Ethel’s: Angela & Nicole

Author’s Note: This story includes explicit sex-scenes, including between women. It is the first of a series. I do not know where it will go. Ethel’s is a fictional place and modeled on no real one nor are the characters modeled on any real people. I appreciate all comments. This was inspired by a photo-prompt on Twitter from P.F. Donato, @PFDonato A simple photo of a woman under a torrent of water. It inspired a scene and that scene led to the story. But it was not one of the explicit scenes or the various relationships set out. Those scenes, and the language, are entirely my responsibility, for good or ill.

A Sidebar: A Bunch of Words About Ethel’s

Much of this story takes place at a place called Ethel’s in NYC’s West Village. I begin with a description, but feel free to skip it and go directly to the story. This description will still be here.

{Ethel’s is a bar in the West Village, just off Hudson Street. It sits on a corner. When you enter there are tables to the right—the ones in front are at the corner—and up the wall and some on the left towards the front. The bar itself extends along the left wall, with the entrance to the kitchen in the left-rear corner. The restaurant offers typical pub-fare, well prepared, and top-notch desserts (and fresh bread) from a bakery around the corner, and the bar offers a surprisingly large selection of vintage wines. Ethel’s is subtly but tastefully lit. The music tends to get loud on Friday and Saturday nights but it is softer the rest of the time, the playlist leaning towards guitar-centric alternative, often in the Brandi Carlile vein—a picture of her taken when she was at the bar hangs, signed, in a place-of-honor—but always including songs people can dance to.

{The bathrooms are at the back to the right and though it is infrequently used there is a men’s room. The ladies’ room has three stalls—there are certain “understandings” about their use—and three sinks. It is clean and regularly and discretely checked by a staffer.

{In the restaurant/bar, there is a small dancefloor to the rear and a small stage, capable of holding two guitars and a bass but not much else. In winter, a small foyer is created so that one needs to open two doors to get in, protecting everyone from the invasion of frigid air.

{When Alice Johnson, who you’ll meet shortly, walks into Ethel’s for the first time, it was well after the early-Fall-semester rush. That’s when groups of four, five, or six grad students just starting at Columbia or NYU come down on Friday or Saturday nights for a “taste.” Invariably these groups are a mix of women, often in the Big City for the first time, who fall into three categories. There are those who, as the Brits say, are taking the piss and it as a lark. There are women genuinely and honestly “curious,” who may later come back without the piss-takers. And there are the women who are more than curious and hopeful of finding a place where and, better, a person with whom they can feel themselves. The regulars are always on the look-out for this last type (although some of the pretend-piss-takers are of this type), always discrete in their approaches (one of the “understandings” about the ladies’ room being its use as a safe-space). Many were in the exact same boat in the exact same place themselves and they sometimes develop Big-Sister relationships, providing guidance and protection—Ethel’s is not free of predators—and in three or four cases those relationships have evolved into marriages.

{There was no “Ethel.” There are varying stories, legends really, but the one with the greatest currency is that Alice Jenkins and Shirley Evans founded the place in 1990 and named it for a “Cheers” episode involving Sam Malone boasting of having danced with Carla like a modern-day “Fred and Ethel.” Whether this is true will never be known, Alice and Shirley both having gone to the Open Lesbian Bar in the Sky, Shirley shortly after she was able to marry the woman she loved for 45 years.

{The place is now run by Alice’s niece, a Smith BA/Columbia MBA butch called Maggie Owens, named after Alice’s long-time lover and partner in a tacit bit of solidarity between Alice and her sister, Maggie’s mother, who told everyone (including for a time her husband and parents but never Maggie) that it was and still tells everyone that it is “simply a name I liked the ring of.”

{Maggie and the staff make quick but polite work of gawkers who enter or stand with their noses against the windows hoping to see . . . something and ultimately Ethel’s is itself a safe space for everyone who comes in. The stage is used on Tuesday’s for an open-mic for the local LGBTQ Community. And LGBTQ Karaoke Thursdays!}

Part I

Angela Johnson

Angela Johnson and Billy Wilson met in high school, got close in college, and became lovers when they shared a two-bedroom apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens with Josh Elder, a fellow Vassar grad. Each was a poor intern and each needed a cheap place to live while working in Manhattan. It was rented by Josh’s brother and another guy and when they moved out the three moved in.

The men shared one bedroom while Angela took the other. Within six months, though, Angela and Josh swapped after she and Billy become lovers. About six months later, Josh was gone, moved in with a girlfriend he met at work. Since they could then afford it, the remaining two kept the second bedroom as a spare.

About a year after that, they were guests at a wedding in Westchester County, north of New York City. The groom was one of Billy’s college buddies. Black tie, so she needed a gown. Angela found something nice at a consignment shop in the neighborhood. It fit her. It was rust-colored.

After the ceremony and after the dinner in the large but fancy barnlike structure, Angela went down a long hall and down a few steps to the ladies’ room. She heard from one of the stalls, “Fuck me, fuck me, FUCK ME.” Then a squeal. Angela was standing by the sink in shock when the stall door opened and two women emerged, both flushed and one holding—were they?—they were: blue silk-panties. As the two left, holding hands, the woman who presumably still wore her silk panties smiled and said simply, “she lost the bet.” The two of them were gone, adjusting their gowns as they went, the sillage of expensive perfume in their wake.

Angela was standing precisely where she was when she heard the “fuck me, fuck me, FUCK ME,” her hand still gripping the sink and her eyes locked on the newly-vacated stall. She entered it and imagined where they, the two women, were and what they were doing there. And who the hell were they? Both were attractive. The taller of the two, the apparent bet-winner, was dark skinned and tall, perhaps 5’ 9”, and rail thin with small boobs, her jet-black hair done into elegant strands of braid. She wore a long green gown that was complemented by her emerald earrings and necklace, and the colors all complemented her smooth skin, narrow face, and wide, almond-eyes.

The loser-of-the-bet was fair-skinned with a round face and well-defined cheekbones. She was shorter than her friend by about four inches or so and was far from thin with short blonde-hair and a pleasing degree of cleavage in a sparkling blue gown, complemented by sapphires with diamonds in her earrings and necklace.

While Angela was in the stall, someone entered the ladies’ room. Angela smiled and quickly closed the door, now where the black woman had just fucked the blonde. Angela lifted her gown and lowered her own satin panties to do what she had come to do. After the other woman was gone, she took a few moments longer than she normally would to wipe herself before flushing, exiting, washing her hands, checking her face, and rejoining the reception.

It had moved downstairs and the bride and groom were enjoying their first dance to an instantly forgettable and instantly forgotten song that purported to be clever and witty but was neither. As she heard it from the stairs, Angela thought, meanly, why can’t they just go to one of the classics?

When she entered the reception room with the dancefloor and band, she surveyed the crowd, searching for the emerald and blue gowns. It was difficult because it was dark with small lights providing the only illumination except on the dancefloor. Angela tapped Billy on the shoulder and said she was doing a lap of the room and she left when he said “fine.” About half-way around she saw them, sitting close to one another at an otherwise-empty table for six. Suddenly the blonde whispered in her lover’s ear and pointed at Angela. The black woman came and asked Angela to dance.

Angela looked and saw the pretty blonde smiling. She realized that she, too, was pretty. It was a slow song. The black woman put her right hand around Angela’s back and her left in Angela’s right hand, leaving Angela to put her left hand over the other’s shoulder. They danced.

Angela was wet in the ladies’ room. It was not just urine she wiped away as she sat there. She was wet again. It had been a while. She had nearly as many girl lovers as boys, perhaps more over the years. They were, all of them, young and immature and irresponsible. Just girls and boys.

She liked the feel of a cock inside her. She liked what it did to her and what a boy’s mouth, with a tinge of a beard, did to her clit and pussy. She liked to feel what she could do to a cock and came to like the taste of a boy’s cum. And while she never squealed she was usually satisfied, except for the rare occasions when prematurity required self-satisfaction.

She liked the softness of a girl’s lips and tongue and fingers and the hardness of an aroused clit between her own lips. She liked the taste of a girl’s cum on her own tongue and how it felt on her own fingers. And, once, she felt it all, when a woman visiting a friend in her dorm fucked her with a strapon, an experience she never dared ask any of the girls in the dorm to share with her, giving or receiving.

That “phase” ended when she graduated college and roomed with Josh and Billy and when she graduated to sharing a room with Billy and now going to a friend’s wedding as Billy’s girlfriend.

In the Uber on the way home, Angela felt different and was starting to feel differently. The rain was heavy as they crossed the Whitestone Bridge. If he noticed her dance, he didn’t say anything. She was quieter than usual, staring out the window and listening to the beat of the wipers. Not clutching his hand, as she had on the way north. At the apartment, she robotically removed her gown and her matching panties and bra, failing to do the striptease for him that she planned. It was like many other nights; she got into bed after brushing her teeth and peeing and removing her makeup. He was horny and quickly discarded his tux. He waited for her to finish in the bathroom before getting himself ready for bed.

When he entered the bedroom, he took a condom from the dresser and slipped it on his cock. Then, as he often did, he entered her and she directed him inside before she pushed him away. “Touch me first. I’m not wet enough.” When she was wet enough, he restored his cock inside her and resumed his rhythm. He mumbled her name as he came. Rolling to his side, he reached his fingers over her slit but she stopped him. It didn’t happen often, but it did that night. He knew enough to get up and clean himself off before returning. She did not bother to finish herself.

Angela was happy being Billy’s girlfriend. Now, three years after graduation, they shared the Jackson Heights apartment, both with paying jobs in the City. Although marriage rarely came up, it was always lurking. And the sex? The sex was good, sometimes very good. There was compatibility and comfort and they kissed when they parted on the subway each morning. They kissed whenever the second to get home walked through the door.

Most of all, each told the other, “I love you” and they each meant it when they did. They knew each other’s families and had since high school and nearly everyone liked nearly everyone else. Except Billy’s sister Paula did not like Angela and Angela did not like Billy’s sister Paula. There was nothing specific. It just was. Maybe Paula—three years older—did not think Angela good enough for her baby brother. Maybe Paula did not think Angela good enough, full stop. Angela was no friend of Billy’s sister so the mutual animosity worked for them both.

Four Months Later: January

Billy was in Kilington, Vermont, skiing with a bunch of college friends. When Angela thought of “boys” in thinking of sex in college, it was guys like Billy’s friends. Several lived in New York, at least two at their parents’ houses. She was getting increasingly unhappy about the time Billy spent with them. They worked for banks or insurance companies in the City and spent most Friday nights in their suits and drinking IPAs at some microbrewery in some recently-gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood. Billy often stumbled into the apartment after midnight, peeing and collapsing into the bed still in his suit. It counted for something if he got his shoes off.

Angela didn’t know whether he was doing anything different or whether her increasing angst about him since that wedding came from within herself. She knew it was there.

It was Martin Luther King weekend. She neither skied nor wanted to be with Billy and his friends so she was alone in the apartment on late Saturday morning, browsing her phone. Among her messages, way down, was a “917” number she didn’t recognize. When she opened it she saw a picture of her dancing with and very close to a tall black woman, the woman in the emerald gown. The text with the photo had come from “Tracy.”

Tracy must be the woman in the blue gown, her blue panties in the black woman’s small purse sitting on the table. She must have gotten Angela’s information from a mutual friend. Angela hadn’t noticed the text when it arrived months earlier. Looking at the photo Angela recalled that when the dance ended the black woman whispered softly, “that was lovely but I better get back before that one gets jealous” and then gave Angela a brush of a kiss on her neck. She had not thought of those words or of those lips since the ride home from the wedding. Her left fingers went to the spot where the lips touched her and she held them there. With her right thumb she hit the CALL button on her phone.

The woman answering it was laughing as she said “Hello.”

“Um, I don’t know if you remember me but we, um, met at Edie and Tony’s wedding in September, in West—”

“Oh my god, you’re the one who caught us” and Angela heard her shout to someone, “Sher, holy shit, it’s that gorgeous brunette you won’t shut up about” and then, back to Angela, “this time I win the bet. Sherrie said you’d never call.”

Angela found this endearing. “Yeah, I’m that girl.”

An hour later, Angela was sitting with the couple at a restaurant in the West Village and on her second mimosa. An hour after than the three were doing a boutique run along West Broadway and Spring Street and seven hours after that the three were sitting at a small table at Ethel’s, a lesbian bar in the West Village, each with a tomato-bisque soup, bread, and glasses filled with Cabernet.

Angela had returned Billy’s call at about six, saying she was hanging out with friends when he gave his ski report. She kept it short. She’d never been in a lesbian place before. It was nice, not having to deal with boys, especially those who hit on her as she went to the bathroom after getting up from a table where she had just been sitting with Billy. The guys with Billy were just variations on the same stupid theme.

At Ethel’s, Angela had a nice dance with Sherrie and two very nice dances with Tracy and several very, very nice dances with unattached women who were friends of Sherrie and Tracy and who sat, at varying times, at their table. One, a 5’ 6” redhead named Nicole Taylor, whispered that she’d like to “share something with you.” For some reason—likely a combination of horniness and attraction—Angela went with her to a stall in the ladies’ room. They kissed, hard, and Angela wanted more, wanted Nicole to fuck her with her fingers in one of the stalls but wet as she was she would not cheat on Billy. That would be cheating. For now it had to be enough that she loved being in Nicole’s arms and sharing Nicole’s tongue. They stayed like that for three or four minutes until they were interrupted and headed back to their table.

They spent the rest of the night talking until Nicole put her number in Angela’s phone and with a final, torrid kiss whispered “good night” into Angela’s ear, and with a wave to Sherrie and Tracy she was gone.

One Month Later: February

Things went downhill after Angela watched Nicole leave Ethel’s. Not with Tracy or Sherrie or, especially, Nicole. With Billy. It wasn’t fair but she was saying “I love you” to him less frequently and finding excuses to leave early for work and excuses to work late. Billy wasn’t a fool, and he realized something was happening.

Angela liked Nicole. She didn’t love her and knew she never would but there was something exotic about the redhead and her blue eyes that drew Angela in. She knew Nicole liked her, although part of it might have been the thrill of the turn. Whatever it was did not matter to Angela. Two weeks after they met, while Billy was at a Nets game, Angela was at Nicole’s apartment and Nicole’s fingers were in Angela’s cunt and Angela squealed in the hands, and at the fingers, of a woman who knew exactly what she was about and exactly what she was doing. She felt guilty that she did not feel guilty about it.

About a month after his return from his Killington trip, and two weeks after her hookup with Nicole, an early Saturday morning, and another holiday weekend, they had it out. After some beating-around-the-bush, Angela said:

“I cheated on you.” Very flatly.

They were exclusive since before Josh moved out. While it hadn’t been often they did discuss getting married. They were so compatible. If two people were ever made for each other, Billy thought, it was them.

So Billy was stunned. He and the guys were a little drunk on that ski trip, and on a few earlier trips, and got a few blow jobs and he ate some pussy and over Christmas he fucked and was fucked by someone he’d always wanted to fuck in high school when he was in Darien but that was fantasy-fulfillment and the others were just fulfilling a need while he was away from her.

While Billy may have thought his transgressions not worthy of mention, Angela knew that her one session with Nicole had to be revealed. More important, Angela concluded that Billy was a failure. Not because of his own cheating, of which Angela was unaware until later, but literally in a comparison with that woman’s touch.

Two Months Later: April

It was inevitable. Billy had been all righteousness and stormed out when Angela had told him she cheated. She didn’t give him details and he hadn’t asked. In truth, he hadn’t asked because he feared details from her would require details from him. Coward and cheater that he was, he fled and over the next week gradually moved his stuff to the apartment in Brooklyn of one of his skiing buddies as he looked for his own place. What would have torn her apart months before was a relief now. This put Angela on the hook for the Jackson Heights place. But the rent was low enough and her salary was high enough that she could afford it and now had the extra room.

It was inevitable that they would run into each other again given the closeness of their families. It happened in early April at a wedding of mutual friends in Darien, Connecticut, their hometown. Angela wore a light blue dress and matching two-inch heels and gold earrings and a gold necklace. Her long, soft-brown hair in a French bun. She looked very good. She considered herself attractive but not pretty, 5’ 7” with boobs that were neither too big nor too small. She had a woman’s hips and the heels complemented her woman’s legs. She held a soft clutch.

When she entered the church with her parents, she saw Billy sitting on the groom’s side so she directed her folks to the bride’s, towards the rear. They were not happy when they heard she had broken up with him, but were now resigned to it. Angela saw Paula sitting next to her brother and she thought that getting her out of her life was one of the good things about the break-up. She glanced at the two during Mass, and she made sure to be among the first to leave when the ceremony ended.

Angela sat in the back of her parents’ car for the drive to the reception, where she was seated with them and a few other parents and kids from the neighborhood. Billy and his family were well away, news of the break-up having compelled adjustments in the seating plans. It started to rain after they arrived. Angela could hear the drops hitting the tent. She found it soothing, and it took her back to the flopping wipers in the Uber on the way home from that Westchester wedding.

After the toasts and the dinner and before the dancing, Angela went to the ladies’ room. She thought about the last time she had been in one at a wedding and hearing the cries and especially the squeal from Tracy. After a pee and a wipe and more than a little stroking—thinking of what Sherrie and Tracy did—and a flush she opened the stall and found herself staring at Paula.

That bitch was waiting for her, probably wondering what was taking so long.

Bitch.

Paula said, “Angie, my brother’s an asshole and I’m stuck with him. I’m glad you aren’t anymore. And just so you know. I. Am. Not. An. Asshole.” She turned and left.

When Angela returned to the hall, she looked over at Paula’s table. Paula sat there with her brother and her parents without a care in the world, completely oblivious to the woman she had just addressed, a woman who was anything but oblivious to what she had just been told.

Two Months Later: June

Angela loved being an independent woman. An independent bisexual woman. She found herself at Ethel’s most weekends, often with Sherrie and Tracy, who sort of adopted her. She enjoyed several impromptu finger-fucking sessions in the bathroom—giving and receiving, sometimes both at the same time—and went home a few times with Nicole when it was late and all either wanted was a nice session. She had a few take-homes with others, but nothing became of any of them.

After a few times at and several nights spent at Nicole’s place in Astoria, Angela wondered what they were to each other. This began after Nicole made her squeal with a strapon and when a week later Nicole asked Angela to switch and wear the strapon herself, something Sherrie said she had never heard Nicole ever doing. They spent more and more of their free time with one another without thinking. Often doing nothing but doing it together.

One Month Later: July

On a rainy Sunday in July and shortly after she had gotten in after sleeping at Nicole’s, Angela was getting out of the shower when her apartment’s buzzer rang.

“Hello?”

“Angie, it’s Paula Wilson.”

Angela had thought about Paula once in a while after the wedding and after Paula’s bizarre words in the ladies’ room. She had no contact with the bitch and heard nothing about her, or Billy for that matter. She was the better for it.

She buzzed her in and opened her door as she awaited the elevator. When she came in, Angela saw that all of Paula’s 5’ 5” was dripping with wet from the rain. Her eyes were red from the tears. Her short brown-hair plastered to her skull. Angela grabbed a towel and ran to get a t-shirt and a pair of running shorts and told Paula to change in the bathroom. Through the door she asked if Paula wanted coffee, and to her “that’d be great, thanks,” she poured a cup and waited in the kitchen.

When she came in, Paula sat at the table and took the coffee.

“Why haven’t you called me?” She said it slowly.

“What?”

“Angie. Why. Have. You. Not. Called. Me?”

Angela had no idea what this woman was going on about, and that’s all should could say.

“I told you. At the wedding. I told you that I wanted you to, you know, really get to know me.”

“Paula, I have no idea what you are talking about.” Again. “You always made it clear that you didn’t like me and that you didn’t think I was good enough for Billy. All you did at the wedding was say you were glad I was rid of him and after a while I figured that you were just being nice to me for a change.”

“You are such a fucking idiot.” This was the Paula Angela remembered. “I was glad you weren’t with him because I wanted you to be with me.” This was not the Paula Angela remembered.

“Wait, Paula, are you gay?”

“Well, I have some friends who know. And a few close ones from college, but no one in the family knows and no one in the family can know. Do you understand that? No one can know and I’m trusting you on this but, yeah, always have been, as far back as I can remember.”

Paula was three years older than Angela (and Billy) and Angela realized that she’d never had a steady boyfriend. “And your dates at weddings and stuff?”

“Just beards, friends of mine happy to help me.”

“But Paula, you really have been a bitch to me. . . .”

“Because I was scared shitless, OK. You really are a fucking idiot.”

“But Paula, one big issue, you don’t know whether I’m gay.”

“Again. I can’t believe I want someone who is so damned stupid. Of course you’re gay. Or at least bi-. I’ve seen all of the signs. I know all of the signs because I’ve had ‘em all. And I was pissy with you all the time because I was pissed that you weren’t with me but with my asshole brother.

“He really is. You know what he did? When you broke up he said you’d cheated on him. Did he ever tell you how often he cheated on you? I overheard enough of his conversations to know, although they always justified it as not-cheating if there was no fucking involved, just blow jobs and pussy-eating. Although apparently he did fuck Sally Johnson, you know, from high school, cause I heard him say, ‘that didn’t count because that was just fantasy and her tits aren’t even real.’ Fucking asshole. You ever wondered why he was so eager to go away on holiday weekends with his buddies. All assholes.”

Angela didn’t know what of what she was being told was the most troubling. That Paula knew Angela was gay. That Paula wanted her. Or that Billy was a fucking asshole who cheated.

She started laughing. “You are such a bitch. Why didn’t you tell me about him?”

“First, are you gay?”

“Well, if getting home at nine after sleeping in another woman’s bed makes one gay, I’m gay.”

Paula’s jaw dropped. “Are you serious?”

“She’s a regular fuck-buddy. You’d like her. Although she has a thing for turning straight girls and I assume that ain’t you.”

Paula’s jaw stayed dropped.

“I was about 50-50 boys and girls in college but after I set in with your brother it was just him and he may be an asshole but he’s good in bed. The person with whom I cheated? It was her bed I was in this morning. I, in fact, was a turning conquest to her.”

Paula’s jaw relaxed, but only slightly.

“It was funny. It all started at a wedding a few months before the one where we met in the ladies’ room.” Angela told of “meeting” Sherrie and Tracy and getting together with them while Billy was away. Her initial kiss and later tryst with Nicole, that while she didn’t think the kiss was “cheating” there was no question about the tryst. That’s when she spoke to Billy and his own little side-things explained why he ran out.

The rain was not letting up, still pounding against the apartment windows. Angela jumped up and grabbed Paula’s hand. After picking up her keys, she pulled the older woman with her, now racing down the stairs, the elevator far too slow, shouting, “After what you told me about your asshole brother I need a good cleansing.” The two were on the sidewalk holding hands as the torrents poured over them both. Angela looked up, her eyes forced closed by the rain, and was rid of him.

After a minute, the two ran back inside, Paula having been drenched twice within twenty minutes, and through the apartment door. Paula took a shower and put on yet another of Angela’s t-shirts and yet another pair of Angela’s running shorts while Angela took her own shower. When they were dressed, and after Paula mopped up the water in the hallway with a towel, Angela suggested they head down to a coffee shop a few blocks away to talk. And that’s what they did.

This was a traditional Queens coffee-shop. Both ordered scrambled eggs and toast and homefries and coffee. They were surprisingly comfortable as Paula answered Angela’s “tell me about yourself.” Angela knew the basics, college and job and all that but now she learned, and Paula was willing to tell, that she, Paula, cycled through a number of women and most of her relationships ended badly. Too often she was used and discarded when no longer useful. She blamed herself for picking the wrong women. Or, as she put it, “getting picked up by the wrong women.”

She said that she had three relationships that were of any duration and in which she felt herself an equal to her partner. Once she fancied herself in love, with a professor of English Lit at SUNY Purchase, a local college, but the professor left when she got a tenure-track position in Georgia. Their post-move communications dwindled until they reached an aphotic darkness, and all of the light between them was gone.

The other two relationships, she continued, ended when she and her lovers drifted apart until things officially ended when they each took what they had in the other’s place back.

For the first time, Angela felt sorry for this bitch, or more accurately for this woman Angela long thought was a bitch.

“I always knew about you but I wondered, figuring you might be bi-, whether you would simply end up marrying my brother and hating it and, more importantly, hating me. Angie, please don’t laugh, but I haven’t been with anyone since I found out that Billy and you were history.”

This was way too much for Angela. The idea of Paula being taken advantage of by lovers was at odds with everything she knew about her. But Paula said that the only meaningful relationships she had were as equals. Angela had much to process.

The rain let up and was only a slight drizzle with a hint of a blue sky to the west. Angela excused herself and stepped outside, making sure that Paula could see her; she didn’t want her to freak out thinking that she’d been abandoned. She called Tracy but Sherrie picked up. Speaking with one or the other of them was often like using a speakerphone except whomever was actually on the phone would provide an ongoing commentary of what Angela was saying. “Angela wants to know if she can bring a friend over, some kind of crisis”; this was Sherrie shouting to Tracy. “Tell her that’s fine, but give us an hour”; Tracy to Sherrie.

“Can you be here in an hour?” This was Sherrie to Angela who, with a “we’ll see you then,” hung up.

After Angela reported back to Paula, the pair got changed in Angela’s apartment—Angela was a little larger than Paula so Paula went with the rolled-up baggy-jeans look. They took the subway to Sherrie and Tracy’s Loft. Knock, knock, kiss, kiss, and the four were sitting on the sofa and a couple of the chairs with an open bottle of Merlot passing among them.

Paula was freaking out. She’d been with a lot of women and been to a lot of lesbian bars and had those three relationships but she’d never sat in the loft of a pair of get-a-room-they’re-so-into-each-other lesbians doing nothing but sharing a very nice bottle of wine, and gorging on too much finger food, gabbing away. To the others, it was natural. To Paula it was, well, unusual.

“So wait a minute.” This was Tracy. “You knew your younger brother was a dick and you knew that Angela was gay and you knew that they were together and you didn’t do anything about it except pine for Angela?” Now this was pretty cruel but on the whole pretty accurate and it was said with such a combination of bewilderment and kindness that there was no way for Paula to take offense in any by it, and all she could say was, “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”

One Month Later: August

It was platonic in August when Paula moved into Angela’s spare room. It would be a pain because Paula had to drive over an hour each way to her job in Stamford in southwestern Fairfield County; she was giving up her apartment there on August 31. Stamford was at the outer reaches of the neighborhood in which she and Angela grew up—Darien—and she felt oppressed when she was there.

Angela by then cared deeply for Paula. As a sister. Paula had been through some fucked-up stuff and Angela wanted to do what she could to prevent it from happening again. She hoped that simply integrating her into her own lesbian environment would ease her friend’s isolation and expose her to the good, the bad, and the ugly—but mostly the good—of that environment, perhaps allowing Paula to find “the one.” It became easy to take her on shopping sprees and to Sundays hanging out with friends, and to Saturday nights at Ethel’s.

For her part, Paula understood and appreciated what Angie was doing. Their time together became important to both. Paula got a transfer to her bank’s Manhattan headquarters and the commute was via the subway and not up I-95. The hunger she had for the younger woman had become genuine affection and the change was sealed when she asked Angie if she could kiss her and a somewhat befuddled Angela said she could and she did and . . . nothing.

This surprised neither woman. Angela had come to love Paula as a close friend. Her blood, though, was never brought anywhere near a boil by her. Paula’s passion had evolved; fires now settled into comfortable embers, warm and pleasant but never enough.

Paula was reluctant about and hesitant with other women, even those Angela “screened” for her. She danced with a few at Ethel’s but did nothing more with them. And bit by bit she was getting comfortable in her new world.

One Month Later: September

“Stop it.”

The “it” was Angela’s thrusting the strapon into Nicole. Angela stopped. She was the only woman who Nicole allowed to do “it.” Angela thought that her lover might be having second thoughts about her being on top. She was a combination of suddenly very pissed and suddenly very nervous. She liked topping and she liked bottoming. Hell, with Nicole she loved them both. They were doing it on almost every weekend and several times during the week for months.

Angela pulled out and flipped on her back, staring at the ceiling. She was not prepared, could never have thought to be prepared for the next two words she heard.

“Marry me.”

Neither moved except for the heaving of their chests as they came down from the physical intensity that was just abandoned, the mental intensity shooting off the scale.

“What?”

“I love you.” Neither had said it before. “I love you and I want to marry you.”

Angela got up, said, “let me get this off,” and after grabbing a t-shirt was gone. For Nicole, this was the most frightening moment of her life and she feared she made the worst decision of her life. She meant it but she had not meant to say it. When Angela was above her, her eyes burning with lust and, she thought, love, and she not yet in the throes of passion but in the throes of something even more important than mere passion, Nicole knew in that instant that she needed this woman to be with her for the rest of her life. And it was said. Nicole was not sure that she said it, but it was said and she did not regret it being said. Except for the fact that she did not know whether Angela was ready to hear it and now she feared that Angela was not and that Angela now never would be and Nicole wept, raising her right hand over her closed, tearing eyes and asking herself “what have I done?”

Angela did not hear Nicole’s crying. She was staring at herself in the bathroom mirror. She loved Nicole. She knew that. It crept up on her but it was well encased now. As the various scenarios ran through her head while she stared into her own eyes, that Nicole would love her was not among them. All she hoped for was that Nicole would fuck her and that Nicole would let herself be fucked by Angela between the other “things” Nicole did. Her brain had yet to catch on to the reality that Nicole was not doing other “things” with other women anymore. She was always with Angela.

Angela wondered what was going on and then why Nicole had not come out of her bedroom and she turned off the light in the bathroom and as she left she heard them. The tears. She rushed into the bedroom and saw Nicole was a blubbering mess. She knelt by the bed and reached to her lover.

“Ang, forget what I said—I was being silly—I was carried away—you know you have that effect on me—let’s just get some sleep—please stay tonight—we have to get up—” It was a torrent of words, hardly sentences, that Angela stopped by grabbing her life and pulling her close.

“Nicki. Stop. I love you. Please stop.”

That middle bit stopped Nicole. “Did you say you love me?”

“I said it and I mean it. We need to talk. Meet me in the living room.” And with that Angela was leaving the room.

Nicole grabbed her own t-shirt and followed. That sat on the sofa.

“Talk to me.”

Nicole explained how much she’d changed and been changed since meeting Angela. How she’d given up “having an NYU law student between my legs or being between the legs of a Scarsdale pediatrician.”

She recaptured her breath. “Look, I know we began as mutual fuck-toys, but we both know you changed me. Have you not noticed how I never seem to have a date on Saturday nights and find myself ‘stuck’ hanging out with you? I tried, I really tried for this not to happen, OK. Ang, I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. You and no one else. You.”

It was sudden, shocking even, but Angela knew what she knew. She paused. “Do you have a ring?”

“What?”

“When a woman proposes to a woman she ought to have a ring. Capisce?”

“Are you serious? Shit, we were in bed when I decided to ask.”

“They say you can get anything delivered in New York 24/7. What about a ring?”

Angela felt a little bad about the teasing and so ended it with “Yes, Nicole Lynn, I will marry you and I’ll give you a few days to get your fiancée a ring. But, Nicole Lynn, will you marry me?”

“Well,” she laughed, “only if you promise to get me a ring.”

And with that they kissed and Nicole Lynn said, “Angela Marie, you, and only you.”

Twelve Hours Later

It was Paula calling. “Where are you?”

It was Angela answering. “Fuck. Sorry P. We lost track of time.” She paused and looked at Nicole and, receiving a nod, said, “Can you come over to Nicole’s in about twenty?” and receiving a “I’ll be there” Angela asked Nicole whether she was ready.

And they were ready. Nervous but ready when Paula came by and after offering her a fresh coffee and sitting her down on the sofa was told that Nicole and Angela were getting married.

Paula felt bad about it, but her unspoken first-thought was that Nicole was kind of a slut and this did not seem to be a very good idea for Angela. I mean, Angela was no virgin, but still . . .

Nicole read this. She got up and sat next to Paula.

“I know you think I’m a slut and—don’t deny it, it’s true—and I really was. Angela turned me. You know how I loved turning straights”—and Paula nodded and Angela shook her head thinking don’t-go-there—”well she fucking turned me. She is the only woman I’ve let take me to a place I do not want to leave.

“I promised her and I promise you that I will be true and I will be faithful.”

Paula looked across at Angela: “Do you believe her? Do you trust her? You almost completely went off the deep end with Billy and what a mistake that would have been. Are you sure you want to go off the deep end with Nicole,” who was holding her breath next to Paula.

“I love her. I trust her. I am hers. Forever.”

And with that they hugged, finished their coffees, and went to see Sherrie and Tracy. Sherrie said, “the hell with coffee” and she was pouring champagne for everyone until Angela said after swearing everyone to secrecy, “we have to go. We have some business to attend to” and with more hugs the three visitors were heading to Jackson Heights to pick up Angela’s car for a trip to Fairfield County.

When Angela’s mother answered the door, she brightened at seeing her daughter and Paula and asked who the third woman was. Angela said simply, “this is Nicole. . . . Mom, I . . . we need to speak to you and dad.”

“He’s out back,” and her mother called him to come see Angela and Paula and a friend of theirs. While they waited, she asked Paula about her folks and her brother, saying she hadn’t seen them since the wedding in Darien and, referring to the break-up, added, “I still don’t understand that” and that she really liked Billy and she was going along this line when her husband appeared, wiping his hands and after giving Angela a hug and saying hello to Paula and to the woman he was introduced to as Nicole sat in a chair facing the sofa, where the three visitors, Angela in the middle, sat.

“Mom. Dad. Nicole is my fiancée.”

It was as if a stun-gun was directed at the two parents. If either moved, it was imperceptible. Angela said it again and the spell was broken as to her mother. As to her father, he may have started breathing again but was otherwise static.

“This is a joke, right? You were nearly engaged to Billy. Angela, what are you talking about?” and Angela explained what she was talking about, how she long thought she liked boys, “and I thought I loved Billy,” but she slowly realized that she liked girls and she slowly “but surely” realized that she loved Nicole.

Her mother got up and headed to the kitchen “to get something.” She stopped and turned, her eyes burning into Paula. “Are you alright with this? She was about to marry your brother. Do you think this is OK?”

Paula waited a beat. She squeezed Angela’s hand, which she had gripped since the three sat down, as Nicole was holding her other hand. “Mrs. Johnson. Mr. Johnson. I think it’s wonderful.” Mrs. Johnson recoiled. “And I should tell you,” Paula continued, “I’m a lesbian too.”

Paula looked at Mrs. Johnson and said, “Please do not tell my parents. We’re heading there shortly. It’s something I have to do.”

Mrs. Johnson walked out of the room with a “go, do you think I’m going to tell this to anyone?” Mr. Johnson got up and walked to his daughter and he hugged her. He whispered, “Just tell me she’s rich” and Angela cried and Nicole cried and Paula cried and Mr. Johnson gave his daughter a tighter squeeze and Nicole an even tighter one and then told the group, “she’s just surprised. She loves you, and you too Paula. She’ll come around. Just give her some time” and with a last hug of his daughter the three visitors were gone, now heading a few miles north to the house in which Paula grew up.

If one wants to know what happened when they got there, just re-visit what happened at the Johnson house, except for the part about the daughter-is-engaged. The mother disappeared, weeping, and the father stuck by his daughter with assurances that it would work out. Paula’s father, though, asked whether she had told Billy. Because they knew word would get to him quickly, Paula said she would call him. When she did, he did not take either bit of news—Angela’s engagement or her own gayness—well, the phrases “fucking dykes” and “I knew it” being heard. She ended, “Angela and I wanted you to hear it from us.” She hung up.

The three then headed into Darien and walked along the Post Road. The two locals had not been there in a while, fearing running into an acquaintance and being asked uncomfortable questions but now neither cared and neither would be uncomfortable here or anywhere and after a quick lunch—they hadn’t eaten since grabbing quick bagels at Sherrie and Tracy’s Loft—were heading south on I-95 with Paula in the backseat.