DANCE THE ORANGE, DANCE THE SUN
TITLE: Dance the Orange, Dance the Sun
“A star can and will fade, and the world will keep turning. But the sun… nothing lives without the sun.” – Rodrigo, the retired bullfighter.
“But it’s also the sun’s job to keep shining, and at a safe level, so plants can grow and creatures can live and prosper.” – Laura Banzi, his wife.
Over her lover’s shoulder, cars and houses and the occasional stretch of green blur and blend like smears of paint, colored subdued by the tinted windows.
In response she lets her gaze slide from the window across the woman’s shoulder, and up, taking her time. The eyes that meet her are bright, brighter than they have been for a long time. Certainly days and weeks, if not… She doesn’t let her thoughts linger, and instead slips deep into shining pools. Maybe it is the trick of the rising morning sun, they look almost amber, a series of deep rich orange brown. Unexpectedly, she is reminded of the frog on her great grandmother’s violin bow, carved from the Baltic fossil, and the bits of life trapped inside. Blinking away the sudden thought, Alex smiles, “It feels strange, doesn’t it?”
A corner of her lips lifting, Olivia offers a shrug. Meanwhile, carefully, and she hopes, surreptitiously, her fingers inch across the leather seat.
Innocently, she stills her hand. “Hm?” Her mouth curls higher in response to her lover’s low laugh. “What?”
Alex merely shakes her head.
“You know there’s a divider, and the windows are tinted.”
“Doesn’t it bother you?” The former prosecutor distracts. “You know, tint law?”
“We’re in a vehicle with a Jersey plate; Jersey doesn’t have the same law,” Olivia replies reasonably, conversationally, while her fingers resume their previous course.
“Hey, I was never on the traffic beat, thank god.”
“We’re on our way to Newark,” Alex provides, as if the words carry more meanings than they do. And they do, just not in ‘that’ way.
“I know. Eight hours, we’ll be on the plane.” Olivia gives her grin. “I can at least hold your hand?”
Oh, if only you knew what I’m thinking. Although most likely she does. Her lover seems to have an unfailing sixth sense about certain things. And that’s dangerous. “Did you like Duran Duran? When you were a teenager?”
“Who didn’t?” Olivia laughs, wondering which garden they are to visit. “They were so pretty, all of them. But I had the hugest crush on Simon.”
“He was blonde.”
“Sure.” Alex smiles, pretending to ignore the insinuation. Still she provides, “My favorite was Roger. He looked like the silent brooding type.”
“And he has brown hair and brown eyes.”
“Did you watch the videos?”
“Oh, yeah, I especially remember the one, it’s black and white, where the blonde goes and meets her lover in the limousine. She was… And what she was wearing… Oh, man.” She makes a sizzling sound, then smiles a slow smile as her eyes travels South to rest on the opening of her lover’s coat.
Why do I do this? Quickly, she tries to regroup. “Are you sure it was the blonde, and not the other? Or were they both brunettes? I can’t remember.”
“To be honest?” Olivia licks her lips. “All I really remember is ‘sing blue silver’, whatever that means, in the chorus, oh, and the blonde’s legs. The woman was hot. And her long, long, beautiful legs, and how they wrapped around her lover’s waist to pull her in, and…”
“Liv!” She yelps to interrupt, and then lowers her voice. “That wasn’t in the video.” It was a memory, one now fresh in her head. Damn you.
“It wasn’t? I could’ve sworn. My bad.” The brunette replies innocently. “You know he can’t hear us, unless we press this little button.”
Alex sighs. “So this doesn’t bother you? That we’re in a hired car, heading to Newark, and meeting up with my cousin?”
“I like Dani, and I’ve never flown on a private jet. It’ll be interesting.”
“Yeah, it’ll be that.” She sighs again, and focuses once more on the passing scenery, and tries not to shift in her seat or feel the tingle when the tip of her lover’s finger caresses her skin.
In silence, Olivia watches her fiancée, occasionally smiling into her sky blue eyes. It feels like heaven, she decides, knowing she is being corny and doesn’t care. They’re on their way to the airport, then an uninterrupted two weeks, with no real responsibilities. Sometimes, like now, she catches herself wondering what life would be like, if they sold everything they own, and just moved somewhere. Not that they would really do it; there would be too much guilt involved, and mostly not hers. Oddly, the realization doesn’t bother or even surprise her.
It does jar her enough to comment, “I think it’s cool that Dani’s invited us. And I’m glad we aren’t flying direct to Seville, but this is going to be fun.” With a playful Cheshire cat smile, she queries aloud, “You think the pilot will let me sit in his seat? I wanna take a picture to show Fin.”
“Is he teasing you?”
“Teasing?” Reacting with her gut, Olivia feigns ignorance; she doesn’t know why.
“He said something about my place, before. So I only can imagine…” Alex thinks better, and stops. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh, no, it’s my turn now, to tease him back,” she admits. “And you know John, he’ll get a kick out of it. Probably launch into some lecture about the make and model of the plane, and the best flight condition and whether the altitude would be too high to make pudding.”
Alex knows what her lover is trying to do; and she knows this is just another issue she has to work through or live with. Or maybe I’m making too big a deal about it. Probably. “All right. I just don’t want… It’s still so strange…”
“To not be a public servant? To actually take vacations?” Sincerely, Olivia offers her best grin. “I think I got spoiled taking time off, to visit you.” Not to mention working only normal shifts for the weeks she commuted between the city and Sparkill. Really, she prefers to forget that time altogether. “I don’t know how I did it before, working 24/7, 365 days.”
“When was your last time off, and I meant voluntary.”
“Before Chicago? Voluntary?” Alex struggles briefly, and gives up. “I can’t remember.”
“I rest my case.”
“Wait, we visited Princeton. I had a sub.”
“And told the sub to call you if necessary.”
“How do you remember these things anyway? So random.”
“I just do?” I also took time to think, sitting in your office. Wonder if Ling told you? “Come on, no work talk. Not for two weeks. I want you to promise. We focus on us. Nothing else. Niente. Nada. Nothing.”
Nothing else but try and get back our rhythm. “Okay. Sorry.” Sorry for messing up our steps. She lets out a breath, and closes her eyes. Then another thought falls into her head. “How do you think they look now?”
“Simon and Roger and the rest.”
“Who cares?” Laughing, Olivia throws up her hand, the one not laced with her companions. “Old, I’m sure.”
“They aren’t that much older than us?”
“Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. We’re getting older, too.”
“Speak for yourself.”
“Well, I did just have a birthday. So in whole numbers, I’m a year older.”
“For a few months.” Alex laughs. “What’s with your fixation about being older anyway?”
“I dunno?” Olivia squeaks; self-consciously, she clears her throat, and any whininess. “I look older, you can’t deny that.” And she could’ve slapped herself for mentioning it. Quickly, she distracts, “Oh my god, remember their mullets? And eighties fashion in general? And I can’t believe it’s gonna come back, sooner or later, since fashion recycles every twenty years or so.”
“Good thing we’re too old for torn fishnets. And puffy hair.”
“Not me, I had Annie Lennox hair.”
“You did? Annie Lennox?”
The shock coloring clear blue eyes make her unreasonably smug. “Yep, before that I had hair down to my waist, all permed and frizzy. It was crap to take care.”
“I’ll bet.” Alex pulls at her own hair, getting long, too, and frizzy in any humidity. A hand stops hers, and replaces with loving strokes. The look in her lover’s eyes, the smile on her lips, they make her feel the distance, both metaphorical and real. Before regret floods her, Olivia pulls her back.
“Oh, and I wore skinny acid dyed jeans with holes and fishnet underneath. Or was that in the 90’s? Can’t remember now, not sure I want to really.” She makes a face. “Point is, sweetheart: What’s your point?”
“You know?” Alex pauses; long moments later, she concedes with a deep laugh. “I’m not sure anymore.”
“Good, ‘cause you know, there are better things besides bad fashion to think about.”
“Like?” Then she sees the shades of desire on her lover’s face, and scrambles for equilibrium. “Wait, stop, don’t you dare go there. We’re stuck in a car.”
Even without looking, Alex knows Olivia’s eyes are on her. They have been for the last five minutes at least, she can feel it on her skin as if it were a tangible touch. Valiantly, she fights the sensation, which is quickly transforming from a pleasant tickle to an itch, all over. There’s nothing wrong with living vicariously through one’s fiancée, right? With a prankish grin, she reaches around and scratches the back of Olivia’s neck, and asks, “What are you doing?”
“You’re mine. All mine.”
Alex laughs. “Yes, we’re on our way to Spain, no phone calls, no clients, no perps…”
“Shh… No work.”
“For two weeks,” she adds, wrinkling her nose.
“Didn’t your mom ever tell you, your pretty face might freeze?” Olivia snorts. “Watch that tongue, too, someone might try…”
“Yeah? What? What might someone try?”
“Oh, I can think of a million things...”
“Shut up.” Dramatically, Alex scoots along the leather seat, and braces against the door, ready to push the brunette back. “Stay where you are and keep your hands where I can see them. And, you’re not playing fair.”
“Eh, ‘fair’? What is it you like to say about fairness in love? And, you stole my lines, and no work-talk. Zip.”
“Whatever. Spain,” Alex says and folds her arms under her chest.
Do you even realize what you’re doing? Olivia smirks at offered view. She chuckles when her fiancée yanks closed her coat and lets her hands fall. The resulting mock pout warms her heart. “Don’t forget Milan,” she reminds, intentionally staying on her side of the car, against the other woman’s expectations. “I’m looking forward to seeing Daniela again.” Under better circumstances this time. “She promised a tour of her palazzo.”
“You realize that’s a converted apartment building these days, and we can’t get into every room.”
“But it’ll be an experience. And we should take a picture for Fin.” He has mostly stopped teasing her about marrying up, got old quickly when she quit reacting. Now it is payback time, and she’s going to enjoy every opportunity. She could just see his face when she emails a photograph of them in windbreaker weather with plenty of sunshine in front of the fountain at Castello Sforzesco, or in their skimpy evening gowns with a light overcoat before a performance at La Scala while New York City gets buried under the forecasted snow storm. Yeah. She ought to feel at least a little sheepish, but she doesn’t. Not at all. “Oh, but that’s not what I meant.”
“The block. I’m your block. One and only.”
“Oh, my god.” Alex fights the urge to bang her head against the window. Not again? What’s next? When is this obsession going to stop? “Yes, my Blockhead.”
“Hey, that’s not nice.”
“Nice?” Talking about ‘nice’ always ends us up in the same place. Nuh uh. Nope. “I’m not falling for it.”
“Come on, what, Liv? Let’s not make a big production out of this.”
“But it’s a big deal. A huge deal, you said so yourself. It’s a beautiful, wonderful gift, and humbling. And I almost wish we waited…”
Alex barks out a laugh. “I doubt I could hold out, even if you could.”
“I said ‘almost’,” Olivia assures with a chuckle of her own. Then her expression turns tender, and serious. “But I do wish I could give you the same.”
The sincerity stops the blonde; she reflects. A huge deal? I said that? When? Oh, right, the talk about the Emily’s. Why did I ever... She lets out a small sigh. “Our experiences make us who we are, Liv. And I imagine yours make our life less potentially awkward.” Then she remembers her lover’s initial fumbling and corrects, “Or at least more interesting.” Parts of her body flush at the thought of the things the woman knows and does. “A lot more interesting.” She bites her lip.
“You were never awkward.” Olivia leers, and smiles a smile crossed between knowing and hot seduction. She could feel the air shifting and her lover growing wetter in response. Involuntarily, she shivers, as her fingers rub together against the phantom warmth. “In fact…”
“Must we go there?”
“I just can’t get over how experienced, how not awkward…”
“Inexperience is not synonymous with ignorance.”
“I’ll say!” Dark brows waggle, then they still and start to knit. “Hey, didn’t you say that to me before?”
“I… I don’t know. Might have?”
“Huh.” Olivia shakes her head, as if to dismiss the effort of searching her memory. Her Cheshire cat smile returns. “You definitely knew your way around…”
“Please, Liv,” Alex pauses, wondering what she could plea. Niente, nada, nothing, she decides with a groan. “You know where this leads us.”
“Yes. Think about the next however many hours and the privacy we’re not going to have. Tell me you really don’t want it.”
Oh, fuck it. She eyes the raised divider as she closes the distance. Taking in how in less than a heartbeat, her lover’s features soften from seductive triumph to tenderness, she grabs her face. Restraints unraveling, she lets go; clenching her fingers in dark fawn-colored hair, she pulls her forward. “Make it quick,” she gasps, before opening to velvety lips and tongue. Then the woman’s intimate touch, her responsive moan, they rock and burn through her.
It was almost noon when Daniela’s plane finally arrived from Maryland. Something had developed at the lab late last night and required her attention, her distant cousin on her father’s side had explained with profuse apologies. Alex didn’t really mind. She and Olivia had found a quiet corner at the airport, where they parked themselves each with a cup of espresso and some pastries, and just watched the various activities on the runway. The new schedule would get them into Milan around sunrise the following day, instead of midnight. It is better in a way - they can launch into their vacation, the sightseeing and whatever Dani has planned. Hopefully, by the time they leave for Seville, their bodies would already be adjusted to the time difference.
Now in the air, with various routines and pleasantries out of the way, Alex looks around the cabin. First thing she notices is the familiar layout, decorated except in neutral colors and utilitarian fixtures that are no doubt a part of fractional ownership. Still, the aircraft is similar to the one she travelled on, that Cabot Logistics International owned and probably still owns.
Sometimes she wonders what is going on with her grandfather’s company. Most of the time, she is happy she is not involved and nor is she expected to be. It seems her uncles and their children have for the most part written her off. She should feel bad, but she doesn’t. Presently, she wonders if her mom is still on the board of CLI, or if they have finally convinced her to sell Alexander’s share. She makes a mental note to ask.
Again she looks around, and tried to remember the first time she flew commercial. It seems so distant. It’s been years. Still, it almost feels like the memory belonged to someone else, or that she is simply replaying a movie she had seen.
Not for the first time, she wonders how her life would be if her father were still around. She knows what would be expected of her. The thought makes her close her eyes and hold her breath as she fights against the instinct to squeeze her lover’s hand. Instead, with casualness she doesn’t feel, she lets her body slide closer to the woman. The gentle kiss near her temple, and the arm wrapping tighter about her shoulder almost bring tears to her eyes. She cannot fathom how life would be without Olivia in it.
Still closer, she leans in, almost half lying on her lover at this point, and she extricates her hand, to pull the other arm about her torso. The brunette’s chuckle grips her heart.
Not trusting her voice, Alex nods.
“So I’m chair? With arms that hug?”
Remaining silent, she twists to press a kiss to her lover’s shoulder, and smiles when warm lips once more brush against her hair. Thank you.
As horrible as it may sound, she does not wish things to be different. To not have Olivia in her life, it would be unthinkable.
After another long moment, she shifts again, this time unbuckling her seatbelt to ease further down, so she can look up to amused brown eyes. Her own gaze turn light when the woman reaches down to readjust and re-hook the clasp.
“Wouldn’t want you falling off.”
In response, she touches her lover’s cheek. No words can adequately describe how she feels towards Olivia; she senses it is understood.
Finally, she speaks, “When my father was alive, this was how we travelled.”
“Okay?” Olivia replies weighing the opening lines and wondering where they lead. Unable to resist, she asks, “Do you miss your dad?”
Through the cabin noise, she feels rather than hears the accompanying sigh, and she offers, “I didn’t tell you, but your mom and I talked, a lot, when you were in Sparkill.”
“You did?” Somehow that does not surprise the blonde.
“I know he would never approve of us, at least not initially.”
‘Initially?’ Alex scoffs without words. You were right the first time.
“I know, more like never,” Olivia amends. “Sometimes I wonder…” If it is something else that helps us understand each other, not having durable father figures in our lives. She thinks better against voicing those words and shrugs. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Why? What do you wonder?”
“Nothing, I know the answer.”
“We’d still meet and fall in love, regardless.”
Ah. “You think so?”
“Positive.” With a deeper smile, she reveals, “Lillian told me a story. You wanna hear?”
“It’s about this boy running into an old man. The man pointed at a girl, and told the boy that’s who he’ll marry. The boy got upset and threw a rock at the girl.”
“Did he get arrested?”
Olivia laughs and taps her lover’s lips, then ignoring the question, she continues, “Years later, the boy grew up, moved away and met and married a woman. One day, he noticed a scar on his wife’s forehead and asked.”
“Let me guess, she was the girl.”
“Dammit, must you kill my story?”
“That was Lillian’s story, and I didn’t kill it,” Alex replies with a grin that matches her lover’s. “So who’s who?”
“Are you the one who got nailed with a rock? Or am I?” Then, without warning, Olivia alters the texture of her smile. “What?” She asks, then immediately realizing her error. “Don’t you dare go there.”
“Where?” Olivia sniggers. “Where are we going without the rock?”
“Milan. That’s the only place we’re going.”
“You’re forgetting Seville,” she relents, but adds after a beat, “Te quiero.”
Alex twines their fingers together and releases a sigh. Much later, she tugs her lover’s head forward and she whispers, over the din of the engine into her ear. “You, too.”
Without missing a beat, Olivia replies, “I know.”
“You know there’s another room, Dani said so.”
Yes, Alex remembers her cousin mentioning it when the woman excused herself. “So?”
“I know you don’t mean that,” Alex challenges with a smirk. “Come on, we can’t even sit here without seatbelts, you had to dig them out from god knows where…”
“They were right here,” Olivia points to the space between the seat cushions, where the clasps were originally hidden. “I didn’t go digging.”
“Whatever. Let’s just go to sleep.”
“But I’m not sleepy.”
“We have,” Alex pauses to check her lover’s watch. “Five more hours at least. We should try and get used to the time difference.”
“But I’m not sleepy.”
“So you want to grab a room, and risk falling off during turbulence while I have my merry way with you?” She taps the brunette’s nose. “Didn’t think so.”
“I wish we could teleport ourselves there.”
“I know you don’t have a fear of flying. We flew during…” Stopping before Olivia could issue a reminder about her impromptu rule, she skips forward, “Then you were flying back and forth and then we went to Paris… So what’s up?”
The affirmative answer surprises Alex. “You know the word?”
“Sure. Ants in your pants. My mom was forever telling me that. She picked it up from a neighbor we had, I think. She was from the ‘old country’, a holocaust survivor.”
“Ah, I thought maybe John…”
“He wouldn’t dare.”
“So what else?”
“What else what?”
“Tell me something else about your past?” Alex finds herself wanting to know. “You never talk about it?”
“You don’t talk about yours either.”
“There’s nothing to tell.” She reassures. “I studied, spent a year in boarding school, with Ling and Daniela, studied, went to Princeton, with Ling, studied, went to law school, studied some more, passed the bar, and voila, you know the rest.”
“I knew about all the studying,” Olivia reminds her fiancée with a laugh, “And the schools, too. And you went to law school with Ling, and clerked at Douglas’ father’s firm during your summers.”
“There you go.” Alex shrugs. “School and that which we’re not supposed to mention. I’ve had a boring life.”
Undeterred and remembering Martha’s comment about knowing everything about Randy before their engagement and her advice to ask, Olivia ventures, “Tell me about your trips to Milan?”
“Hey, you’re supposed to tell me something from your past. I asked first,” Alex protests. Then she meets her lover’s eyes. Something unexpected in the look makes her stop and contemplate. Finally, she makes up her mind and pulls her hand from the woman’s chiseled cheek and laces their fingers together.
Patiently, Olivia waits for her story.
Sometimes Alex wonders what all goes through her lover’s dark head. Lillian’s story, which she has heard before albeit with different emphasis, of the couple bound by destiny with a red string around their ankles, resurfaces to complicate her thoughts. The red thread reminds her of Ariadne, and she fancies the detective a labyrinth. Perhaps the thread that binds our lives is my guide. And like Ariadne she did fall into a deep sleep on an island – a metaphorical one at least.
Funny, you could be my Dionysus, waking and rescuing me from my dull existence.
Although the maenads shredded Orpheus, and that wouldn’t quite work?
Why am I so concerned with our roles?
“My last trip to Milan,” Alex begins slowly, conjuring the images. She could see the interior of the other plane, with a table laid out like a boardroom near where they are sitting. By the cockpit, where her cousin is sleeping, were leather chairs and tables much like their current set up. Her mind juxtaposes the two. “I was with my grandmother. My father’s mother,” she feels the need to clarify.
Unexpectedly, she could almost feel the woman’s presence, sitting across from them. Involuntarily, she takes a deeper breath.
Noticing the tension in her fiancée’s body, Olivia interrupts, “Sweetheart.”
“You don’t have to do this.”
She wants to take up her lover’s offer, so kind and loving. It would be easy and simple. Somehow, she shakes her head. “You’ll have to forgive me if I ramble.”
Olivia laughs. “You don’t fault me for rambling. All’s fair.” She watches blonde head bob, and tries once more, “But seriously, you’re right about getting acclimated. We could sleep.”
“It’s okay, Liv.” She clears her throat, and then a small grin lifts her lips. “You know? I never realize this, but my grandmother was always drinking some tonic, something for her health she’d say. I think it was alcohol.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Olivia replies reflexively, immediately thinking about her own mother who was an alcoholic.
“It’s okay,” Alex says again, momentarily unwinding their hands to caress her lover’s face, both to soothe and as apology for the sudden storm clouds darkening brown eyes. Why do I keep doing this? She needs to stop bringing her lover pain. “It wasn’t… She sipped, and sometimes she’d just let it sit while she stared into space.”
“That sounds sad.”
“I think she was a sad woman.”
“Sometimes she would stare at me. Or through me. I could never tell,” Alex continues with a small shrug. “I knew she loved me though.” Despite her comment about Alexander having a son. “She helped me buy my first car, against my mother’s wishes.”
“Yeah.” And she could see the pride in the woman’s brown eyes, pride and something else, when she drove the car for the first time, with her grandmother as passenger. That was the day she related stories from her past, of carefree summers in Tuscany. It was also the first time she saw her grandmother as someone other than Archibald Cabot’s wife. Unfortunately, it was also the last. “I don’t understand her, to this day.”
“It’s okay. I didn’t really know her well.” Alex assures.
“It didn’t bother you?”
“Not really?” The last minute addition of the question mark prevents an outright lie. “Well, if it did, I’ve since made peace with it, I think. Anyway, sometimes you remind me of her.”
“Just your coloring.” Alex smiles impishly. “Wonder what Freud would have to say about that though.”
Olivia laughs. “Nothing I hope.” She shakes her head as her lover does. Then she catches the sparkle lighting up blue eyes, and queries, “Yes?”
“She was a beautiful woman in her day,” Alex says, and lets the statement hang for a beat. Then, using broad shoulders as leverage, she reaches up and takes away whatever else the brunette might say with a kiss.
“So Milan, with grandma,” Olivia picks up the thread again, not wanting it to get lost for some unknown reason. “If you want,” still, she adds.
“It was just a quick stop, to visit Daniela’s family,” Alex relays lightly. “Rome was the ultimate destination.”
“Where your grandmother was from.”
“Have I told you? I can’t remember.”
“Maybe? Or Martha might have?” Olivia shrugs. “I can’t remember either. She did tell me she was related to your dad. She told me how, too, I think, but it was kinda confusing.”
“When was that?”
“My birthday party? Before you found us?”
“Are you asking me?”
The blonde’s gentle smile accompanying the teasing in turn grows Olivia’s grin. “No, I’m telling. Just hoping you won’t get mad.” That Martha shared with me things about you without your knowledge or permission, she adds silently. Actual words were unnecessary, she knows. Her lover’s expression confirms it; and she smiles back.
“What else did you talk about?”
“Besides your square-ish-ness?”
Wrinkling her nose, Alex argues, “I’m not squarish, and that’s not a word.”
“All right. It’s not a word. But it should be.”
“Keep going and you can ask Marty to tell you about my grandmother and Italy.”
The mock huff only makes Olivia squeeze her lover tighter. “Come on, you know you want to tell me yourself. To make sure you don’t sound squarish.”
“Okay, okay.” With her fingers, she zips her lips.
The waggling brows, whether or not intended, take away the severity of the moment. For that, Alex is grateful. “It really was a tour of Italy. Milan, Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, and back to Rome. She told me I had to go back to Rome, with my true love.”
“And throw coins into the Trevi fountain?”
“She was oddly insistent about that,” Alex confirms with a nod. “Even made sure I know how to do it properly, like with my right hand and all that.”
“So we’ll be going to Rome?”
“You want to?”
“I’d love to.”
“Rome it is,” Alex confirms without missing a beat. She notices the same with her lover, too, and that makes her happy. There is still worrying about her physical safety, like with the seatbelts; but maybe it’s not from the coma, or from getting shot, but just a part of her natural protectiveness, magnified because of their relationship. Briefly, she leans up for another kiss. Then she continues, “Anyway, it was a good summer, all in all. I had a better time than expected and met relatives I didn’t know I have. Though now I wonder why me, and not someone else.”
“Why? What do you mean?”
“She could’ve taken one of my uncle’s children. Or my aunt if she wanted female company.” After a pause of deliberation, “Amazing how she convinced my mom. Although now that I think about it, maybe they got along more than they pretended?”
“Why would they do that?”
The nonchalant shrug, the seeming acceptance, they make Olivia’s heart ache and reminds her of her own little family of two. Maybe it was better, to not have relatives or at least not know them. She hates to imagine what type of ‘family politics’ her mother would have to deal with. More than she already had to. A soft hand on her cheek brings her back. She blinks away the dark edges and offers a smile, and let her fiancée reassure that all is well.
“Anyway, I guess it was good thing. I’m sure my mom would’ve felt guilty for the rest of her life if she hadn’t let me go,” Alex reflects.
“Why’d you say that?”
“I think my grandmother knew, or at least suspected, that it would be her last trip. She died before my next birthday.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Sweetheart.”
“When it’s your time, it’s your time, right?” Alex shrugs once more. “Can we continue some other time?” She yawns. “You know me and planes.”
“Sleepy?” Olivia asks, shifting to get comfortable for a long haul without waiting for confirmation. For the first time she checks her watch – still hours before Milan. Her fiancée was right – they should try to get their bodies used to the time change. Whether her mind would allow it is another matter. “Comfy?” She asks unnecessarily as fair lashes flutter close, and for a few minutes she watches the woman sleep. When her thoughts begin to turn inwards, she hears her lover’s voice.
“Sometimes she reminded me of summer, Mediterranean summer, with the warm sun and sweet scent of citrus grove.”
“Like she carried it around her?” The words fall from Olivia’s lips.
“Like it was suppressed.”
“But she lived it that summer with you?”
“Yeah.” Alex sighed with a smile. Then she opens her eyes, to meet her lover’s. “Let’s do that, go to all the same places, one day.”
“Yes, let’s,” Olivia readily agrees. After a moment of silent, she transfers a kiss with her fingers to her fiancée’s lips. “Sweet dreams.”
Brown eyes smile, then they shutter after their mates.
Against the arm of the sofa, Olivia shifts, trying not to move too much, lest she wakes her fiancée, while she flexes her shoulders, to work out the kink before it sticks. After a few rotations, she gives up. This is stupid, she admits as her gaze lingers across her lover’s form. They could’ve been so much more comfortable, both of them, had she agreed to retire to the other bedroom.
What’s wrong with me?
Why can’t I let go?
With effort, she pulls her attention from the near angelic features, and shifts again to look around the cabin. Her focus lands on the slit of light coming from the flight attendant’s quarters. She wonders briefly what the woman was doing. Reading perhaps, or watching for the call button alerting her that her attention is required. Counting the hours and minutes until they land in Italy, where perhaps someone is anxiously awaiting her return?
Like I waited for…
No. What am I doing?
Reluctantly, she unwinds her fingers from the golden silk of her lover’s tresses, and runs her hand through her own hair, pushing the rambling thoughts, shuffling them around. The only thing missing is a window for her to stare out sightlessly; she would be back at her old routine.
Routine. That’s something they both have been desperately trying to get back into in the last couple of months, or at least the last few weeks. But what’s ‘routine’? Do they really have one? And from when? When they both worked together? And arguing almost daily about everything? When they both for the same side of justice? Are they really on different sides now? Olivia shakes her head. Justice was never a problem. At first when Alex was actually working for the defense, she thought she would care, turned out she didn’t. Not at all.
Wonder how Liz and Tom are doing? Somehow she missed the woman’s bubbly voice, even her well-meaning pushiness.
And Rebecca… Despite promises from both sides, they haven’t reconnected after their jobs stopped throwing them together. She never pauses to ask ‘why’.
‘Routine’ when she was flying back and forth two cities? Those months, even with all the open questions, were without a shadow of a doubt the best months of her lives. The weekend getaways in the last six months, and Hawaii, were the trips a way for both of them to hold on to those best moments?
Or were they means of escape? Are we doing that now? Running away?
Pushing at her hair again, and closing her eyes, she breathes her silent acknowledgment, We need to talk.
But talking isn’t what we do best is it? If it were, there wouldn’t have been a need for another ultimatum, one that would eventually suffuse her fiancée with guilt, of which Olivia considers herself fully culpable.
Maybe not just talking, but listening. At least for me. She sighs. Why can’t I just listen?
A tightening of the hand holding hers snaps her head, and she looks down, to find blue eyes gazing at hers, searching. “Hi,” she whispers. Then she repeats the word, louder, and with a smile.
Alex shifts, sitting up, so their heads are closer, so they don’t have to yell or try to read lips. She stays in her lover’s arms. “You okay?”
“You don’t look okay. You’ve been thinking.”
“Some,” Olivia has to admit.
“Care to share?”
She shrugs. “Later maybe. Let’s try and go back to sleep.”
“You’re just going to keep thinking, and it’ll be too noisy for me to sleep.”
The smirk pulling at full lips makes Olivia laugh. “Sorry if my thinking woke you up.”
“I’m serious. I can’t explain it, but it did.”
“I know.” She doesn’t, not really. But she’s not surprised by the revelation. “I’m sorry.”
Talk, right? Something we need to learn to do? Sighing, Olivia admits, “Us. I was thinking about us.”
“I was thinking about the other night, too,” she explains without any hint of suggestion, or specifying the night in question. They both know. “And I’m sorry.”
“I should be…”
Quickly, Olivia shakes her head. “I didn’t listen, and I should have.”
“You worry, and I appreciate that.” Alex touches her lover’s cheek and slides her hand through the woman’s hair, stroking her bangs from her eyes. “And you made up for it. More than.”
“You know it was.”
“You really like being mine, like that?”
“I am yours, like that. Like you’re mine, some other ways.” Alex smiles gently. “We crave different things.”
“And we like giving the things the other one craves.”
It was more a question, than a statement, Alex understands. “One of the many signs we’re meant for each other.”
“Really.” Olivia smiles, deciding to lighten the previous mood before it stifles the current one. Her brows wagging, she asks, “Wanna get a room?”
“Not with Dani next door, I know.”
“But people might think…”
She doesn’t let Alex finish. “I just wanna hold you.” And prove that I can evolve. “And my back’s kinking up and killing me.” As soon as the words are out of her mouth, her fiancée scrambles away. Momentarily, she misses the warmth until the woman pulls her from her seat by her hand. Happily, she follows.
“Are you sure this is fine?” Alex asks as she watches her lover getting settled beside her in bed. “Not being strapped in?”
“We just have to sit up, if the turbulence gets that bad.” Olivia tugs at the belts originally hidden near the headboard. Then she makes sure their life jackets are in the drawers according to the sign on the vanity she saw when they walked in. “Hopefully it doesn’t. Are you fine with this?”
“Well, you’re concerned people might think we’re…”
“Honestly, since when do I care about what people think?”
Never? Or at least not often. “But you seemed…” Olivia scratches her nose. “You were very convincing.”
“I don’t know why I do it.”
“It’s okay. I’m not criticizing.” She offers a smile. “But now that I know…” With purpose, she moves towards her lover, and laughs when her advances are blocked.
“But you said…”
“And what about what you said?” Alex replies lightly, arranging their bodies and releasing a deep breath when her head finds its pillow and strong arms settle around her. “Thought you wanted to snuggle and sleep?”
“I do.” Olivia smiles, and presses a kiss to her fiancée’s head. “And I think we should get you a Kelly bag, if you have our kids.”
“You know that’s why they made it right? So Grace Kelly could hide her pregnancy? So people didn’t know she had sex?”
“Don’t be silly.” Alex hits her lover’s thigh. “Things you keep in your head.”
She lifts up and presses a sound kiss to her pillow. “Sleep.”
With her nipple’s Pavlovian response? “Right.” She cranes her neck and checks to make sure the blonde doesn’t have other ideas. With a sigh, she lets her head fall. Moments later, she feels rather than hear the words.
“I’m not, I swear. Really trying not to, in fact,” she admits, and senses a low laugh. “What?”
“Nothing. You’re cute.”
“Yes,” Alex confirms with a smile. “My kind of ‘cute’.”
That Olivia can live with. “Okay.”
“It’s okay, right?” Olivia begins. It is apparent based on Alex’s breathing that she isn’t sleeping. Neither of them is sleepy. When the blonde remains silent, she continues, “That I asked about your grandmother?”
“Yeah?” Alex blinks open her eyes and raises her head. With her lover’s insistence, she settles back down against her chest. What she saw though hadn’t caused alarm anyway. “You can ask anything you want.”
“You mean that?”
“It goes both ways, Alex, you know?”
“And you can tell me anything. Absolutely anything,” she promises and brings her fiancée’s hand to her lips, and pledges with a kiss.
“Are you sure everything’s fine, Liv?”
“Yeah? You’re in my arms, we’re starting our European vacation, we’re together, you’re in my arms, did I mention?” She replies with a chuckle and adds another kiss. “Everything’s peachy.”
“And you’ll tell me if things aren’t?”
“Yeah.” After a beat, she shrugs. “You’ll know anyway, and you’ll pull it out of me. You always do.” A sigh. Then she comes to a decision, “Maybe we can try to skip that step and I can just tell you, before you have to ask.” She spares her lover the need to comment, and continues, “It’s just, sometimes I think, I mean, it’s okay to have that private space, right? That no one else gets in? That you keep for yourself?”
“We all need it, right?”
“I suppose?” Once more, Alex tries to pull away, so she can read the olive features. Again, Olivia stops her. When the woman starts stroking through her hair, she has no choice but to relax and melts into her body. Sighing, she closes her eyes.
“But what if I don’t want it?”
“That private space. What if I don’t want to keep anything from you? Or you, me?” Olivia proceeds in a rush, not wanting to lose the moment. “I know we’re supposed to keep something for ourselves, so we don’t become codependent and all that, but I don’t want the space. I want us together. I like it when we’re connected, when I can feel our connection. Can you?”
“Sure. I think so.” Alex smiles and squeezes her lover tighter. “I felt you, and heard your voice, when I was in my head.”
“Every time?” I visited? All the things I said to you? Somehow she felt embarrassed about all the rambling. Didn’t she say all of those things precisely because she wanted the woman to know, lest it was her last chance to say them? She remains silent, taking a calming breath.
“I’d like to think so? I can’t be hundred percent sure, you know?”
“Oh, why not?” Olivia replies with a smile. “You’re okay with this… connection, that we have? It’s not too weird?”
“I don’t think we need to be in therapy, if that’s what you’re asking,” Alex confirms. “I feel connected to you, and I respond to you, more than I have anyone else. That’s how I knew, you’re who I want.”
Olivia smiles. “Soulmates.”
“Loving me, generally.”
I’ll love you with my last breath. “With pleasure,” Olivia replies, and places another kiss in her fiancée’s palm. “Suppose we really try to get some sleep, huh? I don’t wanna be all jetlagged and grumpy when we get to Italy.”
The admission draws a laugh from Alex. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”
“I know.” I know…
“I love that you’re mine.”
Despite facing away, Alex can see dark eyes gleaming, with love and sensuality. The softness of the woman’s voice, it matches the lightness of her touches, sending shivers down her spine. She whispers, unchecked want spiking the single syllable, “Liv…”
“I love how you feel, love waking up with you in my arms,” encouraged, Olivia continues, while nosing her fiancée’s hair. Sweet scent fills her nostrils and reminds her of strawberry fields, or lily of the valley. Maybe both. So damn lucky. A smile curves her lips. “And I love touching you, kissing you. I love how your breath catches when I first touch you, it’s like you’re waiting…”
“You remember what we did, the other night?” When you wanted me to fuck you. “To make you mine?”
Alex nods. Reflexively, she arches back, hard, while almost gingerly she touches the rings circling her lover’s finger, the vena amoris that connects her heart. Everything's still fresh, on her mind and on her person. On her person. When will she stop thinking like a criminal lawyer? She lowers her eyes without wincing and instead focuses on Olivia's hand, her left hand, her long fingers spanning across her breasts, keeping their peaks captive. While her other hand, tucked under her body and snaked around her waist, is slowly stroking circle around her middle, edging closer and closer to her sex.
“You really liked that?”
“Yes,” she hisses. And she craves this, this unapologetic need of her lover's to possess, to claim. To demand by right. She wants this, partly so equity would allow her own fair share. So she can take without guilt; but it is so much more. “I love being yours.”
“Tell me,” Olivia says as she did that other night. In her mind’s eye, she sees her fiancée in their bathroom, unwinding after work. The diffused incandescent lights reflecting off the shiny surfaces of Italian mosaic glass tiles, in a multitude of pinks, iridescent, pearlescent and hauntingly opaque. She sees herself embracing the blonde from behind, like she does now. “So glad to have you back.”
“I’m glad you’re home, too,” Alex had replied, intentionally unlayering the words. She spun around in Olivia’s arms and kissed her with a sudden fire, a need.
“Tell me,” the brunette urges, needing herself now, to hear the words.
“In every way.”
The hoarse sentiment, it suddenly isn’t enough. “But tell me, Sweetheart…” Just as unexpectedly, she loses her voice.
“Were you serious?” Olivia no longer thinks so, but still had to ask. “If I had held back, again, like I’d been doing, would you really… would you leave…” She closes her eyes and swallows.
“Of course not.” Alex tries to turn, to touch and reassure her lover. The woman holds her fast. “I was upset.” And being rash, and impulsive. Short fuse.
“Upset? You were?” I didn’t know.
“The day… I had an upsetting day, and I just wanted to forget.”
“You’ll get upset.”
Olivia squeezes her lover tighter against herself. “Everything. I want to know everything. Don’t want anything between us. Nothing, no secrets.”
“It’s not important. Honest.”
“Something upset you, Alex, it’s important.”
“I can’t talk about it, not right now.” She doesn't want to think about the guy, not now, not anytime any day really. It’s enough that she’ll have to explain to the Destin Board why she cannot handle the partner at Todd St. George, that Ling will have to continue with her previous role working with the investment advisors. “Or I can talk about it, and we’ll have to stop. Can’t both.” Already she is feeling unsettled, aggravated almost. Something happened while she was in her head. Ever since, everything she feels seems manifested, to the point she can no longer control or contain them, at least not without effort, unlike before. And that is, disconcerting.
“Okay. Do you want the same thing?” Take you and make you scream my name? She remembers her lover’s voice wanting, deep with need.
Alex shakes her head.
Didn’t think so. Still, Olivia thought she should check. “What would you like then?”
“Your pleasure.” Someone else’s pleasure. Since when did she start caring? Only since forever? Like she does care about what others think - especially if the others were her mother or godmother or other parental and familial figures in her life?
"Love you," Olivia whispers. Even those little words, the warm puffs of breath against her ear, they feel huge, and heavy. The sentiments make her want to cry, in relief, in gratitude. In pain, albeit a good delicious, intense, full of love sort of pain. Like the other night. Would it make sense to Olivia, even if it doesn't herself? "So much," the brunette adds as she continues her circling strokes, slowly building and pulling her lover back from wherever her thoughts had taken her. "Beautiful."
It is always beautiful, their lovemaking. A wonderful and fabulous something that always makes her feel cherished and loved. But what she wanted wasn't that. Not just that. She wanted to be underneath the water overwhelmed. Punished? She freezes. No, not that. Couldn't possibly be that, could it? She turns around, insisting, opening her eyes and staring into her lover's, to see herself. What she finds makes her gasp, “Love you, too. So much.”
“Always,” Olivia answers, mirroring the desperation.
It is enough though, enough to keep blue eyes wide shut. To complete, to be completed, in this close space. There is no room for the likes of Robbie Todd, III. not in any fashion, in this place.
Gently, Olivia pressed her fiancée against the wall and placed a string of kisses down the center of her body and over her blush-pink blouse, untucking it from her skirt in the process. She leaned against the winter grey wool fabric, feeling its softness along her cheek as she unhooked flesh-colored stockings from garters, gently sliding them down the silken legs, first the left, then the right. Alex’s grip tightened against her shoulders, urging her on.
“Beautiful,” she hushed instead, placing soft kisses all over, momentarily marveling at the three inches of exposed skin between the hem of her lover’s skirt and her knees. “And sexy.” Carefully, taking her time, she finished removing the woman’s stockings and helped her out of her shoes. Slowly, almost reverently, she retraced her path, brushing her face and lips up the smooth, lush fabric, starch crisp shirting and warm, velvety skin. A tense moment later, Chantilly lace fluttered silently to the floor.
Alex wound her fingers in Olivia’s hair and pulled her forward, firm and tight against herself, her kisses fiery and urgent. A small moan escaped when her lover’s tongue met hers in her mouth, exploring softly, gently, controlled.
With a choked sigh, she broke off their connection. “Please, Liv, love me.”
“I do love you, Baby, very much,” Olivia replied and lowered the zipper of her hooded sweatshirt. Always watchful, she saw tension crossing her lover’s shoulders and wondered briefly if she should offer a massage. Thinking better, without another word, she took Alex’s hand and led the way to their bed. With an indulgent smile, she let herself be pushed and fall backward onto the mattress. The smile remained when the blonde undid her pants and pulled them off with her underwear in one swift motion. It continued as she watched her lover hike up her own skirt, and remained compliant when shapely legs straddle her thigh.
A tempest was brewing in Alex’s person, one she was fighting to contain and unleash at the same time. With quickly slipping control, she ground against her lover’s hard flesh. If she must ride out her own passion, so be it. Before her movements gained momentum, however, large hands slowed her by her hips. “Liv,” she breathed and sucked in a deep breath when Olivia leaned up and captured her mouth.
It was a gentle kiss, Olivia made sure, tasting the softness of her fiancée’s full lips, stroking lightly against her tongue, then holding back to explore the moist warmth of her mouth. When Alex pulled away, her smile snapped back into place. “Let me make love to you.”
Tender, vanilla bunny worship love, in other words. Not that there was anything wrong with that, normally. “I need more, Liv. Please? That’s all we did since… It’s been weeks, months. I promise, I won’t break.” She tried to control her frustration. “Please?” She begged.
“Fuck me?” A whispered request, followed by a needful whimper; it wasn’t sheer manipulation, she should feel shame. At this point, however, she didn’t care.
In response, Olivia caressed her fiancée, cupping and kneading her breasts over the shirt, resuming her unhurried pace. “It’ll be good, Sweetheart, I promise.”
Alex tore the hands away from her body. “Let’s just forget it,” she suggested calmly. Hurt in turn clouded the brunette’s features, as expected. “Don’t look at me like that, Olivia. I’ve tried to be patient. I understand and appreciate your concern, but this is way overboard.”
“I just want to show you how much I love you, how much you mean to me.”
She didn’t know what was worse, the open-handed shrug, or the hushed entreaty. “Then why are you not listening to me?” She waited a beat for the answer she knew wouldn’t come, and fired, “You’re the one who showed me ownership sex. Made my body love it, crave it.” With a swallowed huff, she leapt off the bed, and fought against the urge to pace. That was Olivia’s habit, not hers. Instead, she mirrored the shrug with contempt. “Have you forgotten how? Or have you changed your mind?”
In response, Olivia scooted up against the headboard and looked back, her expression slightly aghast.
“I can show you if you’ve forgotten. I know you won’t break and I know how your body loves it.” At last the woman tried to respond, but Alex wasn’t through. “And if you’ve changed your mind about fucking owning me, tell me now, before we make fools of ourselves in front of everyone.”
At that, something in Olivia snapped. She propelled herself forward; she remembered her feet hitting the cold hard floor. Her next recollection was of them both on the bed, her lover’s skirt bunched up and thighs pushed apart. Then she was jamming her fingers in, pulling out completely, and repeating the desperate, furious motion, hyper aware of reckless nails scraping her shirt, of long legs wrapped around her hugging her tight.
“Liv,” Alex sighed. “Oh, God, Liv…”
“Finally”, she heard the word as if the blond had screamed it, like she was roaring out her pleasure. As she let go, things began slotting into place, while the woman’s hips flew up to meet each deep and deeper stroke.
Olivia paused, with her fingers still inside. “You wanna be owned? Wanna be fucked? Fine.” She growled and grabbed a handful of blonde hair, and pulled back resolutely, exposing her lover’s throat. “You are mine,” she declared and sucked hard on the fair skin, nipping, biting, intending on marking. Thrusting. Harder when she felt Alex pull her in closer. “Mine!” She pushed in deeper, her teeth grazing her lover’s collar bone.
“Yes! God, yes,” Alex responded to the vitality, the power, the want, the need.
“Yes, Liv, yes!” She rejoined each deep stroke.
All the while, steadily, shirt got unbuttoned, bra unclasped, skirt undone and pulled off. Alex was vaguely aware of her nakedness, as fleece and denim chafed her skin, tuned only to her lover nibbling and sucking down her body, how her fingers never stopped. Not even when her lips, her mouth joined her hand. Taking her in with her tongue, wrapped tightly, possessively around her, stroking, devouring, consuming.
“Liv, god, Liv, yes, Liv…” She chanted in short staccato to the rhythm of her heartbeat, which skipped when Olivia paused. “Liv!”
Ignoring the loud protest, slowly, Olivia she regrouped her fingers, pushing in steadily, filling and hugging her firmly. Once. Twice. And again she stopped. This time, she rose onto her elbow.
This time, Alex half screamed, half sobbed her despair, “Liv!” The syllable died when fabric rasped against her skin again. She opened her eyes, which slammed closed when the brunette, hovering over her breasts, licked her lips.
In the next beat, Olivia resumed her thrusting. “Mine!”
She could feel more than hear her lover’s growl. “Yes!” She shouted, hips flying up to meet each harsh thrust. God, she wanted it. She wanted to pull Olivia inside her, like she was pulling her nipple into her mouth, sucking and rasping with her teeth. She wanted so much, so deep, she needed the rawness in her body to match the one in her heart. “Yes, Liv, Liv,..” she breathed. Then a hard flick of the tongue, and then everything stopped. She was near tears when she asked, “Liv?”
“Open your eyes.” When Alex didn’t respond, Olivia tried again, “Open your eyes, Sweetheart.”
“Liv?” She answered with an equally small voice, and sucked in a shallow breath before obeying her lover’s request. What she saw made her take another breath, and fight to keep her eyes open.
Gently, Olivia touched the kiss reddened point with her finger; then she pressed down so her fiancée’s breast filled her hand. It felt like she was holding her heart. Without apology, she watched as a thousand emotions cross the fair features. “Tell me, Alex, tell me what you want,” she asked softly.
“Love me?” Alex replied in a hoarse whisper, still feeling the sting in her eyes.
“I do, very much.” Olivia promised, leaning down to taste her lover’s tears. “More than anything.” More than life itself.
“Like this?” She expanded her fingers, and then flicked her wrists to embrace and hold. “Or this?”
“Don’t care…” Alex replied truthfully. Suddenly, she really didn’t care anymore. Nothing else mattered. “Your pleasure?”
“What do you want?”
“To…” She reached up, and ran her fingers through her lover’s dark bangs, to tuck them behind her ear. “Just be yours.”
“Good answer.” Lifting a corner of her lips, Olivia smiled.
Alex did as well as she clasped the strong body close, as spasms of pleasure arc through her. “God, Liv, yes, Liv, Liv…”
“Ok. Please stop.”
“Are you sure?” Alex smiles, and flick out her tongue. “You’re still reacting,” she observes, before taking Olivia into her mouth again, licking the length of her sex before lapping and sucking her lover’s hard clit. Contented low noises flow from her throat while her hands massage the brunette’s womanly hips. It doesn’t take long for her lover to tense in climax, and then she is rewarded with another wave of sweetness.
“Please,” Olivia breathes, unable to stop her body from arching towards her fiancée’s touch.
“More?” The blonde grins. She knows she is taking advantage, but no one can fault her for copying a page from her lover’s book. “Okay!” She yelps cheerfully and resumes the licking and probing. Soon, she feels flutters swelling into ripples against her tongue, and she digs in, riding the new torrent.
“Stop, Baby,” Olivia pleads, after her last orgasm, which she is certain was heard all the way down in the galley of the jet. It felt good though. Damn. So good. She feels a lingering tingle in her loins, one that is almost pulsing to her lover’s nearness. “No more.”
“Let me think about it.” Alex smirks, sliding her tongue over her lips lightly, tasting. “You know you mouth says one thing, but your body, it’s telling me something else, something entirely different actually. Am I right, or am I right?”
Olivia has no answer but the flaming of her cheeks.
“How many times do you think you can do this?”
At the pause, the brunette raises her head and look down. Apparently, Alex is waiting for an answer. “I don’t…” She falls back into the pillow. “I don’t know.”
“I’d like to find out. Don’t you?”
“God.” Olivia groans. “You’re gonna kill me.”
“Nonsense. You’re strong. You run, what? Two miles a day in the morning with me, and then another five miles at the gym? Not to mention chasing all the creeps we’re not supposed to talk about?” As if to prove her point, she strokes the span of her detective’s thighs. “You’re so strong, and I feel so safe with you, even 51 thousand feet in the air. My hero.”
“Oh, god, just…” Lay it on, won’t you? Olivia knows she is being manipulated, like one of those pipe cleaner toys they curl around a pencil for Oliver, wrapped neatly around her lover’s pinky. She groans, feeling jazzed up and limp at the same time, “Just do it.” No sooner than the words leave her mouth, her sex is once more surrounded, this time inside and out. Minutes or seconds later, she is trembling, tumbling into another ecstasy. This time, from the hitched moan that filled her womb, she knows her fiancée came with her. The knowledge sends her soaring yet higher…
It feels like she has been gone forever, dozing, hearing the roaring of the plane, waking. There is nothing, no thoughts in her head, except for her fiancée’s weight pressed against her, her slim body gathered in her arms. It’s heaven. Olivia sighs her relief and contentment.
The question doesn’t surprise her; she knows her lover has been awake mostly, listening to her heartbeat as she sleeps. Olivia smiles and replies with another sigh. “Stewed.”
“I’ll say.” Alex giggles. “Juicy.”
“Hush.” The brunette nudges her lover’s ribs; the light prod then turns into a caress. “How’s the sexy beast.”
“And my girl?”
“Good. Very, very good,” Alex adds, loving the endearment and being Olivia’s girl. It’s been a while since she had called her that, it seems. “Didn’t leave you wanting?”
“You?” Olivia swallows the smart aleck comment and asks instead. Then she remembers their earlier talk, one that led them to this point in time and space. Do we really need to continue? Seems moot now… “Doubting?” Still, she asks, but leaving the question intentionally open.
In response, Alex offers a warm and genuine smile and shakes her head.
“Tell me again.”
She taps her lover’s breast bone. “You’re mine.”
Olivia laughs and captures her fiancée’s hand, linking their fingers together. “That, I am.”
“And I’m yours,” Alex says, letting out a rush of air. Then her voice drops to a purr, “Always.” She snuggles closer, happily surrounded by their afterglow.
The two simple words trigger a déjà vu. Or perhaps it was Olivia’s question, or their earlier conversation. Suddenly, she is returned to that night, or maybe she never really left. “See? Told you.”
“I won’t break. Didn’t.”
Better not. I’d die. “Sorry for not listening, I really am,” Olivia repeats her contrition. Then she remembers the ‘souvenirs’, and looks down at the purpling blotches marring her fiancée’s fair skin. “And I’m sorry, for the hickeys…”
“Hush,” Alex scolds. “Told you already not to apologize. I wanted them.”
“’Still’ nothing.” She rubs her nose against the soft mound of her lover’s breast, and sighs. “Suppose we should get dressed and see what’s going on outside?”
Hopefully, Dani’s still sleeping, that she’d slept through everything, and nothing’s going on outside. It’d be typical if we got caught by your family that’d I’d be the one… Olivia rolls her mental eyes. But suppose we should, she starts to reply, but something stops her. Quickly, she searches her memory. “Hey, weren’t you gonna tell me why you got upset?”
Caught off guard, Alex freezes. “Upset?”
“You said something had upset you, that day,” Olivia traces her memory and follows the words carefully, “And made you want ownership sex…?” At the end, she finishes the statement with a question mark. “Why? What happened?” That would upset me? She tries not to tense.
“Let’s get dressed,” the blonde says and begins to roll off the bed. She doesn’t get far before strong arms pull her back. Still, she grabs for their shirts. “Here,” she tosses her lover hers, and tugs her own over her head. “Come on.”
“You’re gonna have to take it off again for your bra.”
“No I won’t, I’ll go braless.”
“That’s fine for you, but I’ll need mine.”
“Okay, fine,” reluctantly, Alex agrees, and scoots forward in bed, sitting crossed-legged. She ignores her lover’s arched brow, but lets the woman take her hand. For a while, the monotonous hum of the engine fills the space; then becomes too much to endure. Finally, she lets out a small breath and inhales deeply, filling and puffing out her chest.
“The law is like chess, first, you learn the rules, and once you know them, it's about maneuvering and outsmarting the other side. And winning,” she proceeds by explaining, not knowing where else to begin. “But the rules now, they're different. Winning isn't just about beating down the other side but leaving the table with everyone believing they've won...” She stops, her shoulders sagging a little. “I'm sorry, you don't want to talk about work." "It's okay. Really. Please, Sweetheart, talk to me." The gentle strength in her lover’s hand reassures and urges Alex on. "Jack Francis, he's a trader." "Yeah?" That’s not news.
"When he decided to be in finance, Uncle Jack called Randy; and Randy sat him down and explained everything about the profession, all the rules, the legal ones and the moral ones that he should abide by. He knows there are things he shouldn't do, like betting on the demise of a company, no matter how lucrative it might be." "You mean hedge funds." "Yeah." Alex rubs her forehead with her free hand. "I don't know where I'm going with this." Olivia decides to take a guess; hopefully, she knows her fiancée well enough. "So the rules are different now, and you wish someone would explain them to you?"
It is true, and Alex does not deny. “We live in New York City, walking distance to the subway, and I have two cars. Granted, the firm owns one of them, but I’m half of the firm.”
And your super charged V8 toy cost more than your previous salary. Ah. “Are you feeling guilty about your privileges?”
The tucked chin and lowered lashes, however, speak volumes. “Your cousins, Jack’s children, they all have nice cars, and nice houses, I don’t think they feel guilty for what they have.”
“They work hard for what they have.”
“And you will, too. Did, already.”
“But my mom…”
God, no more ‘St. Celine’ talk. That’s one thing she learned spending time with the woman – Alex’s mom doesn’t walk around with a halo around her head, nor does she pretend to have one. “Your mom set you up, she set Ling up. She lives in a sixteen room house with a chauffeured SUV and a housekeeper, and every time I see her, she’s wearing a different pair of Manolo’s.”
“Céline’s. Things she wears daily, except her intimates.” Alex explains with a deep shrug, “She likes to think of it as her brand.”
“More expensive than Manolo, the shoes.” They both know that, she is certain; so she adds, “And she special orders most things from Paris.”
“There you go.” Olivia gestures in triumph. “There’s nothing wrong with being a little spoiled. If I were rich, you’d be dripping in diamonds. Heck, we’d both be.”
“You are, you know, not bad off.”
“Yes, well, I’m sorry, but I kinda think of most that as your dad’s money? I mean…”
“I know,” it is Alex’s turn to squeeze her lover’s hand and reassures. “I know what you mean. So you’re okay with a little indulgence, once in a while, with money we make ourselves?”
“Sure. We’re doing that right now, aren’t we? Two weeks in Spain?”
“Yeah, true. Okay.”
Suddenly, there is a sparkle in bright blue eyes; Olivia wonders what she has missed. A surprise for her birthday, maybe? But she has already had a party, and that was more than she had ever done or received, or even wanted. “Okay?”
“Yeah, okay, I concede,” Alex replies with a ready smile. “You’re right, I’m being too uptight, and I’ve done enough and will do enough. And you, too, doing what you do, out there, everyday. And we don’t even have someone come in once a week to clean our house. I have nothing to feel guilty about.”
All right, that’s way too easy. Olivia wonders. Or is it? Maybe you’ve had time to think? Maybe in Sparkill even? Her smile comes unbidden, knocking out all thoughts as her lover bends forward and ducks her head. She responds with the requested kiss. “Love you,” she follows up as they part, and Alex settles back with a happy sigh.
Everything’s gonna work itself out, she wants to say. She is certain of that fact. Just as she has grown certain that regardless of the circumstances, their jobs, whatever, they are meant to be; it would just be a matter of ‘how’. It always goes back to that, doesn’t it?
“Okay, so that was it?” Olivia prompts after a stretch of comfortable silence, during which they both put on their clothes. “The rules got you upset?” They wouldn’t have upset me though.
“God, you’re like a dog with a bone,” Alex teasingly complains.
Either the false bark or the toothy smile, or more likely: they both put Alex more at ease. For that she is grateful. She tries to be completely honest, despite her uncharacteristic lack of eloquence. “It's just, things been so different since I came back, to the City I mean. And I kept telling myself I just needed to adjust. And then after the,” she stops herself, knowing Olivia is still uncomfortable with the word ‘coma’; and in all honesty, she is as well. “And then now, things are even more different, and not just about work." "How so?"
"I just feel... Different?” More out of control? Less objective? “Little things set me off where they normally wouldn't?" She tries to find words, but the right ones have been elusive. "I almost walked out of a meeting with Destin's financial advisor, because he hedges, not with our assets, but he manages a fund, and because he couldn't stop thinking with his little head." For a second, Olivia wonders how she should react. Calm and civilized, or acting all jealous and possessive? What would her lover expect, or want? In the end, she decides to be truthful, and asks with composure, "He was hitting on you?" "Flirting," Alex down plays and returns the squeeze of her lover’s hand. "Harmlessly, I guess.”
“It was, harmless.” She nods. “But at that time, I felt soiled, and that's stupid and an exaggeration. Men have leered. If, for every wolf whistle and crude comment, I get a dollar, Destin wouldn't need Todd St. George, LLC – that’s his firm. Okay, I’m exaggerating.” And being totally ridiculous, I see it now. "But you’re right,” Olivia agrees. Which part? Alex wonders aloud, "You're not upset? With him and his little head?”
Olivia lets out a laugh and shakes her head. “Is this a trick? It’s gotta be a trick.”
“I act all crazy jealous and you bite my head off. I don’t, and you’re not happy. I can’t win, can I?”
“I’m sorry.” Alex flicks her bangs out of her eyes and sighs. “I don’t know what I want,” she admits, and looks to her lover for understanding and answer.
"You're not interested, are you?" The brunette grins at the briefly knitted brows. "Well, then. Besides, he’s a guy." “What do you mean? I could be attracted to a guy. I dated guys." "But you prefer women, or at least me.” Olivia smiles, once more congratulating herself. “Anyway, I only meant that he was just acting like all guys do around a hot chick.”
“I’m not a ‘chick’,” Alex protests, her eyes twinkling in mischief. “You think I’m hot.”
Olivia laughs. “I’m so not gonna dignify that.”
“So you’re not upset?”
“Upset that you were upset? Sure. Are my panties in a wad that Mr. Hedge Fund was flirting? Not really. As long as it’s harmless, it’s okay,” she offers and shrugs. “I don't get upset when we go to the pet store." "Pet store? Why? What's there to...” Alex is genuinely confused. “There's only Pat, who's, well, Pat." "Pat who has a giant crush on you."
"He doesn't.” The blonde chuckles. This conversation is becoming ridiculous. Although the lightness, even if originally unintended, she can appreciate. “It’s preposterous. The man's gay." "You can’t tell by the way he watches you,” Olivia observes with a grin of her own. “And he's always extra solicitous when you're around. Anyway, it's kinda funny and Oliver gets free treats..." "You're using me for laughs and free treats, I feel so dirty and cheap," Alex huffs, and tries to cross her arms, but her lover refuses to let go. So she mock glowers. "And from now on, you're shopping for Oliver."
"Oliver's your cat." The brunette tsks. Then the playfulness in her expression grows. "So who's the guy? You want me to talk to him? Stake my claim, mark my territory or tell him you’re not interested in being his trophy?"
Yeah, Alex could just see herself as someone’s trophy, living in a penthouse on 5th, getting up every morning and starting the day with a cup of latte and a croissant brought to her by a maid, then dressing in a different but essentially the same outfit everyday, straightening her hair and putting on her make up in such a way that appeared natural. Then she would be at the salon from ten to noon to get all her efforts undone by someone named Philippe or Phaedra only to emerge, somehow more suitable for meetings at charitable foundations, or gallery or studio visits that last all afternoon.
She would make it home by six, to get dressed so she could accompany her spouse to business dinners or galas at one of the Mets, or the MOMA, or an opening at Gagosian. All evening, her eyes would shine with dullness, her smile be frozen, and eternal boredom would hang from her shoulders like her strapless gown. On the limo ride home, she would ply her spouse with liquor and hope that he would be too distracted to want sex or too drunk to get it up because who knows where else and from whom he has been getting it and what diseases one might catch. But that will happen only after having the requisite children, hopefully one of each - his heir and his little girl. They will be raised by nannies, educated by tutors and shipped off to boarding school when they are old enough, if nothing else because the Jones's do.
Yeah, no thanks. She dismisses, but tells her lover what went on in her mind, to explain her silence, albeit not in so many words. "I don't want a repeat of my mom's life." "I'm sorry, for both of you," Olivia offers, genuinely feeling bad. She wants to pull her fiancée into her arms and just hold her, and take away all her conflicts and make everything all right again. Which is impossible, she realizes. Perhaps she could help at least by offering what she knows? Should I get involved? Celine didn’t say to keep anything secret this time. But… She sighs, and hangs on to the woman’s hand. Somehow her own helplessness with the situation makes her crave the connection; and hand-holding feels completely lacking. She needs something fiercer. Is that it? Were you trying to lose yourself in us? "She made her choices." "Sweetheart, I know your mom feels a lot of guilt, for not being there when you were growing up, and when you got shot." My loyalty lies here, she resolves and reveals, "She didn't go to salons or have afternoon tea with Gagosian when you were at Sparkill. She visited you every day. Celine puts up a good show, keeping a stiff upper lip, but it’s just that, a show. She’s not one of those uncaring, manipulative women on tv." "I know, I know that. And I'm... I know she has obligations and all that, I'm just saying I don't want to be her. I can't." "And you don't have to be. For one, we don't have the same kind of marriage, and we don’t have the same social expectations." "That's two." "You know what I mean." "I know.” Alex sighs, resisting her lover’s cheeky smile. It’s not easy, but she will try, just as she will figure a way to handle things. She can’t escape into her head forever, after all. "No, I’ll tell Ling I don't want to work with him. He was hers anyway," she decides. Ling will probably make some snide remarks, but it’ll be fine. "I've got to say, I don't know how she does it. We were raised with the same values. Hell, we have the same values. She just, she makes a much better society wife than I do, she and my mom. All the wheeling and dealing and pretending and pampering."
Dark brows rise with the pitch of Olivia’s laugh. “You like getting pampered.”
“By you. I don’t know that I like other people all over my personal space.”
"And you're sick of pretending," she says, instantly sober again. Still, she keeps an encouraging smile, and bends forward, taking her fiancée’s other hand. The return grip both attenuating and blighting, she finds. "Not just that. I'm not sure I can, long term, effectively. It's like starting out with the DA's office, you're zealously prosecuting every case, then you get tired, then you start losing, and you get discouraged and tired." "But that wasn't you." "No it wasn't, I was more interested in wheeling and dealing and getting ahead." She laughs at the irony while letting out a big puff of air. "Why are we talking about this? We're on vacation. We shouldn't be talking about work, especially when all the talking isn't going to get us anywhere."
"Maybe you should talk to your mom, find out how she does it. Or Martha. She's, no offense, less intimidating I have to admit."
“Martha will just call him an arriviste and pooh-pooh the whole thing. And that would be best case scenario.”
Huh. Olivia is surprised. Why are we back to Mr. Hedge Fund? Or is he part of the new rules, people you’d rather not associate with, but you have to, because they have something you want? “What’s worst case?”
“She’ll think I’m incompetent, unprofessional, self-absorbed…”
“Bah! You’re being silly.” She tickles her lover’s pout with her lips. “She’ll be nice and understanding, like she was when she talked to me...” “She likes you. You're special.” “You're her goddaughter, doesn't get more special than that. Just talk to her, she might surprise you.”
“We’ll see,” Alex says, determined to set it aside for later. And maybe later, she’ll feel different, less discouraged. Hah. She conjures another smile, a genuine one. “We’re okay, right?”
“Yeah? Why wouldn’t we be?”
“I don’t know. We’re starting off our vacation kind of angsty.”
“You kidding? Compared to what we’re capable of? This is almost happy-happy. It won’t take much for us to get back the joy-joy.”
“Har har. Anyway, I’m sorry, about the way I pushed you.” She should stop doing that, issuing empty threats. And find some other way to resolve things. Learn. We’re new at this, aren’t we? Both of us? Sometimes she has to remind herself, that they haven’t been officially a couple for that long, not even a year since they’ve been engaged, and most of that was spent long distance. And before, there was no commitment before, and neither of them has been in serious relationships for any significant lengths of time. Well, at least one of us hasn’t. Let’s not go there either.
Then there’s being only children, self-centered center of people’s universes, flawed universes they might have been. Yeah, learn. And start by being honest, and clearing the air, Alex decides, and rests her chin on her lover’s shoulder. The immediate kiss she receives makes it harder but easier at the same time. “It really didn’t, I didn’t mean… not what I said.”
“You didn’t mean to give me an ultimatum?”
There was smile in her lover’s voice, banter that says ‘all’s forgiven’. Still, visibly, Alex winces. “I’m sorry. I guess I could’ve waited. Sooner or later, we’ll get back to ‘us’, right? And I’m sorry about the other ultimatum, you know, that brought you to Chicago. I’m not sure I ever apologized for it.”
“Hey, hey.” Why dredge that up? Olivia quickly demurs, “I know you didn’t mean it. Not then. Not ever. I know you would’ve taken me back, no matter how much time I needed to take to come to my senses.” And sometimes some things just need to be broken, before being made whole again… She blinks, surprised by the thought; and she lets go of her fiancée’s hands, only to pull the woman into her embrace.
Gratefully, Alex slumps in her lover’s strong arms, tucking her head under her chin and leaning in. To be stroked and cherished with tenderness and understanding and indulgence, it is so nice. “Really?” She argues out of defiance, “I thought I was pretty sure…” It is a lie, not so deep down she knows, they both do. She sucks on her lip, and admits, “Yeah. I would have.” You’re not someone I can get over.
“Thank you.” Olivia presses another kiss to her fiancée’s head, and pulls her tighter against herself, showing her that she, too, never intends to let go. “And for giving me the push.”
“Still. It probably shouldn’t have been… we should learn to talk to each other.”
“Yeah, and I know I need to listen, and not try to decide what’s best for you.”
“I like it when you’re protective.”
“But not always.” With a sheepish smile, Olivia admits, “And I’ve been treating you like a porcelain doll and I'm sorry. I just... You know, I get protective - over protective. But that's kinda who I am.” “It is who you are,” Alex agrees. “And it's one of the qualities that made me fall in love with you - how protective you are of the victims.” “But you're not a victim...” “No. I make my own choices, made them.” “Okay. I get it,” Olivia assures. She doesn’t know how she didn’t before, or maybe she was just in denial. Or maybe it’s like solving cases - one step, one idea at a time. Which is fine and dandy with work, but… Wish I could accelerate the process… What does it take for me to change? “But I haven't been treating you like a victim, have I?” “You haven't, but you were over protective still. Which is okay for the most part, but not when it comes to us.” Alex looks up, her voice deep with conviction, “I don’t need to be protected from you, or us."
“So we’ll run head first into walls together?”
“Yep, holding hands.” And never letting go, she thinks, and after a moment, decides she needs to hear it confirmed. So she says the words.
The heat of her fiancée’s gaze makes Olivia smile. She basks in it, reveling in the intimacy of the instant. At the same time, she can feel the woman’s growing impatience. For a few moments longer, she indulges herself in the sensation, their connection. Finally, she turns her head. Her smile widens. “Yes?”
She is sure her widening smile only makes her look ‘goofy’, in the blonde’s words. It doesn’t matter. “I’m thinking I’m so lucky.”
“We’re not stuck in a snowstorm like our friends back home.” Olivia turns onto her side, and starts to rise, to rest her cheek on her hand. Her fiancée has another idea, however, and she laughs falling onto her back. After Alex settles in, she presses a kiss to the blonde head pillowed on her shoulder. “It’s nice and sunny here, and relatively warm.” She pulls the body closer to her own. A smile of deep contentment graces her lips as her lover squeezes out the remaining airspace between them and hugs her tight.
“True.” A small chuckle accompanies the word.
“And for the next ten days or so, I’m just a civilian, vacationing with my lovely fiancée,” Olivia pauses, to lift a slender hand to her lips. Turning it palm up, she tickles with the tip of her tongue. Before she could close the small circle, Alex pulls her hands away. The playful smack on her thigh makes her laugh. “As I was saying, I’m lucky to be on vacation, and I don’t have a care in the world. Well, except to make sure my lovely fiancée has a good time, too.”
“You are lucky, especially the lovely fiancée part.”
She recaptures the blonde’s hand stroking her middle, and laces their fingers together. “I’ve been thinking…”
“Is it dangerous?”
“Not sure. Depends.”
“Your definition? One’s man’s danger is another man’s safety?” Brown eyes squint in mischief.
“Sure. Whatever.” Alex pushes a kiss at her lover’s collar bone, and fakes a yawn. “Good night.”
“It’s…” Olivia picks up her watch from the nightstand. “Seven thirty-seven in the morning. Anyway, I think I had an epiphany. You know we talked about how the guys and I, probably even the Capt, we were territorial about you because you were the first one who was truly ours? That you weren’t on loan, and we didn’t have to give you back at the end of a trial, didn’t have to share your schedule with another unit. You were ours. Just ours. And we were so lucky to have you, even if you were sent to fix us, to set an example for the rest of department.”
“You didn’t really need fixing, the Morris Commission…”
“Thank you. We were lucky, just the same.”
“Okay.” Talking about ownership and firsts, however, makes Alex want to raise her guard. “You’re not going ‘there’ again…”
“Hear me out, okay? I think I’ve got it – why I was obsessed with it before – just, hear me out,” Olivia insists, leaning up, to catch her lover’s eyes, to convey her sincerity. There is still humor to her expression, she is making sure, though gone is any hint of the earlier flippancy. “And I promise, I’m not bragging, or making a ‘production’ or anything. Hopefully, it all makes sense? Gimme a chance to explain, okay?”
“Yesterday, I saw Da Vinci’s Last Supper, with my very own eyes.” Not to mention the private tour through the Dominican convent apart from the tourists who were herded like sheep. Talk about privilege. To be perfectly honest, she finds charm in these little conveniences. “I’ll get to see a performance at the Teatro alla Scala tonight. La Scala, one of the most famous opera houses in the world.”
“Not an opera, unfortunately.”
“Still there’ll be operatic singing, at the La Scala, which is the more important point,” Olivia maintains, and continues with undisguised excitement, “Via Montenapoleone after lunch, so hopefully we can find our dresses for our night out. And who knows where we’re going to lunch?” She is sure either Alex or her cousin already has something special planned.
“I don’t know, we’ll probably just stay in the area.” Alex shrugs. “There’s a bunch of restaurants and cafés.”
Olivia grins. She is not falling for the feigned nonchalance. I see that twinkle; try all you like but you can’t hide it. “Something Italian, authentic? ‘Cause we didn’t come here to eat sushi, right.”
That makes Alex laugh. Busted, she knows. “No, I guess not,” she concedes. “Maybe we’ll have time to stop by the Duomo.”
‘Great’? We can see it from our window, literally just on the other side of the square... “But Daniela has to go pick up her dress, too.”
“Okay! Great! Fabulous!”
“You getting it yet?”
“Get what? I’m afraid you lost me.”
The expression on her fiancée’s face only makes Olivia’s heart lighter. “Have I told you how cute you look when you’re confused? Your brows make the cutest little lines.”
Somehow the observation makes the blonde self-conscious. She deflects the attention, “You’re changing the subject.”
“Okay, so in a few days, I’m going to the Sierra Nevada, and see all sorts of amazing wonderful faunas, with you. Right?” She grins brightly at Alex’s nod. “Although I might need you to explain to me why we’re going to a snowcapped mountain at some point. Anyway, I’ve never done any of those things that I just mentioned. Not sure I would’ve, if we weren’t together…”
“You would, if you wanted to.”
“I’m not sure I would’ve?” Olivia glances around the pale green and dark eggshell interior of their room, with its art nouveau furnishings. The decorative ornaments are so different from the heavy wood and brocades at Mondestin, she cannot help but compare. Then she sees the ornate spires of the Gothic cathedral looming over the large windows across their bed and her smile widens. “But that’s totally beside the point.”
“So what’s the point?”
“I love these new experiences with you. Love that you’re sharing them with me, that you’re the first one to share them with me. And while I’m not comparing myself to an art masterpiece or a majestic mountain…” Oh, heck. “Or even the fractionally owned jet that brought us here.”
Please, don’t… Alex refrains from shaking her head. Still, she closes her eyes; and when she opens them again, she is on her elbows, hovering over Olivia and smiling. “They’re just things, not you.”
“And other people go to those places, do those things, if they want.”
“Exactly.” Olivia beams, reaching up to tuck a piece of blonde hair behind the pale shell of her fiancée ‘s ear, and falling upwards into her sky blue eyes. Suddenly, she feels breathless; words tumble forward in a rush, “So I have this wonderful gift that I didn’t know I wanted, just like I didn’t know I wanted to see Da Vinci, or Spain, but now that I know I have it… I don’t know. It just… It makes me feel things, things I can’t describe.
“Being with you, Sweetheart, I feel, so many things, wonderful things, and not just because I’m your first, or that you chose me, but that we’re together, that we choose each other. And we have all these wonderful, beautiful experiences that we have, only by us being together,” she sucks in a deep breath.
“Am I making sense? I know it’s a little circular, in a way. But you understand, don’t you?” Olivia insists, holding the woman loosely despite wanting to hug her close, to watch her face.
Alex grins; she drops a kiss on the tip of her lover’s nose. “My, you are lucky.”
“And all these feelings, feelings that I have that I can’t explain…”
“Because they’re so amazing, and so many other adjectives, they’re indescribable?” Beyond syllables, like her feeling right now, with her lover’s heart wildly beating against hers. She moves to trap it in her hand. Together their breaths hitch.
She sees the deep need in Olivia’s brown eyes, and assures, “Absolutely.” Bending forward, their lips nearly touching, she asks, “Let me show you.”
“I’m sorry about the scaffolding.”
“It’s not like you can help it,” Olivia replies, glancing around. But for the pews, the cathedral looks like a giant cave, even more so than St. Patrick’s at home, and equally filled with tourists.
“It’s been up for years, well, three, really, and for who knows how much longer.”
“It did take centuries to build, didn’t it?” Olivia replies good-naturedly. “I’m sure it takes a while to repair. It’s a huge building,” she adds conversationally, while wondering if they have missed the statue of Bartholomew, the patron saint of tanners according to the guidebook on Milan. It is supposed to be gruesome - the apostle was allegedly flayed and he is depicted as wearing his own skin. The detective wants to snap a photograph for her colleagues. Gallows humor that only cops get, she imagines. Before she could ask, a soft voice interrupts again.
“It’s not a very attractive sight, and you get to wake up to it.”
“Really, Daniela - Dani, it’s okay,” she assures their host, who has so far gone above and beyond social niceties. Perhaps the woman feels guilty about spending half of their short visit working. Plus, there seems to be some underlying tension between the distant cousins, and Olivia finds herself the unexpected buffer between the two. “We can barely see it from across the piazza, the scaffolding, and, well, it’s really not a big deal.”
“We can go up to the roof if you like, by stairs or elevator,” Daniela offers. “The view is quite nice and you could see quite far, even the Alps on a clear day, probably you could today. Would you like to do that?”
Olivia looks to her fiancée who provides a shrug and a smile. “Have you been up there?” She asks the blonde.
“Sure. That was years ago though.”
“You know, we really don’t have to do the tourist thing for my benefit.”
“We don’t mind going up, do we, Lexi? It’ll be like old times, except without the apples.”
The shades of horror and embarrassment searing the pale face surprised Olivia. She asks, “Apples?”
“It’s nothing, Liv. Don’t worry about it.”
“Oh, come on. It’s something, something big. Tell me.” When Alex crosses her arms and averts her gaze in response, she turns to the other woman. “Dani, tell me.”
The red head glances at her cousin and laughs. “Remember, Olivia, we were young, very young - really very young. And we didn’t know any better…”
Olivia catches the death glare and grins. She could tell at least at some point those two were close. Maybe the distance is just a part of being grown with adult responsibilities. Yeah, like getting shot and going away, or being your cousin’s attending while she was in a… coma. Or maybe they just need to talk, and clear the air... or something. “Come on, Sweetheart.”
“Lexi and I had a little competition, inspired by Newton .”
“Gravity, okay?” Alex replies in a huff. “We scooped out the insides of our apples, and scraped ice from the refrigerator and packed it inside the shell, and we snuck them out of the house in our coat pockets…”
“One time Lexi cheated and took a mutant apple…”
“I didn’t cheat. We didn’t have rules about the size of the apples.” Alex works at suppressing her smile. “Besides, you still won.”
“That’s because I’m the master ice-packer.”
Throwing her companions each a look of utter incredulity, Olivia laughs. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this.”
“Yeah, you better not repeat it.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna tell Elliot about your juvenile delinquency.” She nudges her fiancée with her elbow and leans in to false whisper, “It’ll be our dirty little secret.”
“So, Olivia, would you like to go up to the roof?”
“Oh, yeah, definitely. We’ll have to,” the brunette eagerly concludes. “Did you ever accidentally hit anyone?”
“Our Lexi almost nailed the bishop once. Although I’m not sure that was an accident?”
“He was wearing a red zucchetto, he wasn’t a bishop.”
“A beanie - a red beanie; he made himself a target,” Alex asserts haughtily and grabs her lover’s arm. “Come on, enough yammering. If you want to go up, let’s get in line.”
Olivia couldn’t remember a time she didn’t pay attention to her wardrobe. She didn’t want to become a model just to get out of her mother’s house; she genuinely likes fashion. She loves keeping track of the colors and styles of the season, and appreciates the buttery softness of a fine Italian leather jacket, just as she does perfect drape of a biased cut silk charmeuse gown. Clothes makes a person and says a lot about the wearer, Serena would tell her daughter when the brunette would run around wearing ripped jeans and grungy tee shirts just to be disagreeable. Prof. Benson never walked out of her home without wearing a suit; if she had her way, her daughter would loathe casual clothing like she did.
Mom would approve of this place, she finds herself thinking as she looks around the boutique. It carries a few choice items from every designer around the world, and whatever else the customer might fancy from one of the Milanese houses, their concierge shopping service is more than happy to entertain her special request.
Mom would approve of you, of us, I’m pretty sure. For some reason, despite the reality of her mother being dead, and regardless of what she tells herself, it matters what her mother would have thought of her relationship with Alex. It had hurt, the way Serena Benson gone off on the prospective relationship, and how Olivia would never ever fit into the Cabots’ world, like she had known it first hand. As if!
And I can fit into this world just fine, she decides, as she watches her fiancée move through the display of cocktail dresses with furrowing brows, most likely annoyed by the hovering sales associate. With a winning smile and in perfect Italian, Olivia tells her own shadow to please start a fitting room for her with the dresses she had already chosen. Then she picks out another dress and approaches the blonde.
“What do you think of this?” She holds out the floor length garment.
“For me?” Alex touches the nude satin halter as if expecting it to bite. “It’s...”
“Gorgeous,” Olivia completes the sentence and hands it over to the other woman, and asks for an adjoining fitting room for her fiancée. The request causes an elegant brow to arch and the young associate to scurry off.
“Thank you, I think,” Alex says and smiles her little smile.
Her smile that feels like a thousand little smiles, and for a second, Olivia looses her equilibrium. Then she beams. “My pleasure.”
“That gown… you really liked it?”
“I think it’s elegant.”
“I thought you like me in red?”
“I think you’ll look great in that gown,” Olivia replies, and she takes the black wool cocktail dress Alex was touching earlier, putting it up against the blonde. “This is gorgeous, too.”
“I was looking at it for you,” Alex objects, running her finger along the leather detailing. Then she meets her lover’s eyes, and reads the expression in her gaze. “Okay,” she agrees to the tacit offer, and smiles another thousand smiles.
Happily, Olivia begins the tasks of assembling a selection for her fiancée. Between her efficiency and her propriety stance, she manages to keep the sales help away; and she can feel tension eases off the blonde. “So Lexi…” She starts, intending to inject levity. The wilting glare from her fiancée makes her laugh. “Take it you’re not a fan of the nick?”
“It was fine when I was ten.”
“Dani and Lexi, ice-apple throwing twin horrors of Milan .” The brunette smirks. “I think it’s cute.”
“Do I really strike you as ‘cute’?”
“Sometimes. But not right now though. Right now you’re elegant, and beautiful, and glamorous,” she expounds, holding up a cocktail dress the color of midnight against her lover. She blinks. “And, I’m suddenly out of adjectives…” she says, eliciting a deep appreciative chuckle. “And you’re so much more.”
“No, Sweetheart, not at all.” Adorable maybe, the way the blonde looks right now, color high on her cheeks. Of course she keeps that observation to herself.
“We’re being silly.”
“We’re on vacation.”
“Is that your answer for everything?”
Behind the playful demeanor and laughter, Olivia senses vulnerability. “Lemme check… yep, it is,” she replies and places against herself an evening gown the shade of light mocha. “So how do I look?”
Alex grins. “Cute.”
“Come on! Imagine a spray tan,” she says, pulling back her shoulders and canting her hips, and watches the light blue of her fiancée’s eyes swirl into black. With a knowing grin, she folds the dress over her arm.
“I still think you should grab that other one,” Alex suggests after clearing her throat.
That red thing? Olivia makes a face. “Right. I’ll look like a high class tart.”
She laughs, to cover her breathlessness. “I don’t think Dani would appreciate me sitting in her box wearing that. Anyway, we ready for the fun part?”
“Try the stuff on, ogle each other, and figure out which we want to get for the opera, and which for our reception?” The expression on her companion’s face makes her ask, “You know? Our commitment party?” At the last moment, she throws in a lope-sided smile, hoping it will add confidence.
“Oh, I know. I’ve just been thinking,” Alex offers, trying to mask her own hesitance by bouncing on the balls of her feet. Just once, she wills, and no arm-crossing. “Actually, watching you and thinking.”
“We’re here, in Milan.”
“A fashion capital. And well, I’ve always thought Italian designers are better at dressing women.” She lets her gaze slide smoothly down her lover’s frame before meeting again her darkening eyes. “Real women.” When Olivia remains silent, she hurries, “Please hear me out.” Judging by the cock of the woman’s head, it probably wasn’t the right tactic. Oh, hell - screw games, she plows ahead, “We got lucky, sort of, we were excused from at least three Christmas events,” because I was recovering. “But next year…”
“We’ll be expected to attend,” Olivia finishes her fiancée’s sentence with a deep breath.
“And who knows what other plans my mom will have for us. I am supposed to start easing into that work.”
The schmoozing and fundraising galas and all that, Olivia understands. “You think I need a better wardrobe.”
“Not ‘better’, just… an extra section?”
She catches a hint of a suppressed wince, and she knows the blonde is trying hard not to be defensive, or argumentative or even manipulative, and they both know how easily she would fall for the latter. Focusing on that, she offers a gracious smile, “Take it rent-a-gown’s out?”
“I suppose we could, if that’s what you really want.”
This is the Cinderella stories all little girls love and dream of for themselves, right? Meeting Prince, in this case, Princess Charming, and gets swept off her feet? Didn’t I want that, too, growing up? Did I just stop? When? Without pulling away, and instead, she engages Alex’s gaze by reaching out and taking her hand. “Can I think about it?”
“Sure, of course.”
The woman’s relief is palpable, and Olivia silently berates herself. Still, she adds, “There might be a line I wanna draw somewhere… I’m not sure.”
“It’s okay, Liv, I understand, perfectly.” I’m just happy you didn’t say ‘no’, Alex relays with her eyes.
Or worse... Olivia returns her smile. Yeah, I know.
Between the Duomo and the fashion district and now the Teatro alla Scala, the day had been a series of short strolls around the city center. Perhaps it was the limited frames of reference, Olivia kept thinking back to their trip to Paris. And wishing they could go back. One day…
One fine day… She follows the Puccini aria opening the recital, sung by a soprano of Korean ancestry. Things definitely have changed. She still remembers attending her first Madama Butterfly at the Met, with Catherine Malfitano singing the title role. She was with her mother then. Now, in the semi-lit theatre, the gilded decorations and red velvet transport her both to a different world, and back in time.
In fact, so far back in time that Olivia can imagine nobles and well-to-do merchants, bedecked in their Baroque finery, sitting in their little boxes that had to be unlocked with a key. Their stools arranged to afford the best view, as they looked through their opera glasses to see what their rivals were wearing, and who they were with. And be seen.
Like those rows of people sitting with their chairs facing the streets at that café in Paris… The thought makes her hold on tighter to her fiancée’s hand. Why? She can’t be certain.
The touch of her fiancée’s hand, however, serves only as a tenuous reminder of the present for Olivia. She could easily see the two of them sitting in the same theatre, perhaps as different people, in an earlier époque. She would like to think they had.
Olezzo di verbena, she catches another phrase. Orange blossoms, Pinkerton’s nickname for his little wife somehow reminds the brunette of Alex’s grandmother - the Signora… the citrus grove. The Mediterranean sun.
She pauses, not knowing where to go with her thoughts. Her mind resumes following the music. The ovation. Then hushed quietness that lasts mere seconds settles heavily as different soloists take the stage.
Looking down at the program, she sees the title for the next aria, something obscure by Rossini. Briefly, she wonders if the opera was chosen simply because ‘La Scala’ is a part of the name. It is nice. Typical Italian, typical bel canto, whatever that means. Sometimes Olivia wishes she knows less about opera. Why? She can’t say.
Bellini, Puccini again, and again Puccini, Olivia memorizes. She ought to be enjoying the performance. She was looking forward to the experience, especially after reading so much about it, both in the past, and before the trip. Even the Museo Teatrale alla Scala with its attached library sounded interesting at one point. Now all she can think about is that scala is the name for some part of the inner ear, and that it also means ‘stairs’.
Hope my thinking isn’t too distracting for you. She smirks, remembering Alex’s allegation on the plane. She could check, it would only take a quick glance, but she keeps her gaze ahead. Her mind resumes its meandering.
‘Stairs’ takes Olivia back to Palazzo Ansaldi, with the grand exterior staircase leading up from the ground floor to the piano nobile, the level Daniela occupies, and where they are staying. Those external stairs now reminds her of the Cabot estate in Hyde Park. It makes sense, all of a sudden, although she isn’t entirely sure what ‘it’ is.
Aside from their rooms, which must have been considered inconsequential at some point, given their altered, more contemporary decors, the rest of the piano nobile retained its Renaissance splendor, with high, floor-to-ceiling windows, and pink and mint green frescos of idyllic scenes of cherubs and lovers. Kinda like paintings at the Frick. And the humungous chandeliers… They must take a staff hours to polish. Like the ones now hanging several boxes above theirs.
Like the one nonna had in her house, just bigger. Way bigger. Olivia blinks. Involuntarily, she recalls the afternoons spent watching and trying to help her grandmother with the cleaning. It was a project that went on from one afternoon to another, that lasted for days – at least so it seemed. She never realizes until now, it was a symbol of something more than just status, something she can’t put a finger on. Yet it makes her wonder how Alex would feel having one in their house. A little one, maybe just inside the foyer?
On the topic of symbols and status of one’s abode, Daniela explained over breakfast that if she had her way, her apartments would be redone in Manhattan simplicity, clean linear lines without swirls of sculpted stucco and decorative grills to trap dust. All in leather which is durable and easy to clean - not fragile and high maintenance like Fortuny silk. “The superintendents of fine arts and monuments would never in a million years approve,” she sighed. “And in Milan, Italy for that matter, there’s a superintendent, governing every little thing.
“Just like everyone has a title,” the redhead had relayed with a laugh.
At the time, Olivia was bemused by the comment. After spending another eight hours with the woman, she still isn’t sure if she captured the essence of her mirth. She did, however, learn that their host is the ‘black sheep’ not because she is doing anything scandalous by normal people standards. But because she is not living the privileged life expected of an Ansaldi. That she actually takes a salary for her work and accepts fees for her lectures. She even rents out the grand ballroom for private events so the Palazzo Ansaldi pays for its own upkeep. Worst of all, her husband is a Spaniard, who, despite being a count, is a runway model whose face graced many L’Uomo Vogue covers, which Daniela proudly displays in frames…
Olivia moves her head, and catches herself before completing the shake. Intermission soon, she decides. Then Rossini again, Donizetti and finally Verdi. At least something darker, with more substance.
Then as abrupt as her aborted gesture, she comes to the realization that she fits into Alexandra Cabot's world only because it is skewed. Skewed in a way that is just and right, but nevertheless skewed. But also in such a way that I do fit. Squarely.
O, Principessa… The tenor pours out his heart. Guardi le stele…
‘Watching the stars...’ All around her, if she squints, the groups of lights could be stars. Reflections off the shards of crystals, they definitely could be blinking heavenly bodies. There must be other kinds of stars in the audience, too. Stars outside the opera house, on the streets, the edges of Milan… Everywhere. Too many stars.
Carefully, she looks besides her, to find light eyes looking back. And she sees.
When intermission comes, Olivia is suddenly hungry. Famished, really, despite the panino she shared with Alex less than an hour ago. She accepts without protest the flute of prosecco from her fiancée’s hand, and spends the rest of the interval feeding from bottomless bowls of nuts.
“Il dolce suono…” The sweet sound… The soprano in her white gown begins Lucia’s mad scene. In her mind, Olivia could see the woman holding a knife, with blood staining the front of her bridal dress, as a different Lucia did at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Chicago… It feels sometimes like a lifetime ago. Perhaps in some ways it was.
“Il dolce suono mi colpi di sua voce!” The sweet sound…. hits me… his voice…” She mulls the translation over, slowly, not really concerned about being left behind. His voice.
Your voice. She glances over at her fiancée and lifts a corner of her lips when the woman looks back at her. You, not she, or her. Always. She affirms to herself. Somehow the choice of pronouns matters. Somehow.
Sometimes she doesn’t understand herself. She feels like she adds to the sum of disorder of the chaotic world, even though it’s her job to enforce the law, to add order.
She doesn’t understand people, especially the people who inflict violence and atrocities on others. She’d like to think that she doesn’t understand the ones who inflict those things on themselves either.
They are mad, like Lucia. The heroine in the opera, who killed her husband, a husband forced upon her, and had gone mad, because she loved another man.
St. Lucy who poked out her eyes to give to the man she didn’t want to marry.
She shakes her head and away the kindly face of the bride of Christ at Sparkill. Talking about future charitable duties had nevertheless put the seed in her mind that perhaps she could see the woman again. She’d like to see her again and not think of her as the ex-doctor who managed the nursing facility where Alex convalesced. Although does one stop being a doctor?
If things had panned out differently, in WitSec, and you had to stop being a lawyer, how would you feel?
How would I feel? Could I stop being a cop?
Would I stop finding associations to your six weeks in Sparkill, in everything?
“Un armonia celeste, di, non ascolti?” Her subconscious picks out the lyrics, and arranges her thoughts. A heavenly harmony, can you hear?
Will I stop remembering, how when each day surrendered to the night, I dread the steps of my mother stumbling up the stairs? And how that silence echoed after she fell down to her death?
Or the sigh from my partner’s lips, and the reluctant scrape of his chair pulling him from his desk, when there’s no more work at the precinct, none that justifies overtime anyway, when he has to go home? A home without his wife, his children. Completely alone?
The wakeup call I heard, that made me realize - it could very well be me, alone, stumbling up the steps to my apartment, after hitting the bar with the guys at work? It could be me fumbling with the locks that unlock the door to my apartment. My very nice apartment that is too small for two people but too big for one, even one with a cat.
When the morning came back to life, when your arm weighed heavy around my shoulder, that first of our last days in Sparkill, when I heard your whisper of my name… you have no idea how that felt, what that meant.
I can’t begin to tell you what that meant, even if I wanted to. I could only try to tell you how I feel, to know I’m your ‘one’, and even then words were inadequate. You have no idea how. It’s so much more then ‘the sum of our experiences’ – a phrase you seem to love. So much more, and even I don’t know how much.
Can you hear me thinking now, like I feel your gaze on our joined hands?
When we first came together that afternoon, so many years ago, did you know we would be together for life? Did you think twice? I did, even though over and over I had imagined how your touch would be. Demanding and impatient, like you were, or soft and vulnerable like earlier today?
I thought more than twice. Way, too many times really. Olivia shakes her head again, just once, before a squeeze of her hand draws a smile across her face.
It’s pure night outside, and you know what? I can’t wait to see the sun, can’t wait for tomorrow.
“Un armonia celeste…”
Can you hear?
“Happy birthday, Liv.”
Following the voice, Olivia opens her eyes. Quickly, she blinks at the light pushing through the giant twin rectangles of their windows, morning yellow muted by half drawn shades. She blinks again, seeing her fiancée resting on her elbow, already dressed. When? When did you leave the bed and how did I not know? Instead of asking aloud, she leans over, and curls her arms around her lover’s torso, her intent to unwrap her present positively clear. “Oh, yeah.”
“Wait. Hold on a sec.”
“But it’s my birthday,” she whines at the hand against her chest. Not really, it isn’t. Her actual birthday was over a week ago. They had a party, too, in Hyde Park, because Randy sprained his ankle ‘pulling some crazy stunt’ according to Martha and couldn’t travel. Her Nirvana Day, stolen from Buddhists commemorating the death of Buddha, to celebrate her own freedom. From what? Her past, her issues? Not having an answer, she decided next year she would have a regular birthday like regular people. Thrilled with the idea, Alex suggested instead of waiting, they should celebrate it again on their own. She had somehow readily agreed, and now she plans to make the most of the occasion. “You promised a birthday breakfast in bed.”
“Exactly. There’s a fresh bread-basket with all sorts of dips, and lemon pancake cake, and waffles with gelato, and…”
The mention of food makes her sniff the air. Lemon pancake cake! Yes! She spots the scent, while the overall sweetness lays heavily on her senses, awakening her appetite. “Whoa, whoa, that’s a lot of sugar,” she argues with barely disguised eagerness.
“We’ll be doing a lot of walking.”
“Walking? What happened to birthday celebration, in bed?”
“But we’re in Milan. Our last full day in Milan!” Alex protests with a smile mirroring her lover’s, falling into their dance. She knows how to do this and where it would lead. The familiarity is more than comforting. “What would Daniela think?”
“Dani has meetings all day, I thought? She’s not thinking about us staying in bed, I’m sure.” Olivia reasons with a lightly arched brow and her best lawyer voice, borrowed from her fiancée. “We can come back to Milan any time. I’m only 36 once. And it’s my birthday celebration.”
Something’s changed. Perhaps it’s the scenery, or the Mediterranean sun. Whatever the cause, it’s like a quick minuet, freeing and exhilarating. She stops bracing against Olivia, and instead walks her fingers down the valley of her chest. The visible tightening of her lover’s nipples and the audible hitch of her breath makes her smile a deeper smile. “You know, you used to prefer low key.”
“We can be very low key, in bed.” Olivia closes her eyes. Part of her wants the teasing to turn serious, another part wonders how long they could drag it out, resist, and grow the anticipation. She squeezes her legs closed and clears her voice. “You have this little moan that’s really deep and sexy, that comes out once in a while. I can try making it happen again.” And again.
“Think about your gelato. It’s cinnamon. Cook made it especially for you. And melting as we speak.” The grin on her lover’s face makes her ask. “What? Do I even want to know?”
“I’m thinking about my special birthday gelato. And what a perfect dish you’d make.” Olivia licks her lips, slowly, for the effect. It works, both ways. Oh, yeah. “Gelato con Alex? How do you say ‘in bed’ in Italian?” Olivia asks with a wink.
“So you don’t want your birthday present?”
“Haven’t you been listening to me?”
Playfully, Alex hits her lover’s arm. “Liv! Be serious!”
“Oh, Baby, I am.” She gathers the sheets around herself, and presses a sound kiss on her lover’s chin. “All right. Gimme my birthday present you’ve got planned. Then can I have what I really, really want?”
“Let me guess, in bed?”
Quickly, Alex drags the catering cart from the center of the room. She plops the main tray on her lover’s lap. “Here, eat first, before the temperature gets all wrong.”
Momentarily, Olivia wonders how her fiancée managed to get the cart inside without waking her, rather, how she slept through the heavy noise. Then her eyes lift to the single red rose and the spray of baby’s breath in the vase. “It’s beautiful,” she sighs, her attention diverted once more as she marvels at the types of food, and the golden pastries lined up before her. There is no way they can consume all that. Even if they just tasted a bit of everything, it would require a day of walking to burn off the calories, she realizes with amusement. Smiling a deep smile, she looks up to the woman who made all this and more possible. “Thank you.”
Two little words, and somehow they say more than a book of Dickinson’s poetry or a shelf of Harlequin prose. Alex returns Olivia’s smile. She brushes a kiss near her lover’s eye, to acknowledge the hovering tears, and rises from the bed.
“Wait, aren’t you joining me?”
“Just a minute, I’m going to get your real present.”
“Then stay. Eat with me.” Olivia grabs her fiancée’s sleeve, stopping her retreat. “I’m sure whatever you got me’s fabulous, but…” It’s never going to compare… Yeah, that’s too schmaltzy even for me. Instead she lets go, and extends her hand. Silent understanding passes between them. After Alex settles beside her, she moves the tray, so it rests on both their thighs. “Happy birthday,” slips unbidden from her tongue.
“Happy birthday, Liv, and many, many more,” Alex whispers back.
Together, they eat in companionable silence, feeding each other occasionally, and smiling and communicating with their eyes. Both take their bites unhurriedly, tasting every flavor, delighting in every nuance, to draw out breakfast for as long as the food allows. Finally, Olivia scoops a spoonful of melted gelato into her coffee, and offers it to her fiancée. She watches, as if in slow motion, the cup lifting to touch the woman’s full lips, and follows the movement of the liquid as it slides down her throat. Even without a mirror, she is certain her smile is ‘goofy’ when the drink is returned to her hand.
Alex smiles, and inhales, and holds her breath to sustain time. A moment later she asks, “So you ready for your present?”
Dramatically, Olivia shakes her shoulders. “Sure.”
“You’ll have to wait here.”
She tucks the bed linen higher over her chest and smirks at her fiancée’s responding expression. “Not planning to go anywhere. Hurry back though. You want me to close my eyes?”
“No. It’s wrapped,” Alex says and sprints into the next room.
Olivia arches towards the shuffling sounds, wondering where the secret hiding place could be. Not that she ever went looking or even thought about it. When another door creaks shut, she sits back and lets her eyes survey the room. Something she has not done either, at least not in solitude and not in this light. By the time Alex returns with the huge box that the woman drops unceremoniously into her arms, she is almost out of her skin in anticipation. She tries not to let her impatience show as she unties the ribbon.
“You don’t have to be so careful, you know?”
“I know, but…” Looking down, she slides her fingertips along the cream paper with gold flecks. “When did you have time to do this?”
“I didn’t. Gift-wrapping service. So, go ahead.”
With that, Olivia grins and tears into the package. When the lid of the box comes off, she gasps. Immediately, she leaps onto her feet, her nakedness forgotten as she pulls the garment from its tissue-paper nest. “Holy cow, Alex. This is beautiful.”
“You like it?”
The tuck of hair behind pink ear and the shy, hesitant smile registered, and she can only gape. “When?”
“I sent them your jacket, the one I wore when I left New York.” So you wouldn’t know; I know you wouldn’t be looking for it. “And they made alterations accordingly.”
“Wait, them? They? This is not off the rack?” She looks at the box again. “Alex, this is insane.”
“Dani knows them; her parents helped financed their company. I’m sure an assistant or someone from their team of seamstresses did the actual work. And it is prêt-à-porter, just a sample, from part of the winter collection, which in the fashion world, is already passé,” Alex rushes with her explanation, and then recomposes herself with a deeper breath. “Anyway, I asked them to add the puffer vest. It’s detachable, see?” She unfastens the zipper to show her lover. “You can wear them separately or together. It’ll keep you warm for any freak winters we get.”
“Alex, this is too much.”
“You said yourself, you’re only 36 once.” She shrugs, as if the gesture didn’t mean anything more than just an extravagant birthday gift. “Besides, the moment I saw it, I knew I wanted to see it on you. I think I’m entitled to a little indulgence once in a while?”
Olivia has to smile. She knows that is not an argument to be countered, not one she wants to anyway.
“Do you like it?”
“I love it.” She runs her hand along the deep wool fibers. “It’s so soft. This is just regular lamb, right? Not some exotic, endangered thing from the top of the Himalayas or the Pyrénées?”
“Just plain mutton, someone’s dinner.” She joins her Olivia in caressing the coat. Then she feels the heat of her lover’s gaze. Her lips lift into a smile, and she asks with a fortified voice, “What?”
“Put it on.”
“Why? It’s your coat.”
“I know. But I want you to put it on. And I wanna remember this, every time. It’ll keep me extra warm.”
Alex thinks she knows what Olivia’s suggesting; but just to be sure she asks, “You want, just the coat.” The responding look in her lover’s eyes confirms the answer. She swallows, and unknots the belt of her robe. With the brunette’s help, she slips on the charcoal shearling coat.
“So what would you like to do?”
The lascivious grin from her lover makes Alex want to roll her eyes. She does. “Come on, Liv, we’re in a foreign country.”
“You’ve never been to Spain.”
“Sweetheart, we’re in Spain.”
“Don’t you want to go out? Take in the sights?” You’re not still afraid I might faint somewhere or go walkies are you? She almost asks. That was why they spent the time they did in bed when they were in France, and Hawaii, or so it seemed, although she is not certain why she is suddenly thinking of that. So she insists again, louder, to drown out her thoughts, “Come on, Liv!”
“It’s the middle of the afternoon. We just got here. We should take advantage of siesta.”
“I thought you wanted to visit Spain? Wouldn’t you like to practice your Spanish while you have the opportunity?”
“Not really. It’s useful for work, now, occasionally. Before, I just took it cuz my mom thought I should.”
“Okay,” Alex agrees, despite feeling crushed. Olivia is supposed to remember the effect Spanish has on her, well, not Spanish per se, but from her lips. Not very mature, is it? “So while we’re holed up here, would you like to talk?”
Oh, all the things we’ve been avoiding, like my coma, or the cause thereof? Or the back story about my aunt Maureen? What’s up with my cousin Ariel? Wouldn’t most people ask? “I don’t know? How’d you like Dani?”
“She’s nice. Very nice. I like her.” Something about her still seems familiar, her smile, maybe? “It’s very nice of her to fly us out here on her family’s plane. Although, I’m still not sure about you co-piloting.”
“I sat in the cock-pit and watched. I doubt I’ll get to do anything on our way back.”
“Have you met you? You can be convincing; you get your way, Princess.”
“Yeah, Pot, I do.”
“Yeah, well, you’re still sitting way over there.”
“Across the table, you mean.” This very small table big enough to hold two sets of cups and saucers and a single stem vase. The look Olivia gives her makes her want to sigh aloud, and she does. “I just feel like we should take advantage.”
“Being in a foreign country? You had all those guide books for France.” And none for Spain, she had noticed. “Don’t you want to see the architecture? Learn about the history of Seville? It’s interesting.”
“You’re more interesting.”
“You see me everyday.”
“Ah, but not 24 hours a day when we go back home; we both have jobs. Now our time is our own, and I prefer to spend mine with you,” Olivia explains reasonably. “You know what? If there are places you want to go, then we go.”
“There’s nothing you want to see? Besides me, naked.”
“Honestly? Not really. I mean, it was nice for Gen. Thomas to invite us, and I think it would be rude if we turned down her gift, considering it’s like an engagement-slash-wedding gift, and we wouldn’t want to do that, be rude, to one of your mother’s oldest friends.”
“But Spain just doesn’t ring my bell. Never did.”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re feeling aversion.”
“Aversion might be too strong a word.”
“And not very irrational.”
“But you liked Milan?”
“I adored Milan. I wish we were spending more time there instead of here.”
“I’m sure Dani could accommodate us, or we could just get a hotel.”
“But it’d be rude to Gen. Thomas.”
“All right,” Alex concedes. “Maybe we could take a couple of days at the beach? Or is it Andalusia or Spain in general that you don’t like?”
“Not sure? Since we’ve only been here, and for what, two hours?” Reaching across the table, Olivia takes her fiancée’s hands into her own. “Why don’t we just stay? And we could go out for walks. I think there’s some sort of morning market. I do remember reading on-line. That actually sounds like fun.”
“Just no museums or tourist traps?”
“Okay. That sounds good, Liv, actually.”
“Yes, yes I believe it is.”
“We’re learning, Sweetheart.”
“So we are.” Steps, baby steps, dance steps. “Say, you wanna go check out a club, maybe? If we feel like going out tonight? I would like to learn their dance. It’s like flamenco but not quite. Looks pretty, the hand gestures and the movements.”
“You know it?”
“Of it. Read about it, on-line. Sure, I’d love to learn.” Olivia smiles. Figured you would.
Carefully, Olivia returns the framed faded photograph to the shelf and lets her gaze linger over the rest of the random knick-knacks. They surprised her; she had expected the place to be more formal, or something. More like a hotel or timeshare, rather than a home perhaps. Now she wonders how often the woman comes here during the year, and tries not to feel like an intruder. She turns, when she hears her fiancée at the terrace door. In a few steps, she is there to unfasten the different locks, and slide it open. “Gen. Thomas, you met her?”
Alex eyes the pair of orange lounge chairs before settling her focus on the tower visible from the roof. She wonders if that is part of a monument or just an extension of a traditional apartment complex similar to this one. In truth, she has very few recollections of the city. “Supposedly, when I was young, there was one vacation we took with Uncle Bobby. I can’t remember.” Actually, she doesn’t have too many memories from when she was a child, period. Less than she thinks she should have, than she imagines normal, now she speculates if it is true. “Why?”
“That’s a good descriptor for my mom’s friends.”
The snigger didn’t escape trained ears. “You’re being rude.”
“Just making a truthful observation.”
Olivia shakes her head and smiles. “She’s not weird-interesting. More interesting-interesting.”
“Are you calling Martha weird?” Alex asks with humor in her eyes, then her expression changes. “Are there things about my mom you’d like to tell me? Perhaps things I should know?”
Why is she astonished that Alex would simply cut to the chase? “Umm… I’m not sure how much I should tell you?”
“Look, I know people keep secrets. Sometimes too many of them. And especially my family.” Alex replies with a small shrug and states simply, “I live with it. And you can tell me, or not tell me…”
“You don’t care?”
“Not really? I love my mom, and I have to love her…”
“You ‘have to’?”
“Something tells me certain secrets she keeps, I’d rather not know about,” Alex admits. “I know she’s not a bad person, and she always does what she thinks is best and right at the moment of decision. I can’t really fault that, even if I don’t always agree, can I?” She doesn’t wait for an answer and continues as she sits in one of the chairs, “So, if you know some of her secrets, and feel like you have to share, or if you just want to tell me, go ahead. I promise I won’t say anything to her.”
“That’s the least of my concern, Sweetheart,” Olivia says and briefly contemplates whether to join her fiancée in the other chair. Then she watches the woman lean back and shield her eyes from the sun; and she moves, to cast her shadow over the rays. “I just think it’s kinda sad…”
Looking up to her lover leaning over her, she smiles in silent appreciation. “Aren’t there things about your mom you didn’t want to know?”
“Like what?” Olivia asks in reflex, then immediately nods. “I suppose.”
Making a quick decision, Alex seizes the opportunity. “Have you really not tried to look for your grandparents? They might still be alive.”
Olivia forces her shoulders to rise and fall. “They could look for me, too.”
“They don’t have the resources you do, as a cop.”
“Actually, Sweetheart, my grandmother died when I was twelve.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Liv.” She says, as if she didn't already know, as if what her lover told Martha in confidence had stayed that way. “I’m sorry,” she repeats.
“Yeah, anyway, back to Gen. Thomas.” Olivia turns the conversation away from herself. “She has a daughter, you know? A coupla years older than you? Your mother said you’ve met?”
“The one you rescued?” With her lover’s confirming nod, she continues, “That’s what she said, too. But I can’t say I remember either.”
“The daughter doesn’t know, but she was adopted.”
“Okay,” guardedly Alex replies. She wonders where Olivia is going with this, and why tension is unexpectedly creeping up her spine. She tries to ignore the latter and smile another smile, encouraging her lover to continue.
“You knew…” Olivia’s tongue trips on the name. “Uh, Martha and Randy’s son, was adopted?”
“Sure. Everyone does.”
“Did you know she’s his birthmother? Thomas, I mean.”
“Don’t you find that kinda strange?”
“To give up a kid only to adopt another?” Alex speculates for her lover’s sake. “Or to adopt one and then give up her own?”
“I’m sure she has her reasons.”
For some reason, Olivia really wants her fiancée to ask. She wants the woman to insist, so she could tell her how the general got pregnant from a rape. That Alex’s first crush or love or whatever he was - was also the result of rape. Why the similar circumstance of their birth, the coincidence, suddenly matter? She didn’t know. “You really don’t care?”
“I’m not sure why I should?” Pressing down on the metal frame, she straightens, and swings her legs over the edge of the chair. “We’re on vacation. And thinking about my mother’s affairs usually gives me a headache.” She lets the pinch between her brows show. “Did I mention we’re on vacation?”
Relenting, Olivia steps aside and offers her hand. She is grateful when Alex obliges and fits neatly into her arms. Fighting the overwhelming urge to never let go, she offers, “You wanna take a walk?”
“I was here.” Alex points with her chin at the white building with the gold and red trimmed façade. If one focuses only on the impressive front door and the heavy iron gates that used to guard a convent, one could pretend the place wasn’t awash with blood. “When I was little. My dad brought me, one Spring,” she explains, making a sweeping gesture towards the rest of the arena with her free arm.
Responding to the sudden grip of her fiancée’s hand, Olivia pulls to a stop. Watching the blonde carefully, she asks what she knows to be the opposite of truth, “You wanna go in?”
“Not unless you want to.” Alex offers anyway, “I think there are guided tours of the place.”
“It’s okay,” Olivia reassures. Making a quick decision, she adds, “I’m not sure I like the idea, despite how Hemingway and Picasso glorified it. Kinda barbaric.”
“Brutal. This is one tradition I wish I hadn’t experienced.”
“You came for a fight?” She hopes she manages to keep most of the outrage from her voice. There are times she wonders exactly what kind of man Alexander Cabot was. Like now, she cannot imagine what lesson he was trying to teach his daughter, taking her to a bullfight. “How old were you?”
“Young. There’s no age limit in watching. I’m not sure there’s age limit in fighting, at least training.”
For a boy, maybe. And even then… Still, she tries to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, “Wow. I’m not sure I could… although it’s part of the culture here. And your dad was a hunter.”
“Blood is blood. We eat meat, we kill.”
From Alex’s clipped tone, Olivia knows the straightforwardness of that statement was forged. Sometimes she wonders if there will always be a need for walls, to hide the vulnerability and softness. Somehow it makes her think of the old ramparts, built on Julius Caesar’s orders. She shakes the thought from her head, and gives her own opinion, “Different than killing for sport.”
“Or to defend oneself or another. Or like how Edith culls the land. Although we eat the meat from her hunt, at least Oliver does.”
“Lucky cat.” Olivia smiles and makes a mental note to pick up a special souvenir cat toy like they had in Milan, while changing the course of their dialogue, “How’s he, I wonder.”
“Spoiled rotten, no doubt.”
“There’s some transference of affection, I’m sure.”
Or guilt. “I’m sure.” Since, for whatever reason, she never visited me at the infirmary. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Alex knows why the woman stayed away, she was told. Nevertheless, the memory remains shadowy, just beyond grasp. Maybe it’s for the best, she decides, and veers the conversation to a safer place. “He probably gets fresh, whatever it is that he likes, everyday. He’ll probably prefer to stay permanently with Edith.” She looks away from the large red door towards the sky before resting her attention on her shoes. An impish smile graces her face when her eyes level again, and she says with a shrug, “Anyway, I’ve thought about taking a weekend class. Wonder if I could do it.”
“A class? Somethings tells me you’re not talking culinary.” This time, Olivia hopes her voice conveys her outrage. “You wanna stand in front of 2 ton bull?”
“They’re not any heavier than any horse, I don’t think.” Alex replies with another shrug and a swallowed sigh, “And horses can throw you.”
“Yeah, but they can’t gore you.”
“I think in training, you face a cow. With a wooden stick, and the muleta, the red cape thing.”
“You’re serious about this?”
She shakes her head. “Just wondering… wondered.”
The tense was right the first time. “You’re still wondering.” Confusion and anger war within the brunette. She can’t even imagine Alex watching the violent sport, let alone taking part in it. Her logical mind is aware her fiancée hunted when she was a child, and the woman knows her guns and rifles, but to see her actually holding a weapon, even Don’s revolver… Especially Don’s revolver… Just seems out of character.
“No, not really.” This time, Alex provides a shrug and a sheepish smile. “It’s not the most responsible thing to do anyway.”
“You have people who worry about you, who care whether you live or… well, gored.” Righteous anger colors her words, despite the internal warning against argument. Vacation or not, she will not stand by to watch her fiancée put herself in danger ever again.
“I did before.”
“But now you’ve got me.” And you’ve already left me twice. “Third time won’t be a charm.”
Her lover’s distress is palpable, and Alex winces at the pain darkening already dark features. She turns to push at deep fawn color bangs. “I’m sorry.” Sorry for thinking stupid things. Sorry for putting you through what I did. Sorry for everything. Her eyes plead for forgiveness.
“Maybe we could at least go get you one of those colorful pointy sticks? As souvenir?”
Just like that, Alex receives her absolution. If only she could be so easy on herself. “Banderillas. They come in pairs,” she imparts, and then her voice softens, “My dad got me some. They might be in storage still.” It drops to a near whisper towards the end, “Maybe we could find a used suit, or something. They’re pretty.”
“For you?” Easily, Olivia catches her fiancée’s noncommittal shrug; she smiles. “I think you’d look dashing. Our next Halloween party, let’s start a tradition. You’ll be the matador, and I’ll be your Carmen.”
“Carmen no good?” Playfully, she taps her fingers to full lips, in place of a kiss. Her spine tingles when Alex puckers her lips to return the quick gesture. The sensation evolves when her fiancée takes her by her arm again, and they start lightly down the street. “Why? I can play gypsy, I think.”
“She dies at the end. Murdered, by the matador.”
“Oh. Right. Okay, flamenco dancer? Or your bull? Love struck? Like all the other animals when they see you?” Like that dog at the café earlier, who wanted to follow us despite its owner’s call? Her teasing grin reminds.
The sky had opened up - a deluge without warning. Is it supposed to rain like this? It is early Spring, when precipitation is heavy. There is that saying about rain in Spain. Always thought it was just because of the rhyme. Alex shivers.
Of course, Olivia noticed. She notices everything, whether she faces it head on or sticks it into a compartment and forgets about it is another matter. For a minute, Alex doesn’t answer, more because she isn’t quite sure. She is cold, and wet, but is that the only reason? Finally, she gives a half nod, and pulls the woman closer. “You’re warm. You’re always warm.”
“Handy, don’t you think?” The brunette grins. “Although I must smell like a wet dog.” She flicks water from her leather jacket.
Alex inhales, deeply. The sharp scent of tanned hide hits her nostrils; underneath it, noticeable as always, is the sweet, heady spicy scent that reminds her of cookies and home. “All right, I’m not a fan of Seville. Maybe even Spain.”
“Why? Because it’s raining? We’re caught in the rain?”
“Because we have to be circumspect.”