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Paris Was Definitely A Woman
Burnished bookshelves ride up the length of three walls, a ladder leaning lazily upon one of them, not unlike the posture of most in the room. The women lounge about in a nearly decadent way, only their clothed bodies making the scene decent.
The books, again like the guests in the room, are not ornamental, gathering dust on the high shelves. Rather they are perused, read, utilized, and of the highest quality.
The only wall that does not hold books allows the blonde looks out the picture window of the library. She sees the soldier meandering through the rose garden. Though she is out of uniform, there is no doubt it is the soldier, face tilted up to the sky. Soon, the sound of planes flying overhead are heard throughout the house, throughout the neighborhood; these warplanes will be heard throughout the world.
The blonde leaves the library and goes into an anteroom to pour them each a scotch. She means to join the soldier, and immediately, for a variety of reasons. The most pressing being the need she bears every time she looks at the woman�a choking demand that her soul barks at her. The dark-haired beauty may be the soldier, but she is the one being given the orders. She chuckles to herself as she pours a finger of whisky into each crystal tumbler.
Two distinct voices filter in from the other side of the wall.
"Have you seen her?"
"My dear! Have I seen her? How could you not? Who knew that Amazons still walked the earth?"
"She is magnificent."
"That she is � Of course, she hasn�t a clue about anything of any importance. Djuna asked her if she had read Joyce, and she asked if Joyce was one of the women at the party."
"Well, certainly our sweet little blonde doesn�t care about that."
"Why should she? I�m certain there�s no need for thinking while horizontal."
"Oh, she�s much more inventive than that! Just ask half of the women here."
"It�ll be a wonder if this beauty makes it through the end of the day without being thrown over for the next pretty face."
"I�m not sure it�s the face she�s after."
"Can�t get much better looking than her though."
Silence. The blonde imagines them watching the soldier as she strolls about the garden.
"Have to be a goddess to beat her out."
"The wicked truth of the matter is that looks don�t have anything to do with it. She�ll toss her over because she�s a dog, and that�s what dogs do. She�ll smell the next bitch in heat and off she�ll trot."
"My God, that�s harsh. Even for you."
"The truth often is, my dear."
The blonde slumps against wall, drinks in hand. She dips a couple of tumblers in the ice bucket and sets their moistened bottoms down on the dark mahogany, watching to the ring marks they create. Revenge on one of the speakers. But in her heart she wonders if they aren�t right about her. Certainly the one is still bitter about their failed affair. And there is no doubt she has been through her share of women, many of them here this day. Of course, the artistic and literary circles of Paris are only so big, even when one counted the ex-patriots such as her. She had ditched America like an old lover and found her home here, though her restlessness never really abated.
Maybe they are right. Perhaps she will only end up hurting the soldier. No matter how different it seems this time.
"Sure is nice to look at, perhaps even an amusement in the sack, but she�ll tire of her. It�s important to take as a mate someone who�s an equal. She could never understand literature and art. And what would she do with that creature, lovely as she is, who seems to live only on the physical plane?"
"She does seem to be a bit of � an animal."
"Mmm, agreed. That�s probably why she�s bedding her."
Laughter follows a failed attempt at a roaring noise.
The fair-skinned cheeks turn a bruised red as she tries to contain her anger. She grabs up the two whiskeys and breezes through the doorway, coming face to face with the two speakers. Both jaws drop as if on cue.
"Evening, ladies. If you need me, I�ll be out in the garden humping like a dog. Don�t wait up, thought we�d read a little Apollinaire in our after-sex glow�oh wait, I forgot, she�s just a stupid animal � huh, guess I better pick up some biscuits to toss her. Want to make sure the big, dumb but�" she takes a step closer and lowers her eyelids seductively, "devastatingly gorgeous animal is trained properly."
The woman who is not her old lover looks as though she might crawl under a rock. "You know we didn�t mean anything."
Yeah, right. The blonde turns away with a sneer.
"Wait." The woman starts after her, but her companion stops her with a hand to her forearm.
"Let her go. She�ll get over it."
"She must have been standing there the whole time. She probably heard everything."
The other one shrugs. "What difference does it make? It�s all true."
"You know, you can be such a blithering ass sometimes."
* * * * *
The blonde makes her way through the rose garden. She spots the tall soldier standing alone under the gazebo and heads that way with a slow but sure pace. Each step brings some peace with it. She knows she will feel better once she is there, near her, touching her, hoping those long arms will wrap around her. But the nagging part of her that has been roused by the conversation of her turncoat friends will not be silenced. Will her extraordinary draw to this woman be enough? They have virtually nothing in common. And soon the soldier will go back to being just that.
The longing in her face when she looked up into the sky at those warplanes said it all. Soon she will go back to her way of life (and can she truly care for someone who seeks out such things?). Will that be the end then? Is this all there can be between them?
The soldier hears her coming long before she should have, her eyes following the blonde the rest of the way there, traveling the length of her when she finally comes to stand before her. The gazebo, covered in blossoming roses, shades the resting area where she has come to escape the stares of the other women. Those stares had been hungry and dismissive at the same time, making the soldier feel out of balance. When she thought her anger might get the better of her, she headed back to nature in the form of this small rose garden.
She grabs the blonde and swings her around, pinning her against the gazebo fence, red and pink petals press up against her light-colored hair. Arms fly around her neck, asking that lips be brought down to an exposed neck. She nibbles and kisses her way up to the blonde�s ear.
"Your friends don�t like me."
"No � umm." Her ear is being licked. "They don�t know what to do with you. You�re different." A chuckle in her ear. "What?" The blonde asks.
"Is that what I am? They think I�m stupid."
"Yes, they are jealous." And they want to fuck me. "But they also think I�m stupid."
The blue eyes pull at her until she is reined into their seriousness.
"Don�t ever lie to me." The soldier gently commands.
The blonde searches the blue eyes, but they�re impenetrable at the moment. "I won�t."
The soldier seems to relax with the promise.
She can feel a thorn from one of the roses jabbing into her back, but the blonde doesn�t dare move, enjoying the woman�s tall lean form running the length of her own. She can feel the blood rush through her body, every inch of her skin sensitized.
The soldier lifts one of the blonde�s legs and wraps it around her backside; this allows her fingers to trail over the bare skin above the stocking until the garter is there under her fingers. She snaps it and smiles at the blonde�s startled response.
Narrowing her eyes, the blonde wraps her other leg around the soldier�s waist, pulling herself up by the strong neck above her. She grinds her middle into the soldier�s belly, soliciting a groan that pleases her. Two can play at this game.
The soldier presses her harder against the wall of the gazebo and fingers find their way to the smooth roundness where the blonde�s legs end, as if they are drawn there of their own accord. It was the first place the soldier had held her when they made love on the train, even then it was as if her body had a will of its own. She feels momentarily disconcerted by her physical need for this woman, as a velvet tongue moves across the fine hairs of her cheek and trails delicately over to her ear. She�s aware of the familiar animal that crawls up into her stomach and chest.
"You�re magnificent, you know." It�s whispered into a damp ear.
The voice actually causes the soldier�s chest to hurt; the thumping there is nearly painful. Her whole life is coming apart. She catches the blonde�s earlobe between her teeth and bites down, eliciting a small yelp. She feels instantly better, fulfilling her need to hear the strain that the other woman is under as well. She simply can�t go through this alone.
The soldier whispers in a low, thrumming voice into the ear that she now gently kisses, "Just what is it you want from me?"
The blonde is startled. She places her hands on the soldier�s shoulders. They are flexed and tight, holding the weight of the blonde like this. She kneads the muscles there; unable to control her need to touch the dark-haired woman, though she feels angry. No, she realizes, it isn�t just anger. Underneath the anger she recognizes her fear. "I want�" But nothing comes out and she falls hard into the blue eyes above her.
"You." It had been such a simple word before that moment. Now it is the biggest, most complex concept the blonde has ever attempted. The fact that she is able to utter it in its enormity simply astounds her.
"Me?" The soldier released a long held breath, her head slightly dizzy from the lack of oxygen. She maneuvers the beloved body closer to her, adjusting so she can hold the blonde with one hand while the other plays up a sensuous curved hip, up the back of the white silk blouse, until her hand, navigating around a supple back, meets with a small warm wetness. She looks at her fingers and sees the redness that dots the pads of her fingertips.
"You�re hurt." The soldier pulls a deep frown of concern.
The blonde laughs softly at the soldier�s earnestness over two dots of blood. "It�s nothing."
The soldier is about to object but lips are warm and gentle, kissing the very corners of her mouth. "But I don�t want to hurt you," the soldier replies. The eyes regard the soldier with something she cannot place.
She swallows the soldier�s protests with a kiss. It draws out the passion that the fear had dampened. But then a fluttering sensation takes root in her belly, growing in intensity, until she recognizes it for the thing that it is. "I don�t want to hurt you either."
The soldier stiffens. All the hot blood in her veins turns cold. As usual, she is observant and silent in the face of all adversaries.
The blonde is neither discouraged, nor encouraged, by the silence. She just needs that damn fluttering to stop. "I�m not good at ... this. I fuck it up a lot."
Silence, though the soldier raises an eyebrow at the curse word.
"But I don�t want to fuck this one up. Okay?"
More silence as the soldier takes in the enormity of what the blonde is saying.
"Damn it! Say something." The blonde shakes. She is honest-to-god scared.
"What do you want me to say?" The words are whispered into the blonde�s ear.
She squirms in the soldier�s arms, ready to beat on those shoulders and run as far away as she can. "Please." It is all she can manage, unable to believe she is begging.
"Well then�" the soldier says and kisses the neck beneath her, feeling the tremble that follows her touch. Emboldened, she holds a breast in her hand, lightly caressing, and is rewarded with a breathy gasp. "Guess we better not fuck it up."
The blonde grabs the soldier by the hair and looks deeply into the blue eyes, every cell in her body vibrating. Her annoyance with the soldier and her arousal are doing battle. "Do you have any idea how much I hate you right now?"
But that isn�t what she really says. And the soldier knows it. A teasing smile. "I hate you too."
The woman patted the earth next to the pile of stones that marked the grave. It was fine and sandy, silky to the touch. She couldn�t say why the feel of it running through her fingers made her more melancholy and reflective than she already was. Strange how peace often visited at the most horrific times.
A hand gently settled on her shoulder and, like a tuning fork, her own body adjusted to the old, familiar vibration. The fingers played across her shoulder and sifted slowly through her hair. She closed her eyes and recalled summers spent with Lila, or her mother, lying in the grass, parting and braiding long hair, unbraiding and combing, looking at the blue sky, the blades of grass tickling wherever their skin was exposed.
But this hand didn�t belong to her sister, or her mother. Without needing to look, she knew the woman who stood behind her. They had, both together, killed her flesh and blood. Her own daughter and the thing that daughter had bore. What was she, that such things could come through her? What did it say about her?
As if sensing her turmoil, the tall figure kneeled alongside her and knit their fingers together.
So welcome was this contact that the mourner shuddered and leaned against the taller woman for support, nestling her head against a substantial shoulder.
They rested that way for a long time.
A disrespectful voice, harsh with a tinge of vengeance, broke the silence as clearly as a profanity would darken a temple. "That�s enough. I won�t have it in my house, or on my land."
* * * * *
Unwilling to cause trouble on a day when two were put so deep into the ground, she thought it better if she stayed out of the family�s house.
Gabrielle had looked like she was about to open her mouth and fight her father, but Xena knew that was the last thing she needed to worry herself with on such a day. So she held up a finger to her lips, knowing the other woman would understand. And she did. She gave in gracefully, but she shook her head as though in disbelief at the entire world.
That had been hours ago. Xena had watched the lights go out, one by one, from her station in the barn. The loft had plenty of straw and she was hardly uncomfortable, though she felt empty from head to toe, as if a gigantic chasm had opened up, starting with her chest and spreading outward in every direction.
She had already changed out of her clothes into a simple shift, the warm breeze so mild she needed no blanket to keep her warm. The moon was full and provided ample light to see by. She piled up the straw behind her and sank into it. The moon was making a path through the night sky and she meant to watch it on its journey until it disappeared from her sight. Now it still hung low over the rooftop of Gabrielle�s family home.
She didn�t allow herself to do anything but feel the breeze against her skin. To hear the leaves, dry and curled, rustle against each other. The night singing of the insects. She joined with night and tried to be one with it. It was not a complicated trick. She was used to the practice but tonight, no matter how she tried, she felt her separateness from everything. Still, it felt manageable, like she could lean back into the straw and watch the moon rise and her aloneness might be tolerable.
She had nearly convinced herself of this when she saw the figure, with a very special deliberateness, step out of the house. The white gown was loud against the darkness, and the moon spared enough light to expose the blonde hair and familiar features of the barefooted woman who walked out into the night air.
Leaning forward, pressing her eyes to focus and be sure, there was no doubt. She saw Gabrielle clearly enough. It was something else about the picture that was making her doubt her eyes. It was the walk. The posture. This was not a person sneaking out of their parent�s house for a midnight rendezvous�there was none of that in her step. This was a woman very clear about her intentions, walking decidedly out of a door, conscious only of her place in the world, where she was and where she was going. There was no shame or deceit in her easy gait. She moved like a woman who made no apologies.
When one has arrived at that place there is a serenity that settles in, and she could see it clearly as Gabrielle looked up and met her lover�s gaze. A slow, confident smile stretched across the planes of her face.
She entered the barn and climbed the ladder, her bare feet padding dully across the wood and straw until she stood directly in front of Xena, so close that she towered over her. She touched the dark head and felt her feet being attended to by softly stroking fingers.
She lowered herself and was taken in by strong arms and settled upon a warm, soft lap. She buried her face in the dark hair and inhaled deeply, like it was the very air she needed to breathe. She relaxed for the first time in so long that it was hard to recall the sensation. But she needed it now, needed calmness, peacefulness, to move through her to begin the healing process.
She held the hem of her gown and casually lifted it over her head. She had disregarded any other undergarments in the house, knowing full well what her intentions were in going to Xena. She pulled the other woman down onto the bed of straw with her, the warmth of the night, and the warmth of the body lying on top of her, like a tonic.
She watched every expression play across Gabrielle�s features. It was a map she needed to follow, and she could read it so well. It was filling up that empty place inside, eroding away her separateness with what was being exchanged between them�this intangible thing that had no name, yet was the only thing left of any importance.
Knowing that Gabrielle�s face was conveying everything, she trusted herself to let go and give what was needed. Kissing her softly, more slowy than she thought possible, she closed her eyes and found�to her surprise�that she still knew what was needed. She heard and understood everything that was right.
She guided Xena�s hand to her. Slowly, for it would be slow the whole time, never would it change pace, never would it demand more. Like an arrow in its intent, there would be no rise or fall in this journey.
Holding the eyes of the woman beneath her, the woman she had come to love more than her own life, she made love to her so gently that it was nearly excruciating in its lack of ascension. Though her eyes began to glaze, never did she indicate her need, or desire, for a change. When she finally did rise up and into the arms above her, she cried into that waiting shoulder, and the crying went on for an aching eternity.
Holding and rocking, gently humming to her, it was a mending of sorts. Having been torn apart was painful, but coming back together meant scar tissue and old dead flesh to deal with. But it had begun, and there would be no going back if they were both hoped to survive it.
The moon was high, nearly on its way back down. Soon it would no longer be visible from their view in the loft. They lay silently together, holding onto each other, waiting for the moon to disappear.
"It�s time to go," Gabrielle whispered into the skin above a soft breast.
"Is that what you want?"
"This is your home."
Silence as she struggled with the words and the clues the woman was giving her. Perhaps, having pity, Gabrielle answered the riddle for her.
"You know what home is. You�ve always known, long before I did."
She must mean�? Yes, it was true. She had always known, all along. "Yes, I have."
With Me She Doesn�t Belong
I wish she�d stop grabbing at the knee of her Khakis and pulling. The white skin on her knuckles turns red so easily. This was probably a bad, bad idea. But now we were too close to turn back, any excuse I made now would seem suspect.
The car itself would stick out among my family�s and neighbors� old clunkers. She didn�t want to take my cycle�it would mess up her hair. She was way too nervous, wanting to make a good impression on my family.
I knew she wasn�t rich; it wasn�t like the car seat she occupied was made of nice smelling leather. But when she and her middle-class roots were compared to my people, the neighborhood where we were headed, we might as well have come from two different worlds.
I placed my hand on her cheek and she held it there with cold fingers; her breathing caught in her throat like little earthquakes. She took a deep steadying breath and tried to relax. My god, why was she so nervous? It wasn�t as though it was me going to meet her family.
When I see my hand against hers, I note our differences one more time. I wonder if my blue eyes, which she seems to so easily fall into, are what draws her to me. If I had brown eyes like my brown skin, just like everyone else in my family (except the blue-eyed mother I no longer remember), would she have given me a second look? I don�t like to think this, so I tuck it away behind the clutter in my mind.
Home is close by. The aqueduct on the right, the murals and the graffiti, point us in the right direction. I�m aware of a prickling self-consciousness that irks me. I put that away too and concentrate on telling her which exit to take. The hills rise up on either side, the indigenous growth of trees and bushes are wild and unmanicured, very unlike the neighborhood where she lives. There everything is clipped into neat straight lines. I wonder what she�s thinking and I spare her a glance, only to find her nervously chewing on her bottom lip.
It�s as if I see the old familiar terrain with new eyes. I look through her green eyes at everything, and I am astonished. Had the lot we just pulled into always been made up only of dirt? The tree with the old tire and rope that I swung on as a child until I was too big to fit comfortably in the middle, was it always so gnarled? The tables were set up, long ways, one against the other with their paper table clothes. The balloons were strung together over the area, as well as lights that would blink colored and fast when the sun was down and the music was turned up so loud no one would be able to hear each other.
The party was the thing. I had always enjoyed them immensely, never noticing the cheapness that surrounded it. In the unforgiving light of day, the whole thing smacked of the lack of: the lack of money and the lack of options. She would see all this and know that we could never really belong together.
My mood was utterly foul when we arrived. When she tried to take hold of my hand at the last minute for reassurance, I squeezed quickly and avoided her eyes, shamed into silence even without her prompting.
* * * * *
Everything was in full swing. I had already done the polite thing and introduced her to my welcoming family and their neighbors. They treated her like a queen. Found her a seat, brought her food and drink like she was visiting royalty. I found myself frowning and even sneering a little at their welcome. It was beginning to feel like a lack of pride. Didn�t they notice who she was? Even worse, is that why they welcomed her so graciously?
She held my youngest niece on her lap while they watched the other children play games. I kept myself busy with the cooking. Periodically, she turned to look at me and I simply smiled as though nothing was wrong.
"She�s much like your mother."
"I wouldn�t remember."
"Of course not, you were too young, but it�s true. There�s a kindness about her that�s very much the same."
I snuck a glance at her. She was rocking my niece, tipping her backwards until the small girl laughed uncontrollably.
"What did you say her name was?"
"June," he rolled out the word, making it longer than it was. "Mmm, she�s very beautiful," he whispered and nudged.
My confidant, my biggest ally, was now being irritatingly shallow, pushing into my ribs with his elbow. "Stop it, Al!"
He shrugged. "I wouldn�t let her sit alone too long. That pack of wolves is eyeing her. It won�t be long until one of them gobbles her up." He laughed at his own joke.
I looked over at the men who were gathered around the far table and, sure enough, many of them were eyeing June.
As brutish and pathetic as it was, it set my blood to boiling. If she were not going to belong here, it would be with me that she didn�t belong. The thought of one of them touching her shot rays of fire through my veins. I laid down the tongs and left the slow-cooking meat on the grill.
She looked up as I approached and I saw the momentary look of unbridled joy in her eyes. I held out my hand to her as a command. I saw, by the look on her face, that she didn�t understand, nor did she like my attitude; nevertheless, she took my offered hand. She set my niece down carefully with a kiss on the cheek. The girl protested for only a moment before she found some new, enticing activity across the yard.
I pulled her through the crowd of people, all of them busy with their partying except for the ones that cocked an eyebrow as we flew past. A couple of wolf whistles followed us in our wake. The housing was mostly duplexes with the common yard being used for the party. Because of that, there weren�t many alleys or little cubbyholes to disappear into. But I knew of one. It was at the end of a row of houses, a small alcove composed of a wall and some wild bushes. I had found uses for it on numerous occasions.
I pulled her inside and stepped away from her. Now that I had her here, I wasn�t sure what I wanted. I felt her fingers trailing up my bare arms. I was much taller than her, had all my life been a bit self-conscious of my size, but when she touched me in that way it made me feel strangely proud of who I was. It was beginning to embarrass me, all these things she made me feel.
"What are you doing here?" I knew I shouldn�t have said it even as it left my mouth.
Her hand dropped from me like heavy, ripe fruit off a tree. "That�s a good question. Why did you invite me?"
I looked over my shoulder at her, unable to resist the temptation of her voice. She was looking at me with hurt eyes but her body was angry, hands on hips. I turned away. Why did I invite her? I told the truth. "I don�t know."
"Maybe you should figure that out � I think I had better go."
It was much more sudden than I had expected and I reacted too harshly. I grabbed her by the upper arm and pulled her back into my secret hiding place. My mouth worked but nothing came out. She pried my fingers off her arm and rubbed it, which caused me to look quickly down at my feet.
"Are you ashamed of me, Christa?" Her voice quivered in the same way it had on the ride over. "Is it because�?"
I jerked my head up. "No! My mother was Anglo."
"You keep saying that. But truthfully, I�m not sure it means anything."
"It�s not that, June." I realized clearly, in that moment, that was the truth.
"Then what?" She stepped closer to me and pressed her hands to my ribs, making it hard for me to think.
"This is my home," I announced lamely, not having any idea what I meant. I ran my fingers through my hair and turned away from her again. I felt like beating my head against the wall. I was feeling like a bigger idiot with each passing moment.
Her hand rested gently on the middle of my back. "I realize that. What I�m not sure you realize is that I�m falling in love with you. And when you ignore me, I feel like you�re twisting my guts into knots."
I was twisting her guts into knots? She knew this was my home? But did she really know it? Accept it? And what was that middle thing? I turned around fully this time and silently swore I wouldn�t turn away from her again. She wouldn�t look at me but picked a small, closed pink blossom off the bush beside me. I rubbed my thumb across her bottom lip. It protruded with her fear. I knew I should say something but all I wanted to do was kiss her. I bent down.
She pushed at my chest; again those eyes were angry with me. "Don�t ever do that to me again."
Still overwhelmed and confused, I wasn�t above recognizing the shame I felt.
"And don�t pretend like you didn�t hear me tell you I love you." She hit me softly to underline her hurt. "You ass."
She leaned her head into my chest, her hair brushing against my lips. I whispered the words that would bridge our differences. Once I did, she leaned fully against me, as if she were completely exhausted. Like everything was finally over and she could relax.
"Let�s go home." She pressed her lips against my neck.
I didn�t know exactly where she meant for us to go, but at least we were leaving together.
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