Chapter Twelve. For a moment, Beth didn’t know where she was
For a moment, Beth didn’t know where she was. Bright light pounded through her eyelids. In the grog that was her mind, she reasoned it must be morning. With her eyes clenched shut, she listened for anything that sounded familiar. Nothing registered, so she braved a quick look at her surroundings.
She was alone in her room at the Coop.
“Shit,” was all she could mumble.
Distracted from lack of sleep, she labored to remember how she’d ended up here when she was supposed to be in Mary’s bed. Things the night before had gotten confusing. The encounter in the alley had been incredible, but on their way to Mary’s place Beth’s head began to fill with confusion. She’d opened up to Mary in ways she hadn’t expected. Caught up in the moment, she’d wanted to make love to Mary and send her over the edge just as Mary had sent her. With the force of her own orgasm screaming in her brain, she’d felt half complete. All she could think about was seducing the woman responsible for her unbelievable petite mort.
A tangle of thoughts pinballed around in her brain. What was she doing? She’d only known Mary for five days. This was not where Beth’s life was supposed to go. She didn’t have spontaneous sex with women in dark alleys. She had stable relationships with stable women. As much as she desperately wanted to return the pleasures Mary had given her, she also felt alarmed. Her attraction to Mary had led her to make decisions that were out of character.
If she hadn’t met Mary, she wouldn’t have been in that alley. Beth had decided to experience whatever the night brought, but having sex in a public place wasn’t what she’d had in mind. What disturbed her most was that she’d loved every minute. Apparently, since meeting Mary, she’d undergone a drastic personality change.
Beth sighed. No such thing had happened, of course. She was still the Beth Standish whose relationship had failed and whose partner found her boring. To escape the pain of that reality, she’d allowed a deeply buried part of herself to take over for a while. In hindsight, she could see her behavior in context. She’d wanted to be a different Beth for a while, unaffected by the hurt, happy and free and desired by a sexy woman like Mary.
But even as they’d started walking to Mary’s place, Beth knew she wasn’t being completely honest with herself. It would be okay if she could just take a time-out to enjoy herself with a gorgeous woman then return to her life. But it wasn’t that simple and she knew if she spent the rest of the night with Mary, leaving would get even more complicated. The night that had been going so fantastically well got all jumbled in her brain at that point, and she wanted to bolt. From the alley, the evening, and Mary. As panic set in, she collected herself enough to ask Mary to walk her home, feigning tiredness. Whether or not Mary had believed the ruse, she had politely obliged, leaving Beth on the stoop with a fiery smile and a soft kiss on the lips.
Lying in her bed now, Beth felt despondent and confused. She didn’t know if she’d made the right choice for the right reasons, or if she’d been crazy. Her head ached and a keen throbbing behind her eyes drove her from under the covers and over to the bathroom sink.
She gasped as she splashed ice cold water on her face. Staring at her pale cheeks in the mirror, she said, “What the hell was I thinking?”
Beth spent Thursday afternoon in Chinatown, shopping and eating. Since it was also a rest day from running, when she got back to the Coop, she read for a couple of hours and then enjoyed a long, hot shower. She changed into her black Levi’s and pulled on a faded T-shirt she’d earned running a 10K race in Huntington Beach a few years back. It was well worn and the fabric was thin. Comfort clothing.
The whole bottom floor of the Coop was quiet except for the hum from the steadfast refrigerator. The living room was fairly dark; only a single lamp glowed in the corner. Beth sat down on the couch and laid her head back. The cars that passed by the window droned in a rhythmic cadence that felt comforting.
With her eyes closed, she could deduce the makes of various cars she heard. The plat, plat, plat of a Volkswagen was easy to recognize. The mechanical hum of a few Volvos was distinctive. And a Mercedes, like her own, was as easy to discern as the city bus, whose brakes squealed and hissed as it slowed to turn the nearby corner.
Beth took a deep breath and tried to relax. She could hear a few women walking down the street. They were laughing and talking in loud, energetic voices. Wherever they were going, whatever they were planning to do, it sounded like fun was to be the only option. Mary bounded gracefully into her thoughts, refusing to be ignored for more than a few minutes. Beth stared at the ceiling. An intoxicating warmth flowed through her as she recalled Mary’s touch. Her scent. Her lips. She’d had sex in an alley. Standing up. It had been utterly impulsive and totally irrational. Completely unlike her. And it had excited the hell out of her.
Who was this woman who’d calmly invaded her life, stating very blatantly that she was attracted to her? With more confidence than anyone deserved to have, Mary had not only hit on her in a bathroom at the party, but pulled her between those houses for sex. Beth couldn’t imagine being so impulsive from the get-go. If she were to draw a picture of Mary, it would be of a sexy, beautiful woman stepping off a cliff and smiling a huge, wide smile. Everyone watching would be gasping at such a daring exploit, only to then become envious of her spirit because not only did she enjoy the trip down, she also laughed aloud as she landed, unharmed, in an immense mound of feathers.
Beth had felt a similar exhilaration with Mary in the alley, and she normally didn’t let things like that happen to her. Sure, she could be as fun as the next person, but only after getting to know her lovers and trusting them. Though in the recesses of her brain, she knew what she was doing was reckless, it had excited her to the core. She’d come harder than she’d ever remembered.
Beth shifted on the couch, aroused. The memory of Mary’s fingers buried inside her caused a tightness in her chest that puzzled her. She didn’t know if she felt lust, longing, anxiety, or excitement. She was beginning to understand the sweetness of that freedom and exhilaration Mary lived her life savoring. It was fantastic, but scary. What precarious door had she opened? A sobering notion seized her: being given a peek at a treasure was worse than never seeing it.
Beth shook her head. She could never be as impulsive as Mary. She was a responsible individual. But being brought to a shattering orgasm, in the dark space between two anonymous buildings, while being serenaded with “Sympathy for the Devil,” was not exactly normal. Then again, nothing in her life was normal of late.
Too keyed up to remain on the couch, she got up and grabbed her car keys. As she slipped downstairs she checked her watch. Ringing the doorbell at eight at night wasn’t exactly proper, but she was sick of torturing herself. Who was she kidding, anyway? She wasn’t sorry that she’d had sex with Mary; she was only sorry she couldn’t cope with casual encounters the way most people did. Perhaps she needed a little more practice.
She parked outside Mary’s apartment and strolled to the door as though she wasn’t nervous at all. And what, by the way, was she doing there? Hell, she knew damn well what she was doing there. Mary was Mary, and since Beth couldn’t stop thinking about her, why not see her in person?
She listened for noises through the door. Less from a desire to carry out her spontaneous plan and more from a need to get off the landing in case someone mistook her for a stalker, she rang the bell.
Mary’s face immediately brightened when she saw Beth. She grabbed her sleeve and pulled her inside saying, “I’m so glad you came by.”
“Am I interrupting?”
“No, not at all. I was just getting ready to go out, but I think I’ve changed my mind.” She paused, her eyes glistening in the low light of her apartment. “You remembered my address.”
“I remember everything you said last night.”
Mary stepped closer. “I’m flattered. Come on in.”
She led Beth into a comfortable room with a bay window that looked out over the street. A plush, dark green couch blended well with a solid wood coffee table and several bookcases. Virtually every piece of artwork that hung on the walls was a signed and numbered lithograph, all by notable artists. Beth took in an eight-by-ten photograph of a woman wrapped up in a parka. She was exiting a cabin. Her broad smile, through a light snowfall, radiated intimate warmth. Beth knew immediately that she was looking at Gwen, the lover Mary had lost in the car accident. There were no other pictures of women. Beth surmised she hadn’t had anyone in her life since Gwen. Looking for Ms. Right did not seem to be high on Mary’s list.
Beth watched her walk over to the couch and couldn’t help but drink in Mary’s long legs. She had on comfortable shorts and a tank top. A tremble shuddered inside her as she remembered how those legs felt pushed up against her in the alley. She cradled her trembling hands in her lap. She felt the need to explain her visit but couldn’t conjure up a solid reason. She didn’t want to go out to dinner, didn’t want to drag Mary out to the latest epic flick. She just wanted to see her.
“I really didn’t have any reason to come by.”
“Other than you wanted to?”
Beth watched Mary’s full, sexy lips form each word. “Yes. Well, I did have a reason, actually. I wanted to apologize for ending the evening so… abruptly.” And I want to tear your clothes off.
Mary smiled warmly. It was as if she could see everything that was flying around in Beth’s head. “Last night was wonderful. No need to apologize.”
“You’re not mad that you went home by yourself?”
“You had your reasons. And I had a great time with you.”
“I’m sorting some things out in my head.” Beth paused. “But getting to know you has been really nice.”
Mary nodded. “No worries.”
She lowered her gaze to Beth’s thighs, lean and shapely in her black jeans. I’d like to know more about you, she thought, curious about Beth’s agenda. It was hard to guess from her face what she was thinking and feeling. Her hands gave her away. She couldn’t keep them still.
Mary felt an odd awakening inside. She wanted to take those hands and kiss each of them, but she could sense a tightly coiled energy in Beth and didn’t want to scare her into another rapid retreat. She’d almost gone over to the Coop earlier, which would have been a thousand times better than going to a bar, but something had stopped her. Such a reserved action on her part should have baffled her, but she knew it was because Beth was not like most women she met.
As they’d spent time over the past week running and talking, a reverence about their friendship had grown. She wasn’t sure what effect last night’s encounter would have on their budding connection, so she was relieved that Beth had come by. Hopefully they could clear the air. She’d been about to set out for the Lexington to unwind over a beer, but didn’t suggest the idea to Beth, preferring to have the time alone with her.
“Are you going back to work tomorrow?” Beth asked.
“No, I’ve taken the rest of the week off to train.”
“I can imagine firefighting is pretty dangerous.”
“It can be,” Mary said but realized that, right now, firefighting wasn’t nearly as dangerous as the feelings she was having for Beth. “Mostly, it’s hours of sheer boredom punctuated by moments of absolute exhilaration.”
Beth laughed. “You must get a lot of dates while wearing that uniform.” She immediately regretted the remark. She knew what the answer would be and cringed, not really wanting to talk about Mary’s bountiful conquests.
Mary shrugged. “Mostly, we’re sweaty and smoky and all I can think about is getting back to the station for a shower. But one fun thing about the whole firefighting thing was the film crew that followed us around for a week last summer.”
“What were they shooting?”
“Some footage for an action movie. They wouldn’t tell us who was in it.”
“Did they get what they were looking for?”
“Raging fires, you mean? Yeah, there was a hell of a warehouse blazer. We shot out of the firehouse so quickly we nearly lost them. Then when they finally got to the warehouse, there were five battalions fighting the fire and they had trouble maneuvering around all the hoses and firemen and trucks. The chief finally let them stand on the top of our truck to shoot.”
“So one day I might see you in the background of the next Tom Cruise movie?”
“Hopefully it’ll be in the background of an Angelina Jolie movie.” Mary grinned.
“So, you have a weakness for a Hollywood babe?”
“You caught me. I rather enjoyed the fight scene she had with Brad Pitt in Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”
Beth laughed. “So did I.”
“As a matter of fact, when the movie first came out, I liked the opening location so much that I bought a ticket and flew to Bogota for a vacation.”
“You did? Was your visit as exciting as Angelina’s?”
“You mean you didn’t get your man?” Beth asked innocently. Damn, she had to stop talking about sex.
“I guess I got the woman.” Mary paused. “You’ll probably find it a bit crazy…”
Probably. But for some dimwitted reason, Beth wanted to know. “Try me.”
“Well, there was a little gay bar not far from my hotel. I met this woman. I explained to her what had motivated me to fly down there. The next thing I knew, she’d taken me back to her hotel room.”
“And you were wrestling around just like Brad and Angelina.”
Mary’s sheepish nod was as humble as it was comical.
Beth was not exactly surprised by the story. “You’re not much for premeditation.”
“No. The more I over think something, the less fun it is when I finally do it. Usually.”
Beth glanced down at Mary’s neck. It looked absolutely edible. I want you. “Does that go for everything?”
“No.” Mary looked thoughtful. “I thought about you a lot after I first met you, and that was fun. I was talking about chance moments. Serendipitous opportunities. You either stop to think about the consequences or you just react. I don’t believe in letting anything slip by.”
Mary’s face radiated her convictions. Beth envied her. “That’s a very freeing belief. I guess I should be thankful, since it got me between those two Victorians with you.”
Mary laughed. “You’re secret’s safe with the three of us ladies.”
“I don’t think I consider it a secret.”
“I thought that maybe, because of how the night ended, that you might have wanted it that way.”
“No. At least I don’t think so.” What I want is to take you to bed.
“Sounds like you’re not used to spontaneity, Beth.”
“Not excessively.” Beth wanted to examine her feelings more closely, but she was already chickening out and thinking about leaving.
“Oh, come on. You mean to tell me you’ve never been impulsive?” Mary teased. “You’ve never jumped off an ocean pier just because you saw was a dolphin out there? Or run after the ice-cream truck as soon as you heard the music?”
“Things like that? Of course I have.”
“Then what’s all the brouhaha?”
“Those things are different,” Mary said. “I’m not as impulsive as you.”
“What’s the difference between running after ice-cream trucks and getting pulled into alleys?”
“One led to sex.” The reply was abrupt but to the point.
Mary didn’t try concealing her smile. “Regrets?”
A rigid chortle burst from Beth. “No.” She cleared her throat. “It’s just… sex doesn’t usually happen that way for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was great with you. I’m just surprised at myself.”
Mary leaned forward until their noses touched gently. They were so close, Beth could feel Mary’s breath on her face, warm and sweet. Mary kissed her lips gently and then pulled away. Beth’s head spun and she tried fruitlessly to send a steadying message to her shaky legs.
Mary whispered, “Did you want to kiss me as much as I wanted to kiss you just then?”
Beth managed to whisper back, “Yes.”
“Well, there’s only one difference between you and me, really.” Mary’s eyes blazed into Beth’s.
“What is that?”
Mary kissed her again. “You think it, and I do it.”