by Anne Azel
They had been the forward line on the Kennedy Highschool Basketball team in the glory days when Kennedy had taken the championship three years in a row. That was twenty odd years ago now, when Cheers was on TV and Michael Jackson was still considered cute. In a way, you could sum up their personalities and lives by the history of the 1980s. Ashley Jane Gorski was all about Against All Odds, ET, just say no to drugs, electing George Bush and wondering what would happen to all Marcos' shoes once she left the Philippines. Barbara Bronwen Williams (BB) was We are the World, Miami Vice, Chernobyl, and Tiananmen Square, while Lily Li was about Kiss by Prince, Indiana Jones, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and An Officer and a Gentleman.
Ash had studied business and married the boss. BB had taken journalism and was a war correspondent for a TV network and Lily had become a nurse to help put her husband through medicine. Placed on a time line they were middle America, not so far radical as to be sociably unacceptable or so conservative as to be out of touch with the times but middle of the road, the tart-sweet filling in America's apple pie dream. At least that is how BB saw it as she hoisted her camera case higher on her shoulder for the dash across the traffic.
BB never crossed at the corner with the lights. For a while she had lived in Toronto, Canada. What stuck out on her mind about Canadians was that they stopped on street corners, piling up in polite groups, and crossed the street when the traffic sign turned green and said to walk. BB would circle around them, dodge honking cars and would be half way down the block before the light changed followed by shocked, disapproving Canadian stares.
BB expected to be first and have time for a whiskey and soda before the others arrived. BB had played centre and had been the star of the face-off. Lily would be next to arrive she figured, all out of breath having done half a dozen noble things before she would be free to come. Ash would be fashionably late due to some fund raiser or committee running over time. She was momentarily taken a back, then, to find her old friends sitting in the corner nursing drinks.
The other two looked up in surprise, seeing her for the first time.
"Hey, you two."
They were all on their feet now. Polite hugs all round. Once they used to pat each others bums and high five. Now they hugged and air kissed.
"Been here long?" BB asked as they settled. It was a conversation starter more than a request for information.
"Just got here."
BB said nothing. Their drinks were nearly gone. Why lie to her? She could guess their secret.
Ash, ever the diplomat said, "It's been five years, ladies. We have some major catching up to do. BB, Sweetie, where in the world have you been? You've lost even more weight!"
BB was still tall, muscular and lean. Mean dog lean, her last lover had said. Ash was still trim but it was a diet-country club body lacking fat and muscle. Lily had settled a bit with time. A pretty pear shape. Did she still cry when she came, BB wondered?
She hadn't planned on sleeping with Lily. Lily was about commitment and duty and there was that whole cultural thing. Lily's family were from Hong Kong. They had been mellow on cheap tavern beer after their first - no, second championship. BB had offered her a ride home on her bike. She'd liked the feel of Lily's hot thighs pushed against her and her arms wrapped tightly around. The bike had gone on auto pilot and taken them back to BB's boat instead.
In those days BB lived on her dad's sailboat. That fucker had really rocked that night. Quiet, refined Lily had turned out to be a wild cat in bed. Not that she had been experienced, she hadn't, but she sure was willing to please. They spent the summer together sailing and screwing. BB told Lily what she liked and Lily delivered without question. In returned, BB had tried her best to make Lily's first lover a good memory.
BB wondered if Lily remembered how she used to take the boat out at night and drop sails in the middle of Lake Michigan. She'd strip down to nothing and prop herself up on the cockpit seat with her legs spread wide. Lily would curl up between her legs and lick BB until she came. BB's fire-ice blue eyes met Lily's and she saw a blush creep up the nurse's face. Yeah, she remembered.
"I'll have a whiskey soda."
"Another Tom Collins for me."
"The house white, please."
Lily watched BB's hand beating a silent tattoo on the arm of her chair. BB was never still. Her restless energy was what had attracted Lily to her. BB was a storm, fascinating and scary all at once. It hadn't been Andy's dick that had taken her virginity but BB's long, strong fingers. In those days BB could wrap her hand around the basketballs just like a guy.
"You should play the piano," Lily had told her one night.
"It wouldn't fit in my saddle bags," BB had murmured from between Lily's breasts. BB liked breasts. They'd had a wonderful summer of love. Then Lily had got engaged to Andy as her father had wished. Andy never questioned that she wasn't a virgin. Andy needed a wife to work to help him through medical school. Lily would have liked to have been a doctor but she was a woman and so she married as her father wished and became a nurse so that she could put her husband through medical school.
Their love making had been duty not passion. Missionaries on a pagan mattress altar sacrificed to old world beliefs and the need to advance in a new land. They'd had no children. Andy's sperm count was low. Lily would have liked children but not by Andy. It wasn't that she found Andy revolting, they were friends, but she didn't want her kids turning out like Andy. She wanted them to be bold like BB. She had asked Andy how he would feel about vitro fertilization. He'd said no. Instead, he arranged to get her a baby son from China. Lily had not asked how the child had been obtained. It was better not to know. Jason was seventeen now and leaving for college this fall. He wasn't as wild as BB but he wasn't as predictable as Andy either. Lily was proud him.
"Okay, BB you have your drink, now tell us what you have been up to," Ash insisted.
BB looked into her drink for answers. She often did. So far she hadn't found answers there but she enjoyed looking. How could she tell them? Maybe she would find the words after dinner.
"For a detailed account from your friendly war correspondent over seas tune into the six o'clock news," she drawled.
"Bitch," laughed Ash but she reached over and gave BB's hand a squeeze. BB was thinner. Gaunt almost. Too much booze, too many memories and too many years living out of a suitcase Ashley imagined.
She thought back to when BB and her had been an item in their last season. They'd get high as kites after a game and go on the prowl to the gay bars. Group sex was where it was at, but they always ended the night fucking each other. It was their rule. BB called the women they brought home warm up games. BB was a bitch but she was damn good in bed. BB always slept after and Ash would sit there smoking a cigarette. After sex was the only time she smoked.
Even now, Ash could remember BB's hands on her. BB liked to play and laugh in bed. She had no inhibitions. If BB wanted to be a bitch she would get you on your hands and knees and take you from behind while her other hand milked your breasts. She'd whisper sex and kisses along your backbone while she humped you. BB had a deep, mellow voice. Dark syrup. "You feel so good, Babe. Tight and hot. Come for me. I want to eat your cream." BB was hot in those days. Hot and wild and sexy as hell. Now she was scary and remote.
Ash and Lily had compared notes. Ash felt Lily was the only woman BB had really loved. Lily felt BB hadn't loved anyone ever. Privately, they called themselves the BB Rifle Club, well oiled, used and put away with other childhood memories.
"So what about you Ash, what is new in your life?"
"Bill divorced me two years ago."
BB showed emotion for the first time. "I'm sorry."
"That's okay. I got myself a good lawyer and took him to the cleaners. All he has to offer his young bimbo is clean underwear and the back seat of his car."
They laughed. But Ash went on more seriously. " I miss the bastard. He cheated on me from day one but now he has gone he has taken all the misery out of my life. I have nothing to look forward to but tennis, sun bathing and fundraising."
"Ohhh, poor Babe!" chuckled BB. Ash gave her a swat. Lily smiled but said nothing.
"And Lily, you?"
"I've been a widow for four years now."
"I'm sorry about that too," BB said and managed to sound like she meant it this time too.
Lily's face was sad. "He died the way he would have wanted to. He had a massive stroke sitting at his desk after a day at his clinic. It was hard on Jason. He'd just started highschool but he is okay now. Fortunately, Andy left us very comfortable."
So her two old friends were single and rich BB thought, just like her, only she wasn't rich.
"And your kids, Ash. How is the litter?"
Ash had three children. Twins girls by Bill and a son by Kyle the man next door. When his wife had found out she had made Kyle transfer to the west coast and had left him anyway. Stupid really, Ash thought.
She had not been so silly. It was ironic really. In college she had been a bit wild. She was still sleeping with BB when she started living with Bill. It used to make Bill hard to hear what she had done with BB. Once she had married, though, she'd been faithful to Bill. Bill on the other hand had been a dog. Before they were married Bill had been besotted and never looked at another woman even when he found out Ash was screwing BB still. Once the ring was on his finger he started cheating. Bill had seen more motel rooms than a travelling salesman.
"Jill and Mark are finishing their second year at college and Collin will be off this fall."
BB's eyes twinkled. " Maybe one of them will mess up and bring some misery back into your life."
Ash sighed dramatically. "Doubtful. They are way on their way to being Ivy Leaguers. All freshly scrubbed, and dating young Republicans."
"I'm so sorry!"
"It's a bitch." More laughter. "Waiter, another round."
They ordered dinner. Ash had crab. Lily sole. BB had steak. They were mellow and talkative now, laughing over old jokes and remembrances. Sharing. Caring again. They were the first string strung tight but holding after all these years.
"So I found the fucker in the backyard hot tub with his bimbo!"
"Oh my God!"
"So what did you do?"
"Turned the pressure hose on them. I damn near blew him out of the tub. It left red marks all over his hairy body. He looked like he'd tried to screw an octopus!"
"So who is in your life, BB?"
"Noone? Come on BB, there is always someone in your life!"
Lily. "Hey, do you remember that time when BB was humping the assistant coach?"
"Christ! They were like randy mink in the back of the bus."
"She must have been nearly twice your age, BB."
"She had big knockers."
"They were real?!"
"Oh my God!" More laughter. The bill came quickly. The management wanted them out of there. The drink had made their talk free and loud. They rolled out onto the street in a wave of giggles.
"Hey, I'm not ready to go home. I got Bill's yacht and club membership in the settlement. Let's go sailing for old times sake?"
They piled into Lily's Honda. BB drove. BB always drove. She held her liquor well. The yacht was a dream boat. A thirty-six foot sloop finished in teak and brass. BB took command and standing at the wheel she smiled. Once again she was truly happy. The wind caught the sails and the hull heeled. The bow slicing the liquid and spreading it wide at BB's command. She was in her element.
Out in the lake, out of sight of land with the stars bright overhead, they dropped sails and floated on the current. Ash served coffee and Oreo cookies.
"To another five years," she toasted.
"See you then, sister."
"I'm going to die." BB hadn't planned on telling them like that. She had opened her mouth and the words had just come out.
The words pierced Lily's defences sending a wad of cold pain to her soul. "Oh God. BB what is the matter? Have you seen a specialist? I could find you..."
BB held up a hand. "I've seen some of the best. It's cancer of the liver. There was nothing that could be done. I didn't want to under go treatment that would only slow the inevitable. I wanted to be as healthy and active as I could be for as long as I could."
Lily was crying now. Huge, pearl tears that ran down her face unchecked.
It took Ash a few seconds to get her mind around BB's words. BB was strong. BB always won. This couldn't be happening to BB. "It's a mistake! Its got to be. BB it can't be true!" Her voice shook with angry emotion. She felt betrayed.
BB smiled and pulled both women into her arms. "It's no mistake but thanks for caring," she whispered hoarsely. They were all crying now for BB, for themselves, for the injustice of life. They formed a ring - a womb of pain from which they could not push themselves free.
"Its so unfair BB," Lily sobbed.
"Life is. I can't complain."
"What about a liver transplant?" Ash was still not prepared to accept BB's words.
"Transplants are not done on cancer patients. We are bad risks."
"Fuck it! Fuck it!"
They clung to each other. Afraid to let go because then it would be true.
It was finally Ash who pulled back and wiped her eyes smearing her mascara and for once not caring a damn. "Do you know how long you have?" She asked, her voice sore and tight.
BB looked at her watch. "Until today at dawn."
"What?!" Lily sank to the cockpit seat.
BB's face showed a mix of anger and determination. "I am not going to waste away in some bloody hospital ward. I'm going out on my terms."
"How?" Ash again in a small voice. She looked at her hero willing BB to make this a winning situation. BB always came through in the big games. Always.
"I figured after I saw you guys, I'd wait on the beach until dawn and then swim out until I sank. I have always loved the water." Silence. Then more with some awkwardness. " I have left you two everything. It's not much. You know me, I travel light.
Lily. "Why us?"
"You two were constants." There was nothing left to say. They sat in silence. Sipping coffee to ward off the cold of shock and drifting aimlessly in the night. Locked in their own personal misery.
A moon rose. Ash suddenly stood and started to remove her clothes. "A change in the game plan, BB. We are going to be there for your last play of the game." She looked at Lily who nodded trustingly. " One more night together and then, BB, you can walk the plank at dawn like the pirate you are." Her voice shook with emotion and tears streamed but her determination broke them free.
BB laughed, her eyes sparkling like they had years ago.
Naked breasts hanging, Ash leaned forward and took BB's head in her hands, kissing her like she had when they had been lovers. Lily stood and stripped while Ash worked on removing BB's shirt.
Their love making was the final game. The ball in BB's court. Their defence against death was the joy of living on the edge, if only for this one over time match. The score keeper had stopped the clock and they played on, skin sweating, hands reaching, bodies grinding. Fighting for that final shot. After, Lily cried softly. Ash smoked and BB slept. They drifted. Stars under stars. Playing the game over in memories and dreams. When BB woke she kissed each of them.
Lily cried again. "I'm not sure I can let you do this."
Ash held on to her. "BB there are new breakthroughs everyday. If you were to wait..."
"No. I've waited long enough. I'm weakening. I can feel it. This is not the person I want to be."
Ash sat up and pushed her hair back trying to compose herself before she spoke. "Look at us BB. Neither of us were the women we wanted to be. Lily did what her family expected of her because it was the honourable thing to do and I did what society expected of me. We lived lies all our lives. Sometimes you have to compromise for others. For us. We need you."
"I have tried never compromised who I am. Would you want me to now?"
Lily sniffed back tears. "Was it a better path BB?"
"No. It was a much harder, lonelier path."
"Maybe women like us can never really find happiness," Ash sighed.
BB gave her a hug. "Happiness? You make it yourself anyway you can. I don't think it is out there somewhere. Hell, I've been all over the world and the only place I have found it is within myself and then not all the time. Lily, have you ever been happy?"
"Sure, most of the time."
"Then you need to let me go because I know being in control of my own fate will be a final act of happiness. Can you understand that?"
Her two friends nodded reluctantly.
"I feel truly free at last and... happy. " They were silent, too over whelmed with the moment to speak. They watched as BB walked to the bow and climbed up on the railing. She balanced there, the figure head on some ancient ship.
The moonlight highlighted her naked form. She dived - jack-knifing into the water. Her long, lean body thrusting into warm depths. White cream bubbled around her entry. They waited until her strong head rose again. BB turned and looked at her two friends.
"Thanks for understanding. Thanks for always being there."
Lily swallowed hard and tried to hold back her sobs and her need to jump in and pull BB out. "Have a good swim, BB. We love you."
Tears rolled down Ash's face and her fingernails dug deeply into Lily's hand. "See you on the court next time round."
BB turned and swam away in measured, powerful strokes. They stood side by side holding hands crying, watching until the yellow ball spewed milky beads across the dark waters.
"How far can she go?"
"All the way. It's BB"
"Touch the sun for us BB." They took their time stowing the sails not wanting to leave. When the sun was high and in their eyes they motored back to harbour.
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