The Dress

The East Village Vintage Shop

There are in New York, as in all cities, institutions that become part of the urban landscape. Zabar’s, the Stage Deli, and Veniero’s are among them. Veniero’s is essentially a cookie store whose white boxes with maroon script are ubiquitous in the City. It sits in a small store, now expanded to include a small café, on East Eleventh Street, west of First Avenue, in the East Village of Manhattan.

Among its neighbors is a deceptive-looking vintage clothing store. Amid the clutter from the backs of women’s closets are stand-out dresses and gowns. In the spring of 2015, one of the finest was a Dior gown, luminescent and a blue that only a poet would know the word for. It was beautiful and sat in the window for months. The problem was its size. It could only fit a tall, thin women, but when it fit, as the saying goes, it was worn by the woman and did not wear her.

Michelle Smith was one such woman. The twenty-seven year-old worked in a publishing house in midtown and lived in a one-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of a brownstone building on East 9th Street, east of First Avenue. She passed the vintage shop, and the gown, two or three times a week. It was too much. I’ll never wear it. It would be too expensive. I must think about food and rent.

On a Thursday in June, as she neared the shop, she stopped and before she could change her mind went in. She asked about the dress-in-the-window and Ricki, the clerk, got it for her, directing Michelle to the cubby-hole space that served as the dressing room.

Michele was five-nine and bony. She’d been an awkward girl and was an awkward woman. Or had been until she tried the gown on. As she stepped out into the store, Ricki couldn’t resist saying she’d been “transformed like fucking Cinderella.” When she looked in the mirror, she agreed. She looked better in that dress than she’d ever looked.

Which is why she was afraid to try it on in the first place. What if it transformed her? At $600, it was way too much to spend simply as something to wear in her apartment that would make her depressed when she took it off. Which she did at the store before getting dressed in her suddenly mundane, awful suit and trooping home. From that point on, Michelle usually avoided that stretch of 11th Street. She didn’t need that bit of reality to hit her over the head each day. Still, she passed by it every few weeks.

And then it wasn’t there. It was a late Friday afternoon in August and the Dress was not in the window. Michelle was half relieved—the temptation was gone—and half forlorn—her Dress was gone. Curious, she went in. As she walked through the door she saw the curtain on the dressing room move aside to reveal an already-gorgeous woman whose beauty was enhanced by the Dress. That woman turned without noticing Michelle, who studied her in the mirror. It fit her as well as it fit Michelle. Perfectly. She was as tall as Michelle, with the same athlete’s build and athlete’s broad shoulders. Her hair was a light brown and long, and her face was round and small. Her eyes were what Michelle thought of as a “lustful brown” and her lips were small, the lower one noticeably larger than the upper.

Her body was rock hard with the same small breasts that Michelle had. If there was a major difference in body type, it was that this woman’s hips were slightly wider, making the Dress slightly tighten which, if anything, enhanced its sensuousness. The woman caught Michelle’s stare. With those brown eyes latching on Michelle’s blues, she asked, “What do you think?” After a glance over to Ricki, Michelle said she couldn’t imagine a more perfect matching of woman and gown.

“Yeah, but when would I wear it?” She turned to face Michelle.

“I’m Denise Wilson,” said as she reached out her hand.

“Michelle Smith.”

“Smith? Are you in witness protection or something?”

“No,” Michelle laughed.

Denise turned back to the mirror, tugging at the Dress as she and the other two women admired her in it. Yes, it made her look very, very good. Denise knew how attractive she was. She’d played basketball at Barnard, an all-women’s college affiliated with Columbia University in the Morningside Heights area of Manhattan. Michelle also played basketball, for her at Brown University, the Ivy League school in Providence, Rhode Island. Both women sometimes played in pick-up games but they’d never met.

Denise was twenty-six and also lived nearby, a few blocks south of Michelle in a small apartment building on East 6th Street and First Avenue.

“No.” she shook her head. “It’s great but not worth it given how little wear I’d get out of it.”

Half afraid to lose the sale and half afraid to lose the opportunity to do some good for these ladies, Ricki stepped in.

“Why don’t you both get it.” She explained. “Several women have tried it on but it’s a tricky fit. You are the only two who do it justice.”

She turned to Michelle. “Try it on. Show her.”

Denise got out of it, and emerged in her khakis and polo shirt and handed the Dress to Michelle, who disappeared behind the curtain. When she emerged, Denise said, “Fuck me. That really looks great on you.”

Denise turned to Ricki, who said, “See? Why don’t you both buy it?”

The two others looked at one another.

“What do you mean?” asked Denise.

“If either of you buy it, it’ll sit in a closet most of the time. But there’ll be those events where it’d be perfect and you’ll regret not having it.”

“OK.”

“If it were half off, knowing it exists and knowing what it does for you, you’d each buy it, am I right?”

The others shared a glance and nodded.

“So if I take 10% off and you split the balance you can each have it and share it.”

Michelle thought. “It’s not an entirely crazy idea. Can we,” and she pointed at Denise, “talk about it?”

“No problem. Look. I’ll put it aside till closing time tomorrow. You talk. But if it’s ‘no,’ just let me know. I’m sure someone else will snatch it up.”

Michele laughed. “You’re so full of shit. We’ll let you know tomorrow” and, looking at Denise, “is that OK?”

“That’s OK. I don’t live far. Perhaps we can talk about it over dinner.”

“I’m just a couple of blocks away. There’s a tapas restaurant on 8th Street I like.”

“As do I.”

After Michelle took it off, caressing its fabric as she did, with a wave to Ricki and a sung “Ricki don’t lose that Dress now,” the two left for dinner.

Tapas

“You know, I sometimes don’t understand tapas.”

“How so?”

“They’re like a plate of finger food. They don’t seem to count as dinner.”

The pair were deciding what to order. Once that was done and they put the menus down, they talked. They agreed that Ricki’s idea wasn’t entirely insane. They speculated about how often either would wear it. Neither was heading to many galas at the Metropolitan Museum. Denise volunteered that she had a formal wedding in late September and would wear it for that.

“Well, if we split it, it’s not bad even for just being able to waltz around in the apartment.” That was Michelle.

With a lowered voice, Denise echoed, “I can think of more than a few fantasies I could live out in it.”

With a slap, “You are a bad girl. I wish you were my type.” It kind of slipped out. Denise pulled back.

Again with a lowered voice, “Are you gay?”

She stopped as the waiter took their order. When she was gone, Michelle simply said, “out and proud. I assume, given your reaction, that you’re not.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot.”

“You didn’t. When you mentioned,” and she leaned in and again lowered her voice, “fantasy, I suddenly had this vision of, um, enjoying you in the Dress.” She pulled back with a big smile, and Denise laughed when she too sat back. “Don’t tease me.”

The conversation veered to their respective sex lives. For Denise, it was an opportunity she’d never before had to speak to a real, live lesbian. She’d, of course, thought about it. But for all the time she spent with beautiful, tall athletic women, she’d never felt anything remotely sexual about them. No, she was 100% straight. She’d not had any steady boyfriends. Her height combined with her looks and brain—she graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Math from Barnard and was a quant for a mid-sized trading firm in the Seagram’s Building on Park Avenue—had frightened off more than a few prospects.

Denise had a handful of male friends “with benefits” which kept her more-or-less sexually satisfied. In the prior year, she became more assertive and thought she might be on the cusp of something that could last. It was that man she hoped to impress at the September wedding of Alexandra, or Alex, a friend from college. This Dress, she was pretty sure, would lead to at least one fantastic night of fantasied sex with Eddie.

As that thought wallowed in her brain, she decided that she’d buy it even if Michelle wasn’t in. She jolted up when Michelle gave her a tap.

“I’m not going to ask you what fantasy was just running through your brain.”

Denise laughed.

Just then their dinners were served and they were both glad for the interruption and the change in direction it meant for the conversation.

A Wedding

Because of the wedding, Denise had the Dress first. It was her secret, but she’d put it on a few times just to look at it in the mirror. One Saturday night she even put her hair up and did a full make-up job. Naked beneath, with complementing two-inch—at five-nine, she didn’t dare go higher—heels. She realized that it’d be late September for the wedding so she’d need to get some thigh-high stockings. “If this doesn’t kill him, it’ll keep him interested.” By then, Denise and Michelle were meeting for drinks or dinner every few weeks at a local bar or restaurant. They discovered a certain simpatica.

The wedding was on a Saturday afternoon. Denise sent Michelle pictures of their Dress late that evening, including one where Denise seemed very happy with a drink and the arm of an attractive man-in-a-tux around her waist. God, the Dress looked great, and Denise looked great in it. She was an attractive woman and the Dress complemented every part of her. She also looked very happy with Eddie.

{Denise} Wanted you to see how the gown looks in action. Sorry, you can’t see it in person. D.

It looked like fun. Michelle didn’t want to disturb so she sent a smiley emoji in response. A little after that, she turned in.

She sent Denise a text on Sunday afternoon.

{Michelle} Looks like it was great fun. If you want to share more stories or pictures about the gown, or him!!!!, let me know.

Her phone rang a few minutes later. “If you’re up to it, come to my place. I have some wine. Like I need any more.”

It was about three when Michelle walked the few blocks south and Denise buzzed her in. Denise poured two glasses of Pinot Noir and they got comfortable on the sofa. Denise had classic jazz playing. The open windows let in the sounds the streets. When they were settled, Michelle was all ears.

“Something about that Dress. I won’t get into details but I felt like a fucking Bond girl. . . . And later a fucked Bond girl.”

“I guess one doesn’t get to go to bed with someone in a tux very often.”

“Not me, at least.”

“Me neither.” They clinked their glasses. “Salut!”

“To my man in a tux. Is it love? Who knows? Definitely lust. He left at about ten.”

“You slut. Let me see?”

She ran her friend through, in broad strokes, what happened. The wedding was for her friends Alex and Michael. She went to Barnard with Alex, and they were on the basketball team together. Alex was a point guard. She’d met Michael in school—he went to Columbia—and they were an “adorable couple, so in love you want to puke.”

Michelle slapped her. “You are so bad. Either of us should be so lucky.”

“Ain’t it the truth.”

She’d gone on several dates with Eddie, nothing super serious but enough to make him her plus-one. He was good in bed. A few inches taller than the girls’ five-nine. A bit stocky, but in good shape. Worked at a bank downtown. Nice hair, worn a bit longer than most guys his age. An earring in his left ear lobe.

Cutting to the chase, Denise said “I think he nearly came when he saw me in the Dress. It has that kind of magic.” She gave Michelle a wink, receiving an “I hope” in return. The wedding was out in Huntington, a town on Long Island. Where Alex grew up. Maybe 150 people. Nice ceremony and then a nice reception at a club overlooking Long Island Sound. A very good band played and she and Eddie danced until well after Alex and Michael rushed to catch a flight for their London honeymoon.

A car drove Denise and Eddie back to the City a bit after eleven, and Eddie spent the night.

“We were both a little drunk and a little horny—you know how weddings are—and we were like a couple of rabbits. Safe rabbits mind you. But rabbits. We had breakfast at that little place on East 6th and First, me in jeans and a t-shirt, him in his tux. He cabbed home, and I called you.”

“Is Eddie a keeper?”

“He’s fun and he is very good in bed. Takes charge but only to a point. Always gauging what I want, always asking before doing anything. A great bod and, well, very well equipped.”

“I wouldn’t know about that.”

“No you wouldn’t.” She smirked. “But I assure you that Eddie definitely is.”

“Picture time. I want to see him.”

Denise pulled out her phone and began showing Michelle the pictures. After a few, Michelle stopped her, “You’re right. If I liked men, I’d definitely like him.”

“If you liked men I wouldn’t be showing his picture to you.”

“Salut!” Glasses again clinked.

Denise resumed swiping. The bride-and-groom looked good. “Too bad Alex’s taken,” she teased.

Suddenly Michelle grabbed Denise’s hand. “Go back.” After a moment, Denise did. Michelle grabbed the phone. She began swiping it herself until she stopped.

She handed the phone back to Denise. She got up and whispered, “I have to go” and before Denise could react Michelle was through the door. Denise looked at her phone. The photo was innocuous. Alex and Michael at a table greeting a couple of women and a man. She took the phone and grabbed her keys and ran down the stairs to track Michelle down. She caught up to her walking up First Avenue, stopping her with a tap on the shoulder and when Michelle turned her eyes were red.

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t. Not now.”

“Stop it. You’re coming back. I’m not leaving you like this.”

Reluctantly, and in the face of her friend’s determination, Michelle returned.

Michelle’s Story

Michelle sat on the couch. She took a big, last gulp of her wine then began to twirl the empty glass by its stem until Denise gently took it from her and placed it on the table. She waited.

Michelle put her palm out, and Denise unlocked and placed her phone in it. After looking at it and holding her glance, she spoke softly. “I love the woman to the left.” She turned the phone so Denise could see, and then turned it back, cherishing the image.

“Her name is Jennifer Epstein.

“I met her at the Gay Pride Parade June last year. She was pretty, shorter than me by four or five inches. We were in different gangs of friends that hooked up somewhere along the parade route. Lots of people in one knew lots in the other. All women or trans. The parade goes downtown and then heads west and up Seventh Avenue into Chelsea.

“Anyway, we were three or four blocks from the end. I felt someone grab my hand. She didn’t even look at me. She grabbed my hand like it was the most natural thing in the world. I had no idea who she was. But I left my hand in hers. Hadn’t looked at her either, except for a sidelong glance. And it just felt natural, you know? I had no idea who was doing this.

“After less than a block, she steered me to the side. Then onto the sidewalk. Where we stopped. Jennie, of course. She asked me if I was ‘Michelle Smith’ and I said I was. ‘How do you know?’ I asked, and she said, ‘I just know.’ Suddenly her hands were around my waist. She looked up. ‘I want to make love to you.’”

“She what?”

Michelle smiled. “Really. That’s what she said, almost her first words to me. This was not, I assure you, something that had ever been said to me before. Or since, for that matter. I’ve made love to women and been made love to by women, but this was like some improbable lesbian-sex story trope. I looked down at her. I think she meant it. She had a funny look. Maybe she was baiting me. But she seemed sweet enough. I really couldn’t see much of what she looked like, being held tightly and all, but she had brown eyes one could drown in. Kind of like yours. Speaking of lesbian sex tropes.”

“Is that what you think about my eyes?” Denise interrupted.

“That’s what I thought the moment I saw them in that mirror in the shop. They still are, even though you’ve doused me with cold water.”

After her friend’s slap, Michelle continued. “Anyway. Back to me. She backs away and laughs. ‘Just kidding. Mostly.’ She dragged me west, away from the parade and away from both of our gangs. I followed her for a bit over a block, with her still holding my hand, and we found a stoop in front of a brownstone.

“‘You have absolutely no idea who I am, do you?’ I admitted it.

“‘So, why did you let me hold your hand? You don’t need to answer that.’

“But I did. ‘It felt nice and, well, it didn’t occur to me to pull away.’

“She leaned towards me and kissed me on the cheek. It was the most erotic moment of my life. To that point. She said, ‘I was a year behind you at Brown. We were in the same economics class and I’d stare at your neck half the time. It made my studying for an exam hard.’ She had an easy laugh.

“‘You were a freshman then?’ And she nodded.

“‘You were so tall and I, well, wasn’t.’

“‘You were intimidated by me?’ I mean,” this directed at Denise, “that was the most absurd thing I’d ever heard. Look at me, would I intimidate a mouse?”

Denise said, “Don’t sell yourself short. You’d intimidate lots of people.”

“Really? Anyway, she says ‘And, of course, I didn’t think you were gay.’ Suddenly a thought occurred to her. ‘You are, aren’t you?’ I told her I was. She looked relieved.

“She said she found a girlfriend late in freshman year and pretty well forgot about me. She’d see me on campus, but we had no more classes together and that was that. She called me ‘that crush girls are supposed to have in college before they get on with their life.’”

“You know,” Denise said, “I somehow missed the whole lesbian-in-college thing.”

Michelle laughed, “I bet there are a slew of Barnard grads who wished you hadn’t.”

Denise blushed at this. “I’m sorry. Go on.”

“So Jennie said she hadn’t thought about me in years and then she saw me at the parade. Coming up to me like that was completely spontaneous.

“I asked, you know, about the girlfriend she’d mentioned. ‘We broke up during the second semester of sophomore year.’ She said her girlfriend—‘you wouldn’t have known her’—realized she liked being with a girl but loved being with a man. Jennie said she was devastated. Almost a year and then, ‘oops, I made a mistake about the core of my being. Sorry.’

“She said she hadn’t had a steady since. According to her she’d had her share of hook-ups but nothing serious. I told her that I was the same. She asked, ‘so no girlfriend?’ and I told her sadly not. But I don’t think she was sad about it and, as I looked at her, I don’t think I was either.”

Michelle had calmed enough and was relaxed enough that Denise poured her more wine, which Michelle sipped. Cradling the glass in her palm, she got back to her story.

“I asked what happened after that. She moved to New York after Brown. She’s from Long Island.”

“Where?”

“Huntington. She works for a big accounting firm on 42nd Street. I was hungry and I assumed so was she. I suggested we continue our conversation in a restaurant, and we found one a few blocks away. As we went there, she again held my hand and she leaned against me slightly when we had to wait to cross the street.”

Michelle took another sip of her wine, this time placing it gently on the table. Denise continued to cradle her own.

“Again, at that point, I had never had a girlfriend. I’d had my share of sex but, yeah, hadn’t found ‘the one.’ So I was a bit anxious about being hit upon by someone who may or may not have been who she said she was but about whom I felt something. I had when she grabbed my hand.

“In the end, she came back to my apartment, and we made love. I’d never done anything like that, sex on a first ‘date,’ assuming what we had was a date. I’d had my share of quickie hook-ups, but this was different. It wasn’t casual. Far from it. It felt like we were making love. She insisted that I take the lead. I’d never been much of a top, although I’m not much of a bottom either, but she insisted. After she used the bathroom, I did too. When I got back to the bedroom, she was lying naked on the bed.

“She wasn’t conventionally beautiful or even pretty. To me, though, she was a dream. Such a face. I quickly stripped and got on top of her and we kissed. No details but we both enjoyed ourselves very, very much and we fell asleep until hunger awakened us. We got Chinese delivered. She put a t-shirt and panties on.

“When it was done, we made love again, and she spent the night.

“Again, I knew nothing of this woman other than what she told me. Jennie Epstein who worked for a large accounting firm. Studio apartment on the Upper West Side. Claimed to have gone to Brown. That was about it. But, you know, I didn’t care. I didn’t care. It was the greatest night of my life. So we became an item. Girlfriends. She kept her own place but essentially moved in with me in my palatial one-bedroom abode.”

Michelle again stopped and asked to use the bathroom. She was infinitely more relaxed than she was not long before. Denise got some nuts and crackers. After coming back and grabbing and eating a fistful of nuts and drinking more wine, Michelle was ready.

“As I say, girlfriends. She basically lived in my place, and we spent most of our free time together. I knew I loved her. I’d never felt that way about anyone. She did something to me. Yeah, the sex was great and it was getting better. But I just loved being with her, hearing her breath when she slept. Being awed by her boobs when she got undressed. She hated her ass, but I’d sneak a peek at her globes when she was in the shower.”

“Did you tell her? That you loved her?”

“It was a bit over three months after we met. She had to go out to review some documents for a client in Chicago with a partner at the firm. She was gone for two nights. We spoke on each one. On the second night, I lay in bed alone. We spent nights apart plenty of times, except on weekends. But this was different. She was somewhere else.

“I remember being on my back, wide awake. It must have been around midnight. I felt more lonely than I’d ever felt. I was scared that I wouldn’t see her again. I was scared that I couldn’t live without her. I finally fell asleep. When I got up, I texted her. It wasn’t the most romantic thing in the world but I wanted her to know. I texted her that I loved her. Then she didn’t respond until my phone rang a couple of hours later.

“She’d been crying. ‘My phone was on vibrate. I just saw your text. I’m in the ladies’ room.’ There was a bit of an echo.”

Denise realized she was gripping Michelle’s hand, feeling her pulse quicken.

“And she said she loved me and I finally told her in my voice that I loved her and it was the happiest day of my life. Especially after we made love when she came straight to my place from LaGuardia. And it seemed like each day was happier than the one before it. ‘I love you’s when we got up and when we went to sleep.

“Then it all went south. Boom! Her mom was very sick. Some type of cancer. Not old. But on her deathbed, literally in the hospice, she got Jennie to swear she’d go straight. Her mom had tolerated but never accepted that she was gay. Her father was more open about it, apparently, but her mom discovered, or re-discovered, God when she got sick. Her dad was Jewish and her mom one of those lapsed Catholics. Then the priests started circling

“I never met either of her parents. When her mom died, she and her dad were with her. Last rites and all that. She came home to what I thought of as ‘our’ apartment and cried, mostly in my arms. I took the next day off to be with her. She never got out of bed. This was the time I had to be there for her, and I was. She told me how much she regretted disappointing her mother. That her mother had sacrificed so much for her, and she’d failed her.

“The funeral was in Huntington.”

Michelle got up and walked around the room a bit before settling back down.

“I wanted to go to the funeral, to be with her, you know? But she said I couldn’t. Her family was hanging on by a thread. She was an only child but had lots of cousins on her mom’s side. Her aunts and uncles on that side didn’t know she was gay. No one in town did. When she’d come out to her parents, her mom insisted she not tell anyone else. So she ‘hasn’t found the right guy’ was what she and her mom told everyone at family get-togethers.

“‘They’d suspect who you were if you were at the funeral,’ she told me. So I didn’t go. She went out to Huntington the next day for the wake and stayed there for the funeral. I never saw her again.”

Overwhelmed

In a million years Denise could not have seen that coming. That last bit was so clear and simple that she did not know how to respond. Before she could, though, Michelle did it for her. She explained that she received a hand-written letter from Jennie about a week after the funeral. Michelle’s calls, voicemails, texts, and emails were all unanswered.

In the letter, Jennie explained that when she looked at her mother toward the end she realized how wrong she was in the life she’d chosen. She used that word. “Chosen.” Giving that life up might have happened anyway, but when her mother asked her as a dying wish to turn her back on it, the sinful life that would condemn her to eternal damnation, she promised that she would. She helped bring peace to her dying mother. She would not go back on it.

She said how the letter ended: “‘I love you with all my heart, but I must deny that part of me for my soul and that of my sweet, dead mother. Please forget me as I will never forget you. Jennie.’”

Michelle said those words have been burned into her.

“And I have a picture of Jennie.”

“And you have a picture of Jennie. Look, she’s obviously moved on. How did she seem to you?”

Denise pulled out her phone and opened its photo app. It still showed the photo that drove Michelle from the room.

“I didn’t really notice her.”

“Was she with someone?”

“I don’t know. I don’t recall her being with anyone. If that helps.”

“OK. I need to close the loop for you about her,” Michelle said. She explained that while she didn’t have a lot of friends she had many acquaintances in the lesbian community. There was a bar in the West Village she and Jennie went to now and then and Michelle began going there more than she had when they were together. She told everyone that Jennie and she were history, hinting it was ‘family issues.’ That was enough. It’s an explanation, Michelle explained, that requires nothing more unless the teller wishes to tell. And she didn’t.

She tried to throw herself into the game. She never was a “player,” but pre-Jennie she was successful in getting laid when she wanted or needed to. “You’d be surprised how many women want to go to bed with someone as tall and thin as we are.” But it was pretty much just eating and fucking. It was never making love, and rarely would Michelle stay the night. If she was tired or it was late, she might. “But they all knew what they were getting into and we’d say hello when we’d see each other again and sometimes we’d hook-up again.”

Michelle paused, spreading her arms. “And that’s pretty much where I am right now. It sucks. As I’m talking I’m realizing that I’ve not even tried to find someone to love. I haven’t even tried. Another one of those tropes. I’ve been ruined by a woman who never wants to see me again. Or maybe wants to but can’t.”

She asked Denise for a glass of water just to give them both something to do other than dwell on how screwed up Michelle’s love life was. When Denise returned with the water, Michelle barely touched it. Instead, she rose and thanked Denise for listening.

“I guess you can tell that I’m pretty good at hiding it from people. Such as you.” Denise said Michelle always seemed happy and “full of fun.” “It’s all an act” were her last words as she left. When she got home, she sat on her sofa and cried.

Michelle went to work the next day. To all appearances she was the same woman she had been the day before. But she wasn’t. She’d not told the full story about Jennie to anyone. Now she’d opened up to a woman she barely knew and by doing so she found herself where she was the day she read Jennie’s hand-written letter.

Michelle sometimes thought about what she would do if she saw Jennie on the street. It wasn’t likely. Jennie worked on 42nd Street and Madison Avenue and she was a fair number of blocks to the north. Plus Jennie lived on the Upper West Side, the opposite way from her apartment in the East Village, so Michelle wouldn’t run into her. After a while when Michelle didn’t, she stopped thinking about it. Not about her. About what Michelle would do if she ran into her. Neither of them were big Facebook users anyway, but Michelle got off after the break-up. Michelle was spending way too much time there anyway and didn’t want to see when Jennie became engaged to a man.

A Scheme

Denise was pissed. She barely knew Michelle, and then only because of something laughably arbitrary. She showed Michelle pictures of her enjoying a wedding the night before and somehow ended up blowing the other’s seemingly pleasant-enough life to smithereens. Then she dumped this horror story on her.

Denise never gave much thought to gay life beyond thinking it wasn’t right to discriminate and people should be allowed to marry whomever they bloody well wanted to. She knew some gays and saw them all over her neighborhood. Part of its fabric, which she knew was one of the reasons she liked living there. She never understood the whole going-to-hell thing. Now she’d heard from a real, live lesbian saying that someone she loved walked out of her life because some other person thought she’d be going to hell. She’d get the damn Dress cleaned and have it delivered to Michelle with a perfectly polite, neutral note and that’d be that. If they ran into each other in the neighborhood, they’d say “hello” and that’d be it and she, at least, could get on with her life.

With that settled, she went to a take-out place on First Avenue and got some Indian and ate it and the rest of the wine while watching “The Sopranos” for the umpteenth time.

“Fuck.”

It was 3 am. Denise was wide awake. She peed and returned to bed. She knew she’d regret it but her mind and conscience gave her no option. She was a problem solver. It was her job. She was paid a lot to do mathematics to make other people money. “Fuck.” Michelle was her friend, however bizarrely that came to happen. Michelle was hurting. She had to solve her fucking problem.

With that Rubicon crossed and her mind beginning to formulate a response, she dozed off.

Alex, the bride, was on her honeymoon. She couldn’t bother her. She felt bad, but it would have to wait until she got back. The scheme was a bit risky, but Denise calculated that if done correctly no one would be the wiser if it failed. Especially Michelle, who must know nothing of it unless it succeeded.

Denise called Alex the day she got back to New York.

“So you still married to Chad?” The groom was Michael, but he was so WASPy that Denise teased with that name.

“You mean the hunky piece of man I go to sleep with each night and wake up with each morning? Yeah, we’re still together. Like glue, so keep your hands to yourself you hussy.”

“I’ve been called worse. And they said it wouldn’t last.” Of course, they’d been living together for three years so there was that and Denise hoped she would find someone half as smitten with her as Michael was smitten with Alex.

“What do you want, sweetie?”

“It’s a really big favor requiring delicacy.”

She explained that she had a friend who’d broken up with someone about six months back and still hadn’t gotten over it. Denise was showing—she just caught herself and avoided “her”— “them” photos from the wedding and they recognized the ex. Denise said this person is still crazy for her.

“Did they say that?”

“Didn’t have to.” Michelle had said she still loved the woman, but Alex didn’t need to know that.

Denise asked if Alex could identify the woman. Or if she was a friend-of-the-groom, maybe Michael would know her. About half-an-hour after Denise forwarded the photo, Alex reported it was Jennie Epstein. They’d gone to high school together. Sweet. Went to Brown. Came to the wedding alone.

“Jennie’s not big on social things. She lives in the city and works as an accountant somewhere. Big firm. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen her with a date. Certainly never anyone steady. Her mom died not that long ago. I went to the funeral. Jennie wasn’t with anyone, but she was really broken up about it. She didn’t even show up at their house after the funeral.”

“How was she at the wedding?”

“I don’t remember. But now that you mention it, when I have seen her home since her mom died, she’s looked pretty depressed, you know?”

Denise agreed to head to Alex’s place in Brooklyn the next morning for a face-to-face.

The Pub

Denise and Alex sat at a table at a pub on East Forty-Seventh Street. It was insane and more than a little risky. While Denise had not told Alex everything, she told enough to get her friend to participate.

Alex and Jennie went to high-school together and were friends. Not close, but they’d sit together in the cafeteria now and then. Alex was the athletic one and spent most of her time with her teammates. Jennie was more of an introvert, a whip-smart math geek who got along with everyone. It was no surprise that she’d become an accountant. Analytical and good with numbers.

Alex’d left word with the maître d’ where they were, and Jennie was led up the stairs to the restaurant. It was a Thursday night.

*          *          *

She hated to admit it, but there was nothing special about Jennie when Denise saw her come up the stairs, Alex pointing her out. She looked like a junior accountant in a black or navy suit and nice, blah blouse. Black pumps. She brightened when she saw Alex. When she reached the table and they hugged, Alex introduced Denise and the three women sat. Alex and Denise already had glasses of wine and she ordered her own.

The cover story Alex gave Jennie was largely accurate. Denise was Alex’s teammate from Barnard who she was having dinner with. She thought of Jennie and realizing she worked not far away she thought it would be nice to have dinner, “just us three girls.” Jennie and Denise might hit it off.

They did. Jennie had a quiet intensity and kindness. Denise could see now how someone could fall in love with her. Self-deprecating and modest and self-conscious of her looks, which softened considerably upon close inspection. The three enjoyed their meal, each with a second glass of wine. Soon they were replaying the wedding and Alex was replaying the honeymoon.

Just after they ordered deserts and coffee, Alex grabbed her phone. “I had it on vibrate. Shit. I have to take care of something. Will you two be OK without me?” Jennie looked at Denise for a moment. She nodded at Alex, as did Denise. Alex rushed to give each of the others a kiss and was gone.

Jennie said, “I think she’s trying to stiff us for the bill.”

“So like her.” The two were quiet as coffees were placed in front of them. Denise asked that Alex’s place be cleared, that she had to leave.

“We have a mutual friend.”

“I’m sorry?”

Denise wasn’t sure whether to continue. But she took the leap.

“Michelle Smith.”

Jennie looked like she’d been shot. She started to stand but Denise grabbed her left wrist. “Please listen.”

“Does Alex know?”

“No. Not that ‘my friend’ is a girl. More importantly, Michelle has no idea I’m doing this.”

Denise told the story about how Michelle saw her in the wedding photos. The bizarre story of the shared ownership of the Dress. How she, without Michelle knowing, tracked Jennie down through Alex. That she told Alex that she knew someone—never saying her gender—had broken down upon seeing the photos.

“Broken down?”

“Look. I don’t know Michelle super well. But I saw her reaction to seeing you. I’ve never seen anyone’s world collapse in a moment. I had to try something. So I got Alex to agree to this. Everything she said about us is true, by the way.

“Michelle told me about your mom’s death and what she said to you and you said to her. She told me I’m the only person she’s told that to. I guess because we’re not super close. She has the last part of your letter committed to memory. She hasn’t been able to move on. She hasn’t said that, exactly, but everything about her screams it. I thought that I could get a sense in meeting you whether you’ve moved on. I didn’t want to screw things up for you by mentioning her. If you’ve moved on, and you don’t want me to tell her anything about this, I will. If not, I’m here.”

*          *          *

Jennie was stunned. She couldn’t decide whether she was more angry at her supposed “friend” Alex or at this bitch who was throwing the gay past she’d tried to let go of in her face. The bitch, though, seemed sincere. Why wouldn’t she be? She made it clear that she’d not outed her and that Michelle knew nothing about it. Her sweet Michelle who still came to her most nights. And then what she was told about Michelle. That she wasn’t over her either.

Denise’s words flooded over her and she’d only been able to pick up three things. First, Michelle knew nothing of this approach. Second, she hadn’t been outed. Third, and most important, Michelle still loved her. Probably.

“It’s probably too much to take in,” Denise said to a frozen Jennie. Jennie suddenly stood. “I’m sorry. I have to leave.” She reached in her bag and threw two twenties on the table and was gone. Now it was Denise who was stunned. She could only sit as the deserts were placed on the table. She asked for the check.

As she was placing her credit card in the holder, she saw Jennie approach. Without a word she sat down again, placing her bag on the seat Alex had occupied.

“I should hate you for this, for doing this to me, but I can’t. I miss her so much.” And she burst into tears, enough to draw the attention of several neighboring diners, who looked away in embarrassment. The waitress discretely took Denise’s card.

Jennie had not spoken to anyone about it. Her vow. Her pain. If Michelle spoke to this woman, so could she.

Jennie’s Torture

“My mom changed so much after she got sick. She re-discovered her ‘religion.’ Or at least the dogmatic Catholicism she’d long neglected. She even tried to get my dad to convert. She knew he never would and smiled when he said he’d ‘think about it.’ She was not so easy-going about me. My dad couldn’t help being Jewish. I could help being gay. She figured. I’m sure she spoke to her favorite priest about it and I’m sure he reiterated her concern that I was going to hell. She believed it and that the only hope for my soul was to turn my back on the ‘choice’—which I’m sure she thought it was—to be gay.

“She could not fathom why I would risk my soul for a passing phase. She went on and on about the prodigal son and all the other Biblical stories about turning one’s life around. That God would welcome me back to the fold if I turned my own life around. I kept diverting it as she became increasingly desperate.

“I could not let her die thinking she failed to save her only child. My renunciation seemed worth it when I saw her smile and the lights in her eyes when I promised her I would be forever straight.

“No one knew about my vow, except in what I wrote to Mish. After she died, I avoided my normal haunts and didn’t get back to my friends in the City until they stopped trying. I went home regularly to see my dad and reconnected with some of my Huntington friends, including Alex. She reached out to me after my mom’s funeral.

“My dad was too overwhelmed to pay attention to my love life. He knew I was gay—I came out to him and my mom when I was a junior at Brown, though I had a girlfriend as a freshman—and was better than fine about it. But he never pried into that part of my personal life so I don’t know that he realized how empty I was and how empty my life was after my mom died. Insofar as he did, I think he assumed it was because she died.”

She paused at times for a bite of the dessert or a sip of the coffee.

“Alex, on the other hand, and other friends from Huntington were pushing me to date. Men, of course. No one there knew about me in that way. She actually set me up for a couple of double dates with her and Michael, but nothing came of any.”

She lowered her already lowered voice and leaned closer to Denise. “I was reading and watching straight porn to get off, but my concentration focused on the woman in the stories I used. In the shower or as I lay in bed after the light was off, I didn’t even pretend, my thoughts entirely on being pleased by a woman and inevitably by one specific woman. And I hated myself for it. I had promised my dying mom. At that point, Mish was the last person who’d touched me intimately and the last person who I had. I sometimes wondered whether that would always be true.

“I loved her so much that I genuinely hoped she’d forgotten me, that she’d found someone worthy of her, especially in light of my having abandoned her the way I did. And now I feel like Rick, all the bars in the world and you had to walk into the one I’m sitting in. Although it was not random. It was a set-up. When I got to the street after your ‘reveal,’ I stood and turned, fearing you would come out the door behind me. But you didn’t. You told me you’d be there for me, a complete stranger, but you haven’t told me what I need to do.”

To Jennie, there was only one way to stem her bleeding. Which is why she went back which is why she saw Denise’s stunned, concerned expression.

*          *          *

Jennie lifted her fork and picked at the last of the tiramisu.

“So where do we go from here?”

“I think I’m a good listener and I can listen. And we can talk about it. No promises. No guarantees.”

Jennie picked at more of her desert and drank more of her now-cold coffee.

Before she could start, Denise did it for her.

“Do you think what you did was wrong? With Michelle?”

This pissed Jennie off. “Of course not. It was the happiest period of my life.”

“Do you regret it?”

“Of course not again. Are you just going to ask me stupid fucking questions?”

“Please bear with me. We’re both math geeks. We need to analyze.” Jamie gave a reluctant nod. “Have you asked yourself, actually asked yourself these questions?”

“I don’t need to because I know the answers.”

“So it’s not being gay that’s the problem?”

Jennie paused. Maybe she hadn’t asked herself the right questions.

“Look,” her anger dissipating, “you may be right. I’ve been trying to change. I forgot to remember the good times. “

The pair continued until they got to the Big Question.

“Is the problem that you did something wrong, that you’re going to hell, or that you made a promise to your mother?”

“It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? I made a promise.”

“If your mother knew how unhappy that promise has made you, do you think she’d insist on you keeping it?”

Jennie always assumed she would. Yet her mom didn’t have a problem with it until the cancer struck. Why was what Jennie was so horrible? Her father was fine with who his daughter was, or is, but because they’d not spoken about it since her mom’s death, they hadn’t discussed how he felt. Would he blame her? Or would he blame his dead wife?

Jennie reached over to Denise. “Thank you. I need to think. Please don’t say anything to Michelle. Please. I’m not ready.” As she got up she added, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready.”

Jennie’s Thoughts

I walked home. If there was ever a time to walk to my apartment this was it. Step-after-step by rote, leaving my head free to wander. Would breaking the vow be a betrayal of my mother? The easy way out?

When I got in, I called my dad. I asked if I could see him on Saturday. I made it through Friday, jumping each time my cellphone rang, fearing it was Alex or Denise or even Mish. But they left me alone. On Saturday, my dad was waiting for me at the Huntington Station. I was unusually quiet.

When we got in and the front door was closed, he turned to me.

“What it is, honey?”

At which point I burst into tears. I’m not a crier, as a rule, but this could not be helped. He held me and led me into the living room, sitting me down on the couch.

“It’s about mom.”

She’d been dead over six months. What, I’m sure he thought, could there be to say about my mom.

I told him about my deathbed promise. That I understood that she was doing it for my benefit. That I’d tried and had not broken that vow. But I didn’t know if I could continue.

“There was this girl.”

He stopped me before I could explain. Holding my hands, he said, “I’m not a religious man and your mother was not a religious woman until the end. I think she genuinely wanted both of us to convert, me to Catholicism, you to, I guess, straightness. I humored her about it. She was trying to save both of us. I think she figured I was a lost cause, but you weren’t. What mattered was that you were able to give her some comfort at the end and I know that was very important to her. I still miss her every day, as I’m sure you do.”

I admitted that I did too.

“But you will not be soiling her memory or her faith if you just allow yourself to be yourself. Before the end, she accepted you as you were. We spoke about it when you came out. ‘What will the neighbors say if she brings a girlfriend here?’ Her reputation was important to her, but you never pushed it. She was proud of you, I think, when you came out to us. Because you trusted us and loved us.

“Sometimes I think your mother wasn’t herself in the end. I think your real mother was the one who was happy that you came out to her, that you trusted in her to confide your truth.”

My father gave me a light kiss on the forehead and we were done.

Jennie’s Decision

After the conversation with Denise and especially the revelation that Michelle still had feelings for her, Jennie decided when she got home from Huntington after her talk with her father to surprise her love. She barely slept as she hatched her plan. On Sunday, she took the subway down and strolled to the East Village. When she hit Michelle’s buzzer, there was no response. Michelle’s building did not have a stoop but several across the street did. She sat on one directly across. After maybe twenty minutes, she saw a couple of tall women turn the corner, heading her way. They crossed the street. Michelle. The two were laughing. Jennie sat, unable to move, as they went into Michelle’s building. She walked home. It was a very long walk.

She finally got in a little after six. She threw something into the microwave and poured herself some milk and that’s what she ate and drank. Her phone pinged a little after seven. It was Denise checking in. Oblivious to the reality that based on her own eyes Michelle was plainly over her.

{Denise:} Hi. Just wanted to check-in. haven’t heard from you since we met. Give me a call if you want. D.

Jennie stared at it. And stared at it. Finally, she hit “call.”

“She’s found someone.”

“What? I can’t believe that. She was so miserable when I saw her about you. How do you know?”

“I spoke to my father and worked through things thanks to you and him. So I wanted to surprise her. And she surprised me. She was walking and laughing with someone while I was across the street and they went into her apartment and they probably fucked the night—”

“Please. Don’t go there.”

“Why not? She apparently has. I thought she loved me. I thought you said she still loved me.”

“Jen, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to have you get hurt like this.”

“I know. At least it made me realize that I am who I am. You gave me that. Thanks for all you did and tried to do. Please tell Alex that I moved on after we spoke and that I’m good.”

Michelle’s Thoughts

I really shouldn’t drink after playing basketball all morning. It was a bit of an alumni/pick-up game at NYU’s gym. A bunch of us old broads against NYU’s varsity. We, being a bunch of old, out-of-shape broads, were soundly beaten.

To celebrate our loss, eight of us headed to a bar/restaurant just east of campus and had brunch. Fortunately, we took showers before we left so we were at least presentable. Still, I was dehydrated and had a couple of mimosas beyond the one included with the meal. Sally, an NYU alum I play with now and then at the Y who arranged the match, decided to help me walk it off. It was less than half a mile, and it was a glorious walk. While she’s straight, as she made clear after my second or third pass at her, I couldn’t resist, or the mimosas couldn’t resist, trying to snog her each step of the way.

When we got into my apartment, I grabbed her and tried to kiss her properly before collapsing on my kitchen floor.

“Come on, Romeo, let’s get you into bed.”

“As long as you come too. And I do mean come.”

“In your dreams, baby.”

At least that’s how the conversation plays out in my memory reel. I’m sure I was not so witty. Anyway, somehow I ended up in bed in my underwear until I woke up, alone, at about five. Before I got up, I lay on my back and ran my fingers along my nether lips and pinched my clit, moaning Jennie’s name as I came. I know I shouldn’t. But no matter how hard I try, I usually can’t come until I pronounce her name. Even before I saw the photo. And then I hate myself for it.

After dinner, my typical warmed-up pasta with bottled sauce and a beer, I sat down to watch a RomCom on Netflix. And I wish my life, too, could have a happy ending the way the heroine in the damn movie always does.

At about eight, my buzzer buzzed. It was Denise.

“Are You A Slut, Michelle?”

Without removing her coat, Denise asked Michelle whether she’d slept with someone that day.

“What? That’s none of your business. What, are you suddenly jealous of my love life?”

“Sit.”

She did so. Reluctantly. Who did she think she was?

“I ask because I just go off the phone with Jennie.”

“What? My Jennie? How do you know my Jennie?”

“I’ll tell you later. Just tell me. Did you sleep with someone today?”

“No. I mean, someone came up but she was just helping me get home. I was kind of drunk on mimosas. I think I might have tried to seduce her though.”

“She saw you.”

That sobered Michelle up real quick.

“What do you mean ‘she saw you’?”

Denise walked her through it. From contacting Alex to Jennie’s call half-an-hour earlier. Michelle had never been more stunned/surprised/freaked-out in her life.

“I need to see her.”

“I know you do.”

Twenty minutes later, Denise hit the buzzer for Jennie’s apartment in her lobby.

“Yes?”

“Jennie, it’s Denise. Let me up.”

After they were buzzed in, the pair walked up to Jennie’s apartment. She’d left the door open and was sitting on her couch when they walked it. When she saw Michelle, she gasped but quickly recovered.

“You here to gloat? Where’s the bitch you brought to your place?”

“Jennie. Sweetie. That was nothing.”

“I know what I saw. Didn’t look like ‘nothing’ to me.”

“I was a little drunk and she was helping me home. She’s just a friend.”

“I haven’t done anything with anybody and I go to see you and you’re practically fucking this woman in the middle of 9th Street.”

“It was nothing.”

Denise intervened. “Jennie, please listen. I believe her. Why would she be here if it weren’t true?”

“Because you told her I still love her and she wants to laugh at me for being such a fool.”

“You’re the one who walked out on me.” Michelle didn’t mean to say that, true as it was.

“And it almost killed me to do it. You didn’t try to communicate with me after.”

“Remember your letter? Because I thought you were turning over a new leaf and I wasn’t part of it.”

“And you were happy to have me out of your life so you could hook up with someone who’s pretty and beautiful and tall. How many women have you gone to bed with since I left? More than a dozen?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Twenty? You always were a slut.”

“And you went to bed with me on the first day we met.”

“It was the most special thing I’d ever done and now you’re throwing it in my face? ‘I love you.’ You’re so full of shit.”

“But I do love you.”

“Yet you’re fucking other women. How many? Thirty? Forty?”

“May I sit?”

“You plan on staying?”

“I plan on staying until you’re reasonable. So I’m sitting. Denise, sit.”

The two were in chairs. Denise felt like she was refereeing at Wimbledon.

After several uneasy seconds, Jennie broke the silence. “OK. I’m reasonable. One of us has to be.”

“You made it clear we were done and over. What, you wanted me to become a nun? A lot of good religion did to you and your mother.”

“Don’t throw that at me. You have no idea what I’ve been through.”

“I know exactly what you’ve been through because I’ve been through it too. And I wasn’t the one who did it. That was you. Remember? You wouldn’t even let me go to the funeral and that was my job. I was your girlfriend and that was my job. To be there for you. And you wouldn’t let me. You wouldn’t let me do my job and it practically killed me.

“And then I got your letter. And all I had left of you were your last words, ‘I love you with all my heart, but I must deny that part of me for my soul and that of my sweet, dead mother. Please forget me as I will never forget you.’ And now you’re telling me you want to forget me.”

“That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying you’ve made it abundantly clear that you’ve forgotten me.” Jennie got up to get water as the others waited silently. She returned to her place on the sofa, the glass vibrating in her hand. When she regained her composure, she looked at Michelle through her tear-stained eyes.

“What I wrote was not entirely true. I told you I would never forget you. That was true. I did not tell you that I would never stop loving you. And I have not.” She wiped her chin with her wrist. “I didn’t mean to go off on you like I did.”

“And I didn’t mean to say some of the things that I said.”

“Some?”

“You know. The bad stuff.”

“I will ask you one thing. Whether any and all the ‘bad stuff’ we’ve had goes away depends on your answer.”

If Jennie was trying to unnerve Michelle, it wasn’t working. The sudden sparkle in Jennie’s eyes told Michelle what the question would be and she knew what the answer would be. And she was right.

“Of course I love you.”

The most relieved of the three, as it happens, was Denise. She’d had visions of trying to negotiate peace in the Middle East. It was so obvious to her that if Jennie could put aside the, well, it wasn’t “nonsense” because it was deeply held, I-made-a-promise sidetrack on which she found herself, they were as perfect a couple as, say, Alex and Michael.

After the jumping up and the kissing engaged in by the other two, she coughed. “Ladies. Before this gets out of hand, I suggest we gather ourselves and go out for dinner like civilized people. Then I’ll head home and you two can do whatever you are going to do. I think we all need a bit of air and calming down and cooling off.”

After-Dinner Treats

When they finished dinner, Denise stopped as they passed a subway station on Broadway. “Just remember me in your wills.” She noted it was Sunday night and she had to be at work in the morning, and gave each of the others a kiss on the forehead and was gone.

*          *          *

Suddenly alone for the first time in over six months. Michelle and Jennie felt and acted like schoolgirls in the blush of first love. Jennie wrapped her right arm through Michelle’s left and leaned against the taller woman as they walked. Each was lost in her thoughts but more than anything each thought of wasted time.

Without asking, Michelle followed Jennie up to her apartment. When the door was closed, Jennie put her head against Michelle’s chest and pleaded, “Can you ever forgive me?”

Michelle tightened her grip. “I had it easy compared to you.”

The two were silent. Jennie knew that Michelle would never blame her. They would talk more about it in the days and, they hoped, years to come. They had more pressing business. Michelle directed Jennie to the sofa. They’d not been in the studio apartment often. The bed was this convertible sofa. She stayed often enough to keep a few things there, but it was small. Which is why Jennie spent much of her time at Michelle’s. Now they sat, angling their bodies so they could adore each other’s faces.

Rubbing her hand along Jennie’s cheek and looking into Jennie’s eyes, Michelle had one, final question they both needed answered. But as she began, Jennie stood and pushed Michelle back on the sofa. She straddled her, draping her arms on the other’s broad shoulders and lowering her lips to the other’s moist lips. The latter were open when Jennie reached them. Michelle nearly exploded from the touch of the damp, excited tongue.

When they came up for air, Jennie said, “I am sure. I can’t spend the rest of my life denying who I am. I made my mom happy with what I said to help her go in peace. But I can’t imagine she would be in peace knowing how unhappy I am. Without you.” She gave Michelle a peck on the lips. “When Denise told me about you and what happened with the wedding photos, that’s when I realized I had to address what I did with my mom. It’s when I realized I cannot live a life without you. Because she told me you hadn’t moved on. I hate to say it, but that made me happy. Then I saw you today—”

“I was drunk and she was helping me home. You know I don’t go for tall women.”

“Only shrimps like me? You bitch.”

“Only you.” It was Michelle’s turn to give the other woman’s lips a light peck. “I’ll be honest, I haven’t been a nun. I’ve gone to bed with women since we broke up.”

“Since I broke us up.”

“Don’t dwell. But I don’t think I ever made love to any. Maybe lust, OK? Nothing more. . . . Can I confess something? When I’m alone, I often got myself off when I thought of you. Shit, it happened this afternoon when I woke up. I touched myself, thought of you, and had a sweet orgasm.”

Jennie realized how much Michelle had been missed.

*          *          *

Before either woman knew it, they’d tossed the sofa’s cushions to the side and pulled out the thin, creaky mattress. They were soon naked on Jennie’s bed, passions unleashed. It was Jennie, who’d been with no one in the dark period, who did the feasting. Kissing Michelle’s right nipple while her right fingers circled the left, Michelle grabbed her to allow her to suckle on her small tit, the nipple fully engorged. Soon Jennie’s hand drifted down Michelle’s side and Jennie moved to the side so her fingers could run through Michelle’s outer then inner folds, struggling against bucking hips. Releasing the nipple, she moved so she could kiss each of Michelle’s eyes before running her tongue over Michelle’s nose and across her lower lip, it too rocking as Michelle struggled to maintain her breath.

“If you tell me you love me,” Jennie promised, “I’ll make it worth your while.”

“Of course I love you. Always will.”

Jennie’s fingers were playing around Michelle’s pussy as she backed her face away. “I will always love you. It’s part of who I am.”

Jennie moved so her head was above Michelle’s. Suddenly she felt hands pull her down so her lips crashed into Michelle’s. Michelle gave a light push to Jennie’s shoulders to allow her to speak. “Don’t cry, shop girl.” It was from one of their favorite New York movies. “We are parts of each other.” Jennie’s mouth then resumed its assault in time with the insertion of three fingers—Michelle was easily wet enough—that momentarily stopped Michelle from rocking. But only momentarily as the tsunami smashed into her and her hips lost all control and the rest of her body followed. Except for her hands, which gripped Jennie’s head to her chest until they pushed her lover away and to the side lest she suffocate and die a happy death.

Jennie’s Thoughts

She didn’t realize how painful her nails were, grabbing my head. I felt like a cowboy, fighting to stay on board her until she shoved my head away and my body to the side. I did, briefly, fear that she’d done something to herself. Or, I guess, that I did something to her. But she began gasping and her right hand grabbed mine and held it tightly. She lifted it to her lips and adorned it with the slightest kiss.

“I love you.” And she released my hand.

I used it to push some of her hair off her forehead. “I love you, too.”

She was completely spent, staring at the ceiling, and saying, “That’s good.”

I lay next to her, caressing her cheek with my fingers. It was only a few minutes, I think, but it felt much longer.

“More than anything in the world. Right now I need to eat.” It startled me from my daze. Mish rose slightly as I began to think of what I wanted. “I need to eat you.” She jumped off the bed, but only to get to the foot and then, realizing what she intended to do, I spread my legs and used my hands to signal her to me.

I probably knew precisely what she did—what parts of me she licked, what parts she kissed, what parts she bit—but in retrospect, it was one giant feasting. She was ravenous, every once in a while looking up to catch a glimpse of my eyes, which were increasingly unfocused as she had me. I could hear some sounds from outside, but was overwhelmed by the noise of her eating me. The slurps. And mostly the moans. Difficult to tell which were mine and which were hers. I, too, masturbate, dreaming of her. Now I was not dreaming. It wasn’t long until I was the one whose hips were bucking, with me now gripping her head to keep contact with me.

I don’t know what I said, but I’m sure it is not repeatable in polite company. There was no politeness here, though. Passion. Love. Even adoration. All mutual. All denied and delayed too long. I released her head as I came, bouncing on the bed, although her fingers remained in me. That I remember. Her fingers remained in me until it was over and I’d collapsed. Mish sometimes had a mischievously evil side and she displayed it. Slowly sucking on each of her fingers to clean them while she stared at me, my eyes locked onto her lascivious display.

“I have to pee,” were the romantic words she left with me when she rushed out of the room. When she returned, Mish was in a robe. It was too short for her. She tossed me a spare. After I peed and returned in the robe, she was sitting on the bed, leaning against the sofa’s back. I brought in two glasses of water and after handing one to her I sat on the mattress facing her with my legs crossed, making sure to keep my pussy covered.

Talking

“Now? I’m not holding you to anything that may have happened since you got here.” Jennie understood they’d been overcome with lust but wasn’t sure if it was passion let alone love. She didn’t want something said under those circumstances to dictate what happened next in her life. Again.

Michelle sipped her water. “I meant every word. If you want me to speak in the calm light of day, I love you and will always love you. I’m sorry if I broke my trust with you with other women. I hope you can find it in your wonderful heart to forgive me.”

She took a longer sip. Before she could resume, Jennie interrupted, “We were not together. You had no obligation to me. I threw you out, OK? Don’t you see though? You’ve been with other women. Right now, though, you’re with me.”

“And only you.”

“Yes. I know that. And to be clear, I was no better than you. I just denied myself such things. Look, we’ve both suffered enough. There’s blame aplenty and, let’s face it, most of it is on me.”

She shut Michelle up when she started to deny it.

“Can we just go to bed? To sleep?”

“OK. But I have to get up early to get home to get changed for work. I’m afraid nothing you have fits me.”

“Actually,” Jennie admitted, you left a couple of your outfits here. I couldn’t part with them. They’re in dry-cleaner bags. Except the underwear. That’s washed and in one of my drawers.” She paused. “I’m sorry and I know it was wrong but there’s one pair I haven’t washed because it still has your scent.”

Michelle laughed. “You pervert. Which kind of makes me one too because I’ve done the same and I’ve, um, treated them as something of an interactive toy.”

With that the two finished in the bathroom—Michelle’s toothbrush was in a drawer but was too gamey to use so Jennie found a new one for her—they fell into bed and asleep.

The Train

On a Saturday a few weeks after Michelle and Jennie were reunited, the pair sat nervously on the 9:21 from Penn Station to Huntington. Jennie’s dad would pick them up. All Jennie told him was that she was bringing someone.

As the train slowed, they stood and walked to the door. Jennie put her arms around the taller woman. “I love you. I love him. Therefore he’ll love you.” Michelle gave the shorter woman a peck on the top of her head. “You are the mathematician in the family so you must be right.” “Damn straight.” She rose on her toes to give a peck on the lips. “And don’t you forget it.”

As the doors opened, they gave each other a final hug and emerged. Jennie scanned the parking lot for her dad, and waved when she saw him. He was waiting at the bottom of the platform’s steps. He’d seen who his daughter was with and by the time they met he’d figured out pretty much everything that needed figuring out.

Turning first to Michelle, he said, “You, I assume, are my daughter’s girlfriend. My, they make them tall and beautiful wherever you come from.”

He turned to Jennie, “And I’m sure, young lady, that they have names there too.”

“Dad, this is Michelle Smith. She is, yes, my girlfriend.”

The two shook hands, Michelle saying, “nice to finally meet you Mr. Epstein.”

“Eric, please.”

And they walked to the car as Jennie’s dad learned that Michelle knew absolutely nothing about Huntington, Long Island and decided it was his duty to educate her.

As the trio left, Shirley Adams, who was heading for a train into the City, saw the two women walking in a way that made very clear that they were more than friends. Shirley Adams was one of the people that came to Jennie’s mom’s mind when she ordered her daughter never to disclose her orientation.

While Huntington is not a small town, it has segments that are small. And small-minded. By 11:00 Mass the next day, the ladies-who-gab were gabbing about little else. How Lauren Epstein would be rolling in her grave if she knew what her daughter had become now that she was gone.

Jennie learned this at about two on Sunday. She was sitting on Michelle’s couch reading The Times when she got a call from Alex. Who’d received a call from her mother who asked: “Did you know about Jennifer Epstein?” “What about Jennie?” “That’s she’s a homosexual?” “No, mom, I didn’t. Why? Does it matter?” “Of course it matters.” And so on for a while.

Alex began. “This is Alex. You’ve been outed.”

“What?”

She told the story about eleven o’clock Mass and the post-Mass circle of women at the diner and how horrified they all were at Jennie’s “deep, dark secret.”

She explained that when Denise had done her sleuthing about the wedding, she’d neglected to say the person who was drooling over Jennie’s picture was another woman. Before Jennie could take offense, Alex sounded hurt. “Why didn’t you tell me? You know I wouldn’t have cared and, forget about all the assholes in town, I would have supported you.”

Jennie, who gave a thumbs-up to Michelle, who was starting to look nervous, explained that her mom insisted. But she hadn’t thought about how it would look to show up there the day before with Michelle on her arm or her on Michelle’s. She mesmerized Alex with the story of the Dress and how it was that Denise came to know Michelle.

“Well, it is a nice Dress.”

“Yeah, and I didn’t know that the woman I love owned half of it when I saw it at your wedding.”

Alex lowered her voice. “So you do love her? Are the two of you good now?” Denise had not updated Alex on what happened. They agreed to meet, as a foursome, in the next week or so.

When she hung up, Jennie called to Michelle. “Hey, sweets. Guess who outed herself to the town in which she grew up yesterday?”

“Shit. I didn’t think of that.” She threw her body across Jennie’s lap which, because of her height, was awkward.

With a kiss on the lips, Jennie said, “it really only mattered when my mom was alive. Isn’t there a song somewhere about old biddies talking about a woman who left town or something? Let ’em talk.”

Michelle managed to extricate herself from the uncomfortable position. After taking three or four steps, she looked back. “Jennifer. Can I talk to you about something in the other room?”

“If it involves me counting how many nipples you have, I’d be glad to. I am—”

“Yes, the mathematician in the family.” She walked into the bedroom and sat on the bed, awaiting her lover. When they were naked and Michelle was on her back and Jennie on her side drawing little circles on her lover’s flat stomach, Michelle asked, “is it really alright that everyone there knows?”

Jennie raised her eyes and said, “for all this time I didn’t think so but now it is just so nothing, you know?”

“I know.”

“You’ve not told me about your town. Do people there know about you?”

“You mean that I’m the type of woman who loves nothing more than spending Sunday afternoons naked in her bed with the woman she loves?”

“Well, yeah, that. And doing stuff in bed with the woman she loves.”

“I think a lot of people assumed that because I was tall and athletic I was probably gay. I was, mind you, but I was an athlete first and when I was with my teammates they were just teammates. But it wasn’t as if a lot of kids in my school, boys and girls, went out on dates. We all sort of hung around together. Get drunk at the house of someone whose parents were away. In season, I didn’t go out much, with practice and games. But I was no different than most of the others. Hanging out and desperate to get out of the rich, elite, uber-pressure, boring town.

“I’m sure some of the boys were gay and some of the girls were like me. I don’t remember, though, it ever coming up. Who knows what happened in someone’s basement. I know I didn’t fool around. Now, I don’t go there often so I have no idea if anyone I knew has come out and how the town reacted. It is so not me. I go there every couple of months to see my folks. I run into people I know, including parents of kids I went to school with, on the village’s main street and say hello and everyone is perfectly pleasant, but what goes on behind doors or in closets I don’t dare ask. For all I know the PTA has a weekly key-party and the principal is a closet Domme.”

Jennie had turned onto her back. “Do you think you could find out?”

Michelle leaned her head up, grabbed her pillow, and whacked her love with it. “Are you telling me, Jennifer Epstein, that you’re into S&M?”

“Just kidding.” Michelle replaced the pillow and lay her head on it. She was about to resume when she heard, “Although you are big and strong and more than a little bit handsome and I bet you’d look good in leather.”

“Shut up. We’re talking about my childhood here. You’re ruining it.”

Getting to Brown University, in Providence, was a sea-change for Michelle. Away from the prying eyes of small-town life. Bronxville was an extremely affluent village less than half-an-hour from Grand Central by train. It was also a friendly but closed place. If your parents and your parents’ parents weren’t from there, you were always a wee bit on the outside.

While she’d lusted at girls in her high school and some who played for competing schools, Michelle didn’t do anything about it. In college, it was like there were hormones in the shower water. Suddenly she was lusting after everyone with a pussy. She quickly learned that staring too much at a teammate in the shower or locker room was bad since, a, it would end badly and, b, it would fuck up her game. This was something of an unwritten rule among her team and, she figured, the other teams as well.

It did not apply, however, to members of different teams. Michelle lost her virginity to a six-one member of the volleyball team. Beautiful, smooth, dark skin. Long hair in a ponytail. Except when it wasn’t. Small boobs and a great ass—”I’m sorry. Your ass is great. Hers was beyond.” It happened in Michelle’s room and the first touch they shared confirmed in Michelle everything she hoped to be as a woman. Neither took it seriously and they hooked up now and again for the two years when they were in school together.

“What happened to her?”

“I think she’s getting an economics Ph.D. at MIT.”

“Smart and beautiful. Jeez.”

Michelle reached over to take Jennie’s hand, which she brought to her mouth where it received a slight lick and a kiss. “She has nothing on you.” For an instant, each thought how nice it’d be if Michelle would just get on Jennie. But it passed.

“I somewhat worked my way through college. Lots of experimenters. They’re fun but you know their hearts aren’t in it. I sometimes wonder if any of those who married men think of me when they’re—”

“Like that psycho Alanis Morrissette song.”

“Yeah. Without the scratch marks.”

At Brown, Michelle interviewed with New York companies in various industries, and landed the gig at her publishing house. She was on the marketing side, but got enough exposure to the editorial side to keep it interesting.

“And,” she concluded, “I pretty well continued my shallow love-life when I moved to my place in the East Village.”

Jennie noticed something that had been skipped. She pointed it out.

Michelle looked down. “No. My folks don’t know. No one in Bronxville knows except for the three or four people who are still close friends, and they’ve all been sworn to secrecy.”

This hit Jennie hard and she gave her love a sharp look.

“So my whole life nearly collapsed because I came out to my parents and you didn’t tell me that you haven’t even told yours?”

“When was I to do that?” She paused. She was reacting badly. “I’m sorry. It’s been a do-I?/don’t-I? thing for years. I would have told you had I known it was an issue for you, but that I only found out too late to do any good. Can we talk about it now? I’ve never been with someone who I could talk to about it.”

She said that, of course, her parents were always on her about getting into a serious relationship. She was able to avoid it by insisting that she was just too busy to focus on it but that she would when it was time to think of starting a family. They seemed to accept that and didn’t press.

Jennie recognized that they all have their coming-out stories. The big ones to the family. The everyday ones to the butcher. And that no one could criticize anyone else for how it was handled. She got on an elbow and told Michelle she was sorry to have snapped and then lay down again.

“So what are we going to do about it?”

“You’re also the only one important enough to me to want to show off.” It was the taller woman’s turn to get on her own elbow. “What are you doing Saturday?”

Saturday in Bronxville

Much as the pair had been on the train to Huntington, they were on a different train heading north from Grand Central. It was even more nerve-racking for them. Jennie’s dad at least knew and it was all about surmounting what her mom had said and done. This was: Hi mom/dad. I’m gay. Oh, and this is my girlfriend. Her name is Epstein.

They were on an early train. It was unusually warm for late October. Michelle called and told her mom she was coming up and would walk to the house. As this train slowed to a stop, they held their hands only briefly. After what happened in Huntington, they were sensitive to prying eyes in Bronxville. They strolled up the short hill to where Michelle grew up.

Hers was one of the multi-generational families in the village. Not royalty. But members of the court. As they approached after walking on a road made with paving stones, remnants of a bygone era that the village maintained, they reached the house. It was a large colonial, white with green shutters. There were shrubs along the street—no sidewalks in this part of town—and a Mercedes sedan and Range Rover in the driveway.

Jennie was picking up that Michelle’s family was loaded. Michelle’d never given the slightest indication. Jennie followed around to the back. The door was open and they walked in, Michelle letting the house know she was there. A woman, who Jennie correctly assumed was Michelle’s mom—Alice—appeared. She was a few inches taller than Jennie—and thus a few shorter than Michelle—and had blond hair. She noticed Jennie. She reached to hug her daughter and said, “There’s coffee. Who’s your friend?”

Michelle asked if her dad was in. “Oh, this sounds serious.” Her mom called out: “Michelle’s here. Come down.” The three women walked into the living room as Michelle’s dad bounded down the stairs. He was over six-feet tall and had a tennis-player’s build. Black hair cut short. He looked like the banker Michelle said he was, but much younger than someone who could be Michelle’s father.

He gave his daughter a hog as the three women stood. He turned to Jennie and extended his hand. “Jim Smith, Michelle’s dad.”

“Jennie Epstein. A friend of Michelle’s.”

Michelle immediately added, “Mom. Dad. Can we sit for a sec?” followed, when they did, by “Jennie’s my girlfriend.”

Her parents looked stunned. It was not that they found the idea distasteful. It was that they created an image of their daughter over decades and suddenly learned that she took a decidedly different path. While Jennie didn’t understand this, Michelle was correct in assuring her on the train and on the walk to the house that her folks would love her.

“Does Steven know?” Steven was Michelle’s brother. He worked for an IT firm in Silicon Valley. Michelle said they’re the first in the family. She’d call him later. He wouldn’t care.

Her dad turned serious. “So how do you want to handle it?” The fact that his daughter was gay didn’t trouble him. He wanted to do what he could for his daughter, and her girlfriend, on the subject. “Do you have plans? We thought brunch today. Like normal people.”

He had a tennis match at the Field Club at ten, but agreed not to kibitz afterward. They were set for brunch at 12:30. They reserved a table in front, by the big windows.

It wasn’t a coming-out process. In the end, they all did what they did and no one seemed to care. If it bothered anyone, they had the good sense to keep it to themselves.

Another Wedding

“I got it.”

“What do you mean you ‘got it’?”

Michelle showed her phone to Jennie. It was a Save-The-Date email. For a wedding. A formal wedding. It would be in a few months, in mid-January.

“Don’t you see? I finally get to wear the Dress.”

The Dress was still at Denise’s, cleaned and hung up after Alex and Michael’s wedding. Now a teammate from Brown with whom Michelle often played in pick-up games was marrying someone who also played in those games. Mikey—for Mikaela—and Billie—for Wilhelmina.

When she called Denise, the latter sounded a little down.

“I was afraid you’d remember. I’m invited too. . . . But it is your turn, and I’d love to see you in action in it.”

Michelle settled into a routine, a very pleasant one. Each weekend together, and several weeknights. They spent Thanksgiving at one of Jennie’s aunts and uncles out on Long Island, getting a mixed but on the whole kind reception from Jennie’s extended family. Christmas was spent in Bronxville, this time with Jennie’s dad joining as well as Michelle’s brother Steve. They joined the Smiths for Christmas service at the Episcopal Church they could walk to. They spent New Year’s Eve at a favorite haunt in the West Village.

The wedding and reception were a few weeks later, at a “farm” in Westchester County. It supported a high-end restaurant. The ceremony and the reception and dancing would in a large hall and the dinner in a barn-like space. While Jennie’d seen the Dress in an inanimate state on a hanger, Michelle refused to let Jennie see it on her. When she debuted it to her love early on the afternoon of the wedding—with the temperature in the high 30s and a bright sun—Jennie was not surprised. She was overwhelmed. How this woman could bring such life to the Dress. Evil thoughts sprang up. They would have to wait. The car would be arriving soon.

Jennie was no laggard. She wore a maroon gown that seemed poured over her curves. A small strand of pearls that had been her mother’s floated around her neck, exposed with her hair done up. She, too, had kept her outfit a secret.

The driver texted from downstairs, and the two were soon heading up the FDR Drive and the Major Deegan Expressway out of the City and into the wilds of central Westchester.

Seeing Denise, they were formally introduced to her boyfriend, Eddie. While they chatted, they heard the announcement that the ceremony was to begin and the four sat on the aisle and watched Mikey and Billie get married. And the food was good and the dancing was better. With a long ride home, Michelle and Jennie arranged for a car to pick them up at ten. After the car was there and they were going home to 9th Street, Jennie lay her head on Michelle’s shoulder as their fingers intertwined.

When they finally got through the apartment door, they were exhausted. But crossing that threshold injected new life into both. Jennie dreamt of stripping Michelle of the Dress from the moment she saw it on her. Michelle, truth be told, had the same, lascivious thoughts about her own lover. They put their clutches on a table by the door and embraced. Michelle’s wrists were crossed behind Jennie’s lower back and Jennie’s were behind Michelle’s neck. Michelle looked down. Now it was their tongues that were doing a random dance with each other, broken only when one or the other needed to come up for air.

It was magical, this moment, and Jennie gasped as she saw their reflection in the window. She was the first to speak.

“This may not be like me, but all day there’s something I’ve wanted to do to you.”

The passion was put on hold briefly as the two women peed. They resumed in their bedroom. Jennie instructed: “Stay. And enjoy.” Michelle watched as Jennie unzipped her own gown. It had support cups in it so as she pushed it down—no easy task given how cloying it was—her boobs popped out one after the other. She wiggled her hips and when it passed them she exposed her lightly-haired pussy. When it hit the floor she stepped out of it and picked it up, draping it over a chair.

She turned to one of the drawers in the dresser and took out a strap-on and lube. Turning back, she ordered Michelle to lift the Dress above her hips. Michelle did as instructed, she too exposing her naked pussy. Her damp, naked pussy. Neither woman had bothered putting their panties on after peeing.

Michelle felt a tinge of fear. She’d never before seen the inferno in Jennie’s eyes, boring into her. While they’d shared strap-on duties, this was different. Jennie was going to fuck her and fuck her as hard as she could. Jennie was going to take her, and she knew her pussy was so wet they wouldn’t need lube.

The dresser had a mirror over it, and Michelle realized what Jennie planned. Without a word, and holding the Dress’s hem over her hips, she moved to it. By the time she bent down, securing the hem so the Dress would not fall, the strap-on was securely around Jennie. Michelle caught Jennie’s leer in the mirror. It terrified her but, even more, it thrilled her as she’d never been thrilled before.

“Take me.” It was all Michelle said, all she could say, before she felt the head of the artificial dick enter her, hard. With eyes locked in the mirror, Jennie began to pound, again and again bottoming out with the dildo.

“Tell me whose you are.”

“I’m yours.”

“Tell me.”

“Yours. Nothing but yours.”

“That’s right. And don’t forget—”

Jennie couldn’t complete it. She was rabid, pounding away, oblivious to Michelle’s gurgling, her lover unable to fashion thoughts, let alone words. Michelle was lost in a storm of unending intensity as her ass pushed back to force greater penetration, but there could be no greater penetration. The dildo was all the way in, and the portion rubbing against Jennie’s clit was putting her, too, over the edge.

As soon as Jennie felt Michelle’s spasm she was overcome and screamed Michelle’s name again and again until she too was spent. Jennie slowly pulled out and stepped back until she hit the bed and collapsed on it. Michelle was struggling to catch her breath, looking at her face in the mirror until she turned and nearly stumbled to join Jennie, sitting on the bed.

After several minutes, she forced herself to take the Dress off. If she didn’t do it then, she never would. Folding it neatly, she placed it on the dresser, noticing drops of her spit that had fallen while she was being taken. It didn’t matter, the Dress would need quite a cleaning. She prayed Denise never learned what it had been through.

She got back to the bed, where Jennie was already lying down, still wearing her thigh-highs. As was Michelle. It didn’t matter. The strap-on was discarded unceremoniously somewhere. Michelle pulled the blanket over them and wrapped an arm around Jennie, kissing her on the neck and falling asleep. Not before telling Jennie that she wanted to be with her forever.

Moving On

Jennie pretended not have heard Michelle say “forever” but it sent her mind into turmoil. It was what she thought she wanted to hear, but having heard it made her uncertain. It’s a long time. Still, as they were sitting reading on Michelle’s sofa the next afternoon, their bare feet bouncing against each other at times, she said, “You know. This place is a dump.”

Michelle put down her romance novel. “What? It’s my place.”

“I was thinking that if we pool our money, we could get a half-way decent place in a better part of town.” She said this without putting down the Times Magazine.

“How do you know?”

The Magazine was put down. “I’ve been looking.”

Jennie admitted to going online once in a while to see what might be available in a one-bedroom up in her neighborhood, on the Upper West Side. She’d seen some decent ones, and together they could swing it.

Michelle circled to the point. “Together?”

“Look. I spend most of my time here. I think we should move in together.”

For the next weeks, the two spent their weekends scouring the internet and the Upper West Side for a place. And six weeks after that initial conversation, they moved into a one-bedroom apartment with a decent-sized kitchen and a nice bath, and living room, on West 93rd Street, near Central Park. Before they left the East Village, they had Denise and some friends from the neighborhood over for a goodbye party. When they were gone, though, they never looked back.

About a month later, Denise gave Michelle a call.

“We’re both going to a wedding, and you get to wear the Dress.”

“But it’s your turn.”

“I’ll have a dress of my own. It’s white.”

That boyfriend they’d met at Mikey and Bobbie’s wedding? Eddie? He was Denise’s fiancé and the wedding was in two months in a loft in lower Manhattan. When Michelle told Jennie, Jennie said they should do a few trial runs with the Dress, to make sure it still worked. Which explains why that night in their new apartment Michelle was wearing the Dress, again hiked up above her hips, and bouncing herself up and down the dildo around Jennie’s waist until she burst, pushing herself off and down when she was done so she could finger Jennie to her own orgasm.

“Just a bit more practice,” Jennie said when they were eventually lying next to one another and she had nearly caught her breath, “and you might not be half bad in that Dress. . . . Or, you know, out of it.”

Michelle got up and removed the Dress. She headed to the shower, and Jennie followed. They were both too spent to play around there—which was just a showerhead in the tub—so Jennie sat on the toilet seat as Michelle de-sweated herself with the water. As she was doing her hair, Jennie stood and moved the shower curtain aside.

“I heard what you said that night.”

“Night?”

“When you wore the Dress for the wedding. I heard you. If you still want—”, Michelle turned the water off, “if you still want to be with me forever, I want to be with you forever too.”

Michelle had long since dismissed that Jennie heard her. It was a somewhat spontaneous utterance, though a true one. But she’d not gotten the courage to repeat it. Jennie stepped into the tub. Michelle began to shake from a combination of the sudden cold with the water off and the sudden heat with her naked love standing with her.

“Michelle, will you marry me?”

“For real?”

“As real as I could possibly be. Will you? Please?”

Jennie had not planned it this way and found herself getting wet from Michelle’s hug, given while she mumbled “Of course of course of course.” The water on her, and now Jennie, was getting cold and they quickly got out of the tub to dry off.

In the bedroom, Jennie opened a drawer. From the far back she pulled out a ball of a pair of socks and removed a small box with a small diamond ring. The women were still naked but for their towels. Jennie knelt and with the box open in her right hand said, “Will you, Michelle Smith, make me the happiest woman in the world by marrying me?”

Michelle stuck her left hand towards Jennie. It was shaking, but not from the cold. “Of course. Except it’s you who makes me the happiest.” Jennie stood and they hugged yet again, both admiring the ring.

“It’d been my mom’s. I just hope she’s not turning in her grave but it’s meant to be given to the person I love.”

“But didn’t she hope that was a man?”

“Yeah, I know. I kind of lost the thread there.”

Michelle pushed away. She opened a different drawer of the dresser and pulled out a different pair of rolled socks. She turned and said, “Since I now have one, I guess I won’t be needing this one.” With that she opened the box and, after Jennie put out her left hand, it was on her ring finger.

“I’ve had it for a while. Jennifer Epstein, I was afraid you’d say ‘no.’” She began to cry. Jennie again was holding her. “To tell you the truth, if you’d asked me that day we got back together I would have said ‘yes.’ That hasn’t changed.”

Seattle

“What do you mean for three months?”

This was not going to plan. Jennie’s firm assigned her to an audit client in Seattle. It was a coveted assignment and would enhance her partnership prospects. But it meant being in Seattle for at least three months. They’d fly her back once a month.

The wedding was four months away. What if the three months became four or even five? Jennie promised that even if that happened the wedding could still go forward. “They know about it. They said if it comes to that I could take the time to do it right.”

“Without a honeymoon?”

Michelle felt like a shit. This was a huge opportunity for her fiancée. And thus for her. But three months with only conjugal visits? Her heart broke when she saw Jennie’s face. She apologized. Jennie would be gone in five days. They’d both have to make the best of it.

It wasn’t too bad for the first two weeks. They Skyped daily, but Jennie was always in a rush to go out to dinner or some other event with the client or people in the firm’s Seattle office. In the third week, she missed a call, texting that she was swamped with work. When Jennie came up to the apartment on the Saturday at the end of the fourth week, having taken a red-eye back to New York, she was too tired for them to do anything for the rest of the day. All they had was Sunday together since she had to fly out on Monday morning.

They went out for brunch and made love in the afternoon. A walk before dinner and a second session, with the strap-on (this time on Michelle), after which they both drifted off. And then Jennie was gone in a waiting car with a kiss and a wave.

They Skyped during the week and again on Saturday afternoon. There was a tension on both ends. Neither could put her finger on it, but each felt things were fraying. On Saturday night, Michelle decided to relax at Ethel’s, the lesbian bar she’d long frequented. It had been a while, and she recognized only a few of the old crowd. It seemed that busloads of young women had taken over the place.

After two or three tried to hit on her, turned away by her rock, she left in exasperation. As she reached the subway she saw Clare on the platform. They knew each other only vaguely. More by face than anything else. She too lived on the Upper West Side, and they rode together when the train came in. Michelle found herself talking about how she missed Jennie, how she didn’t like to be alone.

Clare’s Irish roots were clear. Red hair with the perfect dash of freckles on her pale skin and with green eyes. She was shorter than Michelle, about Jennie’s height, and voluptuous. Instead of switching to a train closer to her place, Michelle stayed with Clare to Broadway and 96th, and the two walked to Clare’s. They went up the elevator together.

Clare put her key in her door. Then she lowered her head to it. She removed the key. She turned to Michelle. “I’m sorry. No good can come of this. Let me walk you home.” She left Michelle at the door of her own building several blocks away. Clare again apologized and left. Michelle walked up to the apartment and sat in the living room. She sat in near darkness on the sofa. What had she just done? What would have happened if Clare turned the key? What? . . what? . . . what?

She hit speeddial 2. It rang into voicemail. She tried again five minutes later. Jennie picked it up after three rings. Michelle could hardly hear with all the background noise, loud bar music. Jennie was out of breath.

“Babe. You OK?”

“I don’t deserve you.” And suddenly her thumb hit Stop. Her phone rang again immediately, but Michelle ignored it and it went to voicemail. That happened four more times, Michelle just staring at the phone each time. Ten minutes or so later there was a knock on the door. It was a neighbor from two floors down. “Are you there, Michelle?”

She couldn’t hide forever, and felt her way to the door, opening it. The neighbor handed her her phone. It was Jennie and it was quiet, except for some minor traffic noise.

Michelle said, “I’m sorry. Call me on my phone. I’ll pick up.” She thanked the neighbor and turned on a light before closing the door and waiting for the call.

“I’m so lonely without you. I almost cheated on you. Nothing happened. But I don’t know if I would have gone through with it if Clare hadn’t made sure I didn’t. I DON’T KNOW.” There was a pause. Clare, Jennie recalled, was someone from Ethel’s. Michelle was asking for trouble going there alone. Michelle told what happened.

When she stopped, Jennie said, “I know you would not have cheated. OK? I know. You would not have crossed that line. The woman I love would not have crossed that line. And I love you. OK?”

She said she’d try Denise and see if she could come up to keep her company. Michelle finally relented. “Tell her to call if she’s coming up.”

Denise, who was living with but not yet married to Eddie, was sitting with Michelle an hour later. It was after eleven and they were on the sofa. Michelle told her what happened. All Michelle could think was that she’d never know if she would have cheated. If she didn’t know that, how could she marry Jennie? She finally fell asleep around midnight after Denise put her to bed.

Denise called Jennie, who was back at her hotel. She said it was not good. Michelle was sliding into a bad place with her self-doubt. Jennie asked her to stay at least until noontime on Sunday. She said she’d see if she could get an emergency flight home and would let her know. But not to tell Michelle. She didn’t want to say anything until she knew she’d be able to do it.

Jennie barely slept. She called her boss in Seattle at eight and explained, in broad strokes, why she needed to get back home for a few days. He signed off on it, and she was able to get a low-fare ticket to JFK. It would get in at eight at night, New York time. She called Denise, who would keep Michelle company. At the Seattle airport, she called Michelle and told her she was coming home for a couple of days.

Denise excused herself when Jennie came through the door. It was a bit before nine at night.

“I need you to walk me through everything. Just tell me what happened.”

Jennie got them both waters. They were on the sofa, and Jennie listened. In the end, all Michelle could say was “I don’t know what I would have done.”

Jennie held her fiancée’s hands. “Look at me. In the eye.” Michelle’s were tear-stained but she complied. “I told you when you called me that I know what you would have done. You were lonely. You didn’t leave with one of the girls who threw themselves at you in the bar. Clare happened to be there and was ready to listen to you. I know you would have stopped the moment you’d otherwise have crossed the line. You were lonely for someone to be with, for someone who would listen to you talk about me. About how lonely you were because I was not there. That’s all it was, all that it could be. I have no doubt you would have just sat in Clare’s place and talked over herbal tea or some other shit.”

When Michelle put her head down again, she said, “But you don’t know.” Jennie stood.

“Look at me.” To Michelle, Jennie was towering over her. “I will ask you one and only one question. What I do know is your answer to my question. But I need you to say it. Out loud.”

Michelle was losing contact.

“Do you love me? That’s it. That’s my one question. Mish, that’s the only question.”

“More than anything.”

“You called me when it happened. You’ve gone through hell thinking about it. And you still love me. And, before you ask, I love you more than anything. And I always will. That’s why we’re getting married. I’m still on Seattle time and very hungry and I doubt you’ve eaten. Let’s get something at the all-night coffee shop. We’ll come back. We’ll make love. And in two-and-a-half months we’ll get married. Got it?”

Michelle’s “got it” was lost in tears.

Jennie went back to Seattle on Wednesday morning. Michelle didn’t need a baby-sitter.

Wedding

The episode between Clare and Michelle was not forgotten, but Michelle gradually grew confident in her faithfulness to Jennie. She became convinced, as Jennie had said, that she would not have crossed a line, that she would come to her senses. She would not do that to the woman she loved, and she knew she loved Jennie.

Plus there was a wedding to finish organizing. With Jennie spending so much time in Seattle, the day-to-day planning fell on Michelle, and she was glad of it.

While they had a good number of acquaintances, they had relatively few they considered friends. And while they had the Dress, they went for simplicity. Though Denise would not be happy, since she was of course to be a guest and she couldn’t wear the Dress as Michelle had gotten to wear it for Denise’s wedding. But that was OK.

They decided to do it in Westchester, near Michelle’s family. They’d looked there and near Huntington, but found a nicer small inn in the northern part of the County that would serve.

On July 15, 2017, in a small ceremony in the back yard of the inn, they became Jennifer Epstein-Smith and Michelle Epstein-Smith. Their parents were there as was Michelle’s brother and his fiancée. Michael and Alex, Denise and Eddie, several friends of Michelle’s from Bronxville, a contingent of Jennie’s aunt, uncles, and cousins, and five or six others. The fathers led their daughters down the aisle. Alex stood with Jennie and Denise with Michelle. It was a nice, intimate ceremony and when it was over the brides took a car to LaGuardia and flew to Montreal for their honeymoon. They spent three days there before going to an inn to the north in Quebec before flying home a week later.

In many respects their lives were unchanged. But neither could resist, sometimes subconsciously, twirling their wedding bands.

They savored the space of the suite in Montreal. and especially its large tub and separate shower. On their wedding night, Michele sat in the tub with her back to one end and Jennie had her back to Michele’s front. Each in her own world as Michelle ran a finger around and up and down her wife’s folds seemingly randomly. It was intense but not nearly enough to get Jennie excited. It was a simple act between two newlyweds and Jennie slowly floated away, helped along by the warm scented water and the light nibbles she felt on her neck from her wife’s lips.

She was nearly asleep when she barely heard “you are perfection” from Michelle. Those words triggered something in her. Immediately awake, helped by the fact that the water was beginning to chill, she jumped up, dripping onto the mat next to the tub.

Michelle was confused. WTF?

Then she saw Jennie flashing the animalistic lust that Michelle had grown to love.

Jennie had not overlooked the bathroom’s double sinks with a large, open area of marble between them. As Michelle rose, Jennie handed her a large plush towel like the one she was using to dry herself.

“Get your ass on the fucking marble.” Michelle knew well enough not to hesitate. In a moment she was there, her upper back against the mirror, and her ankles crossed behind Jennie’s neck. Jennie bent down, and Michelle bent forward. Michelle’s toweling off had not succeeded with her pussy, and Jennie saw her glistening lips. She lapped them, savoring each morsel of her wife’s juices, each breath of her wife’s scent. Soon her own lips were covered in Michelle’s dampness and Michelle grabbed her head, banging her head into the mirror, creating a sound that echoed through the large bathroom. The noise interrupted Jennie for a moment until she heard, “I’m fine. Do. Not. Stop.”

Jennie Did Not Stop. Using just her mouth, and her tongue, she managed to give Michelle yet another in what they both expected would be a countless series of orgasms. When Michelle got back down to earth, Jennie was cowed by the lust in Michelle’s eyes. Michelle was serviced by her wife. Now she would do the same.

The two women, naked, ran into the bedroom. The blinds were up, but the room was on a high floor and if anyone wanted to watch, let ‘em. Jennie ripped the duvet from the bed and centered her ass. She knew she would never tire of the sight of a naked Michelle. She was tall and strong, her body chiseled by a master. Her small boobs and lightly trimmed pussy. The ends of her hair were damp from the bath so it hung straight, just below her shoulders. Her spectacular shoulders. Why hadn’t she let Michelle carry her to the bed?

She decided to find out.

Michelle was again confused as Jennie leaped up and ran into the living room of the suite. The lights were low.

“If you want me in our bed, you’re going to have to put me there.” Michelle understood. As she reached Jennie, her wife jumped and Michelle caught her. Jennie’s arms surrounded Micelle’s neck and her ankles crossed behind her back.

“Now take your wife to bed and then just . . . take her.”

Jennie felt Michelle’s hands holding her ass cheeks as she turned and took her into the bedroom, practically throwing her down. In a single motion she was between Jennie’s spread legs and adoring her, hoping she could make her feel half as good as Jennie made her feel minutes before.

Jennie was soon rocking to the ministrations and when Michelle placed three fingers into her soaked pussy she went over the edge, shaking.

Michelle, lust having overcome her, waited until Jennie had largely recovered and straddled her face, lowering her pussy. She stopped short of Jennie’s mouth until she was pulled down by Jennie’s hands, which gripped Michelle’s ass to pull her closer down. Neither woman could get enough of the other. Michelle of Jennie’s tongue. Jennie of Michelle’s pussy. Michelle lost control towards the end, grabbing Jennie’s head and pulling it up as if she would place that mouth and that tongue whole in her pussy if she could.

It could not last long. Jennie felt Michelle’s steel thighs press in her, fearing the loss of oxygen would render her unconscious but well past the point of caring. With an “I love you,” Michelle nearly jumped off Jennie’s face, releasing her wife, and collapsing back so she sat between Jennie’s legs, She moved to the side. Staring at the ceiling as she lay in the opposite direction from Jennie.

For her part, Jennie was trying to recover from what just happened. Michelle had never done that. Never taken such absolute control. And Jennie liked it. She liked ordering Michelle to get her ass on the marble in the bathroom and she loved Michelle carrying her into the bedroom and then forcing Jennie to service her. To her, both of those roles felt natural with this woman. This perfect woman. Who, for about twelve hours, had been her wife.

Jennie ran a hand over Michelle’s thigh just so she could touch her. She felt Michelle’s hand cap hers and pulled it. Their fingers interlocked.

“If we do this every day of our marriage, I don’t know about you but I’m not going to make it to our first anniversary.”

“You? You’re the athlete. I won’t make it to the second week.”

Michelle replied, speaking to the ceiling, “Well, we just might find out ‘cause right now that’s my intention for every day of this honeymoon.”

“You mean every fucking day?”

“Don’t make me wash your mouth out with soap.”

“I’d much rather you wash my mouth out with your ‘Lady Juice.’”

With that, Michelle wondered aloud whether they could market it and got up, kissed Jennie, and went to the bathroom, towels lying on its floor, to get cleaned up and ready for bed. Jennie soon followed, and put her arms around her wife as they looked at each other in the mirror.

She didn’t say anything. Michelle smiled. “I know, Mish. I know.”

Reunion

“You’re kidding, right?”

“It’ll be fun. Besides, I want to show my wife off.”

The “it” was Jennie’s tenth high-school reunion.

Michelle agreed to be dragged to the event on one condition, which she very much doubted Jennie could pull off. Alex had to go too.

There ensued one of those she’ll-go-if-you’ll-go things which morphed into a I-think-she-wants-to-go-but-only-if-you-go thing. In the end, Jennie and Michelle spent the day at Jennie’s house and Alex and Michael at Alex’s and the four drove to the hotel in town where, perhaps ironically, a fair portion of the Huntington High Class of ‘07 lost their virginities on prom night.

“You will owe me for the rest of our days” was made clear to Jennie by her wife.

“You’ll love it. Trust me.”

After an eye roll, the four picked up their name tags, Michelle getting a “Friend of Jennie Epstein” and Michael a “Friend of Alex Jordan” beneath their names.

Jennie and Alex scanned the program together to see who was there. It looked to be a fair portion of their class. At least half. Most of whom neither had seen in the prior ten years. There were, though, enough of their old gang to make it fun, as Jennie promised, so they dragged their other halves to where a “Class of ‘07” banner dangled. Jennie’s orientation was by then well known in the town, at least by those who cared about it. Jennie got the uncomfortable feeling that some people came in the hopes of seeing what a real, live lesbian looked like. They got over it when they saw that Jennie was Jennie and Michelle was tall.

They didn’t last. It wasn’t long before Jennie and Alex remembered why they hadn’t kept in touch with these people. After an hour-and-a-half, the four were sitting in the local IHOP having pancakes and decaf coffee. It was like high school if high school weren’t a cauldron of insecurity and jealousy. And Jennie and Alex somewhat enjoyed it. Imagine how it felt to those who didn’t.

It was after eleven when Alex and Michael dropped Michelle and Jennie off. Jennie’s dad was up but went to bed when they got in. They fell asleep shortly after they plopped down on the bed.

It was too early on Sunday when Jennie’s dad knocked on their door. It was not early—close to ten—but it seemed early to the girls. Someone wanted to see Jennie. Her dad ignored her question, “Who is it?” She threw a robe on and trooped downstairs.

“Mrs. Wilson.”

When she was last home, and Michelle stayed in the City, Jennie got groceries for the house. She was on line at the supermarket. Just as her things were being scanned, Jane Wilson began to unload hers on the conveyor belt. One of her mom’s friends who’d known Jennie her entire life. When she saw Jennie and before Jennie could say hello, she put her things back into her cart and pulled back to go to another, longer line. Without a word. And now she was standing in the foyer of her dad’s house.

“Call me Susan. I’m here to apologize for what I did to you. I can’t defend myself. It was wrong, and all I can ask is that you forgive me.”

“Mrs. . . . Susan. I’m used to people, even people I know, reacting badly to me. I figure if they’re good people, they’ll come to their senses. When they do, I don’t dwell. I can’t afford to dwell. So thank you. Now I need to get dressed.”

Jennie wasn’t normally so curt when this type of thing happened. But Mrs. Wilson hurt her tremendously, and she’d have been just as happy never to have seen her again. Or, for that matter, a good part of Huntington.

As she got to the third step of the stairs, she turned.

“Mrs. Wilson.” Who had not moved. “Susan. That was uncalled for. I know people, good people, can take time to get used to realizing someone they’ve known forever is different from what they thought they were. I know that for many, including my mom in her last days, they think what I am is wrong. That if they accept me, they’re betraying their faith. I get it. All I can do is be grateful when they’re willing to accept me, or at least try to accept me, for what and who I am.”

She reached to the older woman. “So thank you for coming. I know it wasn’t easy for you.”

“I’m sorry, Jennifer. But it should be easy. Please give me some time.”

Jennie promised she would and Mrs. Wilson turned to leave, saying goodbye to Jennie’s dad, heading to Mass. As she reached the door, Jennie asked if she’d like to meet her wife. This was a bridge-too-far. “Perhaps another time,” and she left.

Unemployed

Only a few weeks after the trip to Huntington, Michelle lost her job. She was part of a major downsizing of her publishing house. Over half of her department was let go. She sat outside Jennie’s building, waiting to tell her personally when she went to lunch. Jennie knew something was wrong when she saw her wife standing on Forty-Second Street.

Michelle was short and sweet. “I’m getting four months’ severance.”

They walked to nearby Bryant Park, behind the Library, and talked about what they would do. Both knew that getting a job in publishing would be difficult. At least Jennie made enough that they had time to allow Michelle to find something.

“What if I don’t want to find something?”

Jennie didn’t understand.

“I have the four months’ severance pay and I’m sure I can find something to keep me busy and bring in some cash, but what if I got pregnant?”

They’d spoken about children, of course. They wanted at least one, but they had their careers and figured there’d come a time in three or four years when they’d consider it seriously. Now Michelle was talking about speeding up that timetable. Significantly.

“I don’t mean you need to decide right now. I only learned I’m out of work a couple of hours ago. It just seems that it might be an omen. A signal that we should make the decision now.”

On the first Saturday after Michelle got the news of the firing, she went to Bronxville alone to see her mom. Her folks knew she’d lost her job and offered to provide money to tide the couple over if necessary. It was a lifeline neither Michelle nor Jennie wanted to resort to. She told her mother that she needed to speak woman-to-woman. It was an almost ritualistic conversation between a mother and her daughter about having a baby.

When she returned to the City, Michelle sat with Jennie. She related what her mother said, about how magical it was to have children. “She said, ‘even you’ which I thought was mean.” She mockingly pouted. How disruptive it was, but how worthwhile. By this time, Jennie had given it much thought. She understood that the issues she had at the end with her mother were a reflection of how important her mother found her.

They decided to go for a walk. They headed down Central Park West. Both remained silent for several blocks. Finally, about a half-mile south, Jennie guided her wife to a bench along the Park’s wall. “If you’re ready, so am I.” She reminded Michelle, as if reminding was needed, that she’d be the one who would carry the baby. That those little tits on her would be suckled on by the baby. And that she could not imagine anything more special than their having a child together.

And so it was decided. Michelle knew she wanted to do it as soon as she got on the train after leaving her mother on the platform in Bronxville. She wanted Jennie to agree to it on her own.

When they got back to the apartment, Michelle’s parents and Jennie’s father were informed that, God willing, they would become grandparents.      

Father

It was still early in the morning, but Michelle was suddenly awake. “Michael.” That was it. She shook Jennie.

“You awake?”

“I am now. What?” groggily.

“Michael.”

She explained that he would be the perfect father. Jennie explained that it was too fucking early to be talking about that.

“Just think about it, OK?”

“OK.”

Michelle quickly was asleep. Jennie was not. She loved the tall woman snoring next to her but that woman often drove her crazy.

That was early Tuesday morning. At noontime on Thursday, the couple were sitting in the pub on 47th Street with Alex. It was Alex’s turn to ask about the sanity of the speakers.

“It’s perfect. You know how great Michael is. Handsome”“yes”“smart”“yes”“sweet”“OK, I get your point. But isn’t it sort of creepy? You’re not thinking of, you know, him, um, doing it to you.”

“Good God no. We just need his sperm. No other parts.”

Alex glared for a moment at how loud she thought Jennie was being. Jennie apologized.

“Look. This is not something we want to ‘convince’ you of. We want you two to decide. It would mean the world to us, but it’s 100% on you guys.”

And it was left at that. When she got home, Alex spoke to Michael about it. She wasn’t sure what she thought, but it would be unfair not to tell him.

“Wipe that grin off your face.”

“Well, you must admit that it’s flattering.”

And she had to, but it was not something to be done lightly. Michael would be a father. They wanted children eventually, but at that point were trying to get their careers going—both were lawyers—before doing it. They were among Michelle’s and Jennie’s closest friends and knew how the others looked up to them as the “perfect couple,” unaware of the rare but actual screaming fights they fell into occasionally. Fights that were soon settled but which stayed with each for days.

Jennie left them alone since the Thursday lunch. The seed was planted. It was up to them to decide whether it would, literally, grow. On Sunday morning, Alex called Jennie. She asked if she and Michelle could come to their place in Park Slope. They could catch brunch and “you know, talk about it.”

They found a table in a quiet corner of one of the Brooklynites’ favorite restaurants. Jennie and, especially, Michelle were on pins and needles since the call. They knew that speculating on what it meant, about going out to eat and such, was foolish, but they couldn’t help themselves. They changed their minds about whether it was a good sign or a bad sign about fifty times as they were on the subway.

Michael didn’t torture them. While they held their menus and awaited their coffees, he said he would be “proud to do it.” Both of the other girls looked at Alex, who nodded. She said she was with him 100%, but they needed to talk about the legal implications. And the familial ones.

Michelle and Jennie had spoken about this at length. After brunch was ordered and the menus gone and the mimosas served, Michelle leaned in. “All I need is Michael’s sperm.” Alex bristled at the coldness. “No. No. I want Michael to be as involved as you and he want him to be. I want him to be ‘Uncle Michael’ at first and for the baby to know he is their father. But I can’t make that a condition. Jen and I have spoken about it, and we agree.”

Jennie interrupted. “Just so we’re clear. It’s a package deal. We want Alex to be ‘Aunt Alex.’ We want both of you to spend obscene amounts of money for his or her birthday and Christmas and Chanukah. When they’re sick, we want you to volunteer to take care—”

Michelle stopped the insanity from her wife, however true the sentiments. “There are a lot of things to work out. The logistics. How you two want to handle it. My dad. Your parents. Religion. Or not.”

Just then their various brunch orders were before them. All four were suddenly famished. The details would have to wait.

In the end, everyone was happy except for Alex’s mother. Alex had to promise her that she would eventually be giving her a grandchild. Just not yet. She had to convince her mom that there was nothing “inappropriate” about what Michael was doing—“Mom, he, you know, uses a cup, nothing more.”

Alex and Michael decided to be as involved as Michelle and Jennie wanted them to be. After a simple procedure, Michelle was pregnant. They decided not to be told the baby’s sex. Neither had a preference but wanted to learn it as part of the baby’s introduction to the world.

They thought long about it, and after speaking to their parents decided the baby would be baptized at the Episcopal Church that Michelle long attended and of which her family was a part, with Alex and Michael to be the godparents.

Employed

While that was going on, Michelle got a job. With a very good recommendation, and before her severance package expired, she was working in a large insurance company in midtown. It didn’t have the glamour of publishing but the work was surprisingly interesting, and she got along well with her co-workers. Best of all, she worked close enough to Jennie that they met a few times a week for lunch.

About three months after she started, she got confirmation that she was two-months pregnant.

Their parents were thrilled. A grandchild. They were thinking of the future. The Smiths and Eric Epstein got along well. The fathers walked their respective daughters down the aisle.

After Michelle got pregnant, the parents decided that the traditional, or at least one traditional, route would be appropriate for their grandchild. The suburbs. Both girls had grown up in the suburbs and thought it would be a good place for their own child to be raised. After a bit of back-and-forth, including between the parents, Michelle and Jennie decided that Westchester County, where Michelle was raised, would be best. The commute would be good into the City and it wouldn’t be much of a drive to visit Jennie’s dad in Huntington.

In the end, the present was enough to put equity into the house and not saddle the girls, already weighed down by student loans, with a mortgage they could not afford. Some house hunting, and in the end a small “starter house” was bought in the Town of Eastchester, a few miles from the Smith house. It was a post-War three-bedroom cape with a finished basement. An easy walk to the Crestwood train station, which would get them into Grand Central in about half-an-hour at rush hour, and both of their offices were just a few blocks away.

It was one of several similar houses on the block. Up a slight hill from the station and not far from a paved path that ran along the Bronx River. Importantly, it was a quiet street and the neighbors were a mix of professionals and some retired couples who’d lived there for decades. Best of all were the several younger couples, some with a child already. Jennie and Michelle canvassed the street before they bought, meeting over half of their potential neighbors. No one gave them a second glance as a lesbian couple, especially the gay couple that lived three houses down.

While the girls liked their neighborhood on the Upper West Side, they were sliding into a joint life of quiet and calm. They’d grown up, as we say, in the suburbs and appreciated their charms. Now they’d have their little quarter-acre and a small backyard for lounging and barbequing with friends and family.

They’d need to get a car, of course, and that they did on their own, buying a three-year-old Subaru Outback.

The important thing was the first night the couple spent in their new home. Their new home in the suburbs where they didn’t have to worry about their neighbors disturbing them while they had sex or, more important (so long as they kept the windows shut) them disturbing the neighbors when they made love.

And make love they did. The first night, with every noise echoing through the largely empty rooms, they basked in the size of the master bedroom.

“Do you believe it?” This was Jennie.

“I’ve married you. I can believe anything,” and the pair held each other and exchanged “I love you”s before stripping and getting into their four-poster bed. It was a little chilly, but they quickly warmed each other. So Michelle and her slight bump was above Jennie, her face buried in her wife’s pussy just as her wife’s tongue was exploring her. It started slowly but quickly became manic as the situation overwhelmed them. Michelle had an easier time of it. Jennie’s pussy was relatively stable. Michelle’s was moving like a buoy on an angry sea. But Jennie was able to hold Michelle’s ass just tight enough to allow her tongue to maintain contact with the taller woman’s pussy, licking up and down her folds and kissing her clit, to some extent mimicking what Michelle was doing to her, and then putting her tongue inside.

Michelle had the benefit with her more stable target of unleashing her fingers in Jennie’s pussy. First one and then quickly three, easily done given her wife’s wetness. Suddenly the flood hit Jennie and it became more difficult for Michelle to continue her assault, her mouth covered in Jennie’s juices. Savoring what she was doing to Jennie diverted her just enough that she didn’t realize that Jennie had managed to free one of her hands, and she ran it slightly across Michelle’s perineum and then hit her anus. They did not do this often, but Jennie was desperate in the throes of her own orgasm to get Michelle off and this was guaranteed to do that.

Michelle’s mouth was no longer on Jennie. Instead, she was gasping for air, saying, “you’re such a fucking evil motherfucker” as she rode her own orgasm.

When done, Michelle rolled over, her head near Jennie’s feet at the foot of the bed. She gave a kiss to one of Jennie’s calves before getting up and repositioning herself so that they could face one another.

After a kiss, the two women prepared for bed.

“Did you call me a ‘motherfucker’?”

“Who I adore.”

With that, they were back in bed and soon were blissfully asleep in their new house in the suburbs.

In early May, just over a month after they moved in, with many of the rooms still empty of anything but boxes, they had their house-warming party. Neighbors and friends from the City as well, of course, as their parents. The girls needn’t have worried about cooking; plates of lasagnathere are always plates of lasagnaand a myriad of other entrees and desserts filled the kitchen. The old kitchen was going to be their first homeowners’ project. As Oscar Wilde may have said, it had to go.

But that was to come.

911

Jennie was making Saturday night dinner when she heard Michelle’s screams.

“Call 911. Something’s wrong.”

Jennie raced up the stairs as she made the call. She nearly panicked when she entered the bedroom, where Michelle had been taking a nap. She was on the floor in a fetal position, clutching her stomach. An ambulance was at the house in under ten minutes. The pain seemed to be getting worse. A police officer reached to calm an out-of-control Jennie down. “Let them do their jobs.” The EMTs soon had her on a stretcher and were maneuvering down the stairs, speaking to someone at the hospital. Soon Michelle was in the back. Several neighbors rushed over to ask if they could help. As the ambulance sped away to the hospital in White Plains, the police officer drove Jennie behind it.

She was on the phone with her mother-in-law, trying to say what was happening. Alice promised to meet her at the ER and that she would call her dad. The ER was not crowded. By the time Jennie was there with the officer, Michelle had been rolled into surgery. Michelle’s parents raced up the parkway and arrived about ten minutes later.

Jennie was rocking in the emergency room waiting area, the damn television blasting. The Smiths were on either side of her. Jim Smith asked if they could wait somewhere more private, and they were led to a room on the surgical floor, told a doctor would be with them shortly.

“Please tell me they’ll be alright.” Jennie kept repeating it, oblivious to her mother-in-law’s assurance that they were doing everything they could. She told Jennie that her father was on the way. Jennie somehow thought of Michael, but decided it was best to wait and see. He and Alex couldn’t get to White Plains for well over an hour.

After about thirty minutes, a doctor came to see them.

“They are both fine. She’ll need bedrest, though.” He explained that she suffered from placental abruption, a rare condition in which the placenta separates from the uterus. It wasn’t a complete separation. Michelle was at twenty-eight weeks. She’d have to stay in the hospital for at least a few days then they’d decide whether she and the baby would be OK with bedrest at home.

“We’re going to have to be careful and monitor. We’ll go through everything with all of you when we’re finished with her.”

The doctor walked up to Jennie, holding her hands. “It could have been worse. You got her here quickly and we found out what it is. She should be OK as long as she’s careful and we keep an eye on her.”

When the doctor was gone, Michelle’s mom said she could stay in her old room, and Jennie could stay in the room next to it. Alice could “baby her.” Jennie called Michael and Alex and told them what was going on. They asked if there was anything they could do, and she asked if they could come visit the next day, Sunday.

About an hour after seeing the doctor, right after Jennie’s dad appeared, she was sitting alongside Michelle in a hospital room. Michelle was far the calmer of the two. Her mom was sitting in a chair at the foot of the bed, the two fathers standing by the window.

“Look. I’m here. The baby’s here. You’re here. They caught it. We’ll take care of it.” She raised her voice a bit, “And it’ll be nice to have my mother wait on me for a change. Mom, I’ll need a bell.”

“Hey, I’m your mother. Not your lackey. That’s what you have this one”—nodding to Jennie— “for.”

For Jennie’s part, the words were whizzing around her. She couldn’t concentrate. She was almost in a place no one should be in, looking into the abyss of life without her love and without their child. Her precise, technical brain was overwhelmed. Her father stepped to her, telling her that Michelle needed her rest—it was now after ten pm—and they’d see her in the morning. He said he’d drive her back to her house and they’d come back to the hospital in the morning when the two had a chance to rest.

After the other three left the room, Michelle beckoned Jennie to whisper something. It was simply how much she loved her wife and that whatever happened to her, Jennie should understand how happy she was. Jennie recoiled slightly at the fatalism of what she was told, but realized that Michelle, too, had looked into a dark place and that Michelle, too, understood the importance of appreciating what the two had with each other.

Michelle pulled Jennie’s face down and the two exchanged an almost chaste kiss before the shorter woman left with a final glance back and the taller woman lay on her side to get some sleep.

Michelle remained in the hospital for four days after her visit to the ER. She decamped to her folks’ place and Jennie, after giving the neighbors a status report, joined her. There was plenty of room, and Jennie sometimes slept in a spare bedroom. Michelle was in her old one. She enjoyed a steady stream of well-wishers from town, and Alex and Michael came up the day after the ER trip. But it was claustrophobic and boring. Within a week, Michelle returned to her own house, and worked remotely. There she remained, without complications, until checking into the hospital a few days before the due date as a precaution.

Alexander Lawrence Epstein-Smith

On July 26, 2018, at White Plains Hospital, all 7 lbs., 4 ozs. of a healthy Alexander Lawrence Epstein-Smith was introduced to the world. Alexander was for Alex. Lawrence was for Lauren, Jennie’s mother. Alex was stunned when she heard the name, as was Jennie’s dad.

Michelle and Jennie had spoken to Michael. Their first choice for the baby, if a boy, was “Michael,” or “Michelle” for a girl, but they thought the “family” would be more complete if they went with “Alexander” or “Alexandra” for Alexandra. Michael immediately signed off on the idea, and Alex was overwhelmed by her nephew.

As they sat in a waiting area of the hospital, Eric Epstein leaned over to his daughter. “Were your mother alive, she’d be over the moon. She always wanted to be a grandmother and that may have been part of the reason she was like she was at the end with you. But I can’t imagine she could be any happier than she would be if she saw and held Alexander.”

Jennie gripped his hand.

“I hope so, Daddy. I hope so.”