by Crème Brûlée
"Looking back," Liza said. "I suppose it began around the time Dorothy's mother died. Things changed, as of course you'd expect they would, but... so did she. I didn't notice for a time, they were subtle changes subtle, but important. Then there came the changes several months ago - the ones that even I couldn't miss; a slight hesitation when I'd kiss her goodbye in the morning; a discomfort at odd moments; a subtle withdrawal and finally a note that I wasn't meant to see. She'd been having an affair with one of her private clients for about a year. Dorothy is a yoga instructor, her client is Cicely Gimble."
Liza paused at Nan's sharp intake of breath and surprised look of recognition. "Not the Cicely Gimble? As in, 'It's never a gamble at Gimble's, this Gimble guarantees it!' Gimble Department stores? She's gay?"
"Regrettably so," Liza confirmed.
"She's always seemed too... perky to be gay. How can anyone look that clean and shiny and still be real?"
"She manages. And apparently has time left in her schedule to ruin other people's lives. You've not heard about any of this?"
"Any of what?" Nan asked.
Liza hesitated a bit before saying, "Cicely did an interview on QTV, the gay cable show, last month, during which she announced the details of the entire affair. And though, of course, such tragedies are no one's fault, as she said several times, somehow she managed to blame the whole thing on me! She all but said that I was an abusive partner and mother. 'An emotional cripple isn't an easy person to live with', she said. No one stopped to think what a woman who goes on a television show to ruin someone else's life is. But she's a media darling and an out businesswoman who has 'crossover appeal' - too good to be true. So the media exploits her for the cause and my life gets trashed. I've got people from the media calling my house asking me if I'd like an opportunity to apologize to Cicely and Dorothy. I'm surprised that the Department of Social Services hasn't called yet to question my fitness as a parent.
"Do you have any idea what the effect something like this has on a 13 year-old? Dorothy leaving was bad enough. We didn't tell Richard the details, just that sometimes adults grow apart - that it wasn't his fault. He loves Dorothy; she's another mother to him. But now he thinks I've driven her away! I can't tell you the problems I've had with him recently. His grades have plummeted; I could barely get him out of the house to go to school today; we had a huge fight. Before he found that article about us in "Queer Concerns", the free community newspaper, I'd never had to raise my voice to him. But this morning! It was like a clash of the Titans. Finally, I managed to cajole him out the door and then got dressed to come to work (ignoring the constant ringing off the phone that I knew was that god awful reporter from QTV), I opened the front door to leave and there's Dorothy and Cicely and a film crew standing on the front step.
"When I recovered from the shock I heard Cicely saying, 'I know it's difficult for you to communicate your feelings Liza, but I thought if we came over we could help you through this difficult emotional terrain. This is Dr. Samantha Feelingood, she's a highly regarded therapist, a conflict negotiator.'
"A woman whose outfit gave her the look of a Victoria Secret model whod been told that pinstripe suits with wide lapels inspired confidence, stepped forward to shake my hand. Cicely said, 'We think it would be a good idea if you joined Dorothy and I in couples therapy. We have some family of origin issues and we think it might be helpful for everybody if you joined us. QTV would like to shoot our first session.'
"Meanwhile the phone was still ringing in the house behind me. I stepped back and closed the door. I thought vaguely, as you might in a dream or nightmare, that if I reopened it they might be gone. I went and answered the phone; my morning couldn't get any worse, could it?
"It was the principal at Richard's school. Richard had been in a fight on the bus. I was in the car and on my way in a heartbeat. I didn't notice Dorothy, Cicely, the doctor and the film crew trailing behind.
"When I pulled up to the school I noticed them, because the film crew's van rear-ended my car. That's when I told Dorothy, Cicely and the doctor that if they didn't want to be sued within an inch of their lives they had better not go within a mile of my son that morning. I wasn't sure I could control myself any longer. Happily, two security guards came over and asked the film crew, and anyone not related to a student, to leave. Dorothy wanted to stay, but I thought she'd done more than enough this morning.
"Richard was suspended for the day for punching a boy on the bus who called him a 'pansy-assed boy-dyke'. Richard has never hit anyone before, certainly not for name-calling, especially unimaginative and inaccurate name-calling.
"As we were leaving the school he told me he wanted to go live with Dorothy and Cicely, or his father; that I was a rigid, emotional cripple who wasn't capable of loving anybody. 'Why can't you be like normal people?' he shouted at me. And off he ran.
"I would have gotten in my car to follow him (Richard is on the track team and has the speed and endurance of an antelope), but I couldn't find my car - it had been towed; along with my cell phone and briefcase." Liza sighed, she seemed to deflate as the air left her lungs. "I took a cab and found Richard on the front step of Avery's apartment building. Avery, his father, has been in Venezuela for six months on a research grant. He won't be back for three weeks. When he returns Avery says he's going to kick Dorothy's ass and burn down the Gimbels department store chain. I'd asked him not to discuss the whole thing with Richard, but now Richard knows everything. We had a long talk on those steps. Maybe having Avery back will help, I just don't know..." she trailed off, exhausted by the weight of the account.
Nan had thought that the morning she'd lost her job (and possibly her career) and that Giles had died in such a violently colorful manner had been an unparalleled black comedy of errors. Her humiliation had been public enough, but no one had tried to broadcast it to the world at large. "Oh, Liza," she said. "That sucks, I'm so sorry."
Liza nodded in acceptance. What a dubious honor, to have had one's life shredded in a more drastic fashion than someone else's. She wondered what a trophy for such a victory would look like. This thought caused a weak smile to tug at the corners of her mouth and she chuckled mirthlessly.
"What on earth are you laughing for?" Nan wondered.
"If they gave out a trophy for most calamitous recent past, what do you suppose it would look like? A person on their knees, shielding their head from the relentless onslaught? And what would the award ceremony be like?"
In a heartbeat Nan said, "The Oscars! People whose lives had been destroyed by callous and narcissistic malignants would get dressed up and there would be a flashy awards ceremony, like the Oscars. There would even be different categories!"
"Absolutely," Liza laughed. "A Life Most Comically Ruined category."
"Best Supporting Role in the ruination of a life," Nan couldn't help laughing herself.
"Best Foreign Life Ruination," Liza had begun to laugh so hard, tears started to roll down her cheeks.
"A special category for lifetime achievement... And then, of course, there would be acceptance speeches." Nan was laughing hard too, it felt good, but in that hysterical way where you weren't sure if you were laughing harder than you were crying...
"Oh yes, of course," Liza cleared her throat. "I'd like to thank all of the people who contributed to my receiving this award - I couldn't have done it without them. My partner Dorothy, for not leaving when she realized she wasn't in love with me anymore and doing it only after she'd started an affair. My partner's client and lover, Cicely, for never having been medicated. QTV for broadcasting the lesbian equivalent of the Jerry Springer show
" Liza was laughing too hard to go on.
Nan wasn't much better off. She was gasping and clutching her stomach from the pain. Tears streamed down both their faces. Turning to one another the smiles fell away almost simultaneously.
"My son hates me," Liza said, the pain in her chest audible in her voice.
"I miss Giles," Nan answered her lament.
Without a trace of discomfort, they fell into one another's arms and began to cry in earnest. They sobbed good, long and hard - exercising their lungs and sinuses to the benefit of their beleaguered psyches. As the sobs trailed off to sniffles, Nan fished a pack of tissues from her work sac. They took a break to clean up after the deluge. What had been a comfortable camaraderie of tears, became a less comfortable moment of awkward smiles.
Liza spotted a fresh tear running down Nan's cheek. She reached forward and brushed it away. Out of nervous reflex, Nan raised her hand to flick her hair back. Liza intercepted her hand, holding it momentarily before gently brushing Nan's hair back as she'd seen Nan do at least fifteen times in the past hour. Nan smiled. Liza smiled. They became quite still.
Liza hadn't realized that she'd moved first. She hadn't realized she'd moved at all, but she'd had to have gotten closer to Nan somehow - and as Nan wasn't moving, that left the obvious conclusion. What was she moving forward for? That's when she hesitated. What indeed? Full-grown adults in the middle of life's upheavals don't go around kissing people they don't know. How would that contribute to regaining equilibrium? For it was equilibrium that Liza enjoyed and sought to regain for herself and her son. Kissing Nan, a veritable stranger, though a fetching veritable stranger whose watery eyes and red nose did not diminish her allure in the least; kissing Nan was not an equilibrium restoration move.
Nan watched Liza hesitate, then begin to sit back. She was sure Liza had been on the verge of kissing her. This had been all well and good with Nan who'd been thinking something along the same lines and was pleased that Liza had been too. She was not pleased, however by the reverse in course. A space opened up between them; a chasm of sorts that threatened to reintroduce the boundaries of social norms. Funny, Nan thought, how we can be crammed in this little box and I can be feeling such a great distance opening up at the same time...
This was not a productive thought for a claustrophobe who'd just recently surfaced from a panic attack to have; it brought back the reality of her position with a swift kick to her nervous system. Nan's nervous system was peeved - it had had enough. She fainted.
When she came to, it wasn't Nan's nervous system that was peeved, but Nan's brain. "Well crap," she mumbled.
"Take it easy," Liza warned as Nan tried to sit up.
Nan looked up at Liza who was seated next to her, "Sorry about that... whatever that was..."
"I think you fainted," Liza said.
Nan sighed, "Guess so. It wouldnt be the first time. Did I miss anything?"
"Like what?" Liza glanced around.
"Like did any maintenance people drop by or did you change your mind and kiss me?" Nan watched a blush bloom across Liza's features. "Guess not."
Nan carefully raised herself up into a sitting position, "Look, we're both adults..."
"I was thinking," Liza interrupted. "That it's natural, particularly in times of stress, for people to seek comfort. And that it's possible that impulses given into under such circumstances could easily be regretted at a later date."
Nan, who'd regained her bearings somewhat, moved over to Liza carefully, smiled a shy, but knowing smile, and kissed her. It was a quick, soft kiss. An asking kiss. Liza leaned back slightly, blinking at Nan, who followed and kissed her lightly again.
Liza was confused. Her theory had made so much sense... Nan was operating under a decidedly different set of principles. Nan, who was giving her a captivating, almost annoying little knowing smile. Nan, who tilted her head in question and brushed her hair back behind her ear. Liza gave into the impulse, leaned in and returned Nan's kisses.
And she was glad she did. Nan's kisses were something new to Liza and not just because Nan was new to her. These kisses lit spaces inside Liza with amazing rapidity. Spaces Liza wasn't used to being lit in quite that way. She found herself becoming uncomfortable. She wasn't what you'd call a woman of easy virtue; it had been pointed out (once or twice...) that her virtue could be rather complex and difficult to negotiate. Just then, Liza was wondering where her virtue had gone? It wasn't in evidence. If it had been, she was sure she'd have been a little less comfortable with Nan's hands slipping into her jacket and up her torso. And so her lack of discomfort, became the source of her discomfort.
Nan sensed Liza's unease and slowed the pace of her advances. This was no easy feat, Liza felt damn good, better than good, she felt damn great. Nan hadn't been with a woman in over a year. Shed been too busy with work, then shed been too busy with her life falling apart. Of course, its easy to keep yourself busy with such things when your last two relationships have been complete disasters. First there was Maxine, the sterling legal advocate shed dated for eight months before moving in with - then spent three years trying to move out on; a truer picture of dysfunctional lesbian bliss would have been hard to find. Fast forward three years to Jessica, the sexiest pet psychic youre ever likely to meet and should never, ever trust with your credit cards. Only Nan wished shed figured that out sooner than two years and $30,000 into their relationship.
Nans body was urgently signaling that it was more than ready to venture out of the safety zone and get reacquainted with the whole carnal desire scene. But she knew that some women, however odd it may seem, weren't into immediate physical intimacy. And on reviewing her short acquaintance with Liza, it would have been obvious to anyone who wasn't half-baked (as Nan may as well have been after her recent emotional upheaval), that Liza wasn't exactly a libertine. Nan was encouraged to note, however, that Liza was on the smoky side of reluctant. "You okay?"
Liza nodded, her emotions whirling about her, "Still catching up with myself. This is moving along faster than I'm used to."
Nan was loath to give up the territory her advances had gained her. She kissed Liza, as chastely as possible, on the neck. If she ever got close enough again, she was sure she'd be spending time in the vicinity of the elegant curve at the base of Liza's neck. She didn't smell half bad either. "Damn," Nan thought as she withdrew to a less intimate distance, "I've got to start dating again. If one whiff of a woman can do this to me, it's been too long."
Before Nan could back away altogether, Liza kissed her again. She wanted to reassure her that she wasn't averse to the proceedings in general, there were just a few particulars that needed ironing out. When the kiss (a model of restraint under pressure) had ended Liza said, "Its been a while since I've, um... done anything like this."
"Me too," Nan admitted. Its been ages since Ive kissed anyone on the floor of an elevator.
Where deprivation had made Nan eager, maybe a little punchy, it seemed to have made Liza overly serious and regrettably pragmatic, "And, as I was saying before, it might not be the best idea..."
Nan was shaking her head as she interrupted Liza's train of thought; "I'm not buying that line anymore now than I did before I kissed you. Okay, I'm buying it even less because I have kissed you. And I must say it was wonderful, at least on my part - you may have other thoughts on the matter and if so I hope you'll consider giving me another chance, but in the meantime, your theory is bunk. Seriously, considering how both of our deliberate and well-planned lives have blown up in our faces so dramatically of late, how can you be wary of an arbitrary encounter? In our case, being deliberate and well-planned about anything would be courting disaster!"
Liza was quiet for a moment as she thought Nan's idea through. "I liked your kisses, you needn't worry on that count."
"Which count should I worry on?"
Liza shrugged, "This is all a bit... sudden."
"You're not the spontaneous kind, I can see that. And honestly, I'm not known for my spontaneity either... Recently, though, circumstances have dictated a certain flexibility on my part. And I have to say I've seen the wisdom of taking the occasional mentally unencumbered step - a leap of faith, if you will. I'm not advocating it as a lifestyle choice mind you, just saying, from the vantage point of experience, that it's not always the poor choice."
"That's an interesting point," Liza conceded.
Nan pressed on, "And, though this would be purely selfish reasoning... I think your kisses may be, if not a cure, then certainly a distraction from my claustrophobia."
Nan, who hadn't given fainting or the restricting confines of the elevator a thought since she'd kissed Liza, nodded.
"Are you sure it's my kisses and not our arguing?"
Nan frowned in confusion.
Liza explained, "I've noted that when we're arguing, you seem less anxious.
"Have we been arguing?"
"In a manner of speaking, yes. For about an hour."
"I wouldn't have argued with you at all had I known I could have been kissing you instead." Nan inched closer to Liza; she really was an attractive woman, especially when she had that flustered, self-conscious expression on her face.
Frederick Johnson was accustomed to dealing with angry people. Being a maintenance engineer, he usually met people under circumstances of stress. He wasnt known for his diplomatic skills when it came to the finer points of negotiating the egos of the white-collar element that peopled the Aridyne Building. His blunt interpersonal style was legendary in the main office that fielded the complaint calls that generally followed Fredericks maintenance visits. He was nearly suspended without pay for once having said, Pretty smiles and fancy talk wont fix your problem Bub, but a wrench might. A heat wave hit the day after the complaint was lodged and no one could keep the air-conditioning units going quite like Frederick. Actually, no one could keep anything going quite like Frederick, so mostly his regrettable interpersonal skills were overlooked.
Frederick had not arrived at work in the mood for a building-wide power outage and a stuck elevator. He took an extra breath before he and Jimmy hit the switch on the hydraulic crowbar that opened the second set of elevator doors. He readied himself for the usual barrage of peevish complaint. What he got instead was a rib-crushing hug and a big kiss from an overjoyed woman in a brightly colored outfit. He was confused, but not all together displeased. The other woman who came out of the elevator, dressed in a rumpled suit (they both looked distinctly rumpled, come to think of it), nodded her thanks before being dragged off to the stair exit at the other end of the corridor by the brightly colored lady. The other one didnt look like she was putting up any resistance. Actually, she may have been pushing from behind.
What are you lookin at? Frederick griped as he suppressed the smile that had lingered in the wake of the colorful womans exuberance.
Jimmy shrugged, Nothin.
They turned at the tortured sound of metal giving way to pressure, in time to witness the elevator drop from view. Frederick and Jimmy exchanged glances.
The screeching of the elevator flying down the shaft and the frantic cable jerking as it went were the only sounds that filled the following minute and a half. A distant, but calamitous noise rose from the shaft as the elevator hit bottom.
When the dust had settled, Frederick, peering down into the gloom said, Son of a bitch Jimmy! You know that thing at the bottom? That safety thing?
Yeah? Jimmy asked, peering down, too.
That thing worked.
No shit? Jimmy asked.
No shit, Frederick answered.
You like? Lemme know.
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