Simone was wide awake, too keyed up to sleep. She was aware of Midge lying across the chalet from her. In fact, she’d been aware of her all night. The air had roiled and crackled around the girl as if a thunder storm were about to hit, and Simone was cat-sensitive to it, the hairs on her arms and the nape of her neck rising with the static, her senses heightened and sharpened and focused on the heart of the storm: Midge, beautiful and elemental as a lightning strike at sea. She and Midge always sang well together but tonight had been extraordinary. Midge may have been performing for the copper haired woman, but the effect was far reaching and caught Simone in its electricity. Midge’s voice blending with hers, pure and distinct, with that Judy Garland catch, had made singing thrilling in a way it had never been. Sustaining a note while Midge danced around it was a pleasure so visceral it felt like a body memory, primitive and powerful.
The pull towards Midge was irresistible. It took only two steps to cross the chalet, and Simone stood by Midge’s bed watching as the girl slept: cheeks flushed, one arm thrown out over the top of the blanket, the other tucked under the pillow. Even in the pale light coming through the window, Simone could see the curl of Midge’s long, black eyelashes. Eyelashes anyone would kill for. Midge’s full mouth was set in a slight smile, making Simone wonder what she was dreaming about. Simone felt a stab of loneliness as the other woman breathed softly, unaware that she was being observed so closely. Temptation was too strong for Simone to resist.
Midge didn’t stir, so Simone made her voice louder, touching the girl’s arm.
“Wha – ”
“Are you awake?”
Midge’s eyelids flickered open slightly, and then more fully as she peered up at Simone.
“I am now”
“Budge over and let me in”
“Simone – ”
“Go on, I’m cold”
Midge didn’t protest that it was a warm night, that the chalet had taken direct sunlight for most of the afternoon. She did as she was told and moved over in the narrow bed so that Simone could slip in next to her. Simone was wearing a thin nightie, but Midge was wearing only a pair of cotton briefs. Sylvia Carmichael would throw a fit if she knew one of her Greencoats was so blatantly breaking the rules, but unless there was an emergency, she’d never know, and Simone certainly wasn’t going to tell her. Not if that meant being deprived of the sudden heat of skin, the rapid increase of her heartbeat, deafening in the quiet, rivalled only by the shortness of her own breath.
Getting into bed was the easiest thing in the world. It was something she’d done every night since she was too young to remember. It wasn’t the first time she’d got into someone else’s bed, nor would it be the last, so why was her heart beating so hard, why was her breath coming out of her lungs in almost painful spurts? Midge was just a girl, just a girl, and she’d shared a bed with more girls than she could count. It meant nothing. Simone simply didn’t want the night to end, the magic of their connection in the Ballroom to be broken. The sweep of tight muscle under tanned, naked skin revealed by a displaced sheet and blanket had nothing to do with it, nor the urge of trembling fingers to brush down it. Nipples hardening under thin cotton was due to an offshore breeze sneaking in through the open window and nothing to do with the press of hips into buttocks. She had to curl up close, the bed was so narrow, she’d fall out otherwise. She rested her nose in Midge’s thick hair, breathing in the scent of shampoo barely disguising the tang of the pool. Midge always washed her hair after performing the Ballroom; she hated the cigarette smoke that clung to it. Simone was pleased she had. She smelt clean, appealing. She buried in deeper, feeling Midge squirm against her.
Simone didn’t care. When Midge wriggled, it had pushed her backside closer between Simone’s thighs, and it was all the woman could do not to groan.
They both fell quiet, and after a couple of seconds Midge’s breathing had evened out again; she’d fallen back to sleep. Simone, however, was wide awake, beyond awake, she was in a state of heightened awareness. The sky was lightening from dark to pale blue, in the distance the tide was turning and the waves were troubling the sighing pebbles. From the trees by the children’s playground, a group of birds began to sing in anticipation of the sunrise. Next to her, Simone could feel the rise and fall of Midge’s ribcage and she couldn’t help herself; she had to touch her. It was either that or go crazy.
But she couldn’t stop the shaking. It was as if she was chilled and nothing could warm her, but that couldn’t be right; heat was coming off Midge in waves. Simone clamped her jaw in an attempt to stop her teeth chattering. She knew there was only one way to ease her nerves. Her hand reached out, the tips of her fingers tentatively stroking the smooth skin in front of her, so soft, so warm, the sensation made her already short breath stop entirely for a heart beat before coming back in a gasp as she pulled her hand away. Midge’s breathing remained regular; emboldened, Simone let her hand return, taking her time in her gentle exploration, delighting in the firm musculature of the girl’s back and shoulders. She ran curious fingers over the triceps and biceps of Midge’s left arm. Simone knew the power of those muscles, she’d seen Midge pull herself through the water with effortless grace. Lap after lap, simply watching her exhausted Simone. It wasn’t only back and shoulders and arms that needed to be strong. Midge had a stomach like an army made bed, you could bounce a sixpence off it. Simone had seen nothing like it before and her fingers fluttered in her desire to touch. Self control was no longer an issue, Simone was too far gone to stop herself from sliding the palm of her hand across Midge’s abdomen, pausing only when the girl shifted in her sleep.
It wasn’t until Simone slipped her hand up to cup Midge’s small, firm breast, until she felt the press of hardening nipple between her fingers and heard an unmistakable gasp and groan escape both her lips and Midge’s, that the full enormity of what she was doing struck Simone. She was in bed with a half naked woman. Not just in bed, she was lying wrapped behind her, shamelessly exploring her body. Heat swamped her. Unable to separate embarrassment and confusion from arousal, Simone didn’t move, hand still on Midge’s breast. She was convinced the girl was awake, her breathing changed, her body less relaxed, but neither woman said anything. Simone eventually let her hand slide away to the safer ground of Midge’s hip where she let it rest as she tried to calm herself.
Although she’d thought she would never sleep again, Simone awoke in Midge’s bed, initially not sure what she was doing there. She had the bed to herself. A full blue and sunny sky filled the window when she flicked the curtain. Midge would’ve been in the pool for a good hour by now, that exquisite body relentlessly knifing through the water. Simone rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling, she started to laugh and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. What the hell was she doing?
There was comfort in the repetitive, safety in the familiar. The world was chaotic and unpredictable but swimming pools were swimming pools regardless of where you were. The Greenacres pool may have been incognito with its under-lit fountains and paddling pools, its springboards and high boards, but essentially it was a rectangular hole filled with chlorinated water, which made it no different from every outdoor lido and Olympic standard gala pool. Midge could lower herself in at the shallow end and set her nose for the dark blue, and push her body until thought was no longer an option. Well, that had been the plan. Lose herself in the purely mechanical, drown the conflicting and confusing thoughts in the deep end. Unfortunately, the thoughts were proving difficult to get rid of.
After nineteen laps, she pulled herself up, grabbing onto the bar and letting her legs drift out behind her, idly kicking the water. Cold water sluiced over her shoulders and down the front of her bather. The sensation of it against the sensitive skin of her nipples made her shiver. The memory of Simone’s hand on her breast assaulted her for the tenth time that morning. Only lightly asleep, Midge had been dimly conscious of Simone’s body behind her. She wouldn’t admit it but it had felt nice, comforting: human contact she wasn’t aware she’d been craving. The evening had been a strange one. All she could think about in the afternoon and through a rushed dinner was the possibility of Ruth coming to the Ballroom to hear her sing.
Midge didn’t need to be told she could sing. She knew it before the meeting with Charlie Howard. She’d hoped her swimming experience would be enough to get her a job as a Greencoat, but Howard had seemed unimpressed with her until he took a second look at her name and address. His head snapped up and he scrutinised her so intensely it made Midge blush. He sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers.
Midge flinched at the use of her real name but nodded.
“Are you Ted Mather’s girl?”
Midge shifted in her chair.
“Why didn’t you say so before?”
Because she wanted to get the job on her own merits, she thought, but it sounded petulant even in her own head so she simply shrugged. Howard was giving her that appraising look again.
“Can you sing?”
From the time she was big enough to reach the microphone, Midge had held her own in front of the her father’s big band. Singing was something she did, like talking or breathing, it was a part of life and held no glamour. It was simply what her family did.
“I heard your mother sing in the war. You sound like her?”
Midge shook her head. No, she sounded nothing like her mother. Her mother had a voice like chocolate, a voice that could rise above a full orchestra, fill a room to lift the entire audience and carry them with her. There was no way Midge could ever hope to match that. Howard frowned at her, unhappy with her answer, but she didn’t know what else to say. Suddenly, Howard pushed back his chair and stood up.
“Well, let’s see shall we?”
Midge had walked out of that room with a job at Broadhaven, Frank Green’s first and flagship camp, her own excitement failing to match Charlie Howard’s. She got to be a swimming instructor, yes, but she’d had to agree to sing.
Midge ducked her head under the water and opened her eyes, peering at the tiny dark blue tiles covering the bottom of the pool. She swam down until she could touch them, smooth, before pushing her feet off them, propelling herself upwards until her head and shoulders broke the surface, the sunshine bright in her eyes. Singing had done her no good, no good at all. She sighed and fell back into the regular rhythm of the breast stroke.
When she reached the shallow end, a shadow fell over her; startled, she looked up to see Simone towering over her until she stood up, and then she only came to her waist. Simone was standing with her arms crossed over her stomach, her body language tense and self protective. For the first time in her life, Midge felt awkward in her bathing costume; she covered it by pulling herself up out of the pool and grabbing her towel. She was aware of Simone watching, saw her catch a strand of hair and tuck it behind her ear, an obviously nervous gesture Midge had never seen her make before. Midge held the towel so that it covered her chest, putting an unconscious barrier between her and Simone. Simone’s gaze dropped to the ground.
“Look, about last night – ”
“Simone, we’re friends, aren’t we?”
Simone was dismayed, and almost against her better judgement reached out to lay the palm of her hand against Midge’s cheek.
“Of course we are. Why would you think we weren’t?”
Midge could only shrug, not quite making eye contact. Suddenly, warm softness brushed her lips, a sensation that was over before she realised it was Simone’s mouth on hers. She looked directly at Simone, whose cheeks were crimson, and when she spoke, the words came out in a rushed stutter.
“I – I’m going into town and I don’t know when I’ll be back. If – if I’m late, I’ll try not to wake you, okay?”
Midge was too dumbfounded to speak, instead touching her fingers to her lips, waiting for everything else to catch up with the brief kiss. Simone had turned and gone before Midge could reply.
Ruth was drawn to the pool almost against her will. It might have been laughable if hadn’t also been a little frightening. She knew damned well why she was there. And there she was, standing in the morning sun, young and bronzed and fit as a Greek goddess. A happy laugh bubbled up from Ruth’s chest without her realising, and before she knew what was happening, she was moving closer. But then something stopped her in her tracks. Midge wasn’t alone. She was standing less than a foot away from the beautiful blonde singer from the night before. Neither appeared relaxed. Ruth was about to go in the opposite direction before she was caught watching when she witnessed something that made the breath catch in her throat: the blonde put her hand to Midge’s cheek in a gesture of such intimacy, Ruth felt her chest tighten in response. And then for a heart stopping moment, the blonde leant in and kissed Midge on the mouth. It was so quick, Ruth might’ve blinked and missed it, but when she closed her eyes, the image was burnt onto her retinas, as if she’d looked too long at the sun. When she opened them again, the blonde had gone.
Continued in part 4Return to the Academy