By 5 a.m., Kris was out of her mind with anxiety.
She couldn’t bring herself to return to her room, where the evidence of her recent love-making with Janice was like a pointed accusation.
She didn’t think Jo (or Shireen) would appreciate a call in the middle of the night, however dire these circumstances were to her.
She wasn’t sure she could start at the beginning and take Cass through the events of the past few days, without breaking down entirely.
She was pretty sure a 6th message within half an hour would elicit exactly the same response from Ellen as the last five — "No news yet. Will msg."
Her knapsack lay on the floor where she had petulantly kicked it. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. How could I ever have hoped for happy endings?
Two months after my life with Kay really began, the government arrested a group of Singaporeans and detained them without trial under our Internal Security Act. It was not the first time that these powers, a holdover from the days when the British had used them against nationalist insurgents, were exercised. But it was perhaps the first time that they had been used against seemingly ordinary citizens whose only offence, even by the government’s own account, was that they were members of disparate groups advocating political change. The official line was that, unknown to their members, these groups were being coordinated and manipulated by subversive elements. The government called it a conspiracy. To this day I have been unable to find a convincing legal argument justifying that label for people who did not actually know that they were being used, if indeed they were.
An account of that time is contained in public records and I shall not revisit the facts. Kay’s coverage of the events is also a matter of public knowledge.
What may not be known, although I maintain that right-thinking persons must surely guess this, is how such events cast their terrible shadow across all our lives. That so few right-thinking persons among us cared to question the justice of those actions was an indictment of our national character. Till today, in other ways and on other issues, that muted-ness continues to deafen.
I was serving out the final few weeks of my employment, with no real prospect of another job in sight. I had moved some of my things into Kay’s apartment and was spending most of my nights with her, much to the disapproval of my parents. In the familiar denial of blind-eye-turning, they did not confront me directly, did not ask where I might be sleeping. But on days when I returned home to replenish my clothing supply or to pick up my mail, I had to endure the silent, grim censure of my father and the loud, oblique hectoring of my mother. "What kind of daughter are you? You treat this house like a hotel."
I did not know how to tell them that I had fallen in love with a wonderful woman, who gave pattern and color to every contradictory thread of my short life. And that I was happier than I had ever been.
Years later, when my mother had already passed away, my father asked after Kay. "She was very brave, during that whole detention thing," he said. "Did things work out for her, after they forced her to leave?" I told him everything then, and, at the end, when we sat together in silence, I finally understood that I had mistaken concern for censure all this time.
We don’t give them enough credit, our parents. We assume, sometimes, that their love for us is as conditional as our own. I regret now that I did not trust my mother with the gift of knowing I had been happy. And am grateful that my father would not let me cheat him through my fearfulness.
But this understanding came much later and was not the only insight to elude me in those days. Instead, when Kay first started covering the detentions, I was thrilled by the idea that my lover was in the thick of things, exhilarated by the conviction that we had the responsibility, if we could, to influence the course of history. I still believe we have that responsibility. I am just no longer quite so foolishly welcoming of it.
The first foreboding came when the government invoked a controversial law that allowed it to restrict the circulation of Kay’s magazine. Other foreign publications were also cut drastically. Typically, the government would wait for a critical article to be published. They would then submit their response. If the publication declined to publish the response or to publish it in its entirety, the government would act. The government reasoned, with perversely irrefutable logic, that if the foreign media really only cared, as they claimed, for free expression, they would surely not censor the government’s response. And if they did, they should not mind suffering financially for their beliefs. When some of the restricted publications waited a decent interval and then pulled out their journalists or stopped carrying critical commentary, the government pounced. "Ah hah. Look at the hypocrites. It’s all about the money after all."
Kay’s magazine had held fast. The editors had been worried, of course, but in late-night call after late-night call, they had assured her of their support. Her writing had garnered praise for its unvarnished, unflinching treatment. It was in their interest to encourage her to continue.
So we rushed in. Fools, where angels should have feared to tread.
She managed to get exclusive interviews with the detainees’ family members, their lawyers. She obtained and published exculpatory documents arguing against their incarceration. Some evenings she would meet with her sources and I would wait, anxiously, for her return. For my protection, she never told me who they were. But I helped to tidy up the boxes of notes and papers that began to fill her room.
A few weekends after her articles first appeared, we started to notice the man. He was always just far enough out of sight that we could never be sure that it was the same one. When I consulted a classmate who worked in the public prosecutor’s office, pretending that I was asking on behalf of someone else, he sounded skeptical.
"It takes at least ten policemen, working in teams, to carry out an effective surveillance operation. Don’t be paranoid, lah."
It might have taken ten men to watch us, but it took only one to drive the wedge of fear between us.
The Saturday following that first sighting, we were running errands at a supermarket. As we left, I placed one arm, without care, around Kay’s waist. Her recoil stung. "Why must you keep touching me in public? Don’t you know they will use any excuse they can find against me?"
We argued when we got home. You are not afflicted by my rose-colored myopia. You would have seen, all along, that she was younger, less experienced and so much more frightened than my adulation allowed her to be. Unreasonably.
I lashed out. "So much for your big talk about not being ashamed." And when she would not respond, niggled and taunted till she was forced to articulate the cruel truth I ought to have known, "Do you really think I’m going to risk everything I have worked for, my professional credibility, because of this affair? For God’s sake, there are bigger things at stake here."
We kissed and made up the following night but the rot had set in. Our love-making became increasingly wordless. Love-taking. Love-aching.
Finally, after a particularly damaging editorial based on information she had uncovered, her magazine warned her that she should expect reprisal anytime. The notice canceling her work permit and requiring her to leave Singapore within 24 hours was served soon after.
And with that, my thoughtless childhood ended forever.
In the weeks and months that followed, I was desperate to find a way for us to be reunited. But first I had to pack the things she wanted shipped to her in New York, terminate her lease, close out her bank accounts and return to my parents’ home in defeat.
One humiliating Sunday morning, responding to the nondescript classified ad I had placed, the second-hand store vultures turned up at her apartment to pick over the detritus of our life together. I endured their poking and prodding for an hour. But when the skinny, sneering woman stood in front of her precious bookshelf, the one she had only just ordered, custom-made from Indonesia, and bargained dismissively, "So much, meh? I can buy this for half the price brand new, lor!" I snapped.
I remember screaming at them to get out. I refunded everything they had paid, I could not bear to take their money. I lied to Kay that the garage sale had gone well and sent her a check from my own savings. I paid for the truck to take everything to that old folks’ home near Changi airport. Kay doesn’t know this but there is still a small entry on a plaque in the foyer of the home that bears her name, in acknowledgment of our gift. And on days when I pick Jay up after a session of volunteering there, I always look out for Kay’s bookshelf, bent under the weight of folders and papers, at the back of the administration office.
I discovered a resourcefulness I never knew I possessed. I applied to every law firm in New York, learning very quickly that no one outside Singapore cared about my credentials. I pursued scholarships to universities in the U.S. I even swallowed my pride and asked my parents, one night, if they would finance a year of study abroad. They refused, insisting that I would be better advised to get a job and work for a few more years before thinking about a Masters degree. When my father and I talked about this, years later, I asked if they had known. "We guessed," he admitted, "after you told us where you had been staying during those months. We didn’t want you to throw everything away and run after that girl."
Of course they could not understand that I had nothing to throw away if I lost her.
Finally, I came across a notice for a fellowship with the United Nations. It was targeted at recent law graduates, with the aim of introducing them to the work of the UN. Successful candidates would be assigned to a UN agency, to work on matters as varied as the Law of the Sea Conference or nuclear non-proliferation. The notice invited applications from all over the world, and in a bid to extend the programme beyond Ivy League law schools, indicated that candidates from less-developed countries might be eligible for financial assistance to cover housing and other expenses. I must have talked up a good game in my application. When they invited me for a face-to-face interview, I bought an open ticket with the last of my savings and got on a plane.
It was almost a year since Kay left.
CHAPTER 17 — "The Time has Come," the Walrus said
The sound of Ellen’s grumpy 20-year-old Mercedes turning into the driveway roused Kris from her thoughts. She looked at the crumpled file in her hands, unable to tell whether the damp tears dimpling the pages were for Kay and her lover, or for herself.
The big kitchen clock said 10.00 a.m. She had been sitting for hours, first reading the words that she already knew and later just staring at them.
The last chapter of the unfinished work was painfully sparse. Kris knew that the woman made her way to the U.S., clinching the UN fellowship, and, after that, a job with a UN-aid agency based in New York. With that experience under her belt, she had returned to Singapore a few years later and started her own firm. It was clear that the time in New York had greatly influenced the direction of her career. She wrote of the eye-opening exposure to global issues of poverty and injustice, the inspiration she gained from her co-workers and the confidence she developed from operating in a competitive cosmopolitan environment. But Kay was mentioned only once more, in the closing paragraphs of the manuscript.
There are many who have questioned my objectives for embarking on this public confessional. My dearest friends worry that I may expose myself to ridicule and rejection. They contend that I should let my life speak for itself without making an issue of my sexuality. Others, probably with justification, fear the backlash that might be visited on the entire community if, as I do hope, this compels some national attention.
To them and to all of you reading this, I can only say.
Loving Kay taught me that, as long as I remained invisible, I impoverished myself and the store of possible good in this world. Vision is a pre-requisite to action. Being seen is a pre-condition to being able to accomplish that task for which one is made. Whether it be as public as giving voice to alternative viewpoints or as private as making another person happy.
If you do not show yourself, you cannot match your soul to your purpose.
In my own case, after a long journey from wraith to flesh, my soul has matched itself to this purpose. To honesty. To the women here who still feel they have no alternative to invisibility. To honoring Kay.
And there the writing ended. With Kay. As it had begun.
Tucked into the file were a few extra pages and notes that Jo and Shireen had brought to dinner that Thursday. "Hot off the presses." Jo had announced. "Literally. She sent us some pages from a diary that she kept around that time. Very raw and honest."
Kris looked at the thick, strong handwriting. The papers in the sink are burning blood red, spurting reflected flames on the kitchen window. She has her back to me, framed in crimson.....
What happened between the two of you? Why is there nothing more about Kay?
Ellen was drawn but smiling.
"She’s on her way back. They insisted that she be ferried in that little bureaucratic ambulance. As if it’s so much more secure than my old clunker. She’s totally pissed off, of course. But I take that as a good sign."
"It’s not SARS?"
"Well...." Ellen sighed. "It’s in the nature of this beast that no one can be 100% sure. There is no clinical diagnosis, not yet. The only thing they can do to detect this virus is through an assessment of the history of patient contact with other SARS patients and through its footprint — the symptoms of fever, the dry cough. Ja had the patient contact but it was indirect and long enough ago not to be a strong indication. Her temperature stayed stable, raised slightly but keeping just below the danger mark. And it has started going down."
Kris knew that Ellen was trying to be as thorough as possible, probably thinking that Kris would want to know all the details. But she was desperate to know one thing, and one thing only. Is she alright?
Ellen finally got to the point. "They think it’s probably exhaustion. Just like she said it was. Dehydration and hypoglycemia. That woman just doesn’t know when to stop. "
Kris was so relieved she started to sob. Ellen wrapped her in a hug.
"Hey..... it’s okay. She’s going to be fine"
"Oh god. I felt so helpless ...."
"I know. I wasn’t much more useful over there. They wouldn’t let me anywhere near the wards, of course. I spent most of the last few hours tussling with administrators over health insurance and drinking some very bad coffee. I felt pretty helpless too."
Held in that comforting grasp, Kris felt her ability to hold in her thoughts and feelings slip away. She tried to grab at it but it was intent on leaving. As if, after all these years of observing others through the filter of a lens, she found the camera turned on her heart, the lens picking up every open sore, every picked-at wound, every barely-healed scab.
"I’m so sorry," she cried, even as some part of her knew that she might be committing herself to revelations whose impact she could barely guess at. The skin that had always protected her innermost being had been stretched, scratched and slowly but surely torn away since she met Janice.
"I’m so sorry," she repeated.
Ellen drew back to look at her.
"There was nothing you could have done, even if you’d been there."
"I don’t mean about that."
"Ah." Ellen said.
"Then what exactly are you sorry about?" a cool but affectionate voice asked from the open door.
"What on earth are you doing standing up?" Ellen immediately reacted, rushing to hold Janice and bring her to the sofa.
"I told that rude little man to leave me alone. He was going to wheel me to my bed and tuck me in. I felt I’d endured enough humiliation for the week. There are still some advantages to being a doctor, and I intend to exercise them. Now, sweetheart, what exactly are you sorry about?" Janice looked directly at Kris.
Kris was floored. She looked at Janice, wan but feisty on the sofa. And then at Ellen, who seemed totally unfazed by what Janice had just said and was motioning to Kris to help her bring Janice into her bedroom.
"You two can work this out later. After I get this girl into her bed, where she is under strict orders not to get up for any reason whatsoever."
"Aw, Mom." Janice returned, obviously settling into a routine exchange.
"Stop it. You know how I feel about having my age rubbed in."
Janice’s arm over Kris’s shoulder was still alarmingly febrile and Kris should sense the effort it took her to walk from the living room to her bedroom. But Kris also felt the squeeze and caress on her upper arm and when Janice wasn’t jibing at Ellen, her eyes were steadfastly on Kris, sending some very warm spirals down her spine. It was perverse to be content when so little had been resolved and so many questions remained unanswered, but Kris decided to accept the gift of their bond and focus on how good Janice felt, leaning against her side.
Janice was still in the blouse and slacks that Ellen had taken the time to dress her in to go to the hospital, knowing that she would have wanted to preserve some dignity among her colleagues.
"I’ll go get you some water. Can you get into your sleep things without pulling some silly stunt that’s going to land you right back in hospital?" Ellen teased, telling Kris "There are some old t-shirts and shorts in the second drawer."
"Yes, Mom," Janice said one more time to Ellen’s departing back, earning her a severe finger ticking before Ellen left.
The room suddenly felt very small.
"So? Are you going to help me get out of these clothes?" Janice asked.
"Erm... What about Ellen?"
"She’s not the one I want helping me."
"We need to talk."
"Yes, we do. But first I’d like to stop smelling like a hospital." Janice continued, smiling suggestively.
Are you mad? The walls are about to crash in on me and you’re flirting?
Kris silently opened the drawer. The t-shirts and shorts folded neatly in the dresser were old. A big Mickey Mouse face grinned up at her from a background so faded that the blue was almost white. The soft jersey shorts with the national university logo were sheer and shapeless from repeated laundering. These were the clothes of youth. And their owner had hung on to them long after they were no longer fit for use, the material thin from washing, the hems frayed, the holes peeping underarm or midriff, to keep against her body in comfort when she slept.
"Yes," Janice admitted, noting Kris’s surprise, "I’m afraid I don’t let things go very easily at all. Never have."
Kris handed her the first two pieces she could find, careful to keep her distance while doing so. If Janice felt her caution, she didn’t show it, slowly starting to unbutton her blouse.
Kris turned her back to Janice.
"Hey, you don’t have to look away. I suspect you’ve seen most of what I have to offer."
Kris couldn’t take any more. "What kind of game are you playing?" she burst out, her voice sounding very loud and harsh.
Janice’s hands stopped. "I might ask you the same. But I haven’t."
"I’m not playing."
"And you think I am?"
"What else do you call this?"
"I don’t know... the fucking morning after? When you suddenly won’t look at me, won’t acknowledge what happened between us? When you decide you’ve had enough of your little Asian escapade and get ready to move on to your next lover? How would I know?" She sank into the bed, breathing hard, her anger glistening in her eyes.
Kris moved towards her.
"No," she raised her hand, a cough wracking her body. "Don’t even dream of condescending to me, Kris. Don’t make this about my being ill." The coughing continued while Kris stood helplessly. Finally, the fit passed, and Janice lay against the pillows, the mask of exhaustion back on her face. "Christ. I hate this. I hate that you’re seeing me at my worst, unable to control my body, my response to you. I hate that you’re probably laughing at me."
"Never." Kris whispered.
"I haven’t been in control of anything since we met, Kris. And if it gives you any satisfaction, I don’t think I’m going to be able to regain that control any time soon. If that makes me too weak for you, I’m sorry. I don’t know how else to be." The self-disgust on Janice’s face broke Kris’s heart.
"I’m sorry too. But that’s not an excuse...."
"It’s not?" Janice asked bitterly. "It’s not an excuse that ever since I tasted you on my tongue, I haven’t had the discipline to do anything except want you? I’m aware of the ironies. I’m the doctor here. I should have known better. So yes. I guess it’s not an excuse."
Kris couldn’t understand what Janice was saying. "It’s not an excuse for our hurting Ellen this way. Last night, I thought I could deal with it... but ...."
The shock on Janice’s face was genuine. "Ellen?"
"I don’t know what kind of arrangement you have with her."
"I know it’s late for me to be saying this. I feel like a total heel. I can’t carry on while you cheat on her."
To Kris’s consternation, Janice started to laugh, the shadow miraculously clearing from her face.
"You think Ellen and I are lovers?"
Kris was so ashamed, she could only nod miserably.
Janice suddenly seemed to tap into a reserve store of energy. She got up and walked to the door. She opened it. Ellen was outside holding a glass of water.
"You been here long?" Janice asked.
"I try not to intrude. It’s not Asian," Ellen grinned.
"Kris thinks we’re lovers." Janice announced.
"I’m flattered. That’s the best compliment I’ve received in 20 years." Ellen said, and they both broke into peels of laughter together. Kris started to feel quite miffed as they ignored her, even as the first wave of uncomplicated hope began to well up.
"Kris, honey." Ellen finally said, little spasms of giggles still shaking her stocky frame, inappropriately impish in her delight. "I love Janice more than anyone else in the world. She’s my family. And I will kill anyone who hurts her. But we’re not lovers and we never have been."
"Oh." said Kris, the wave washing over her.
"Kris and I are lovers." Janice announced, for good measure.
"No kidding," Ellen said drily, "Who do you think I was directing my remark about killing anyone who hurts you to?"
"I don’t get it." Kris got up the courage to mutter.
"Obviously," Ellen rejoined, mercilessly. She placed the glass of water on the nightstand, together with some pills and a thermometer. "Will you need anything else?"
"I don’t think so, E."
They held each other for a while. Janice whispered something into Ellen’s left ear. It sounded like, "Mum and Dad would be happy."
"Good," said Ellen, wiping her eyes and pretending it was dust. "I love you, Ja."
"I love you too, E."
Janice watched Ellen leave and then placed one hand on Kris’s cheek. She leaned in, close enough that Kris could see the different shades of black in her eyes, the pupils darker in the center, wide with desire. "Stay?"
Janice made no attempt to disguise her happiness. The wave of hope submerged Kris.
"Now can I get some help with these clothes?"
CHAPTER 18 — "To Talk of Many Things...."
"My father was one of the first partners in Ellen’s law firm."
Janice was sitting up against the pillows, relaxed and happy in her Mickey Mouse t-shirt and pale-pink shorts. She looks like a kid. Kris thought, and was reminded of that picture in the living room. A young, radiant, untroubled Janice. She’s so beautiful like this.
Kris sat in the beaten old leather armchair which she had drawn from Janice’s desk to the side of the bed. She held Janice’s hand to her heart and tried not to get too excited whenever it wondered near her breasts.
"Like her, he believed that it was part of a lawyer’s duty to give something back to society but he had never felt free to put his beliefs into action because his partners had insisted that they concentrate on the bottom line. When he met Ellen, soon after she returned from the States, they hit it off immediately, even though he was many years her senior. He left his firm. Together they built her firm up. They made it a point that everyone in the company would devote at least 10% of their time on pro bono work. It was a great partnership that grew into a real friendship."
"Did he know she was gay?"
"Not at first. You have to remember that in those days, there was a real risk that the firm would lose its business, including even the pro bono work, if Ellen was known to be gay. Actually, things haven’t changed so much, in that regard."
Kris squeezed Janice’s hand comfortingly.
"Ellen used to come around to our home and spend time with my parents. My parents had married late. Unusually so, here. They had me in their 40’s. Dad was past 50 by the time I was 10. I was a precocious kid with a bit of an attitude but Ellen never talked down to me. She was genuinely interested in what I was reading at the moment or what music I was into. I probably had a little crush on her, without realizing it."
"Your parents didn’t mind?"
"I doubt they knew. I’m pretty reserved about my feelings, most of the time, you know."
"Yes, really. Anyway, my father was always cool everything. I’ve often wondered if he was really Singaporean!" Janice laughed at the memory. "My mother was a little more conservative. Accepting but slightly cautious. She was a music teacher."
"Ah, the Bach."
"At 14, I fell in love with Mei Shan, a grade 6 piano student who came to our house twice every week for lessons with Mum. I would rush back from school and pretend to be doing my homework at the dining table just to listen to her play. In hindsight, I suspect she was more a plodder than a prodigy. My mother always had to remind her to emote during the Chopin! But I was 14 and besotted, and she could do nothing wrong. I adored her from afar for a whole year, during which she went from the equivalent of high school to being a junior at college. You can imagine my devastation the first time the BMW drove up to the front of the house to pick her up after lessons. He was an investment banker. Very handsome in a boyish Tony Leung sort of way, if you like that kind of look." Janice smiled.
"Leaves me cold."
"Me too." Janice took Kris’s earlobe between her fingers and rubbed it gently. An exquisite tingling began in Kris’s nipples. Amazing. I wouldn’t have guessed they were connected.
"So Donald stole my Mei Shan. And broke my little, naive heart. I can laugh about it now but back then, everything inside me went crazy. I started doing badly in school, acting up. It was the year of my O Levels — an important examination that would determine whether I would get into a good high school. I was falling so far behind that my teachers spoke to my mother."
"Yes, insult to injury." The fingers had now moved to Kris’s hair, and were stroking her head.
"My mother put two and two together. She must have guessed that there was a reason why I went from never missing one of Mei Shan’s lessons to skulking about in a blue funk in my room whenever she was around. Amazingly, she asked Ellen to talk to me. It was pretty enlightened of her."
"They sound wonderful. Your parents."
"Yes." The hand stopped. "I miss them." Then, shaking off the memories, "Ellen later told me that my mother called her and asked to meet up. She came right out and told Ellen that both she and my Dad had guessed for some time that Ellen was gay, that they had no problems with that. And then she’d asked Ellen to help me through that time. I think she knew that it would come easier from someone like Ellen. It did. For the first time, I was able to put labels on my feelings and understand what I was going through. I had someone I could talk to about the love of my life. She must had been bored stiff." Janice laughed.
"You were young."
"So Mei Shan was that one love in your life?"
"Oh god no. Mei Shan was a youthful infatuation who married her Donald 6 years later and has 3 kids now. Li came later. But that’s another story."
"We have time,"
"We do?" Janice asked somewhat wistfully. And Kris wasn’t sure how to answer her. Because she wanted very much to say yes and to use words like forever. But this fragile new openness might not be strong enough to hold them.
"So," Kris asked, "How come ....?"
"How did I end up here? Living with Ellen?"
"Yes." Kris wondered if she would finally find out where the laughing young Janice had disappeared to.
"Ellen became like another parent to me after that. And she and my parents became closer than ever. When I got into Med School, I don’t know who was prouder, my mum and dad or Ellen." Janice paused. "That year, my parents died."
"Oh sweetheart, I’m so sorry."
"It’s alright. It’s a long time ago now. My Dad was on a business trip in Melbourne and Mum had joined him for a short holiday after that. They were driving back from Yarra Valley when a truck swiped them off the road. I was 18, old enough to look after myself but not legally of age here."
"Ellen really is your guardian??"
"Yes, of course," Janice laughed, "Did you think that was a little ruse we’d cooked up to hide our illicit love affair?"
"Something like that," Kris admitted sheepishly.
"What you must have thought of us...."
"I was silly."
"Yes, you were." Janice chided. Kris hung her head, not as much from shame as for the pleasure she knew would come when Janice tenderly lifted her chin to look into her eyes.
Janice continued, "It wasn’t easy. Dad had always been aware that, with both of them so much older than other parents, there was a possibility that something like this might happen. He worried that one or both of them might fall ill. You know. That sort of thing. Unknown to me, he had asked Ellen whether she would be willing to take me in."
"And she’d agreed."
"Are you kidding? She was terrified by the thought. But she also acknowledged that if anyone would respect the choices I made, it would be her. My Dad was an only child too so he had no family to step in. And my Mum’s family. Let’s just say, she was by far the most liberal of 3 sisters. So, when the accident happened, my parents had prepared a will appointing Ellen executrix of their estates and authorizing her to assume legal guardianship of me, unless I preferred to go to my mum’s family. It was a huge mess of course. My aunts were horrified that my crazy parents would even think of my living with a stranger, and a single, unmarried woman at that. It didn’t matter that I clearly wanted to be with Ellen. They forced me to live with my second aunt while they contested the will. It was nasty. They accused Ellen of coercing my parents, of being in it for their money, which was ridiculous of course since, as the top partner in the firm, she was pretty flush herself. And they made all kinds of insinuations about her personal life, but there were never anything concrete they could point to. Ultimately, a few months shy of 20th birthday, the papers were upheld. Ellen became my guardian. By then, I’d grown up, in more ways than one. Ellen gave me the option of getting my own place if I wanted to. But I had lost the rest of my family. She was everything to me."
"So you moved in."
"Yes, I moved in. And, except for the 3 years I spent with Li, this has been home."
"Ah, about Lee...."
"No. Enough story-telling for the day. I’m still a sick woman you know."
Kris was immediately contrite, "I’m so sorry. Do you need to rest?"
Janice gave a mock sigh, but her face was alight with happiness. "I suppose I should. Eventually. After Ellen’s force-fed me with chicken noodle soup or something equally disgustingly healthy."
"God, I can just imagine how obnoxious you must have been at the hospital."
"You don’t know the half of it. I think everyone was so relieved when my temperature started going down because they wouldn’t have to keep me there."
The reminder of their current situation sobered Kris. "Are you sure you’re out of danger?"
Janice considered her words carefully, "As sure as anyone can be, given the circumstances. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s very unlikely, if I have been infected by the virus, that my fever would go down. And I’m not really showing any other symptoms. The cough is slightly worrying but it’s been intermittent and I’m breathing fine. Or least I am, when you’re not touching me."
Kris’s own temperature shot through the roof at the look in her lover’s eyes.
"What I really need is to hold you. "
Kris’s breathing grew labored as Janice ran two fingers down the front of her shirt.
"What I really want is to hear those sounds you make when you want to come."
Kris spluttered a cough when Janice’s fingers reached her stomach and drew circles around her navel.
"What I really desire is to tell you that you can."
Kris caught hold of the marauding digits. "You know I can’t refuse you anything you really need or want or desire."
And then Janice smiled, gloriously unrestrained, and the picture in the living room took life in front of Kris. It was, indeed, the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
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