’d look very lovely.” Therese never admitted it, but she delighted in every opportunity Carol took to compliment her.
Therese stared, watching Carol look at herself and move around in the suit, trying to judge where alterations needed to be made. She bent at the waist, rotated her arms, swiveled her hips back and forth. Therese uncrossed her legs, then crossed them again, silently observing from the armchair. The light in the room was excellent and Therese wished she could pull out her camera, but Carol advised against it earlier.
“Well?” Carol shrugged, looking to Therese for her input. She stood with hands on her hips in the brightly lit room, eagerly awaiting her reply. Therese put out her cigarette in the nearby ashtray and wagged her finger, beckoning Carol to her side. Therese’s eyes traveled down her body as Carol walked over to the chair and bent at the waist so that she was eye to eye with Therese. As she leaned forward, some strands of blonde hair came untucked from behind her ear, and she pushed it back into place.
Therese uncrossed her legs again and angled herself forward. “Turn around again.” She perched her elbow on her knee and rested her head on her hand as Carol shifted her body to face the mirror once more. Therese spent a few seconds examining every facet of Carol in the couture suit before moving a hair. Carol started to move to meet Therese’s gaze, but Therese promptly stopped her. “No, eyes forward.” She stood up and walked directly up to Carol’s back, placing herself directly behind her. From her position, Therese could readily see the door should anyone approach.
Therese’s hands grazed over the tweed fibers, starting at Carol’s hips all the way to her shoulders and down again to trail along her backside. There was a pronounced hitch in Carol’s breathing as fingertips skimmed across the fabric as Therese assessed the suit, “I love how you look from behind, how the fabric pulls perfectly against these curves.”
Maintaining contact with hands on her shoulders, Therese stepped to the side for a moment to see the expression on Carol’s face in the mirror. She didn’t intend for this suit fitting to be so arousing, but being with Carol made these types of moments frequent more often than not. Thoroughly admiring what she saw, Therese moved back behind Carol and resumed her meandering hands; however, instead of going to her shoulders, they traveled to the sides of her breasts. Standing on tiptoe and maintaining her balance by holding onto Carol, Therese whispered up into her ear, “Your breasts, on the other hand, are just exquisite in this suit and you should probably get it in a couple different colors.”
Carol turned around to face Therese, capturing her lips with her own and pulling their bodies flush. Just as soon as they kissed, Carol let go with a lingering pull of her lower lip against Therese, remembering that the staff could walk in at any moment. All Therese could do was smirk, noticing the smudged lipstick, unmistakably pleased with herself with having reduced Carol to kissing her out in public, even if it was the privacy of a dressing room. Carol put one hand on her hip and pointed back to the chair where Therese had so patiently been sitting earlier. “We’re going back to the hotel and you’re going to put that sassy mouth of yours to good use.” With the utmost alacrity, Carol started undressing, facing the mirror as before, and looking for the clothes she had worn in earlier. She paused when she saw her face, lipstick ever so slightly smeared.
“Is this that striptease you owe me?” Therese added as she returned to her seat and crossed her legs at the knee. A moment later, she reached for the cigarette case and pulled one out as Carol unbuttoned the skirt and it pooled at her feet.
“Maybe. Do you like watching me strip for you?”
“Carol, I'm a photographer,” Therese said and took a drag of her newly lit cigarette, “you know how much I like to watch.”
Chapter 12: "Ridin' High"
Tuesday, May 18th, 1954
“I think I got some really good tulip shots. Not too sure about the daffodils,” Therese said, popping a roll of film out of her camera. “What time is the train back to Amsterdam?”
Carol opened her purse to retrieve the tickets where she’d written in pen the departure time. “Two-thirty. And right now it’s - “ she reached to Therese’s right arm that had the watch and pulled up the sleeve to expose her wrist, “ - twelve-fifty, so there’s plenty of time.”
“Perhaps when we reach Switzerland, I should pick out a nice watch for you.”
“Ah, but then I’d lack a particularly good excuse to touch you.”
Therese put a new roll of film into her camera with a smile. “Have you ever seen anything like this?”
Carol shook her head. “Almost overwhelming.” She sat on a bench near Therese who was setting up her next shot, resting on her stomach and elbows to get a close up of a periwinkle-colored tulip. She watched Therese’s every motion as she angled her arms up and down to ensure the light wasn’t too much or too little, or that the bulb was in focus. Every gentle breeze affected her positioning, causing Therese to wait until the stems and petals stopping moving to click a shot here or there. She then drifted off, looking at the ever-growing line of people outside one of the nearby pavilions.
Once satisfied with her photos, Therese looked up at Carol, comfortably sitting on the bench and staring off at a nearby pond. At least she thought she was staring at the pond; it was difficult to tell in those sunglasses. It would have been so easy for Therese to raise her camera again and take a quick photo of Carol, all lost in her thoughts with arms wrapped around her middle, legs crossed at the ankles, but if she heard the shutter, she would immediately tumble back to reality. Rather than move, Therese relaxed on her grassy perch to observe her. She acted as though she was still taking pictures so that no park employees could come around scolding her for being on the grass.
After a good ten minutes without a peep from Carol, Therese looked up, “What are you thinking about?”
Carol turned her neck and then her gaze down to Therese, sprawled on the grass. “Oh… I don't know, lost in thought, I suppose. Admiring your photo skills, your patience.”
Therese grinned. “I'm not that patient.”
“Maybe I'm just hungry.“
“You're always hungry,” Therese added. She pushed herself up to stand and brushed off any grass or dirt from her knees and elbows. “Let's feed you and then head back to the station, okay?”
Carol looked her over, noticing some blades of grass and dirt smudges on the elbows of her jacket. She reached forward to brush them off; Therese saw them at the same time and got them cleared off before Carol’s hand could make contact with her.
Carol took a second bite from her warm stroopwafel. “Sometimes, I think we’re just eating our way across Europe, Therese.”
“No, I told you you were hungry.” Therese briefly thought about taking a bite of Carol’s snack, but decided against it when she looked back over to see there was only more one more bite left to it. “Now that you have something in you, you going to tell me what’s really on your mind?”
Distracted, Carol stirred her tea, now cooling since there wasn’t a stroopwafel covering the top of her cup anymore. She took a sip and put the cup back onto the saucer, stirring it again for some unknown reason. “I’ve just been thinking what a fool I am.”
“You shouldn’t say that.”
“It’s true,” Carol insisted, “I’ve taken so much for granted.”
“When I was with Harge,” she began, “I could take his hand, or pull him in for a kiss, or put my arm around his waist, whenever. Anywhere, anytime.” Carol lowered her head, speaking very quietly. “And I can’t do that openly with you. It’s not about showing anyone outside of you and me,” she sighed, “it’s about me showing you how much I’m in love with you and how happy you make me feel every day.”
Therese shifted in her seat, outstretching her right hand on the table top toward Carol, woefully knowing full well that she could not grasp it in return. She looked at her hand, then into Carol’s eyes, then back to her own hand. “Maybe someday,” Therese speculated.
Carol smiled and cautiously reached with her left hand toward Therese, only making a beeline for the cloth napkin she had placed above her plate. She kept her hand on the napkin, mere inches from Therese’s hand, idly tapping her pinky and ring fingers against the metal table.
Therese smiled and silently mouthed, “I love you.”
Wednesday, May 19th, 1954
Carol opened her eyes and looked around the hotel room, hankering to figure out where that tapping sound had come from. It wasn’t the radiator or the water pipes, it wasn’t from inside the room, perhaps the hallway?
Not the hallway either. She looked back at the bed to find Therese missing. Her pajamas were draped across the desk chair and her sneakers missing.
She went to the window, overlooking the Herengracht, to see if there was something outside. Maybe a bird had gotten confused, but there wasn’t a bird out there, but there was Therese wearing her herringbone jacket and new red beret, grinning up at her while seated on a bicycle.
Carol opened the narrow window, barely avoiding the last pebble that Therese had thrown at the first-floor window to their room.
“Where’d you get that?” she exclaimed while pointing at the bicycle.
“I liberated it.”
“Liberated?” Carol turned up an eyebrow.
“Yes, so get dressed and come on down. I need to get the bike back to Marijke by seven.”
“Nevermind that, put some clothes on already.”
Looking over her shoulder at the clothes strewn about the room, Carol glanced to see what she could throw on relatively fast. She turned her attention back out the window to the eager woman below. “I’ll be down once I get wash - “
Therese shook her head. “You’re gorgeous as you are,” she interrupted without trying to yell too loudly, “just brush your hair, throw on a sweater and that plaid skirt I like, and get on down here.”
“Okay, I’ll be right there.” Carol quickly shut the window and set about finding something to wear. She hurriedly dressed in her blue cashmere and managed to find the loose skirt Therese suggested she wear, and pulled everything on over the slip she’d worn to bed the night before. A quick pass of her hairbrush and slip into her moccasins, and Carol was out the door. She rushed through the lobby, trying not to draw the attention of the night porter on duty still reading a magazine.
“Explain,” she requested as she walked out the hotel door onto the vacant canal street.
“Marijke leaves work at seven-thirty, so I told her the bike would be back by seven. Hop on.”
“That's all the explanation I get?” Therese nodded. “You don’t want me to steer?”
“I might not be able to drive, but I can ride a bike,” Therese replied. “You take the rumble seat, and let’s get going.” She patted the small padded space on the rear carrier and Carol obediently got comfortable in her seat before Therese started to ride. “Oh, and one final thing. You’re going to need to hold onto me, okay? Don’t want you falling into the canal.”
Carol looked down to Therese’s waist, hesitating before discreetly placing one hand on each hip. Therese looked ahead, then angled her head to look left for any other cyclists coming up the rear. She wiggled her hips back and forth, still not pedaling, but checking to see if Carol’s hands followed her movements. They securely grasped her hips, similarly to how she had been pleasantly gripping them the night before, and didn’t stray from Therese’s body.
“I’m not sure if this is secure enough,” Therese remarked as she almost started to pedal. “Try putting your arms around my waist.”
She didn’t have to say it twice. Carol slid her hands from hips to waist, intertwining her fingers against Therese’s stomach to hold tightly. “Like this?” The thumbs of each hand rested just beneath her breasts, and lightly rubbed from left to right.
Therese leaned back so she was pressed against Carol as much as she could be. “Exactly like that.”
As Therese began to ride down the canal in the early hours of the morning, just before all of Amsterdam’s cyclists took to the street to ride to work, Carol lovingly clung to Therese as she pedaled down the cobblestoned path. She closed her eyes, and rested her head against Therese’s warm back, inhaling her flowery perfume and reveling in their closeness.
Chapter 13: "Night and Day"
Friday, May 28th, 1954
“The whole cabin to ourselves?”
“I guess it’s a slow day.” Carol looked back behind her as the attendant shut the door. “And… things are looking up.”
Therese wobbled when the Riesenrad began to move up. She'd never been in a Ferris Wheel-type contraption before. Carol assured her that this would be more fun since you went up in a small box rather than have your legs dangle over the side. “Did you come here back in the ‘40s?”
“No, I never made it to Vienna back then,” Carol replied. She took a seat in the middle of one of the two benches, nervously crossing one leg and then the other until she found a comfortable position. Therese was so happy and curious all the new sites around that day; Carol figured it would be as good a time as any to talk to her about something that weighed heavily on her mind. “I actually want to discuss something with you, Therese.”
Therese worriedly looked back. Never before had Therese heard that tone of voice from Carol: a million worried thoughts coursed through her brain. “Okay,” she sheepishly said.
“No, no, darling, it's nothing bad.” Carol immediately noticed the look of worry on her face. Carol motioned for her to sit down beside her, and Therese slowly made her way toward her. Typically, Therese would sit next to Carol, trying to touch her or press against her as casually as she could without drawing suspicion. When Therese sat this time, she purposely left a foot-wide space between the two of them. “I met with Fred before we left.”
“About the divorce papers?”
“Yes.” Carol looked down at her feet and stared at the black leather shoes she wore. There was a tiny splatter of brown, a dot of caked on mud from walking on an unpaved path on their way to the Riesenrad. “It wasn't just for the divorce papers though, I asked him to do something.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Soon? You're scaring me a bit here, Carol.”
“I asked him to draw up some papers for us. Legal protections, the kinds married couples automatically have without going to an attorney.”
“I don't understand. Why would we need that?”
“Abby was telling me about some friends of hers, another couple, probably together about fifteen years or more. One of them fell gravely ill, but her… she wasn't able to see her in the hospital or make decisions. If something ever happened and I couldn't see you, I don't know what - ”
“That's neither here nor there,” Therese interrupted, “and thanks to you, it sounds like we don't need to worry.”
“I always keep a copy in my purse. I'll give you yours back at the hotel.” Therese nodded and shifted closer to Carol.
“One more thing.” Carol took her hand and fiddled with her thumb against Therese’s skin. “I've also asked Fred to make adjustments to my… estate, naming you as my beneficiary.”
Therese's hand suddenly felt clammy as it gripped tighter and tighter. “Why - why are you doing all this? And the medical paperwork? Is there something you're not telling me?”
“I'm not hiding anything from you, darling. I only want to ensure you are taken care of and that nothing is left to chance. God forbid something happens to me, you will at least have a little something.”
“What about Rindy? I don't want to take away from her.”
“Harge and his parents have that covered.” she coolly replied. “Fred mentioned everything would be drawn up come July. August at the latest.”
Therese stood up and walked to the closest window to look out at the city. It was so beautiful from so far up, but so sad as well. There was a clear line where buildings still had not been rebuilt from the war; lines of rubble, decay, and bombed out structures throughout. There were plenty of buildings that had been painstakingly rebuilt, some stone by stone, at least in the center where the rebuilding had been most prominent. She tried to brush away what Carol had just told her, didn't want to think about the inevitable, even if it would be years and years down the line.
Before they reached the next stopping point on the wheel, Therese pulled out her camera to attempt a series of panoramic city shots. She hoped that someday, she would be able to return to Vienna and take the same series of photos again, with hopefully all signs of the war gone from the landscape.
Vienna was wholly different from the other European cities they had visited by the end of the May. There were more visible reminders of unpleasantness and reconstruction around them, more tangible indications of the war wherever they looked. There was a beauty to the chaos of a city in the midst of transition, and Therese was doing her best to capture it on film.
Once Therese finished her photos, Carol walked over, standing close, but not close enough to touch. Therese looked at the buildings and the park below, nonetheless it was the river that struck her most. Wasn’t the Danube supposed to be blue? Like the Strauss waltz that played everywhere? The water was nothing but a dismal, murky shade of brown. “I’m disappointed: I thought the Danube was supposed to be blue.”
Carol took a step or two closer looking out as well to the river below, reducing the space so that she could brush her hand against Therese’s back. “‘The Danube is only blue to the eyes of people in love.’”
“It’s an old legend,” Carol answered, “but to be perfectly fair, I heard it first in Goodbye, Mr Chips.”
After a couple more minutes of silence, it was clear that Therese was in no mood to joke around with her. The circuit around the Riesenrad was nearly done; only a few more cabins to go until the ticket taker opened their door.
“I'm heading to the Stadtpark after this,” Therese remarked as she made certain all of her photography equipment was safely packed away.
Carol waited for her to add, “come with me,” but she never did. She then understood Therese needed time to herself. They had been spending almost every hour with one another for nearly a month, without an office or darkroom for Therese to escape to, or a client-only dinner for Carol to attend. They weren't exhausted with one another, but Carol knew she needed to recompose herself, and Therese needed time to think after their discussion. Perhaps the altitude had helped clear her own head even just a little.
“Will you be back for dinner?” asked Carol.
Therese glanced at her watch, then out the window. “Not sure.”
“Do you need any money?”
Therese didn't have to think twice. “I'm good.” She walked toward Carol and placed her hands on her chest, one on each side beneath her shoulders. “I just… I need a moment.”
Carol took dinner in the room, when Therese hadn’t returned by eight. She sat up for a while after dinner: smoking, drinking, worrying until about nine when she changed out of her clothes and reclined on the sofa with a book. She finally heard the key in the door around ten, realizing that she had fallen asleep with her book perched across her chest.
Therese put down her bag on the desk and walked over to sit on the sofa next to Carol. She removed the book that rested on her chest and placed it on the floor by her feet. Carol’s lightweight robe was haphazardly tied around the waist, revealing the silk undergarments beneath. Therese did her best to not be distracted by the way Carol lounged on the sofa, half dazed, half alert to her presence.
“Where have you been?” she asked, alarmed by the late hour and without having received any word from Therese that she would be out after nine.
Completely avoiding her question, Therese looked down at Carol with a dour expression. “You said that you had papers drawn up, like a married couple.” Therese waited a moment before continuing, her foot delicately tapping against the book she had just placed at her feet. “Did you ever think of asking me?”
“I assumed. I thought that you'd be amenable to it.”
“I am amenable to it. That is, I'm glad you have that foresight, knowledge, and life experience to know what we need. You are looking out for me, and for us. I love that. If we're a team, if you’re in my corner, make sure I'm part of these discussions.” Therese wrapped her arm around Carol's waist and brushed her thumb against the side of her hip. “Ask me.”
Therese leaned back against Carol’s legs, making sure she didn’t fall off the sofa. Sensing Therese’s precarious position, Carol placed one hand on her back trying to steady her. Therese smiled when she felt stable with the warm hand keeping her in place. “It's just - marriage, or something like it - you know? I'm not sure if I'm ready. Maybe I am, but maybe we're already ‘married.’ I don't know. My mother was already married and had me at this age.”
“I was married… “ Carol added.
Therese was silent, enjoying the feeling of Carol rubbing her back, up and down, side to side. Therese then intently stared into Carol's eyes and spoke quietly before she could get any further distracted, “Would you?”
“Would you want to marry me?” Therese asked.
Carol propped herself up on her elbow and moved her arm to place her hand on Therese's cheek. “Dearest, I'd marry you in a heartbeat.” She pulled Therese in for a kiss, then rested her forehead against her. “You do know I want us to have a whole lifetime together?”
“Yes, I do.” Therese kissed her back and pulled her to sit up. “Let's go to bed.” Therese walked off to the washroom and shut the door.
Carol stood and shed her robe; however, debated removing her slip. The temperature was warm, not unbearable, and sharing the bed with Therese would only make it warmer. In the end, she decided to remove her slip and then crawled between the white cotton sheets which she covered herself with just enough to stay warm, waiting for Therese to join her. Therese emerged from the bathroom, now make-up free and bare-skinned. Everything Therese had been wearing ended up draped over a nearby chair as she walked toward the bed.
Therese pulled back the sheet and climbed on top of Carol, entwining their legs as she lowered herself, head resting on her bosom and with arms wrapped around her waist.
“By the way, the Danube was the most amazing shade of blue right before sunset. You should have seen it.” Therese sleepily noted as she squeezed Carol.
For a moment, Carol thought about wedging her hand between them, down past Therese's stomach, and massaging her into a peaceful, relaxing slumber, but there was something perfect about their unabashed closeness right then that didn't need the interference of sex. Carol smiled and placed her hands around Therese's shoulder and head, and softly stroked her hair as they fell asleep.
Chapter 14: "Too Darn Hot"
Thursday, June 10th, 1954
It was unusually warm for a June afternoon. Carol had opened the windows and left the shutters closed as to not let too much of the midday sun warm up the room. The city was quiet, everyone resting during the pausa between lunch and the rest of the workday. Carol and Therese returned to their hotel after their meal, still warm and over-exerted from their morning walks through the nearby gardens. The moment they got back, Therese stripped off her now sticky cotton dress and other garments, tossed them onto the sofa by the bed, and ran into the bathroom to grab a quick shower.
Carol laughed at watching Therese endure the heat, clearly not used to the warmth and humidity of the late Florentine springs. It wasn’t that bad, but it was humid and made the curls of her hair stand on end if she didn’t keep them tamed. As Therese washed, Carol moved about the room, turning down the covers on Therese’s side of the bed, pouring a couple glasses of water to put bedside, and checking that the windows were open, but not too open. She then sat at the desk to write a postcard to Rindy. Before she picked up her pen, she flipped over the small square of paper to look at the photo of the boar statue with the worn little nose. Carol smiled as she thought of taking Rindy there and having her rub the little boar’s snout. She wrote a quick message on the card and propped it in the letter holder where it awaited a stamp.
“May I?” Carol peered over her shoulder to see Therese just out of the shower with a towel loosely wrapped around her. Therese walked to the desk and retrieved the card from the holder, placing it on the desk. She skimmed what Carol had written and drew a small teddy bear face by the y of “Mommy” that Carol had signed. Carol gave her a puzzled look. “What? How else do you think I could sign any card or letter we send?” Carol drew Therese close to her by pulling at the towel, enveloping her arms around her waist as she rested her head against her stomach. Therese kissed the top of Carol’s head and walked over to the bed where she removed her towel where it fell onto the tile floor.
“Join me?” Therese rested against the pillows, one hand behind her head, the drops of water on her body finally evaporating. Carol paused as she looked to Therese who was solely focused on calmly watching her from the bed. Without drawing too much attention to disrobing, Carol very quickly removed her clothing and placed it alongside Therese’s clothes on the couch.
Carol sat to her side, waiting for Therese to move to one side or the other rather than take up the entire bed. Therese didn’t budge. “Scoot.” Therese moved over for Carol to lie down and get cozy beside her. Excluding telling Therese to move over, Carol was silent. She remained propped up on her elbow, staring at Therese’s nude form.
Only a couple years ago, Carol would never have believed that she would find herself in bed with such a glorious creature, stripped bare, completely exposed in the brightness of mid-afternoon sunlight. Before Therese, she never would have believed that she would make love in the middle of the afternoon with the windows open, curtains billowing, sunlight pouring into the room; always nighttime, always darkness. Somehow, Therese brought that out in her, that level of honesty and openness she had always admired from afar, but never attained with Harge.
Looking down at the woman before her, Carol couldn’t possibly imagine not taking advantage of the natural sunlight and watching even the tiniest muscles of Therese’s body bend and shudder thanks to the ministrations of her hand or mouth. How silly, she thought, regretting any thought of missing out on watching the way her abdomen practically shook whenever she came or how her eyes followed as Carol caressed every part of her.
From the back of her throat, Carol blurted out, “La fronte,” as she placed three subtle kisses along Therese’s forehead. She was so overcome with her beauty, how much she reminded her of the stunning Renaissance masterpieces they saw all the museums and galleries. “I can’t help myself.”
“It’s okay. Teach me,” Therese sweetly encouraged. “I like hearing you roll your r’s.”
Carol swiped her hand down from her bangs to her cheek. “La guancia. Or, if both of them,” Carol pressed her finger against one cheek and then the other, “le guance.”
Therese giggled, revealing her dimples in her giddiness of Carol touching each of her now red cheeks. “Fossette.” That same finger trailed from dimple to dimple; Therese still beaming from the touch.
Tracing from one corner of Therese’s mouth to the other, Carol circled her lips. When her finger got to the upper lip, Therese stopped the movement by kissing the soft pad of her finger. “That would be un bacio, or if you do that multiple times,” explained Carol as Therese then repeatedly kissed the fingertip at her lips, “i baci.”
“You make it sound so easy, which means that you are a very good teacher.” Therese spoke against the errant finger still poised at her lips. “Best I’ve ever had,” she added.
Carol’s hand then trailed lower, now tapping repeatedly on her chin, “Il mento .” Adding her other hand, she grasped one shoulder first, giving it a light squeeze, “La spalla,” and then the other, “le spalle,” as she straddled Therese’s stretched out lower body and sat up to continue her lesson.
“This next one’s tricky,” Carol began, pressing her hands from Therese’s pale shoulders to her arms. “Just one, un braccio, masculine. Two of them; however, are feminine and become le braccia.”
Therese looked up into Carol’s eyes, then wrinkled her eyebrow as she was becoming overwhelmed with the many rules. “I don’t know if I’ll remember all this, Carol,” Therese purred. Carol smiled and leaned down to lavish a kiss to her mouth. “La bocca. See? That one I knew.”
“Just for that, let’s try - “ Carol’s hands roamed down to Therese’s breasts, lightly pushing them upward and allowing her thumbs to caress the sides. “ - i seni.” Therese let out the breath she had been holding in and somehow managed to think through what just one breast might be. “Un seno, then?”
Carol nodded in reply. She lowered her head down to Therese’s nipple, taking one in her mouth and pinching the other with her right hand. “I capezzoli,” she said between clenched teeth, delicately biting the nipple and then soothing the bite with her tongue. That was something Therese had taught her the first time she had bitten her; it was either to her neck or her thigh, she couldn't recall. Therese had no idea where she learned that. Instinct, she offered as a solution, and a driving need to always make sure Carol was completely comfortable.
Therese’s back arched at the sharp touch, something Carol took great pride in whenever she could reduce Therese to lifting even the slightest bit off the bed. “More,” Therese whispered. “I need more of you.” Therese’s hands went from behind her head to Carol’s hips, tugging Carol to her as best she could.
Carol couldn’t remember if it was a moan or a gasp that she let out as Therese pulled them together. Nonetheless, it took a moment for her to regain her composure and focus back on Therese and the vocabulary. “I fianchi, “ she said, positioning her hands over Therese’s, “but l’anca if it’s only the one.” There was still some more give and Therese was able to pull Carol marginally tighter to her. When their lower bodies were flush with one another, Therese began to rock her hips, still seeking more.
All Carol wanted to do was continue the lesson and make Therese wait, be patient, but Therese couldn't wait. Taking her hands off Carol’s hips, there was a brief whimper that afterward turned into a moan when Therese’s hands moved to grasp her backside. “Culo,” she managed to squeak out as small fingers began to knead the soft flesh. She then effectively moved her own hands from Therese’s hips to below her navel, spreading her fingers across the width of her stomach. “Pancia.”
With a wry smile, Carol drifted her hands past where Therese wanted them most, placing them behind her on Therese’s left thigh. “La coscia.” Not a moment later, the other hand went to the other thigh and her fingers lightly wandered against some of her more sensitive skin, “Le cosce.”
By then, Therese's patience had worn far too thin. “Hmmm… you went too low.”
Carol tilted her head, feigning ignorance, until she made a face that appeared to have finally figured out where Therese so badly wanted her. Carol tapped her finger over and over against the glistening trail between Therese’s thighs.
She loved looking at Therese writhing beneath her, awaiting her touch, her move, her mouth. “It’s the same word as in English, but the pronunciation is, of course,” Carol now swiped her finger up and down, watching Therese shut her eyes and arch her back again, “different.” Carol looked at the finger with which she teased Therese, observing how the wetness made her skin shine and the red polish on her fingernails even more striking. How she could make her body react that way every time impressed her.
“Potta, to be vulgar,” noted Carol. “However, equally vulgar, although I must say I much prefer, is fica because you are as beautiful and as delicious as those ripe figs we had at lunch… if not more.”
Before she could go further, Carol removed herself from her lap and instead shifted to a position on her stomach between Therese’s legs. Carol nuzzled her with her nose, causing Therese to oscillate her hips. “I will never tire of your scent - profumo - “, gently kissing every inch between her thighs, “ - or your taste - sapore.” She then licked in a tight circle the area she had been nuzzling, now motioning upward.
Therese let out a loud moan, echoing throughout in the high-ceilinged room and spilling into the courtyard, ultimately incapable of thinking clearly anymore. Carol truly was the best teacher she’d ever had.
Chapter 15: "You're the Top"
Friday, June 11th, 1954
From the Ghirlandaios to the Ghibertis, every painting, every sculpture, every building, Therese had never been surrounded by so much beauty in her entire life. She was overcome by the awe of the images, colors, and depth that brought figures and structures to life. Carol could easily stand back and gleefully watch Therese’s expression each time they turned a corner, and that quick photographer reflex to reach for her camera to catch just the right shadow cast from a statue or rooftop onto the sidewalk or the perfect light to photograph an old woman sitting outside a shop.
Carol took a seat in front of the tableau, gripping the edge of the bench as she looked on at Therese standing by the painting. Despite having seen these artworks numerous times, she tried to recapture that feeling of seeing it for the first time, appreciating the art as much as Therese was. Carol had a warm sensation when looking at the subjects, noticing the details of the dresses and petals from the flowers in the foreground. After five minutes, Therese came to sit next to Carol when the man beside her got up.
The exhibition room was silent, only the click of heels on the tile floors and the occasional cough of a docent could be heard in the room full of people shuffling their feet from place to place.
“It's all so beautiful. I want to sit here for days, read, listen to music, and just look up to see - all this.” Therese then whispered into Carol's right ear, “Thank you.”
“This. Taking me to Europe. Showing me all these things. Exploring new and familiar places with me.” Therese glanced back at the artwork, then back around the crowded room. “Let’s go get some lunch: I’m starving.”
“I know just the place.”
Therese looked at the scooter, then back up at Carol. “Do you even know how to ride one of these?”
“Do I… “ Carol smiled as she straddled the seat, “of course.”
“Can you show me later?”
Carol patted the back seat and started the ignition. Therese hopped onto the back seat and put her arms lightly around Carol's waist. She remembered how she used to distantly hold onto Richard whenever they rode his bike through Central Park, and how his woolen jacket always smelled so musty that she never wanted to rest her head anywhere near him.
Carol, though, was soft, and moreover, she wanted to feel her, she wanted to put her arms around her. Carol made a small sound and wriggled her hips when the thin, bare arms encircled her. The extra height on the rumble seat allowed Therese to rest her chin on Carol's shoulder. “Is this alright?” Therese asked into her ear.
“Always.” Carol let go of the handlebars to smooth down the front of her dress, but to also use it as an excuse to brush her fingertips against Therese's hand pressed against her. Together, they rode outside the city on the little beige Vespa; Therese sweetly holding onto Carol as they drove up the little hills, past family vineyards, and groves of olive trees.
“No one will bother us here.” Therese removed her arms from Carol's waist once she turned off the scooter and planted her feet on the ground.
“Trust me.” Carol replied with a wink. Therese opened her shoulder bag, pulling out the bottle of wine Carol had picked out at the market. It was red, their preferred, and upon reading the label, noted it was a Chianti, which she had remembered tasting at lunch with Abby one day. Carol retrieved the packet of figs (first of the season, she'd reminded her) and a chunk of Pecorino from the satchel she carried, as well as a small paring knife.
“Please tell me you have a corkscrew in there too?” Carol grinned then rummaged through the bag to pull one out. “Thanks.”
Therese opened the wine and waited to take a sip until Carol stopped slicing the fruit and cheese on the butcher paper. “How'd you know about this spot?”
“Abby told me about it years ago. I’d read over by that tree.” Carol gestured over her shoulder to a squat olive tree behind them. “So peaceful, quiet.”
“It's nice.” She took a sip of wine straight from the bottle. “As is this wine.”
“Have a bite of this, then have a sip.” Carol held out half of a ripe fig she had just cut.
“You’re practically a temptress.” Therese looked down at the fruit then back to a smiling Carol. She followed Carol's instructions as she took a bite of fig and a swig of wine.
Therese couldn’t explain it. There was something oddly perfect about the day. There was something oddly perfect about the company she kept, the fresh fruit, cheese, and wine, and then Carol beside her in a flowery white sleeveless cotton dress. With her head thrown back and eyes shut, Carol sat, hands flat behind her propping her up as she took in the sun. Outside, in the warm air, amidst the slightest breeze and only the faint sound of traffic far below them, Therese lay on the grass and looked up at the sky, keeping Carol in the corner of her eye.
Therese couldn’t stop looking at her. “You are simply breathtaking. Your dress, your hair. Like a painting.” Therese said as she reached up to take one of Carol’s curls between her fingers, watching it spring back to its original form as she twirled it. “That’s it. You look like Flora in Primavera. We just need to add some flowers to your hair.”
Carol laughed, “You flatter me.”
“What? Do you think you couldn’t hold a candle to a Botticelli?” Therese asked.
“You’re talking about an artistic masterpiece.”
“Don't make me say it,” she stated with a most serious expression. The grass was taller in this part of the field, and no one could possibly see them there. In fact, they hadn't seen anyone else walk by in over two hours. Therese pulled her down and placed a kiss against Carol’s lips. “There's something about kissing you outdoors.” Lost in thought, Carol stroked Therese's shoulder, slipping her fingers beneath the wide straps of her dress to touch her skin. “Maybe it's your warmth from the sunlight before I touch you with my lips.”
“Maybe it's the half bottle of wine you've had on nothing but figs and cheese.”
“Accept the compliment, Carol.”
Carol slowly sat up to take off her shoes, and she removed Therese’s as well. “Okay. Compliment accepted.” She wiggled her toes around against the grass, but it was almost too ticklish and stopped moving them around. She lay down next to Therese, who then immediately curled into her side and placed her head in the crook of Carol's arm for support. She positioned her hands on her stomach and Carol joined their fingers together.
“I think we made it as far as ‘thighs’ yesterday.” Therese noted.
“You have to admit, we got further than we did with French.”
Therese laughed, “I'll never know anything below my bellybutton in French.”
With nothing to disturb them in the tall grass, Carol and Therese held onto one another, looking at the sky, and fading in and out of sleep. “Does this feel sort of like a honeymoon to you?” Therese hazily asked. “I mean, was it like this with Harge?” There was only silence from Carol for a good half-minute, and when Therese looked at her, Carol drooped her head to the right, inspecting blades of grass. “I'm sorry, I - “
“No, no ‘sorry’ from you, darling,” Carol affirmed. “I was just thinking how different this is. Very different. Just… remembering.” Therese reached to her bag and pulled out two cigarettes, lighting both between her lips and passing one to Carol. “Harge and I never had a real honeymoon. Pearl Harbor came, he proposed, I accepted for whatever reason. We ended up getting married in January, and then the next day he was deployed.”
“Were you disappointed?”
“Certainly.” Carol placed the cigarette in her mouth. “My father wasn't: he didn't have to fork over all that cash,” she said through the cigarette dangling from her lips. “You always ask about me.”
“Well, you're fascinating.” she reasoned.
“You tell me something then.” Carol tipped the ashes into the now empty wine bottle, squinting at Therese while searching for a good question to ask. Her eye caught the camera bag by her satchel, which reminded her that she never knew where Therese’s love of photography came from. “How did you get into photography?”
Therese woefully smiled, thinking back to probably around the same time as Carol married Harge, when she was at the boarding school. She remembered the small gift wrapped package with someone else’s name written on the tag having been placed in her lap. The name on it was of an older girl, but she had left days before Christmas to move in with her grandfather in Seattle. As she waited for all the presents to be passed out, she expected another one specifically with her name on the tag: however, none came. All the other children were opening their gifts; Therese sat with the present unopened, debating whether or not to rip off the paper. When she finally opened the package after watching all the other children playing with their toys, she was surprised that the items inside were a camera with three rolls of film. A used camera. One of those outdated Eastman Brownie models from the 1920s. Therese was puzzled, wondering what she could do with it, until one of the sisters noticed it in her hands and asked her to take their picture by the tree. She has no idea how to, and certainly couldn't say no, so she figured out how to point and shoot in a matter of moments to make them happy.
“Completely by accident.”
Carol finished her cigarette, tossing the end into the wine bottle. “Sometimes accidents are simply meant to be.”
“I suppose you’re right.” Therese said. She sat up, putting her weight on Carol’s stomach as she peered over at the beige scooter with which they had ridden up the side of the hill. “So you going to show me how to ride that?”
“I will, but let’s wait until we’re home.”
Chapter 16: "Ace in the Hole"
Thursday, July 1st, 1954
London Waterloo Station buzzed with activity early in the morning, either from the daily commuters coming up from Surrey or the transatlantic passengers like Carol and Therese heading out of the city on their way to Southampton’s Ocean Terminal. After two months in Europe, they were ready to head back home. Back to the bubble of their sunny apartment on Madison Avenue, back to work, back to their friends. Ever since they left Italy, Carol had been increasingly homesick; missing Rindy and Abby more than she thought. Therese found that Carol needed her more when the melancholy set in, and she did her utmost to reassure and comfort whenever the mood struck.
It pained Therese to see Carol so sad at times, especially when they were on the final legs of their journey. She found herself telling Carol every couple of days how ready she was to go home and return to work, even though she didn’t entirely feel that way and much preferred spending her days with Carol in the museums, gardens, and cafes surrounding them. But she did miss her friends as well, yet not in the way she Carol missed and needed Abby and Rindy.
“I’m very much ready to head home.” Therese blurted out once they had found their train compartment. She sensed Carol was falling into one of those moods again, and was trying her best let her know she wasn’t the only one ready to be home. Her demeanor had shifted to blank stares off into the throngs of people disembarking their trains and an overall irritability in getting her and Therese to the train station with their trunks.
“Same.” Carol placed the traveling bag that sat on her lap on the seat beside her. Looking out the train window at all the last-minute travelers, her thoughts drifted into the chaos of crowds outside. “I miss her,” she sighed.
Therese looked up with a sad smile. “Me too.” Seated opposite, in what would be against the direction the train’s movement, Therese ran her hands over the plush fabric of the soft bench seat. The red poppy pattern was dizzying to look at for too long though, and she put down one of the moquettes to disrupt some of the printed pattern that made her eyes spin.
“Do you think she got the postcards?”
“I think so,” Therese replied. Carol kept nervously looking out the window, waiting for the train to move out of the station. Carol kept crossing and uncrossing her legs, tugging at the compartment curtain that seemed to catch on her arm time and again. “Carol, what’s wrong?”
“Just… tense, I suppose.”
Therese stood up to look down the corridor to see if anyone was still boarding in their car. A quick glance to her watch showed that the train should be departing at any moment, so perhaps they would be lucky to have the whole compartment to themselves. Therese shut the door and drew the curtains so that they could have some privacy. She blocked the door as best she could, hopefully dissuading anyone from disrupting their space, even if only for a moment or two. “Come here for a second.”
Carol stood and made her way toward Therese, however backtracked once she saw that the curtains next to her were still wide open. She unbuttoned the clasp and let the curtains naturally fall, covering the rectangular glass. Once in place, Carol turned back to the door and walked the couple steps toward Therese. The palms of Therese’s hands faced outward, inviting Carol to her side to hold her. Just before Carol reached her, the train lurched forward, pulling out of the station. She stumbled a step, brushing against Therese who clung to the door as she also got her bearings. “I got you.” Therese muttered and let go of the door frame to grab onto Carol.
“You always do,” she quipped when Therese gripped her tighter as the train slowly began moving with a more steady force. Therese easily noted their height difference in this position, especially whenever she wore flats and Carol wore heels. Carol seemed to notice as well and discreetly slipped off her heels and placed them on the seat beside them.
Therese rested her head against Carol’s shoulder as she held her. She wasn’t sad necessarily, but she was certainly subdued and worried. “Talk to me.”
“It’s just,” Carol breathed, “I really miss Rindy quite a bit right now. I’ve never gone so long without seeing her. And I know we’re going home today, but it struck me particularly hard just now.”
She kept sniffling, and holding tightly to Therese. “We’ll be home on Tuesday, okay?” Therese ran her hands up and down Carol’s back, trying to calm her. “So maybe you can see her on Wednesday or Thursday. No school and all with summer vacation.”
“Perhaps I should send Harge a telegram when we get to Southampton and tell him I’d like a visit with her. Maybe he’ll agree.”
“Good idea.” Therese stood on her toes and kissed Carol’s forehead, then made sure to not have left a lipstick smudge by inspecting the area. “Carol,” Therese looked into her eyes, softly smiled, and shifted to whisper into her ear. She casually massaged her abdomen for emphasis, and said, “I think you’re gonna start soon.”
Carol laughed. “Damn these hormones.” Carol wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and did her best to control her breathing.
“Stop, I love your hormones.” Carol gave a tug to Therese’s hand and led them back to their seats. She picked up her shoes from the seat and slipped them back on once she was sitting down. Therese turned her back to Carol, reaching for her travel bag on the top shelf of the compartment to pull out one of the purple-wrapped chocolate bars she’d picked up at the newsstand. She held it out for Carol whose eyes joyously widened at the sight of the candy. “Here. I know you.”
“That you do.” Carol grasped the chocolate bar, then Therese’s right wrist to look at her watch to check the time. “Never too early for chocolate.” She briefly remembered having only a slice of toast and a cup of milky tea before they checked out of their hotel and headed to Waterloo Station. Therese watched Carol open the foil wrapper and break off a strip of the candy, then another. She offered the other chunk to Therese who declined it with a shake of her hand. Carol devoured the two strips of chocolate she had broken off and packed the rest away in her satchel. Slowly, Carol calmed and relaxed against her seat with eyes shut.
“Remind me when we get on the ship: I owe you more chocolate, a hot bath, and a good back rub,” Therese stated as she looked at Carol, still with her eyes closed, but now with her corners of her mouth turned up into a smile.
Thursday, July 6th, 1954
“Abby said she arranged for a driver to come pick us up. Now if we could only find Abby… “ Carol remarked as they walked down the gangplank with the other First Class passengers. Therese followed behind with the camera satchel in one hand and purse draped over her left shoulder. She kept her eyes on the ground, making sure she didn’t trip over her own feet or any miscellaneous debris along the gangplank. They were eager to get off the boat, get home, and start the process of unpacking their two, now very heavy, trunks.
Of all the people waiting at the dock, one little fair brown-haired girl stuck out. The little girl grinned and waved from atop the shoulders of a fellow onlooker, shouting, “Mommy!” once Carol and Therese got closer.
Carol knew that voice anywhere.
Rindy waved from her cozy spot on Abby’s shoulders, unable to hide her excitement. “Isn’t this a lovely surprise to welcome us home!” Carol beamed as she approached the two. When Abby knelt to let Rindy off her shoulders, Rindy immediately ran over to her mother and wrapped her arms around Carol’s waist. Once Rindy let go, Carol crouched down to her daughter’s level to hold her. Therese had never seen Carol so overjoyed; with tears in her eyes, she clung to her daughter and Rindy strongly held onto her mother amidst all the chaos of other travelers eager to greet their loved ones. The two of them were almost lost in their own little bubble right there on the dock.
“Aunt Abby brought me to meet you.”
“She did, didn’t she, sweet pea?”
Therese looked to Abby once Rindy had wandered over to Carol, and smiled at her before giving her a hug. “I see you got my telegram.”
“All good. You have her through Sunday.” Abby nodded and pulled her cigarette case out of her pocket. “Now let’s head back: I ordered ice and restocked your bar.”
Chapter 17: "Anything Goes"
Tuesday, July 20th, 1954
The branch of Longchamps over by the furniture house had become a favorite lunchtime haunt of Carol’s. Sometimes Carol dined alone, her usual seat by the window where she sometimes would have something to eat or nurse a couple cups of coffee in lieu of a meal while catching up on correspondence. More or less, anytime Carol needed to meet with someone in the middle of the day, it was always, “Meet me at Longchamps? Around 12:30?” Even Therese was used to her being there around that time. She wouldn’t even need to call or stop by the shop to find out where she was, it was given that she would be there with co-workers, a friend or two, or on some occasions, herself. Thanks to her new scooter, Therese was able to make it up to the Longchamps by the furniture store in no time.
This particular Tuesday, Carol was dining with Jeanette. They hadn’t seen each other since one bleak winter day the year before, when Carol was moving out of the house in Ridgewood. Kind Jeanette was the only person who offered to come help get her things together as she boxed up kitchen goods, clothes, books, and other knickknacks from around the house. Like others in their circle, she knew Carol and Harge had split, but no one knew exactly why, especially when they had such a young child. Jeanette had an inkling though. She knew Carol probably better than anyone else in that damn town; she knew better than to believe everything she heard.
Carol stood up as Jeanette hurriedly walked to their table and gave her a peck on each cheek, how the women on the Continent greet each other. Although, she could never seem to remember if it was two pecks or three. Carol stuck with just the two. “Jeanette, lovely to see you.” Carol then gestured to the vacant seat across from her.
“Look at you, Carol!” Jeanette joyously said, pointing at the hint of tan, as she took her seat.
“Nothing a week on the Riviera can’t do.” A waiter appeared with a tray carrying two drinks and a shaker still full of excess Martinis. “I remembered you like dry Martinis.”
“Ah, I’ve been dying for a drink!” Jeanette jested. She picked up the toothpick with the olive and placed it in her mouth. The next moment Carol looked at her glass, half the drink was already gone. “So... how have you been, tell me all about Europe!”
Carol looked down at her glass, blushing beneath that hint of tan, and picked up her own glass. She took a sip and gently smiled, “Oh, the usual. Wonderful, warm, sunny, so much to see, so much to do.”
Jeanette looked back at her glass and downed the rest of her Martini. “And, did you go alone or with a tour?”
“I wasn’t alone.” Carol began.
“Oh?” Jeanette looked at Carol out of the corner of her eye, a little glimmer and smirk to her glance. “Care to elaborate on that one?”
Carol stared off at the napkin in her lap and drifted off. She couldn’t lie to Jeanette, she couldn’t even tell her a half-truth about it. Besides, Carol was the one to have asked her to lunch. She knew that she would be asking her for the details of her trip. “I went with someone.”
Jeanette was still, not shocked entirely. “You two live… together?”
Carol quickly answered yes.
Reaching for her purse, Jeanette pulled out her cigarettes and lighter. Carol was worried for a moment that she had been attempting to leave, but was relieved when she saw her still seated and now smoking a cigarette.
After a long pause, Jeanette spoke as she lit her cigarette. “Don’t worry, I’m not judging you, Carol.”
“See, that's why I like you, Jeanette.” Carol grinned. “‘Won't dish the dirt with the rest of the girls…’”
Jeanette easily laughed, happily smoking her cigarette. She flicked some ashes into the ashtray and looked straight into Carol’s eyes as she motioned to the cigarette in her hand. “We’ll just keep each other’s secrets, now won’t we?”
“That reminds me.” Carol reached into her purse and fetched a small wrapped parcel. She placed the item on the table and slid it toward Jeanette.
“What’s this?” Jeanette looked surprised at the gesture.
“A little something I recall you inquiring about.”
Jeanette picked up the packet from the table and carefully removed part of the wrapper. Inside was a hardcover book, a little dated looking, but still in overall excellent condition. The expression on Jeanette’s face was priceless when she turned the book on its side to read aloud title on the spine. “Lady Chatter - where on earth did you get this?” She looked over her shoulders to ensure no prying eyes could see what she had in her hands.
“There is a little bookshop I remembered from back in ‘47. They had a good seventh printing in stock the day I visited.”
Jeanette quickly put the paper wrapping around the book again, as though it hadn’t been opened, and placed it in her purse. “How’d you get it through customs?”
“You can thank Therese for that. She packed it with her photo items and told the inspector he shouldn’t open her bag with all her priceless equipment and undeveloped film.”
“Ha! They fell for it?”
“They did, not to mention she’s got a press pass.”
Jeanette motioned to her purse and grinned. “I’m going to be the most popular lady down at the club once I finish reading this.”
“Like you’ll want to share.” teased Carol.
Jeanette paused, fiddling with the edge of her napkin. “That's her name? Therese?” Carol nodded.
The same waiter who had brought over the Martinis earlier came by to take their orders. Both ladies realized they had been too preoccupied with chatting and the salacious novel to look at the menu. “We’re going to need another moment.” Carol uttered. She already knew what she wanted, but surmised that Jeanette needed some time to look things over.
Carol expected Jeanette to pick up her menu as soon as the waiter had reappeared, yet she didn’t. Jeanette took another drag of her cigarette and let it rest between her fingers. “You know, we got a nephew who, well, goes with another fellow he met during the war.” Jeanette admitted. “He’s a kind boy. Always stops by the house when he’s in the area, or calls to see how we’re doing. Very thoughtful. I’ve met his fellow a couple times. Quite handsome, incredibly sweet. He dotes on my nephew though, and in all honestly, he puts Cy to utter shame,” she laughed. Glancing down at her menu, Jeanette finally stopped speaking and then looked up at Carol. “If you’ve got anything like those two fellows have going for you, then I'm jealous as hell.”
Carol smiled as glanced out the window as soon as she heard the unmistakable sound of Therese’s Vespa sitting idle. “I most certainly do.”
Chapter 18: "Love for Sale"
Friday, September 24th, 1954
“You are the fidgetiest person I know!” Therese exclaimed as she grasped Carol's left hand trying to keep it still on top of the table. “I bet you don't do this at the salon.”
“Never.” Carol retorted.
“Only around me then?” She shrugged. “Good thing you're so gifted with these fingers otherwise… “
Carol raised an eyebrow before speaking. “Gifted, you say?”
“Otherwise… “ Therese trailed off as she ignored Carol's comment and raised eyebrow. Carol stilled as Therese filed the last nail before pulling out the assortment of polishes in various shades of dark pinks and reds. Typically, Carol went to the salon to have her nails done. That Friday night, at home, Therese in her robe and Carol in her slip, and with not much else to do, Therese thought of asking Carol if she could file and paint her nails.
“Pick a color.”
Therese saw Carol's indecisiveness in choosing and took the opportunity to massage the fingers of her left hand that she still held onto. She took each finger, one at a time and held onto it between her thumb and forefinger, then firmly rubbed each one with her thumb. She massaged each joint, circling each finger and gently rubbing. The motions distracted Carol from actually picking out a color as she hummed contentedly at Therese's pressing and tugging.
Mulling over her choices between about six different bottles, Carol picked one in a deep hue of red. It was a hint darker than her typical red polish, fitting well with the change in seasons. “It'll complement the trees changing color soon, don't you think?”
“Hmmm.” Therese took the bottle from Carol and gently rolled it between her hands. She looked for a washcloth to fold and place under Carol's hand while she painted her nails. She found on the floor beside her feet two washcloths, and bent over to pick them up. Therese grabbed them, then looked to Carol’s bare feet moving and tapping beneath the table. Her legs weren’t in the usual crossed position at either the knee or ankle, but were sliding around against the floor, merrily keeping the beat to the song they were listening to.
“You’re in a good mood today.” Therese noted.
“That and about five cups of coffee today.” Carol said. “Plus it’s Friday and I have you to myself all weekend long.” Therese sat back up in her seat, looking at Carol who was simply too happy for words. “And yesterday was the first day of fall, which means it’s getting cooler, and it’s going to snow… “
Therese saw the hint of a smile when talking about snow. “You do love the snow, which means we should start planning that overdue ski trip to Vermont.”
Suddenly, Carol then got very quiet, ceasing the movement of her legs and other fidgety movements with her legs. She shook her head to run her fingers through her hair and brush against the back of her neck. “I do love it there, but last time, it was not under the best of circumstances.”
Therese moved from the side opposite Carol to sit next to her. “Tell me when you’re ready, okay?” Therese picked up Carol’s left hand and placed it back on the table, still holding onto it. She stroked the top of her hand, rubbing her thumb against the knuckles and increasingly dry skin. “How about I finish your nails. Just your fingernails; your toes can wait. Then I draw you a bath, turn down the lights, put on some music. I think you need some calm after all that coffee you had earlier.”
Carol lifted their joined hands together toward her lips, delicately kissing the top of Therese’s hand. “Only if you join me, dearest.”
Saturday, September 25th, 1954
Tiffany’s was filled with the usual Saturday shoppers, outside only minimal window shoppers on a Saturday so many weeks before Christmas. In a few more weeks, it would be impossible to hit Fifth Avenue without endless crowds of people carrying oversized parcels and gift bags, knocking into each other as they politely attempted to open or hold doors and then walk down the sidewalk, inconsiderately three across, carrying all those items. Therese knew from previous experience that the window of opportunity to get in any shopping was now. After a couple hours of pleading with Dannie and bribing him with a case of beer, he finally agreed to wear an actual suit and tie to venture up to Midtown for help out Therese.
“Whaddaya like?” Dannie said with a wave to the glass case in front of him. Therese glared at Dannie, hoping he could at least sound a bit more coupley in looking at the rings in front of the astute salesgirl. “Shnookums?”
Therese rolled her eyes and continued looking.
There was one case in particular where Therese's walked back and forth looking at the rose gold different bands. She really liked the silver bands on display, so shiny and simple. But Harge had given her a silver band and she didn't want to do something so similar, something that he would have done. Gold was too plain, too boring, not exciting enough, not their style. Rose gold, there was something intriguing about that. It was different than regular gold, had the element of shine from silver but something altogether unique. The reddish hint to the gold also made it perfect for Carol.
“That’s the one.” Therese lightly tapped a gloved finger on the case, pointing to the thin rose gold band.
“Aren't you supposed to get one with a diamond or something?” Dannie whispered.
Therese looked up to see where the salesgirl was before speaking; she was temporarily distracted by a thirty year-old man pointing at some rings in the case beside them. “Carol doesn't like diamonds.”
“That surprises me,” said Dannie.
“Besides, the one with a diamond is an engagement ring.” Therese pointed out. She scratched her head and took a deep breath, nervously looking around the room. Once more, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear that kept coming loose from leaning forward to look into the case. “Honestly, I think we're beyond engagement.”
“It's been, what? Two years now?”
“One and a half.”
“We live together.”
“I don’t know anyone unmarried who lives together,” Dannie stated. “Except you two, but, y’know, I suppose it's different. You’ve been through a lot.”
“Do you think we're already ‘married’ then?”
Dannie looked Therese up and down. She was dressed in her brown tweed Bonwit suit, heels, had meticulously done her hair, and wore a light silk scarf around her neck. “She’s inspired all this in you.”
“Maybe not the scarf. You're just wearin’ that to hide the love bite on your neck.”
“What?” Therese scurried to adjust the scarf some. “You can see it?”
Dannie laughed. “That was a shot in the dark because it's kinda warm out and y’gotta a scarf on.”
“You’re an ass.” Therese whispered as she finished adjusting the scarf around her neck. The salesgirl walked back toward them, curious as to the commotion. Therese nudged Dannie who straightened up and continued looking into the glass case.
“Have you made up your mind, sir?”
Dannie looked to Therese for guidance, pointing back to the rose gold bands underneath the glass where they had been looking earlier.
“Yeah, these gold ones - rose gold, I think it is. Yeah, I’ll take one of those.”
They could tell the salesgirl was reluctant about Dannie’s vague demeanor. “Did you want this engraved?”
“Engraved?” Dannie looked puzzled, until Therese had to nudge him one more time. “Oh yeah, almost forgot. And the size is on there too.” He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a little piece of paper with some scribbles on it. “Hope that’s, uh, legible.”
The salesgirl took a brief look at the crumbled piece of paper Dannie set on the counter and unfurled it, smoothing it out against the corners of the countertop.
“How will you be paying, sir?”
Dannie stood still, not breaking eye contact with the salesgirl who took out her sales book, lost in a trance of purchasing the ring. “Uh, cash. Cash, please.” Dannie patted down his jacket, feeling for the thick wallet that sat in his breast pocket. The associate found a pen and began to write down the transaction details in the book. Dannie pulled out the wallet he had earlier stuffed full of the cash that Therese had given him and carefully counted out the balance owed.
“I can’t believe I just did that.” Dannie said, slowly walking toward the Fifth Avenue doorway. “I can’t believe I just spent that. I can’t believe - ”
“C’mon, let’s go get started on those beers.” Therese interjected as she took his arm. They took a right out of the building and headed back toward the Madison Avenue apartment on foot. “I really could use one myself.”
Chapter 19: "From This Moment On"
Saturday, December 18th, 1954
“We could have taken the train. Then you wouldn’t have had to do all the driving.”
“Where's the fun in that?”
“You know, we could have had a drawing room. A drawing room for two with a comfy bed on a train.”
Carol gave a quick glance and returned her focus to the road. “Hush, you're starting to sound like Bing Crosby in White Christmas.” She switched on the car radio, keeping the volume low since it was still early in the morning and the sun had come up less than ten minutes prior. Her mind wandered as she drove past endless snow-covered countryside, still somewhat dark with shadows from nightfall. She hummed along to the music and lightly tapped her fingers while Therese looked out the window at the opposite end of the car seat.
Just a couple years earlier, Therese used to wake up in a freezing, poorly maintained and insulated apartment. She rode to work with her boyfriend on the back of a dinky bicycle. She now would wake up in the warm large bed she and Carol shared; covered by down comforters atop fine cotton sheets and fluffy feather pillows. It might have been cold in the morning, but that wasn’t as big a deal when there was a warm, cuddly body beside her. Carol would make breakfast, Therese would tidy up the bedroom: Sometimes they switched tasks. They ate, got ready, headed out. Carol on foot or her Triumph roadster bicycle, Therese on her Vespa.
Things changed. Now with Carol, cold didn’t bother Therese as much anymore, but could still make her grumpier than usual. The wind chill made it feel far colder than it actually was, and Therese pulled her hat down more over her ears and tightened the scarf around her neck. The car was still cold, even though they had been on the road for a couple hours.
“Are you chilly?” Carol asked without diverting her eyes from the road. She was able to see in her peripheral all of Therese’s movements to keep warm.
“Yeah. I should have worn that other sweater. Maybe even some extra socks.” Therese slumped her head back against the seat and let out a wide yawn. “How are you not cold? I never see you wearing a real hat.”
“Pipe down and scoot closer.”
Therese slid across the bench seat so her side pressed against Carol. She rested her head on Carol's shoulder; the fur from her coat tickled her cheek, but it was warm and radiated Carol's perfume that she loved so much. Carol took her right hand off the wheel and steered just with the left so she could hold Therese's hand.
“That day you came into Frankenberg’s, you mentioned stopping by the ski department. Were you going skiing?”
Carol immediately smiled at the memory of going into Frankenberg’s two years to the day. “Abby and I were thinking of going to Sun Valley. I wandered over to check out the goggles. I decided against getting any. Fortuitous, no?”
Therese nuzzled the fur in reply, she clasped both hands around Carol's as to keep her warm, falling asleep grasping the cool hand in her lap. She was comfortable right where she was and soon drifted to sleep as they crossed the state line into Massachusetts.
When Therese next awoke, she wasn't sitting up anymore, but on her side across the seat with her head in Carol's lap, with Carol’s arm draped over her shoulder. Therese turned her head to look up, but everything appeared to still be blurry and hazy as her eyes tried to focus. Carol vaguely appeared hovering above her, appearing upside down, and smiling gently as Therese rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
“You're awake.” she said softly.
“Are we there?”
“About an hour away, maybe a bit more.”
“How long did I sleep for? And how come I was like that?”
“You were tired, darling. I also may have encouraged you to lie down because I needed my arm for some of those hairpin turns back there.”
Therese sat up to take in their current surroundings. They sat in the Packard, parked in front of a large general store-type place with a stovepipe peeking out the top, smoke billowing out of it, and a few snow-covered picnic benches off to the side. It was calm, no other cars driving around the slushy roads and only a handful of people wander the main street through the town.
She shut her eyes to take in the sounds, or lack thereof, and enjoy the silent ambiance. “Perfect,” Therese quietly said, “not a sound of car, train, bus or whatever.” She leaned back against Carol’s arm and opened her eyes to glance upward to Carol’s face.
“What?” Carol said after a few moments of silence.
“Nothing.” Therese replied. “Well, not nothing. I like looking at you.”
“No ‘oh, that,’ Carol. You make me happy. You make me feel all, I dunno, warm inside.” Therese adjusted her hat again as it became askew in her sleep. “I bet you’re hungry.”
Carol turned her head to smile at the woman leaning against her shoulder. “Famished, sweetheart.”
Therese's stomach did a little somersault whenever Carol called her by some term of endearment. Even after almost two years, she didn't have a loving nickname for Carol. Then again, Carol simply didn't need one.
She would always be Carol.
The way her name rolled off her tongue, whether it was to ask Carol to pass her a lighter or unlock the front door to the apartment, was perfect. She couldn't imagine calling her anything else. On the other hand, Therese loved all the pet names Carol had for her. Sometimes, when she could tell Carol was just about to say something to her, she would try to guess what nickname she would be called.
Sunday, December 19th, 1954
Once Therese had finally layered on enough clothing beneath the festive green angora sweater and the woolen grey ski pants, and still capable of moving her limbs, she met Carol downstairs in the lobby to catch the shuttle to the mountain. Her knit cap drooped over her ears with wisps of hair sticking out from underneath the edges, still trying to keep in all the warmth that she could. Carol had gone downstairs before her to make some calls and make dinner reservations for later in the evening. Therese found her contentedly seated by the fireplace, wearing one of her beloved red cashmere sweaters and, most surprisingly, her plaid beret.
“That can’t possibly be appropriate ski gear.” Therese gestured to the black, yellow, and red plaid beret on Carol’s head.
“What?” Carol pointed to the beret with a grin. “Don’t you like it?”
Therese did a rapid scan of their surroundings before speaking. “You’re adorable in it, but I don’t think it’s good for the slopes.” While tempted to simply remove it from her head, Therese didn’t want to muss up Carol’s hair that she probably spent a good chunk of the morning brushing, despite the fact they were headed up the mountain to ski. “Have you got another hat?”
“I got my scarf.”
Carol removed the beret and begrudgingly handed it to Therese, who placed it in her bag. Carol tied the scarf that was around her neck atop her head, and put her gloves on before heading outside.
By the time the shuttle reached the top of the mountain, Therese was already hankering for some hot chocolate. Or schnapps. Or hot chocolate with schnapps. Was it too early for hot chocolate and schnapps? If they were home in Manhattan, it would never be too early, as Abby always so bluntly put it.
The mountain. The snow. The eager young people traveling up on the chairlifts or down on their skis. It was all a bit much for Therese who had just gotten the hang of navigating the streets of New York on her Vespa. She was feeling hesitant about climbing to far off the ground with a pair of wooden skis strapped to the bottom of her feet.
With a gesture of the gloves she held in her right hand, Carol called Therese to her side to look out the window of the ski lodge at the snow-covered mountain. Therese trudged along with a set of ski and poles in her arms. The skis towered over her as she clumsily clasped them in her hands to keep from losing her balance and falling onto the floor.
“Therese, you alright?” Carol asked, pressing her left hand forward to touch Therese’s sleeve, but before she could even make contact, she paused with her arm outstretched.
Therese nodded. “Just cold,” she replied, looking down at Carol’s extended hand, catching a beam of sunshine in her eye from the reddish gold of Carol’s ring. She had to shut one eye in order to look directly at Carol. “You should put your gloves on. You’ll get cold.” Therese motioned with her head toward the gloves Carol held in her right hand.
All Carol could do was laugh; she was used to Therese being cold all the time now. She was also a touch saddened by the fact that she couldn’t warm her up then and there. “Why would I possibly want to put these gloves on?” she winked.
Carol pointed out different crests and peaks, indicating where they would ski down. She then traced the path of the chairlift as it sputtered up the trail.
One of the lodge staff walked up as the two admired the peaceful mountain bathed in sunlight. “I see you admiring that chairlift. Just opened yesterday, ma’am. Would you like to be some of the first to try it out? It's the first of its kind we have here.”
“Is that so?” Carol said.
“Yes, ma’am. It’s built for two.”
Chapter 20: "All Through The Night"
Friday, December 24th, 1954
Abby rounded the corner onto Madison Avenue once she got her car parked around the block from Carol and Therese’s apartment. Her arms were full of presents, all wrapped in brightly colored paper, tied up with satin wire-edged ribbons. The wrapping style was definitely not Abby’s, clearly something done at a nearby department store’s impromptu gift wrap department that popped up every November. Clearly Abby had had everything possible wrapped in the identical paper and ribbons from the lovely curly-haired girl behind the counter. Every package had uniformly been prepared with care and placed just so into bags or neatly stacked in Abby’s arms. Besides, it had worked for Carol, right?
As she stood at the front door to the apartment building, the doorman immediately recognized Abby. He vaguely knew her as the eccentric woman in plaid who always stopped by whenever Carol and Therese were away to either water the plants, collect the mail, or make sure everything was in order at the apartment. Sometimes, when she found herself in the city too late or too inebriated, Abby would stay over in the guest room. She even had a drawer in the massive dresser by the window, filled with anything she might need should she spend the night. In the mornings, Carol and Therese would wake to find Abby busy in the kitchen, making breakfast for the three of them. Abby loved those mornings, waking up in their apartment for coffee with Therese, cigarettes with Carol, and jovial banter between the three of them. It reminded her of when she had a sweetheart and that giddy feeling she got in the mornings composed of domestic bliss.
The doorman called the elevator for her, helping her get in with the bags of presents as Abby was fairly certain she would trip over her own two feet with her arms filled like that, unable to see the ground.
“Ninth floor?” he asked.
“You know it. Thanks.” Abby replied.
By the time Abby reached the front door of the apartment, her arms were exhausted from the weight of the packages. She didn’t have Carol to play tennis with anymore, so her forearms strained against the weight of the bags and the packages resting on top of her arms. She had a key in her pocket, but there was no chance she was going to put down all of the items only to retrieve the key or ring the doorbell. Abby stood directly in front of the apartment and leaned her head against the door.
“Carol?” She didn’t want to shout too loudly. It was Christmas Eve after all. “Carol?” This time Abby drew out saying the r as long as she could hold it in the hopes that someone in the apartment would actually hear her.
“Anyone? Therese?” Abby had finally resorted to banging her head directly against the door since she could reach the doorbell. After about five attempts of knocking her head against the door, Abby stopped once she heard the sound of heels on the hardwood floor.
When the door opened, Carol could only stand there with arms crossed, bewildered as to Abby with her arms to pull of presents and an increasingly red patch appearing in the middle of her forehead. “What the - “
“Answer your damn door.”
“I do. That is, when someone rings the doorbell.”
“Does it look like I could ring, you nitwit?” Abby exasperatingly asked as she walked into the apartment, at which point the pile of presents in her arms and the bags tumbled to the floor. She gently swatted the presents to one side or another to create a path to walk down the hallway, making no attempt to place anything on the amply sized table in the foyer. Carol quickly glanced to the floor with a smirk. “Just leave them,” Abby instructed.
Carol took her coat, tossing it onto the pile of presents on the floor. “You can pick it up later.”
Abby walked down the hallway toward the living room where she spotted Rindy at an informal table by the window and accompanied by her mohair teddy bear who sat atop a pile of sofa pillows.
“Aunt Abby!” Rindy managed to get down the chair and wander over to greet her. Abby crouched down and hugged the little girl who ran toward her. “Merry Christmas Eve!”
“Merry Christmas Eve to you too, Rindy.” Abby let go of her and helped Rindy back up to her seat. “So what’s cookin’ today?”
“Mommy, me, and Bear are having tea. Would you like to join us?”
Carol walked over and stood beside Abby who didn’t know exactly where to sit at the table for four. “Is Therese joining us?”
“She’s in the darkroom working on some last-minute project or some such.” Carol replied. “Come, take the last seat.”
Abby sat next to Carol’s left, with her back to the balcony as Carol poured her a cup of tea. “One sugar or two sugars or no sugars?” giggled Rindy.
Rindy placed two lumps of sugar into Abby’s tea.
“Cream? Lemon?” Rindy then inquired, holding up a small saucer of cream.
Abby turned to Carol and shook her head with an approving smile. “She’s too cute, Carol.” All Carol could do was beam in reply as she raised the teacup to her lips.
“Rindy, I’d like just a little bit of cream.”
Rindy carefully poured the milk into her tea, maybe a little too much, but Abby liked her tea sweet and creamy anyhow. Carol continued to sit and watch her daughter and Abby prepare their tea, Abby stirring hers and Rindy now helping herself to the tea she had poured earlier for her teddy bear. Carol slowly took another sip of her drink, looking out the window and hoping for just the hint of snow again for Christmas.
“Hold up.” Abby cried, reaching for Carol’s hand. “Hold the fu - “
“Not in front of… ” Carol uttered in a low voice. She looked at Abby and then to her daughter, now happily drinking from her bear’s teacup. “Rindy, sweetheart, why don’t you go wash up so we can start getting dinner together?”
“Okay.” Rindy stepped down from the chair and immediately wrapped her arms around her mother. Carol embraced her with a quick hug and kiss to the forehead.
Abby practically pulled Carol’s hand, sliding it as close as possible to her on the tabletop and looked at the ring. “Did she?”
“She did. Well, it wasn’t a down-on-one-knee thing, or anything like that.”
Carol paused before continuing, stopping to glance at the ring on her finger. Abby watched the expression on her face brighten again as she recalled what happened. “On our first night in Stowe, we had just undressed and gotten into bed. The light was on, I was reading and thought Therese was dozing or reading over my shoulder like she sometimes does. A couple minutes later, she took away my book, reached for my left hand, and she - she placed the ring on my finger without saying a single word. She kissed me, turned over, then went to sleep.”
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me?” Abby whispered in case Rindy was still lingering around the corner.
“It was just the other day, plus I'd thought you appreciate me telling you in person.”
Abby couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy, and a hint of sadness that she didn’t tell her right away. Carol used to call Abby all the time, every night, without fail, to go over the day’s events, or years before, complain about everything Harge. Carol didn’t need to call Abby as often, didn’t always come rushing to her first thing when there was a problem. They were still close, but there was now a delay in the relay of communication between the two.
She then remembered the times she and Carol were together, how it was always in the darkness so Abby could never fully see her. Therese though, Therese had the ability to strip all that away.
Then, Abby remembered something she had learned when she and Carol had finished about ten years earlier.
Sometimes, Abby needed to remind herself of that fact. It didn’t mean she wasn’t an important fixture in Carol’s life, in a lot of ways, they had become closer since Therese had come into the picture. Nonetheless, it had changed.
“She loves you.” Abby said. She reached for her purse to find her cigarettes and lighter.
“May I have one too?”
Abby nodded and pulled out two cigarettes, lighting both and passing one to Carol. “So, what did you get Therese?”
A sly smile escaped Carol's lips as she stood to walk to the credenza in the dining room, cigarette hanging from her lips. She opened the top drawer and pulled out a flat, wide black velvet box, then returned to the seat next to Abby. Once she placed the box on the tabletop, she slid the item toward Abby.
Abby opened the box, smiling at the necklace inside. “She’s young, it’s perfect.” Abby pushed it back, still opened, to Carol who took the box in her hands. She paused, looking at the circle of rubies hanging from a silver chain.
“You think she’ll like it?”
“She’ll love it, Carol.”
As Abby poured herself a third cup of eggnog, Carol took Rindy into her room to help her get ready for bed. Therese meandered over to the record player to put on some Christmas music. The record cabinet in the apartment was smaller than the one that was in the house in Ridgewood, but it certainly stocked a much better collection of tunes than Carol used to have. Once Therese found something to listen to, she stood up and walked back over to Abby who was now on the couch and putting the finishing touches on her eggnog.
“So,” Abby began, “you got some good taste, kid.”
It took Therese a good moment to realize Abby was talking about Carol’s ring and not the choice of music. “Thanks.” Therese pulled one of the sofa pillows out and clutched it in her arms, then tucked her feet underneath her. “I’m glad you’re here for Christmas, Abby.”
Raising her glass to take the last swig, Abby finished off her eggnog and stood to make her way to getting herself a fourth cup. “I haven’t seen Rindy in a while.”
“Pour me one?” asked Therese. Abby gave a brief nod of her head and found a clean glass for Therese’s drink. “And add some more bourbon to mine.”
“If you’re on your fourth, clearly there’s not enough liquor in there.”
Laughing, Abby reached for the bottle of bourbon and added a couple fingers to each their glasses. She brought the drinks back to the sofa and touched glasses with Therese. When they took their first sips, Therese’s eyes scrunched up, Abby just smiled and hummed. “Ah, that’s better.”
Little footsteps came from down the hallway into the living room with the appearance of Rindy in her pajamas and robe. The excitement radiated from her face that that was the night Santa would come and leave presents. Rindy ran up to Therese and jumped on the couch between her and Abby. Therese placed her drink on the coffee table so she could put her arms around Rindy’s shoulders.
“You ready for bed?”
“Yes!” Rindy answered with a big smile. She joyously swayed back and forth in Therese’s arms, hopefully not getting herself too excited to sleep. “Can we put out milk and cookies for Santa?”
Therese nodded, “We certainly can.” Abby reached to tickle the bottom of Rindy’s feet in her footie pajamas, making the little girl laugh and squirm as Therese held on to her. “Stop, Aunt Abby! That tickles!” Abby let up and went into the kitchen for a plate for the cookies and a glass for the milk.
“We’re out of milk until the morning!” Therese shouted from the living room.
Abby opened the fridge to see what else there was that they could leave for Santa to drink. There was nothing but beer, white wine, a chilled carafe of water, and orange juice. “We can always leave Santa some eggnog.”
“Yeah, I don’t think Santa will mind.” Therese winked.
Rindy got up to help Abby, taking the plate of cookies and setting it next to the fireplace by the stockings. Glancing up at the empty red, white, and green stocking hanging from the mantle, Rindy reached an arm out to poke it, to see if anyone had put anything in the stocking ahead of time. Disappointed by the lack of goodies inside, Rindy walked over to Abby who had just poured the glass of eggnog to leave for Santa so she could put it next to the cookies.
As Rindy placed the glass of eggnog by the kindling, Carol sauntered into the living room also dressed in her pajamas and robe. “What are you doing, sweet pea?”
“Leaving cookies and eggnog for Santa!”
“We’re out of milk.” Therese interjected.
“Well, eggnog will do then. We can make Santa a little extra jolly this Christmas Eve then.” Carol quipped, and looked over to Abby. She knew how much she missed spending time with Rindy, especially since the divorce drove an even bigger separation between the two of them who had usually been so close. “Why don’t you get Rindy to bed?”
“Can I have a story?”
“Yes!” Abby replied.
“Can it be about Santa and the reindeer?”
“Absolutely.” Therese let go of the pillow she had been clinging to so she could give Rindy a hug and kiss goodnight. Carol embraced Rindy, giving her a tight squeeze and kiss to the forehead before Rindy followed Abby to her room.
When they were finally alone, Carol went over to Therese on the couch, propping one leg under herself, similar to how Therese sat. Therese gestured toward the cookies and eggnog by the fireplace that Rindy had set out for Santa. “That eggnog’s yours, Carol.”
“Mine? No, you have it, sweetness.”
“Oh, I’ve had enough eggnog.” Therese couldn’t help but giggle and tug on the lapels of Carol’s robe to pull her on top of her. Therese’s lips immediately fell to the v of Carol’s pajamas and robe, the exposed skin just above her breasts that was soft and smelled like that perfume Therese enjoyed so much. “You know how I get when I drink that stuff - “ Therese said as she dotted all of the exposed skin with kisses.
“Jesus Christ, your bedroom is about twenty fucking feet away.” Abby exclaimed. Two heads popped up from the sofa. “Just go,” Abby pointed back down the hallway toward the bedroom door, “I’ll put out the presents and clean up.” Therese took Carol’s hand, both of them laughing as quietly as possible as they walked down the hallway to their room and shut the door.
Abby sighed, looking around the living room at the mess of dirty glasses, askew pillows, and the treats left for Santa. Abby first tackled the dishes and tidying up the living room so that everything was ready for Christmas morning. She then walked back to the hallway, filled with the spilled over packages and presents from when she had arrived earlier in the afternoon. Piece by piece, Abby carried the presents to the tree, placing everything neatly beneath it and adjusting the ribbons when needed. Right before she finished with her own gifts, Abby realized she didn’t have Carol and Therese’s presents for Rindy. There was no chance that she was going to knock on their door for at least another hour or so. Abby looked to the fireplace with the snacks and pulled everything into her arms to bring over to the TV. She turned it on to find something to kill time before going to retrieve Rindy’s presents.
“Could you at least put on a robe or something and bring out the damn presents so I can get to bed too?” Abby whispered as loudly as possible through the door. She had already stayed up plenty and had had enough waiting when the Midnight Mass from St. Patrick’s Cathedral finally came on air.
After some commotion, the door opened to an exasperated Therese holding out two bags full of presents. In addition to the mussed hair and the bathrobe, Abby instantly noticed the round ruby necklace around Therese’s neck as the one Carol showed her earlier. The sour expression on Abby’s face quickly softened as she looked at Therese’s necklace.
It changes, she reminded herself one more time, heading to the living room to place the gifts under the tree.
Chapter 21: "Do I Love You?"
Tuesday, January 25th, 1955
It sounded so clinical and boring. Every time Carol heard the term “companion,” she thought of those pampered hand-held dogs she saw by Central Park. Hyper little beasts with bug eyes and prickly fur who were always eager to take a bite out of passersby. Their handlers were usually equally as brutal too.
Companion also brought to mind those dowdy ladies from her youth who always traveled in pairs or packs of at least four. They were always the ones accompanied their nieces aboard the steamer ships and checked on their every move. Always these Bryn Mawr or Wellesley graduates from the Class of 1896 and beyond who never married, but lived together in these glorious brownstones on the Upper West Side that they inherited from their parents, filled up to the servants quarters with incredible furniture, as Carol often found. They went everywhere together and often had this humorous way that they said, “girls.” Always with this intense focus on the letter g that sounded ridiculous.
“Companions” always hid who they actually were. If they were anything at all. That wasn’t Carol and Therese by any means. It wasn’t always them against the world, they had their own little network and places they could go to where there were no worries. They had their handful of friends who knew, but for the most part, their home life was private and they liked it that way.
This wasn’t a crush on the playground. This wasn’t some girl from algebra class who helped out with homework or was on the pep squad. And Therese was no girl. She was a stunningly beautiful, loving woman who was devoted to her. She wasn't some girl you simply flung woo with in the back of a Dodge on Lover's Lane.
And she was definitely not just a friend.
Something about the way Carol would pick up Therese beneath her thighs and carry her over to the nearest waist-high surface and then carefully spread each leg with a touch of her hand. Rendering Therese unable to think rationally aside from a nod of the head when Carol asked what she would like prefer (fingers, tongue, or both) was the usual goal. Carol would trail her fingers up and down, then nibble right beneath her ear, making Therese pant and moan as she reviewed her three options one more time as fingers now languidly slid in and out.
From Therese's neck to her breasts to her navel and lower, Carol slid her tongue all the way down to where her fingers were inside. She always spent longer than she needed to with her mouth. Gentle strokes of Carol's curling tongue were typically Therese's favorite means of orgasm: it was how Carol had first made her come that night in Waterloo. Therese was close as soon as Carol felt her thighs tense and stomach shake from concentrating on every sensation.
Sometimes, just before it would hit, Therese would blurt out, “I need you - need you up here.” Carol then knew Therese wanted to be held as she rode out the waves of pleasure, rake her fingernails against Carol's back, look into her eyes as she contracted around the fingers inside her, and kiss the lips that tasted like the arousal only Carol could inspire.
In short: not a girl, not a friend, not a girlfriend.
Again, they weren't in high school or college looking for the football captain to pin them under the bleachers after the box social.
While Therese didn't have a ring, she had her necklace. Not like she could suddenly start wearing a ring on her finger without attracting everyone's attention at the Times. Carol had been married, had always worn rings and bracelets that drew the eye to her hands; that always blended in so easily for her and no one would think anything of it. It was different for Carol: she could, Therese couldn't. Maybe when Therese was older.
They also had clearly done a whole lot more together than just hold hands when they were behind closed doors.
Were they so incomplete without the other? Sometimes Carol thought so. When she wasn't feeling well, too exhausted to raise her arms to wash her hair, Therese would get the shampoo from the bath and bring it into the kitchen so she could wash her hair for her in the sink under the faucet and with the spray hose. Massaging her scalp, rubbing behind her ears, running her fingers through lathered gold locks, Carol never would have thought of that.
Or when Therese would roll up to the shop on her beloved beige Vespa after getting a call from Carol that she was having a rough day. She'd honk the horn, surprising Carol, who would immediately lock up and hop onto the back, clutching Therese as they rode through Midtown on a thirty-minute jaunt in the middle of the day.
There would also be those times where, in the middle of the night, when Therese would be turned onto her side facing away from Carol, and start moaning and reaching for Carol behind her. Hearing the distressed sounds, Carol would wake and turn her over to hold her, snuggling Therese into her arms and wrapping a leg around hers to keep her as close as possible. Once she stilled, Carol would adjust the blankets over them, making sure Therese was warm, covered, and safe from whatever it was that plagued her.
That made them “better halves,” but still, it wasn't as powerful a term. It wasn't a box one would tick on official paperwork.
At the same time, they weren't co-dependent upon one another. Carol could easily travel for work looking for an elusive Louis Quinze cabinet in Maine over a weekend or spend an afternoon at Abby's in New Jersey. Yes, sometimes Therese came along, but sometimes she liked having the apartment to herself, for a few hours or a night. When they regrouped, Carol would be more cuddly than usual, holding Therese a little bit tighter to her as she slept.
That implied a never-ending courtship where someone was so indecisive they couldn't even see the light of possibility where they would be married. “We intend to marry” anyways sounded like there was a tremendous obstacle in the way or someone got caught with their pants around their ankles and that was the default response to ensure propriety and morals.
It was yet another outdated term that just didn’t apply to the two of them, but Carol still heard it thrown around nonetheless.
Was it 1919? Carol wasn’t a dandy on the prowl for a sweetheart down at the dance hall on a Saturday night. She would never refer to Therese as “her sweetheart” if she was talking about the two of them as a couple. It sounded nearly as juvenile as girlfriend.
Certainly, Carol would call Therese “sweetheart” as a private nickname or term of endearment; it was easily one of her favorites, but it still did not convey the exact term she wanted. Therese was sweet, so gentle and so so sweet, that it was impossible to not refer to her as “sweetheart,” “sweetie,” or even “sweetness” when the mood struck. Not when she would curl up next to Carol in winter, tossing a heavy Hudson Bay Point blanket over the two of them to watch the snow fall from the balcony of the apartment, back lit by the light of the moon and city lights.
However sweetheart was never a term that she would use to describe Therese if someone asked her if she was in a relationship. “She's my sweetheart.” Carol once said to a close friend. In the end, it just sounded too old fashioned when she thought back on it, and regretted putting it that way. But, at the time, didn't know how else to convey her relationship with Therese.
In English, lover just sounded too off-putting. It didn’t have the same connotation as amante; didn’t sound as romantic. Perhaps if she said it in French, with that extra emphasis on the t at the end for the keen listener, it would sound better and she would be more agreeable to referring to Therese as that. It wasn’t practical though, no one would ever understand why she called her that in the first place. Besides, using the French word would just make her sound snobbish and phony.
They shared a bed. Every night. In some people’s eyes, that make Therese her lover. They participated in said loving activities in the aforementioned bed. It wasn’t the same as a male-female couple though where lover implied such elicit meanings of infidelity and premarital relations. There was nothing elicit about the way in which they loved and cared for each other. They shared a home, they shared a life, whether others approved or not.
Was Therese a multinational conglomeration of energy companies vying for another merger in northern Europe? Did they run an antique furniture store out of an old barn in New Jersey? No, that was Abby. Abby had been a partner in the truest sense of the word. For a time at least.
They were a team though, they did encounter life's problems together and work through everything that was thrown at them. Partner suggested a coldness, a detachment. Therese was anything but cold.
In every sense of the word, when Carol truly sat down to think about it, Therese was her wife, or at least something similar. They could never legally be married like a man and a woman (“That'd be the day!” Carol had once exclaimed), but they had the protections of one wherever Carol had seen to make it possible. They were married in many ways with their home and their shared responsibility. Carol’s simple engraved rose gold ring; Therese’s round ruby necklace. Their vacations together around the world. Their ability to tackle issues as one.
Maybe “wife” brought up too many memories of Carol's marriage. Wife was always impersonally attached to some man in everyone's eyes; “Harge’s wife,” or “Cy’s wife,” as though they weren't worthy of their own identity. They deserved better. They deserved much more.
Yes, that was it. “My Therese,” she would always say, or “my darling Therese.” Plain and simple, as there could only be the one.
Chapter 22: "I've Got You Under My Skin"
Friday, March 25th, 1955
As the installation opening wrapped, Dannie and Phil were still helping themselves to beers, wandering around looking at the photographs on the wall. Therese walked over toward the two brothers who were gesturing to the oversized black-and-white images on the walls. “You guys realize you’re the only reason beer was served?”
“Thank you, Therese!” they shouted in unison as they kept staggering from picture to picture, finally able to walk around without the crowds of people interfering with their view. Therese has refused to show anyone the photos before the opening, begging their mutual friend who did the framing to not reveal the content.
Therese saw two of her friends from the Times standing by the door, waiting to say goodbye. After giving them hugs and wishing them a good weekend, she turned back toward the room to keep an eye on the increasingly inebriated brothers. Therese was having a moment where she regretted inviting them. They could easily be rowdy at times, but Phil and Dannie always brought a spark to any event they attended. It was just a fleeting feeling of regret about having them there anyhow, especially when they were both so supportive of her and Carol.
Louise walked up to stand next to Therese; all she could do was shake her head. “You’d think they’d never seen a naked woman before.” Therese shrugged, essentially used to Dannie and Phil’s shenanigans after three years, but somehow surprised about it today. Or not that surprised considering the content of the photos. “On second thought,” Louise walked up to the photo of legs from mid-thigh to mid-calf, angled to form two overlapping arches, “maybe I’ve never really seen a naked woman before either.” She tilted her head to get a better perspective on the pair of smooth, lengthy legs.
Avoiding Louise’s look, Therese turned her attention back to Dannie who popped open the last beer. “Therese, are these all the same person?”
She smiled. “Why’d you ask?”
“Those back muscles. How are they - I mean, look at them. They’re… wow.” Therese patted him on the back and took the bottle cap from his hand before it ended up on the floor. She stood next to him for a moment, admiring the muscle definition she had been able to capture despite the lighting not being the best and casting far too many shadows on each dimple. Perhaps that is what made it so alluring to the viewer, all those shadows and secret spots.
“Therese, you got any more beers?” Phil asked, as he slicked back his hair with the comb from his back pocket.
“Dannie took the last one. You can see if he’ll share, but I doubt it.”
Phil walked over to Dannie and did his best to pressure him into sharing the beer. Or what was left of it. Therese couldn’t entirely hear the conversation; nonetheless watching the hand gestures from afar was entertainment enough. Luckily, Dannie knew that if his older brother wanted “only a sip,” he might as well give him the rest of the bottle, which he ultimately handed over without too much hassle. “You gonna tell us who it is in the photos?” Dannie pleaded.
“Nope!” shouted Therese, echoing through the near vacant gallery. “I promised.”
“Please? I mean, look. Look. Look, Therese. These are swell.” Phil wildly gestured to the close-up of a woman’s breasts. Dannie shied away and looked back toward Louise at the other end of the room. “C’mon, Therese, back me up here.”
“They’re amazing breasts, Phil.” Therese sighed, rolling her eyes.
“Can you introduce me? To the model.” Phil eagerly.
Therese blankly stared back at Phil, now coughing and scratching his head. “No, sorry, Phil. She set sail - ”
There was a flurry of commotion at the front door to the gallery, followed by the unmistakable sound of heels against the hardwood flooring. “Sorry I’m late.”
Therese turned around to see Carol rushing in the door, arms full of bags, her jacket, and a purse that seemed to get heavier every day. Therese rushed over to take some of the items from her and put whatever she could on a desk by the front door.
Carol looked around the room to see Louise still standing and admiring the photo of the legs and the other two resuming the squabbling about beer, but now doing so in front of the breasts portrait. When she assessed the room and realized it was the usual crowd of Therese’s three friends, Carol leaned in to kiss Therese on the cheek. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here for the whole thing, Therese.”
“It’s fine. Really.” Therese assured her, reaching out to grab her arm. “I'm glad you're here now.”
Therese walked to the gallery door and locked it, leaving the five of them inside. After a quick glance to the windows, she drew the blinds more firmly shut so no prying eyes could see anywhere inside the gallery. She had spent the whole evening not drinking and now that the event was over, she really wanted a glass of wine. A couple bottles remained on the table and one clean glass, which Therese grabbed and filled to the brim with red wine.
“Sorry there aren't any other glasses. Share with me?”
“Oh, God, yes.” Carol took the wine and downed half the glass. All Therese could do was smile, looking at the half-filled glass with the lipstick stain, and top off the wine. “How’d you do?”
“Sold all but one.”
“I’m very proud of you, sweetheart.” Carol offered Therese another kiss on the cheek. “Wait, which one?” She quickly looked around the room at all of the photos, the tell-tale sticker in the bottom corners each indicating that the works had been sold. It wasn’t easy to spot the unsold photo from the displays.
Therese motioned to the lone photo against the far back wall, one of a close-up of a woman on her back, knees parted, fully exposed. “That one's not for sale under any circumstances.”
Dannie and Phil sat on a couch, moving onto drinking water at Carol’s insistence, and Louise sat between the two, watching Carol and Therese go from photo to photo. Therese took Carol around the room, standing behind her with her arms around her waist, enthusiastically pointing out every nuance to the framed images. She occasionally needed to stand up on her toes to look over Carol’s shoulder, especially since she came in wearing heels, to point to the photos and show her the work.
“Guys, guys” Louise whispered as the boys leaned in once she had nudged them enough times, “do you think Therese still thinks we don’t know these are all of Carol?”
Chapter 23: "Don't Fence Me In"
Friday, June 24th, 1955
“It’s not all bad!” Therese pleaded, playfully tugging on the hem of Carol’s skirt. “Wait, is it?”
“Darling, I choose the next picture,” insisted Carol.
“Fine, but you have to admit, a double creature feature is pretty great… “
“Surrounded by horny teenagers in their parents’ cars… “
Carol gestured to the Chevy Bel Air parked in front of them that shifted from left to right every once in a while with the occasional silhouette of one of the occupants making an appearance just as frequently as the car’s movements. Both Carol and Therese did their best to stifle laughter. Therese moved her hand from Carol's skirt toward the box of Junior Mints in her hand. Carol feigned pulling the box of her favorite candy away, but soon pressed it closer for Therese to reach. “You were never a horny teenager in your parents’ car?”
Carol let out a hearty laugh. “Horny, yes. Parents’ car, no.”
“What? You never went driving?”
“No, well - ” Carol replied, shaking her head and then remembering something, “at least not with a boy.”
Then there was silence and a few more minutes to go until the next feature started. Carol didn’t elaborate, only sat quietly and shook the box of Junior Mints to keep the candy from sticking together in the humidity.
“A girl, then?”
Carol was still silent; however, there was the trademark smirk of hers on her face that implied more than she couldn’t possibly keep to herself. “Yes, a girl. Also from Miss Porter’s.”
Over the past three years, Therese had learned so much about Carol’s world with the places, schools, people, and events that people from that type of background considered important. It took about a year for Therese to learn all the specifics, but Carol was always patient in explaining those types of details, however insignificant and trite they might have actually been, from her past. It was only at times like these where Carol remembered that the two of them came from such different worlds, and most importantly, how none of that mattered anymore.
“Also from Miss Porter’s? Well, then.” Therese said in a mocking tone and a giggle. When Therese looked up at Carol’s face, lit only by the shadows from the screen before them, she was still smirking at the memory.
“Only a kiss, angel.” Carol said, placing her free hand on Therese’s thigh. The feeling of her hand on the fabric was warm, heating up the longer it sat on her leg. Therese placed her hand on top of Carol’s and smiled.
“I’m sure it was very sweet.” Therese’s thumb brushed across her knuckle in a relaxing gesture and let it rest in that one spot.
“It was. Looking back and all.”
Therese rolled her eyes and smiled. “You charmer,” she said with a nudge to her shoulder.
Carol drifted away for a moment, lost in her thoughts as she glanced out the driver’s side window. Therese noticed the distraction right away, suddenly overcome with guilt for having asked her to come to the drive-in when she probably didn’t even like the pictures they were showing. “Sorry you don't like the movies.”
Carol knew Therese was preoccupied with making sure she was enjoying herself, and reassured her again that there was no unpleasantness to the memory and emphasized how much she loved being out with Therese on the warm summer night. Turning their attention back toward the screen, Carol contentedly sat beside Therese who was now glued to the trailers and advertisements playing before them. There was no chance she was going to make it through the next feature, even if it was only eighty minutes long or so. Carol looked to see what was on the bench seat between them, spotting only her lightweight sweater and Therese’s camera bag. She took the sweater and balled it up into her hands, then placed the camera bag gently at her feet.
Therese still wasn’t paying any attention to the movements inside the vehicle, still staring at the screen and dangling her arm outside the passenger side window. Once the items were moved, Carol slipped off her sandals and pulled her knees up onto the seat, then swiveled her body so that her back rested against the door and her legs could finally stretch out across. The balled up sweater found its way behind her, providing a comfortable makeshift cushion to her lower back.
Therese finally took note once Carol’s toes brushed against the side of her leg, and without diverting her eyes from the screen, moved herself closer to Carol in order to place her feet in her lap. She mindlessly began to massage the bottom of each foot, one at a time. “You don't have to do that.”
“I like to.” Therese kept pressing the ball of Carol’s foot with her thumb, applying strokes of pressure between the toes and arch of Carol's foot. Shutting her eyes, Carol reveled in the contact her foot made with Therese's hand and felt every stroke massage the muscles. After about ten passes up and down of Therese's thumb, Carol's back slumped against the car door and she let out a low, elongated moan once she felt fully relaxed.
Her eyes immediately popped open when she caught herself, positioning her foot into more of an upright position and away from Therese's hand. “Sorry.”
Therese could only smile at reducing Carol to lose herself like that. Especially when it was just the sole of her foot that she was touching.
“I've never heard that sound from you in this context.”
Therese moved her hand to the heel of Carol’s foot and began pressing her fingers into the tougher skin there. With her eyes again shut, Carol relaxed once more with her back against the door as Therese roamed her hands over the heel and ankle. Her attention remained with the movie, regardless, Therese very adeptly cared for Carol’s weary feet with every touch of her hand. Somewhere between the monster destroying its third town and then kidnapping the girl, Carol fell asleep, still with Therese’s hands massaging her feet.
Dazed, squinting and rubbing her eyes, Carol looked at Therese who had been trying to wake her up with gentle shaking to the feet in her lap.
“Is the movie over?” Therese nodded and rolled up her window. Carol reached for her neck to massage the back of it, slightly kinked from sleeping at a strange angle for at least an hour. When she finished kneading her neck, Carol turned to sit back in the seat properly and removed the speaker from the side of the window. “What time is it?”
“Probably almost midnight.” Therese looked down at her wristwatch to confirm and her eyes widened when she saw how late it was. “So, where are we spending the night? Or do you want to head back to the city?”
Carol slipped on her sandals, and gestured with her head toward the main road behind them. “There's a place just down the road here.”
“Lead the way.”
Chapter 24: "Easy to Love"
Saturday, September 17th, 1955
Carol looked down at her fruit-stained hands, red streaks marking her fingertips of her pink skin. The palms of her hands were covered in bright blotches of red from where she had placed recently picked berries before putting them into the bucket draped from her arm. Juice from the berries seeped onto her skin, down her fingers, and underneath the ring on her left hand. Carol admired the way the droplets of juice dried to the golden ring; she would just have to thoroughly clean it when they got home. Bits of raspberry juice also found its way under her cuticles, probably her fingernails as well if she could see well beneath the red nail polish.
The only benefits of her grandparents’ old house in Greenwich weren't just the seclusion of the property or the swimming pool with its pavilion, Carol had realized one day. There were also the several bushes of raspberries out back where she remembered picking fruit as a child. Her grandparents had bushes of raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries every summer, and Carol had loved collecting fruit for her grandmother to make jams and other treats. Later in the fall, she'd pick apples from the small orchard by the driveway, then help her grandmother make different varieties of apple pie.
It was one of the happiest memories of her childhood, gathering fruit to make different things. As she grew up and ended up spending less and less time with her grandparents, Carol realized that she missed doing those simple tasks. Sure, there were always people to “do it for you,” however, it wasn’t the same level of satisfaction, and took away from the conversation she used to have and the skills she learned. Once she got married, went off to Europe, then returned home, everything had become about Rindy and the preoccupation for her well-being. There was no time to pick and can like when she was younger. Maybe when Rindy was older, but perhaps the divorce had put a damper in such activities.
It took Therese some time to get accustomed to spending weekends in Greenwich during the summer. She had spent so much time in cities, always someone in the adjacent space or at least on the same floor; she had become perhaps too dependent upon the sound of the city to lull her to sleep. Carol sometimes missed being in the country, or at least in the nearby suburbs, where there was lush lawns and four sides of privacy in the great outdoors.
Assessing the contents of the bucket on her arm, Carol realized that she had probably picked too many berries. She had no idea what Therese had gathered in her own pail, but guessed by the movements of her jaw that not many of the berries she had picked had actually ended up in the bucket. Carol smiled, as she watched Therese put another handful of berries into her mouth.
“If you also want that pie later, you’ll stop eating all the raspberries.”
Therese stood a little higher to look over the raspberry bush, still savoring the latest bit of fruit and now defiantly chewing in a dramatic fashion. Carol raised an eyebrow as she watched Therese eat. “I picked plenty of raspberries,” she said as she raised her pail up to show Carol its contents. “We have enough now for jam and a pie?”
Carol looked and noticed that between the two of them they had plenty of berries. She motioned for Therese to come back toward her so they could go into the house to start cleaning and prepping what they had gathered. Therese plucked a few more berries from the bushes and placed them into her pail before she jogged around the bush back to where Carol was standing. When she rounded the corner, Therese immediately noticed Carol’s berry-stained fingers.
“Look at your hands!”
Carol looked down at them, still unphased by the red blotches on her skin. “What? I’m sure yours aren’t any better.”
“No, not by much,” she answered after a quick glance. “Come on, let’s go clean up and start making this jam.”
Before they could track any dirt or mud into the house, Carol and Therese removed their shoes before opening the door into the kitchen. Therese’s feet were instantly cold as they touched the slate paving stone at the entrance. Carol at least wore a pair of socks so wasn’t quite as bothered as she scurried into the house.
Standing in front of the kitchen sink, Carol looked out at the lawn, noticing some areas that she would need to draw to the gardener’s attention before the leaves started falling. She turned back toward the cupboard where the glasses and mugs were kept, and removed a blue tinted glass which she partially filled with lukewarm water and a drop of dish soap. Very carefully, she removed the ring from her finger and placed it into the cup to soak.
Therese came into the kitchen carrying Carol’s bucket and her pail of raspberries, ready to also wash up before starting to help with the jam. She walked next to Carol who stood at the sink, now with the water running to make it warmer than the water she had used her for ring and the soap. Once they were standing side by side, Therese nudged her hip against Carol’s, which jostled her from her thoughts as she looked out onto the lawn. Carol drifted back to the present and remembered the running water. She ran her hands under it to wet them, then picked up the bar of hand soap beside the sponge. She held out the bar of bubbly soap to Therese who grabbed it and scrubbed her fingers under the hot water.
“Looking forward to making jam?”
“Very. I’ve always wanted to learn.” Therese replied and the soap passed again and again over the palms of her hands. She rinsed them at the same time as Carol, who jokingly placed hers above Therese's as the water ran, so all her soapy bubbles rinsed into her. “Hey!”
Carol laughed and dried her now clean hands on a nearby dish towel that hung from a hook against a cabinet. This time, she bumped her hip against Therese’s and grinned back at her. “Do you like staying here?” asked Carol.
Therese shook off the excess water and then finished drying her hands by wiping them on the pedal pushers she wore. “I like it. I mean, it's not the city, of course.”
“No, certainly not,” Carol agreed. “How would you feel if we lived here year round? Would you like that?”
Therese scrunched up her nose and tilted her head back and forth, thinking and debating in her mind. “I would, but I don't know about the commute. I like being in the city, near friends, for work, things like that.”
“‘We’ll have Manhattan…’” Carol softly sang.
Carol always knew how to bring a smile to Therese’s face, even when she was deep in thought and working through something all-too serious. “I'd worry though about you becoming isolated out here.” Therese quietly admitted.
“Like you were in Ridgewood, away from your friends and all.”
“Don't you think it's different now, with the job and - and you?”
Pausing before continuing, Therese looked down at her feet, smiling at the red nail polish Carol had applied a few days earlier. “Definitely, but with just you and me here in all this house, it'd be lonely. Maybe in different ways than before for both of us.”
As much as Carol liked spending time there, it would be a lonely existence for them. Everything revolved around being in Manhattan and their jobs, and living out in Greenwich made that all the more difficult. There was leeway with the anonymity of city life, and there was simply the overall convenience of being where they already needed to be. “You're right,” she sighed, “not yet. We're not there yet.”
“I'm not ruling it out for someday, Carol, just, like you said, not yet.”
Therese took her hand, swinging it back and forth. “I liked the summer here: going swimming, having this privacy, but it's not the same as back home.” Therese pulled Carol closer to her and put a hand around her neck to pull her in to kiss. Diverting her lips from Carol’s, she leaned into her ear instead and whispered, “Besides, there's plenty of surfaces in that apartment where I've still yet to take you.”
“Oh?” Carol squeaked out through the shudder that coursed through her body. If it wasn’t the shaking from what Therese had softly spoken into her ear, then it was certainly Therese’s breath hitting her earlobe and the side of her face grazing her own. Just the breath against her ear was enough for Carol, but Therese was easily distracted and began to kiss the goosebumps that rose under her ear, just by her hairline. Before Carol could completely collapse to the floor, she hopped up to sit on the kitchen counter, letting her legs dangle well above the floor. “Well, I suppose since we’re not there we could just start working on this house. Besides, there are so many more options.”
It only took a smirk from Therese who accepted the invitation to hike up her skirt and slide her hand all the way up her inner thigh.
Chapter 25: "Always True to You in My Fashion"
Sunday, March 11th, 1956
As Carol walked down the sidewalk, she glanced over at Therese who was hunched over trotting down West 58th beside her. With hands shoved deep into her pockets and desperately trying to stay warm in the frigid temperatures, she concentrated on the sidewalk to make sure she didn’t slip on any ice. Again. There was hardly anyone else out and about in the cold weather.
“Did he say anything else over the phone?” Therese asked Carol for a third time that day.
“No, just ‘come for late lunch,’” Carol replied. “Probably so it’s less likely for him to bump into anyone he knows. Plus he specifically asked you to come along as well.”
“Why? I won't say anything.”
“I don’t know. ‘Come for late lunch.’”
At the last couple steps before the restaurant door, Therese scurried ahead to open the door for Carol. She always seemed to be the one who held the door; not that she minded at all. The maître d’ looked the two of them over, all bundled up from the cold and offered to take their coats. “Name?”
“Yes, he’s already here. This way, please.”
They walked to the back of the restaurant, past some potted palms and an inviting window overlooking the practically vacant street. When Harge saw Carol and Therese approach, he stood up and pulled out their chairs. Carol immediately glanced over at Therese, who had an equally incredulous look on her face, nonetheless, sat down on the plush green velvet chair.
“Thank you both for coming.”
Meeting up with Harge brought back all those awful feelings from four years earlier, getting slapped with an injunction before Christmas, the private detective, the psychotherapist, the months of denial. All those memories that Carol had worked so hard at putting behind her. Now, she sat across from her ex-husband, and beside her, Therese, in a situation she never thought she would find herself in.
“Carol, I know what you’re thinking,” Harge said, “so don’t.”
“What am I to expect, Harge?” Carol pulled out her cigarette case and lighter, placing them on the table between her and Therese. “We don’t exactly have the finest history when it comes to our little tête-à-têtes.”
Harge was quiet right away, slowly nodding his head in agreement. There was something in his demeanor that struck Carol, something very off about the man she had known for nearly twenty years. He was calmer, more composed, more thoughtful than she had ever seen him before. “You look wonderful, Carol. You always have. And really, well, you know... happy.”
“You can thank Therese for that.” she softly noted with a nod in Therese’s direction. Harge again nodded. “And you?”
He took a deep breath and picked up the menu sitting by the glass of ice water. “We’ll get to that.”
“Harge - “
“No, we’re going to have lunch. The three of us. And then we’re going to talk. Like adults. All of us together.”
“Suddenly I’m not hungry.” Carol said as she pulled a cigarette from her case. She offered one to Therese who declined.
“Me either.” Therese quietly added. Therese was too busy trying to decipher what Harge was getting at.
“Please, have something, Carol. I still remember you don't eat breakfast on Sundays and even then you have barely some lunch after one, and it’s almost two, so I know you're starving.”
“He has a point.” Therese reluctantly agreed with Harge.
Carol lit her cigarette and then reluctantly picked up her menu to peruse her options. “Alright then. Shall we get some wine at least?” As soon as Carol picked up the wine list from the center of the table, Harge immediately held out his hand to take it only to be bypassed for Therese’s outstretched hands, more than eager to have a look at the offerings. “Therese knows her wines.”
Somewhere between the cheese plate and the dessert tray, Harge started to get impatient. He had been patiently sitting before Carol and Therese, not saying much other than talk about Rindy and his own parents mishaps, but now he simply wanted to get down to the real issue. There was a lull in the conversation between the three of them. Therese was nursing her third glass of wine, Carol was fiddling with her rose gold bracelet, twirling her finger around her right wrist beneath the metal in an incessant loop.
“Cancer.” Harge blurted out. “Terminal.”
It was all Harge said on the matter. He didn’t need to repeat himself because he knew the two ladies across from him had heard the one word despite their lack of attention before he had even spoken. Carol stopped twirling the bracelet around her wrist, and slowly reached down to grasp Therese’s hand that rested in her lap beneath the table. She also reached across to Harge and covered his hand with hers. Carol didn't move, didn't react any further than by taking Harge's hand in hers.
He rubbed his thumb over her knuckle and let out the deep breath he had been holding in since he spoke that one specific word. It was then that he noticed the ring, not the simple silver one he had given her all those years ago, but a rose gold band that matched the other jewelry Carol wore. Harge immediately recognized what it was, what exactly it meant, and tightened his hand around Carol’s as best he could muster along with a soft smile.
Therese spoke first as Carol was too in shock to verbalize any of her thoughts. “Mr. Aird, I’m sorry.” Therese merely lowered her eyes and solemnly looked down at their intertwined fingers in her lap.
“But - are you sure?”
“Yes,” he sighed. “I wanted both of you here so we can talk about Rindy and what’s best for her.”
“Of course.” Carol agreed.
“I want her to live with you,” Harge bluntly stated, “both of you.” Therese squinted, unable to turn from looking at him, and having a difficult time believing anything she had heard thus far that day.
“My parents are getting older, they want to travel and do their own thing; they don’t need the responsibility of raising a child now that they’re in their seventies. They wouldn’t be there for Rindy like you could be, and frankly,” Harge let go of Carol's hand and threw his arms into the air, “I don’t want them raising her. I don’t want her shuffled off to a nanny or my sister or some far off boarding school, growing up alone and possibly neglected after I'm gone. Mother isn’t going to like it, but, that’s too damn bad.”
Therese was fairly certain Harge saw the look on her face and noticed how her breath hitched as she recalled her own isolated childhood, growing up in a boarding school, away from her mother, utterly abandoned from the age of eight onward. She couldn't possibly imagine Rindy living like that: How awful she would feel knowing her mother and herself were happily residing in the city while she could possibly be forced to be so close yet so far away. Rindy was now Therese's age when she had been “shipped off,” and understood all too well those feelings.
“Four years ago, you’d have never said that,” Carol coldly stated.
“Try four weeks ago. May I?” Harge gestured to the cigarette case still resting between Carol and Therese, still nervous as he spoke so openly. Therese opened the case to offer him one and Carol held out the lighter.
“You’ve always been an outstanding mother to Rindy, and I am so sorry for trying to keep her from you. I am even more sorry that you have missed so much in the past years: her first day of school, her first missing tooth, her first sleepover with friends. Please, understand me when I say I am deeply, deeply sorry.
“I’m even more ashamed that I started to miss those things too because of work and travel. You know how I used to be able to drop everything and be there for Rindy; well, responsibilities changed. I didn’t tell you. I didn’t want to admit to you that I couldn’t do it all myself. I just haven’t been able to be around her as much as I anticipated. Had I not been so selfish keeping her from you, you would have at least been there when I couldn't be. Sadly, neither of us can get that time back.”
Harge took a deep drag of the cigarette hanging from his lips, followed by an intense bout of coughing into a napkin. Therese said nothing, merely watched as Harge smoked and Carol contemplated taking another cigarette from the case. As Carol reached for the case, Therese darted her free hand to the top of hers, not caring if they were out in public, and pulled her hand from the metal box. “Not now.” Therese whispered.
Harge started smiling, remembering something else. “Actually, every single time Rindy has returned from a visit with you two, she’s the happiest little girl, Carol. She brags about the books you read to each other, going for walks in the park or how you baked cookies.” Harge was beginning to get teary thinking about it, taking puffs of his cigarette whenever he was too overcome with the thoughts.
“And Therese, Rindy really adores you, especially when you take photos together and work on your photo album. You know,” Harge laughed, “she has tons of photos the two of you took on her bedroom wall. All photos of you and Carol, all the places the three of you visited together around the city.”
“She does?” Therese did her best to hold back tears, so happy that Rindy cherished the time they spent together and wanted to be surrounded by the happy memories.
“Yeah, she loves looking at them.” Harge was beaming just thinking about his daughter coming home from a weekend with Carol and Therese, endlessly talking about how much fun they had and presenting her father with a pile of photos from their last adventure together.
Then he also remembered one time, maybe when Rindy was five or six, she came home from school: sullen, sad, and exhausted. When Harge asked what was wrong, Rindy said she brought her train set’s engine in for Show & Tell, and talking about it made her miss her Mommy and Therese, who at that point, she probably hadn't seen in over two months.
Carol’s eyes were full of tears, about ready to burst and let her mascara run down her cheeks. She reached into her purse looking for a handkerchief, and when finally finding one among the many items inside, dabbed the corners of her eyes as best she could. “Are you sure about all this, Harge?”
He wiped his eyes and nodded. “I’ve given this a lot of thought, and it’s best for Rindy. She needs to be in a home where she knows she’s loved; you know, with her mother and - “ Harge looked at Therese with a smile, not entirely sure what to say, but honestly trying his best to express himself, “ - and, you, uh, Therese. Kind of, two mothers, I guess you can say.” he chuckled. “In all seriousness though, I know you two love each other. I don't understand it entirely, maybe I do now, I mean, I understand love and what it is to love someone. It's clear you love each other and most importantly you love Rindy.”
Harge spent the next hour explaining his plan for Rindy, education, responsibilities, expenses, and then making sure everything was arranged for her eventual transition to Madison Avenue. He would go to his lawyer and to Carol's to finalize the agreements over the following weeks.
Carol had a difficult time listening: It was so much to take in. Therese was able to discreetly hold her hand beneath the table and stroke her thumb back and forth over the tiniest patch of skin to keep her calm.
“How long have the doctors given you?” Carol inquired.
“A few months, maybe half a year; it'll all depend on my reaction to the treatment. I'm hoping to make it through to the end of the school year. For Rindy’s sake. It'll be easier for her to move and change schools that way.” Harge hung his head low, breathing deeply, then coughing.
“If you need anything, you know we're just around the corner.”
He nodded again and sighed. As he got up from his seat, Harge pulled his coat tighter around himself and adjusted his hat, then gave Carol a kiss on the cheek, and then paused before shaking Therese's hand, hesitating for a moment, and then also leaned giving her a kiss. They politely smiled and the three of them looked at each other one more time. He quickly left, heading back in the direction of Fifth Avenue.
Carol and Therese could not have possibly imagined that this would be their day, and the start of a new future for the two of them and Rindy.
July 3, 1956
“Carol? Phone for you.”
Chapter 26: "Get Out of Town"
Sunday, April 1st, 1956
Once she had finished her slice of lemon-coconut cake and two cups of coffee, Therese excused herself from the table. There was nowhere for her to hide, not on this unknown, strange property in the middle of the New Jersey suburbs. Therese didn’t know her way around any part of suburbia for the life of her. It all looked alike, same houses, same shops, same little train stations lining the route. She supposed she could walk to the nearest station and wait, it was only a mile away. However, the trains would be running on a holiday schedule because of Easter and be even more infrequent than usual. Either way, it would be better than being stuck in that house. Therese had had enough of the yelling. For people who claimed to be so refined and so dignified, they sure liked to yell quite a bit and about the most inconsequential things.
Harge’s sister wouldn’t even look at her. His mother could barely stand her presence. They were cordially polite to Therese since Rindy was sitting at the table beside her and no one wanted to alarm the little girl. As soon as Rindy left the room to get a book or one of her toys right before dessert was served, that’s when it started. That’s when everyone started to shout.
She knew none of this was her fault: She simply didn’t want to hear it. Carol could only say so much, as could Harge, but it wasn’t the best circumstances to be at his parents’ home in Montclair. Before she got up from the table, Carol placed a hand on her lap and said it would be perfectly alright if she left all of them there to talk. Therese bolted from the table, grabbing her coat and hat in the foyer before stepping outside. She didn’t even wait to put it on before she got outdoors, she just walked out of the house with her coat in her hands and quickly put it on as she walked down the driveway. Therese thought about sitting in the car, maybe laying down on the back seat and curling up with the blanket they always kept back there. Even though the air was crisp, it wasn’t unbearable and she glanced over to the stone wall lining the driveway. Therese walked over toward the grass and sat down with her back against the wall. She pulled a pack of cigarettes from her pocket, nervously pulling one out and then patting down the entire coat looking for her lighter.
Not ten minutes and one-and-a-half cigarettes had gone by before there were footsteps approaching. Therese didn’t bother looking up, only saw the shiny black Oxfords in front of her. “Got another one?” Therese shuffled around in her pocket and pulled out the packet one more time, offering Harge a cigarette. “I’m sorry about all them. May I?” Harge gestured to the patch of grass next to Therese.
“Go ahead, Mr. Aird.”
“‘Mr. Aird?’ Please, you’re sleeping with my ex-wife. Call me Harge, for God’s sake.” Therese tried to stifle a laugh, but failed. She had never thought Harge to be this blunt, or so cheerful for that matter. “Like I said, sorry you had to hear all that. I told them, I told Mother before you arrived I didn’t want any blow ups, no charades, no bullshit. You are both my guests: Carol is Rindy’s mother, you are Rindy’s… whatever you are. Mother - “
Therese sensed the growing anger in Harge as he continued on. “You don’t need to apologize for any of them.”
“But - “
“No, really, Harge. They don’t understand. I’m certainly no one to them.”
“You’re not no one to Rindy though,” he observed. “And that’s what matters most.”
There was amiable silence between the two as they smoked their cigarettes, watching the breeze shift the bare trees in the yard. It was still early for spring blooms, even earlier for seeing daffodil spurts to appear with the nearly frozen ground. Harge took a drag from his cigarette and instantly began to cough.
“Should you be outside like this?” Therese questioned, finding herself surprisingly concerned for his well-being.
Harge shrugged and leaned back against the wall, resting his head comfortably on the top stone. “I’ll be fine. I dealt with much worse in the Pacific.”
Therese finally reached down to button her coat, the chill in the air finally affecting her after ten minutes or so outdoors. She wished for a moment that she had some gloves, but it was alright to keep one hand in her pocket for warmth while the other clung to her cigarette.
“Say, did you see Rindy’s room with all those pictures I was telling you about the other day?” Harge asked.
This made Therese smile. “I sure did. Did you help her put them up and frame them?”
“You did a great job with the framing.”
“Thanks.” Harge put out the rest of his cigarette against one of the stones and turned back toward Therese. “I can easily see how Carol loves you so much. I bet you ten bucks she gave you that necklace you’re wearing.”
Therese softly laughed. “No need to bet. Of course Carol gave me this.” Her hand traveled upward to finger the silver chain around her neck. She loved her necklace and loved the memory of the night Carol gave it to her, that moment where she, Carol, Abby and Rindy spent a Christmas together.
“And you,” Harge gulped, “gave her that ring?”
“I did. Back in December.”
“That was nice of you.”
“Well, I love her. It wasn’t hard or anything.”
There was another lull in conversation between the two of them; Therese could have sworn she felt a droplet of rain, Harge almost thought it was snow for a moment it was getting to be that cold. It might have been cold, but the fresh air was far more appealing than being back inside that house again for another half hour or so while everyone cooled down.
“What the hell are you two doing out here?” The voice came from the landing with footsteps approaching Therese and Harge sitting over on the grass together. They looked up to see Carol walking towards them, her fur draped over her shoulders and barely clinging to her body. “Did we miss some Easter eggs this morning?”
“You just missed the Philip Morris bunny dropping off cartons for all the good adults of Montclair.” Therese quipped.
Carol looked back toward the house, disgusted and annoyed by Harge’s family. She honestly didn’t expect any differently from them, but still, it was a family day and a holiday at that. They could have at least tried for Rindy’s sake. Or even for Harge’s for that matter. “Pass me one, will you?” Therese reached into her pocket one more time and pulled out the packet. There were two left and clearly the three of them were clamoring for another smoke out of boredom or to keep warm.
“You go ahead, I’ve already had a couple.” Therese offered first to Carol, who winked a thank you to her as she pulled one from the packet, and then to Harge.
“Thanks, Therese.” Harge found a lighter in his breast pocket and lit both his and Carol’s cigarette.
After taking the first puff, Carol looked around for a place to sit, debating whether to sit on the ground or up on the stone wall. Rather than bend down to the grass, she sat on the wall between Harge and Therese, now pulling her coat as tight around her as possible. Her legs reached the ground, her left brushing against Therese’s jacket, her right brushing against Harge’s wool coat.
A gentle, cool breeze rolled past them causing Therese to shudder and shiver, her shoulders repeatedly falling up and down to stay warm. Carol noticed while between puffs of her cigarette and reached to pull Therese against the side of her leg, covered by the warm fur of her coat. Therese burrowed into the fur and rested her head there, keeping her warm and comfortable.
Harge leaned forward, watching Therese and Carol. He and Carol once had that. Never again though. He smiled seeing his ex-wife so happy and finally so in love. Harge attempted to stand up, only to have Carol place a hand on his shoulder to keep him down on the same level as Therese. Carol pulled him toward her, much like she had done with Therese and let Harge rest with his head against her leg.
“What a trio of misfits are we.” Carol muttered as she finished her cigarette and stroked Therese’s hair.
Chapter 27: "Miss Otis Regrets"
Sunday, July 8th, 1956
“Rindy, you hungry?”
Seated on one of the outdoor lounge chairs on the balcony, Rindy turned to look behind her to see Therese holding out two plates with sandwiches. “Yes.” She placed the bookmark inside her well-worn copy of Charlotte’s Web and moved it onto the small table next to her chair so she could take a plate in her lap.
“Would you like a lemonade?” Therese asked as she handed one of the paper plates to Rindy.
“Yes, please.” She took the plate and placed it in her lap, looking at the sandwich, but making no effort to pick it up to eat. Therese put her own plate on the table by Rindy’s book and walked to the kitchen to get the pitcher of lemonade and some glasses. The moment after she stepped out of the kitchen, she remembered that they had a can of potato chips that Abby had sent them the week before. Therese stepped back into the kitchen to get the can, trying to balance the lemonade and two glasses in her hands. She managed to wedge the two glasses under her arm, hold the lemonade in the other, and then carry the can of chips in her free hand.
Somehow she made it back to the balcony, and when Rindy saw her quickly reached for the potato chips. “I got it!” Rindy said as she took it from Therese’s hand and placed it on her chair.
“Thanks.” Therese muttered. She put down the glasses and then poured some lemonade for herself and Rindy. After she poured the drinks, Therese realized she forgot to cut them and scurried back to the kitchen to get a knife. She felt forgetful and scattered as she made her way to the cutlery drawer, sighing heavily as she found a serrated knife and returned to the balcony where Rindy had already opened the chips and was snacking on one at a time. “Sorry, I forgot to cut the sandwiches in half.” Rindy looked at her sandwich and shrugged. “Down the middle, right?”
Rindy nodded and waited for Therese to cut the sandwich for her. “You know, your mom likes her sandwiches cut down the middle too.”
Rindy had arrived early in the morning, driven over by Abby who usually delighted in taking the little girl for a ride in her car with the top retracted to enjoy the summer breeze. On this day though, it was bring Rindy to permanently live with Carol and Therese at the apartment on Madison Avenue, and sadly not under the best of circumstances. Abby stayed for coffee and cake, then scampered off back to New Jersey for brunch with her latest ginger fling.
“Do you know what time Mommy will be home?” asked Rindy.
“Very soon.” Therese answered. “She said around one.”
Rindy leaned over and picked up Therese's right wrist to look at her watch. Therese was completely thrown off by Rindy’s action as the little girl took her arm to check the time. She paused for a second to wonder if Rindy had ever seen Carol do that to her before and picked it up from her. Or, maybe it was simply an instinctual, genetic trait of the women in their family. Rindy let go of Therese's hand and then went for the glass of lemonade that had begun to sweat in the sun. “It's almost one now.” Rindy noted.
It had been difficult to get Rindy to say much of anything since she had arrived at the house three hours earlier. She spent most of her time sitting out on the balcony, reading in the sun, and sipping a glass of orange juice Therese had given her as soon as she got there. Therese had to keep reminding her to stay in the shade, otherwise Rindy would come down with a serious case of sunburn and that was the last thing she and Carol needed to worry about at the moment.
The moment Carol walked in the door, she kicked off her heels and padded into the entryway to remove her hat and drop her purse. Therese heard the commotion at the front door and made her way over to Carol. Rindy practically ran to the door and up to her mother, who fiercely grabbed her and held Carol around her waist, unwilling to let go. She put her arm around Rindy, holding her and stroking her back as she clung to her. Carol was horribly sweaty, eyes puffy, the heel of her left stocking ripped, and desperate to remove the warm top she was wearing.
Carol crouched down and whispered something to Rindy. After a quick kiss on the forehead, Rindy ran back to the balcony to continue reading her book.
“How'd it go?” Therese asked once they were alone.
“Nothing like everyone shooting daggers at you for hours.” Carol calmly mentioned as she unpinned the hat from her head. “How’s she been?” She peered back over to the balcony where Rindy sat and read her book.
“Alright. We just finished lunch and I was about to start on unpacking more of Rindy's things.” Therese replied. “She asked for you right after lunch.”
Carol sighed. It was a sigh of worry that overtook her. “We should talk to her later.”
Therese silently nodded in a agreement. Looking back to where Rindy sat, preoccupied with her book, Therese raised her fingers to the oversized black buttons of Carol’s top and started to unbutton it from the top down for her. “There, I got you started. Go change, shower if you need to, then come back when you’re done.” Therese advised.
“I missed you, dearest.” Before heading into the bedroom, Carol paused and wrapped her arms around Therese, kissing her cheek prior to letting her go. “I so wanted you there, even just to hold your hand.”
“It's okay.” Therese assured her. “You're home now. I'm here, Rindy’s here. All together now, okay?”
Carol walked toward their bedroom, letting her black top fall to the floor of the hallway without a care in the world. Without a word, Therese picked it up and carried it to the closet hamper by the washing machine.
As she walked back into the living room, she observed on the mantle the framed photograph from one of the last times the four of them had gotten together.
Everyone smiling, everyone jovial. Everyone perfectly aware of the inevitable.
During the afternoon, Therese and Rindy set up the train set in an out-of-the-way space in the corner of the living room. It was better than having it set up in Rindy’s bedroom, which was slightly smaller than the one she had back at her father’s house. The two of them played with the train, put away clothes and other items in Rindy’s room, and then watched Lassie together before bedtime. After the program, they played with the train set again and watched the little train glide around the corner of the living room. The gentle movements of the train were helpful for lulling Rindy into a sleepy mood most of the time, but not on this day. Carol walked over to the two sitting by the fireplace to announce it was Rindy’s bedtime.
“Oh, Carol, just give us fifteen more minutes. We’ll get everything put away.” Therese asked.
“No, Rindy needs to get to bed now. It's getting late.”
“Just let her stay up. At least today, please.” Therese stood and walked over to Carol standing by the dining table. With a somewhat stern demeanor, Therese tapped on Carol's chest to emphasize her point. “You say no to her now, I’ll say no to you later, Carol.” Oblivious to the conversation happening in the dining room, Rindy played with her train and adjusted the figures in the little village at the center of the track loop.
Carol looked over Therese’s shoulder to spot Rindy playing with her train, and immediately softened. She walked over to the sofa near where she was playing and sat down near her. “Fifteen minutes more, alright? Don’t forget to also start putting away your toys.”
“Okay, Mommy.” Rindy answered.
Even if it was the middle of summer, she still needed something relaxing to calm her nerves and Rindy’s. Therese wandered over to the kitchen to make some warm milk for the two of them; she loved when Rindy stayed over because she didn’t need to make milk-for-one. This was altogether different. Rindy wasn’t just spending the night. She was spending every night and Therese could make them a glass of warm milk every day if she wanted to.
After a few minutes, Rindy began to put away her train set without having to be prompted by her mother. She began to pack up the train tracks and put the figures into the little carrying case she kept all the smaller items in. Carol watched with curiosity as her daughter placed everything carefully into the case.
“What are you doing, Rindy?”
Rindy stopped and looked up at her mother, placing one of the figures carefully into the case. “Putting away my toys.”
Carol hadn’t realized that Rindy was so accustomed to having to completely put away her toys every time she visited. She only meant that Rindy needed to tidy up the space; it wasn’t as though Rindy had to go back to New Jersey the next day. She was already home. “Sweetheart, you don’t need to put everything away like that. You just need to clean up your toys and put everything into one place.”
Rindy stopped and assessed her train set to see if it was neat enough for the corner of the room. It was tidy and organized, not in the way at all and no small pieces stuck to the carpeting for anyone to trip on or get stuck to their feet.
“I’m not sleepy, Mommy,” Rindy announced once she was content with the toys she had neatly put away.
“You’re usually so sleepy when you stay up after eight.”
“But I don’t want to go to bed.”
Rindy looked back at her somewhat dismantled train set then back at her mother. “Every time I sleep over, Therese can’t sleep in her bed.” She tried to peer into the kitchen, but couldn’t clearly see Therese. “Now I’m here all the time, where is Therese going to sleep? Where’s her room?”
At first, Carol was taken aback by Rindy’s words, and stared at her, unsure of how to possibly explain any of this to an eight year old. It wasn't as though she hadn't to have enough tough conversations with her daughter over the course of the past five days. Either way, it was inevitable that Rindy would ask given the new arrangements. There were only the two actual bedrooms, with the third one converted into Therese’s darkroom with impossibly thick blackout curtains and a blocked window. She was already accustomed to seeing the two of them sleeping in the same big bed whenever she wandered in there in the middle of the night with her teddy bear.
“That’s your bedroom now, Rindy. That’s where your clothes and toys are now, right?”
“So that’s your room, and just your room - no one else’s.”
Rindy walked over to her mother and looked at her, still confused. “Yes, but where is Therese going to sleep now?”
Carol carefully patted her lap and Rindy crawled up onto it as Carol wrapped her arms around her neck. “Ever since we moved here a few years ago, Therese has been sleeping in the big bed with me in the big bedroom,” she softly explained over the little girl’s shoulder. “When you’re a grown-up, you can share your bed with another grown-up who you love the most in the whole world. And you can kiss and cuddle and hold them to show them exactly how much they are loved.”
Just as Carol finished speaking, Therese rounded the corner into the living room with a tray holding a plate of cookies and two glasses of warm milk. She placed it on the coffee table by the sofa where Carol and Rindy sat, completely unaware of the conversation mother and daughter had recently had. Rindy scooted off her mother’s lap and immediately ran to put her arms around Therese, holding her tightly and smiling.
“Mommy loves you more than any other grown-up in the whole wide world, and I love you too.”
Therese had never had the occasion to smile so much before in her entire life.
Chapter 28: "It's All Right With Me"
Just before Labor Day, Carol and Therese took Rindy shopping for all her supplies. Carol could easily tell how nervous Rindy was about starting at a new school, making new friends, learning a new route to and from school each day, and having to wear a uniform for the first time. Rindy might not have been excited about the uniform, but Carol certainly was. One less thing to have to worry about every day between she and Therese being at work at all and only getting to household chores after six o’clock most nights.
While Carol was an expert with the clothing side of things, Therese was definitely an expert in regards to the school supplies. She and Rindy picked out a red plaid book bag, bright yellow pencils and pencil case, orange pencil sharpener, pink erasers, a blue cotton-covered binder with plenty of loose-leaf paper, and Rindy’s favorite, a round tin of forty-eight crayons. Rindy was excited about all her school supplies; previously, she had never had the opportunity to go school shopping. Florence had usually just come home with items from a list her father had supplied, without ever giving Rindy any input as to what she wanted or what colors she might like.
Getting Rindy into the preferred school of their choice was another matter altogether. It was already rather late for fall admissions, but Carol was able to pull a few strings thanks to some friends of friends of friends around town and enroll Rindy in a co-educational private school. Harge had given approval to the choice in school as well before he passed, arguing Rindy was better off with a bunch of silent Quakers after three years of nothing but squabbling back at the Aird residence in New Jersey.
Since Rindy’s move to the apartment and Harge’s funeral, Carol had taken leave from work, at least until Rindy started school again. Carol and Rindy spent everyday together during the summer, the first time she had actually been able to do that since Rindy was four. It did not necessarily make up for the past three years, but it was the best start they could hope for. They would spend the mornings shopping, berry picking in the backyard, swimming at the beach, or going on little day trips together until the early afternoon when they would come home to rest and start getting dinner ready.
Therese had enjoyed the half-day Fridays at the office during the summer months. It afforded her some extra time home with Carol and Rindy, either staying in the city or heading up to Greenwich for a weekend by the pool. Originally, Carol proposed she and Rindy go up to Greenwich alone, and Therese stay in the city. There was no chance that Therese was going to spend any precious time away from Carol and Rindy, so she endured the forty-five-minute train ride each way so they still had their family dinners together and never had to go to bed or wake up alone.
It wasn’t until the third week, some time before the end of July, after a long, hot day and after what seemed like an ever longer train ride from Grand Central to Riverside station, and Rindy scampering to the door to greet her that it suddenly hit Therese.
This was the quaint life she had always thought of when she imagined family.
Therese joined Carol when she got home, reclined on the sofa with her head in Carol’s lap as they watched dusk fall outside. “Sometimes, this summer, I feel like your ‘little husband.’ I mean… ” Therese took on a more serious tone, “I know I’m not your husband, just, you know what you see on television with the father, mother, two-point-five kids, and white picket fence, and then the dad strolls in from work waiting for his brandy and slippers.”
Carol brushed away a curl from her face and looked at Therese with an equal sense of laughter. “Sounds like we’re only missing the faithful furry beast.”
“I feel badly.”
“And it’s far too hot for slippers this time of year.”
Therese wiggled her bare toes in response to Carol’s comment. “I’m being serious!” Therese playfully smacked up at Carol’s arm. She paused and angled her head more into Carol’s lap. “I don’t want you to feel like you used to.”
“Therese, it was never, ever anything remotely like this.”
Carol nodded and reached down to stroke Therese’s hair. “I do everything because I love you, not because of an obligation. You’re not an obligation.” She began to casually twirl the ends of it between her fingers. “We need to get you a haircut. You and Rindy.”
“I need a haircut?” A little voice came from near the couch.
Startled, Therese began to sit up with worry about Rindy seeing her there like that, but Carol kept her arms securely around her, encouraging her to relax and not move away. “No, baby, stay.” Carol said quietly. It wasn’t as though Rindy had never seen Carol embrace her or vice versa, but this was so blatant and so casual that it wasn’t merely a greeting or a farewell. Therese didn’t understand how Carol could be so blasé about it. Children always had the knack for popping up in the most unusual of places or in the most inopportune moments, Therese thought. “Your hair is getting scraggly, little one.” Carol pointed out to Rindy.
Rindy pulled a little strip of her hair forward so she could see it. “It is not!”
“Is too.” Carol retorted, gesturing to the ends that Rindy held out in front of her. “When was the last time you had a haircut?”
“Um… “ Rindy looked up at the ceiling, trying to recall when. She couldn’t tell and shrugged, but Carol had immediately noticed that it had been a while.
“I’ll make an appointment for Friday afternoon when Therese gets home from work.”
With just that short exchange, Therese realized how much they had grown into this comfortable little family. A small, normal family with chores, errands, things like booking haircuts and dentist appointments, mundane, everyday things that only a few years before would have just been something she did on her own without a second thought. Things that before never directly impacted anyone but herself. Now, in their little cluster, there was the three of them and it wasn’t so lonely anymore.
Wednesday, September 5th, 1956
Carol’s first day back at the furniture shop.
Rindy’s first day at her new school.
Therese’s first day trying to get an eight year old ready to go to said new school. Therese never knew mornings could be so very complicated.
“Looking mighty sharp there, Miss Aird!” Therese exclaimed as Rindy walked into the kitchen in her school uniform carrying her red plaid book bag filled with all of her fancy new school supplies. Rindy blushed, dropping her school bag next to her chair, and saddled up to the table next to Therese for her breakfast which her mother had prepared for her. Therese was nursing her second cup of coffee, nibbling on a strip of crispy bacon and watching Rindy sit down, placing a napkin across her lap before reaching for her fork.
While Rindy and Therese sat at the table eating breakfast, Carol scurried around the apartment gathering her things for work. Two months absence had resulted in Carol falling out of step with her typical morning routine, and typical morning routine that used to just be about her and Therese.
With Rindy, there was making sure her face was washed, hair brushed, breakfast eaten, homework completed, and lunch made. The difference was that this time around, instead of it just being herself or the lackadaisical Florence, there was Therese to help. There was an odd sense of contentment settling in for Therese as well, seeing Rindy there with them as they got ready for the day. Things were falling into place for the three them.
Or perhaps it was simply that Rindy was older. She wasn’t the little four year old who sat in Carol’s lap to have her hair brushed; she was more independent, more settled with doing things on her own than Carol had anticipated or even remembered. Rindy never needed to be reminded to put away her toys or brush her teeth. She could pick out her own clothes, help around the house, and pick up the mail from the doorman downstairs. The years apart from her daily life had probably made her feel that touch of disconnection, but Carol planned on doing her utmost to make sure Rindy knew every single day that she was wanted and loved by herself and Therese.
“Alrighty,” Carol sighed as she strolled into the dining room, taking a swig of coffee from Therese’s mug, “who is going to take this little pumpkin to school today?”
Rindy looked up from her plate, giggled, and pointed to both Carol and Therese.
Chapter 29: "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love"
Friday, May 9th, 1958
By the time Rindy was ten, she was able to understand what a belated birthday present was, and that one didn’t need to receive a birthday present on one’s birthday in order for it to count. Not that anyone had forgotten her birthday. On the contrary, she had a party with her friends from school, about twelve boys and girls, who descended on the apartment for cake, ice cream, and games one Saturday afternoon in late April. But it was the present from Carol and Therese that came after the fact that Rindy loved so much.
Ever since she moved to Manhattan, Carol and Therese made a point of taking Rindy to the theater. Always musical though. Whereas it used to be seats for two at the Winter Garden or the Lyceum, it was now seats for three in the orchestra with Rindy sitting on the aisle so she could peer around someone’s shoulders if she couldn’t see in front of her. Every couple of months, they would go see a musical together. Occasionally, Carol and Therese would go out together alone and see a play that was most likely not suitable for Rindy even though she would plead and plead for them to take her to something more “grown-up.”
One thing Rindy had learned while living with her father and grandparents was that she loved music. Rindy had been studying the piano since she was six. Her grandparents insisted on lessons for her, twice a week after school, and always before she could go outside and play.
Not that going outside to play mattered when she didn’t have any friends in that neighborhood since all the residents were over the age of sixty, and it wasn’t like she had a brother or sister to play with either. Most of the time, it was just Rindy by herself. Sometimes her father would play with her, often board games or reading books together, but nothing like running around outside or skipping rope with other children her own age.
Occasionally, Rindy would regret the fact that she didn’t have a sibling, not that she could have done a thing about it. Then, as she grew older, she began to relish the fact there wasn’t a brother or sister because it meant she got her mother and Therese all to herself.
Carol had been concerned Rindy wouldn't understand West Side Story, thinking it was too complicated for a child. Therese disagreed and as they both tucked Rindy into bed a few days before the performance, explained to her that it was like Romeo and Juliet, but in modern-day New York and the rivals were from different backgrounds rather than different families.
“Ohhhh… “ Then it was much clearer to Rindy. “So they're not supposed to love each other because they have different backgrounds?”
“There’s no rule saying they can’t love each other, but other people tell them they’re not supposed to.” Therese sincerely answered.
“They sound like silly people. Why would they do that?”
“Adults sometimes impose silly rules upon themselves that make no sense. They mean well, but they're just scared and trying to protect what little they do have to feel secure.” Carol replied. Rindy looked over to Therese for reassurance, nodding her head in agreement with Carol.
Therese looked at Rindy and pointed toward the large world map hanging by her bed. “Now, you want to show me where Puerto Rico is on the map?”
Rindy smiled and stood up on her bed, pointing to the little island in the Caribbean.
Saturday, May 10th, 1958
10: 45 p.m.
With Mother’s Day the following day, they had hoped to be in Greenwich, at the house for the weekend since they hadn’t been in a long time. With the theater tickets though, plans changed and they decided to stay in the city for the weekend. The stars probably were out that night, but in the city it was impossible to tell. In Greenwich, Rindy could see the stars, albeit faintly, but they were still there and she could see them on the non-cloudy evenings. The lights in Times Square though were almost too bright and it was all that she could see as far as she looked. The moment she, Carol and Therese turned down a side street was Rindy finally able to regain her focus as she looked down the darkened road. As the three of them walked home, with Carol on one side and Therese on the other side,
“Did you like the show, Rindy?”
Rindy stopped looking up at the sky, trying to spot a star here or there, and turned her attention to her mother. “Yes. Thank you, Mommy. Thank you,” Rindy turned her head and looked at Therese who was cheerfully walking beside her, “Therese.”
Therese smiled back and held out her hand for Rindy to take, but she wouldn’t. It took Therese a moment understand what was going on; Rindy never hesitated to take her hand while they walked down the street together. Either hers or Carol’s. Unfortunately, Therese couldn’t easily hide the moment of hurt once she realized what was happening. Rindy was growing up, she was ten now, and probably felt as though she didn’t need to have her hand held anymore as they walked down the street. Doing her best to gather a faint smile and pass what had happened off like it was no big deal after all, Therese made a gesture with her hand and kept walking, “Yeah, probably getting too old now to have your hand held while walking down the street with your mother and me.”
Rindy stopped walking as Carol and Therese kept going. It was a few steps before they realized that Rindy had hung back and ceased moving with them. “No, it’s not that.” Therese looked back over her shoulder when Rindy wasn’t next to her anymore. “You - “
“I what, Rindy?”
“You probably want to hold hands with Mommy, like you did during the show because you two are in love with each other.” Carol stopped, and looked back at Rindy who shoved her hands into her coat pockets and shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “Like Tony and Maria in love.”
“I do want to hold her hand. I really, really do,” Therese said, conscious to keep her voice low despite the side of the street they were walking on being completely vacant, “but we can’t when we go out.”
Therese paused, she should have instantly realized as soon as she started to explain, Rindy would have more and more questions. She expected it to happen someday, but not in the middle of 52nd Street. “Because people don’t understand that love comes in many forms.” Carol calmly answered. “Forms different than those many are accustomed to. When they don’t understand, they lash out and get angry.”
Rindy looked sad. Her mother was a sweet, loving person; and Therese was kind and silly, always there for her just like her mother. She knew that they shared a bedroom and that they liked to curl up together on the couch to watch television or read. “Angel” was what she heard her mother call Therese sometimes, and whenever she did, Therese’s smile could have lit the Upper East Side.
They weren’t bad people at all. Therese took photos with her, showed her how to use a camera, even bought her her own camera. Her mother made chocolate chip cookies with extra chocolate chips in them whenever she made a batch. Therese played trains with her all the time; her mother liked to sit and read with her, anything from Little Women to The Wind in the Willows. They were just normal parents, like everyone else.
Then she realized: Carol and Therese were her parents. They were two people, in love with one another, living together, sharing the same bed, going on vacations together, and raising a child.
Raising me, thought Rindy.
Rindy suddenly remembered back to when she was really little, how she, Therese, and Carol would go out for walks to the museum or to the park, and how they would walk on either side of Rindy, holding her hand to keep her snuggly in the middle.
With her right hand, Rindy grabbed Therese and then with her left reached for her mother. “Now you can hold hands through me.” Rindy looked at Carol with a grin and swung her arm just a little bit. “Okay, Mommy?”
“Perfect, sweet pea.”
Then Rindy angled her head right to look at Therese, “Okay with you also, Mom?”
Chapter 30: "In the Still of the Night"
Saturday, October 4th, 1958
“Door!” Rindy shouted.
“You’ve got perfectly good legs!” Carol yelled back from the kitchen.
Rindy toddled over to the front door and opened it. There was Abby, arms filled with bags and bottles as always with every visit to the apartment.
“Hi there, Rindy.”
“Hi, Aunt Abby.”
“How’s it going? Staying in trouble?”
“As much trouble as you can get into at a Quaker school.”
“That’s my girl.” Abby put down a bottle of vermouth on the side table and looked around. “Where’s your mom?”
“Which one? The blonde or the brunette?”
Abby let out a hearty laugh and dropped two of the bags in her arms. “The hot blonde.” Rindy giggled and pointed toward the kitchen. “Thanks.” Glancing back over to the table, she picked up the vermouth and headed toward the kitchen.
As Abby swung open the door to the kitchen, she saw Carol washing up some dishes and putting away cereal boxes from breakfast. Carol looked over her shoulder to see Abby standing there with a bottle of liquor: Abby’s trademark calling card. She would have given her a hug, but with soapy hands it wasn’t possible. Abby leaned over her shoulder and kissed one cheek. “You excited about the weekend?”
“Can’t wait. It feels like forever since Therese and I have had some time to ourselves.” Carol returned her focus to the dishes and put the finishing touches on rinsing what was in the basin. “We’ve been so busy and with Rindy, new school year, and lessons, and everything. Therese needs me to herself for a bit.”
Abby scoured the room the Moka Express coffee maker Carol had brought back from Italy during her trip with Therese trip four years earlier and filled the base with fresh water. “You know, one of the only reasons I come over here is - “
“ - is because you like to bring the ladies you pick up in the Village here when we’re away?”
“No.” Carol turned around with eyebrows raised. “Yes, but that’s not the point. I like your coffee maker. You’re the only people I know who like real fucking coffee.”
“Why, thank you, Abby.”
“When you go to Europe in the summer, you better be bringing one of these back for me.”
“Don’t they sell them down in the Lower East Side somewhere? At one of those import shops?”
“Probably, but it’s not the same as making you haul it in a trunk across the ocean after having picked it out yourself.”
Carol smiled, finishing with the dishes and now looking for the extra-finely ground coffee for the coffee maker. “Have you given any thought to moving into the city or at least getting an apartment here?”
Abby pulled her cigarettes from her pocket and tapped one out of the packet. She offered one to Carol, who declined as she was still scurrying around the kitchen. “I have, I’ll have you know.”
“I was planning to talk with your super today, in fact.”
“Well, then.” Carol spooned a couple tablespoons into the coffee maker, tightly packed it down, then screwed the top to the base before placing it on the stove.
“I like this location, and maybe it’s what I need now. Living in the city, away from suburbia.”
“It’s taken you long enough to come to that realization.”
“Everything is here, you, friends - real friends, mind you - the bars.”
“Aren’t your real friends here in New York the bars?”
“You’re impossible. My ‘real friends’ are here. ‘The bars’ are here. I think I need to be here. That house is getting lonely, especially without you being close by.”
“Abby, I haven’t lived there in six years.” Carol noticed that she didn’t have an ashtray. With Rindy around, she and Therese had tried not to leave ashtrays throughout the apartment, but simply take them out as needed. From the kitchen cupboard, Carol pulled out a clean ashtray and gave it to her.
“Yeah, well, it just hit me the other day when I was driving through the Lincoln Tunnel.“
“That is where you have all your best ideas - “
“Mommy?” Rindy shouted from the living room.
“Excuse me.” Carol got up from the table and sauntered over to the kitchen door to see the cause of the yelling. She swung it open to peer out and see what was happening. “What is it, Rindy?”
“Have you seen my green sweater? I really want to wear it out with Aunt Abby.”
Carol always thought that she would grow annoyed by the mundane questions and interruptions from her daughter, but it wasn’t possible for her to be upset. She would be happy for any interruption from her any day, just knowing that she was there with them. She also surmised that Rindy must have picked up the misplacement of clothes from Therese, who always seemed to be looking for her shirt or a sock that was lost. “No, sweetheart, I haven’t seen it. You ask your mom?”
“Ahh.” Rindy started running toward her mothers’ bedroom, shouting, “Mom?”
Carol turned her attention back into the kitchen and Abby; the coffee she had set on the stove was beginning to percolate. She pulled the coffee off the burner when done and poured it into a teacup, the smallest cup she could find.
Abby took a sip as soon as she added a couple spoons of sugar to the drink. “You make the best fucking coffee, Carol.”
Carol laughed, amazed that something as boring as a well-made cup of coffee could bring out such happiness in her friend. “Thank you. I’m pleased you like my ‘fucking coffee’ as you put it.” Carol looked around the kitchen for a final time, double checking that everything was put away and tidied. “What time are you and Rindy going to the pictures?”
Abby looked at her watch. “In about forty-five minutes,” she said, “so someone better hurry on up!” She shouted in the direction of Rindy.
There was a faint, “I’m hurrying!” coming from Rindy’s room. Abby laughed, realizing that Carol’s daughter must have inherited a touch of the lateness gene from her.
“So… what are you two doing?”
Carol squinted her eyes and grinned at Abby. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
“Oh, geez, Carol.”
“You two, honestly.”
“Aunt Abby, I’m ready.” Rindy came bounding into the kitchen, wearing that green sweater she had been looking for and a plaid skirt, before Carol could go into any further detail. “Mom says hi, Aunt Abby. She’s still getting ready in the other room.”
“Yeah, I bet she is.”
“We’re going, we’re going. Come on, you. Got your bag?”
“Yup, all set.”
Rindy and Abby each gave Carol a hug and a kiss, then made their way to the entryway. “Call if you need anything.” Carol assured her.
“Yeah, we’re not calling you.” Abby replied as she opened the front door. “Have fun. Do things I wouldn’t do - or don’t do.”
“Have fun! See you tomorrow evening!” Carol gave a little wave toward them both and then locked the door behind them once they were both out of the apartment.
Once the door was shut and locked, Carol turned and silently stood at the door, taking a deep breath to absorb the quiet. She breathed in and out, slowly, with eyes shut, as she composed herself. It was so nice to have a moment’s peace. She immediately thought of putting a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the apartment door, but remembered that wasn’t necessary in their own home, as tempting as that was.
Carol removed her heels, leaving them by the front door, and began to walk toward the bedroom. As she moved, she started to undo the tiny buttons along the neckline of her top and loosened it enough that it would be easy to remove once she reached the room, at least easy enough for Therese to probably take off in one swoop.
Once in their room, Carol heard the water from the shower in the adjacent bath, but decided not to go in. She left Therese in the quiet of her shower, perhaps because she would also want that if roles were reversed. They had the whole weekend together, just the two of them in the apartment. Fluffing her pillows, Carol sat down on the bed and reached into the drawer of the bedside table for the book she had been reading. Lost in her book, she didn’t heard Therese turn off the shower.
Therese emerged from the bathroom, towel wrapped around her, surprised as to Carol’s presence in their bed, sitting up and reading. She noticed that the bedroom door was ajar, very nearly shut, but not quite. “Have Abby and Rindy left?”
“Mmm hmm.” Carol hummed without looking up from her book.
“In that case… “ Therese let her towel drop and practically jumped onto Carol’s lap before Carol even had a chance to put her book on the nightstand. “I want you right now and want to hear you fucking scream when you come.”
She barely had a moment to comprehend what was happening, but the sound of Therese’s take-charge voice and brazen approach made her weak. Carol slumped in her position on the bed and wrapped her arms around Therese’s hips as soon as she straddled her. She might have tried to dry off a bit more; small pools of dampness started to form on the fabric of Carol’s skirt, but Carol quickly stopped caring the moment Therese bit down on the side of her neck and then inched her hand up her legs, beneath the hemline of her skirt. Therese should have realized something was amiss when there no stockings and no garters for her hands to encounter as they usually did. “Oh really?” Therese asked as her hand slid past nothing but wetness without the interference of any fabric.
“Hmmm, I figured I needed to be presentable for only an hour or so.” Carol kissed her, pulling Therese’s face to hers and swiping her tongue across Therese’s lips and tasting her clean, soapy skin.
“Take off your skirt.”
“A little help?” Therese moved off Carol’s lap and reached to undo the zipper at her lower back. Carol lifted her hips off the bed and slid the skirt down her legs, assisted by Therese’s downward tugging as well. Therese flung the garment as far from the bed as she could, ending up crumpled in the doorway of the bathroom. As soon as the skirt was gone, she placed her hands on Carol’s sweater, noticing the buttons already undone, and pulled it up over her head, forcing Carol’s arms to stand up straight as Therese removed it. Much like the nothing she wore under her skirt, there was nothing further to remove from beneath Carol’s sweater, which made Therese’s morning all the easier.
“Better?” offered Therese and she settled her naked form against Carol. The moment their naked bodies touched one another, they both shuddered. Carol remained quiet as they touched, her breathing increased and was deeper, more noticeable as she let her hands wander to Therese’s backside to pull her closer. Therese, on the other hand, was just loud. She let out a noticeable shriek as they touched and Carol pulled her in.
That was the moment Carol realized how much Therese needed time with her alone in the apartment. It wasn’t necessarily Therese who wanted to hear Carol scream when she came, it was Therese who wanted to belt out at the top of her lungs the moment Carol’s tongue or fingers would curl just right or apply the right amount of pressure where needed. Carol might have been absolutely aching with need, but it was Therese who really needed the release. She could feel the trail of cooling slick against her thigh, certain it wasn’t her own, but Therese’s from rocking herself up and down Carol’s leg.
“Therese, stop.” Carol stilled Therese’s hips. “We have all weekend, just you and me. All right?”
“It’s just… “
“I know. I have you.” Carol turned her over on the bed, pressing her against the mattress, kissing all along her collarbone and neck, making Therese pant and moan in the neediest way imaginable. Carol was certain she had only ever heard that level of need from her (and so vocally for that matter) the first time they had made love.
Therese looked up without saying a word and kissed her, staying like that for as long as she could handle. Carol kept one hand around the back of Therese’s neck and the other now cupped and played with the weight and feel of Therese’s breast in the palm of her hand. She loved touching Therese’s breasts; there was a similarity to her own, but the weight and shape was inherently and pleasantly different as she skimmed her hand over them.
She trailed one hand down the middle of Therese’s body, from her breasts, up to her sternum then down to the juncture of her thighs, letting her fingers pad along for a longer period of time between her legs. “Sweetheart, you’re so wet.” As soon as Carol felt how aroused and how on edge Therese truly was, she placed her formerly wandering hand back onto Therese’s breast and let it rest there as she observed her.
Without too much difficulty, Carol didn’t have to try and remember how she felt when she was Therese’s age, how her body had reacted to being touched. Had she ever felt like that at her age? She was never that wet when Harge had touched her, she had never felt as though her body would burst if she didn’t have the attention of his mouth. Well, not that she ever had that anyways.
Only when she had been alone and well before Rindy, that Carol had even come close to feeling that way. She remembered wanting so badly to be caressed and kissed absolutely everywhere, but she never seemed to have the vocabulary to tell Harge what she actually wanted. A lady never expressed those desires to a man, or so she was taught to believe. She never thought he would understand how a woman could want all that.
So when she had that time to herself, just before bed, she would wipe the makeup from her face, forego the pajamas, climb into the middle of the bed, pick up a book, and read. Just read, naked, in a space lit only by a small bedside lamp, covers pulled up under her chin, and let her mind wander. It usually took only half an hour or so for Carol to be completely distracted from her reading, letting her left hand drift below the blanket and tease. She knew what felt good, what felt right. Taunting until she had no choice but to press her legs together and apart to pacify the building pressure; her thighs becoming coated with a slickness that was only there when she was alone.
And every time she was by herself, comfortable in bed, she could finally let go. All with her own thoughts and steadfast knowledge of exactly what she liked. It was always with her head thrown back against the pillow, back arched, and hand making just enough tiny circles to float into a relaxing sleep after one or two orgasms.
There was a brief pang of guilt as Carol felt intense jealousy toward Therese for a moment. Therese would never feel the way Carol had at her age, she’d never need to mask her desires, she’d never have to “just get through” sex. It was never just sex either, perhaps those times on the kitchen counter in the middle of summer, definitely, but that wasn’t their typical routine of things. Therese was so unabashed in her want and so eager to pleasure Carol sexually. In return, Carol always wanted Therese to experience the most intense love and affection because Therese should never feel as she felt during those ten years of marriage.
She wondered, how fortunate was Therese to never have to know how that felt?
Carol began to kiss her way down Therese’s body, stopping at her abdomen. She lifted her head, staring at Therese who moaned loudly as Carol moved to look up and her breast grazed her increasingly sensitive clitoris. “You will never know how incredibly lucky you are, Therese.”
Chapter 31: "So in Love"
Friday, October 31st, 1958
“Louise is pregnant.” Dannie blurted out.
Therese looked back into the dining room, noticing Louise with a bottle of Coca-Cola in her hands rather than her usual glass of red wine as she talked to Carol. She was laughing and smiling, just her same giddy self, fiddling with the edges of her scarf. Nothing terribly out of the ordinary other than the Coke bottle.
“I’m not sure if it’s ‘whaddya gonna do?’ or ‘congratulations,’ but either way I’m not entirely surprised.” Therese stated.
Dannie snorted, wiping his nose with a flick of his finger. “It’s a little of both really, and partly your fault.”
“Mine?” Therese incredulously asked, pointing to herself. “I’m pretty sure I had nothing to do with it.”
“Yeah, well, if you hadn’t told me how to make a girl’s eyes roll back in her head… “ Therese swatted his arm. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding!”
“Louise. Glass of wine?” Carol offered, holding out a glass of red to her.
Louise smiled back at Carol then eyed over to the balcony where Dannie and Therese sat chatting, “I’ll pass, thanks.” She held up her Coke bottle by the neck to show Carol she already had something to drink.
Carol gave her the once over, honing in on what could possibly be different about Louise today, but Carol instantly knew. She could tell from her demeanor and how she was carrying herself all night. “How far along are you?”
“Seriously? You can tell?” Louise smoothed back her hair, and looked to see if anyone else had noticed too.
“Well, there are,” Carol cleared her throat and vaguely gestured to Louise’s chest, “signs and - ”
“I blame you though.” Louise jokingly interrupted.
Louise took a sip of pop, “You’re the one who told me about that - you know - trick with the - ” She moved her hands in an awkward way before Phil popped around the corner looking for Carol.
“You got any beers, Carol? I’m dyin’ here.” he asked. Phil tilted his head as he saw Louise quickly shuffle her legs and hide her hands behind her back. “What the hell were ya doin’, Louise?”
“Mind your own business.”
“There are more in the fridge, dear.” Carol said with a gesture toward the kitchen, distracting him from their discussion. Phil hurriedly trotted over to find a drink and then plopped onto the couch holding one of the throw pillows. Carol and Louise silently watched his entire quest for beer until he found his way to the sofa and then resumed chatting. “Have you told Dannie?”
“Oh, yes, he knows. My parents - they don’t. We also haven’t told Phil yet.”
“Do you two want to get married?”
Louise looked at her feet and back out the window toward Dannie. “We do, and it’s not the marriage part that gets me any. That’s fine. It’s just, I like my job.”
“There are options, you know.” Carol didn’t think before she spoke, realizing what she said sounded much worse than she had intended, and hastily continued. “I mean, childcare, relatives, things like that.”
“I just didn’t expect it so soon. I want to do so much and don’t know… ” Louise trailed off again, looking back to the Therese and Dannie on the balcony laughing and throwing back their beers.
Carol reached out and hugged Louise, who very eagerly hugged her back.
Therese caught the commotion in the dining room with Phil and kept looking out of the corner of her eye as to what was happening in there.
“I don’t know if I’m ready to be a dad.”
“You’ll be a good dad, Dannie.” Therese said before sipping her beer.
Dannie lightly tapped the metal of the railing and looked beneath him into the courtyard. “Now we gotta get married, she’s gotta quit her job… “
“You’ll be fine.”
“Easy for you, you didn’t have a whole ceremony or whatever it is with family and friends, and gawking people everywhere. Neither of you had to stop doin’ what you love.”
“You’ll be fine.” Therese again reassured him. She looked back into the dining room and saw Carol hug Louise. With a tilt of her head, she spoke to Dannie, “Looks like Carol knows.”
“How’s that possible?”
Therese laughed and finished the rest of her beer in one swig. “Carol can just… She can just tell.”
Holding her bag of Halloween candy, Rindy wandered out into the living room. All of the guests had left except for the usual stragglers of Phil, Dannie, and Louise. Of course Abby was bound to make an appearance once her housewarming party upstairs was over or when she was out of ice or vermouth. Rindy took note of Dannie and Therese sitting out on the balcony, and Louise and Carol talking in the dining room. Then there was Phil, all by himself, sitting on the couch in front of the television.
“What are you doing?”
Phil looked over to see Rindy, carrying her bag of candy. “Oh, just waiting for Jack Paar to come on.” Rindy sat on the couch next to him and starting to rifle through the bag. “You get anything good tonight?”
“I think so. I got some Milky Ways, Junior Mints - “ She looked up when she said Junior Mints, knowing full well that if her mother was within an earshot, all the Junior Mints would be gone by morning. “ - don’t say anything about the Junior Mints though otherwise Mommy will steal them - there’s some Cracker Jacks, Necco wafers, oh, you know, the usual.”
“You’re lucky. When I was your age, the war was going on and I got nothing but apples and popcorn balls for four years.”
“You make yourself sound so old.”
Phil looked at the extra bottle of beer sitting next to him and back at the candy. “I’ll trade you a beer for a Milky Way.” he jokingly offered.
“Phil, I’m ten-and-a-half. You can’t trade me beer, but I’ll take a Coke.” Rindy laughed. “You should try hanging out with my Aunt Abby.”
“I can’t keep up with your Aunt Abby, or your mother for that matter.” he insisted, recalling the time they drank shot after shot of whiskey for some reason he couldn’t quite remember. Phil got up from the couch to go into the kitchen where he found the last bottle of pop in the fridge and opened it with a church key for Rindy. “Say, shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“Maybe.” she answered.
“Your mothers gonna be upset with me for giving you a Coke after eleven?”
“Probably, but it’s Halloween. They can live a little. Plus Mommy likes you.”
“Does she now?” Phil laughed as he passed the bottle to Rindy once he was back in the room and she smiled and thanked him. Rindy, in turn, pulled one of the candy bars from her bag and handed it to Phil. They toasted each other with the soda and candy bar, and settled in to watch television together. He found a blanket on the couch next to him and showed it to Rindy.
“Yeah.” Phil took the throw and placed it over Rindy’s legs and let her adjust it as she needed. “Thank you.” As soon as the commercials came on, Rindy turned to Phil, “Do you have a girlfriend?”
Phil chuckled, not that he thought it was silly, rather he liked how upfront Rindy was for such a young girl. “No,” he pleasantly replied.
“It’s all right with us if you do.”
“I know,” Phil smiled, then his face turned a touch dour. “I used to have a girlfriend though, but the two of us broke up a couple days ago.”
“It’s okay.” he said and took her hand, “She was supposed to come here with me tonight, and when I told her who’s hosting the party, and well, brought up your family, she, uh, made some pretty, uh, disparaging remarks… “
“Uh, it’s negative, meaning rude or mean-spirited, kind of.”
“I don’t like anyone making rude comments about your mothers, not when they’ve been so nice to me and my brother and Louise.” Phil stopped to compose himself.
Rindy leaned her head against Phil’s arm and squeezed his hand. “I think Louise is pretty swell.” she whispered.
“Me too. Dannie’s really lucky.” he whispered back with a nod of his head.
“Looks as though Phil is going to be a good babysitter when the time comes.” Carol noted to Louise. “Although he will need to learn that you can’t negotiate drinking pop with a ten year old after eight o’clock.”
Louise stood up from the dining table, followed by Carol who walked into the living room. She knocked on the glass window to the balcony, beckoning Therese and Dannie to come inside.
“What are you two watching?” Therese asked once she took off her jacket.
“New Jack Paar, but he’s out, so Virginia Graham is subbing in.” Phil answered.
“Oooh, I love Jack Paar.” Louise said settling down on the other side of Phil on the couch. Dannie sat next to Louise and held her hand, not saying anything, but ultimately putting his head on her shoulder.
“Who’s on?” asked Carol.
Phil paused for a moment as he tried to think of the names. “Betty Johnson, Gig Young, and Gypsy Rose Lee.”
“Okay, Rindy, it’s definitely bedtime.” Therese interjected.
“But I haven’t finished my soda!” Rindy raised her bottle in the air for her mother to see.
“Bedtime. Now.” Carol sternly said, peeling the half-consumed bottle of Coke from her hands and passing it to Therese. No one needed to tell Rindy twice that she needed to get to bed. She could have pleaded; it was Halloween night and a Friday at that. There was no point though, the grown-ups wanted to have their fun and watch their grown-up programming, whatever that was.
After giving everyone a hug, Rindy retreated to her bedroom with her bag of candy as the adults continued their merriment and chatter.
Carol laughed as she sat down in a plush armchair once Rindy was out of sight, “Sweetheart, it’s not like Gypsy’s going to strip on TV in front of millions.” Carol patted her lap and Therese begrudgingly sat down where she had been directed so the guests had all the seats on the couch. “If they show that on TV before we see, God forbid, a married couple in the same bed, that be something else.”
Chapter 32: "Begin the Beguine"
Thursday, November 17th, 2011
As she climbed the stairs to the Oak Room, there was something different about the atmosphere of just the hallway. It seemed darker than usual walking up the stairs. Then again, the stairs seemed a bit dirtier as well, more grit stuck to the stair runner and in the corners of the hardwood, kind of like that corner of the Plaza had fallen into the slightest neglect. Not overtly noticeable, but still not quite how she remembered it from back in springtime.
It had been a good six months or so since her last foray to the Oak Room. It wasn’t the most popular place to be in New York anymore. Not when there were all those one-word places written with strange capitalizations, like “ArOmA” or “ghoul” popping up all over the city that served bites on tiny square plates with drinks made by a bearded gentleman who dressed as though he belonged with a team of lumberjacks. The Oak Room was a reminder of the old days. Men in jackets, women in heels. A skilled bartender, with a non-ironic bowtie, mixing the simplest and most classic drinks, pouring them into traditional glasses. The one place a person could easily escape to in Midtown that had any resemblance of what was used to be New York. How much of New York had she seen change before her eyes?
The Oak Room held a certain place in her heart. Carol and Therese would go for drinks on a Friday night every April, until night became too late for either of them to want to be out and instead they opted for drinks between three and five o’clock, just before the post-work rush appeared. Without fail, every April they would go to the Oak Room to toast another year together. It was always just the two of them, no other friends or family there. Martinis, Chateaubriand for two, one dessert (always different), and a bottle of 1929 Mumm. Always a private affair in a far off table for two with some dark lighting, minimal candles so Carol could continue pressing her foot against Therese’s to see the dimples prominently pop up on her cheeks.
When they would head home, Therese would look down at her feet and see the imprints from where Carol’s shoes had pressed against hers. She never wanted to remove the scuffs or the dust from whenever that happened, but Carol always noticed them weeks later and would polish and scrub the shoes so they looked good as new, not realizing how they had gotten there in the first place or their significance.
Sometimes, whenever they fought, most likely Carol would appease Therese by telling her no more squabbling, after work the next day, they should meet at the Oak Room. They didn't always follow through with it: upon arrival, sometimes Carol would get there after Therese and approach the usually secluded table without her noticing. All it took was the right tone of voice and the right words to rectify things.
She would place a hand squarely on her right shoulder, quietly asking, “Are you waiting for someone, angel?”
“Only you.” Therese would reply. Therese would turn to look at the hand on her shoulder and then up to see Carol standing beside the table, waiting for Therese's permission to sit. Without fail, Therese would melt at the sight of her, eager to make things right, smiling at her so adoringly, and tilting her head to make the most subtle contact with Carol.
“Darling, I love you.” Carol would softly say as she felt Therese’s cheek graze against the hand resting on her shoulder.
Sometimes Carol's hand would come away wet, with a droplet or two of tears. Therese would reassure her, whispering, “I love you too, Carol” against her hand; however, what Carol most frequently heard was, “Do you want to - “
Therese never needed to finish what she was saying because Carol would whisk them away and they would walk back to the apartment. They never needed to even stay for a drink, there was no need when they would venture back to the apartment, shed their clothes, climb into bed together, and hold one another without having to say much more. It wasn’t perfect all the time, but there was always the Oak Room. There was always their table at the Oak Room where they could convene and reconnect.
Upon reaching the top stairs near the entrance, the sight of the locked door was most troubling. It was almost happy hour, shouldn't the door be unlocked? She peeked through the crack in the door and couldn’t see too much. Needless to say, everything was dark and without any sign of the usual merriment. Something certainly was not right.
Despite looking around for one of the hotel staff who constantly wander the corridors, there was no one to be seen as she waited in place. She didn't want to wander around unnecessarily; the old injury on her right leg was acting up again. Finally a young woman walked past, hands carrying metal pitchers of ice water, who might know what was happening.
“Excuse me, but could you please tell me why the Oak Room is closed? It's nearly five!” she exclaimed as she pointed to the watch on her right wrist.
The young woman looked at her strangely and put down the pitchers on the table by the entrance. “It closed back in July, ma’am. Didn't you read about it in the Times?”
“In the Times? Goodness, no.” she said with a chuckle. “We were away this summer. Afraid keeping tabs on the New York social scene hasn't been a priority.”
“Well, it's closed. Again. However it's not for renovations this time.”
With a quick look at the locked door, she turned to the young woman with a slump to her shoulders and tilt of her head. “Do you think you might be able to let me in for a quick look around?”
“I don’t know… I don’t have a key… “
“It’d just be a moment.”
“Let me see if I can find someone with some keys though, okay?” The young woman started to walk away and was out of her line of sight for a moment, then returned with a chair which she unfolded. “It’s not the most comfortable, ma’am, but it’s better than standing.”
“Thank you, you’re very kind.” She sat down and waited. A few moments more, no other sounds in the hall or along the stairs, and she pulled out her book from her oversized purse and began to read. She figured if no one showed for fifteen minutes, it was no fuss, she could amble back downstairs and pester someone at reception.
It wasn’t until she realized that she had read all of Chapter Fourteen that it had been much longer than fifteen minutes.
She could open it with a credit card, right? Swipe it down the middle of the lock. Hadn't someone taught her that for when she was locked out? Or had she just seen it in a film and was wholly impressionable at times? Perhaps there was an expired one somewhere in her purse, just in case some damage came to it. There was always something expired in her purse lately; she’d need to ask Rindy about downsizing to something else despite her preference for carrying around at least two books.
“I swear, I’m getting you a Kindle for Christmas. You’ll throw out your back again lugging all this around.” Rindy exasperatedly spoke one afternoon shortly after Labor Day.
“No, maybe. Definitely. You can also make the print - “
“Don’t even begin with that.”
“ - bigger.”
“I warned you.”
“Well, you can, you know.”
Drifting back to the present, there was a tap on her shoulder. A friendly-looking woman wearing a suit and her hair in a tight bun stood next to her, holding a binder. “Excuse me for the delay, ma’am. How can I help?”
She stood from her chair, eying the locked door of the Oak Room, and casually pointed toward the entrance. “I was hoping I might go in, look around some.”
Opening the binder in her hand, she leafed through the pages for the calendar and a blank sheet of paper. “We have availability for private functions if you're interested in booking an event with us.”
“Well, is the rate attractive?” she asked with a faint chuckle.
She laughed softly. “Oh, nothing. Just… do you think I could have a look around? By myself. I’ll only be five minutes or so.”
“Go right ahead, I’ll be down the hall in Event Planning Office when you’re done and ready to go over things.” The woman unlocked the door to let her in. Once she was inside, the woman walked back to her office, leaving her to explore the vacant space.
All the way in the back though, she spotted the table. There weren’t any freshly laundered white tablecloths, no candles, no neat tumblers of Scotch sitting out, no place settings.
Nothing but vacancy and silence.
It was so unlike the place they had grown to love over the years, even with the murmur of other conversations, or the bartender’s cocktail shaker off in the distance. She made her way to the very back, noticing trace amounts of dust on the edges, and walked to the booth in the far corner, slowly to savor each step forward.
Placing a hand on the edge of the booth, she whispered, once more, “Darling, I love you.”
Chapter 33: Bonus Track 1: "I Concentrate on You"
“There you are.”
Carol's ears perked as she heard a female voice behind her. Slowly, she turned around, noticing the person she thought she’d been conversing with moments earlier, watching how she closed her cell phone case and put it into the pocket of her cargo pants. Squinting and turning back to view the familiar table where she thought they had been speaking, Carol realized no one was there. Her cheeks warmed and reddened, embarrassed how it had happened yet again.
“I've been trying to call you.”
Puzzled, Carol lifted her purse onto the dusty table beside her and opened the flap. She rummaged inside, pulling out the largest items first: a dog-eared hardback of Bossypants she had been reading earlier that day, followed by a first edition of The Enchanted April - which she had no idea where it had come from. Every item ended up in an organized arrangement on the table. Somewhere buried underneath her compact, a multi-day pillbox, a Sky Bar, and a leather-bound notebook, she found her cell phone.
Nine missed calls. No voicemails though, she proudly noted.
Not like Carol knew how to retrieve the voice messages anyways. Not to mention anyone who knew her knew better than to leave a voicemail as it most likely would be reduced to appearing in the upper left corner of her phone, forever embedded into the home screen. Almost everyone in their inner circle were forced to repeatedly call until she eventually picked up because it wasn't as though she knew how to make outgoing calls, or heard the initial call ring at that.
Therese hesitantly approached the table, uncertain if Carol recognized her based on the few words of their exchange, and calmly raised her hand to press a finger against the bridge of her glasses to keep them from falling. Carol didn't seem alarmed by her presence, generally a good sign, clearly feeling comfortable enough to empty the contents of the handbag in front of her.
“I'm sorry, angel.”
The moment Therese heard Carol call her angel, she breathed a quick sigh of relief. Therese grinned, her incessant dimples appearing, although faintly masked by the occasional laugh line. She moved as close as possible to Carol, leaning in to give her a kiss on the cheek. With a content sigh at the affectionate gesture, Carol glanced back to the mess of objects she had placed on the vacant dining table.
Therese's eyes followed the look back to the items taken out of her purse. Chuckling as she watched Carol neatly place everything back inside, she noted, “You're like Mary Poppins with that thing.”
Carol instantly noted the dimples appear in her smile as she opened her mouth again.
“In every way.”
Therese helped her place the remaining items back into the purse, purposely leaving the cell phone out to place into one of her many pants pockets. Before she could tuck away Carol's phone, Therese quickly made more space, moving a couple rolls of film from one pocket to another. As she picked up Carol’s phone, she waved it in front of her. “I'm going to talk to Rindy and the boys about getting you a different phone. Or maybe you just need a ringtone on there you will react to.”
“But I like this one.”
Therese recalled the hassle when they switched Carol from a flip phone to smartphone, a necessity after that first (and only) time she wandered off, missing their appointment. She had gone to her furniture shop on what was now Park Avenue, thinking she was heading into work like she had for nearly forty years, rather than meet Therese over at the coffee shop. Luckily, it wasn’t anything too serious. And fortunately there was family there who knew something was amiss the moment she stepped in and asked if Abby had returned from Stonington with that colonial tiger maple highboy.
That was when Rindy got her a smartphone and installed a tracking app so everyone could collectively see where Carol was. Only problem was, Carol couldn't seem to hear the phone ring when she was needed the most. And even when she did hear the phone ring, the caller would always wind up going straight to voicemail.
After all, Carol could never resist listening to the “Begin the Beguine” custom ringtone Therese had added.
As they exited the Oak Room, Therese began to close the door behind her, then paused. She looked back into the well-lit, vacant room and asked Carol to wait a moment so she could take a quick photo. Whenever Therese said “a quick photo” it was never truly as simple as that. Carol laughed to herself and trudged over to the chair where she had been sitting and waiting earlier. Therese noted how she wandered over to the folding chair next to the door; she could tell Carol’s leg was bothering her again and did her utmost to take an expedient batch of pictures of the now vacant Oak Room. The lighting in the room wasn’t great, however Therese managed to get a few usable shots for her next gallery show before stepping out of the room one last time into the empty hall where Carol sat, patiently waiting for her to finish. Holding out her arm so Carol could lean on it as she stood, Therese helped her up. “Let’s go home.”
Carol and Therese had barely exited the Plaza when a doorman approached, asking if they needed a cab. Therese nodded her head while Carol began to rifle through her purse one more time for her pocketbook. Extending her arm, Therese stopped her from making any more of a ruckus with her overfilled purse; instead, digging into one of her many pockets for five dollars to give the doorman and another twenty for the ride home.
Even though it was a short cab ride home, Carol pulled out her book to re-read a few pages from before. It never mattered if the ride was long or short, Carol never hesitated to take out a book, open it to the marked page, grab Therese's hand to caress, and begin to read. As Carol read, Therese would look out the window, every once in a while angling her head to glance back over at Carol and their joined hands. Occasionally every stop light along the way home would make the ride seem far longer than it actually was, but Therese didn’t mind as long as she was there with Carol and holding her hand.
After a minute’s silence, the taxi driver cleared his throat and looked into the backseat via the rear view mirror, observing the two of them holding hands and how Therese’s thumb would graze back and forth across her purlicue. They weren’t even looking at each other, and neither of them had leaned over to give each other a kiss. He had hundreds of couples in his cab over the years, from groping couples after four o’clock last call to that couple who dressed exactly alike from their New Balance sneakers up to their obnoxious Ohio State baseball caps, but nothing was nearly as gentle and loving as the two women holding hands in his backseat.
“Hope you don't mind me askin’... How long the two of you been together?”
Barely pausing to think, Therese answered, “It'll be fifty-nine years in April.”
“Or will be fifty-nine years in just a few weeks?” Carol asked without having to look up from her book, squeezing Therese’s hand to punctuate the last words of her statement.
Blushing as she made eye contact with the driver in the mirror, Therese smiled and casually corrected herself. “What she said.” Therese scooted herself closer and rested her head against her shoulder as they pulled up to a stop light, still squeezing her hand, and muttered, “Doesn’t matter. It’s always you and me.”
Sometimes, Therese wondered if she knew what she was reading. If she knew where she was. If she knew who she was. Or Rindy. Or the boys. One thing was for certain: even when she wasn't always sure of herself, Carol always knew who Therese was and never hesitated to take her hand.