For Sheila Who has made everything possible 9
They pulled the blanket off, and after some experimentation, Lane sat propped against pillows with Diana lying on a pillow in her lap, the quilt covering both of them.
“A snug igloo,” Lane said approvingly.
“Perfect,” Diana said, stroking her hair. “Talk to me about you. About your work. What’s your office like?”
“It’s nice. Father helped me furnish it. It’s in tones of gold and brown, I’ve got a few good pieces, a Queen Anne chair, an antique table, two good paintings. I have Father’s desk now, I’m very proud to have it. I like the office at night. There’s a different kind of silence at night, a hush, and the city is incredibly beautiful.”
“I’d like to see your office. I love your city.” As Lane remained silent, Diana said, “Tell me about the people you work with.”
Lane gave her brief character sketches, many of them amusing, of the men with whom she worked, and spoke of problems and projects she had been involved with. “I hate to lose,” she said. “It torments me for weeks. I always think if I’d worked harder, prepared more, presented my facts better… I hate to lose.” She talked about law school. “Are you sure you’re interested in all this?” she asked again.
“Absolutely. It’s fascinating. I don’t care how influential your father was, I think you were born to do what you do.”
Lane talked quietly, often looking abstractedly out the window as she formed her thoughts into words, her fingers moving caressingly in Diana’s hair; she paused sometimes to touch her face to Diana’s, her breath light and warm. She talked about her childhood in Oklahoma, growing up in California.
“This is your life, Lane Christiansen,” she joked, “God, I’ve never talked this much in my life. I want to hear about you. Tell me about your work.”
“There’s not much to tell. I want to get into personnel administration. I finally finished college three years ago, but my life was too bound up with Jack and I guess there was a lot of inertia—it’s so easy to stay with what you know. I don’t feel that way now. There are so many possibilities, so many exciting things… I feel like Madge’s giraffe, my long neck up to see what’s going on around me.”
Lane smiled and kissed her, tender kisses on her eyes, her lips.
Diana whispered, her eyes still closed, “You have the sweetest, softest, tenderest mouth.”
A fingertip touched, traced Diana’s lips. “Your lips feel rich and soft to mine. Tell me about things you like. What kinds of books do you like?”
They talked about books, and music. Lane stroked Diana’s hair, traced her face.
“You’re such a pretty woman,” Lane told her. “Delicate, soft features. Everything about you is soft and curving, even the way your hair curls around your face. Tell me about a day in your life. In a minute.” They kissed slowly, deeply, for a long time, Diana’s hands caressing her shoulders.
Diana talked about her daily activities, her life in Los Angeles. Lane’s fingers stroked her throat, unbuttoned her pajama top to caress her shoulders, to caress where the swelling of her breasts began. Desire had long since begun, long since heightened; she was no longer surprised at how easily or how much she desired Lane.
“Tell me about where you live, describe it to me.” Fingernails brushed lightly in the hollow of Diana’s throat, across to her shoulders.
“You’re making it difficult for me to talk.”
“I know. I can hear it in your voice. I want to hear it, how you feel when I touch you. Is that all right?”
“Yes. If I can.”
“Your throat is so soft, your shoulders are so warm and pretty. Tell me about where you live.”
“A small apartment building in the Valley, very quiet, one bedroom, a small dining room…”
As she continued to speak, Lane looked into her eyes and stroked her arms, inside her elbows, her wrists; she kissed her fingers, her hands. “Your hands are so soft and sweet,” Lane said, “so feminine, your arms around me are always so warm, they have such sweet, delicate places to touch, kiss. Tell me what colors there are in your bedroom. Describe it to me exactly.”
“The walls are creamy white. My bedspread is deep blue. I have pictures of the ocean along one wall…”
Lane’s hands held her breasts, long supple fingers curved around them. She looked directly into Diana’s eyes. Diana spoke with effort through her pleasure.
“What’s your favorite color?” Lane asked, fingertips gliding lightly, rhythmically over her nipples.
“Gray… blue,” breathed Diana.
“Not blue-gray?” Lane smiled.
Diana spoke more easily as the fingers left her nipples to caress her breasts again. “No, there’s more gray than blue,” she said, looking into her eyes.
“Some things just can’t be described,” Lane said in a low, musing voice. “The firmness, the heavenly softness of your breasts. How they shape themselves to my hands. Beautiful, so beautiful… Diana, tell me where you would live if you could.”
“On the ocean.”
“Describe it to me. The house you’d like to have on the ocean.”
Diana said, “It would be right on the beach. There would be tall windows… all the way… down to the floor. And… a fireplace… near the windows so you could… look at the fire… and the water.” Lane’s mouth left one breast, came to the other. “And there would be… books all over the walls. And… a thick carpet… for us…” Diana held Lane’s mouth to her.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Look at me. Tell me how you feel.”
Diana opened her eyes. The lids were swollen, heavy. “Like… whipped cream all over inside.”
“You have a lovely tender place just around, close to your nipples, I love kissing there. I love your breasts, kissing them. There’s only one other place I kiss where I can tell so well the pleasure I give…” She kissed Diana’s body, her hands sliding Diana’s pajamas down over her hips. “It’s a sense of power I love… Diana?”
“Yes.” She lay nude, breathing deeply with her sensations, Lane’s hands and lips and tongue caressing her body, silk hair brushing her skin.
“Your lovely body… Every time I take you in my arms you melt into me… And so soft to my hands, sweet to my lips… Tell me about your house at the ocean. Tell me about the bedroom. What color is it?”
“Blue… different shades… of blue.” She shuddered from Lane’s hands, her mouth, inside her thighs.
“Velvet… I could touch, kiss here forever. How you tremble… your soft hair… Tell me about our bedroom, Diana. Talk to me… Tell me about our bedroom.”
“Glass… down to… the floor… and… a fireplace…”
“Oh God so sweet… Diana… Talk…”
She spoke in halting whispers, awkwardly, with many pauses as she searched for words. “Streams, rivers of feeling. Then it’s like hot liquid brimming on the edge, ready to overflow, ready, ready, and oh God it does, pours all through me, flows everywhere at once, into my throat, down my legs and my arms and into my wrists. Everywhere, everything in me… glows. Your mouth is heaven,” she finished, and was angry with herself for trying to describe what she could not describe, for the poverty of her words. But Lane’s arms abruptly tightened, an unaware, painful tightening.
“Lane, what do I taste like?”
Lane was silent for a while; she stroked Diana’s hair. “It’s more than taste. It’s how you feel—like satin in places, and… intricate. And it’s like smelling trees and flowers, and earth, and rain. The taste… how can I—” She suddenly smiled. “I know. Our Emily wrote about hummingbird drunk with nectar. ‘I taste a liquor never brewed.’ The taste of you, Diana.”
“You’re like ocean to me.”
“Maybe a trace. I don’t know. I can’t explain it any more than that. It’s like being at the ocean. It’s lovely.”
Diana disengaged herself from Lane, and sat up. “Why won’t you talk about what happens afterward? Am I a butterfly interlude for you, Lane?”
“No. But I think I may very well be for you.”
Diana sat still in shock; then shook her head in bewilderment. “I don’t understand.”
“We’ve both discovered things about ourselves the last few days. But your discovery is different from mine. You know now that a woman is possible for you. I’ve discovered that for me a woman is necessary.”
“I don’t understand at all.”
“I mean that you’ve just discovered the idea of sexuality with another woman, but you haven’t looked at any of the realities.”
“Yes I have.” Diana thought of the ordeal that had led her to Chick Benson. “Problems can be worked out if we want to… to be together.”
“You haven’t even considered what you’re saying, Diana. You haven’t had time. Not really. I know. I’ve lived with myself for fifteen years. You’re confusing knowledge with courage.”
“I’m more than just a sexual being, Lane.”
“That’s exactly the point.”
“And I’m not a child, either. I’m thirty-four years old.”
“You have many needs—and options.”
Diana said vehemently, “I can’t stand euphemisms, especially from you. I want you. You.”
“I’m only asking that you think about it.”
With a feeling of desperation Diana said, “I don’t need to think about it. I know how I feel. I can tell you that right now.”
Lane raised a hand in a gesture of command. “No. Not until you’re away from stars and snow—and this room—for a while.”
“For a while.”
“Do you need to think about me?”
“It’s different for me. I know now that Mark was an accident for me—as I am for you.”
“I think this is possible for anyone.”
Lane sighed. “Many things are possible for people, the labels they attach are senseless. But our opinion won’t change reality. I want you to take the time to think about this, about me, in context with your life. When you’re with your family, your friends. When you’re making plans about your career. I’ve told you how my father would have reacted to a relationship like ours. What would your father think?”
“Dad’s always told me I had all the intelligence I needed to make good decisions about my life, and I should always consider my own happiness.”
“Would this make him happy?”
Diana hesitated. “It’s my life, Lane.”
“What about your friends? Vivian? The people you work with?”
“It’s my life,” Diana repeated stubbornly.
“That’s what I’m saying, too. I only want you to carefully consider your own happiness.”
“How long do you want me to take?”
“I think a month.”
“A month!” Diana said, appalled. “Without seeing you? Can I talk to you?”
Lane shook her head. “I may be something you get over like an attack of measles. A virulent attack,” she said with a smile that was prideful. “You’re on the rebound from a man you cared for, you may simply go back to him—or to some other man—and put me in your scrapbook as one of your more interesting and unusual affairs. There may be a psychological factor involved you’re not aware of, something connected to your early life that caused you to need a woman, you may have met that need now, worked through it. You might even want to talk to a psychologist to get some insight into your feelings.”
“A month is forever,” Diana said insistently. “It’s such a long time!”
“After the first night with you, when I knew I would come to you again, all that day I thought of an Emily Dickinson line: ‘I had been hungry all the years.’” Lane looked at her for a long moment. “All those years for me, Diana. I only want you to take a month. One month. To consider whether this is right for you.”
“I’ve been hungry all the years too, Lane. Waiting for Lane Christiansen the person, whether that would be a man or a woman.”
“I accept the fact,” Lane said quietly, “that I prefer Diana Holland to be a woman.”
Diana said, “What if I don’t need the whole month?”
Lane smiled. “A month, Diana. The Emily Dickinson poem goes on to say that hunger for some things ends, the entering takes away. If the entering hasn’t taken away, there are a lot of years.”
She’ll never make me wait the whole month, Diana thought. “All right,” she said.
“You call me four weeks from today. Thursday. At seven that night. Agreed?”
She’ll never make me wait, Diana thought. “Agreed.”
“I have something for you.” Lane opened the drawer of the night table. “I found it this morning when I was making my phone calls.” She gave Diana a black velvet jewelers box.
Diana accepted the box, looking at Lane wonderingly. She opened it, turned it to the starlight. Lying in the black velvet interior was a delicate silver cross on a fine silver chain. Diamonds glittered, one on each end of the cross. “The Southern Cross,” Diana whispered.
“I had to get it for you. You can have your own to look at till you get to see the real one. I was so happy to find this, I noticed it right away in the case. It was all by itself on a black velvet tray.”
“Lane… it’s absolutely beautiful.” Diana stared at it, turning the box in her hands, gazing at the soft glow of silver and the sparkle of diamonds. “It looks very expensive.”
“It is. Does that bother you?”
She considered. “No, I’m too happy to have it. Unless it was an extravagant impulse you really can’t afford.”
“I can afford it. Shall I put it on you?”
“I wish I had something for you. I wish I could give you your fantasy of running naked through the rain.”
Lane smiled. “Think about it, Diana. Haven’t I been running naked, with rain on my face?”
Diana gave Lane the box, watched her fingers lift the cross and chain from the black folds of velvet. Lane fastened the chain around Diana’s neck, holding the cross, and kissed the place just below Diana’s throat where the cross rested when she released it.
“It’s very beautiful on you,” she said.
Diana touched Lane’s face and kissed her gently. “Thank you, Lane.”
“You’re welcome,” Lane said huskily, her eyes closed.
Diana said with careful casualness, “I suppose I’ll have to pay for this now. You didn’t give it to me with purely platonic intentions, did you?”
Lane looked away, but her lips twitched with the beginning of a smile. “I haven’t had a single platonic intention toward you for some time.”
“Isn’t this what’s known as taking it out in trade?”
Lane looked at her, smiling. “I’m afraid so. I’ll have to take the cross off, first. It could puncture you if we’re not careful. And I don’t intend to be careful.”
“Are you sure you won’t just go back to San Francisco and take up with one of those willing women?”
“Do I detect signs of a jealous woman?”
“I never used to be. I never thought I was anything like Liz, either, but if you so much as look at another woman—”
“I like you jealous,” Lane said as she lowered the cross into its black velvet box. “But it’s not necessary.”
Diana sighed. “Now to get those pajamas off you. My own way.” she added, pushing Lane’s hands away from the buttons of her pajamas. She took Lane into her arms and said teasingly, “I think I’ll have you describe things, too. First your apartment, then — ”
“I couldn’t, Diana,” Lane said seriously. “It’s all I can do to breathe.”
Diana held Lane’s face in her hands, smoothed blonde hair back, kissed her forehead. “Fair is fair.” She slid her arms around her and lowered her into pillows. “I plan to kiss you from head to toe, with a long slow stop at a place in between. Could I at least have a moan or two?”
“Moans I can guarantee,” Lane whispered.
« ^ »
Thank you for everything, Liz,” Diana said. “I can’t thank you enough.”
The women were all outside the cabin: Liz and Chris and Millie ready to leave for the ski slopes, Lane at her car arranging luggage in the trunk.
Liz beamed. “It was great having you here, Diana. I’m glad you had a good time.”
“Please call when you come to Los Angeles. I have so much hospitality to repay.”
“Not at all. I hope to see you in San Francisco.”
“I’d love it.” She exchanged goodbyes with Millie and Chris, shaking hands with Millie, hugging Chris. She took Lane’s hands without speaking.
Lane looked at her for a long moment, squeezed her hands and released them, and turned and got into her car.
She followed Lane’s car down the mountain road. At the intersection of Highway 50, before turning onto the Highway, Lane looked back at her, rolled down her window. “Diana?” she called.
“Yes,” Diana answered with wild hope.
“Take care, Diana.”
“And you, Lane.” She watched until the tiny silver car disappeared. Then she turned onto the Highway and drove to Harrah’s to pick up Vivian.
“I’ll take us to Placerville,” Vivian said, “then we can switch off. We’d better switch off pretty often, honey. We’re both pretty tired.”
“I don’t feel tired.” She felt empty, of everything but misery, and doubt.
“Buster, would you move your molasses ass,” Vivian growled at the truck crawling along in front of them. “When’s the next passing lane?”
“I think another four miles,” Diana said absently. “Tell me something, Viv. Hypothetical question. Let’s suppose a… Jewish girl falls in love with… a black man. She falls in love kind of by accident, without really being able to help it, and—”
“I would think so,” Vivian interrupted. “If she had any sense at all. Who needs that?”
Diana ignored Vivian, concentrating on her choice of words. “They make love, and he doesn’t tell her he cares for her in so many words, but he acts like he really does, everything he does strongly indicates he really does. He gives her an expensive gift, tells her to take a month to think things over to be sure of her feelings, to be sure it’s worth the problems their relationship would cause. Do you think he means it?” She added hurriedly, as Vivian stared at her, “It’s an argument we had at the cabin.”
“Crazy argument,” Vivian said, looking straight ahead again, tailgating the truck. “The answer is no, he doesn’t mean it. The expensive gift is the best clue—that’s always the big kiss-off. If you want somebody bad enough, devil take the consequences. That other kind of love—the kind where somebody loves somebody so much they’ll risk losing them—that belongs in books.”
Dismayed by her answer, Diana remonstrated, “Well, I think it’s possible.”
“You haven’t lived long enough. One thing for sure, your hypothetical Jewish girl will find out in a month.” Vivian chuckled. “If she calls and he can’t remember her name, I’d say she’s in trouble. You had some pretty strange arguments there at the cabin.”
“Yes.” Trying to reassure herself, Diana took her cross from under her sweater, fingers caressing metal warm from her skin.
Vivian swung the car out and passed the truck with a surge of horsepower. “Go drive that truck in your cabbage patch, you dumb son of a bitch,” she screamed, lifting her middle finger. As she eased the car over into the right hand lane, she glanced over at Diana.
“Diana! What are you doing with that? I saw Lane Christiansen buy that yesterday at Harrah’s.”
“I have it on loan,” Diana blurted, certain she had gone white.
“On loan?” Vivian said incredulously, braking sharply for a curve. “That’s the craziest thing I ever heard of. That’s real. The counter she was at doesn’t sell fake diamonds.”
“She insisted.” Thinking frantically she added, “She bought it for… a cousin in… in Laguna Beach—”
“I… No, it was a sister,” Diana said desperately. “She’ll be down later this month to give it to her, it’s safer if I keep it — ”
“That I can believe,” Vivian said. “San Francisco’s changed so much, you couldn’t pay me to live there. That’s a pretty expensive gift for a sister.”
Diana said, making her voice carefully neutral, “Why? She has money. She’s a lawyer, she drives a Mercedes.”
“I suppose so. But even so, a sister—”
Diana said hurriedly, “Lane didn’t mention seeing you at Harrah’s.”
“I mentioned it yesterday when I saw you both, remember? She was very closed-mouthed when I mentioned it, and she was acting damn odd when she bought it, too.”
“Like she was in another world. You know how curious Vivian is, I went over to see what she was buying. I spoke to her, she looked right through me like I wasn’t even there. She sure is one good-looking woman.”
“Liz told me she goes through men like a lawn mower goes through grass. Madge calls her Venus Mantrap.”
Diana laughed, relieved at the change in direction of their conversation. “So?” she said indifferently. It occurred to her that she was unconcerned about the men that Lane had been with—so long as she was the only woman.
“She a nympho?”
“What kind of question is that?” Diana asked, astonished. “And how should I know?”
“You spent time together. What did you talk about?”
“Astronomy, law, music, books.” She added, smiling, “Architecture, interior decorating.”
“Jesus. With looks like hers, all those men—I figure she’s nympho. Or she’d be married.”
“Why aren’t you married? Why am I not married?”
“Don’t get so feisty, what the hell do I care?” Vivian swerved around a curve. “This goddamn one horse highway, you’d think they’d do something about it.” She continued in a quiet voice, “Diana dear, I’m sorry as hell about that bastard you met up here.”
“Don’t worry about it, forget it. I’ll be grateful all my life you talked me into coming up here.”
“That’s pretty extravagant.” Vivian’s tone was pleased, and slightly puzzled.
“I mean it.”
“You feel better about Jack?”
“I feel better about me. From now on I intend to be possessive about what I love. To fight to keep it.”
“You don’t mean that about Jack, do you?”
“I mean it generally.”
“I hope you’ve learned to look at him a little more coldly and see he’s no great loss. When a thirty-eight year old man just wants to play golf all weekend you begin to suspect he still has his rubber duck.”
Diana chuckled. “I bow to your superior wisdom, Viv.”
“Vivian knows whereof she speaks.”
As Vivian continued to talk, Diana fingered the cross at her throat, pondering how close she had come to not being able to think of a lie. She was not accustomed to lying. And there would be no end to the lies to protect herself and those she loved—and Lane. Lane had asked her to consider their relationship in context with her life. Could she accept the lying, deception, pretense? Soberly, she contemplated the courage required for people to come out of the closet of secrecy she had just walked into. What kind of courage did she have? How strong was she?
« ^ »
That evening, back home at her apartment, she found a note in her mail.
Your department secretary told me you’re at Tahoe. I promise not to bother you ever again if you see me one time. I’ll be at your apartment Monday night at eight unless I hear from you.
Please see me. I need you to do this for me.
Depressed, Diana unpacked and immediately went to bed. She fell asleep remembering the motel on the Lake, and Lane’s tender body, the texture of gold hair on her breasts as Lane slept in her arms.
At exactly eight o’clock the following Monday night, Diana opened her apartment door to Jack Gordon.
Warm feeling surged through her at the sight of him, but she was immensely relieved when he made no attempt to touch her. “Come in. Can I get you something to drink? Scotch?”
“Okay, if you have something to mix it with. To tell you the truth, I never did like how it tastes.”
“I knew that.” She looked at him in surprise. He had always drunk his liquor with water, and without pleasure, always referring to mixed drinks as fag drinks.
“How was vacation? Were you lucky?”
“A little. It’s a beautiful place.”
“Yeah, I remember. You wanted to go back, and we should have. You look fantastic, Diana. Better than I’ve ever seen you look.”
“Thank you. How about vodka and ginger ale? You might like that.”
He nodded, and followed her into the kitchen, watched her pour his drink. “Nice place,” he said glancing around. “You’ve really fixed it up. You’re awfully good at stuff like that.”
“Thanks. And you look good, too,” she told him. “Very sharp, in fact.” He was freshly barbered, and wore a light gray suit, a white shirt, a subtly striped tie. He looked crisp and handsome.
In the living room they sat across from each other. Jack made conversation about his relatives, other people they knew. Diana listened with detachment and an impatience she soon realized was boredom.
Jack paused, and in the silence between them, cleared his throat. “I wanted you to know I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist. I started to go from bad to worse over this, the way I screwed up something so good. I’ll tell you the truth, why I went to him. To find out if he could help me get you back.”
A hand at her throat, she studied him.
He continued, “So I’ve been seeing him three weeks now, four times a week. He showed me what a prick I’ve been. I learned a lot about myself I didn’t like learning, but it was all true. It’s about time I grew up, Diana. He asked me questions about you I couldn’t answer. What you think about things. What kind of books you read. Jesus, I didn’t know. After five years of living with you, loving you. I’m not proud of how I was with you. I was a jerk.”
Nonplussed, she stared at him.
“I’ve been a lot more serious since you… since we broke up. I guess they were looking for some clue I was settling down. Richardson recommended me for sales manager.”
She said excitedly, delighted for him, “Jack, that’s wonderful. You’ll be so good, you have such skill with people-”
His smile was warm and eager. “Thanks, honey. But there’s one hitch. I’ll be transferred, the Florida office. Fort Lauderdale. I’ll be leaving in another week.”
“I see.” She felt pummeled by tiny shocks.
“I’ve thought about it, I talked to Doctor Phipps. I’ve decided I want to go. If we don’t get back together I think it’s better for me to get away. If we do, it would be good to start again in a new place. So I can show you I’ve really grown up.” He looked at her beseechingly. “Florida isn’t a bad place. And if I do a good job I won’t be there more than a year. Two at the most. And we could come back right away if we hated it.”
“I’m sure Florida isn’t a bad place,” she murmured.
“I want you to come with me, start all over again. I’d really like us to get married, but if you don’t want to, that’s okay. I want you to come with me. Diana—give me one more chance.”
Diana said without pain and with utter certainty, “No, Jack.”
Jack sighed, looked down at his drink, rattled the ice cubes. “Think it over. Take a couple of days.”
“I don’t need to.”
“I love you, Diana. I need you.” His eyes, his voice were pleading.
She said resignedly, hating this, knowing it was inevitable, “You need someone. Not necessarily me. You can love a lot of women. Maybe you should.”
“You’re the only woman I want. Nobody else ever meant anything. You loved me once. You know you did.”
“It isn’t enough.”
“There were so many good things. Remember? The good things? Breakfast in bed? Reading the paper to each other? Remember Bourbon Street? The way we discovered it together? Remember how good it all was? Our trips to Vegas? Christmas at Yosemite? Jesus it was so pretty. Our friends want us back together. Bud and Rita miss us at Friday night poker.”
“It isn’t enough.”
“It was so good in bed, you know it was. We’re terrific for each other. Doctor Phipps says not many people have sex as good as we did, as often. After five years, to still want it that much, it was a very good thing we had together.”
“It isn’t enough.”
“You’ve got somebody already. Is that it, Diana?”
She touched the cross at her throat, hidden in the folds of her dress. “I feel no need to answer that question.”
“There is somebody.”
She shrugged. “I’ve already answered that question.”
He picked up his drink. A drop fell from the frosted glass onto the table. She thought of slender fingers stroking frost from a glass. He rubbed the drop carefully with his fingers, removing it from the table, and put the drink down.
“It’s really over, then?”
Diana nodded. “Yes,” she said.
He said, “The doctor said sometimes when love ends it just ends. There’s nothing left, the spark goes out, it’s just over.”
Diana did not reply.
He said, “I don’t know if that’s true but I guess there’s no point in hashing things over. I’m a good salesman, but you know the product I’m trying to sell you, you had it for five years. I’m just telling you again it’s a new improved product. I’ll be around another week if you change your mind.”
He rose. His strides toward the door slowed, stopped. “Can we stay friends?”
“Yes. But I think our lives will be quite separate.” She opened the door, wanting him to be quickly gone. She was close to tears.
“Let me kiss you?”