Ethel’s Part 2: Paula and Connie

October: Outside Ethel’s

On a Saturday night in early October, at about nine, twenty-three-year-old Connie Dyson stood outside Ethel’s, near the street. A stranger walked up to her, introducing herself as “Michelle” and waving to a friend who went into the bar without her.

“You remind me of someone.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You remind me of someone. Me. First time?”

“That obvious?”

“Let’s take a walk. Don’t worry, I am not hitting on you. You’re cute but not my type,” and she gave an exaggerated wink. The pair headed west and turned up Hudson Street. Michelle put her arm through Connie’s. She told her story of coming to New York from upstate two years earlier and through the internet hearing of Ethel’s. She stood pretty much where Connie was before someone recognized her for what-she-was and took her on this same little walk. “It meant so much to me, and when I see the old-me standing there like you were I do the same.”

To this perfect stranger Connie came out for the first time. When they had circled back to Ethel’s and she told this fact to Michelle she received a smile and was told: “You’re about to come out to a lot more people but they’re all family.” With that they entered the bar together, arm-in-arm.

Michelle made a point of introducing Connie to everyone she said hello to. For the first time in her life Connie did not feel that she was stranded on an island. She even danced with two or three. She neither was nor was not pretty. Very fair skin. A narrow face split by a narrow nose above a small mouth. Her profile was that of a small bird. Her hair was brown and she wore it pulled straight back over her skull. It draped three or four inches below her shoulders, highlighting her small ears and the two studs—one low, one high—she wore in each of them. 5’ 5” and with a small figure, black leggings, a white blouse, and flats.

Two things stood out. She had a two-inch scar diagonally on her right cheek. It added depth to her face. And her eyes. Her eyes made all the difference and made her something other than and far more than pretty. Azure eyes.

Her sleep after that night at Ethel’s and after replaying it again-and-again on the long ride on the R Train to her walk-up apartment in far-from-fashionable Bay Ridge, Brooklyn was the most peaceful of her life.

On the next Saturday night, Connie sat briefly with Michelle and met more of Michelle’s friends before mustering the nerve to approach a woman standing alone at the bar. They chatted briefly but only chatted and the woman parted with a “see you around.” While Connie felt alone, she was pleased for having approached a woman she did not know. And for having survived. Michelle, who observed this, got up to bring Connie back to her table and they had a laugh about it.

The next Saturday, Michelle asked Connie if she’d like to go to a party the next day at Sherrie and Tracy’s Loft. Michelle knew the couple well enough to be asked with some friends. She knew it’d be OK to bring Connie along and she thought it would do the newbie some good, a chance to mingle in a more relaxed environment.

One Day Later: A Party

Sherrie and Tracy’s Loft was large. One of them came from money but no one ever knew which one. They met at Smith, were together as Sophomores, and became inseparable as Juniors. They were now 25 and each worked for a non-profit. On a Sunday in early October they held a party. The attendees were a mix of people from school, from jobs, from the neighborhood, and especially from Ethel’s.

As usual, Paula stayed close to Angela. By this point, as noted, Paula’s feelings for Angela were changed. A love left untended from afar while Angela was with her brother was briefly inflamed. It had settled into the glowing comfort of sisterhood. But a stranger looking at the two would think they were lovers—looking nothing like sisters, displaying all the signs of a physical closeness and natural comfort—and a stranger would hesitate before approaching.

Connie was such a stranger. As it happens, neither Angela nor Paula had been at Ethel’s on either of the Saturdays when Connie was there. So she had no idea who they were. She sensed something about the older of the two, Paula. Connie asked Tracy when she said hello “what’s the story with those two?”, a nod towards Angela and Paula. Tracy said, “It’s a little complicated, but for now all I’ll say is that we love them both and they are like long-lost sisters so feel free to say hello.”

Connie touched Tracy’s hand and with a thanks got a Chardonnay. She circled the room before mustering the courage to approach the pair with a “Hi, Tracy tells me you’re like sisters. I’m Connie.” Said in a single breath.

Angela and Paula introduced themselves. When Connie said that Tracy said something about it being “complicated,” Angela responded with a “She did, did she?” She gave the elevator-pitch version of their story, making it clear that they were both gay (or at least bi- in her case) and wondering why they hadn’t come across each other at Ethel’s.

Just then, Sherrie tapped her glass and once she had everyone’s attention Tracy began a little speech.

“Thank you all for coming. We had an ulterior motive in asking you here today, although we’re sure it won’t surprise anyone. One of us—I won’t say who—asked the other whether she might want to get married and receiving a yes the first of us—again not saying who—asked and . . . I’m sorry. I’ve been rehearsing this and someone—not saying who—bet I wouldn’t get it right and this someone won the bet and, well, I’m pleased to let everyone know that Sherrie and I are getting married sometime in the new year” and a handsome older black-couple were next to them and rings that could be seen-from-the-Moon were on their fingers and Nicole, standing near raised her glass to the “happy couple finally” and everyone joined and rushed to congratulate them.

In the melee, Connie lost sight of Angela and, especially, Paula and left.

She still felt something. She was so inexperienced that she had no idea what that “something” was other than that she felt it. Paula was lost in the crowd at the Loft, after the toast. For some reason Connie did not search for her but panicked and fled. She thought a lot about Paula on the long subway-ride home. And it ate at her. Monday. Sitting at her desk at the insurance company. Tuesday. During downward dog at the yoga studio. Wednesday. Getting take-out at the Vietnamese restaurant on the corner. She found her thoughts drifting to Paula and her mouth whispering her name as she used her fingers or her vibrator to get herself off each night.

On Thursday she got Tracy’s number from Michelle. On Friday she called Tracy’s number and when Sherrie answered she asked upon realizing who Connie was, “where did you go?” And somehow she managed to draw Connie into telling her story and how she had come out to Michelle and how there was that “something” about Paula but how she panicked.

“Are you going to Ethel’s tomorrow?” and getting a “yes” Sherrie promised that Paula would be there.

Connie almost sank into the floor when Sherrie came over to her as she entered the bar on Saturday and hugged her, whispering, “we’re all idiots sometimes” and leading her to the table where Tracy, Angela, and Paula sat, and Connie and Paula wanted to sink into the floor when Angela and Tracy got up, Tracy shouting above the music, “you two be good now” as they did. Paula then understood why Angela vetoed the first two outfits she’d tried on before signing off on a red collared shirt, tailored slacks, and two-inch heels, a combination that caused Connie to forget how to speak.

There was, indeed, “something” in Paula for Connie and “something” in Connie for Paula. During that awkward second-meeting at Ethel’s they fell into a conversation punctuated periodically by increasing intimate touching. Fingers. Wrists. Shoulders. A stray-hair moved behind Paula’s ear. A tiny bit of cheese lifted from Connie’s lips. Paula was six or seven years older than Connie but it didn’t matter. When Paula got up the courage to ask Connie to dance, their arms were wrapped around each other for the first time, neither woman leading and neither woman following.

Connie convinced Paula to drive out to Bay Ridge the next day and they went to Coney Island together and walked along the boardwalk. It was Paula’s first visit to the landmark. She was underwhelmed. But that was OK because it was the company that mattered. The two walked, Paula’s arm about the younger woman’s waist.

Paula had felt this comfortable only once before, with the SUNY prof. That might have progressed if she hadn’t moved to Georgia for work. They, too, spent time just being with one another. When Connie called her on Monday night, she was shocked that it was after ten when they hung up. They hadn’t spoken about anything and it was after ten when they hung up. Paula found her day empty until Connie called and then she couldn’t wait for Saturday when they’d see each other again.

Connie had zero experience with this. She’d often wondered what it would be like to be with a girl, maybe even to have a girlfriend. Now that she was with a girl, all she could do was let whatever would happen happen. She wondered why she had taken so long. She was a shy woman and had been a shy girl. Even before she was shoved off her bike when she was twelve and got the gash across her face. Everyone laughed when it happened. From that point on, all through high school, she was “scarface.” Even the girls she fantasized about called her that. Not teasingly. She was shy, gay, and disfigured.

She went to Boston University, refusing to remain in the Chicago area where she was raised, coming home only for the summers. They still called her “scarface” when they saw her in her little town. The only person who didn’t was Eric, a high-school classmate who came out as a freshman at Cornell. He, too, left their little town. She came close to, but never told him she was gay. He remained her sole friend from those days and that little town.

She did well at BU and worked for an insurance company in lower Manhattan. Her being out in Bay Ridge was a pain for Paula but the distance only increased the fervor of each rendezvous. With Angela now spending most of her time at Nicole’s, Connie spent most Saturday nights with Paula in Jackson Heights and the four often met for brunch either there or in Astoria.

The first time Connie spent the night was three or four weeks after they met. A Saturday. They skipped Ethel’s and had dinner in the neighborhood. Both knew what was going to happen. Over their (shared) dessert, having already split the check, Paula asked in as sultry a voice as she could summon whether she could show Connie her “sketches.” After Connie stopped laughing, she leaned in and asked, “are they nudes?” Paula grabbed the younger woman’s hand and they were off to find out.

Connie was the far more nervous. She had never been with a woman. She’d masturbated to lesbian videos and lesbian stories for years and she knew what she wanted and could only hope that, (a) Paula would want the same, and (b) she could actually do it.

Paula’s nerves where more specific. She did not want to fuck it up with this woman. She knew that Connie was a complete virgin, never having been kissed until they shared an incredible one on the Coney Island boardwalk a few weeks earlier. As they walked to the apartment, Paula promised Connie that “this is all about you, OK?” Connie nodded.

Once inside, four nervous hands and twenty nervous fingers undid what had to be undone. The pair stood naked except for bras and panties next to Paula’s bed. They had gone straight there. They kissed and Paula unclasped Connie’s bra and Paula reached back and undid her own and they, the bras, were on the floor.

“Ready?” Connie nodded and they each removed their own panties and Connie lay down on the bed and Paula lay atop her. Paula leaned up and ran her left fingers over Connie’s right breast and across her nipple. She moved to her side and moved Connie so she straddled her leg. Paula pulled Connie’s left hand to her pussy and drew the fingers across herself and Connie moaned and began to take control of her fingers while Paula reached around between Connie’s butt cheeks till she found her lover’s folds and began to run her middle fingers up-and-down and right-and-left, then brushing across the vagina as Connie began to curse and rock, maintaining just enough concentration to continue her own fingering, putting her own middle finger into Paula. The two were silent except for increasingly anxious moans until first Connie and then Paula came in slow gradual orgasms.

It was enough for both of them. They lay in each other’s arms on the bed and told each other how much they enjoyed “that.” In Connie’s head she wrestled with the emotions she felt, trying to get them under control. So simple, barely any penetration yet . . . She neared but kept from falling into tears. Then after she and Paula peed and lay back on the bed staring at one another.

Paula reached over and ran a finger along Connie’s scar. She raised her head and kissed it. Putting her finger to it again, she said, “Tell me about it.” As she did, Paula cried and now it was Connie kissing her lover’s face. “You are wonderful.” Connie denied it, but she turned to let Paula spoon her for the first time and they were soon dead asleep.

January: Crisis

It was Sunday morning. Early. Very early. Very cold. The streets of Astoria had the eerie echo of emptiness, the low sun casting its long shadows and the Christmas decorations still hanging across the street, swaying in the slight wind.

Paula had been walking for hours. She hadn’t slept until she dozed while sitting on the steps that led to Nicole’s building. An FDNY siren on 30th Avenue, two blocks away, woke her and she pulled her phone. 7:48. She hit speed dial 4, Angela. It was answered right before Paula thought it destined for voicemail.

“Paula, are you OK?”

“I need to see you. I’m downstairs.” And a minute later Angela rushed through the front door in her coat and gave a hug to her shaking friend.

“I cheated. Angela, I cheated on Connie. I don’t know what to do. I cheated on her. I knew I shouldn’t but—” and she couldn’t go on, sobbing into Angela’s left shoulder. She was freezing.

Paula was somewhat recovered after sitting down for a few minutes in Nicole’s kitchen and when Nicole offered to go for a walk Paula’s thanked her and waited until she was gone to take a breath and begin telling Angela what had happened.

She was one of the “wrong women” that Paula had told Angela about from her dark days. She’d come up to her in the ladies’ room at Ethel’s about a month before and whispered, “you have my number. You know how to find me.”

Connie was spending the weekend at her family’s place in Sag Harbor. Normally they would be together, but Paula was alone in Jackson Heights. She thought about it and thought about it. Then she was in a cab going to an apartment on the Upper East Side. Then she was eating this woman and tasting this woman and in the end servicing this woman who, when she was done, let Paula take care of herself in a bathroom and told Paula to leave because “I’m meeting someone downtown at 10.”

“I’m horrible. You were right, Angie, to stay away from me. I am a fucking asshole and I don’t deserve any of you. I don’t deserve Connie. I can’t look at—” and again she could not continue. The two friends were now on the sofa, the younger Angela holding the older Paula, whose chest was throbbing as she did her best to exhaust herself of tears.

After some time, Paula was able to say what happened.

She was in the ladies’ room at Ethel’s about a month earlier when the woman came in with a tall Russian-looking woman with long blonde hair and a choker.

“paulie. Long time no see.”

Paula hated the name and stared at the woman in the mirror.

“If you need me, you have my number. You know where to find me,” and with that she and the Russian girl entered a stall and Paula fled, rejoining Connie and saying nothing.

When Connie was in Sag, Paula got her phone and scrolled. Her name was easy to find: “M JULIE.” It was about 7:30.

“This is paulie.” It was all Paula could say.

“You may come to me in one hour” and Mistress Julie gave her address, on Park Avenue in the Seventies, and one hour later Paula was in front of the doorman at the desk.

“You must be paulie,” and when Paula said she was the doorman said, “12C. The door is open. She is waiting for you.”

After taking the elevator up, Paula found the apartment and opened its door. Locking it after she entered.

She turned into the large living room. Mistress Julie was sitting on a chair. Very expensive ivory blouse and short, black jacket. Black silk stockings and a garter belt. Four-inch heels. Nothing else. To her right, paulie’s left, and perpendicular to her was the Russian-looking girl. She was kneeling with her ass on her heels. Her hands were on her thighs. She wore a two- or three-inch wide collar. She was otherwise naked, with her hair in a pony-tail and a gold chain connecting nipple rings.

Mistress Julie said nothing. She looked to the floor in front of her. paulie removed her coat and put her bag down. She was wearing her best, black slacks and an ivory blouse, although much cheaper than the one worn by Mistress Julie. Three-inch heels, the tallest she had. Without a word, she stepped deeper into the living room and lowered herself to her knees. She ignored the girl as Mistress Julie spread her knees, revealing her shaved pussy, and, still without a word from anyone, paulie crawled between those legs and as if pulled by a magnet her tongue was moving gently up-and-down the shaved pussy and paulie’s universe was between Mistress Julie’s legs and paulie fell into it, exploring the pussy, the slit, the clit, the folds, the hole until the thighs she knelt between shook and the otherwise silent Mistress Julie’s breath reached paulie’s ears in a susurrus and paulie kept licking and poking and sucking and suckling until she felt a tap on her head.

“You may take care of your needs in the bathroom down the hall. I have an appointment downtown at ten.” And with that paulie stood and backed out of the room and turned to the indicated bathroom where, leaving the door open, she rubbed herself to a deep, intense orgasm. She removed her damp panties and left them on the sink, folded delicately. Without changing the mess that had become her face or the mess that was on her face she left.

When she reached the living room, she turned. Mistress Julie was standing, in tailored slacks that matched her jacket. The Russian-looking girl—Katrina as she was baptized—was still kneeling in the same position but had turned so that she too was facing paulie, looking at the floor.

“katty needed to be punished. she called you a ‘slut’ after seeing you at Ethel’s. That was wrong. you are a worthless slut, paulie, but only I may so refer to you. katty has been punished. you may go.”

paulie turned to leave and gathered her coat and her bag. When she touched the doorknob she turned and stepped back into the hall outside the living room.

“Thank you,” not looking up, and she left.

When Paula reached the lobby, she couldn’t escape the smirk from the doorman. She rushed onto Park Avenue and walked south and east, working her way to the walk-way across the 59th Street Bridge. She crossed and turned north towards Astoria and then randomly wandered in the dark and quiet until she reached Nicole’s. It was cold and very dark but she found the sounds-of-the-night a comfort as she sat. It was 4, 4:30, and she dozed off, wrapping her coat around her as tightly as she could and putting the woolen hat that was in her bag on her head.

*   *   *   *   *

What Paula said was completely outside of Angela’s experience and of everyone else she knew. The only person who she could think of calling was Maggie Owens at Ethel’s. She called the bar and left a panicky voicemail saying that she “needed to talk to Maggie as soon as possible about Paula.” While they waited, their panic and confusion increasing as they waited for Maggie, Angela and Nicole kept a watch over their sleeping friend. They had no Plan B.

The problem, of course, was that neither knew why a strong smart person like Paula if told by a particular person in a particular way to jump would ask “how high?” This was someone’s life they were talking about and they had no idea what was going on in her head. Worse, they feared that they could do or say something that would make things worse.

Maggie got into Ethel’s about a half-hour after Angela’s call. She was used to early-morning calls from panicked customers. “In an Emergency, Call Maggie.” She should just put up a sign behind the bar. It was part of the gig though, being the den-mother for clueless butches and femmes and dykes of every description. Usually all it took was a bit of hand-holding, often with a “you’ll get through this” and “we’ve all been there.”

This message was different from the normal. Angela didn’t mention Nicole. She mentioned Paula. So when she got to the message, she closed her office door and called Angela.

Over the years she’d only done it four or five times but she knew a phone call wouldn’t do. She was quickly in a cab to Astoria. She found Nicole pacing on the sidewalk waiting for her. After getting the basics, the two went upstairs. Paula was asleep.

Maggie sat in the living room with Angela and Nicole.

She knew of Julie. “She’s bad news. She must have come to the bar while I was out.” This was when she was told about Paula running into her, and her katty, in the bathroom.

“There’s all this horror about Dom/sub and even Mistress/slave relationships. They really can work and be as loving and complete as more ‘traditional’ ones. We don’t get them that often, but I know plenty of happy couples whose roles naturally fall into one or the other side. But they are always fully consensual and the Dom always takes her responsibilities to her sub seriously and the sub can always elect to leave. It’s all about trust, communication, respect, and honesty.

“This woman, though, doesn’t give a shit for her subs. Complete power trip. She’s with this katty and she decides for the hell of it to drag Paula into it and then just throw her out. That’s what you need to understand, a true Dom/sub relationship can have cruelty embedded into it but it is never gratuitous. She wanted, apparently, to punish her sub, which is fine, assuming katty was there voluntarily. But why fuck with Paula the way she did? Because she’s a horror, because it’s all about her.”

Angela and Nicole were numb. They had equated that lifestyle with perversion, of one woman being forced involuntarily to suffer at the hands of another. Leather and whips. Maggie repeated,

“It may be hard to believe but lots of women, and men, especially the strong and successful, crave giving up control to someone else for part of their lives, often in the behind-closed-doors part of their lives. In a crazy way the sub’s the one who controls, or at least should control, the relationship because it is all about her limits and her desires. The Dom can only go as far as the sub will let her and no farther. All the sub has to do is say her safe word.” To the other two, Maggie explained that the “safe word,” if used, requires the Dom to immediately stop what she is doing without question. “A sub can say ‘stop’ until she’s blue in the face but the Dom may, must, ignore it because it is never the safe word. ‘Red’ is a good safe word or ‘orange’ for that matter. It’s all voluntary.”

Maggie was now pacing and getting angry at what happened to Paula because she, unlike the other two, understood how bad this was, how horrible what this woman did to Paula was.

Why, though, was it so horrible? Paula had gone there voluntarily and everything she did while there was voluntary. The servicing, the dismissal, the humiliation. She had a history with that woman. Sordid, perhaps, but it was there.

Angela spoke. She’d known Paula for a lot of years and they didn’t get along for most of them. Paula had confessed that her only happiness in relationships came when she felt like an equal.

Maggie ended it by saying that all she could do was point out that it is not necessarily wrong, that it all came down to what Paula wanted, and that they had no idea, ultimately of what that was.

“Here’s the deal. We don’t know anything. She needs to talk to someone who does. I think you two”—looking at Angela and Nicole—“need to help her find someone, a professional. But until that happens, you cannot make her feel like a shit. OK? This may be who she is. You need to help her figure out who that is.

“That’s all we can do. It’s up to Paula.” Maggie left.

Connie. What was to be done with her? She was coming home from Sag Harbor late in the afternoon. When Paula finally got up and came into the living room, Angela sent her to the shower and it was almost a new person that emerged. Paula asked about Connie. She had three or four calls from her while she’d been asleep and she didn’t know what to say. In the end they agreed that she should tell Connie at her place in Bay Ridge but tell her nothing out of the ordinary until then.

It was cold. Paula and Angela could not sit outside her building. They found a coffee shop where they could watch. When Connie got out of her brother’s SUV and entered the building, they got up. At the building, Paula hit her buzzer.

“Con. It’s me. We need to talk.”

To say Connie was freaking out when Paula and Angela entered the apartment would be an understatement. There was zero chance that this was good and Connie was panicking. Angela went to Connie and held her hands and told her to listen to everything Paula had to say. Angela and Connie sat on the sofa, Paula across from them.

“I cheated on you.” Angela tightened her grip on Connie’s arm to quiet her; Paula needed to be heard out.

“I missed you and I went to another woman I knew before I knew you. I went to her apartment and I serviced her”—Angela further tightened her grip—”and she threw me out and I walked all night and I don’t deserve you and I’m so, so sorry.”

Before arriving, Angela made Paula promise that whatever happened she would not leave until Connie could react. So Paula sat there while Connie processed what her love had said. She couldn’t. She couldn’t understand. What did she mean by “serviced”?

She mustered her courage and she asked Paula. Paula said she got on her knees and ate the pussy of a woman she knew from before and whose pussy she had eaten years before, that when she was finished the other woman permitted her to get herself off in the bathroom, that the woman then told her to leave, and that a naked woman was there the whole time, watching in silence.

Connie sat transfixed. Completely outside of her consciousness. Gibberish. She had eaten Paula and Paula had eaten her, but it was part of their passion. It was never “servicing.” It was loving one another. She did not understand.

After a minute, Angela felt that she had to interject herself. She turned to Connie and explained some basics of a Dominant/submissive relationship, tightening her grip even more on Connie’s wrists as she did. While this was happening, Paula sat like a mannequin, expressionless and still. Her whole life might turn on what was happening in front of her, but she could not be part of this discussion because she had no concept of what she was herself thinking.

Angela explained the idea of one person surrendering herself to another. She said that it could be an aspect of love but that it could be an aspect of hate. After looking at Paula, she thought it best to go for a walk with Connie. After getting Paula’s assurances that it would be OK, Angela and Connie put on their coats and headed out to Fourth Avenue.

Angela spoke to Connie about there being two sides to Paula. There was the Paula who Connie knew, and loved. And there was the Paula who allowed herself to be abused. Connie just listened. It was all foreign to her. Ultimately the two stopped and faced each other.

“I don’t know where this is going to go. I don’t know where this is going to lead. But, Con, I won’t blame you, nobody will blame you for baling. Paula has issues, to put it mildly. But she loves you. I think we need to support her in helping her find herself.”

And she explained what Maggie told her and said that it was best to get professional help for Paula. To let Paula discover who she is.

“I love her,” Angela said. “But it’s in a way that’s worlds apart from how you love her. She loves us both, but in different ways. She fucked up. She cheated on you. She doesn’t deserve to get a second chance from you. That’s all I’ll say on that. OK. What I am going to do is help her get help. She may not come out of the rabbit hole. I hope—think—she will. But it’s your call.”

They resumed the walk, both silent. As they approached Connie’s building they stopped again.

“You know her in one way.” This was Connie. “I know her in another. If she decides to go in . . . a different direction, I’ll understand. But I can’t live with myself if I’m not there if she decides to go in my direction. I’d be a shit if I did. I need you and her therapist to tell me what I can and can’t do for her. I won’t get in the way, but I will not get out of the way and I will be there for her at the end.”

They both knew this is exactly what Connie would say, but that she said it did not make it any less meaningful or difficult.

The two walked into Connie’s apartment and sat down with Paula, who hadn’t moved since they left.

April: One Wedding

As they entered the hall, Connie put her arm around Paula’s waist.

“Whatever happens today, know that I love you more than anything.”

The couple followed the signs to the ceremony. There are Bride’s Magazine events and there was this. Sherrie and Tracy had, not surprisingly, decided to go all-out for their wedding. And they succeeded.

Angela promised that she and Nicole would be there before Connie and Paula arrived, and Connie saw them shortly after they entered the room where the ceremony would take place. The decision was taken on Thursday to keep the ceremony inside in light of an adverse weather forecast, but the rain ended by noon and the French doors that surrounded the room were open to the estate’s yard, and a seasonably chilly air.

The four exchanged hugs and kisses before finding a seat. As with most of the non-relatives, their relationships were much the same for both brides, but seeing four empty seats on Tracy’s side, that’s where they went. They were in the fifth row, along the side aisle. As they glanced through the program, each canvassed the room, waving to those they recognized.

They were not there long when there was a commotion. The judge who was presiding walked down the aisle and turned. Because Tracy’s parents refused to come, the couple decided that they would come down the aisle together, with Sherrie’s father between them. Sherrie’s mother came in before the three and she was followed by one of Sherrie’s close friends as her maid-of-honor and Tracy’s sister Lily as hers.

A string quartet played the “Wedding March” and all eyes turned to the back. Sherrie, Sherrie’s father, and Sherrie’s love slowly walked in, the two women sometimes breaking into smiles when they recognized someone particularly special to them.

It was a wonderful ceremony with vows written by the brides themselves and everyone adjourned to a large room where dinner would be served and toasts would be made.

Paula panicked several times during the ceremony. She and Connie went to Ethel’s now and then, but this was a real test. She feared word had gotten around regarding what had happened, but it had not. This was a community that was good at keeping secrets about what members experienced. With something like what Paula did the few who knew never breached the confidence.

After the ceremony, Connie and Paula went for a walk.

“If you want to leave we can.”

“It was less frightening than I thought it would be, so let’s go back.”

Angela couldn’t resist telling them, and Nicole, a few days before the ceremony about the wedding where she met Sherrie and Tracy. How Sherrie had finger-fucked Tracy in the ladies’ room of a fancy place in Westchester at a wedding. Throughout dinner both Angela and Connie had funny looks their partners did not notice. When the plates were cleared, Connie reached into her bag and pulled out a quarter, which she had placed in a pocket for this very purpose. She asked Paula to join her in the ladies’ room and when they got there and found it was empty Connie tossed the coin and said “Call it.”

Paula called “Heads” and it was heads and Connie pulled her into a stall, grabbed her right hand as she lifted her dress, and put it against her panties.

“I lost. Now you have to fuck me with your fingers.”

Paula figured this out as Connie was speaking. She put her hand around the front of Connie’s panties.

“No. You have to take them off.”

Which Paula did and with them clutched in her left hand she put one and then three of her right fingers inside her lover until Connie, staring at her, crested in a beautiful and quiet orgasm, the two women ignoring the three or four women who came into the bathroom while she did.

For Paula it was a strangely liberating act. She was in a public place, not unlike where she’d run into Julie, and her love had wanted her, Paula, to please her and Paula wanted to please her because she loved this woman with every bone, every cell in her body.

When the coast was clear, the pair returned to the table, Connie without panties, which Paula discretely placed in her clutch when they got back, and Angela exchanging a knowing smile with Connie. Before excusing herself and Nicole for their own trip to the ladies’ room which lasted a bit longer than Connie and Paula’s.

Upon her return, Angela whispered, “Turns out with both lost.”

The wedding was held at an estate in western Long Island, and cars were arranged for guests coming from the City. The four women decided to share one, with Connie staying with Paula in Jackson Heights and the other two going home to Astoria. They were all a bit drunk. Angela sat up front. All four were left with their thoughts for the drive.

All four were exhausted when they got home and each fell quickly into a deep sleep as soon as she was in bed.

June: “Scarface”

“Scarface?”

Connie’s head shot up and her glare nearly pierced the woman who spoke.

 “Shit. I’m sorry. That popped out. Con, please forgive me.”

The speaker was one of Connie’s many tormentors from where she grew up.

“What do you want Britney?”

“May I sit?”

Connie was at a small table with Paula, and Britney had seen her as she was going to Ethel’s bar from the Ladies’. Connie nodded.

“Paula, this is Britney Clark. Britney, this is Paula Wilson, my fiancée.”

Britney noticed the rings as she nodded.

“Britney was one of the types I’ve told you about.”

“I was an asshole, OK? We all were—”

“Not everyone but you definitely were. We were friends and then . . .. But I should thank you and the rest of your little gang. If you’d been halfway-decent people I might have stayed in that town and I wouldn’t have come to New York and I wouldn’t have met Paula and I wouldn’t have known the person that I love was in New York. So thanks.”

She took a mouthful of her wine.

Britney wasn’t surprised at Connie’s torrent. She deserved it. She had been Connie’s friend but had gone along with the cool kids. She was, yeah, an asshole.

“I can just say I’m sorry.” And she stood to head back to the bar.

“Wait. I got that off my chest. I sort of missed you for a while.”

She turned to Paula. “I had a crush on her for—”

“Why didn’t you say something?” This was Britney

“Like that was going to happen. Everyone hated me for the scar. Imagine what I’d be called if they knew I was gay. You know what kind of place this is.”

“Yes. This is my first time here. I heard about it through the grapevine. But I didn’t know you were gay. Were you back—?”

“I’ve always been. I only came out here in New York.”

“Connie. I fucked up. I wish I had known. I admired how you took our shit and not let it fuck—”

“You don’t think it fucked me up? I hated every minute I was there.”

“Well you did a good job of hiding it. And then you were just gone to New York.”

Paula excused herself. These two needed space.

“You helped me decide to leave too. I was embarrassed about how we treated you and others. We thought we were so cool. College, too, had its cliques but when I was done and in the real world, God, what a shit I was and how insignificant I was. I got a job in Indy, but it was the same. I met some nice girls there, but we were all so tense, you know? ‘What if we ran into someone we know?’

“I didn’t know you were gay, but I knew you’d come here. I did some sleuthing and from what I could find you seemed to be doing OK. I wondered whether I’d ever run into you. To apologize. Well, here I am. I live in Jersey City and work at a small boutique investment-house on Broad Street.”

Connie reached across the table. Taking the other woman’s hand, “We OK?”

“We’re OK.”

“Good. Let me show you around.”

Which is how Britney Clark met people at Ethel’s.

As they were on the subway heading home, Paula said she wouldn’t have been so forgiving.

“Yes you would have. It’s part of why I love you,” and Paula placed her head on Connie’s shoulder until they reached their stop.

July: Sag Harbor

Sag Harbor is a village that sits on the bay between the North and South Forks of Long Island, north of East Hampton. It has long been the anti-Hamptons, frequented by West Village types and beginning life as a whaling port in the nineteenth century.

Just before reaching town from East Hampton, a right turn gets you to a small beach on the bay. There, on a Thursday afternoon in early July, two woman were lying down. They were in running shorts and sports bras and wore plenty of sunblock. Connie and Paula were spending the week at Connie’s family’s place nearby. Each afternoon they walked down to be together and by themselves with only a few others, mostly families, around. Neither spoke as they lay next to one another, their hands variously holding and rubbing one another, each in her thoughts. Fur Connie, those thoughts were about her love’s thoughts and the turmoil that still haunted Paula.

What Connie did not know was that Paula’s mind was calm. After that horrible week-end she had gotten help. Professional help. Only a small group knew what happened. In addition to Connie, Angela, and Nicole, only Maggie and Michelle did. None of them smothered Paula. The pair still went to Ethel’s, but not as often and Angela explained their absences as them wanting to spend time alone. By Sherrie and Tracy’s wedding in April, the two’s relationship was largely free and clear of the turmoil.

Through therapy, Paula came to understand that her need for submitting was her attempt to justify who she was. Her upbringing was not strict but she saw in how her mother and her neighbors and even her friends treated gays a disgust with the person who Paula knew she was but who they did not. If her yearnings were forced upon her, she could convince herself that she was not like that. She was just weak and had succumbed to that weakness. It wasn’t her fault. It had not happened often, but it happened, that this woman usually comfortable in her lesbian skin would come to doubt herself.

Julie was Paula’s attempt to justify her falling in love with Connie. She was so in love that she could not help but think something was wrong with her, that something was wrong with Paula-and-Connie: Lesbian freaks. It wasn’t that she felt she didn’t deserve Connie. She was confident enough to know that was not the case. She reached the point, for those moments when Paula was sitting alone in her apartment that weekend when she feared her need for Connie was, as had been drummed into her, unnatural. The happenstance of running into Julie was for Paula a means to confirm that her need for Connie was something over which she had no control and thus something for which she bore no responsibility.

Over the weeks, the layers came off. As that process continued, Paula understood that for her submitting to a dominant woman was what was unnatural. What was natural for Paula was the need to be with another woman to complete who she was. She saw that now. In her new world and with the aid of a therapist and her new “family,” she saw it all. It was like awakening from a bad dream or a coma and opening her eyes to see a woman she could and did love smiling down on her. It was not so easy, of course, but ultimately it was real.

So Connie did not know how calm Paula’s mind was, how calming Paula found the sound of Connie’s simple breathing and the light touch of her fingers.

Joining that breathing was the light lapping of the bay’s water against the beach and the sound of a dog—probably a black Lab barking at the mailman—and kids playing. When Connie opened her eyes she noticed the lowering sky to the northwest and with a shake got Paula’s attention. The rain was coming.

They walked the two blocks to the house. They often walked holding hands in silence, and they did so now. Once through the door, Connie turned and placed her arms around Paula and pulled her close, whispering “I love you” into her ear, an echoed “I love you” coming in response.

The two got glasses of water and then headed upstairs. It’d be a heavy but, they hoped, brief storm. As had also become routine on this vacation they undressed themselves in their room and Connie got onto the bed. It had become her habit. She always wanted Paula to feel in control, but Paula had long since been onto this and as often as not would shake her head and say “I know you want me to do all the work but I’m older so get up.” Connie hopped up and Paula took her place, with Connie getting back onto the bed and above the older woman.

Today, as the rain started battering the windows, Connie lowered her mouth to Paula’s and they kissed and held the kiss, tongues dancing until Connie fell down Paula’s body, stopping, briefly, to kiss and bite the nipples she passed and then her face was between Paula’s spread legs. Connie kissed one thigh and then the other before licking her way up to Paula’s shaved pussy. Sometimes their eyes were locked when this happened but today Connie saw that Paula’s were closed. She heard Paula’s insisting moan.

Connie knew what Paula liked. She licked up one side and down the other of the labia, taking care to avoid the clit. Her tongue poked into Paula’s pussy, languidly drawing letters as she did. Paula’s hips began their rocking. Connie’s right hand reached up and ran along Paula’s perineum, lightly touching her anus, which increased the moan. Connie knew how Paula enjoyed this. Never penetration, only a light touch.

Connie felt her lover’s hands grab her head and pull her tighter. She was close and when Connie tried to tease her, pulling her head away, a “don’t you fucking dare tease me” brought Connie’s mouth back and she was sucking on the clit she so loved and her fingers were moving between the anus and the vagina and two, then three were penetrating and turning to find the G-spot—Paula loved this—and in a moment she shook violently, shouted obscenities to the ceiling, and tightened her grip on Connie’s head until, after thirty seconds or so, pushing down and her away.

Connie, once her head was released could not resist giving the clit a peck before slithering back up, her tongue dragging its way, poking into the navel and encircling each nipple on the heaving chest, until it crossed Paula’s jaw and reached her lips where her own lips gave a peck and Paula got a taste of herself. Once there, Connie turned on her left and looked deeply at the profile of the wonderful specimen beside her, a view she’d never tire of.

Paula tapped Connie’s hip with a “gimme a minute.” Connie placed her head on the pillow, still staring at and still overwhelmed by Paula.

Paula needed to take care of Connie but it was now a need for her completeness and not a need from her emptiness. She did, much as Connie had done except Connie had confessed that she did enjoy a bit of anal penetration when she was close and as the rain was easing up she nearly hit the ceiling the moment the tease that was her lover slipped her middle finger into her ass while she gnawed on her clit. It was close, but her explosion was a wee bit louder than Paula’s.

When Paula joined Connie at the head of the bed, she, too, was enthralled by the view of her lover’s breath returning to normal, beads of sweat sliding unnoticed down her forehead. She caressed the scar, which caused Connie to smile softly. Before either knew it they were in deep sleeps in each other’s arms.

There was one thing that they never did. Neither woman was ever on her knees before the other. It was symbolic, of course, and unspoken but neither could ever be subservient to the other.

Friday: Shelter Island

They took the short ferry-ride to Shelter Island on Friday and drove around the island. On the way back, as the ferry crossed the bay, the pair stood on the side looking out to the east, France somewhere over the horizon.

“Paula. Can you promise me that you will come to me the moment you are tempted? I am not saying you will be—”—and Paula interjected that she had not been since that horrible night—“tempted but you have to come to me first. Promise?” Paula promised.

“Paula. Will you marry me?” Connie, of course, had virtually no experience with other women. It did not matter. She found the only woman she wanted.

Paula, that woman, stared out. The only sound was the rustling of the water and the diesel engine’s gurgle as the ferry made its way south. Paula, that woman, began to cry. Connie kissed her on the cheek.

“If you can promise me that,” she said, “I will be with you forever.”

“Connie. I am so fucked up. How can you trust . . . believe me?”

“Paula, we’re all fucked up in our own ways. This may not be the most romantic proposal in the world but I don’t give a shit about where you’ve been. I only care for where we are going.” The ferry was approaching the North Haven dock. “Just say ‘yes’ so I at least can be happy driving off this thing.”

And Paula whispered “yes” and Connie said “I can’t hear you over the engine” and Paula shouted “Yes I will marry you” and several people looked in their direction until they scurried to the car giggling, and they drove off the ferry. It was as if they had landed in a new world. Which they had.

Saturday: The LIE (Long Island Expressway)

It was still early afternoon when they got back to the house. En route, they talked about it, and called Angela and Nicole and Sherrie and Tracy and Michelle and Maggie and told them they had good news and asked if they could come out on Saturday morning. All but Maggie could come. They’d be in Sag by noon.

On Saturday, Connie stood in the kitchen thinking of the imminent arrival of their friends. Her fiancée was upstairs as she looked out through the French doors with her black coffee, leaning against the center island. It was a contentment she’d never felt before. She knew there would be rough spots and certain things had to be handled delicately. But her vacant gaze saw the future that she’d always hoped to have.

She felt hands encircling her. Then the fingers of one of those hands were rubbing her pussy. She was wearing a long t-shirt and nothing else and the fingers knew where they were going and what they were doing. Connie groaned. Suddenly she was very wet and her feet spread to give Paula easier access. She gasped when she felt the strap-on rub through her folds and said, “Please baby, fuck the shit out of me” as her legs spread wider and she moved her coffee aside so she could lean down across the counter.

Now it was Paula doing the teasing, and Connie’s right hand shot back trying to corral Paula and bring her closer. And Paula did move closer and the head of the dildo entered Connie and Connie’s breath started getting short. They could be seen through the French doors but only their clothed upper bodies, the island otherwise shielding them, and someone watching could figure out what they were doing but could not see what they were doing. Which was just getting both of them hotter. And soon the full length of the dildo was in Connie and Paula held it. They both liked that.

“Baby,” Connie moaned, “I am so lucky to have you” and she couldn’t resist adding “And to have you in me.” At that, her fiancée began to rock in and almost-out, in and almost-out and they found the rhythm and after a barrage of “shit”s and “fuck”s Connie came as she had never come before, her torso collapsing on the counter for just a moment. As Paula pulled out Connie turned, ripping the harness off and ramming her fingers into the other’s pussy. Two. Three. Four and they were cupped inside and Connie rocked her wrist as Paula pushed her against the island for leverage until she was momentarily still before her orgasm crossed her body like a wave, causing her to shake again and again until it was over and she, leaning against her fiancée, was completely spent.

A glance at the clock told them both that the five girls would be there within an hour and after Paula grabbed coffee for herself and they each had a slice of toast they raced around to put things in order, including showers—separately.

Angela and Nicole piled into the back-seat with Michelle when Sherrie and Tracy’s Volvo wagon picked them up in Astoria. A day in the Hamptons! Swimsuits packed in the rear with a huge, and full, picnic-basket and a case with two whites, two reds, and two champagnes, NPR on the radio.

The five, of course, knew what the “good news” was and after a series of hug, hug, kiss, kiss they played along and acted Shocked! Shocked! when they were formally told. After a gawking trip among the houses in East Hampton—several of which Sherrie and Tracy admitted having been in—the seven sat on Connie’s deck until it got dark and they went inside where they watched and mocked a movie until they could no longer keep their eyes open and scurried off to bed.

July: Two Weddings

On a warm Thursday morning in mid-July, four women in white dresses swiped their MetroCards at a subway stop in Astoria and climbed to the elevated platform. Forty-five minutes later the four emerged and walked less than a quarter-mile to the County Clerk’s Office in Kew Garden, Queens.

The four made this trip two days before to obtain their marriage licenses, and the twenty-four hour waiting period—just to be sure—expired and they were back. They agreed that Angela and Nicole would get married first and the other two would be their witnesses. After the ceremonies were completed and each bride had kissed each other bride, the four walked to a nearby coffee shop and had lunch.

July: And A Party

It was a badly-kept secret. It was the type of secret that spread like wildfire through the group.

The two couples met at about 8:15 at Ethel’s. It was still light out, and the place was unusually quiet for a Saturday night in July. Sure, lots of regulars headed to the country or the Hamptons for weekends, but there were only five or six women in the whole place. No one recognized any of them. Maggie wasn’t even there.

They wouldn’t admit it, but each of the brides was a bit disappointed that they couldn’t spring their marriages on everyone. They sat forlornly at their table, glancing at the door each of the few times it opened. Nothing. After a half-hour of this, Nicole said how lame things were, and they decided to pay the bill and leave.

“Good night ladies” Mandy, the bartender who filled in now and then, said.

Of course it was like a fucking surprise party when they got to the sidewalk. The regulars, even many who normally would be out in Southampton, were on the sidewalk, out of sight from the bar’s windows. Angela was the first to spot them, tapping Nicole’s shoulder who clued the other two in.

After congratulations were offered on the sidewalk, even by innocent passersby who had no idea what they were congratulating the four for, the whole group returned to Ethel’s where Maggie was holding court and a buffet spread was set up and Angela & Nicole and Paula & Connie got the wedding-reception they deserved, one that lasted well into Sunday morning and those four crashed when they stumbled to Sherrie and Tracy’s Loft at about 2, Sherrie admonishing them: “No sex, please, we’re married.”