This is an original work of fiction. Any resemblence therein to actual persons or places is coincidental. No reproduction of this, except for personal use, or use of its characters, is allowed without the specific permission of the author. The short story does involve a romantic relationship between two women, which does include some refence to violence and hurt/comfort, and some graphic sexual situations, the latter of which is intrinsic to the story's development. If such is illegal where you live, or you are underage, please read other fine fiction available to you.
THANKS to my editor, Maureen, who manages with ease to improve my occasional labored expression and rectify all my sins against the gods of spelling and grammer. Thanks as well to the Bard's Village for the limitless support and kindness that abounds there.
Constructive feedback is always appreciated, which can be sent to me at:
The desolate coast of Nova Scotia suited her mood. It was there on the wind-blown heights that she spent her free time. Where alone she could lose herself in the sound of the gulls and the steady crash of the surf, or sit on the great boulders at the shoreline to write, the wet mist of the ocean coating her eyelashes and hair. There she could dream. And it was from such a cove below granite cliffs and bent fir trees that she first saw the woman, who seemed as desolate and wild as the windy heights, dressed in a black turtleneck and slicker, staring out to sea, a paint brush in her hand and a heavy easel perched on the cliff beside her.
Ellie watched her from her concealed spot on the shoreline below. The woman looked to be in her thirties, tall with long windblown hair. She was hauntingly beautiful, the very image of the reclusive artist, imperial in her loneliness. Ellie watched her paint with singular intensity until the light faded and then she was gone. The writer in Ellie created stories about the unknown artist, all of them centered around an imagined tragic heroine condemned to isolation and barren hopelessness.
Ellie shook her head in amazement.
Get a life here, girl. Youre going to be late for work. Enough daydreaming!
She pulled her wind breaker tighter against her and headed back to her car, a half mile down the coast. She would just make it back to town and the restaurant if she hurried. As she walked, she reflected about the summer which was half over, and the job that occupied much of her time. Ellie had managed to save a good amount of her paychecks and tips, by sharing a small flat with three other girls. Actually, working as a waitress in the resort town paid better than she had imagined. While the apartment was crowded and her privacy suffered, she made friends with the other women. She enjoyed the confidences and intimacies of a shared life.
It seemed like all the wait staff at Edgewater that summer were students. The women with whom Ellie roomed worked with her at The Dockside, a nice bar-restaurant on the beach. Ellie needed the money, having chosen to ignore her parents strong objections and go back to college in the fall . And to try to do so on her own, as she really had no choice in the matter. By the summers end, if she continued to work hard, she should have enough to pay for her tuition and books, and would work in the university town to pay her room and board.
All together, the last year had taken its toll on the young woman, a year of academic demands, unrest at home and now a summer of work. Work and no play had made Ellie perhaps too serious for some. Even at school, she didnt have time for parties or just hanging around with the other students . There were bills to pay and too few hours to study. She needed most to keep her small scholarship and was determined at any rate to finish with honors, whatever it took. The fact that her father had lost his job and they had, in addition a falling out, made her heart heavy. Now she was not welcome at home, because of her defiance and disobedience. Still she would have her degree. She would live her own life.
Her tired car luckily started and she cruised up the coast with time to spare. She made it to work by six PM and was hailed by her three roommates in the locker room. She hurriedly changed into the short sleeve shirt, apron and black skirt provided for the staff, an outfit that was comfortable to work in, and saved on her own small wardrobe.
"Bout time you showed!"
"Where were you?"
"You know me, out walking."
"You should have come swimming with us, Ellie. All the time here at the ocean, and I dont think youve been in once."
"I like to look at the ocean, not swim. Too many creatures out there in THE DEEP."
"Well, we havent been devoured. Next time, you must come."
The weeks flew by. Ellie worked as a waitress during the supper shift, five until ten PM, and helped in the kitchen until midnight, five nights per week. Three days a week she worked lunch as well. Still the money was good. The location of the town on the coast that she loved could not have been better. And all her free time outdoors had provided her with a great tan. Her blonde hair was two shades lighter from the sun. She didnt regret the summer. Her only problem was David.
The girls at the apartment had found steady boys in town . The place was even more crowded when their dates were there. Mandy, the most social of her roommates, had tried to fix her up with another boy they had met, one who worked at a bar up the street. Ellie had agreed, wanting to be a good sport . They would go out as a group, but she really could not get enthusiastic about such dates. The boys were fun, but David wanted more than she was willing to give. She put up with his kissing and crowding but it was increasingly becoming uncomfortable. She found herself declining to go out more and more. He seemed like a nice enough man, twenty three and a college senior, but there was something almost cruel about his eyes and forceful ways.
Mandy cornered Ellie at the restaurant, interrupting her thoughts.
"Were going to go camping on the beach, Sunday and Monday night, starting the nineteenth. You have to come. Well have a bonfire, and the boys are bringing beer. Were cooking out, and sleeping on the beach. It will be so much fun."
"Who all is going?" Ellie asked, skeptical of getting involved.
"You know, all of us, and Eric and David, Maynard and Greg. You have to come. Maynards bringing his guitar. It will be so romantic. Were going up the coast where its more private."
"Ill think about it."
"Ive already told everyone youd come."
"Well, you shouldnt have. I dont really like David that much."
"Oh, come on. Give him a chance. You need to let loose, Ellie. Sometimes youre so uptight."
"Its not that. He just does nothing for me."
"Well, one more date. And Ill fix you up with someone else if it doesnt work out."
"The summer is practically over and Im not looking to get fixed up."
"You need to go out more. There are so many dreamy guys here for the summer."
"And they all want to make out."
"And we dont? Im so horny half the time. Let yourself live a little, Ellie. You act like an old prude."
"Well, thank you, Miss Social Butterfly!"
"Who are you saving it for, girl? Got a steady at school?"
"No. Still looking."
"Well, keep the nineteenth open. Were counting on you. You need to get laid, woman. And David is a hunk. He has the hots for you."
"Tell me about it. He wont keep his hands to himself."
"Give the guy a break. The summer is two thirds gone."
"Ill see. I wont promise."
Ellie hated to be pressured into anything.
Im too stubborn, she thought. Maybe I should go. But a night of groping. Ugh!..
Ellie wanted rather to escape up the coast, needing the quiet and the ocean to settle herself. She favored a stretch of isolated beach, five miles out of town, a place that just called to her. She had to admit to herself as well that she was fascinated by the lonely artist. She had seen the woman near there four or five times more, always alone, painting or just staring out to sea. She seemed a mystery. No one in town knew much about her: a full time resident, a wealthy woman moved from the city, very unfriendly. Ellie had seen her only once in town, shopping for groceries at the general store. The artist was even more stunning up close. Ellie had found herself staring at the woman as she exited the store. From her spot across the street entrenched at an outdoor cafe, she watched the woman leave the store and carry three satchels over to an older Land Cruiser. The artist seemed to favor dark clothes. With her dark long hair, she seemed almost other-worldly.
Ellie could not help but follow her with her eyes.
Rude. I am being rude. I should just say hello or something. Im sure shes seen me on the beach.
But why do you even care? she quizzed herself. Just like to meet her, is all.
Like a wealthy woman who can afford to live here would want to get to know you, a starving student, a waitress no less.
It was then that the womans gaze fell on Ellie as she sat at a table sipping coffee. Her oddly intense brown eyes seemed to bore through her with no emotion or expression, only a slight nod toward her, or so Ellie thought, before the woman closed up the car and drove off.
My! What eyes. Who could she be?
After that , Ellie was more determined than ever to make the attempt at least to greet the woman, if she came across the artist on her walks up the coast. The next free afternoon, she packed a lunch and took a novel, heading off. She parked and climbed a rocky hill up from the road with her satchel and thermos in hand.
The view should be great here, she mused. Enough trees to break the wind, abundant quiet and sunshine.
There were only a few homes along this stretch and the beach unspoiled, maybe thirty feet below rugged cliffs, the nearest a half mile away. Up the coast were scattered long wooden stairs leading down to the sand, each marking the site of a home high on the bluff, often not visible to the passerby. She looked around and found a flat granite slab almost surrounded by pine trees, and stretched out to sun.
She must have dozed off. It had been a long week. She had worked lunch and dinner for four days straight and the apartment was impossibly noisier, rather than quieter, as the summer went on. Maynard slept over too often. Between noisy love making sessions, flushing toilets and her own long days, she was more exhausted than ever.
Ugh. She sat up, stretching her back. She had forgotten her watch. It seemed about three. Ill grab some lunch and a drink, and read a while. Maybe go for a walk.
She looked about and was surprised to see her artist up the coast a short way. She seemed intent in her work, unaware of her sleeping nearby.
Dont bother the woman. If she wanted company, she would have it. A beautiful woman like that! Still, I wonder what she paints. Im sure shes good. I should look for some of her work in town. I havent cruised the art galleries. That is a good idea. Maybe some of the galleries know more about her. I dont even know her name. Hopeless probably to find out more about her, with no more information.
Ellie ate her lunch in a leisurely manner, half the time looking out at the sea, the other half surreptitiously watching the artist over the top of her novel. This was the closest she had gotten to the recluse, except for that recent time by the bookstore in town.
Well, now or never. Go stroll over and say hello, she continued a silent dialogue with herself.
I shouldnt bother her. Id like to just see what she paints. Id like to hear her voice.
If I didnt know better, Ellie Smith, Id swear you had a crush on her. Oh right. But she is stunning.
Whats with you? Into women now?
No. Just not into little boys.
Without a doubt the dark beauty held some attraction for the student that she could not shake. With less than great confidence in her actions, she rose, brushed off her shorts and strolled slowly along the cliff top toward the artist.
Ill just say hello, look at her picture in passing and keep on going.
As she neared the artist, she found herself uncharacteristically nervous, almost shy.
When she was ten yards away, without even looking up, the woman addressed her in a less than friendly deep voice that held a slight British accent.
"This is not a public beach. You are trespassing."
Ellie stopped in her tracks. "Im sorry. I did not mean to intrude. Im so sorry."
You are too much, Vanessa! The tall woman reprimanded herself silently. She is the first person that even smiled at you all summer, and you jump on her. You are so cold. She is just a child. Vanessa looked up at the embarrassed girl. She seemed truly mortified. What did she do? Sit on your rock, take a nap in the sun? Really Vanessa!
"Why are you here?" she heard herself ask, just as harshly Oh god, just stop it , her conscience told her sharply.
"I ..its just so lovely here. So private compared to town."
"Yes, well, I am so sorry. I wont disturb you again."
Vanessa watched the expressive eyes before her spark in annoyance at her attitude and remarks, the girls embarrassment turning to silent anger. The older woman could almost hear the girls thoughts, as she imagined her assessment of herself, and agreed wholeheartedly. Most noticeable however was the girls beauty, momentarily distracting Vanessa from her self-analysis.
Yes. I am unbearably rude. Vanessa could see the judgment and hurt in the girls face , a face not unfamiliar to her. The girl had been already the source of one too many fantasies of Vanessas lonely mind. She had seen her a half dozen times walking the beach or daydreaming on the rocks and sunning, a young student, slim and fit, with blonde hair, a sweet face. No one that should be messed with by the likes of me. The girl is just enjoying the scenery. You dont have to get any more involved.
Her somber thoughts were interrupted by yet another involuntary inspection of the young beauty. The girl had tan muscular legs, lovely breasts, a long graceful neck. It was then as Vanessas eyes lingered on the lines of her form that she noticed the large wasp crawling on the girls shirt, on her shoulder and inching up toward the collar of the cotton shirt, whose top three buttons were open, exposing tanned flesh beneath.
She spoke sharply, striding quickly toward the girl. "Dont move. Not a hair!"
"Excuse me? " Ellie asked, puzzled. She had at first been embarrassed to have intruded, trespassed on private land. Then the woman had been just rude.
And now, what in the world?
The woman was bearing down on her. What, is she mad? Is she going to attack me or something? I should...
"No. Dont move, I said!"
The artist was just two feet away and made a rough grab at Ellies retreating arm.
"Im leaving. You dont have to..."
"Wait." The woman spoke more softly, but in a compelling voice.
Ellie watched as if paralyzed, while the womans hand reached for her neck. "What are you..." Her heart was racing, and her mouth dry at her sudden approach. The woman grabbed the left side of her collar and swept her hand across it and then her shirtfront as well. Then she stepped back to look at the startled student. She looked herself suddenly embarrassed at her actions.
"You had a wasp on your collar, about to crawl down your shirt."
"Ugh!" Ellie jumped back, and swatted her own shirt.
"Im so allergic. Gone? Are you sure?"
"Yes, gone. "
"Thank you," the girl continued in a rushed voice.
Vanessa suddenly smiled at the flustered girl and found herself laughing. "You looked like you thought I was attacking you or something," she finally managed to speak.
"Well," Ellie smiled despite herself. "you did look quite the mad woman, storming toward me with such a determined look. I couldnt imagine."
"I may be rude and calloused, but I havent physically wounded anyone yet, except with my unthinking remarks."
"I do thank you for the rescue. I hate wasps with a passion. Must have crawled on my shirt when I fell asleep."
"I...better get going. I hear this is private land. You better scat as well. The owner is rather irritable."
"Yes, she is. A proper bitch, actually." Vanessa smiled again at the girls humor.
"I do apologize for trespassing." Ellie added sincerely.
Vanessa found herself wanting to talk to the girl, to keep her around a little longer. "No. Its all right. You werent harming anything. It is beautiful here. You work in town?"
"Just for the summer. Ive seen you about, painting. You are quite an enigma in town. No one knows much about you."
"I like it that way," was all information that the woman provided.
Ellie found that despite the artists abrupt manner, the woman seemed actually nice. And she had continued the conversation. That fact gave her courage to chat on.
"Ive been curious about your paintings."
"You always seem so intense, so lost in your work."
"My painting does occupy a lot of my time."
"Do you sell your work?"
"In any galleries in town?"
"Are you in the market for a painting?"
Now Ellie laughed. "Im sure Id love one, but Im the classic struggling college student. I couldnt afford the canvas, let alone the picture. I just appreciate art. Im curious."
"Curiosity killed the cat, they say."
"Oh, you look harmless enough, I think. Although you did startle me."
"Not as harmless as you might imagine. I have a reputation."
"Now Im even more curious."
"You might as well come have a look. Im almost done for the day."
Ellie followed the intriguing woman toward her easel. She gasped when she saw the watercolor.
"Hope you dont mind." Vanessa stood silently while the girl studied the painting. It was a landscape done in grays and browns and greens, of the rocky cliff and trees, and the flat boulder where she herself had reclined for a few hours. The artist had painted her there as the focal point, the sky and the ocean a backdrop to her own sleeping form. Ellie blushed at the detail and accuracy of the work, depicting her own bare legs, bent at the knees, shoes kicked off, in her cut off jeans and cotton shirt open to expose a portion of her breast, her hair tossed by the wind and a book resting at her side, long abandoned. Her face was relaxed in sleep but ever so much her likeness that it startled her yet again.
"You are very good. However did you get such a exact likeness?"
"Well, Ive seen you about. You are a good subject for my sketches."
"I had no idea. I...dont know what to say."
"Youre welcome to the painting actually."
"I have so many paintings; my house is overflowing with them. After all, it is your portrait."
"The portrait of a trespasser."
"You certainly look dangerous, laying there. I should alert the authorities."
"What?" Ellie looked up from her inspection of the amazing painting, startled and worried once again.
"That was a joke."
"Im not very good at humor any more, it would seem."
Ellie studied the woman as she spoke, and continued after a pause. "Well, you are a very good artist. Not only have I been a dangerous trespasser today, but Ive been rude as well. I havent even introduced myself. Im Ellie Smith."
"Nice to meet you, Ellie. Im Vanessa Leland."
"Vanessa Leland? The Vanessa Leland?" Ellie asked suddenly taken aback.
"Which Vanessa Leland?" the older woman smiled kindly.
"The famous artist? Didnt I see an article about your works on display in the capital? And a portrait commissioned by the Queen?"
"My reputation exceeds my talent."
"I feel so foolish not to have..."
"You couldnt have seen my picture anywhere," she interrupted the young student. "Ive made a point to keep my face and personal information out of any news. Im very protective of my privacy."
"And you live here."
"Dont tell anyone." Vanessa smiled charmingly at the girl, in an almost conspiratorial tone.
"Your secrets safe with me. And I certainly couldnt take your painting. Its probably worth more than Ill earn all this summer and next, too."
"Its yours. Really. I shouldnt have painted you without your permission. But it makes a nice painting, dont you think? I have a bad habit of sketching everyone and everything that catches my fancy."
Ellie looked up in surprise at her words. Vanessa shrugged.
"Youre a good subject. Youre lucky I wasnt caught painting you sunning topless on the beach."
"Oh my! " Ellie blushed a deep shade of red. "You couldnt have seen me then."
"This is my stretch of beach. Im always prowling around for good light."
"Im so embarrassed. You didnt in truth paint me like that?"
"I wont admit to it, if youd rather I didnt. But I paint nudes all the time. I taught painting in college, human form. Im sorry if Ive embarrassed you."
"Ive embarrassed myself. What must you think?"
"About you sunning or about you liking my stretch of beach?" Vanessa gave the girl a smile that made Ellie blush again.
"Well, now that Im completely flustered, Ill be going."
"Ill finish the painting and bring it into town sometime. How long will you be here?"
"Until late August. You are very generous. Thank you so much. Will you keep it until Im ready to head off for school?" She watched the woman nod silently in agreement, pleased it seemed that she agreed to accept such a gift. "Well, then, Ill see you around." The girl started off.
"Yes?" She turned to watch the woman return to her easel and pick up a brush.
"You are welcome anytime to use my cliff or beach. Its nice to have a little company sometimes."
"Thanks for the hospitality. It was a pleasure to meet you finally. Ive never met anyone famous before," she added softly.
"Please. Im just a woman who likes solitude and a beautiful stretch of rocks and sand, like you do. But I hope you arent as solitary and serious as I am."
"I suspect I am. Maybe Ill just have to come around and bother you again, then. Two peas in a pod."
"Indeed. Id like that. Goodbye Ellie."
Ellie walked back down the hillside and up the road toward her car. Oh my! What an interesting woman. Her thoughts were full of the artist as she returned to town.
Ellie spent her next day off in town, shopping and cleaning the apartment. The girls were fun and all, but too many people in too small a spot got on her nerves. She worked through the next four days double shifts again. She had little time to wander up the coast. And when she did, early in the mornings, she did not spot the solitary artist. But the woman continued to fascinate her. She appeared younger in reality than she imagined the famous artist to be. Quite world renowned, wealthy and eccentric, the articles described her. No one seemed to know however exactly how charming and beautiful she was.
Well, my little secret. Ellie smiled to herself, waiting a lunch crowd one day a week later, her thoughts always seeming to return to Vanessa.
"You look happy." Sally nudged her. " What have you been up to? I barely see you any more."
"Ive been working double shifts to get money for tuition, as you very well know. I wish I could party more." Ellie smiled warmly at her favorite of her roommates, a pretty quiet girl with gentle eyes.
"Or you are out wandering. The summer is almost over, Ellie. You have to get some fun in. School will start up before you know it."
"I have enjoyed this summer, though."
"Its great here. Ive met so many great guys and girls. From so many different universities. A nice mixing place, you know?"
"It is. A good experience and good money. Well, Ive got to get this table served. See you later."
"Youre coming camping with us, arent you?" Sally asked hopefully toward her retreating back.
"I havent decided."
"Please Ellie. Its our last few days we all have left together. I checked the schedule."
Ellie took in the sincere regard and friendship evident on her face.
"Alright. I guess I will come. The summer is flying by."
Ellie saw Vanessa in town quite by surprise a few days later. She came to dinner at The Dockside one evening when Ellie was waiting table, dressed in an elegant rose silk dress and jacket, accompanied by a distinguished man in his fifties. Ellie was oddly disappointed that Vanessa would come with an escort, an escort with whom she seemed quite relaxed and open, if not amorous. Ellie couldnt help but notice how casually Vanessa touched the mans arm and how animated they both were in conversation. They drank a bottle of good wine between them. Vanessa did not seem to have eyes for anyone else, ignoring the waitresses assigned to her table, except to order and accommodate them in an impersonal fashion as they cleaned dishes or served.
It was only by chance that Vanessa glanced across the dining room as she was exiting, finally noticing Ellie working across the large room. Ellie did not catch the interested gaze Vanessa turned her way, or the studied pause at the door, almost as if
Vanessa were waiting for the girl to look over. It was only when her escort touched her shoulder, holding the door for her, that Vanessa finally turned and left the busy restaurant. Of course it was just then that Ellie saw her, the mans hand placed in the small of her back, guiding her outside. The rest of the night was oddly flat, empty and strained for Ellie.
What, old girl, are you jealous?
Hardly. I met the woman just once.
Shes not the reclusive loner you imagined. No. I guess not. Well, she is rich and famous and beautiful. What would you expect, after all?
The next day, Ellie worked only lunch. She was startled to see Vanessa at the entrance, speaking to the hostess. Rose finally walked to Ellie as she ducked into the kitchen for an order.
"Ellie, someone is asking about you, a woman who says she knows you from your art work."
"Yes?" Ellie couldnt quite slow her heart down;it was beating unaccountably fast.
"May I give her your phone number?"
"Can you just tell her I will be off at 3? I could meet her somewhere. Or she could leave her number."
"Alright. Shes very formal, almost intimidating. Who is she?"
"Someone doing a painting for me."
"Really? How interesting. Ill give her your message then."
When Ellie returned to the dining room a few moments later, arms laden with a tray of food, Vanessa had already left. She looked inquiringly at Rose who motioned her over.
"She said shed get you again when she came in to town."
Now what in the world would she want with me? Ellie thought anxiously, between orders. She promised me the painting. Perhaps she is going away, and wanted me to have the watercolor. Maybe I wont see her again before I leave. Oh well. Ellie sighed audibly.
"Whats up, girlfriend?" Mandy caught her roommate's disappointed expression.
"Ready for camping this weekend?"
"I guess. Youll have to tell me what to bring."
"Besides David you mean."
"Mandy, I hope Im not making a mistake."
"Loosen up, Ellie. Well all have a blast. Are you working tonight?"
"No. First night off in two weeks actually."
"Ugh. Youre killing yourself, girl. What are you going to do tonight?"
"Meet anybody new? I know you are not that keen on David."
"Want to go out on a blind date? Im going out with Mark. He has a friend."
"No thanks, Mandy. Im really beat. Im going to bed early. I hope! she continued silently. when its not too noisy in the flat.
"Were going dancing. Theres a band at Public Places. Should be fun."
"Enjoy it. See you later."
"If you change your mind, drop by. Well be there until one or two."
"Too late for me, Mandy."
"I cant help it."
"Only kidding. See you home later."
The weekend came quicker than Ellie wanted. Vanessa had not returned to town. Ellie silently watched her three roommates packing food, soda and sleeping bags.
"Come on, Ellie. Join in. What do you want to eat? Anything special? " Sally asked kindly. "Were doing hot dogs and popcorn; watermelon and cookies."
"That all sounds fine. Are we sleeping out on the open beach?"
"The boys have two tents."
"I dont have a sleeping bag." Ellie added seriously.
"Well, youll have to share, wont you ?" Mandy added jokingly, making the girls all laugh.
"Im sharing with Maynard," Sally added softly. "But then you know we get together all the time."
"And very noisy about it too," Ellie contributed to the teasing.
"You cant hear us!"
"Well, my room is next door to yours. I think youre worse than he is."
"Stop it, Ellie!"
"Well, it is true." Ellie continued, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
"What can I say. He drives me mad."
"Actually I think so. Hes asked me to marry him. Ive agreed."
"Great!" the other girls added happily. "Why havent you told us before this?"
"It is a secret. Hes coming home with me to meet my parents. Were going to leave a week early for the summer."
All three roommates kissed her happily, sincerely sharing her joy.
"So the summer is a great success." Ruth added happily. "We have to celebrate. Champagne!"
"Yes. Champagne." Ellie agreed. "That is so wonderful, Sally. I hope you are happy for a long time."
"I like George and all." Ruth continued, "but hes just summer fun."
"Well," Mandy chatted, "I cant decide between Rich and Greg."
"So, who is coming camping?" Ellie asked.
"What?" all three girls spoke up in unison.
"I like to sample the field. And then there is dreamy David. I swear, if he didnt swoon over Ellie here, Id have him as well."
Ellie looked at Mandy seriously. "I do hope you are being careful, with all those boys."
"I take birth control, Ellie. You sound like my mother."
"Someone has to have some sense around here. Im not talking about pregnancy. Im talking AIDS."
"Oh, Ellie. Please! Not here. None of these boys are one of those homosexuals anyway."
"Still, Mandy, you need to be careful."
"What, and die an old maid at ninety? I want to enjoy myself before I get old. Nothing like a night of hot sex."
"Mandy, you are crazy."
"More crazy than you know. Maybe Ill bring Eric and Greg."
"Give me a break." Sally added. "You cant be serious."
"Dont knock it if you havent tried it, dearie. But youll be an old married woman before long. Youve missed your chance to be wild."
"Ones enough for me, thanks. What about you, Ellie? Youre the pickiest of our crazy bunch. What are you looking for?"
"Saving yourself for..." Mandy added.
"Ill know when I see it."
"Youve been reading too many romance novels, Ellie," Mandy continued to tease her.
"Probably. So, Sally, may I borrow your sleeping bag, regardless of my penchant for reading?"
Mandy piped in. "David will want to share."
"Well, hell just have to keep dreaming."
"Maybe after some champagne youll appreciate him."
"What, I have to get drunk to want to give myself to someone? Not my idea of romance!"
"Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker. That is my brothers favorite expression."
"Exactly. And Im not looking for a quick high or a quick roll in the hay."
"Let her alone, girls. Ellie is looking for real love and romance. Shell find it. I did."
"Thank you, Sally. Hey, changing the subject, let's bring graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate." Ellie was trying to get in the spirit of camping with them.
"Goodie. Smores. I havent had them since I was little." "What great fun!" Ruth added.
The girls were packed and waiting.
"How many cars are we taking? " Ellie asked as the group assembled outside their apartment.
"Maynard has a car. We can fit most of everything in there. And Georges car. That should be enough."
"I think Ill bring my own, if you dont mind. I can meet you there. I need to run to the store first anyway."
Just in case it doesnt work out... she added to herself. my escape route will be secure.
"OK. Whatever makes you happy," Sally added. "Were driving up the coast, at the far end of the state park. Five or six miles out. There is a stretch of public beach there. Youll see the signs. Were going to park where it is allowed and then hike to the beach."
"I know where it is. Ill throw my kit in my car and your sleeping bag, Sally, OK? Need anything else in town? I want to get the champagne."
"You are sweet, Ellie. Dont forget glasses, if you are going in to town to shop. So we can toast properly. "
"Right. And we need paper plates and such, as well? Anything else?"
"Some good weed." Mandy joked.
"And dont forget the condoms, Mom."
"Oh please, Mandy."
"Well you said to be careful," she added sarcastically.
"I dont want to think what youve been doing without condoms anyway. Do you need any?" she asked more seriously.
"Too late to worry, hon, with these boys."
"Dont tell me."
"Its not as easy as you think. You try to train David."
"Dont even go there."
Ellie loaded her things in the car and headed off to town. She wanted to keep driving, as far from the camping expedition as possible.
At least I can leave if I want, she tried to encourage herself.
The grocery store had everything she needed: champagne, plastic cups, paper plates, a bottle opener. She picked up some cheese and crackers, the makings of smores, and an inexpensive coffee pot for the fire.
"That should be enough" she spoke unwittingly out loud.
"Enough for what?" an cultured alto voice sounded close to her ear.
"Oh! " Ellie jumped. Vanessa stood next to her smiling. "You must like to frighten me." Ellie smiled to soften the sting of her words.
"If you say so. I thought I was being social."
Ellie smiled warmly at the artist. "Hi."
"Hi yourself. Missed you at the restaurant last week."
"I know. We dont have a phone at the flat that I share with three other girls. I couldnt leave a number," she added more shyly.
"No phone. No money to buy paintings. And you shopping for champagne?" Vanessa scolded her with mock indignation. "Celebrating?"
"One of my flat mates is getting engaged."
"Well, then a celebration is in order. Champagne and a camp coffee pot. Interesting combination. At least you did not forget the smores."
"Yes, well, they all wanted to go camping, before the summers over."
"Have fun, then. I still owe you a painting."
"I havent forgotten."
"Ill see you on the cliffs, Im sure, before you head homeward."
Vanessa was surprised at the remark, and strangely pleased, smiling again at the girl.
"Yes. Hope so too. Have fun."
"Right. Dont work too hard."
Ellie left the store in better spirits.
Too bad shes not camping with us. I wouldnt mind sharing a sleeping bag with her.
Ellie, you are mad.
Maybe. Must be. She still smiled at the thought. You are such a sick chick, Ellie Smith. Well, just a thought.
Ellie found the parking area for the park and grabbed her satchel, sleeping bag and book.
Cant forget my book, and the groceries. Quite a load to lug across the hill and then down to the beach.
But she managed. She had recognized Maynards car, a well used and battered station wagon. She hoped Sally had chosen well. He seemed a fine young man, prelaw, hard working. They certainly got on well in bed. Quite an education this summer had turned out to be with three very social and sexually active roommates and boys crawling around the small flat. Nothing quite like an unshaven half drunk half naked man in dirty briefs at three in the morning, rambling around the kitchen or bath. But just not to her taste.
What is your taste these days, Ellie? her alter ego asked her. Good question.
But we do know who occupies your wandering thoughts: Vanessa. Dont exaggerate.
And that she painted you half naked... I dont believe it anyway.
Oh, I do.
Tickles your fancy, I think. Makes you all warm inside. Stop.
Just a little reality check, my girl.
Alright. You made your point. Now I have to spend the weekend fending off David. Not something Im looking forward to. Try to be nice.
"Oh there you are, Ellie." Sally called to her as she struggled with her load. "Here. Let me help." Sally started to cross the beach toward her.
"Ill get the bags. Stay put." David loped over, his long legs eating up the beach. "Hi, Ellie! Glad you came. Missed having you around."
"Hello, David. Ready for some camping?"
"Absolutely. And a chance to really get to know you better. Youre a difficult girl to corner."
"Well all have fun, Im sure." Her words sounded flat and unconvincing even to herself. "Our last weekend all together."
"I, for one, intend on letting loose, getting high and enjoying you. Ive waited long enough. Glad you changed your mind." He grabbed her and the groceries and lifted her into the air.
"Please put me down, David. And I hope you havent gotten the wrong idea. I came camping. Thats all Ive agreed to."
"Whatever you say, sweet cheeks." He kissed her forcibly on the lips.
"Lighten up, Ellie. Just get ready to be swept off your feet!"
Sally sensed Ellies discomfort.
"Come over here, Ellie. What groceries did you buy?"
"Champagne, some cheese and crackers." She settled next to Maynard and Sally on the beach. "Thanks," she whispered to her friend.
"Sure. You looked green around the gills there." Sally spoke in a low confidential way. David stood off to the side, annoyed to have his date sidetracked.
"So," Ellie spoke up, "who wants some champagne? The secrets out."
"Yes." Maynard added happily. "This lovely lady here has agreed to marry me. She must have lost her mind."
"Probably," Sally added sweetly.
"What?" Maynard asked suddenly worried.
"Only kidding, darling. Where else would I find such a nice bed warmer?"
"You love me for more than my body heat, I hope."
"Yes, of course. I want your car."
"Never. Bessie and I are inseparable."
"Well, Ill remind you of that when youre looking for a warm bed and a warmer body."
"Alright. Here." He fished in his pocket for a set of well stripped keys. "Take them. But I swear you dont need the ignition key to start it. Just jiggle the switch and she lights up. Just like you, lovie."
"Maynard! Youre terrible."
"And you love it."
"Stop the mush!" Mandy called over. "Pour the champagne! Lets celebrate!"
The next few hours were actually fun. The bonfire was started as the night settled. Supper was good, the food tasting better cooked over the open fire in the night air. They sang and played guitar, their voices carried away by the strong sea breeze. David kept his distance, at least for part of the early evening, but Ellie could sense his gaze too often directed at her.
She felt guilty in a way, as she hung close beside Sally and Maynard, with David often separated from the crowd. He was older than the rest of them, and worked as a bartender, a senior in political science at a school quite a distance from the coast. What little Ellie knew about him was actually gathered from Maynard. David talked very little about himself and most often watched their antics with a detachment that Ellie found troubling. That is how he had been all summer, watching her and trying to get close to her. Just something disturbing about the man. Ellie knew he was not happy about her resistance to his charms. She wanted to be friendly, but just that. She directed her conversation to him.
"So, David, ready for school again?"
"Yeah. One more year to go."
"Grad school or work?"
"Ill see how I feel next year. How about you, Ellie? Any plans?"
"I just take one day at a time. I need to get through college first. I dont know what the future holds either. Ive been saving up all summer, just to pay tuition."
"You should be rich already. With all the work youve been doing. You never have time to go out with me."
"I almost have tuition covered. I have a few more weeks. Then maybe I can slow down some."
"A few more weeks is right. A lot of ground to cover before you go back."
"What? I am not following."
"Nothing. I just meant not much time left of the summer."
"It flew by."
"Have you enjoyed yourself, Ellie? I want you to experience everything this place has to offer."
"Thank you, David. I have enjoyed the summer."
"Its not over yet."
"Sometimes I think were talking about different things, David. You are a hard one to follow."
"Im not complicated. I just know what I want. And I work toward that end. One way or another."
"Well, that is good, I suppose."
"Then you approve?"
"Approve of what, David?"
"Of getting what I want."
"I guess that depends on what you want. " Ellie looked at him quietly for a moment, trying to understand him, not jump to conclusions about him. Still he was odd.
"Its getting late. Had enough to eat? More marshmallows?"
"No. I think I could go for a beer and a joint."
"Who brought the weed?" asked Eric.
Mandy smirked. "Weed. I have it. But keep it down. Ellie might hear us."
"Mandy, stop picking on me."
"You havent had a beer all night. You never party. Dont tell me youre going to smoke a joint with us."
"No, Im not."
"Told you so. Eric, Ellie is our little goodie-two-shoes."
"Mandy. That is enough. Youre already drunk." Sally spoke up. "Let off the Ellie jokes."
"Yes, Mother. Ill be good, good in bed. Come on, Eric. Light up and lets get friendly. The night is young. And weed makes me horny."
"I like it when youre good, baby."
Before long, Mandy and Eric were kissing and touching each other.
"Hey, you two! Get a room!"
"Im getting tired," Sally yawned and tugged at Maynards arm. "What say we find a sleeping bag and a tent?"
Both couples moved up the beach, where they had pitched the tents.
George looked at Ruth. "Want to go for a walk? Moons nice tonight."
"Sure. Want to swim?"
"I didnt bring a suit."
"OK. But not too deep. Its too dark."
"Be careful you guys," Ellie added. "If something happened to one of you, wed never find you in the dark water."
"Right. No problem." Ruth took off at a run up the beach with George close behind. Ellie could hear them laughing and splashing in the waves, smiling at their antics. She had almost forgotten about David in the happy revelry. But then he moved in.
"So, finally were alone." David spoke in a low voice, close to her. "You know, Im crazy about you, Ellie." He slipped his arm around her shoulder and turned her toward him. "I want you so badly."
He stopped any further talk with a harsh kiss, pulling her closer, and groping her breast as he locked his hand around the back of her neck. "So good. I want you."
She stiffened in his arms, pushing herself away.
"Dont fight me. Im good for you,Ellie." He pulled her close again, kissing her mouth and moving his lips to her neck.
"David. Dont. Please stop. I did not come here for this."
"Ive waited all summer, Ellie. Why are you torturing me like this?" He held her retreating face in both his hands, forcing her closer, kissing her roughly on the mouth. When she gasped for breath, he forced his tongue into her mouth, thrusting it into her, even as she struggled to pull away. She finally broke free.
"Oh, yeah, woman! Youre just as hot as I am. Right now, right here by the fire. Ill make you mine. God, I want to fuck you." He groped her breast, at the same time pulling her hand to his erection, rubbing her against him. "Feel what you do to me."
Ellie was frightened by the aggressor before her, more frightened than she had ever been, but tried to stay calm, struggling to control the situation that was quickly getting out of hand. He was fumbling with his belt and zipper.
"David. Look at me. Look at me a moment."
"David, I do not want to make love to you. Dont make this more difficult. Please. Let me go. Let go of me! This was a mistake to come here."
"A mistake? What are you talking about?"
"I came here to be with everyone before we broke up for the summer. Not for this with you"
"Were meant to be together."
"Im sorry David. We keep getting thrown together. I just dont feel toward you as you do toward me."
The man dropped his hands and moved away. "Well then, Im sorry too. I misunderstood. Forgive me if I presumed. I hope we can still be friends." His voice was cold and flat.
"Thank you for understanding. I hope you find someone who shares your interest and passion. Its just not me." Ellie rose still shaky from the conflict, struggling for control of her own emotions as she straightened her clothes. "I think Ill head back. Tell the others,wont you?"
"You dont have to go, Ellie."
"Im tired and cold, David. Im heading back. I have to work tomorrow anyway. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Ellie. Be careful driving back to town. Youre a long way from civilization here. Lock your doors."
"Right. I will. Goodnight." Despite his kind words, his voice frightened her, making her shiver. She was unaware the whole time of the silent observer on the cliff above. Vanessas house was just down the beach. The older woman had heard voices and saw firelight. She was going to ask the campers to move on when she recognized Ellie by the fire, engaged in passionate kisses with a very amorous young man.
I cant believe I told her to have fun camping! And here on my beach. She knows this is private property. No, I guess they are still on state lands. Just barely. But really, next to my home! She turned away, more angry than she should have been. It wasnt where the students had camped that had her upset. It was that Ellie had chosen some student to find pleasure with. Vanessa knew jealousy when she felt it, and she knew her volatile temper. There was no reason to feel betrayal, disappointment, she reasoned. And yet she felt a wound that startled her.
What? You thought she fancied you? Thought all her exploring was to seek you out, and not just the scenery? She told you why she was here: privacy, beauty , solitude. Just dont do it, Vanessa. Just put it away. Go home and go to bed. Fantasize about some other little blonde. You never learn.
She walked away from the hill, heading back toward her house, not seeing Ellie push David away, or her struggle in the dark toward her parked car, nor the solitary headlights down the long road back to town.
Ellie, as well, did not hear Davids bitter cursing, or see him drink six more beers, or the hard glint in his eyes as he stared unseeing into the fire. She was only glad to be away, then finally back in the strangely quiet apartment. She fastened the door, bolted and chained it, before crawling into bed, and giving way to the tears that had wanted to surface ever since Davids rough handling.
She struggled to calm down, to settle into sleep, wishing there was someone to talk to, to reassure her that everything would be alright, to help her forget his hands and harsh lips. She wanted someone who could understand her for all that she was. Part of her wanted to call her parents, or her sister, but that really was not an option. She had chosen to go it alone. But it was so difficult sometimes. A very real part of her wanted surprisingly to explain how she felt to Vanessa. She would understand. She could help this all go away.
I know she could, she sighed.
Three more weeks and Ill be back at school. And who cares about you there, girl?
No one really.
You made this bed. Now sleep in it.
Ive done it before. Ill be fine. She finally fell into exhausted sleep.
Vanessa herself struggled for sleep in her large bedroom. Shes just a summer worker, a child, Vanessa. Get over it. You shouldnt have been spying.
I wasnt spying. The fire on the beach, how could I miss it? You know you wondered if it were Ellie and her friends. So you found out. She has a life. None of your business anyway. Dont begrudge her her happiness, just because you never found it. Shes still a sweet girl. You owe her a painting. Shell be gone in a few weeks anyway. Youre better off alone, Vanessa. Less painful. No attachments.
Separated by miles, the womens thoughts, as they drifted finally to sleep, were of each other.
It was late in the afternoon the next day when the girls returned from camping. Ellie had gone to work lunch but had the evening free. Sally gave her a hug where she sat on the sofa reading.
"Where did you run off to, Ellie? Are you alright?"
"Im fine, Sally. Thanks. David and I just didnt get on."
"He didnt hurt you, I hope."
"No. He was finally a gentleman about it."
Ruth looked over concerned. "He really was upset this morning. But then he seemed to get over it. Hell find someone else."
"I hope so. But lets talk about something else. Everyone have fun?"
"Oh yes!" Mandy continued. "We all slept until ten, and had coffee and cake and then weve been swimming all day. You should have stayed."
"I worked lunch."
"Ellie, you never learn."
"What can I say?"
"Did you know Sally is taking off on Wednesday?" Ruth asked, changing the subject.
"Already, Sally? Well miss you." Ellie looked fondly at the girl.
"Maynard and I are going to get married, and then surprise Mom and Dad."
"Before you tell them?" Ellie was shocked at the news.
"Were both twenty one. We know what we want. Why spend all that money? Were eloping and then well finish school. Hes already accepted into law school where he is enrolled now. Ill finish and teach with my degree. Then who knows?"
"You have your future all plotted out! Im happy for you both. Really. Well miss you, Sally."
"Summer is just about gone anyway."
Ruth spoke up. "Ill be leaving on Saturday."
Mandy added, "Me too. Well catch a bus over to Lehighton and then the train to go home. Unless we hitch. We both live in the same town. Can you believe it? We just never met. So well keep in touch next year."
Sally saw Ellie thinking. "How about you, sweetie? How long will you be staying? The rents paid up until September."
"I know. I think Ill stay until the end. I can work the last two weeks."
"The crowds will be less. The town should quiet down. They say the place is a ghost town off season."
"I spoke to Tony already. He said I could hang on till the end."
"Youll be ok by yourself?"
"Ill be fine, Sally. Thanks for worrying about me. You know me; a good book and a nice beach is all I need."
"Well, I hope you meet someone to keep you company. This place will be too quiet."
"What, you mean Ill actually get some sleep? Heaven forbid!"
"Youll miss us, Ellie."
"I know I will. I want everyones address."
"Sure. Well write. Maybe get together Christmas week? That would be nice. Are you going home Christmas?"
"No. Ill be staying on campus and working."
All three girls groaned. "Oh Ellie."
"Well, you know my parents and I..." her voice getting smaller.
"Dont get sad on us. We still have the week together. Well have a few more good memories. Do you think you will be back next summer?"
"I dont know. How about you?"
Ruth and Mandy nodded. "We think so. It has been great."
Sally shook her head. "Sort of doubt it. My rambling days are over."
"But youll have a wonderful future. What with a home with Maynard, and little babies on the way."
"How did you know?"
All three girls gasped simultaneously.
"Oh, you couldnt have known. Well, yes, Im pregnant. Missed my last period. Maynard doesnt know. Dont say a word."
"You should perhaps tell him, dont you think?" Ellie spoke up.
"I dont know if Im ready to be a mother. I still have more school to go. I dont know what I will do."
"Arent you going to talk it over with him?"
"It is his baby too."
"Well, now that you say it that way, I have to think hard about it all. Not always easy to know what we want in life."
"Thats for sure."
"So, Ellie, you, however, do know what you want after all." Mandy said in a gossipy fashion, nudging Ruth.
"Im sorry, Mandy. What did you say? I was thinking."
"I said, that you do know what you want."
"Oh, come on!"
Ellie looked at her quite puzzled by her statement.
"Well, you dont want David."
"No, I certainly dont want David."
"I saw that woman asking for you at the restaurant."
Ellie did not like the implication behind her words or the tone in which they were spoken.
"Oh, dont get all shy on us. Come on. Let us in on the good stuff. Sally confessed that she is pregnant. And you know that I would like a threesome in bed."
"You have me totally confused here, Mandy."
Ruth took up the ball. "We dont care about it. Youre a great friend."
"Dont care what?"
"That woman. Youve been meeting her, havent you?" At her stunned silence, Ruth continued, smiling in victory at the other girls. "I dont think our little Ellie is the goodie-two-shoes we all thought. If what George said is true," Ruth added.
"Ruth, what are we talking about here?"
"Where you go on your walks. Gone all afternoon and mornings too at times. I think little Ellie has her own secrets."
"You all really have flipped. Too much beer, weed and sex."
" Fess up, Ellie. Whats she like? Whats it like?" Mandy spoke in an excited voice. "Shes quite the scandal in town. But she is gorgeous!"
"Ooohhh, VANESSA. I do like the sound of that."
"As you very well know, she is a lesbian, escaped the big city with the press at her heels."
"A lesbian? Youve got the wrong idea. Ive only just met her. Shes painting my portrait, is all."
"You posed for her in the nude?"
Ellie couldnt help blushing.
"Oh, you didnt! Ellie, you devil." Mandy seemed to actually gleam at the shocking information.
"I did not. Youre just trying to embarrass me, as usual."
"Why are you blushing?"
"I was just sunbathing topless, and she said she saw me."
"Oh, and one thing lead to another. So you like girls. Good for you. I thought you were just frigid. And with us gone, you can entertain her here, give the neighbors something to talk about all year."
"Hey, some of that girl-girl action is so hot. Ive seen the movies. Ive even thought about it myself. Im not opposed to a little experimentation, Ellie, love." Mandy continued, winking at her.
"I think Im not only embarrassed by all this, but offended. Please stop this talk right now. Or Ill be looking for another place to spend the last few weeks. I dont like to be the object of ridicule. And my private life is just that...private. Im going out. I need a little fresh air. Excuse me."
Sally jumped up and walked to the door with her.
"Sorry about them, Ellie. We all do love you. Some people just dont know when to shut up."
"Its alright, Sally. Im just hurt for them to talk so casually about me like that. So easy to make assumptions and judgments."
"Forgive them. Like you said, too much beer and weed. Maybe weve all been too nosy about each other. But such a small apartment, and a small town. People love to gossip."
"Well, I dont."
Sally hugged her, as they stood outside on the stairway. "Say, do you want a little company? I could stand a walk." Ellie nodded. "Come on then. " They walked in companionable silence. "Dont take it so hard. And thanks for your advice about the baby. I should talk to Maynard, and well decide together. It is only right."
"You have to do what you think is best. Maybe Im too free with my advice."
"No. You are always right. Dont change. Youre smart and sensible, and responsible. I dont know why your family doesnt want anything to do with you."
"It is a long story. But it just hurts, Sally. Its hard sometimes being alone. Im so glad you have a good family, and now Maynard. All that love and support makes such a difference."
"Will you come back for supper? Im going to cook lasagna."
"Maybe. Im just upset. I need some distance from chatty mouths."
They walked past the hotels toward the beach. Sally broke the easy silence. "Are you two lovers?"
"No, Sally. I didnt even know she was a lesbian. I think Ive spoken with her all of 15 minutes."
"But she is smashing to look at. Makes you wonder, doesnt it?"
"It does. But she was at the restaurant the other night with a nice looking man. They seemed close. You cant believe all the rumors and gossip. And for us to be a couple! Shes rich,famous and beautiful. And she paints so well. How crazy an idea for her to be interested in me!"
"Ellie, my dear friend, if being with her is something you might consider, dont sell yourself short. Youre smart and sweet and very pretty. Anyone would be proud to have you in their lives."
"You are too much, Sally."
"Really, Ellie. You put us all to shame. Thats why I think Mandy cant understand why you dont have ten boys lined up. You are stunning and kind and caring. " Ellie smiled and shook her head at Sallys remarks. "Now dont shake your head like that. It is true. Shed be lucky to get you, if you wanted it. I think I am half in love with you myself."
"Sally, I cant take any more embarrassment. My thick skin is getting thinner by the minute."
"And you are so cute when you blush."
"Stop already." Both girls broke out in a laugh.
For a while they walked along, enjoying the sunshine, the blue sky, and the cool sea breeze.
"I often drive up the coast, near where we camped. To hike and sit out on the rocks."
"Is that where you go? I never was sure. It is nice there. Unspoiled. The beach is so beautiful. And those cliffs."
"I think she must live near there. Thats where I saw her painting. And how we met; she chased me off for trespassing."
"No! And all that silly talk in the apartment."
They had reached the beach below the town. The afternoon crowd had thinned, families and couples leaving to wash up for dinner. Ellie kicked off her shoes to walk the surf. Sallie mimicked her actions.
"Do you want to swim?"
"No thanks, Sally. I just love to be near the ocean. It settles me somehow."
"I know what you mean."
"You are a good friend, Sally. Ill miss you especially."
"Please stay in touch."
"Id like that. But you will be so busy."
"Not too busy for a good friend. Too bad our schools are so far apart. " Sally looked up at her to smile. "Say, isnt that David?"
"Look. Hes got another girl. You were smart to push him off."
"Really? Oh, I see him. It is David. Dont know the girl. They seem keen on each other. It didnt take him long to get over me!" She paused, uncertain if she should retreat before he noticed them.
"Keep walking. Hes so busy kissing her. He hasnt even seen us."
They walked down the sand toward the stone breakers, on the outskirts of town. Sally wanted to reassure her friend that she did not think badly of her. "Ellie, " she confided out of the blue, "I sunbathe topless all the time. We all do." She continued in a softer voice. "I kissed a girl once. Last year at school. It was nice actually."
Ellie looked over to study her friend." Well, that is more than Ive done."
"She was sweet, a year older than me. We were new friends. I know she liked me. But not what I was looking for. " She paused, before she continued. "Maynard was my first."
"Didnt take you long to get the hand of things. " Ellie swatted her arm good-naturedly."
"Hey! Be nice!" They smiled at each other.
"How did you know Maynard was the one for you?"
"We just clicked, fit together somehow. It all just felt so right, and all. And they say if you like the kiss, youll like the rest. I do love him, Ellie. But everything is happening so fast. Kind of scary actually."
"I cant give you advice about love, Sallie. But he seems like a fine man. You get on so well together."
"It is a great adventure youve started with him."
"Youll find your special someone, Ellie. Maybe when you least expect it. I surely wasnt looking to fall in love, to get married. It all just happened. But make sure when you give your heart away that it is to someone who appreciates you for the wonderful person you are. Someone who puts your welfare and happiness first. Someone who cares as much for you as you do for them. Nothing else matters. The rest just takes care of itself."
"I hope so. And good advice, friend. Thanks."
"Shall we head back?"
"OK. Lets walk back through town. Ill help you make dinner, if you want."
"Sure. So, tell me about this painting she is doing? If you dont mind my asking?"
"Really its not much of a story. I fell asleep on a rock by her beach front and she painted me sleeping. Shes really very good."
"So she likes you?"
"I was surprised she painted me. That she knew what I looked like so intimately."
"Well a good artist can, I suppose. Not a nude?"
Ellie looked at her smiling face, and decided to speak more candidly.
"I do think I have a crush on her."
"Do you really?"
"Not that I would ever do anything about it. But she fascinates me somehow."
"Very cool, she seems. What little I can tell. Shes hard to miss, though, when she walks into a room. Ive noticed her around town. Seems there are always heads turning, to look at her or follow her progress along. Must be hard, to be the center of attention like that."
"Especially if everyone is gossiping. No wonder she likes her privacy, her solitude. Far from the madding crowd.
"Do you suppose, if it is true shes a lesbian, that all women like her are the stuff of gossip and whispers? Doesnt seem fair somehow. Why cant someone just live their life, find their own happiness? Would it happen to you, Ellie, if you decided you wanted to be with a woman?"
"I dont know, Sally. If she is a lesbian, shes the first Ive met."
"Could you take it? The scandal and gossip? Everyone is so happy about Maynard and me. What must she experience, about a lover? Off-color jokes, ostracism, scathing remarks just out of hearing. It must be trying."
"But if it is true love and happiness, Sally, it must be worth it, to find someone so special that nothing else matters."
"Just be careful, my friend."
"Lets go make supper." Ellie changed the subject, linking arms with her friend. "Its Tuesday. Youll be gone tomorrow. And Ill even miss Mandy and Ruth. A few more days together. Lets enjoy it."
"Ill drink to that. Well, not me." Sallie added. " We dont even have any more beer or champagne left anyway. So dont worry about the baby."
"Im not worried. Youll make a great wife and mother, Sallie."
Wednesday came and went and so did Sally. The rest of the week flew by and with the passing days came a sad loneliness. The apartment that had seemed so small and crowded was suddenly larger, barren and empty. Everyone had left supplies and a refrigerator full of food. Ellie wouldnt have to buy a thing, maybe just milk and juice. She decided to work until she dropped, double shifts and late hours in the kitchen. She saw George and Sam occasionally in town the next week. Then they were gone as well. Hotels were emptying. Visitors cars with colorful license plates disappeared. The weather was still wonderful but students and families left to return to school and duties. A few restaurants closed during the week, opening only on weekends.
Ellie finished up supplies in the apartment and was mostly packed, ready to return to school herself. She didnt seem to have time to beach comb or daydream the last two weeks, much to her regret. And Vanessa didnt come to town to visit. Those last few days seemed anticlimactic, unsatisfactory, and somber, compared to a crazy summer.
One thing for sure: Ellie was tired. Too many hours on her feet, carrying trays, doing dishes, smiling pleasantly to table after table of vacationers. Nothing she would want to do full time. At least academics was easy on the feet! She planned on leaving early
Sunday morning. She decided lunch was enough to work that last Saturday, to be rested for a long drive inland. She cashed her final paycheck.
After a hectic lunch with few wait staff, she strolled across the square to her favorite bookstore and coffee shop. She was settled at an outside table, trying to recoup her energy when she noticed Vanessas 4x4 pull up and park nearby. Besides David and a friend of his still roaming around the town and bars, she hadnt seen a familiar face in a few days. She looked up happily to see Vanessa walk toward her.
"Are you expecting anyone?"
Ellie shook her head. "Just you." She smiled warmly at her.
"May I join you?"
"Please. I could use the company."
Vanessa sat rather formally across from her.
"Would you like a coffee? My treat. " Ellie smiled at her again. "It is the least I can do for all the trespassing Ive done all summer."
"Well, I wont let you off the hook so easily."
"No? What then?" Ellie asked playfully with an apparent air of challenge.
"I dont frighten you at all now, do I?"
"Not unless youve a wasp tucked away ready to attack me."
"Ha! Not likely. Soon it will be too cool for the nasty creatures. Ill have to work on training bats or something."
"What? To keep your property and your scandalous reputation intact?" Vanessa tensed at her words. Ellie saw the sudden change, and reached to touch her hand, surprised at her own bravery. "Hey, that was a joke. It seems Im not very good at humor these days either." She sighed softly.
"You look tired."
"Ive been burning the candle at both ends. Getting every last cent for the fall."
"Most everyone has left, the students I mean."
"I know. My flat mates left two weeks ago. Whats the place like in the winter?"
"Somber and gray, but with wonderful supplies of solitude and privacy, for those who relish it. The autumn air, even the snow when it comes is invigorating, healing. Good for the creative processes, as well."
"You love it here."
A waitress approached the two women. Ellie raised her eyebrow. "What will you have? Are you hungry? Its almost five."
"Will you eat?"
"I could. My last meal and all." Vanessa smiled at the girls charming ways. They both ordered salads and burgers.
"You are leaving in the morning?"
" Afraid so. I never got a chance to get to know you better."
"Why ever would you want to?"
"That is a question that doesnt deserve an answer." She continued in a more playful and teasing fashion. "Im studying creative writing at school, with the aim of being a novelist. If you must know the truth, youve inspired a few stories. Now dont laugh. I always can use more material, always prowling around like I am for good subjects."
Vanessa found herself laughing at the clever parody of her own words.
"And you didnt ask my permission! I guess were even then."
"Suppose so." Ellie matched her smile.
"Then you owe me a copy of your stories. Just like I owe you a painting. Fair is fair. I did bring the painting, by the way. I wanted to catch you before you left."
"You really didnt have to."
"But I wanted to...give you the painting. I had it framed for you. Hang on to it. Might be worth something when Im dead and buried."
"Dont talk like that."
"You do know artists are never appreciated in their own time."
"Well, you are."
"Not by those that count, Im afraid," Vanessa added in a more serious tone than she had planned. She was sorry the girl was leaving, and her mood seemed to reflect that fact which she tried to push away.
"The same is true, you know, for aspiring authors."
Their conversation was interrupted by their dinner and coffee arriving. They both ate in silence for a while.
"So, I gave you an oil version of your picture." Vanessa spoke with some uncertainty, watching the girl finish her burger. She wasnt sure how much to reveal to the girl.
"An oil? It was a watercolor that I saw."
"I often paint in watercolor, and then another in oil. A copy, or I modify it, repaint it as an other version, to express some other feeling or mood."
"So you gave me an oil? Why?" Ellie asked, curious and pleased that she had made an extra effort on her behalf.
"Travels better. Preserves better."
"And which version did I get?"
"Version? The oil."
"No, which set of feelings do I get? You know, which mood?"
"Ah, I kept the nude and the innocent seductress to sell later," she responded with a matter-of-fact expression on her face.
Ellie coughed on her coffee. Finally in control of her breathing, she looked up embarrassed and blushing. "What are you saying? You couldnt have."
"Well, I wont sell them if you dont want. Although Ive had some interesting offers."
"You really are terrible. Why does everyone try to fluster me?"
"You are just so cute when you blush. And you blush so easily."
"It didnt take you long to figure me out."
"I am a quick study. But I would have liked more time to get the bigger picture. So to speak." The older woman smiled sincerely at her.
"You make me more and more curious, Vanessa."
"Yes, well then, it is a good thing that youre leaving in the morning."
"I may have to come back next summer and see those other paintings."
"If I dont sell them. If I let you see them."
"You are a kidder."
"Never. One of my many faults: I am much too blunt, direct and painfully honest."
"Hardly a fault, my friend."
"With those kind words, let me get the painting. Can I drop you off at your flat? Its a large piece, hard to carry."
"Will it fit in my car?"
"How big is your car?"
"Not as large as yours."
"I could mail it off."
"Oh no. It would cost a fortune to do that. Im sure it will fit."
"If not, I will mail it for sure. I ship paintings all the time. I get a special rate at the Queens request, for all my commissioned works."
"Stop it, now. I know you are joking."
"The Queen is a loyal fan."
"Dont get all high and mighty on me now."
"No, it is too lonely at those exalted heights," she added almost wistfully.
"Ah, the double-edged sword of privacy and solitude. I know it well."
Two peas in a pod, someone once said. Vanessa smiled kindly as she spoke.
"Indeed. And I promised to come bother you a few times before the summer was over. I never got a chance with work and all. Another reason to come back next summer."
"Well, I have reserved that boulder for you."
"Isnt it mine already by squatters rights?"
"Most definitely. The irritable owner wrote up the deed. I have seen it."
"You are a very pleasant dinner companion, Vanessa Leland. I will have to find out more about you."
"You wont find much."
"Then about your art and popularity."
"Merely opinions. And isnt art the last province of true freedom? Whether one likes a piece is entirely for the individual to decide. I ignore art critics with a vengeance, as well as art historians. I gather more useful comments sitting on a bus, or strolling through a gallery. The less acknowledged the viewpoint, the more valid, I think. So it is in the world of art appreciation at least."
"Spoken like a true cynic. And youre probably right. Art, literature and music are really owned by the audience or the viewer, to do with as they choose. So that is how you do it." Ellie added in afterthought
"Oh, take all the publicity,the criticism and judgments."
"And just trash it all. " Vanessa smiled brilliantly. "Absolutely."
"And just paint as you like, and live as you like."
"I try to. Or else run away and hide. Find a safe place to just be who I am."
"And who are you, Vanessa?"
"Well, you have a year to figure it out."
"I am a quick study as well. I dont need a year to decipher you."
"I am afraid to hear."
"Then I will have a year to phrase my response, so as not to insult your appreciation of syntax, prose and imagery." Ellie found herself watching the artist a little too intently, with perhaps too much open interest.
"So, come on, artist. Lets see that painting. And get it stowed in my car. Ive taken too much of your valuable time. And I have to do some last minute packing. Ill head off by nine or so."
"Ten hours or so."
"If my trusty car holds up."
"Ring me if you get in a pinch. Ill come along with a spare tire and a coffee thermos. Whatever you need."
"Ellie?" came a question. Both women looked over almost annoyed to be interrupted, to see David standing on the sidewalk with his friend from the bar.
"Excuse me a moment, Vanessa? " She smiled at her in apology.
"Certainly. Ill be at the car."
"A friend?" David looked after the tall woman with a scowl.
"Yes. Someone from town."
He turned his eyes back to her as she sat at the table. "Youre heading out in the morning?"
"Could we have a ride to the bus stop in Lehighton? I thought more people would stay around , to give us a lift."
"I havent much room, David."
"We dont have luggage except two small satchels. Just to Lehighton."
"Im leaving at 9 at the latest."
"Well be there, if youre willing."
"Just the two of you?"
"Everyone else has gone."
"I know. The town is practically empty."
"What do you say, Ellie? For old times sake?"
"Alright. Into Lehighton. I was going inland, but I can cross over further on."
"Great. See you in the morning."
Ellie nodded more seriously at him. "Alright. Nine and were off."
The two men walked off, their conversation together muted. Ellie watched them go with mixed feelings. She did not want to judge David unfairly. And with his other friend along, things would not get too strained. She was nonetheless uncomfortable to be in his presence again. Still the road to Lehighton did travel past her favorite cliffs, probably past Vanessas house as well. She could say a last goodbye for the summer, at least mentally, to her favorite spot. And then, a long road trip and another year at school. Successfully paid for by her hard work and sore feet. She shrugged and headed off after Vanessa, who stood by her car, the back lift opened to reveal a 2x3 oil painting, framed in a gold speckled chestnut wood.
"Vanessa! It is really too good to give away. The water color was more than perfect. But this is, well, too good for my humble college digs." She regarded the picture a moment more. It captured all the glory of summer, the majesty of the cliffs and fir trees, and that moment in her life, youthful allure, summer tan, a moment of unencumbered ease. " I dont deserve it. I dont know what to say."
"Dont say anything then."
"You tell an writer not to talk?" She nudged the older womans side. "Impossible. Not going to happen. But really, Vanessa, this picture perpetuates everything good about this entire summer,this place and.... about you too," she added quietly. "Ill cherish it. But I should pay you for it."
"Your kind works and appreciation are payment enough. Come along. Lets get you packed."
They rode in silence the mile to her apartment.
"The flat is so empty. Ill have some company at least for the first leg of my trip. " Ellie spoke her thoughts out loud.
Vanessa placed the painting carefully on top of Ellies few suitcases and boxes. "Plenty of room. Well, have a safe trip."
"Thank you so much for the painting. Not to mention not having me arrested for trespassing."
"Thank you for the supper, and the pleasure of your company."
Ellie hugged her suddenly, and pulled away self-consciously. "Right, then. Take care." She dashed up the steps to her apartment, and waved once before closing the door. She stood inside the quiet abode, leaning against the door, and was surprised by the tears that she felt in her eyes.
Must be the premenstrual blues. Or just the end of summer vacation. Or the regret of the opportunities missed, she thought, with Vanessa specifically in mind. Im getting too sentimental in my old age. Get to work and finish up. You need to clean this mess to get your deposit back. And then mail out a share to everyone. Right. Work I understand. All these feelings
She worked until 8:30, took out the last of her things and settled down to watch TV and doze. She would have a long day tomorrow.
Vanessa, back in her own home, thought of her afternoon with Ellie. She had only intended on giving her the painting and running off. Not to linger and chat. But the girl had seemed so pleased to see her, and the small talk revealed a bright mind and maturity that suited her. She found herself almost flirting with the girl, although Ellie seemed unaware. Just as well. Her boyfriend would ride back with her. She found herself thinking poorly of the tall muscular young man, especially the almost feigned air of propriety that she sensed about him. There was a coldness to his eyes she found unsettling. Perhaps it was all jealously, that interfered with her objectivity. She tried to dismiss her unease.
Vanessas thoughts turned back to Ellie, remembering her laugh and the grace of her smile, the surprising gentle touch of her hand on her arm. It was best the girl leave. If she were to stay, had they spent more time together, she was certain she would have made a fool out of herself. And why she was so drawn to the girl mystified her.
Well, its been a while since you held a woman in your arms. And you have an overactive imagination. I cant believe you told her you painted her nude on the rocks. And as a seductress. Well, I also told her I wouldnt let her see either painting.
She looked across at the oil that leaned against the wall of her studio, the same relaxed body sunning on the rocks, firm young limbs and sun drenched hair as in the picture she had given Ellie, although now the girl on the canvas watched her through half closed lids reflecting desire. She seemed to be inviting the observer to come nearer, with the promise of sharing pleasure and passion, all mixed with youthful disregard for custom and authority. Vanessa had painted the portrait of a woman who knew more than her years, understood her desires and acted upon them without restraint. Or so Vanessa imagined
Ellie could be, in reality creating from her imagination and paint the lover she craved, one who would welcome her caresses.
Ah, Vanessa, you torture yourself so.
It is a harmless enough fantasy. Nothing happened to sully the girls reputation. I should not keep calling her a girl anyway. She is a woman with superior insights and physical beauty, one who seems to give her affection freely. I do regret not tasting those lips. The old Vanessa would not have hesitated so. I must be getting soft.
Since when did you care about anyones reputation? More than your own greedy pleasures? What would Father think of you now, a lonely frustrated woman, dreaming of a young lover? Hed laugh himself to death, if he wasnt already cold in the ground.
More than anything however, Vanessa knew she could never hurt the girl. It was with those last thoughts that she finally drifted off to sleep.
Sunday morning came around too soon. Ellie groaned as she stretched in the bed, and rose stiffly to strip off the sheets and fold them on top of her dirty clothes.
Right. A quick shower and coffee and Im off.
She moved about the apartment, inspecting it one last time for forgotten things. She left the keys in a envelope on the kitchen table, with a note to the landlord with instructions where to send the security deposit. All lights were off, the stove scrubbed, dishes washed. The place was clean enough.
At 8:45 she closed the door behind her and sat finally on the outside stoop to wait for David and his friend. Ellie had never met the other man before last night. In retrospect, he looked a bit on the scruffy side. She doubted he was a student. He appeared to be a few years older than David as well. Maybe still trying to be a carefree summer worker like the others in town, but with a harder edge than she fancied. He looked last night, standing next to David, as if he had smoked too many cigarettes, spent too many nights drunk in bars. She could somehow envision David to be like him in a few years, harder and disillusioned.
It was 9:30 when the two men approached her. Did she imagine that they were staggering a bit? Not drunk this time of day, surely? Unless they had partied all night?
"Oh, there you are finally," she called, trying to keep the disapproval and censure out of her voice.
"Dont want to keep a woman like you waiting, eh Fred?"
"Ha!" the other man laughed with a sneer. "Oh no. We all have things to do! Lets leave this dump. Better things are waiting up the road, right lassie?"
"Right. Weve a long trip ahead. Youll catch the bus in Lehighton? Both of you traveling on together then?"
"Were off to Hell together, eh Fred?" David answered without looking in her direction.
Ellie settled herself in the drivers seat and watched the men throw small satchels in the back by her suitcases and books. David sat next to her with Fred behind in the small back seat.
She spoke up to him as she glanced in her rearview mirror.
"It is a bit crowded back there. Good thing you dont have far to go." She looked at the stranger with apology in her eyes.
"Dont you worry, love. This is exactly what we need, eh David?"
"Damn right." David answered back, an oddly determined and cold look about him.
The town disappeared behind them as David fingered the radio and managed not to pick up any stations clearly.
"Afraid the radio doesnt work very well out here. Hard to pick up stations this far out."
"Well, I for one am sick of this isolated hole. I want more excitement than I can find around here. Dont you agree, Fred?"
"To bigger and better places, money and willing women!" Fred called out, pretending a toast. Ellie could just visualize the men drinking and toasting all night.
"You two look like you had quite a night of it. Did you sleep at all?" She took in their rumpled clothes and unshaven faces.
"No. We drank until we ran out of coin, and laid out on the beach."
"Your apartment vacated already?"
"I just had a room. Not the grand accommodations you girls had."
"I wouldnt call it grand. But with four of us, it wasnt bad. Moneys tight for us all, as I am sure you do realize."
"And now youve got a nice piece of change for next year, I guess."
Ellie looked at David as he stared ahead, hearing anger and resentment in his voice.
"Ive worked hard all summer, David, to get tuition for next year. Its been a long haul, but worth it. How about you?"
"What? No, money and I part too easily. I can always use more. Easy come, easy go. I havent saved much at all."
"Will you come back next year?"
"Hell no. Im going to burn my bridges behind me. Too many uptight bitches around here, " he mumbled more to himself than for Ellie to hear.
She heard the comment nonetheless, and was growing more uncomfortable by the minute. Apparently David still had hard feelings and resentment toward her. She wondered as she drove how one could tell someone else that there was no interest in him without offending the fellow? She hadnt had enough experience in these things. Perhaps his wounded pride was part her doing, although not intentional. It seemed not a good idea after all to have agreed to share the ride with him.
Well, just twenty miles or so.
They had traveled up the coast. With the tourists and students all returned home, the stretch of road was more desolate than ever. Ellie wanted to leave the place with a happy memory, not the strained atmosphere that filled the car. She had a longing to see Vanessa again, to sit on the rocky cliffs with her, enjoying the summer sun and sea breezes.
I wonder which is her house. And how she spends the winter? I wonder if the homes here are protected from the cold winter winds and snows?
She imagined a crackling fireplace inside at night and woolen blankets on partially shielded porches, wine and cheese and soft music offsetting the howling of the wind muted by shutters.
"I would like to get one more look at the ocean, David. Would you mind if I stopped here and just said goodbye to the place? One last time? Silly I know, but a last bit of the wind and spray and all, before a long winter inland. I love the coast so."
David looked around at the spot, desolate and barren. He turned cold eyes on her and smiled a satisfied smile.
"I dont think I could have picked a more perfect spot, eh Fred? Last impressions are so important, dont you think?"
"Well, yes. I do love this part of the coast. If you dont mind. You wont miss your bus or anything? Are you on a strict timetable?"
"Do stop. No hurry. The pleasure will be a mutual one."
"You seem in an odd mood today, if you dont mind my saying so."
"Odd? Not any more flattering a thing to say than your other judgments all summer, Ellie. You dont like me much."
"David, please. Lets not have harsh words. Lets not leave the summer with unpleasant memories of each other."
"Why should the end be different than the whole wasted time? I did not enjoy the summer. Just one disappointment and frustration after another."
"Im sorry to hear it David."
"When did you start to care what I feel? " he turned angrily to her. "You have been so tied up in your own self-centered world."
"Im sick of talking, Ellie. Sick of struggling to be a polite good little boy. Its not my nature to be so passive, to wait to be given things, and not just take what I want."
"I am sorry you arent more happy. But Im sure youll find what you are looking for in the days and weeks ahead. I dont want to argue or fight with you, David." Ellie had pulled the car over to the side of the road, and sighed audibly. "Look, Im going to take a five minute stretch and look at the ocean. I wont be long. Then lets start fresh, alright? And try to be pleasant to each other."
David just glared at her without speaking as she unbelted herself and exited the car. She closed the door and stood wearily by the roadside a moment, before straightening her shoulders and heading off toward the rocky shoreline. She could hear the men in a heated discussion as she moved away.
What a perfectly terrible way to end the summer. The air is so thick with anger and resentment in there. I am surprised I can even breath. Well, twenty miles more and I can put it all behind me.
Part of her just wanted to leave the two men there. She really didnt need or want this aggravation. She stood quietly by the sea, trying to let the peace of the spot relax her, inhaling the salty air, and for the last time of the summer just feel the calm that the ocean always gave her. It would be another long hard year at school with a full course load and a forty hour work week as well.
She could hear car doors open and close behind her. Maybe theyll walk. Ha! I wish. She was nonetheless startled to hear David walk up behind her.
"Are you saying farewell to the ocean as well, David? She turned to offer him a sad smile. "It is such a beautiful spot."
He snarled a response close to her ear. "Just for the record, my name is not David."
"What?" Ellie turned around to look at him, shocked by the odd statement and the tone of his voice. Her gaze toward him however was distracted by activity at her car. She saw Fred opening her luggage and tossing her clothes on the road.
"What in the world is he doing?" she gasped out loud at the sight.
"Stop that!" she called over Davids shoulder, and began to run toward her car. "Stop that! Have you lost your mind?"
David grabbed her arm to spin her back to look at him.
"Dont worry. He is only looking for your summer earnings."
"You have to stop him," she almost pleaded with him. Once again she called out to Fred. "You cant have that money. It is my tuition for next year."
"You still dont get it." David squeezed her arm harshly.
"Let me go, David. Youre hurting me. I have to stop him. All my things..." She tried to pull herself away but he held her now with both hands on her arms.
"I wanted to give you something by which to remember the summer. And to remember me especially."
"Let me go!"
"You see, a simple robbery just doesnt stand out quite like a beating and a robbery. If I had the time, Id rape you as well. But frankly, Ellie, youre not worth the effort. You held out all summer. Youve been too busy earning your money. Too good for me. Well, college girl, keep your precious favors. Ill just take your car and your tuition money. And give you some nice bruises
to look at, instead of my kisses."
"David, you dont understand." Tears were filling her eyes. She still did not comprehend the danger she was in, only aware that all her hard work, all her plans for next year were falling apart. "Dont do this, please."
"Shut up! I found your wallet in the dash. The rest of the money must be in your cases. Well find it."
Just then Fred yelled out with a satisfied shout. "Got it! Almost three grand!"
Ellie took her eyes off the angry man holding her to look at Fred as he stood waving her cash in the air.
It was then that David punched her viciously in the stomach. She bent over in reflex, clutching herself, gasping for breath. She felt pain and the need to vomit. He laughed at her before smashing her face with his fist, impacting her jaw and cheek. She screamed before falling to the ground, before she felt a hard kick to her ribs and kidneys, before unconsciousness took away the shock and pain. She remembered how oddly soft the coarse sea grass felt, and how dark it was suddenly. And how quiet the world became.
Vanessa had completed the three mile walk up the coast as she did every morning. She had dimly been aware of a car passing by on the road above the beach. She was surprised as she climbed up toward her house to see a car parked by the pavement.
While she loved the ten acres of windswept cliff and gnarled trees that filled the high land near the state park and the rambling home she had purchased, she had her share of trespassers. At least now, with fall approaching, she would have her peace again.
Another person to chase off.
She smiled involuntarily at the thought of the last trespasser she had tried to scare away, wondering how Ellie was doing on her homeward journey. Two things suddenly and simultaneously jarred the pleasant thoughts from her mind. She noticed a man haphazardly throwing clothes out of suitcases onto the road, undergarments scattering in the wind. Outside the car was a dumped case of books, and more clothes. She noticed a painting thrown against a rock.
What in the world is going on? A robbery?
At the same instant, a womans scream set her in motion, running toward the beach.
A painting? Oh my God, Ellie!
She raced ahead past the car, hearing a harsh whistle as a warning to someone from the man near the car. She wasnt sure where the scream had come from. It seemed to fill the air before being lost in the steady gusts of sea breeze. The beach! She paused a moment on the hillside to scan the area, only to see a man kicking a downed figure. She saw a vicious grin on his face as he turned to run past her and jump into the waiting car.
Vanessa was torn between wanting to stop him and her desire to help the woman. She ran ahead, bending toward the blond. She still saw the car purposefully back up and flatten suitcases and clothes and the painting, before speeding off down the road, leaving scattered clothes flipping and rolling in the wind.
She forced her eyes to take in the woman before her. She knew it was Ellie.
"Dear God. Please be alright." Her hands were trembling as she gently rolled the girl onto her back, taking in the filthy clothes, the injured face, bruised with a bleeding lip. The left eye already looked like it would swell shut. Ellie was unconscious but breathing, with a steady pulse. Vanessa felt her limbs carefully for breaks and found none. She was torn with indecision whether to leave the girl and call for help, or risk carrying her back to the house herself.
I cant leave her. They might come back. I can do this. Poor dear Ellie. It breaks my heart and fuels my rage. I want to scream and cry at the same time. The bastards!
She scooped the girl up, surprised how light she was in her arms. She cradled her against her chest and carefully walked back toward her house, avoiding any jarring steps. By the time she had traversed the three hundred yards to her porch, she felt the girls weight, but was only too happy to get her to safety.
She kicked open the screen door and placed her gently down on the sofa. Making sure Ellie was still breathing regularly, she ran for the phone. Vanessa knew Dr. Jacobs, the local generalist, from her work with the property owners association. She dialed his number from memory, speaking quickly and efficiently, describing the problem. She would call the police as well, but not until the girl was awake and alert.
She next moved to the kitchen to retrieve a pot and then the hallway bath for a hand towel and warm soapy water. She began the careful task of washing the girls arms and hands of dirt and blood. Her left arm was scraped with an angry looking abrasion. The girls face had born the brunt of the mans punches. Vanessa carefully cleaned it as best she could. The dirty clothes would be fine for now. Hopefully no ribs were broken. She gingerly touched Ellies left side, making the girl moan, trying to pull away, even in her unconscious state.
The bastard! Who could hurt this angel, or hate her so?
Memories flooded her mind ...of another beautiful woman, beaten and raped, unhappy memories of her lover, the woman who seven years ago dared to love her, and received only hatred from small minds. Charlene had chosen to run from the antagonism and violence, leaving Vanessa more alone and only guilty that just because of her, Charlene had suffered such indignity and pain. It was the last time Vanessa had tried to have any relationship. And now, this beautiful girl, again beaten.
Certainly not because of me? Am I so cursed? Is it so dangerous to even know me?
She shuddered at the thoughts filling her mind. But now was not the time to relive that horror. She forced herself to concentrate on Ellie. She fetched crushed ice and placed it carefully on the blonds swollen lip and cheek. She sat and waited for Dr. Jacobs.
And then soon the police. Perhaps Ill call them now as well, after all. I could give my version, perhaps apprehend the criminals before they flee too far.
And so decided, she phoned the local constable. He would radio to the towns ahead, Lehighton and Avalon, the description of a light green Ford with two men aboard. She described the one who had attacked Ellie carefully. He seemed to have been the same man who accosted them at dinner. Obviously someone Ellie had known well, to have provided a ride out of town. The officer would be by in a few hours unless she called that Ellies condition prevented an interview.
After what seemed like hours, Dr. Jacobs arrived. Actually only thirty minutes had passed. She had used the time to observe the girl, but more importantly, to draw the images of the two men she had seen. Done with that, Vanessa was concerned that the girl had not yet awakened.
Dr. Jacobs rushed through the door, medical bag in his hand, shrugging out of his top coat, the macintosh he wore rain or shine. He was a kind older man, gray hair and balding, in a sweater and bow tie.
"Where is she, my dear?"
"This way. On the sofa."
"Has she awakened?"
"Poor thing." He stood and looked at the girl stretched out on the couch. "Who did this to her? And why?"
"A robbery and a vicious beating. They ran off as I approached."
"Do you know the girl?"
"Actually I did meet her on the cliffs and in town. Summer waitress, a college student, just heading home today."
" Is there family to notify?"
"I dont know. She was working to earn her tuition. I dont know if there is family, or only a short supply of money. Shes a very sweet girl. Such a shame to see her so mistreated."
"Right. Well, let me have a look."
He knelt down by the sofa and inspected her, much as Vanessa had done. "No obvious fracture of arms or legs."
"Her ribs, doctor."
"Let me have a look." He unbuttoned her blouse, pulling it free of her jeans, opening it to reveal a white lace bra and extensive bruising along her left ribcage. "Well, the ribs move with the others on inspiration. Nothing badly fractured. Let me have a listen." He found his stethoscope in his bag, and worked a moment over her. "Air moves well. Doubt any significant bleeding in the lungs. Nothing punctured." He listened absently to her heart, and then palpated her abdomen. "Soft, good bowel sounds. Now let me have a look at her head and face."
"I saw the man kicking her ribs and side. I dont know how her face or head were injured. She was on the ground as I approached, with him standing over her. Just a nasty bastard!" she added with emotion.
"Indeed, dear. She was fully dressed?"
Vanessa nodded. "As was he."
"So thankfully no rape?"
"I havent touched her clothes. I dont think so. I washed her arm and her face. And iced it."
"Yes. You have done well." As he spoke, he carefully inspected her skull for lumps or depressions, looked behind her ears, over her mastoid for bruising, looked in her ears for bleeding, felt along her neck for misalignment. He lifted each eyelid to check for pupil reactivity. The left lid was swollen, and as he moved the tender tissue, Ellie cringed slightly. With his opthalmoscope, he looked in the easily visible right eye. He set his instruments away after checking the girls reflexes.
"Get her shoes off, will you?"
"Certainly." Vanessa knelt as well, unlacing Nike running shoes and removing thin cotton socks.
"Excuse me then." He efficiently scratched the soles of her feet and watched her toes move. "And will you help me roll her? Over on her right side? Just hold her like that."
The girl was supported against Vanessas chest as she knelt by the sofa. Dr. Jacobs pulled up the open blouse to inspect the spine and ribs again from behind, and listen once more to her lungs.
"Look at those bruises. Just sickening how some one would be so cruel."
Vanessa looked over the girls back, seeing the expanse of tan skin that she had imagined, but now grotesquely painted angry purple in clearly demarcated kick marks. Dr. Jacobs rolled her over onto her back gently, and closed her blouse, leaving it unbuttoned.
"Do you have an afghan?"
"Yes, of course." At her words, Vanessa quickly moved to the hall closet, retrieving a woven woolen throw, carefully covering the girl.
"Leave the ice on for another twenty minutes or so. I dont think she needs hospital, Vanessa. Unless youd rather not have her here."
"No. Leave her. Ill be more than happy to look after her. She has no one here in town. Her friends have all returned to school. I had a sandwich with her last night at the bookstore, by chance."
"Well, shes in good hands then. Ill come by in the morning to check on her again. She should be waking up soon, Vanessa. She will hurt. She will be dazed. Expect nausea and dizziness. Shes had a bad concussion. If she doesnt wake in another hour or two, call me back. If she drifts out again after waking, not sleeping mind you, but out like this, call me. Try to keep her up most of today, if you can. She should not have double vision or numbness or a heavy limb. Call me if shes not right. I think its just a damn awful beating."
"Thank you for coming so promptly. All her things are scattered on the road. Would it be safe if I ran out? If I were quick about it?"
"Are the police coming?"
"Yes. I called them."
"Well, let them see things as they are."
"Right. Good idea."
"Ill call later to check up on her. Otherwise Ill see you in the morning."
"Thank you again. And Ill cover any bills involved."
"Fine, then. What is the girls name?"
"Ellie. Ellie Smith. Studying writing and literature."
"Right. Poor thing. Give her some broth and tea and crackers later."
"And aspirin is fine if she can keep it down. "
"Good. Youve been very helpful."
"Shall I send my nurse over later?"
"No. Ill be fine with her. Ill call if I get nervous."
Then Dr. Jacobs was out the door, shrugging on his rain coat.
"A cup of tea sounds good to me about now. I need to get my nerves settled." She spoke her thoughts out loud.
"What? What did you say?"
Vanessa turned to see a dazed blond student, her face a mask of puzzlement. Ellie tried to sit up, but groaned, sinking back down to the sofa. Vanessa moved to kneel beside her again. After a moment of hesitation, she took Ellies hand in her own, rubbing it softly.
"Ellie? Its Vanessa."
"Vanessa? How did you get here?" she murmured, looking at the older woman.
"Dont get up. Just rest, Ellie. Youre alright."
"I cant wake up. Must be a dream." She struggled to sit up again, flinching in pain.
"Easy there, sweetling." Vanessa spoke in a quiet soothing voice.
"I meant to tell you, Vanessa." The girl spoke slowly, her voice serious. "I love the sound of your voice."
Vanessa smiled at the student, who tried so hard to focus on her face.
"And, Im....Im so cold." The girl shivered.
"Let me take that ice off you. And fetch you another blanket."
"A dream." Ellie murmured before closing her eyes.
Vanessa moved a strand of hair off the girls face, pausing a moment to just look at her, so delicate and vulnerable as she was then, and seemed so small on the couch. "My poor dear."
She stood and climbed the stairs, returning with a favorite quilt, down filled and satin covered. She covered the girl again, and went off to make tea and toast for herself. She returned in a few moments, and sat across from the girl, absently munching toast and sipping her tea, deep in thought. Ellie seemed to be waking finally. Vanessa saw her eyes flutter open, sometimes focus on her, then look around the room slowly. She had already found quick movements made her dizzy.
"Am I in your house, Vanessa?"
"Umm." The brunette nodded. She set her cup down and walked over , sitting carefully on the couch next to the girl. "How are you feeling?"
"I dont think you want to know."
"Have a headache?"
"Ask me what doesnt hurt. It would be easier. I thought I was dreaming. Waking with you here."
"I was knocked out."
"Near your home?"
"Yes. I heard you scream out. I was out prowling around for good light."
Ellie tried to smile, but it hurt to much. "Did you rescue me again?"
"Seems like it."
"How did I get in here?"
"What, my living room?"
Ellie nodded, looking about her again.
"Well, I couldnt just leave you on the cliff side. What would the neighbors think?"
"Are they gone?"
"And my car?"
Vanessa nodded. " 'Fraid so."
"And my things?"
"Well, there are suitcases and things scattered on the road. I thought the police should see it all. So did Dr. Jacobs. Hes been and gone already, and will be back again in the morning. Youll be fine, he says."
"Not fine, Vanessa. I dont know what Im going to do." She spoke in a flat voice, now fully awake.
"This is not the time to worry about anything. Youre safe and basically in one piece. Thats all that matters."
Ellie shook her head sadly. "I would curse them if I werent better trained."
"Well, I cursed them for you, several times."
"What time is it?"
"Noon? Ive been out a few hours. Vanessa, I think..."
"Yes?" Vanessa watched her suddenly pale and look anxious.
"Do you have a basin? Im afraid I might be sick."
"Right. Hold on." Vanessa jumped up and ran to the kitchen, dumping the pan she had washed the girl with, and hurried back to find Ellie rolled over, holding her mouth, needing to vomit.
"Here." She held out the pan. Ellie, however embarrassed, could not prevent herself from vomiting. She retched a few times, with Vanessa holding the pan with her.
"Oh, I am so sorry."
"Sshhh. Relax. And just feel better. Its the head injury. Doctor said to expect it. I should have been more prepared. " She handed the girl a warm wash cloth to wipe her mouth.
"Im being such a bother for you."
"Dont think about it, Ellie. Lets get you better. Could you sip some tea?"
"Maybe. Get this taste out of my mouth."
"Let me dump this, and return with it empty. Just in case. You lay still. Then Ill get you some tea. Just to sip a little."
"Do you want crackers?"
"Be back in a jiff."
A few minutes passed before Vanessa returned with a tea tray and a small plate of dry crackers. And a few mints. She sat it all on the coffee table which she moved closer to Ellies arm.
Ellie took the cup and after two or three sips, sat it down, surprised her hand trembled with the effort. She rolled to her back again, and closed her eyes.
"My head feels six sizes too big. And Im as weak as a kitten, and so dizzy."
"Then youre right where you should be, safe and warm. Get some rest. The constable said he'd be around at two PM. Wanted to be sure you could talk."
"I dont want to talk. Or even think."
"Can you answer his questions? Is it coming back to you?"
"In all its horrid detail, yes. I must look a fright."
"Yes, a little worse for wear. But nothing a few days sunning on a rock wont cure. It could have been so much worse. Well get through this. Everything will be alright."
Vanessa could see the girls gray eyes fill up with tears, and watched them stream silently down her face. It was apparent that she was trying so hard not to cry, tried turning her face away. Vanessa moved again to the couch, wanting to comfort the girl.
"Hey," she reached out to wipe tears away. "You can cry. I wont tell anyone."
"Vanessa, I.." Her words were replaced with the sobs she could not contain. Vanessa wasnt sure if she pulled the girl into her arms, or if Ellie reached for her. But Ellie cried on Vanessas shoulder, softly held in strong arms until she finally calmed. The older woman sensed her settling. She reached into her slacks for a clean handkerchief and then rubbed the girls back a moment.
"Here. You look like you can use this more than me."
Ellie sat up, leaning back on the sofa, while she wiped her eyes, and then blew her nose. She regarded her unlikely savior, and took in her shirt. "Now, Ive ruined your blouse."
"No. You did that earlier." Vanessa shrugged, pointing out the blood and dirt smeared on her sleeve, acquired from carrying the girl into the house.
"Im so sorry. For all of this. Ill get you a new blouse."
"Im not letting you off that easy."
"Oh, youre not? What then?" Ellie found herself smiling despite her pain, embarrassment and suffering.
"Ill think of something. " Vanessa spoke softly, smiling kindly at the girl. "Now, let me get you a cold cloth to soothe your eyes. The constable is due any time. Are you up to it? If not, I ll have him come by later."
"No. I want to get this over with. I could stand a bathroom, if youll point me in the right direction."
"Ill do one better. Ill help you there."
"Thanks, Vanessa. Youre ever so kind."
"Just dont tell anyone. Ive worked years on my reputation as an ogre."
"A very sweet and beautiful ogre."
"Ill take that into consideration. But youve been concussed. I wont hold you responsible for anything you say today."
Ellie smiled again at her words. "Come on. Help this poor cripple to the bathroom. Or youll be cleaning up another mess." With those words, she threw off the cover.
"Right. Can you stand?"
Ellie pushed herself up to stand, and visibly swayed.
"Easy there." Vanessa slid her arm around Ellies waist to steady her. Both women noticed Ellies blouse hanging open, and both blushed. "Dr. Jacobs checked your ribs and lungs. Can you get it?"
"Yes. Ill just button it."
"Yes. Before the constable comes. Hes an older man. We wouldnt want him to have a coronary at the sight of a lace bra, now would we?"
Ellie smiled again, but then seemed to shudder.
"What? Youve turned a new shade of pale."
"Just as long as David hadnt..."
"Nothing like that happened, Ellie. I happened by. They took off. Youll hear my version when the constable comes. Fully clothed but beaten," she added softly.
"Well then, you are right. It could have been so much worse. Ill give my thanks for small favors."
They made it into the bath without a major misstep. Ellie was safely back to the sofa when the door knocker sounded.
"The constable." Vanessa stated calmly.
"Alright. Vanessa?" The woman paused before heading to the door, hearing Ellies question. "My head is killing me."
"I wont let this drag on."
"No. What I meant: do you have some aspirin or something?"
"Now or later?"
"Later is fine. Get the door. I hate to be a baby but...."
"Right after he leaves. And maybe some broth?"
"Alright." She smiled at the determined look on Vanessas face.
"Youd make a good nurse."
"And youve had your bell rung. " Vanessa smiled at the compliment nonetheless. The knocker sounded again. "Let me see to the police."
Ellie heard a mans voice questioning Vanessa. Soon both entered the large living room. A wiry older man in a brown uniform , carrying a clipboard, stood at Ellies side. Vanessa sat down on the couch near Ellie for moral support.
"Miss Smith, Im Officer Gage. I need to ask you some questions. Im sorry to see you hurt like this."
Ellie nodded stiffly. "What do you need to know?"
"Tell me what happened, if you can. Ill ask for detail as we go. Ive heard part of the story on the phone," he added, nodding toward Vanessa.
Ellie began recounting what she could about the ride out of town, what she knew about David and his friend. She paused as she remembered walking away from them to look at the sea.
"This is difficult for you. But please go on," the law officer said in an encouraging voice.
"He told me his name wasnt David. And then explained what he planned on doing, and why. They were after my summer earnings. I was such a fool to give them a lift."
"Not your fault. How could you have known?" Vanessa added, trying to ease her concern.
"I never trusted him, or liked him really. We kept being thrown together all summer because of mutual friends. I would not ...." She looked helplessly at Vanessa.
"He was interested in you romantically?" Vanessa volunteered.
"At least sexually. I refused him. I thought hed gotten over it all. I saw him with a few girls around town."
"He knew about your money?" Officer Gage redirected the conversation.
"My flat mates spent most of their time scolding me about working so hard. I had to earn as much as I could for tuition. David and I had even talked about my long work days and such. So yes, he did know about my money in that degree."
"And the other man?"
"I never met him before."
"And then what happened?"
"He followed me out of the car. I had stopped to clear the air, so to speak, since he had grown angry with me as we left town. And I wanted to see the ocean one more time." She smiled sadly at Vanessa. "This was my favorite spot." Vanessa smiled gently at her words. "And then the other one was riffling through my luggage at the car. He had found the money. Then the beating began, after harsher words from David. I never thought he would hurt me. I was worried about my things. And then I must have blacked out."
"How much money did you have with you?"
"My summer wages. All of it. $3500."
"What is your license plate number? Car type, color? Miss Leland called for us to look for a late 80s light green Ford."
"An 89 Ford Galaxy, license number 1CN322, Esquire County."
"No one spotted the car so far. Weve been on the lookout for it since ten or so, thanks to Miss Leland. They may have gotten by or ditched the car. Its not likely well find them, Im afraid. Later on, well have our sketch artist do a composite sketch."
"Not necessary, Constable. Ive sketched them both." Vanessa spoke up, retrieving her pictures. "I think the resemblance is accurate. David is about my height. Black hair, two hundred pounds, brown eyes. Tan complexion. Muscled like a footballer. The other man I didnt get too good a look at. Still I wonder, Ellie, can you look at these? Would it be too much?"
"Let me see." Vanessa saw her tense and turn a worrisome shade of gray, looking at Davids face. She finally turned her gaze to regard Freds countenance.
"The likeness is very real, for both of them. Fred seemed older, maybe twenty eight or so. Thinner. He smelled of cigarettes and liquor in the closed car. They both had on jeans and T-shirts, both unshaven."
"Very good, then. Miss Leland, shall we go on the porch to speak about what you saw?"
Vanessa raised an eyebrow at Ellie.
"I should hear it all, I think." Ellie answered the unspoken question.
"Are you sure, Ellie?"
It took only a few minutes to complete the story: the scream, the car being riffled, David kicking a downed girl and running off, backing up the car to purposefully run over the belongings spread on the road.
"A nasty one, if I say so. Youre lucky you are as well off as you are. Not just a simple robbery. Hateful behavior."
"Then I got her inside, and helped clean her some. Dr. Jacobs came round, and now yourself."
"Miss Smith, where will you be staying, if we need to get in touch with you?"
When Ellie suddenly looked desolate and uncertain, even lost, Vanessa spoke up. "Miss Smith will be staying here with me for a while. You have my number. " Vanessa spoke matter-of-factly.
"Yes, of course. We will do our best. Ill need to see the crime scene."
"I will take you out now, if you wish. I need to get all her things under cover, as well."
"Vanessa, Ill pick my things up in a bit."
"You will stay inside and rest." She spoke more sternly than she had intended, seeing the girl flinch at her words. The constable moved to the porch, sensing a tension in the room between friends. Vanessa watched him exit and turned toward Ellie. "I dont mean to sound overbearing. Im sorry if I did. All that bending, lifting will make you more dizzy and nauseated. Not to mention stir up your back and ribs. Ill pick it all up in a flash. Let me do this? Alright?"
"I do feel like garbage. I just hate to be a burden. To not be able to do for myself."
"Well, even us solitary types need a hand now and again. Put up your feet. You deserve a break. And we can talk about you staying here. Youre very welcome here, you know, even if I spoke prematurely."
"Alright. But we should talk. My pride and upbringing. Still you know I am more than grateful for all you are doing."
Vanessa could see her eyes start to fill.
"Now dont cry again, alright? Ill need to fetch you a fresh handkerchief."
"I will be good. Go on. Show the good constable where my underwear are," she smiled ruefully.
"Well, if they havent blown back to town by now. Think of the shocking details in the neighborhood: scented lace undergarments showing up in the most embarrassing places. Youll be the ruination of many a good marriage in these parts, if I dont get moving." She winked at the girl.
"Oh, Vanessa!" Ellie found herself smiling again. "What an image. The good doctor or the vicar picking my thongs out of the bushes behind their homes. What a good story that would make."
"Thongs?" She raised another eyebrow making Ellie blush again. "Well, you work on that story...'the bra that got away, while I protect the constables virtues. Ill be right back. I am going to take a few pillow cases out, in case the satchels are too far gone. Ill ask the constable to bring over your books. Might as well put him to work."
"Go on then."
"No. Just hurry back. I could use the company. I hope they kept my dirty wash. It would serve them right." She called after the older woman.
"Thats the spirit!"
Ellie heard the sheriff deposit something on the porch and drive off. More time passed before Vanessa came in to lay two over-stuffed pillowcases and a few battered partially zipped suitcases inside the door. Vanessa perched finally on the arm of the couch.
"Your books and notebooks are safe. Although a little dirty. We can sort out the clothes later, if its alright?"
"I dont know whats missing, but I will have you know that I walked a mile round to pick up your unmentionables. And there are still some very sexy pieces dangling from a few pine trees that I couldnt reach. And the beach! I wrestled three gulls to get your bikini back."
"Stop it. It hurts too much to laugh."
"Alright then. Oh, they did dump your dirty wash. I have it all in one of those sacks."
"Oh how embarrassing!" Ellie covered her eyes.
"Well, I've personally never seen dirty sheets before. I just throw out all my soiled bedding. Keeps the laundry bills down. So it was a good learning experience."
"Stop already. Youre just trying to make me less self conscious about this whole ordeal."
"Is it working?"
"I think so. For an irritable stern recluse who resents trespassers, you are quite the good hostess."
Both women smiled.
"Speaking of being a good hostess, can I tempt you with some broth and toast and aspirin? Im a terrible cook, but...."
"Only if youll let me help."
"Up to it?"
"Um, think so. I need some water and aspirin directly."
"You just dont trust my cooking."
"I would never say such a thing. But Ill watch especially closely for wasps and bats."
"Not for lunch. Thats dinner usually."
"Alright. Broth and toast and aspirin sounds very good."
Ellie stood carefully and waited a moment for the dizziness to pass. Vanessa watched her with concern.
"The kitchen is off to the right, just through those doors. Well move you to the table. Unless youd be more comfortable here?"
"I dont think it matters where I sit right now. I couldnt be comfortable anywhere, honestly."
"Youll feel better in a few days. Come in the kitchen. We can talk while I burn the toast."
Vanessa moved without thinking to support the girls waist and steady her. Ellie looked up at her without speaking, but leaned into her strong shoulder gratefully. She sank into a cushioned captains chair with a groan.
"I cant believe how sore I am. He must have kicked me everywhere."
"Let me get you something for pain. I do have something stronger."
"Aspirin is fine. Really. I would be afraid to take anything more right now. I feel dizzy enough."
Vanessa worked quietly a while, opening cans and lighting the stove again. It took only a few moments before she sat with Ellie, each eyeing toast and broth and tea.
Ellie spoke up, looking at the older woman. "You should eat something more substantial."
"Who is the patient here?"
"I tend to be bossy, and give unwanted advice all the time. Or so I have been told."
"That I doubt, Ellie. But I promise to make something heartier for supper, if you are up to it."
Ellie took a few spoonfuls of broth and dipped her toast in the soup.
"I wont be chewing for a while. With this jaw."
"Shall I ice it again?"
"No....too cold." The blond sighed again. "What a royal mess."
Vanessa ate her soup in silence. She raised her tea cup and toasted the girl. "To better days."
"And good friends." Ellie added quietly, feeling her eyes tear up again. "You know, you are being much too nice. Its making me want to cry."
"What? My being nice? Then Ill have to be more miserable. Ive had a lot of practice with that, for sure."
"Dont talk like that about yourself, Vanessa. Youve only shown me kindness and friendship." Ellie paused, lost in thought.
"You seem a thousand miles away." Vanessa encouraged her to speak her thoughts out loud.
"I dont know what to do."
"About this entire mess."
"Tell me what you are thinking?"
Ellie paused, unsure how much to reveal or to burden this woman even more with her troubles.
"Ive got all day to listen. No where to go. And I would like to help."
"Dont be nice. I will cry. I am warning you."
"Dont do that either."
Ellie touched Vanessas hand, unconsciously playing with the long fingers of the artists hand, again lost in thought. She finally spoke up.
"If I have no tuition money, I cant go back to school. Im paying my own way."
"You have worked so hard all summer."
"So ironic. What is that expression?: the best laid plans of mice and men... So here I am, without a car, no money, no school, no home."
"No family?" Vanessa asked kindly.
"No family that wants to see me. Ill have to get a job again, save up for a winter term."
"You are a determined woman, arent you?"
"I want my degree, whatever it takes. So until I get some transportation away, I could stay in town, go back to the restaurant. Get a room someplace. And after a few weeks, maybe a small apartment. But how can I save enough for a car and tuition and just living? I am such a fool, to be robbed of everything and now...."
"Ellie?" Vanessa interrupted her quietly.
"What? Oh, I know I am rambling. I am sorry. I just..."
"First of all, why would you want to go into town and rent a room?"
"I cant stay here."
"Ive intruded into your life enough. You dont want a problem like me..."
"How can you know that?"
"Ellie, I have a huge house on a beautiful beach. I ramble around here like a recluse, as you know. I have more money than I know what to do with. I have no other commitments that demand my time. Just painting when the mood strikes. I like you, Ellie Smith. Why in the world shouldnt I be a help, if Im able? You need a place to mend. I promise I wont paint you, looking like you do now, what with bruises and all. Purple is not your color." She smiled kindly again at the girl. "And I could use the company."
"Vanessa, how can I just take advantage of you like this?"
"Think about my offer. Stay here until youre well. Then we can talk again. Seems like you need a vacation anyway, to recover from your summer vacation."
"All for nothing."
"No, not for nothing. Things have a way of working out. Sometimes it just takes time. This house has six bedrooms."
"And eight fireplaces and two porches. You could be here a week and I probably wouldnt even notice."
"You noticed me on your beach."
"Well, you were hard to miss. Claiming all my favorite spots where I sit to think or paint."
"I didnt really, did I?"
"That is why I kept running into you."
"Honestly, I think I was hoping to run into you. Youre very intriguing."
"Hardly. But dont change the subject. Please stay a while, Ellie. I would love to have you here. Think of all the material for your writing."
"You are very kind. I dont know what to say."
"Dont say anything. Just feel better. We can go for a walk tomorrow on the cliffs, if you are up for it. You can help me chase trespassers."
"Im one myself, Vanessa."
"No. You are an invited guest. And a friend. It all comes with that squatters rights thing."
"Dont make me cry." She could feel her eyes fill even as she said the words.
"Lets get you settled. And then put on a wash. Maybe get your clothes organized."
"I should do it."
"How bout we do it together? Im not touching any really dirty wash. Ugh!"
Ellie smiled and shook her head.
"Let me clear the table and bring out the bags. You can sort things out. Well get a wash going, and then Ill show you to a room. The views upstairs are wonderful. And it is never hot with the breezes from the shore. Very quiet at night. Good for thinking or sleeping or dreaming. Then later, we can wander out and try to retrieve those bras and thongs dangling from the trees. My reputation is bad enough. I can hear them now. She continued in a high strained artificial voice. " Did you know she actually decorated her pine trees with womans lingerie? LIke a Christmas tree! Has the woman no shame? And she paints women in the nude! Just whose underwear are they?"
Ellie laughed. "You have got to be crazier than me. But not by much. What must you think of this small town? And all the gossip? It must bother you."
"Oh, I am used to it. I just generate curiosity, I suppose."
"Its your haunting good looks and cool demeanor, you know."
"I suppose it is all a way to distance myself. Are you sure you are up to staying here? You should hear all the rumors before you decide to stay." Vanessa spoke seriously suddenly.
"Well, it is a little too late for that, isnt it? You already told the constable that I would be staying."
"I never thought. I...."
"You look mortified. Just how bad is your reputation, Vanessa Leland?" Ellie smiled kindly at the artist. "I really didnt hear much about you in town, and I was trying to discover all I could."
"You didnt ask the right people. Perhaps you should not stay."
"Now youre throwing me out?"
Vanessa continued in a rush. "Ellie, Im the notorious lesbian in town. Your reputation, a young innocent here alone with me..." she spoke seriously.
"I just spent the summer living with three other woman in a small apartment. What does that make me?"
"It is not the same thing."
"Have you thought that I might be bad for your reputation?"
"Well," Ellie looked at her with a mischievous glare. "Perhaps I will do an interview with the paper:
Infamous lesbian kidnaps young student, beats her into submission, subjecting her to unmentionable acts, hanging the girls underwear outside in strange pagan ritual.
"Oh, god, what a thought. You dont suppose anyone would...."
"I will be sure to kneel at your feet when the doctor comes in the morning, and address you as Mistress." Ellie burst out laughing. "Oh, you should see your face! Now you have turned a lovely shade of pale."
"You are terrible," Vanessa replied, finally laughing as well.
"So you see, Vanessa, its already too late. I might as well stay a while, if you can put up with me. But maybe you should take warning. You may not be the only suspicious character in town."
"Well, some might gossip that I am a psychotic stalker, following you all summer, staging a beating at your doorstep, just to get into your house and your life. " Ellie raised an eyebrow and stared in the most menacing fashion that she could manage, until both woman broke out in laughter again.
"Oh, that sinister sneer!" Vanessa wiped tears from her eyes. "But youre much too cute to be a psychotic stalker. God, how priceless. I havent laughed so hard in years."
"Looks can be deceiving. And so can rumors." Ellie added quietly. "I think you are too hard on yourself."
"Sorry, Ellie. Maybe all the gossip and innuendo bother me more than I like to admit."
"Well I for one say: 'just trash rumors. So, if its alright, I will stay awhile, until Im mended and know what to do. And Ill be eternally grateful for the rescue, and your unwarranted hospitality and kindness."
"Its all settled then. My home is yours, Ellie. So, shall we tackle this wash, then?"
The next few hours passed in easy comradeship, doing two washes between them. Vanessa carried everything upstairs, and chose a room for Ellie next to her own, adjacent to a bath. The bed was made up fresh, the windows opened to the breeze. She returned downstairs to find Ellie looking at a wall of books in the living room.
"I chose a room for you."
"Just so I am not in the way."
"Never. Help yourself to anything that interests you." Vanessa spoke absently, nodding at the bookcase. " I have eclectic taste in literature."
Ellie turned to study the tall woman who leaned on the door frame. "Where did you study?"
"And that is all you will volunteer?"
"I am always reluctant to talk about myself."
"Just curious. You are clearly well educated."
"Yes. Father insisted on the best for his wayward daughter. Out of guilt, I think, for having no time for me at all. So I finished my undergraduate degree and went on to get a doctorate. I taught for a few years. I am the product of ten years of the most expensive education England had to offer, before returning to Canada."
"How old are you,Vanessa?"
"Care to guess?"
"Im thirty three."
"Very young to be so learned, a professor and famous to boot."
"I got an early start. And was just as determined as you seem to be."
"I am twenty three. I got a late start and am trying to enter my sophomore year."
"Doing it all the hard way. By sweat and tears. Not like me. It was too easy. Maybe why, in the end, it meant less to me."
"It obviously meant something, for you to work so hard and accomplish so much at a young age."
"At one time, perhaps. But things change. And now, well...I mostly paint. You dont look twenty three. " Vanessa hoped to change the subject with her comment.
"What? You thought I was fifteen or so? "
"You do look young. But not that young. Please."
"How long have you lived here?"
"Your house is lovely."
"You havent seen the tour. When youre up to it, Ill take you around."
"I could stroll around now."
"Alright. Youve seen the kitchen, and the living room. Come through here. The dining room which I never use."
"You dont entertain?"
"Need you ask? And here, a screened porch along the back of the house."
"How much land? Do you really own the beach front?"
"Twenty five acres, and ten acres of beach front."
"I could be jealous of this place, if it were in me."
"But its not in you, I know."
"No. I am happy you have such a wonderful retreat."
"Do you think you can handle the stairs?"
"I wonder if a hot bath might make you feel better."
"If I got in the tub, I might be unable to get out."
"Maybe a hot shower. Loosen your back some?"
"That might work."
"Let me show you to your room. You can decide if you want to rest or shower, or finish the tour."
"Alright. I might borrow some more aspirin? And a hot water bottle. I am sore."
"I have one of those electric heating pads, moist heat, good for sore backs. Im sure I can find it in some closet."
"That sounds good."
Vanessa waited for her to start up the stairs. "Go on up. Ill be along. I want to look for that heating pad. You can poke around upstairs if you get there before me."
"I dont want to pry."
"You wont. Youll see your things in a spare room on the right."
With those words, Vanessa ducked back into the hall and a closet there. She checked the closet off the kitchen, but shrugged her shoulders.
Must be upstairs someplace.
Just then the phone rang.
"Vanessa, Dr. Jacobs. How is our patient?"
"Awake, alert and very sore. But shes kept some broth and toast down, and were up walking."
"Good. Very good. Do you think I need come around in the morning?"
"Ill ask her, but I think not."
"Use hot baths, mild exercises, aspirin, heating pad. She should be better each day."
"I will ring back if she wants you to come. And certainly if she is worse."
"Right. I wont come unless I hear from you. And if problems do arise in the next few days, you will call me?"
"Of course. Good day doctor."
Vanessa joined Ellie in the hall upstairs.
"Made it." Ellie commented quietly. Vanessa observed her holding onto the wall as she spoke.
"Are you alright?"
"Let me show you your room. Should you lay down?"
"Maybe I ought to. For an hour or so."
"And then it will be dinner. I can bring you up something."
"Not. Ill join you for dinner. I should cook it."
"You can cook tomorrow. Put up with my culinary attempts tonight. My cooking wont kill you, at least not in small amounts. Only over an extended period of time."
"You are too much," Ellie said smiling. "And you said you were poor at humor."
"I am usually. You inspire me to be pleasant, I think. "
"Well, you make me feel most welcome and also very safe. And somehow not so alone. This experience has been...."
"Worth forgetting." Vanessa finished the thought, seeing Ellie grow too serious again. "Here is your room. I hope it will do. If not, there are four others to choose from."
The room before them was at least twenty by thirty feet, bright and airy with three large windows. The walls were white, and the bedspread and upholstered chairs were navy and white flowers, as was the room border. The wooden floor was covered in a wool Wilton area rug, a dark blue and green pattern. The dresser was cherry as was the poster bed. The walls were decorated with water colors of sea grass along the coast line, and long wooden piers with pelicans and gulls. There was a love seat and brass floor lamp beneath a window looking out at the shoreline and cliffs. A steady sea breeze moved the cotton sheers in a lazy swirl. A fireplace and a high back overstuffed chair with a down filled cushion finished the other wall.
Vanessa walked on ahead, and turned down the large bed, fluffing the pillows before she turned to regard the girl.
"I still need to find the heating pad," she spoke absently. She finally realized that Ellie had not left the doorway. Rather she stood regarding her quietly, then let her eyes move from one fixture to the next. "What? Would you prefer another room?
Its near mine, and the bath is right next door. I thought..."
"This is the loveliest room I have ever seen." Ellie spoke slowly. "And I swear, you are the loveliest person Ive ever met."
"Will you be comfortable here?" Vanessa asked, uncertain of the emotions that seemed to cross the girls face.
"Yes, dear Vanessa. I couldnt imagine a more perfect spot. Im just a little overwhelmed by this house, this room, and most of all by you. I feel Im here by mistake somehow. Like Ive boarded the wrong plane. And any minute the stewardess will return me to where I belong."
"Then Ill have to work harder to convince you that you really are where you are meant to be. The only thing wrong is not where you are, but the unpleasant path that brought you here."
Ellie just looked at the woman with quiet wonder. She moved finally to sit on the bed near her. "I dont know how Ill ever repay your kindness."
"By letting me help you anyway I can." She spoke perhaps with more sentiment than she intended. She unconsciously brushed a lock of hair off Ellies cheek, and smiled at the girl. "Ill let you...rest then. " The older woman finished somewhat awkwardly.
Ellie looked away from her, but was reluctant to have her leave. She spotted the paintings.
"Are they yours?"
"You have such talent. Are you good at everything you attempt?"
"Now you are trying to make me laugh. I think painting is the only thing in my life I have done well. All the rest, Im not sure of."
"Did they ruin the oil painting? My painting?"
"I did not get a good look at it. The frame wont be repaired. The canvas? We can inspect it later if you want. Or Ill let you pick another."
Ellie shook her head. "No. I want that one, regardless."
"Then well have to salvage it, wont we?"
"You seem good at salvaging."
"Youve managed to salvage my trampled spirits and flagging hope." She smiled warmly at the artist, stretching back stiffly onto the bed. " Where are my shoes?" She looked at her bare feet in surprise. "Ive been so preoccupied, Ive only just noticed."
"You know, you have a habit of suddenly shifting topics of conversation. But regardless, I took them off earlier. Dr . Jacobs had to scratch your feet, or some such. Ill bring them up directly."
"I am fine without them. Im resting now, anyway. I was just thinking..."
"Changing the subject again?" Ellie smiled at her gentle kidding. "Go on. I am sorry to have interrupted."
"I was just thinking that you have seen my worst today."
"Ive bled all over you. Youve washed me, held me while I vomited, held me while Ive cried, sorted my dirty wash, caught me from falling, comforted me when Ive been so needy. Seen me bruised and battered and ugly. Taken me in when Im homeless and penniless."
"And your point is what, exactly?"
"Im sure its all more than you signed on for."
"Ill tell you what, Ellie Smith. What Ive seen today, your strength, your gratitude, your wit and charm in the face of adversity and pain....if these are your worst, I cant wait to see you at your best."
She bent quickly and kissed the top of the blonds hair, and moved away toward the door.
"Get some rest, before I make an idiot of myself."
She was halfway out the door, afraid to look back, when Ellie called to her. "Vanessa?"
She turned automatically to meet Ellies gaze, serious and caring.
"You could never make yourself a fool in my eyes. Anything but. Ill see you later."
Vanessa closed the door softly behind her, leaning against the wall, her eyes closed and her thoughts racing.
Careful Vanessa. Dont start something. Im not sure I have a choice. Somethings already started. Go do something useful. Find the heating pad. Take a cold shower. Paint something.
Yes. I better.
The night had fallen when Ellie opened her eyes. The sheers still moved softly with the ocean breeze. The air was starting to cool.
Fall will be here soon, she thought, glad of the covers over her. What a day! How my life has changed in less than twelve hours. I should be back in a student dorm, regretting the noise and music , laying on a hard single bed, sharing a bath with forty other female students, and preparing to register for classes Monday morning. Now everything is so different: quiet and peace and splendor. I have surrendered my independence with such surprising ease. I dont want to fight this. Am I just tired of the struggle? Have I been so lonely until now? That stubborn pride that has kept people at a distance is suspiciously absent. Could I someday love this woman? Or do I already care more for her than I should? And if I stay, is it because I simply need to or want to, more than anything? I cant deny that I am drawn to her. Or that I want to call her back every time she leaves the room, that her touch doesnt affect me. Indeed, what a day.
Well, go find your heroine and benefactor. You have a lot to think about, to decide just how brave you think you really are.
She rolled out of the covers. She could see the dark shapes of furniture, the windows and the doorway, where a line of light escaped from the illuminated hallway. The house was still.
I hope she ate her dinner. I think it is late, Ellie thought absently, still thinking of her beautiful friend. She took stock of herself as she moved slowly upright. Well, Im a little less dizzy. My headache is tolerable. My back and ribs, even my arm are stiffer, more sore. Tomorrow Ill feel worse before I feel better, I sure. Nausea....well still not keen on eating. I could drink something. She thought to herself as she opened the door, looking up and down the brightly lit hallway.
She told me the bathroom was nearby. Yes, just across the way.
Vanessa had left out guest towels and soap for her, with her own toiletries placed on a wicker table, along with shampoo and lotion. Always the gracious hostess, Ellie smiled at the simple gesture that typified what she was discovering about the artist.
She used the bathroom, freshening her face, and looking at the swelling and discoloration along her jaw and eye.
You do look charming. Not something to easily inspire affection. What would Sally think of me now? Pitiful. Yes, pitiful describes it all. And how ridiculous all my long hours of work now.
She brushed her hair with a wooden brush that had been in her things. Oh, much better now. That helped. Not! And where is David? Enjoying my hard earned money, some place far away. He obviously meant to get his revenge. Will he be satisfied with this insult, or will I need to be afraid that hes waiting in the shadows? Would he follow me to school? Or move on to some other target if he is not caught? She shuddered at the fearful thoughts going through her mind. After all, he knows where I am enrolled. What would he have done, had not Vanessa happened by? Did he mean to kill me? And wont stop till hes finished his gruesome plans? Are my days suddenly numbered? And if so, what should I do differently? Should I enjoy every today, and not look forward to any tomorrow? And what exactly would that mean? What would I do differently with my life, if I knew I had a week or a month or a semester to live? Something to think about.
She looked about the bathroom again, taking in the old claw footed tub and the bottles of bath salts and bubble bath, the scented oils.
However nice that would feel, I dont think Im up to it tonight. She mentioned a hot shower. Perhaps another bath? How many baths are there here, to match six bedrooms? How huge the house is for one.
She straightened her shirt. No, this wont do. Im sure the sheets on the bed are soiled from these filthy clothes. A shower and a change of clothes. I should have thrown these in the wash earlier. Im still not thinking straight.
She left the bathroom light on, and returned to her room. It was then she noticed the pile of freshly laundered clothes sitting on a chair. Vanessa had sorted her clothes into piles of shirts and pants and undergarments. She has been busy. She shouldnt have taken this all on by herself.
Ellie blushed at the thought of Vanessa touching her lingerie. Weve made a joke about it all day. Not like she doesnt have her own. But still, wonder what she wears?
A vision of the tall beauty in scant black lace sprang to her mind, making her blush more.
Oh my. Better put that thought away until later. But it is suddenly warmer than I thought.
She shrugged off her shirt with some difficulty, loosening her jeans, feeling stiff and sore as she sat to pull them off.
I feel like Im ninety. Like its such a task to even get these pants off.
She saw her reflection in a full length mirror, standing to inspect herself. She was shocked to see the angry purple bruises along her ribs and hip, her left arm scraped and raw. Even her breast was tender.
He did have fun. And very attractive. Hes right. I guess I wont forget this all for a while.
She stripped off her bra and panties, taking one last look at herself, wondering what a lover would see, looking at her. She had never really thought of herself as an object of desire, as a woman willfully giving herself over to the throes of passion, not the clumsy groping of the young men shed dated more out of custom then interest. What would she feel like if touched, caressed by knowing fingers and lips, warm flesh pressed to her own? She shuddered again with the stirrings of desire and longing, somehow not surprised that it was Vanessa she imagined, long limbs entwined with hers, and haunting dark eyes searching her own.
Easy girl. Youre in no shape to even have these fantasies, let along act on them. What did Vanessa say, something about me not being responsible today, since Ive been concussed. Somehow I dont think that would explain all this, Ellie me love. Somehow vague attraction and curiosity have become very concrete and real. And if I stay here, allow myself these feelings? Does she even want me? Dont misinterpret her kindness and friendship. Oh, Ellie. You feel the pull of the flesh for the first time, dont you? Dangerous and alluring, compelling and frightening, calling you like a sirens song.
She closed her eyes a moment, and let the strange heat warm her, fill her. Well, put this away as well for another time.
She took a deep breath, and busied herself to find a large towel of her own in her pile of clothes, and slipped into boxer shorts and a long t-shirt that she slept in.
Enough of that. Now, a shower, if I can find one.
She closed her bedroom door behind her, walking off down the hall. She found the four other bedrooms spaced along the hall, and one other bath between two connecting rooms. But no shower.
Well, where is she? Ellie walked back up the hall and knocked softly on the one remaining door, knowing intuitively it was Vanessas own. Hearing no response, she cracked the door open to peer in, taking in a large room like her own, a larger bed with dark sheets and a comforter folded back, king-sized bolsters for pillows. She felt like she was intruding terribly in Vanessas life, and yet she wanted to see where she slept. She saw a silk robe thrown across the foot of the bed, noticed closets open, filled with sleek dresses, blouses, shoes hung carefully on a rack on the door, and another closet filled with built-in drawers from floor to ceiling. There was a large couch in the room, with a folded woolen afhgan, holding large cushions. She could see a stereo along one wall, and racks of cds and records. The floor was covered in a thick oriental rug, made in muted shades of rose and tan. The walls were unadorned. A floor length mirror occupied a corner at an angle. Delicate ivory lamps stood on carved teak tables on either side of the bed. The room was spacious and elegant but surprisingly stark. There off the bedroom stood a bath with a large glass shower.
So, the shower. I found it. Stop snooping and ask her permission to shower. Dont just assume.
She closed the door quietly, moving to the top of the stairs.
Do I have the energy to climb down and then back up, for a shower? Or shall I just be rude and call out?
The thought of a hot shower made her opt for the second. It would take her forever on the steps.
So much for manners.
"Vanessa?" she spoke loudly down the stairs. "Vanessa? Are you there?"
Only silence greeted her in response to her query.
Well, shes probably busy or run out for something. You dont expect her to just stop her life because you are here? Once more, still.
Well, take a quick shower. She wont mind, I hope. Too pushy? She did mention it earlier, to help with the bruises and stiffness.
Somewhat more determined, Ellie knocked again at the bedroom door, then opened it, shutting it behind her. She crossed quickly to the bath, determined from then on in the future to respect Vanessas privacy as best she could. She adjusted the water to as hot as she could stand, stripped out of her loose garments, and stepped into a large floor to ceiling glass shower. It was at least four feet square, with two shower heads spraying firm but welcome jets of hot water toward the center into which she stepped.
Her weary flesh responded to the heat of the water, and she groaned at the pleasure of it, even though her muscles were at first painful. As the shower continued, she could feel her injured muscles relax.
Oh this feels so good. but dont use all the hot water.
She smiled guiltily at the thought of using Vanessas soap, even though she probably shouldnt and her shampoo.
Oh well, I forgot to bring any in here after all.
She lathered her hair and rinsed it, letting the water fall again on her tight neck. She soaped her tender skin, careful with her left breast and her side, touching her arm softly as well, with a soapy hand.
Now, can I bend to wash my feet and legs? Thighs, alright. Maybe if I just lean on the wall and lift my foot. Ugh. That will have to do for now. She shifted to wash the other calf and foot in a less than thorough manner, finishing her shower, with a careful wash of her swollen face and eye. Once more under the spray. The hot water feels so good. She turned off the water and squeezed her hair, stepping carefully onto the plush throw rug. She decided to sit on the bench along the wall to dry. I could still fall over more easily than Id like to admit.
She was lost in thought as she patted dry tender bruises, the towel held against her chest with one arm, bending toward her legs, when the bathroom door opened. She looked up, embarrassed to be caught with such little cover, startled, and worried that she had overstepped her welcome and the propriety shed tried to live by.
A very surprised Vanessa stood mesmerized in the doorway, having stripped off her own clothes to shower after her nightly workout in the exercise room.
Both women spoke simultaneously. Vanessa stepped back, closing the door quickly. Ellie had time to take in the tall elegant form with full high breasts, nipples that were almost chocolate brown and the small tapered waist, the long legs crowned by a tuft of dark curls, Vanessas body glistening with sweat. She saw all this before the startled artist retreated, a blush visible on her face despite the tan she wore.
"Oh my." Ellie closed her eyes, clutching the towel tighter to her chest. "Vanessa?" She called out in an embarrassed voice.
"Yes?" Ellie could hear her voice just outside the door.
"I will be right out. Im so sorry. You must think me awful."
"Take your time. You just surprised me. Sorry to have intruded."
In a few short minutes, Ellie exited, still blushing, now dressed in her shorts and shirt, holding her wet towel on her arm. Vanessa stood by her bed, draped in her floor length blue silk robe, tied at the waist. Both women felt awkward.
"Let me get out of your hair. I do apologize for just taking over your shower. "
Vanessa had gotten over the shock of seeing a wet naked blond in her bathroom, only partially covered. Despite the bruising, the girl was simply beautiful.
Ellie interrupted her. "You must think me rude, coming in your room. I knocked and you were not in, and I saw the shower, and I called for you a few times down the stairs. When you didnt answer I thought Id be done quickly, with no harm done. And then the water felt so good on my back and neck. And well I couldnt find another shower anywhere, and...."
Vanessa smiled at the flustered girl.
"Do you always talk so much?"
Ellie took a deep breath and just stopped talking. Finally she thought she could speak.
"Only when Im so embarrassed, " she finished after taking a deep breath.
"Did you like it?" Vanessa asked.
All sorts of thoughts flashed through Ellies mind.
"What?" she asked startled at the question.
Vanessa smiled realizing how her question might have been interpreted, enjoying the blush that rose again to the girls cheeks, her eyes wide and pupils dark. "Did you like...the shower? I had the dual shower heads added just recently."
"Why yes. The shower was lovely as well."
Vanessa laughed, delighted with the girl.
Realizing what she had said, Ellie mumbled. "I cant believe i just said that."
"You are delightful, Ellie. And when I said earlier that I looked forward to seeing you at your best, I really had thought along different lines. But I would have been so wrong. You are lovely."
"Now you are trying to fluster me. Or are you flirting?" Ellie added in a somewhat husky voice. "Should I be worried?"
Vanessa stepped closer to the girl, her eyebrow raised to speak with a sultry playfulness.
"I guess that depends on you." Then she was past the girl, pausing in the bathroom doorway, looking over her shoulder at the girl, still frozen in her tracks. "Now it is my turn. Are you hungry? " she asked in the same sultry tone.
"I know youre not deliberately trying to rattle me." Ellie responded with a playfulness of her own.
"Ill behave. Let me speak more clearly. Would you care for some dinner?"
Ellie smiled graciously at Vanessa, both relieved and sorry that the mood had shifted to safer topics.
"I do believe I could dine lightly. Have you eaten?"
"No. Ive waited for you."
"Well it is a good thing I woke, then, or you might have been ravenous by morning."
"Dear, I already am ravenous." She smiled seductively and then disappeared into the bath.
"Well, it is certainly warm in here," Ellie mumbled.
"It certainly is." A deep alto voice mirrored her thoughts through the door.
"You have, Vanessa Leland, much too acute hearing. And I have to stop speaking my thoughts out loud."
Vanessa opened the door a fraction, with just her face and shoulder visible.
"We certainly are getting to know each other. I hope I dont scare you away," she added more seriously. " Be assured that you really have nothing to worry about from me, you know. I just havent felt this playful in a long while. You are good company."
"Well, Im not sure at all, Vanessa, that I can give you the same assurance from me." Ellie arched an eyebrow in challenge. "Now go take your shower. Im going down to the kitchen to see what I can find for us to eat, and where you keep the bats."
"Top shelf." were the last words that Ellie heard before the shower started.
"I would have guessed." Ellie laughed as she climbed slowly down the stairs to the kitchen.
Vanessa found Ellie cooking an omelet at the stove some time later.
"I hope this is alright. I didnt think I could tackle too much dinner. Biscuits are in the oven, and tea needs to be made."
"I made tomato and cheese omelets?"
"Sounds interesting. Biscuits smell good. You found something to bake in my kitchen?"
"Well, I had to look hard for something. But I am a determined woman."
"Then I am forewarned. Ill get out the butter and honey. And milk for the tea?"
"Good. This is done I think. And I sliced up your mango."
"Everything looks wonderful, including the food."
"Dont say it, Vanessa Leland. This cook does not look wonderful. I have never felt quite so misshapen and lowly as I do now."
"Well, I did think it. But I wouldnt say it again. I did promise Id behave after all. I am a woman of my word." They smiled easily at each other. "Let me get the plates and the biscuits quickly. I only have to be IN the kitchen before things have a way of burning."
"Then wait in the dining room."
"The dining room? Ive never even eaten in there."
"Three years in the house? It is about time."
"Is there even furniture in there?"
"If not, well eat on the floor, leaning against the wall."
"A determined woman, for sure. I knew I liked you for a reason."
"We shall see."
Ellie filled plates and handed the tea tray to Vanessa.
"What are you smiling about?" she asked the older woman almost shyly. They walked side by side into the dining room where Ellie had placed silverware and napkins at a large mahogany table.
"I was just thinking how surprisingly comfortable I am with you. We ogres are hard to disarm, you know."
Ellie smiled up at her. "It does feel like weve know each other for a while, doesnt it? Got the butter? And the salt?"
"And how natural it feels to have you here bossing me around." Vanessa added, turning with a contented tolerant smile toward the young woman.
"Do you mind eating in here?" Ellie asked suddenly uncertain.
"Dont even start, Ellie. Im trying to fluster you again. Id be happy to eat anywhere, as long as its with you tonight."
Ellie settled down across the table from the artist, and studied her quietly a moment.
"You really mean that," she spoke in quiet marvel.
"Is that a question? Or something that needs no response?"
"Just as well. Im not used to being so candid, or so spontaneous in revealing my feelings."
They ate for a while in silence.
"Not too hard for me to chew."
"That too. So, tell me about what you think of our little resort by the sea."
"Im not sure I did get a real feel for the place. What with the summer tourists and crowds. I suspect the real town comes to life in September and disappears come June...like Brigadoon, fated to exist only along fixed time lines."
"What you say is true. Although perhaps the dual nature of the place adds to its charm. Its fun when things come alive in the summer. It allows me to see the place through new eyes. Perhaps lets me paint with more interest that which Ive become
accustomed to. But then in the fall and winter and spring, well, just the changing grandeur of the cliffs and shore never ceases to draw me. Not to mention it caters to my morbid craving for isolation. Which happily has lost some of its allure with your company here. " Vanessa finished looking at the young woman across from her with contentment. Seeing her smile, she added, "What are you smiling about?"
"Oh, I was just thinking how charming and worldly, how insightful you are, for an artist, that is."
"And I have not had so many flattering things said about me in the longest time. Im sure its just the head injury making you talk."
"If anything, its opened my eyes to many things, not disturbed my vision. But then, that may be a conversation for another time."
"You have piqued my curiosity."
"Curiosity killed the cat, as someone once told me."
"I have been know as fearless, at least in some things."
"Are you, Vanessa? Fearless? Why have you run away to hide here? When you could be anything or anywhere?" Ellie looked seriously into dark eyes.
"Ah," Vanessa spoke quietly, visibly withdrawing, as her eyes lost their playfulness. "You are insightful, as well. And that is a conversation for another evening. Or perhaps, some things are better left buried forever."
Where they can fester in the dark?" Ellie spoke kindly. "And never heal?"
"Perhaps. " Vanessa responded finally after a long pause. "Perhaps Ill explain it all to you one day."
"I dont mean to pry, just to be nosey. But Ive pledged myself to repay your kindness and support. Maybe in some small way, I can be of benefit to you as well. If you should ever want to talk. You will think Im mad, but all summer and especially now, I feel some sort of bond with you, as if were two important pieces in a puzzle, and without each piece, the picture is never revealed."
"Whatever it is, I feel it too. And that spending time with you is like water to one wasting away from thirst. Listen to me ramble. And I havent even been concussed."
"It is the aroma of my dirty wash. Greater women then you have been stricken dumb." They both laughed at the joke offered with a smile.
"Are you finished eating?"
"I think. I dont want to push my luck."
"What would you like to do?"
"Maybe see the night sky from your cliff? I havent done that all summer, although Ive been tempted to leave the city lights behind and just stand out there in the dark, under the stars."
"Let me loan you a sweater or a throw."
"A throw, please. Getting in and out of clothes is more difficult than Id imagined."
"I could always help you." Vanessa blushed at how that must sound. "No, really. If you need assistance, anytime, please ask."
"Alright. Ill remember it. And thank you for the offer. My shoes? Never mind. I like to be barefoot. Shall we go out?"
With a throw around Ellies shoulders and a jacket for Vanessa, the two women walked outside, headed toward the cliff side and the rocky shore. The yard was, for a while, illuminated by the house lights behind them. But further away, the black sky dwarfed the women, with only the sound of the waves breaking against the sand at a distance.
"This is foolish, Im sure. I wont see much at this time of night."
"You might be surprised. Let yourself adjust to the darkness. Come this way." Vanessa walked off at an angle, and Ellie followed, somehow needing to be close to the woman in the vastness of the night.
Finally Ellie could see the edge of the descent toward the water. She stood very still, listening to the surf, and even had begun to see whitecaps moving toward shore, oddly illuminated by the moonlight. The enormity of the sky and the sea struck her as she paused there, lost in thought.
We are such small things in so large a universe. She lost track of where she was for a moment, and started when she heard footsteps behind her. A gasp from fear escaped her lips.
"Did I frighten you?" Vanessa spoke softly from a stance near her.
"I am sorry. For that instant, I was reliving standing on the shore this morning. And having David step up behind me. It just brought back too many emotions and hurt. What a memory to spoil this moment with you." She shuddered visibly. Ellie felt Vanessa step closer behind her.
"Then well have to give you other more pleasant memories." She spoke with a warm voice, folding the younger woman gently into her arms, linking her hands together at Ellies slim waist. "Sometimes," she continued, "just a warm embrace can keep away the demons."
Ellie leaned back into Vanessas strong arms, and let herself just absorb her presence, her scent, her steady breathing near her ear, the softness of her breasts against her back. She folded her own hands over Vanessa, and experienced a peace and harmony
like she had never known.
Vanessa continued to talk softly. "I often come out here at night. The vastness of the sky helps put my own turmoil in perspective."
Ellie felt the vibration of Vanessas words through her chest, as well the womans comforting warmth. She rested her head back on Vanessas shoulder, encouraging Vanessa to rest her cheek against her hair. Neither spoke for a long while. But there wasnt a need for words, their breathing and pulse matching, each somehow in silent communication with the other.
Ellie broke the silence. "How is it possible?"
"What?" Vanessa asked when Ellie paused.
"How is it possible that just your closeness next to me, your arms around me, makes the ache go away, my soul more centered?"
"Im not sure. But I dont want to move. Unless youre tired or cold," she added thoughtfully.
"I dont think I would ever be cold in your arms. And now that Ive stood here, sheltered and soothed by your touch, Im not sure if the rest of the world has the same appeal."
She turned slowly around and rested her head against Vanessas heart, wrapping her arms gently around her waist, giving her a momentary embrace and then stepping back. She found Vanessas hand and held it in her own.
"Shall we go in? Im sure it is late. And however magnificent it is under the stars...."
"It has been a long day."
"For both of us, I think."
They walked back to the house, hands still linked. Vanessa stopped at the bottom of the stairs, as Ellie advanced up the steps.
"Goodnight. Sleep well."
"Thank you again. For everything, Vanessa. Sweet dreams."
"Ill be up in a bit. Call out if you need anything."
"Thank you, I will. Goodnight." And then the girl was gone, leaving Vanessa standing at the stairwell, still looking up at the empty stairs and hall.
Vanessa, what are you doing? Dont take advantage of the girls vulnerable state. What ever shes feeling for you, its not what you hope, what you want.
Certainly Im not imagining all this, she argued with herself.
What? that you lust after this young innocent, adrift and dependent on you? You could so easily sway her, let her mistake her gratitude and the wish to repay kindness, with the need to please you, to give you what you desire. Is that what you want? Why is what I desire so wrong? To hold her, cherish her, to love her?
And in so doing, open her to more heartache and abandonment, isolation and censure? Do you want to gift her with the curse of your love?
With somber thoughts and her past guilt heavy on her mind, she returned to the den. She tried to read something, to distance her thoughts from the girl sleeping upstairs, from the feel of her in her arms, at the sight of her blushing with blossoming desire.
She tried two novels and a collection of poetry, the evening paper. All were tossed down with annoyance. She finally entered her studio, and with charcoal tried to capture what she saw when she thought of the young woman that so occupied her mind.
It was three hours later, lost in her artwork that she was distracted by Ellies presence in the doorway. She set her pad down on her knees, forgetting to close it, and looked up with concern at the girl.
"Are you alright? Can I get you anything?"
Ellie sat at Vanessas feet at the end of the couch. Vanessa was half reclined, her sketch pad on her knees, looking very young in her jeans and bare feet, her hair down loose, pushed as it was behind one ear.
"Youve been crying." Vanessa spoke kindly, taking in the girls puffy red eyes.
"I...well, I dozed and woke with a nightmare, reliving the hatred in Davids eyes and words, with the threat of him lingering forever, in every shadow. I woke so frightened and alone."
"How can I help you?"
"It will take time, I know. Just my dreams arent so rational. I dont think you can do more than you have. Imagine where Id be without you? " She looked at the artist a moment with quiet intensity. "Maybe, if I read a book, change my mind..."
"Thats what Ive been trying to do."
"Am I disturbing you so?"
"No. Its not that at all. Youre more than welcome here. Perhaps we should talk." Vanessa paused a long while, gathering her thoughts and courage. "My mind is overactive tonight." She smiled sadly toward the student. "You are a lovely woman. I...well, I have feelings for you. I have perhaps been acting improperly."
"No. Let me speak a moment, please. Ive been lecturing myself since weve come in. I do not want you to feel you have to behave or respond to me out of a sense of gratitude. You are in a vulnerable state. If out of fear for the future, or repayment....
if you were to do something you will later regret... Im not saying all this very well. I dont want to hurt you, Ellie. I offer you my home, my regard, expecting nothing in return, only to have you succeed, to right the injustice done to you. You are bright and clever and beautiful. I admit Ive noticed you all summer. And its too ironic that you are here, when under normal circumstances you would never consider spending time with me. Well, that was just...pathetic."
"Vanessa, are you quite done?"
The artist tensed at the stern tone the young woman had adopted.
Well, youve really insulted her. She hates you for what you are, admitting all this to her.
"Vanessa, will you look at me please?"
"I am sorry. I was busy kicking myself." She turned to face her at the other end of the couch.
"You must think me terribly immature and impressionable, easily swayed. You know nothing of my past, how I would behave under any circumstances. You presume too much, to think I would give you liberties with my person out of fear or gratitude.
I am not a child, Vanessa. And I have never done anything," she added more softly, "that I did not choose to do. It is ironic that I find myself here with you. And that you are so much more than I have imagined all summer.
Ive already admitted to you quite brazenly that I sought information about you, that you intrigued me and fascinated me. I told you I haunted these cliffs to catch a glimpse of you. What must you think of me? My only regret leaving town this morning was that I never got the chance to spend more time with you, that leaving you left me somehow incomplete. And so I dreamed that next summer, things might be different, that you would want to know me, a struggling student, working as a waitress. I was foolish enough to resent you dining with that man at the restaurant. So please, Vanessa, stop feeling somehow guilty with me here. Today in your room, seeing you so impossibly more beautiful than I imagined, I have had anything but platonic thoughts here. Perhaps I should be apologizing to you. Well, now Ive bared even more of myself to you. I still dont know what I will do about this attraction I feel for you. Whether I can turn away from it, or if I even should feel compelled to decide. Believe me that today was not the first time Ive asked myself these questions about what I feel when I think of you. Now perhaps were both said too much. " She continued after a moment. "I came down tonight because I did not want to be alone. And I could not imagine anyone Id rather be with right now than you."
Vanessa smiled at her. "Do you always talk so much?"
"Most of the time."
"Thank you for caring. No one has in a long time. And I admit Im afraid."
"That should be my line. You are, I presume, the experienced one here."
"Not all experiences are happy ones. Its not easy opposing custom. I was much braver once. No one could tell me that what I felt was wrong. But someone I cared for very deeply was hurt immeasurably because of me, because of the love I offered her with unfailing certainty. I could not stand that to happen to someone else, especially to you. You wanted to know why I hide here. My lover was beaten and raped and broken because she ignored societys opinions. And that our happiness was the very reason she was destroyed, has wounded me even more."
"You are no longer together."
"I cant blame her for choosing to run from all I represented."
"Well, as you can so plainly see, being beaten has, if anything, driven me into your world. Perhaps a message from the gods. What a mess! My waking hours are filled with you, and the need to understand my heart. My nights seem destined to be filled
with violence and pain. And you wrestle with your own ghosts, and wounds that wont heal. " She sighed audibly, before continuing. "We wont make any earth shaking decisions tonight, however. I do thank you for speaking to me honestly. You once again demonstrate in your very concerns what a remarkable and fine woman you are. But enough of all this. What have you been drawing? To settle your thoughts?"
"Nothing to show. Just unfinished work."
"You didnt hesitate to show me the unfinished water color that you did of me that first day."
"You wouldnt like these."
"Vanessa, I sense you are embarrassed. So its my turn to see you flustered, I think." She slid closer to the artist, quicker than she imagined she could, given the pain that possessed her body. The pad was snatched off Vanessas legs, and then held playfully out of the artists reach.
"Shall I be an even more obnoxious guest, and inspect these carefully hidden secrets? " she smiled evilly at a clearly worried Vanessa. "Have you been very bad?" She teased the older woman, knowing herself she would never do so, but it was fun to unsettle the older woman, to lighten the mood.
"Ellie..." Vanessa tried to appear stern and disinterested as she reached her hand out toward the girl.
"Ah ah ah. I believe I won this fair and square."
"I did not know we were playing a game."
"What? Now? Or all day? I think the score is five to one, in your favor. Of course you get special dispensation because of your age." Ellie could not help but laugh at the insulted expression that crossed Vanessas face for an instant, before it was replaced with a predatory snarl. The pad was snatched from her hand and Ellie found herself pressed against the arm of the couch by a very motivated artist.
"Never assume, Miss Smith. Or so I have been reprimanded this very night. I many be your senior by a few years, but you are in no condition to challenge me."
Ellie was startled but then amused by the sudden transformation of the person before her, and then very aroused by the woman leaning over her, whose breath was close to her face. Her eyes must have reflected her own moods transformation, because Vanessa no longer teased her, but looked intently into her eyes.
"And why would you assume, Miss Leland, that I would want to challenge your experience? I was thinking more along the lines of cooperation and mutual rewards," she spoke in a low voice, meeting Vanessas gaze with a rakish grin.
Vanessa began to move away, again caught up in her ongoing turmoil. "I thought we werent going to make any earth shattering decisions tonight."
"Ive changed my mind. Your body hovering over mine has convinced me of the undeniability of my attraction to you, inspiring me to want to feel your lips, if only in confirmation of what I think we are both feeling right now. Just do it softly. David ruined my lower lip," she added in a whisper, cupping Vanessas cheek and guiding her mouth closer to her own. "A kiss, " she whispered, suddenly grabbing the sketch pad from a very distracted artist, and smiling triumphantly, "in exchange for a sketch pad!"
"Keep it. Ill still take the kiss." Vanessa murmured softly as her eyes closed and her lips brushed against Ellies.
Vanessa sat back after too short a moment, to look at the blond who sat with her eyes still closed and her lips slightly parted, whose breath had stilled for that moment as well.
Ellie opened her eyes and smiled at Vanessa, and reached out to touch her lips with her finger.
"Not that softly, Miss Leland. I believe I need a repeat performance."
"To what end?"
"To convince me I have not died and been kissed by an angel."
"Im afraid I might hurt you."
"Then let me kiss you. I need the practice."
"To what end?"
"To learn how to love you." Vanessa withdrew further at her words, still afraid she was somehow exerting pressure on the girl. "Now, dont run away." Ellie spoke teasingly. "Do I look like Im about to kiss you under duress? If so, you have powers which can alter history. No wonder youve chosen a quiet life, away from the masses, that you can sway with just a look or a smile."
"Is that what Ive done? Changed the course of your history with a look and a smile?"
"Im afraid so. Come back and let me kiss you."
"Bossing me around again?"
"Its my destiny."
"You are lovely. Has any one ever told you that?"
Ellie smiled at her warmly. "Not in the last few hours. Has anyone told you lately how irresistible your charms are?"
"No, but perhaps we should find out." Vanessa stood suddenly and reached a hand down to Ellie. "But not tonight. If this is real, the feelings we share will be there in the morning, or in the next few days. You are injured." Vanessa apologized with a smile.
Ellie let herself be tugged upright. She continued to tease the artist. "Certainly there are some important parts of me that arent injured."
"You are a flirt, Ellie Smith."
"So I am discovering."
Vanessa puller her closer and with infinite care kissed softly each eyelid, her cheeks and the corners of Ellies mouth, and then below each ear, and then the soft skin of her neck before finishing with a sweet kiss on parted lips. Ellie opened her eyes to smile at the woman standing so close.
"Now I am convinced."
"What?" Vanessa smiled back at the flushed girl.
"That I have been kissed by an angel." Vanessa could not help color herself at the words.
"Come on Ms. Smith. It is late."
"I certainly feel very awake."
"I wonder," Vanessa looked at her a moment before speaking, "if i could persuade you to just share my bed tonight, to just hold you in my arms, to keep your demons at bay, and my own as well?"
"I confess I looked for you first in your room before I came down, with the intent of doing just that. Although now I may have other ideas." She reached up and kissed her more insistently on the lips for a long moment before pulling away.
"We certainly have done our share of confessing." Vanessa smiled gently at her.
"Im not sure about that, but you, Vanessa Leland, are good for my soul. Lets go up to bed."
"Those are the sweetest words to hear. Ive been alone too long. But perhaps Ive just been waiting for you, after all." Vanessa headed toward the stairs and then paused for Ellie, who followed her more slowly. "Ill head up."
Vanessa sensed some hesitation in Ellies tone. "Ellie?"
"Hmmm?" Ellie looked up at her, just then having been deep in thought.
"If youd rather sleep in your own bed, no offense taken. Were moving too fast, I know. Im almost a stranger and ....a woman."
Ellie seemed shy and uncertain just then, not the teasing seductress from a moment ago. "I think Im getting cold feet, the closer the stairs approach."
Vanessa waited until Ellie was next to her, her arm poised on the banister to ascend the stairs.
"No pressure. No expectations. Only a warm bed and comforting arms." She smiled at the girl and could see a hint of fear in her eyes. She leaned in to kiss Ellies forehead. "Goodnight. Ill cook breakfast."
"Im sorry, Vanessa. I thought I had more courage than I do. This is all so new to me. My flesh is more than willing to dive in. My mind is...well, to reveal oneself, body and soul, is a daunting thought. Ive never..."
"Never been with a woman. I know. I dont expect you...."
"Never been with anyone." Ellie interrupted her, speaking in a voice so soft that Vanessa almost missed the words.
"Youve never taken a lover?" Vanessa repeated what she thought she had heard.
"Now you must be sure I am a silly child, or a perpetual tease, all bravado and talk. Im not sure which image of me is worse, actually."
Vanessa silenced her self-critical thoughts.
"I think you are the most beautiful woman Ive ever met. I am awed that you would even think of trusting me with your heart. I certainly dont deserve it. Your first lover should be all that you dream of, and wish for. Every act of love is a revelation, the opening of ones self, an opening also to the possibility of the greatest pleasure and joy, but also the greatest possible hurt. Be sure before you give yourself to someone, this gift that you can only give once, be sure it means something as special to both yourself and your lover. Sweet dreams. " She touched Ellies hand again softly, then her wrist, before climbing the stairs to her room, shutting the door behind her quietly.
Ellie stood looking after her and her closed door a long moment.
You are disappointing her, as well as yourself. Ruled by fear, is that it, Ellie girl? You have thought about this woman all summer, every time youve heard your flat mates wrestling with their young men. And you were envious of their boldness, their easy abandon, envious of Sallys emotional attachment to Maynard. Whats stopping you now? Scared to take the plunge, girl?
Would there be anyone else youd rather be with? That youve ever seen, let alone met, who is as beautiful or as kind and considerate, or gracious? Or that makes you feel so desired, so alive, so safe, all at the same time?
Ellie had traversed the stairs and walked toward her room. She paused at the bathroom, freshening herself before retiring. She glanced again toward Vanessas door, and could hear soft strains of music. The room seemed dark. She entered her own room, and slipped out of her clothes, crawling into bed, the linen still fresh and crisp, cool on her skin. She lay a long while looking up at the ceiling, thinking of the day and Vanessa, and the longing and uncertainties she struggled with.
You know, Ellie girl, you will drive yourself mad. Have you ever hesitated on anything you wanted before? Have you ever talked yourself out of something you know in your very heart was good and right and true? If you go to her tonight, it is only a first step. Gentle arms and tender affection. Only a stubborn fool would turn down such a sweet gift. The room is so empty without her. You miss her already. And you are not just terrified at the thought of going to her. You are excited. Your heart has been racing. You dont want her as your first lover. You want her as you only lover. And that she is a woman? Regardless, its Vanessa I want...to comfort, to pleasure, to love. If you wait long enough, shell be asleep, and youll have to go through the same agony again tomorrow, or the next day. I wont miss this chance at happiness, at love. We are just two people after all who need each other, I believe.
So settled, she stood and wrapped herself in a quilt from the bed, and very quietly opened her door, pausing in the hallway.
No. Stop thinking, questioning yourself and how you feel
She left her door ajar, walking to Vanessas, opening it quietly without knocking. The music from a softly playing cd filled the dark room with the haunting refrains of Rachmaninoff Symphony NO. 2. The room was illuminated from the bathroom light only.
Still Ellie could see Vanessa, laying on her side, a bare shoulder and the swell of a full breast visible above the covers, her long black hair splayed over the pillow. The artists eyes were closed, and her breathing regular and slow.
So beautiful, elegant even in repose. Ellie thought as she took in her form before her.
There was no doubt remaining in her mind or heart. She dropped her quilt and slid into Vanessas bed, trying not to wake the woman yet wanting to feel her pressed along the length of her, skin against skin, to sleep nestled together, a warm haven of softness, peace and pleasure in an often cold hard world.
She moved carefully closer, sighing when she felt Vanessa stir and reflexively move closer as well, molding into her own warmth. Ellie spooned up against her, marveling at the primal satisfaction that simply sharing Vanessas bed gave her.
What have I been afraid of? Yet she was glad that the older woman was asleep. She needed this moment awake and aware to acknowledge again the bond, the rightness of her decision, to accustom herself to touching this beautiful woman. This is where I belong, she heard herself mumble as Vanessas warmth relaxed her toward slumber
"Love you," a sleepy artist murmured, partially aware of Ellies presence but too deep in sleep to rouse.
Ellie remembered whispering the same as she drifted off to sleep, for the first time in her adult life feeling complete tranquility.
Vanessa woke late, aware of the sun being too high in the sky for a normal day, the air already warming. Regularly she woke as the sun rose and heavy fog still blanketed the coastline. Now she was cocooned pleasantly in the gentle embrace of a beautiful women, Ellies arm draped across her waist, her blond head resting on her breast, legs and feet tangled together.
"Dear Ellie." She smiled at the young woman whose face was relaxed and peaceful. During the night, Vanessa had managed to unknowingly cradle the girl against herself, her arm around Ellies shoulder, holding her to herself. Vanessa sighed with heartfelt
joy, that Ellie had chosen to come to her, to lay naked in her arms, as if they had always slept so. Some time in the early morning hours, she had a vague awareness of someone in her bed, as if part somehow of a dream filled with love and contentment. She brushed golden hair off Ellies cheek, and bent to kiss her head. "Thank you," she whispered, before she closed her eyes again, unwilling to move from this unexpected paradise. Only forty-eight hours before, she was feeling the weight of her loneliness and isolation, despondent over the departure of the young student, especially after their shared light meal, with the thought of perhaps never seeing the girl again. And now, the future was only hopeful and unlimited.
My beautiful trespasser, she murmured, smiling sleepily. What a gift you are to me.
Ellie stirred , but snuggled closer. She as well was reluctant to move. She opened one eye to look up at Vanessa who smiled down at her, her eyes filled with warmth and caring.
"What a wonderful surprise." Vanessas low voice near her ear filled Ellie with happiness and a sudden heat. Ellie blushed but smiled back.
"Good morning. And thank you."
"For what, my dear?"
"For the happiest night of my life."
"Im sure I can do better. I didnt even try last night."
Ellie smiled again at Vanessas provocative tone.
"Well, we shall see, then, shant we."
"Did you sleep well?" As she spoke, Vanessas hand trace small circles on Ellies neck and shoulder, marveling at the softness of her skin, how well they fit together in each others arms.
"Um, heavenly. Not a single demon." Ellie gave her a charming smile. "You?"
"Not a single ghost."
"Do you always sleep in the nude?" Ellie asked with a teasing look, letting her own hand trace similar patterns on Vanessas firm abdomen and side.
"Yes. I hate to be tangled up, twisted in nightgowns or pajamas. Even silk clothing I find restricting."
"I must say I have been missing this simple pleasure. Whoever invented nightclothes must have been mad."
"Just one of many strange customs of our country."
Ellie let her hand move higher, touching the underside of Vanessas breast, aware of how she automatically moved into her hand, her slight shudder in response to her gentle exploration.
"Ticklish, are we?"
"No. Not ticklish. You are driving me wild with your soft touch and curious fingers."
Ellie began to move her hand away, thinking perhaps she was too bold, only to have it captured in Vanessas own, holding it near her breast.
"I did not ask you to stop what you were doing. As a matter of fact, Im enjoying this all too much. " Vanessas voice was huskier, sending a rush of desire and heat to Ellies center. She felt her own nipples harden even as she watched Vanessa's brown aureolas become pebbled and hard.
"May I?" Ellie looked up to see Vanessa, reclining with eyes closed, her mouth slightly open, her skin flushed with arousal.
"You may do anything to me. Your touch is divine." Vanessa shifted slightly, bring Ellies thigh closer to her apex and her own long leg pressed upward to touch Ellies wiry curls.
Ellie was surprised that the groan of pleasure she heard was her own. Vanessas fingers moved lower down Ellies back, brushing her hip and buttock. When Vanessa felt the girl press back into her hand, as well as the goose bumps from where she touched her, she continued her gentle exploration, lingering on the soft skin of Ellies buttock, brushing her cleft as her hand touched lower still. Ellie moaned again.
"My, it is warm in here." Ellie smiled wickedly, watching Vanessas face through hooded eyes, intoxicated by the dark beauty so close to her.
"Yes, well, I sense a heat wave approaching." Vanessa moved Ellies hand upward to brush her nipple and groaned herself at the contact. Her hand touched Ellies face, still resting on her shoulder, to paint her lips and cheek with feather light caresses. She brushed the soft skin of Ellies neck, outlining her ear, flicking her earlobe. Ellie shivered.
"Now you are driving me wild. Dont tease."
"Are you alright with this?"
"Never more right," Ellie whispered , her fingertip circling Vanessas nipple and leaning over to kiss it .
"So nice." Vanessa whispered back.
"I dont know what Im doing," Ellie murmured,returning her lips to Vanessas nipple and licking it, swirling her tongue around the hard pearl. Vanessas moan seemed to contradict her words. "Then again...."
"Come up here and let me kiss you. Please." Vanessas voice was thick with passion.
Ellie raised an eyebrow in question.
Vanessa lifted her easily to rest on top of her own long torso, shifting Ellies legs to straddle her waist and press against her own apex. Now stretched open, touched in places where she had never been, Ellie responded with a growing desire, moving her mouth to Vanessas with a hunger that erupted, and welcomed
her lips and exploring tongue, breaking away only to breathe in Vanessas breath, returning again and again to the sweetest of kisses.
"Love me, Vanessa. Take me as your own. "
With no further words, she felt Vanessa move against her heated center, pressing against her, her strong hands firm on her hips, moving her easily in synchronization with her own sensuous rhythm.
"You feel so good."
Vanessas fingers brushed against her abdomen, touching her wet curls. She looked up for permission from the woman above her, taking in her hooded eyes, face flushed with desire, the light sheen of sweat across her neck and breasts. She paused to let the girls beauty and spirit fill her, touching her lips and eyes, cupping her breasts reverently. "I want you , Ellie. So much. You are lovely, so beautiful. But are you sure?"
"How can I convince you that no one has made me so needy, so aroused. Dont stop. Please. I want you. I want this."
Vanessa pushed her into a more upright position, raising herself as well to capture Ellies nipple between her lips, teasing the flesh with her tongue and teeth, sucking gently until she felt the girl moving against her. Vanessa wanted to make her feel everything. She moved her mouth to her other breast, forgetting in her passion how it had been injured. Ellie jumped at the sudden pain, making her pull away, but was unable to suppress her low moan of pleasure.
"God, Ellie. I forgot. Im so sorry to hurt you."
"Sshh. That breast is just sensitive, but when you touch me, I drown in desire." She arched toward Vanessa, offering her breasts to the woman again. She spoke with difficulty as her passion escalated and the pleasure she felt at Vanessas attentions grew higher. "Wherever you are taking me, Im almost there." Ellie closed her eyes again, surrendering to the sweet torture of her flesh.
That she was lifted higher, that firm hands helped her upright to kneel on either side of Vanessas head, that her thighs were coated with a milky nectar, she simply lost track of everything but the compelling fullness and warmth filling her, expanding outward, and the need for more of Vanessas touch.
When Vanessas breath and tongue touched her in intimate exploration, she moved beyond herself, lost in sensations of love. Vanessa sensed her impending release, moving her tongue away from the girls clitoris until her long fingers brushed Ellies folds, and just dipped inside the heated silken canal. Finally she closed her lips around Ellies nub, flicked her tongue, and sucked, and kissed as her fingers claimed the girls virginity. Ellie at that moment succumbed to orgasm, as her flesh vibrated around Vanessas fingers, crying out, arching back, pushing herself hard against the sweetest invasion. Vanessa used her fingers to coax yet more waves of pleasure from the girl, kissing her wet nether lips and thighs until the girl finally collapsed back to earth.
"Come here, lovely woman." Vanessa murmured softly,moving the spent girl down beside her, folding her into her arms, whispering words of love and reassurance. Ellie clung to her for a long while, until she finally opened her eyes, to look at the woman who had given her such pleasure with such tenderness. She moved to kiss the artist, tasting herself on Vanessas lips and tongue.
"So..." she smiled lazily at her lover, moving to her side to study the woman a moment as if distracted.
" Are you alright, love?"
"I was just thinking. I cant believe Ive lived 23, almost 24 years, and never knew what half of my body was for. I certainly now understand what all the fuss is about."
"Why people go to any lengths for sexual pleasure. But I know not many feel so much at once: pleasure, the gentle nurturing of slow blossoming desire, the delight and heat until it burns in a strong blue fire, melting lovers together to a unity of body and soul. Thank you. I wasnt wrong about you, about us."
"No regrets, no guilt?"
"Only that I need to learn so much to be able to give you that same exquisite release."
"My pleasure, my joy in loving you is enough." Vanessa kissed her tenderly. "Lets rest a while and then shower. Ive pushed your injured flesh beyond what you should do today. "
"My injured flesh is quite happy, thank you. And I am not sure I want to wash your kisses away."
"I can always replace them."
"Confident, are we?" Ellie teased her with mock challenge in her eyes
"Im not done with you!" Vanessa purred, pulling the blond to once again lay on top of her.
"Oh, you mean there is more to this heaven?" She sighed happily. "Are you sure Im not too much like this?"
"The weight of such a beautiful woman against me, breasts pressed to mine, silken skin damp with sweat, breathing my breath, feeling with me. I think not."
"Are you sure youre not a poet? I feel your heart racing."
"You inspire me." Vanessa ran her fingers through Ellies shoulder length hair.
Ellie rested her head on Vanessas shoulder. "Youll put me to sleep if you do that."
"You need the rest."
"But I have other plans."
"Do you need to go to town? Call your school?" Vanessa asked seriously, worried she took up too much of the morning already.
"No. Not what I had in mind."
"You are going to make me guess. But listen to me . I shouldnt presume that I am involved in your plans."
"Well, then...." Vanessa spoke flatly starting to disentangle their limbs.
"Dont be offended. There is just no need for you to hear my plans for the morning."
"You are right, of course. Let me free you from my snare."
"Vanessa, you are so sensitive." Ellie scolded her.
"What are we talking about?"
"You assume the worst."
"I assume the worst? Perhaps I do."
"Let me explain myself. But I do ask your assistance."
"Of course. My services are yours."
"You are gallant and charming."
"And sincere. Where is this all going, Ellie? I sense some mischief in your voice. Are you teasing me?"
"Because I seem to be able to. But what Id like to accomplish does not require by means of explanation any verbal expression." She turned her attentions instead to Vanessas full breasts and nipples.
The older woman was overwhelmed by the intensity of Ellies kisses, the surge of heat and moisture each tug on her nipples elicited, moaning with uninhibited abandon. Ellie could smell and feel Vanessas arousal against her thigh and abdomen. She forced her thigh higher into Vanessas curls.
"Do you like that?" Ellies voice was thick with passion.
Vanessa moaned again, pulling Ellies face up to her own, kissing her hard, battling with her tongue and lips. Ellie kept a hand firmly on her lovers breast and squeezed with each thrust of Vanessas tongue in her mouth.
Vanessa broke the kiss to murmur breathlessly.
"Your touch is magic. Feel what you do to me." She slipped her hand between them, to enter herself, and then with moistened fingers, painted Ellies lips. "Taste what you do to me."
The student caught the retreating hand, coated with a musky aroma, to pull her fingers again to her lips, to lick the glistening fingers, finally sucking them, kissing her palm.
"I need to touch you, Vanessa. I still dont know what Im doing but...I need to see you. I want to be inside you." She slid her own hand slowly lower between them. Her fingers brushed against Vanessa, who willingly allowed her to enter her intimate center.
"Let me touch you as well. Together." Vanessa murmured before expertly teasing Ellies drenched sex. Ellie soon mimicked the movements that made her feel such pleasure.
"Dear Lord, Vanessa, you are wonderful!" Ellie could barely speak, tears filling her eyes at the sight of Vanessa, so beautiful beside her, responding to her inexperienced touches. Soon both women were crying out, trembling with passion, clinging to each other as convulsive movements of climax claimed them and left them weak.
Ellie lay beside Vanessa, watching her. She finally spoke her thoughts, temporarily overcome at all that she had felt at the hands of her lover.
"What if I had left, if I had never known this joy, this communion of spirits?" Tears were brimming over her eyes.
Vanessa kissed away her tears that wet the girls cheek.
"You are so beautiful. No one has ever moved me like you, my sweet woman. And now that I have tasted you, loved you,I will perish without you. Stay with me, Ellie. Stay with me. I need you so."
Ellie responded by pulling Vanessa even more tightly against herself, softly kissing her neck and shoulder and then her lips. Soon passion filled her again, kissing and nipping her earlobe, cupping her breast, massaging the hardened nipple in the palm of her hand. She felt Vanessa shiver at her touch, trembling again in pleasure as she once again dipped into her silken center to press her to release.
Finally Vanessa touched Ellies hand, holding it still gently. "Wait, my love. Its been so long. Im so sensitive. I need to collect myself a moment. Do remember my age," she smiled lovingly at Ellie.
"Im not done with you yet. I have so much to learn, so much love to give you."
"Thank you. Thank you for letting me love again. I thought I would never be touched or held again, that I would end my days in sterile solitude. I had almost accepted my fate, my curse, until I saw you. You have freed me from chains that have weighed down my heart and soul. You are an angel, who has pulled me free and left me soaring where few mortals breath."
The beauty of Vanessas words brought tears again to Ellies eyes.
"You are freed, and in so doing, you have given birth to a new life for me. You have given me a future as well as this wondrous day. I love you, dear Vanessa. Dont you cry as well, sweet love."
"You are goodness and light and joy, my angel."
Vanessa kissed her gently, then just held her softly as both woman drifted to sleep, sated and loved.
The next few weeks passed happily as the air turned chilly, and the leaves changed color. With time, the cold became more insistent and the leaves fell in cascades of brown and yellow.
The two women were every day more enthralled with the other, content in the joys of discovery and sharing. Ellie found Vanessa daily to be more entrancing, generous and amorous. Vanessa would spend half her time just gazing at the girl surreptitiously, as she read or wrote or worked about the yard or house.
They made love often. Just a look from the other started the embers to ignite. They loved playfully and laughingly, their touches and caresses giving each joyful release. They loved with aching slowness and sensuality, until they lay exhausted and sweat drenched and weak. Vanessa taught her young lover many ways to pleasure a woman. There was happiness in each moment of the days and nights shared.
Ellie looked up from her book to find Vanessa watching her one day after a late breakfast.
"You know, you need to stop looking at me that way. Weve only just left the bedroom. Although I admit, youve made me a beast. I cant get enough of you."
Vanessa smiled at her. "Every time I leave your arms, I am so shaken yet always begging for more. This between us is so...heady, intoxicating and so very sweet."
"But why do you look so serious then, dear Vanessa? I havent seen that look on your face since Ive come here."
"Ive been thinking. Ive been selfish about your time."
"Selfish?" Ellie did not like the tone of Vanessas voice.
"Its late October. Youve been here seven weeks. You must be missing your friends. What about your schooling? Your plans? It is not likely, you know, that they will ever apprehend David, or retrieve your funds or car. The constable wondered last week if you had insurance, to replace the car at least?"
"The car, as you know, is worth only a few hundred dollars. And I hadnt thought about school." Ellies heart suddenly clenched with dread.
Is she tired of me already? She cant want me to leave, as if our time together, the love Ive given her just settled an old longing. Is she ready to move on? Or resume her peaceful solitude? She has painted practically nothing since Ive been here. I should have sensed this coming.
"Now you look serious, Ellie. What is going round that lovely head of yours?"
Ellie looked up at Vanessa, and could not prevent her eyes from becoming wet with tears. There was a desperate sadness that crossed her face for an instant before she looked away, standing to gaze out the window toward the sea. Vanessa rose to follow her, touching her shoulder. She was hurt that Ellie stiffened and moved away from her hand.
"What is it, Ellie?"
"Perhaps you are right. I need to get on with my life. I need to earn some funds, try again at school. After all, my degree is very important to me."
"Is that what you want?" Vanessa spoke with a cautiousness, now unsure of the girls intentions.
Have I been deluding myself, she thought, suddenly feeling the familiar pangs of hopelessness again. She wants more, more than I can give her. My love has been just a pleasant respite for her after all.
"Perhaps I cant have what I want." Ellie spoke with a voice devoid of emotion.
"You can have anything you want. I have enough funds just from the interest alone on my accounts each month to pay for your undergraduate degree and graduate degree ten times over."
Ellie turned to look deep in the eyes of the woman who meant so much to her. "Can I, Vanessa, have anything I want?" She could not prevent her eyes from tearing.
"Yes, of course. Whatever is mine, I would gladly give you, to let you succeed. Tell me why you are crying, Ellie? Please. My heart is breaking to see you so upset. What have I done to make you so unhappy? Are you angry at me? Have I hurt you somehow?"
Ellie turned away, trying to regain some distance. She had to be strong. She wiped her tears away with annoyance. Vanessa took hold of her shoulders, turning her back, lifting her chin to look into her eyes a long moment before the girl shrugged her hand off, turning away yet again.
"I am suddenly unsure of so many things." Ellie said in a small voice.
"Of what? Please, Ellie, talk to me."
"Are you tired of me, Vanessa? " Ellie asked, deciding to be brave and forthcoming. She had to know. "Have I intruded on your time too much? Ive been unthinking, just so content to spend these weeks with you. I havent even thought of a future without you in it, like the foolish woman I must be. How terribly naive of me, after all. If I could borrow some funds, it would be the quickest way to be away, to get back to school. I could register for the winter term, work the rest of the fall to earn my keep until school resumes after Christmas week. I dont want to be a burden to you Vanessa. I should have realized you have other things to occupy your life besides one silly undergraduate student."
"Do you always talk so much?" Vanessa smiled kindly.
"Only when Im terrified of losing you." Ellie spoke softly, looking down at her hands.
"Ellie, havent I just spent the morning showing you how much I love you? Havent I convinced you that you are the most precious gift to me?"
"Im sure you have many who would be willing to share your bed, Vanessa. Other woman more experienced, more suited to your life and status. I should not presume."
Vanessa crushed her lips with her own, kissing her passionately until the girl could only respond, taking in her tongue, pressing against her, arms clinging to her lover as if her life depended on it. Ellie felt her knees weaken under the sensual attack.
Finally Vanessa pulled away.
"Oh God," Ellie moaned. "I dont want to loose you, Vanessa. Ill die. Dont send me away."
Vanessa cupped her cheek again in her palm, looking at Ellies soul, splayed open for her to see.
"Sweet woman, is that what this is all about? You think Im through with you?"
"Part of me dreads the day, that this is all so much a dream, that I will wake alone and lost."
"Have I given you any hint of discontent?"
"Lets neither of us presume things about the other. Please? What I wanted to discuss with you....well, I was thinking... to start, you might like a car."
"You know I have no funds."
"Are you mocking me now?"
"Ellie, what has gotten you so insecure, so defensive today?"
"Im suddenly thinking how inadequate I am."
"I know we havent talked about the future. Weve been enjoying each day given to us. Theres a part of me that is afraid that your plans, if you were free of restrictions, would not include me. But I see were both afraid. Let me try to explain. Come on, sit down with me? I am nervous enough."
Ellie followed her toward the couch where Vanessa sat near the end. Ellie settled hesitantly near.
"What Im trying to say, Ellie: I would like you to stay here with me. I do love you so. And while youve accepted my hospitality, Ive been reluctant to offer you more. I would never want to offend you. But it just seems silly for me to have funds for anything I want, and all I want is to please you."
"Let me finish, please. Ive arranged for Derricks in town to drop off a car for you. Today, in fact. At noon. Which is why I started this mangled conversation in the first place."
"No, Vanessa. You mustnt."
"See if you like it. Its really not much. And that way, you have some freedom, if you want to do anything or be anywhere else. I dont want you to feel like a prisoner here."
"I could not accept a car."
"Why not? Its a small thing."
"Not to me. No one has ever given me anything. Ive always earned anything Ive had."
"And its made you strong and determined."
"I suppose. But I have no funds for gas, for insurance. I have to be realistic, despite your generosity."
"Ive already registered it for you, and paid the insurance. And set up a credit card for you, so you can get fuel, and anything else you want."
"I couldnt possibly." Ellie looked at the card that Vanessa retrieved from her slacks and handed to her. "Vanessa, this is a joint account, isnt it?"
"Yes. I thought it would be easier, just to add you to my card."
"And there is a high debt limit."
"Well, I suppose. I never think about it."
"How do you know I wont run up a huge bill and bankrupt you?"
"Well," Vanessa laughed, "Im sure there is a ten or twenty thousand limit. Even if you spent it all, I dont think the accountant would notice."
"This is too unreal."
"Im not done."
"What? No more. I cant accept either the card or the car."
"Think about it, before you say no. And as long as Im offering, Ive gotten an application for an account at the bank for you. All you need to do is sign the signature card. Ive deposited a sum for you, something of your own." Ellie opened her mouth to speak. "Wait, before you talk. Its not much. Fifty thousand is all. Im a very wealthy woman, Ellie. I have no family. I have no expenses to speak of. I love you, and want to make you happy. I know all this is opposite to your upbringing, and your pride might get in the way. But I have no one Id rather spend some money on. Shouldnt we help each other? My feelings for you are not just sexual, despite how I act sometimes. You have brightened my life with just your presence here. " Vanessa could see her wanting to interrupt. "Wait, please." Vanessa touched her lips softly with her fingertip. "There is more. I might as well get this all out in the open. I know how important your degree is to you. And being selfish about you as I am, well, I was wondering if you might study closer? Just north of here is Parkland. Theres a fine school there, a liberal arts college. Have you heard of Bayner? Its only forty-five minutes each way."
"Of course I have heard of it. But it is a private school. Ive barely been able to manage to get the tuition for the state university."
"I know the English department is very good. A classmate of mine is dean. She was kind enough to send a catalogue. And they have a computer internet study program just starting up. So even if traveling now, or every semester might be too much, there are whole departments that do provide most course work to distant students. Now if you do want to live there, I could get you a small apartment. But if you lived in the dormitory, I would not be able to stay with you to visit. and I..."
"Shut up, Vanessa." Ellie spoke quietly. "You are being too generous. Even though you have thought this all out, it appears."
"Well, you still havent heard it all."
"No more. My head is spinning."
The older woman continued in a rush, refusing to stay her works.
"You see, I thought of teaching again. Also in Parkland is the Fine Arts Academy. Ive taught there before, and each year I get propositioned to come back. That was years before Charlene. There would be no bad memories there. And I could commute with you two or three days a week. You have unlocked my heart, Ellie. I feel alive and interested in life again. I have always loved to teach, and it would do us both good. You of course wouldnt need to work, but rather enjoy the academic experience, and still be close to the sea. It could work out." She stopped suddenly, looking nervously to study the girls reaction.
"You are suggesting to buy me a car, fund an account for me, give me unlimited credit, pay tuition at a private college, arrange a computer for distance learning, and also accompany me back and forth, when it suits me to do so, still giving me lodging and a family here with you. " Ellie spoke sternly and succinctly.
"Well, yes. I suppose that summarizes it all."
"I could never pay you back. I would never earn enough in ten years. And in exchange, I would be your lover and companion."
"Which you are now."
"And just put aside my past, my struggles to achieve something for myself in life. And I suppose there would be no demands made on me?"
"I could never expect you to stay if you found someone else, or someplace else you found better. You are free, Ellie, to come and go. To live your life. I just cant help but think of the future, and hope youll include me in it somehow. Even when you are a famous author, and I am barely remembered in the art community." She smiled ruefully at the young woman who watched her so earnestly yet who had not reacted to all she said. "The future I imagine wouldnt be impossible, although foolish of me perhaps to dream so far ahead." she continued, trying to reassure herself more than Ellie.
"And my responsibility to you?"
"Just to accept my love and gratitude."
"Love and gratitude?"
"That is all I ask in return. And that you let me make you happy."
"There is more on your list?"
"Well, if in four or five months, we still feel like we do about each other, I think we love each other...well, Id like you to think about marrying me."
"I know same sex marriages are fairly new. And a commitment like that is expecting a lot, especially someone as young as yourself. Youve not had other lovers, and perhaps a man and a family in the long run would be better, what you might envision for yourself. But until then, you would be to all society entitled to what I want to give you...if you could choose to acknowledge our union...if it wouldnt be to daunting a prospect. I love you so much. You know I worry about what others might think, if they knew about us. But then, why shouldnt I commit myself to you? Is my love any less than a mans? I know how I feel about you. Well, I have talked too much, thrown too much at you at once. Im gong for a walk. Derricks will be here at noon, which is only twenty minutes from now. Take the car, Ellie. Think about the rest. Put that credit card in your pocket. I need to stretch my legs on the beach."
"Its cold out. Wear a jacket."
"Ill have lunch waiting."
"That would be nice."
"Ill warm up some cider, add some spices."
"That sounds good."
"We have to go to the store."
"Alright. This afternoon."
"Have you already ordered the computer?"
"I have. I should have one anyway. I need to know about them. Perhaps you can teach me? The catalogue for Bayners is on my desk in the den. And so is the ring."
"The ring," Ellie whispered after the retreating artist. "She said the ring." She collapsed back on the sofa, stretching out, and closed her eyes, letting Vanessas words swirl in her mind.
I think I am going to faint. No, I think Im going to die. No, I have already died and by some miracle, Ive already gone to heaven. I cant even think. She has studied all this, thought it all through. This all is not just a response to my insecurity this morning. Everything laid out in my grasp: a future of love and Vanessa, wealth, academic success, all just offered to me like a delivery of a lunch order. Can she imagine the enormity of what she has just said? She must. She ran away to let me think it all through as well, to collect myself without her being near. Not only has she offered me temporary shelter and love, she has offered me herself, lock-stock-and barrel. Plus love, respect, acknowledgment. She cares about my future, my wishes, my goals. And all I have to do is love her, to accept what she is offering. Can I do that? Let go of my pride and truly join her? Shes offering equality, freedom from worries, love and companionship, for as long as I want them. Do I want a man? No.
Do I want to sample other lovers? No.
Have I ever been happier? No.
Could I want anything in this world, as long as she stood with me? I would want nothing.
And my family? They have already abandoned me, for all intents and purposes. What would they say if I married a woman? Married, not just had a lover. Pledged myself to a woman as mate, soul companion and lover, as two against the world, building a future together? Not just a woman...Vanessa.
Just the name thrills me. Would I tire of this wonderful woman? Would I tire of breathing? Do I care about what anyone thinks? I know what I feel. And if a man were offering me all this, his home, his estate, his dedication, would I accept it more freely? To marry into wealth: some would think me a fortune climber, interested only in the money. Some might think me very lucky. Would it be different with Vanessa? Some would think of me as a sinner. Or worse: a whore. Or as a vicious woman taking advantage of a lonely woman.
Can I still have Vanessa, and put some limit on her generosity? And preserve my pride, and dignity? Are there prenuptials in same-sex marriages? This is all so much to process. What is her worth financially? Her friends will question her sanity, the need to protect her from herself.
Just then a horn sounded. Vanessa should deal with this. Ugh...she wants me to ....how can I accept this car? How can I refuse such a generous gesture? How can I refuse her love?
She walked to the front door, and opened it to see a yellow Saab convertible sitting in the drive, and at the drives end, a pickup truck where another man waited.
A young man looked up from a clipboard, as he stood at the door.
"Just who Im looking for. You just need to sign here, and shes all yours. Your friend has good taste. This car is so nice. Even though shes got seven thousand miles. Only Saab we had left. This one was the bosss demo. Taken real good care of. Id have bought it myself, but. Hey, maybe when youre done with it, I could afford it." He smiled sheepishly up at her, looking at her like she was wealth personified. "Im not lucky like you rich girls. Just a working stiff."
If he only knew.
"So, your friend picked this out for you?"
"She knows vehicles. I just drive them."
"Sweet. God, but shes a looker. What I wouldnt give! I dont believe the rumors myself. Not her."
"What rumors?" Ellie walked up to him, signing the papers almost automatically and accepted the keys from his hand. She found herself getting angry at the presumption of this little man to gossip about Vanessa, at the snide remarks circulating about town concerning such a wonderful woman, at the nerve of him to imagine he had a chance with Vanessa himself, let alone think what he must be thinking, undressing her, touching her in his mind.
"What gossip? Its all over town. They say she is one of those perverted dykes. Im no fool. Ive seen her. Shes one hot chick. Dark and sexy. She could have any man she wants. "
"Im sure she could."
"I knew it. You cant believe everything you hear. So, is she available?"
"Actually shes engaged."
"Just my luck. Whos the lucky man? Nobody from town, or Id have heard about it."
"Actually its me. And she is one hot chick." Ellie found herself winking at him, and tossing the keys into her palm as she turned around and walked back into the house. "Thanks," she called over her shoulder.
"My God. I cant believe I just said that." She muttered, still feeling rather pleased with herself.
"Neither can I." A deep voice purred in her ear. Ellie turned to face Vanessa who lounged against the front wall, just inside the door.
"Well, he was so insulting, with this leer on his face when he talked about you. Really the nerve of the man! You wouldnt expect me to allow his suggestive comments. And all the damn gossip in town. As if what you do is anyones business but yours. Id just like to strangle..."
"Easy there tiger. Take a few breaths. Thank you, by the way, for defending me. You do, however, know what you did."
"I shut him up quickly, the insolent little man." Vanessa just shook her head. "What? Did I do something else?"
"You accepted the car."
"Yes, I guess I did." Ellie answered, a little surprised that she had acted without making her final decision consciously.
"And," Vanessa stepped closer, brushing a finger across Ellies lower lip, eliciting a slight moan from the girl, as her eyes closed at the contact. "And, youve told him, and therefore at least half the town, that you were going to marry me."
"Yes, I suppose I did." Ellie continued rather defiantly, still angry and unwilling to forgive the man his remarks.
"Did you mean it?" Vanessa asked softly.
"That you accept my proposal?"
"Well of course, or I wouldnt have said it."
"Ellie, come sit with me a moment."
"Again. Where shall I put the keys?"
"Hang them in the kitchen next to mine."
"And put on some tea before you come back?"
"Sounds good. Where will you be sitting?"
"On the sofa in our room upstairs."
"Ill be up in a few."
She walked away, leaving Vanessa to look after her and smile.
The girl is upset about the talk of me, and she defends me from lecherous men. I do so love her. She smiled again and left the hall. I need to talk with her, but she needs to calm down. Im still not sure whats going round her head.
Once upstairs she had a better thought.
A nice hot soak. Ill just fill the large bathtub, turn on the jets. A nice back rub, plenty of room for two. Her smile turned sultry at the thoughts that flowed from that. Then well talk.
Ten minutes later, Ellie climbed the stairs with a tea tray. Vanessas room was empty.
"The large bath."
"Will you be long?"
What ever does she have in mind? Well, I dont mind talking to her in the bathroom. We should talk. So much is happening so fast. With her mind filled with important ideas, she walked down the hall.
Vanessa called out. "Put the tea down somewhere. Ive had a better idea to relax you."
"I dont need to relax."
Nonetheless, she set the tray down on a table in the hall, and followed Vanessas voice. She paused at the baths entrance to see a tall naked woman leisurely soaking in the tub, half covered with bubbles and smiling up at her in invitation.
"Will you join me?"
"This is different." Ellie smiled as well.
"A nice soak, a nice back rub. Gets all the kinks out."
"Why do I think theres more than a bath in your offer?"
"What ever do you mean? Well talk of course."
"Of course. You are incorrigible, Vanessa."
"Come on. The waters perfect. Wash your troubles away?"
Ellie shook her head in feigned disapproval, but her jeans were already off and her shirt falling from her shoulders. She could feel Vanessas eyes on her, felt her own desire rising.
"No underwear?" Vanessa asked in a teasing voice. "How naughty of you."
"Well, I keep getting undressed by you. Why bother?"
"Why indeed. Youre so beautiful."
"The bruises are finally gone." She approached closer to where Vanessa sat, and touched the long black hair falling over the tubs side. "You on the other hand take my breath away." She stepped into the warm water that swirled with the multiple pulsing jets. Ellie slide into the water, moving to sit across from Vanessa.
Strong hands pulled her closer, until she sat between Vanessas bent knees. She was pulled back gently to lean on Vanessas chest.
"Oh my! This is so decadent."
"You feel so good, love. Why havent we done this before?" Vanessa folded long arms around her. She could feel the tension seep out of Ellies shoulders and back, felt her lean back against her. She couldnt prevent her fingers from moving, making small circles on the skin she touched.
"Hmmm. Now Ive found another favorite thing to do with you. Who would have known a simple bath could be a sensuous banquet " Vanessa kissed her cheek and hair in reply.
"I love you so much, Ellie."
"Thank you for the car. I hadnt decided what to do until that little pig of a man came."
"Do you like it?"
"What youre doing with your hand? Or the car?"
"Ill stop what Im doing for now. Id like to talk to you."
"Only if you promise to continue soon."
"Hmmm. That would be my pleasure."
Ellie linked hands with Vanessa, and crossed them again around her waist, settling back even more comfortably against the larger woman.
"Yes, I love the car. But its too much, Vanessa. If you wanted me to have a car, just any old one would have done. Just something reliable."
"Not any car would do. You deserve the best. And I have other motives."
"Oh, you do?"
"I always wanted a Saab convertible. I hope youll take me for a ride, let me drive on occasion.
"Since you bought it, how can I refuse?"
"It is yours, Ellie."
"Dont make me cry."
"I promise I will be careful with it."
"What? The car? I know you will. Youre welcome to it anytime."
"Not the car. Your heart."
"Oh. I know that as well. And its yours,Vanessa....my heart. I only want you, fool."
"So, you did mean it?" Vanessa asked softly.
"What? That you can drive the car?"
"No. That you accept my proposal."
"I have conditions."
"Conditions about what? That I will love only you? Because I will. That I would cherish and support you? I do promise that. Or that I share my world with you, and give you anything you want or need? Because I plan on it. Giving is much nicer than receiving. Especially if it makes you smile that beautiful smile. Or gives you pleasure." Vanessas hand moved lower as she talked, teasing Ellies apex.
"If you continue that,I wont be able to think, let alone talk."
"And your point?"
"You have me at a disadvantage here. I can only reach your legs."
"So I can have my way with you, and you cant resist."
"I dont want to resist. I just wont be able...oh my! What you do to me. I wont be able to tell you my conditions."
"And your point?" Vanessa nibbled on Ellies neck and ear.
"We could discuss...Oh, Vanessa...my conditions....later? You cant stop now."
"I dont plan on stopping." Vanessa turned her attention to Ellies breasts as she plunged deep into her warm center, kissing her neck, letting the girl move against her hand until she sank back with a sigh.
"That is a lovely massage technique. Ill be sure to return the favor. Just dont move your hand yet. I need to have you inside me, around me. I love you, Vanessa. I love you so much it frightens me. I couldnt think of anything that would make me more happy then to spend the next 50 years in your arms."
"My feelings exactly."
"But we dont have to finalize this all now."
"What if I want to?"
"Then if you were to insist, I would want specific prenuptials."
"Prenuptials?" Vanessa bristled slightly, moving to pull away from Ellie, not a little hurt at the notion of Ellie wanting to guarantee her future in such cold terms. "What are you talking about?"
Have I made a mistake, misinterpreted all she has said? Am I a fool?
"May I explain, love? Please."
"Yes. Go ahead. I cant move unless you do first, anyway." She could not prevent her voice from sounding harsh.
"What I mean....Id want you to have power of attorney of health care over me. If anything happened, Id want only your input about my health or well...medical decisions and legal ones as well. You would have my power of attorney for such things."
"Alright." Vanessa felt herself relax at the direction the conversation was headed. "As well for me."
"And I would insist. I would insist, sweet Vanessa, that all your property, your estate..." Ellie could feel her lover tense beside her. "Wait. Dont pull away. Let me finish?"
Vanessa could hear again her fathers angry words at what had happened to her before. When she thought Charlene and she would be together for a long time.
She is only after your money. You are a fool. Do you think she loves you? Why would a woman compromise herself like this, unless she was after something? Open your eyes. You were always such a romantic fool.
"Vanessa? Did you hear me?" Ellie looked at her in concern, seeing the almost resigned expression of sadness on Vanessas face.
"No, I did not. Im sorry. I was just remembering something unpleasant."
"Shall I go on?"
"Fine. I started this. Ill let you finish it."
"Vanessa, you sound offended,worried. Let me explain. I cant and wont be accused of being with you just to get rich, to live in luxury here with you."
"What did you say?"
"I wont be seen as taking advantage of you. If you agree to my request, and we talk to your lawyer....just a small account and the car. The rest needs to be protected. Its your property, Vanessa. It should remain so. Despite us being together. And if for some reason, we cant make all this work, I dont want a penny. Nothing, Vanessa. I can agree to share your home, your love. I can agree to accept a small stipend for clothes and such. I would love to travel with you. And I would love to finish my degree. I still would not be able to repay you. But as for sharing your wealth, your property, it needs to be protected from your generous and loving heart. Can you agree to these conditions?"
"Youre saying that you will marry me, but only if I keep my wealth for myself, with no division of property."
"Thats right. No division of property. The correct legal term for what I am trying to say. I would marry you gladly, but only to share your life, to accept your love and your days. Not to take your worldly goods in exchange. Can you understand, love? I dont need or want anything but you. And I dont need us to be formally sanctified by society. What I feel for you is beyond all that, even though some might say we are rushing this. All this is between us, regardless. I would be honored to wear your ring, if its what you want. If it conveys to you my singular dedication to you, your well-being and happiness."
"And if I were to die? We all must, you know. If I were to die, Ellie, would you allow me to give you my estate? I have no one else I would care to acknowledge...no children, no living family."
"What of charities?"
"I support a few. But Id rather support you, to know youd still be here in this house, roaming the cliffs. There would be nothing improper in that."
"What if I were to kill you for your money? " Ellie asked in a teasing tone.
"I would die happily in your arms, of course. But you know, that is just what I want...to die peacefully in your arms. Though I was imagining it happening when were both old and grey, sleeping on the first level because the steps are too much for us."
"Sleeping on the porch in the summer, looking up at the stars, embracing you. It would be a wonderful end to a wonderful life."
"Marry me, Ellie? I so want to be with you, and I want the world to know how I feel about you, that what we have between us is right and true. It should be recognized for what it is."
"Yes, Vanessa." Ellie turned around in her arms to face her lover. "Yes, Vanessa. I would be honored to marry you. And I dont need four or five months to give you my answer. But Ill wait the months, or the next four or five years if you ask me to. I know that I want to be by your side, in your bed, in your arms."
She kissed her lips gently, tenderly. Then she showered kisses on Vanessas eyes and forehead and each cheek. Then again she kissed her lips with more passion, claiming her mouth as her own, finally moving away to rest her head on Vanessas shoulder.
"You have made me so happy, Ellie. From the moment we talked, that day on the cliffs. And I plan on spending my life repaying you in kind."
"That should require little effort on your part. Just be yourself and keep me near."
"Would you want children?"
"Well, unless theres something about you I dont know, that is not very likely."
"Ha! I think youve seen all of me very very thoroughly, if Im not mistaken."
"Funny. You are getting better at making jokes, you know."
"But I ask a serious question."
"I dont know, Vanessa. We all grow up in the same society where little girls mature, marry, become good wives, have children."
"Our union is not quite what dear old mom imagined when she told the fairy tales I remember. The more the pity, I say. "
"Exactly. But there are ways."
"I know. Its something we can talk about again. I think weve had more than enough to discuss today. And we have our entire lives together to make up our minds. So Vanessa, will you be Mrs. Smith, or will I be Mrs. Leland?" she asked with a rakish smile?
"I think its only fair, since you share my house, that I get to share your name. What do you say, love?"
"I think I like Ellie and Vanessa, myself."
"Ellie and Vanessa. I like the sound of that myself. It sounds perfect."
"Kiss me, Vanessa. You do talk too much."
"Hey! We ogres dont talk. We grunt."
"As long as its me you grunt at, Ill be happy. And Vanessa, I know for a fact you do more than grunt. I have heard you moan deliciously," she teased in a somewhat husky voice.
"Moan? You should talk. The noises you make when lost in passion...well, they make me blush."
"Oh, Ill make you blush, Vanessa. It is my turn, after all."
"The water is getting cold."
"Ill find another way to heat you up, love. Dont worry."
"So you say. I hear you writers are all talk, and little action."
"You know Ive acquired other oral skills."
"Yes, but I enjoy being reminded of your many talents, dear."
"I do so love a challenge. Come to bed, Wife."