Violence. Only a teeny bit, this is a romance.
Angst. LOTS AND LOTS OF IT, SO BE AWARE!I think there's a lot of crying in the story, mainly because I was crying a LOT when I wrote it, so… beware!
Love/Sex. Yes, between two women, and a man and a woman.
Age. If you're underage, and it is illegal where you are to read this type of story, then close this page. J, Thank you.
Title: This novel is not formerly titled, but Billie and Jewl is the identification name I'll be using.
Ms. Catherine Picket must have been the oldest member of Illuminations, looking well enough at ninety-two. She had come into town with her father and mother in 1908 from South Carolina, at the tender age of two, in search of gold. There had been a rumor hanging around the East Coast that Illuminations - founded twenty years before that, - had a great supply of gold. Needless to say, there was no gold, but Mr. and Mrs. Picket loved the sweet little town and decided to stay. Ms. Picket had never married and lived by herself in a large house next to Billie and Johanna.
As a teenager with youthful imaginings, Billie always suspected that Ms. Picket was gay. When Billie and Johanna moved into this house a year ago, Ms. Picket became her neighbor in every sense of the word. Many times, she would call on Billie to help her around the backyard or in the house, needing her to carry something somewhere. Billie didn't mind, Ms. Picket was always sweet, if not too talkative; the old lady always made sure to keep Billie happy with iced tea or anything Billie asked for.
Ms. Picket currently puttered about in her garden, looking over at Billie from time to time. It was a beautiful July Saturday morning, and Billie sat on her porch, drinking iced tea and relaxing. She watched Ms. Picket using her water hose, the sun reflecting on her white head of hair; she was watering the flowers decorating her front yard. Johanna was inside, working on some ads for an open house she was in charge of, and she'd practically kicked Billie out so that she could concentrate.
Ms. Picket shut the hose off, and threw it to the side. She ambled towards Billie, taking her garden gloves off. She walked around the shrubs that separated their front yards. Billie put down her glass and smiled in welcome as she stood to meet her across the yard. "How are you, Ms. Picket?" She asked, shoving her hands into the pockets of her shorts.
Ms. Picket patted her arm with a small wrinkled hand. She smiled softly, revealing a set of still healthy, large teeth. "I'm doing well, Billie Jordan, very well." She answered. Every time she talked to Billie, she called her by her first and last name together as if her name was "Billiejordan." Billie found that adorable. "And yourself?"
Billie smiled, and took a breath of the fresh air of Upstate New York. "I'm doing good, enjoying this nice air. Your flowers are looking very nice."
Ms. Picket looked very pleased at having her flowers acknowledged by Billie. "Why, thank you, I work very hard to keep them." She said, and then looked thoughtful as she gazed at Billie. "Billie Jordan, I've seen you grow up. I've seen every native," by native, she meant every person born in Illuminations since she'd come. "In this town born and die. I saw you and Joseph Marquee and Jewl Rothschild be friends almost your whole life." She paused, waiting for Billie to acknowledge that fact.
But Billie was frozen at the mention of Jewl Rothschild, though the expression on her face never changed. Finally, she managed, "Yes? What about them?"
Ms. Picket was satisfied. "I'm very observant, and I've noticed that you all are not together like a few years back. You and Jewl could not hang around together enough." She cocked her head to the side and smiled. "You three had a falling out?"
Ms. Picket was very respected by everyone in Illuminations, which was the only reason Billie didn't snap and tell her to mind her own business. Everyone, including Billie, was very protective of the old coot; the vultures would come down to pluck her eyes out if news that she disrespected Ms. Picket got around town. Plus, Billie knew that Ms. Picket had the best interest in mind. If it was impossible, Ms. Picket knew everyone in town and she cared about every single one. Even when Billie had come out of the closet, when every other gay person in Illuminations came out, Ms. Picket always treated them the same.
Mom should learn from her, Billie thought wistfully. She'd been waiting for her mother to acknowledge her lesbian existence for too long. Sighing, Billie shrugged, not meeting Ms. Picket's eyes. "I don't know, Ms. Picket. People grow up and apart, we did just that." Billie said, looking out at the green trees to the west of them. Their houses were at the outskirts of Illuminations.
Ms. Picket looked like she didn't believe one word. She pressed her small fists against her hips, reminding Billie of a little double-handled teacup. "Now Billie, it's been three years," She says, and Billie was surprised that she was been keeping track. Ms. Picket continued: "Three years, honey. You and Jewl have not spoken in all that time."
Billie looked towards her house, taking a deep breath, and then looked back at the little old woman stooped in front of her. "How so?" She asked, wondering if Ms. Picket knew something many people didn't.
"That child doesn't come out of her house any more; she's quit her job at the school." Ms. Picket said, concern etched into her wrinkled features. "She's turned into a hermit. She's lucky her house has been passed from generation to generation in her family, if not…" She shakes her head, sighing. "She's also lucky she has that good boy Joseph to help her, he's always there when he's not away or at work." She eyed Billie up and down. "What is wrong with you, why won't you help her? Billie?"
Billie didn't answer and her eyes stared distractedly over Ms. Picket's head. The last time she'd seen Jewl had been at the market, when she'd gone to buy materials for a cake Johanna was baking for Lorna's birthday eight months ago. Jewl had been walking down the same isle, very slowly, and very distracted. Billie could tell she had lost a lot of weight, that the life that was once in her eyes had been extinguished. The sudden heartache and longing she'd felt at the sight of Jewl had thrown her off, and she'd finished her shopping quickly. Jewl hadn't seemed to notice her.
"Billie?" Ms. Picket was saying, grasping her arm and shaking her. "Are you alright, child?"
Billie came back to the present with a shudder and looked down into Ms. Picket's worried face. "I'm sorry; I have to go in to have lunch." She excused herself. "I just remembered."
Ms. Picket nodded, although Billie could tell she didn't believe her. "You go see that girl, Billiejordan." She said, wagging a thin finger at her. "Go see that girl."
Billie nodded, already walking away. "See you around, Ms. Picket." She called over her shoulder.
Johanna was still sitting at her computer, which was placed beside the living room's front window. She could see, by the look on Billie's face as she walked up to the house that she was disturbed by that short conversation she'd had with Ms. Picket. Obviously, Ms. Picket had said something that threw her off.
Johanna got up from the desk and went to find Billie. She found her in the kitchen, leaning against the counter, gazing out the window. "Billie," She whispered, moving up behind her and wrapping her arms around her waist. She pressed her face to her slender back and could feel the tenseness of her shoulders; she inhaled Billie's scent, closing her eyes in enjoyment. "What is it? What did Ms. Picket say to you?"
Billie took a deep calming breath and turned to face her lover, wrapping her arms around her and meeting her eyes. "It's nothing." She whispered hoarsely, bending her head to kiss her, their mouths meeting softly. Johanna forgot about her questions as she opened her mouth to take Billie's tongue in, a soft moan escaping her throat. Without further thought about the work she needed to do, she pulled Billie down with her towards the table.
They sat on the rocker at their upstairs porch, gazing out at the softly falling rain. They were nestled together, mellowed after lovemaking so intense that left them satisfied but wanting more. They decided to take a rest, and walked out of their bedroom and out onto the porch, nude, using a large quilt to cover them from the coolness of the night and any eyes. The sweat on their bodies was drying, the flush of their skin disappearing little by little as they recovered. Billie sat sideways on the rocker, her legs spread to accommodate Johanna, her arms wrapped around her torso under her breasts.
Johanna leaned back against Billie, an arm reaching back to stroke moist hair. She was aware of Billie's breasts pressing against her back, but other things were on her mind. "Billie," She said softly.
Billie, in turn, was kissing her shoulder softly from the edge to her neck. Johanna's body scent always made her feel at home, comfortable. "Yes?" She whispered.
Johanna took a deep breath. "Billie, I… have you thought about having a baby?" She asked. "About us being mothers?"
Billie's blue-green eyes showed her surprise, though Johanna couldn't see it, and a smile crept slowly across her features. She had never really thought about having children with Johanna, until this very moment, when she mentioned it. "Yes," She finally said, softly. "I have. I want us to have a baby."
Johanna leaned her head back to gaze up at Billie. The happy smile on Billie's made her heart skip a beat. Billie's smile always did that to her. "I love you, Billie Jordan." She whispered.
Billie gazed down at her, bringing her mouth close to hers. "I love you, Johanna Mason-Lee." She whispered in return, trying to hold back a smile.
Johanna gazed her at her for a few heartbeats before saying: "My name is too long; I need to get a shorter name." And laughing.
Billie laughed with her, and then kissed her deeply, her hand caressing her cheek softly.
Johanna kissed her back and began to shift around to face her. Billie's hands roaming her torso set her moaning softly, breathing hard and getting excited all over again. She grasped Billie's shoulders, and pulled Billie against her, bringing her arms around Billie's slender neck and deepening their kiss. Billie's arms slipped tightly around her, and she pulled her close. The quilt fell from around them, and they moved to the floor, burrowing under the quilt and excitedly touching each other again.
Lorna came by to visit Billie the following Sunday. Billie, busy opening the drapes at the front windows, saw her coming up the street, purse on hand. She opened the door before Lorna had a chance to ring the bell. "I see you've taken up Johanna's mannerisms, eh? She never lets me ring this darn bell; I've yet to hear it." Lorna said, and they both laughed when she rang the bell.
They hugged, and Billie ushered her inside. Offering her a drink, Billie invited her to sit in the living room. Lorna accepted some lemonade, and she smiled when Billie handed her a tall cold glass. She eyed Billie as she drank, and smiled at the relaxed look she saw on her face. Billie had mellowed out since she met Johanna, her shoulders rested relaxed as she lounged on one of the comfortable chairs across from the couch. Lorna watched her adoptive daughter relax back; she looked good, wearing khaki shorts and a white T-shirt, sandals snug on her feet. Lorna could tell Billie was well taken care of, and she knew for a fact that Johanna was devoted to Billie in the way Lorna had been devoted to her late husband. "How is everything, Billie?"
Billie took a deep breath, smiling as she gazed around her home. "Perfect." She sighed contentedly. "I've never been so happy."
Lorna smiled at her, glad that at least she was happy. "I've come to ask you something, love," She said, hesitating as her smile faded. "Is Johanna here?"
"She went to the store. What is it?" Billie asked, leaning forward in her seat. Her own smile faded at Lorna's worried look.
Her hesitation gone, Lorna's eyes met Billie's. She asked point blank: "You and Jewl were lovers, weren't you?"
Billie paled, and she leaned back in her chair, staring at Lorna for a long time. "I- no, of course not." She said through clenched teeth.
Lorna shook her head reproachfully. Billie's reaction was enough of an answer. "Don't lie to me, Billie." She said firmly. "I've been like your mother most of your life, and I know when you're lying to me."
Billie gazed at her, her jaw working angrily. Why was it that every time she felt at peace, someone came and brought Jewl up, tearing apart the peace she'd finally achieved? "My history with Jewl is not important, Lorna." Billie said tightly. "Why does everybody have to bring the subject of Jewl up to me? I don't want to talk about her, Lorna. Is that so hard to accept?" Her eyebrows came together in an angry scowl. "Why don't you ask her if we were lovers? Why do you have to ask me?"
Lorna gazed at the young woman she considered her daughter. "That is the point, Billie." Lorna said. "She's not talking, she's not saying anything. Joseph and I have tried to ask her what the problem is, but she's not talking. I have a feeling you were lovers and that you're not completely over it, and neither is she. Joseph and I are trying to help her, but it's impossible." Lorna looked like she was about to cry. "She has no one, only Joseph and I, Billie. You have to help us, so that we can understand why she's doing this to herself, why she's dead inside."
Dead inside… Billie gazed at Lorna, an unreadable expression on her face. She wasn't over it; the pain and anger at Jewl still consumed her, made her close her mind against any sign that Jewl was having any problems. She made herself have no sympathy for Jewl, none at all. She took a deep breath and swallowed hard. "I have nothing to say about Jewl, mom. Nothing." She said with an angry gesture. "I don't care about what's happening to her. She doesn't exist to me." Suddenly, the anger drained from her face and she just stared vacantly. Did I mean that?
Lorna's face turned hard. "Obviously something serious happened between you two that has you so angry at her." She said very slowly. "I'm going to keep quiet about what you just said, because I know you didn't mean that." She stood up, and walked around the coffee table to Billie's side. Billie stared stoically at the place where Lorna had sat. Lorna bent and kissed the top of her head, patting her shoulder. "I'll see you later, Billie." She said softly, and left the house.
Billie sat staring for a long time, unmoving, until Johanna came back home. As she was putting the bags down in the hall, she glanced into the living room, and saw Billie there. She noticed the pallor to her face, the tears that lingered, almost spilling from her eyes. "Billie, what's wrong? Did something happen with Joseph or Lorna? Is it Margo?" Johanna asked, worried. She went to Billie and knelt in front of her.
Billie blinked and shook her head quickly. "No, there's nothing the matter with them." She finally answered.
Johanna gazed up at her, her hands on her thighs. "Then what is it? Are you unhappy? Is that it?"
Billie gazed lovingly down at her, taking her hands into hers and pulling her up onto her lap. She seemed to have recovered, Johanna noticed, but her eyes still had a residue of that weird look. "I've never been happier, Johanna." Billie whispered. "You're so good to me." She wrapped her arms around her and pressed her face against her throat. "I'd rather die before hurting you."
Johanna wrapped her arms around her neck and kissed the top of Billie's head, taking in the scent of their shampoo. "I wish you'd talk to me, Billie." Johanna whispered gently. "I wish you'd tell me what's bothering you sometimes."
Billie didn't respond; she never responded when Johanna asked her to talk about what was going on inside her head. "Just love me." She said, her hands reaching up and beginning to unbutton her shirt.
Johanna brought her head back, and gazed into her eyes before kissing her deeply.
The next day, Johanna invited Margo out for lunch. They met at Rosenbloom's at noon, and sat chatting quietly for a few minutes, until Johanna couldn't hold her curiosity for much longer. After ordering their lunches, Johanna stared at empty space. Margo knew something was on her mind, and let her get a grip of it. Finally, Johanna took a deep breath and said: "I have a question for you, Margo."
Margo smiled at her, pushing thick dark hair away from her face. "Ask away." She said.
Johanna gazed down at the table and leaned forward, her arms resting crossed on the table. "What's the story between Billie and Jewl Rothschild?" She asked, looking up at her friend, her eyes begging for honesty.
Margo looked away from her, biting her lower lip. She had been expecting Johanna to ask her for a long time, having seen how Billie reacted at just the mention of Jewl. She had seen the question many times in Johanna's eyes, but it never came, until now. Margo was tempted to tell her, but she wasn't sure if she should. "Have you asked Billie?" She asked, looking back at her friend.
Johanna nodded and Margo knew that Johanna was getting to the point of frustration. "She doesn't answer me, Margo." She whispered, tears filling her eyes. "I want to know what happened between them, why Billie seems to hate that woman." She looked pleadingly at Margo.
Margo sighed, shaking her head and looking all around. "I'll tell you," She finally said. "I'll tell you. It's probably not my business to tell you, but they've kept it from you long enough. Now, it's up to you to say who told you."
Johanna smiled reassuringly at her friend. "I won't say anything about it, Margo. They won't even know I know. I just want to be aware of things here. My love for Billie will never change, no matter what. I just want to know why Billie is hurting, why Jewl is suffering so much. From what I've heard about town, that poor woman is just fading away. And I know it has something to do with Billie."
Margo sat back and toyed with the fork. "Billie and Jewl," She started quietly. "Were lovers a few years back, before you came along."
Johanna sat back, tears filling her eyes again. I knew it, she thought to herself, but why couldn't Billie just tell me? She shook her head. Why couldn't she trust me? "What else?" She finally asked, her voice hoarse.
Margo looked upset at seeing her friend upset. "Well, from what I understand, it started in their teens. About seventeen or eighteen, and it lasted until a few months before you and Billie met." She said. "That same day you and Billie met, Jewl showed up at the agency, and she wanted to see Billie. When Billie came back, I left them alone and went to get lunch, so I don't know the details of that conversation. I saw Jewl when I was coming back to the agency, and she had this devastated look on her face. Billie was in the agency, crying her eyes out." She paused as the waiter brought their lunches. "From then on, Billie gave her all to seeing you."
Johanna stared down at their food. "She used me to get over Jewl?" She whispered.
Margo shook her head. "No, she didn't." She said softly. "That was why Billie was taking her time while she was seeing you. I mean, it was unreal, the way she held back all that time." She leaned forward towards Johanna. "But she grew to love you. She loves you so much now; all she can think of when she's at work is getting home to you. You, Johanna, you have her."
Johanna felt fortunate. "I love her so much, Margo." She whispered, feeling the tears spilling from her eyes. She reached for the napkin and wiped at the tears. "I've never loved anyone the way I love her, but if I found out that she is still in love with Jewl, I'd give her up. It would kill me, but I would leave her so that she could be happy."
Margo shook her head, reaching across the table and taking her friend's hand. "She's happy with you." She whispered. "The reason she and Jewl had that falling out was because Jewl didn't want to come out, she didn't want anyone to know about their love. When Billie told her she was coming out, and asked her if she was coming out with her, Jewl practically freaked out. The idea frightened her."
"Jewl loves Billie, doesn't she?" Johanna asked softly.
"Well, I don't know Jewl, at all. But from the way things seem to be going, I'd say yes, a lot, though not enough to sacrifice herself for Billie. Jewl has no family, she's basically alone, except for Lorna, Joseph, and once upon a time, Billie." Margo said. "Don't feel insecure, Johanna, Billie loves you. Whatever she felt for Jewl," She shook her head slowly. "Is not there any more."
Johanna took a deep breath. "I just need to think about these things." She said, sitting back and grabbing her fork and knife. "Why couldn't she tell me? What was so hard about telling me of her relationship with Jewl?"
Margo sighed, a slight frown creasing her brow. "I think Billie is not acknowledging what happened with Jewl." She mused. "To her, it just never happened. She doesn't think about it, I think, and when someone brings Jewl up, she just shuts down."
Johanna felt the tears sting her eyes, but she bit them back. She shook her head. "I don't know what to think." She whispered, then took a deep breath.
Margo looked at her for a long moment. "Just remember Billie loves you." She said, and lifted a piece of marinated chicken breast to her mouth.
Continued in part VI
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