DISCLAIMER: This story is the original work of Jeanne D'eau. Except for references to historical figures and events, any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: No offense is intended nor should be taken at the use of racial terms in this story. This is a work of historical fiction, set during a period in which the use of such terms was common and acceptable; they are a reflection of the characters and the time in which they live.
Comments and feedback are always appreciated. The author can be reached at JeanneKaye@SapphosFlame.com.
= Boston Marriage =
"So...how long will you be gone this time?" Charlotte McReedy asked her husband.
"I'm not certain," replied Ernest McReedy. A portly man of forty-seven years and a successful corporate attorney, one would never have guessed that only two generations earlier, his family - having fled Ireland during the potato famine back in the late forties - had run one of the most notorious organized crime operations in Boston and had had significant connections to William "Boss" Tweed and the Tammany "Machine" in New York City.
Over the past twenty-five years however, the McReedys had become more "respectable" - at least, in appearance. By the eighties, the family could easily afford to send their oldest son to Harvard Law School. Charlotte, who on the eve of the new century had married Ernest (more out of practical considerations rather than for reasons of affection or other tender feelings) knew little about the family business, which was probably just as well.
That had been over fifteen years earlier. Since then, Charlotte had borne Ernest two children - both of whom were still young enough to need strict and consciencious parenting. Unfortunately, because Ernest's business and legal concerns kept him traveling much of the time, the lion's share of parental responsibility had fallen on Charlotte's shoulders. Though she loved her children dearly and dutifully, she often felt weary - and wished she could indulge in some type of diversion on occasion...
"You'll be pleased to know that I have agreed to your request to hire that nanny," Ernest said, putting the last touches on his stylish, waxed moustache before the mirror. He took a look at his reflection - perfect, Brilliantined hair parted in the middle, his carefully groomed mustache that curled up at the ends, the double-chin above his Arrow collar and neatly fastened cravat.
"The Negress," he replied.
"Ah, that lovely Miss Flavia - she seemed to have excellent references and experience with children - "
"She'll also work cheaper. You may expect her tomorrow morning."
"Ernest, you have no idea how much this means to me - "
"Well," replied Ernest with only the slightest twinkle of affection in his eye, "it has been unfair to you all these years. A woman in your position these days should have some constructive activities outside the home - within reason, of course."
Of course...and Charlotte knew exactly what she would be doing...but heaven help her if Ernest ever found out...
Ernest continued: "Perhaps you could do some charity work through the Church - or volunteer at the public library or hospital." With that, Ernest pulled on his overcoat and placed his favorite derby atop his head. Picking up his valise, he walked over to where his wife sat, bent down and kissed her on the cheek lightly. "Farewell, Charlotte," he said.
Charlotte stood and took her husband's hands. "Do take care, Ernest...after all, there's that dreadful war going on in Europe - are you certain it's wise to be traveling aboard a British vessel?"
Ernest picked up his valise. "Can't be helped," he said, matter-of-factly.
"In fact, I worry about you being in London at all," Charlotte said. "I read in the paper that the Germans are sending airships over to bomb the city - "
"And thank heavens President Wilson has had enough sense to keep our nation out of it," Ernest interrupted. "But you needn't worry, Charlotte - the Kaiser is too smart to allow his navy to attack an unarmed civilian liner...and from what I understand, his Zeppelins have not been able to do much damage."
There was the sound of a motorcar's horn outside. "And now, wife - I must leave. The train for New York is pulling out in..." Ernest removed the silver pocket watch Charlotte had given him as a wedding present. "Forty-five minutes."
As Ernest hurried down the front walk to the Packard Model 38 taxicab standing at the ready near the curb, he turned to Charlotte as she stood at the door watching. "Kiss the children for me - I'll send a telegram the moment we reach Liverpool!"
"What's the name of the ship you're traveling on?" Charlotte asked as her husband got into the motorcar.
"Lusitania!" Ernest called out, waving as he got into the car.
And then he was gone.
Charlotte watched the motorcar with a certain wistfulness as it traveled up the well-groomed street of their upper-middle class neighborhood. She sighed as she turned to go back into their house - currently empty, as the children were still at school and wouldn't be home for another three hours.
She supposed she loved Ernest, in her own manner. Not with any sort of passion; although Ernest had given her two children whom she adored and indulged at every turn, she and her husband had not had relations for years. Neither seemed to mind, although Charlotte suspected that, like most powerful and successful men, Ernest kept a mistress somewhere. It was to be expected; as long as he was discreet and continued to provide for her and the children, Charlotte was not particularly concerned one way or the other.
In any event - Charlotte had her own secrets.
Charlotte went back into the house - then emerged a few minutes later with hat, handbag and a folded parasol. She walked out to the street and headed north to the boulevard - and the trolley stop.
Lydia Franken was to many people in society the worst of all things. First of all, she was a Jewess (although she had not seen the inside of a synagogue in years). Secondly, she was, despite being well past the age of thirty-five, unmarried (in fact, some rumors suggested that she had been married and divorced) and living on her own. She was known to consort with immigrants as well as Negroes (she even listened to that trashy music of theirs - known as "ragtime") and owned and drove her own automobile.
Lydia also wore skirts and dresses that came up to her ankles - and sometimes, even painted her lips and rouged her cheeks like a common strumpet.
What was most unforgivable however was the fact that she was both a socialist and a suffragette. To think that anyone could even consider allowing women to vote! It was unthinkable!
But not to Lydia Franken, whose own parents had fled their Russian homeland and the pogroms to come to America. At first, it seemed to be the land of liberty - and compared to the Russian shtetls and life under the tsar, it certainly was. But the reality - for the Frankens - was that the streets of America were paved not with gold, but with tears, sweat and broken backs.
"Brenen zol Columbus' medineh!" she remembered her father cursing in his native Yiddish. Columbus' land should only burn. He'd lived to regret those words, however. Only four years earlier, Lydia's beloved sister and mother had died in the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory down in New York City. They and 144 other souls had perished needlessly, all because of capitalistic greed.
At least, that's how she saw it.
Since then, Lydia had taken her sorrow and rage and channeled it into agitation. And as a trained lawyer herself (one of only a thousand or so women jurists in the entire nation), she had come to realize that until women were allowed to vote for those who made the laws, there would be more tragedies - more dreams denied - more oppression...
Lydia sat in the small storefront over the second-hand typewriter, focused on her task - typing up a treatise she'd written in longhand on class struggle and how it affected the lives of all women. Softly, she sang to herself:
"On the level, you're a little devil -
But I'll soon make an angel of you..."
She didn't even hear the tinkle of the bell over the door when someone entered.
Lydia looked up with a start - then, her face broke into a warm, toothsome smile. "Charlotte - zeyzeleh!" She fairly jumped to her feet and wrapped her arms around the other woman. Charlotte returned the embrace lavishly as the women's ample bosoms pressed together - a sensation Charlotte found strangely pleasing.
"It's so lovely to see you," Lydia said. "It's been weeks!"
"Too long," Charlotte agreed. "I have missed your companionship." She looked down as the typewriter. "Did I - come at a bad time?"
Lydia smiled again and hugged Charlotte close. "Of course not, zeyzeleh - as my late mother - olov hashalom - would say, a guter freint iz oft besser fun a shvester."
Charlotte chuckled. "Dearest Lydia - you know I don't understand German - or Dutch - "
"A good friend is often better than a sister. And it's Yiddish, zeyseleh, not German."
The two women gazed at each other affectionately. Finally, Lydia pulled a chair away from the wall and up next to her desk. "Nu - have a seat - stay awhile." She then sat back in her desk chair and looked at Charlotte fondly. "What brings you down here?"
"Well - it turns out that I will be having some more time on my hands in the future."
Lydia's face lit up like the sun. "You mean - "
"I will now have time to devote to our cause."
"Zeyzeleh! That's wonderful!" Lydia leaned forward and again threw her arms around Charlotte in a close and intimate embrace. "I could kiss you!"
At that, Charlotte backed away, holding Lydia at arms' length. "I dare you to do that."
For a moment, the two women gazed into each other's eyes...with what was almost a longing...
First Lydia, then Charlotte started giggling. Finally, still chuckling, Lydia said, "Oh, zeyzeleh...ich hob dir lieb!"
That much, Charlotte understood. She took Lydia's hands gently. "And I love you," she said.
Charlotte was obliged to leave soon after she arrived at Lydia's humble office in order to be home so she could greet the children when they arrived from school - and she told Lydia that it would be best for her to spend the next day with the new nanny, Miss Flavia, so as to assist her in getting settled in to her new home and instruct her as to her daily duties - which would also involve some light housekeeping as well as child care. However, the next day was also May Day - or as Lydia would call it, International Workers' Day. Lydia intended to take the day off from her writing and legal work in order to pass out literature (actually, to leave it in various places around the city - since she would almost certainly risk arrest otherwise), so there would not have been much for Charlotte to do around the office.
Charlotte nonetheless suggested that the two of them spend that following evening together in celebration. "Allow me to take you to supper - and perhaps the cinema afterwards?"
"Oh - I'd love to see that new Charlie Chaplin picture!" she said. "But zeyzeleh, I really can't - "
"Nonsense, dearest. You can, and you will. And don't worry about paying - it will be my treat and my pleasure - "
"You have to at least let me pay for the cinema."
Charlotte grinned. "If you insist." Lydia, sweet, darling Lydia - so generous, so passionate - and at times, prideful and vain, even when it wasn't in her own best interest.
"And I am going to pick you up in my motorcar," Lydia insisted.
"Oh, what fun!" exclaimed Charlotte with delight. Although Ernest owned an automobile - a three-year-old Chalmers Tourer - the family rarely used it, since Ernest disliked the noise and was still distrustful of what was, after all, a relatively new and untested form of technology.
The two women embraced one last time before Charlotte left to return home that afternoon - a long, loving embrace, again with their bosoms pressed together.
Charlotte kept remembering that most pleasant sensation all the way home.
That evening, Charlotte picked out her dress carefully - something not too outlandish, but something that she wouldn't mind being seen in. Like Lydia and many other women she knew, Charlotte was a full-figured, voluptuous and bosomy woman, as was popular - and she liked clothes. She settled on a patterned maroon blouse with a high lace collar and striped bib that covered the chest above her bosom and a long matching skirt that fell to the tops of her lace-up, French-heeled boots.
She also did something unusual. She took just a small amount of rouge and dusted her cheeks lightly, added just a bit of color to her full and sensuous lips with the new cosmetic she had purchased at United Drug (known as "lipstick") and applied the merest trace of lampblack to accent her large, brown eyes. She then tied her auburn curls into a bun and gazed at herself in the mirror.
Is it wrong to think myself beautiful? she thought. Normally, she wouldn't give much thought to such vanity - but tonight, for some reason, she wanted to look beautiful.
And she was. Though in her mid-thirties and therefore no longer young, Charlotte could still draw the attentions of men ten years her junior.
"Mrs. McReedy!" Miss Flavia called up the stairs. "There's a lady caller here for you!"
"I'll be right down!" Charlotte replied.
Lydia - her sandy-blond hair tucked up under her hat, wearing a stylish outfit of a gray-blue color that matched her compelling eyes - was standing in the parlor when Charlotte came down the stairs. Charlotte's heart beat a little faster at the sight of her friend.
Lydia looked up and beamed. "You look lovely, zeyzeleh," she said delightedly, taking Charlotte's hands. The two women bent forward and kissed each other's cheeks lightly.
As she pulled a shawl from a peg along the wall, Charlotte turned to Miss Flavia, standing there with her children, Charles and Ernestine. She bent down to kiss each of them in turn. "Now, you be good children and mind Miss Flavia. And you are to be in bed by nine o'clock!"
"Momma, it's Friday night - " Ernestine protested.
"No arguments...oh, alright - if Miss Flavia agrees, you may stay up until ten - "
"That would be fine, Mrs. McReedy," the colored nanny assured her.
"Excellent. I shall probably be late - don't wait up for me."
"Yes, ma'am," said Miss Flavia.
"Good night then, my babies!" said Charlotte, blowing a last kiss toward her young son and daughter as she and Lydia exited the house.
Lydia's motorcar was a five-year old Ford Model T that she had purchased for a song a year earlier. She had left the vehicle running so she would not have to crank it again (only the most expensive motorcars had the new electric self-starters). Charlotte nearly squealed with delight as she got in the passenger's side. Secretly, she hoped Lydia might one day teach her to drive it herself, though she had not yet gotten up the courage to ask.
Lydia slid in behind the wooden steering wheel with its brass spokes, released the brake, applied the pedal that engaged the gears and pushed up on the throttle. The motorcar fairly roared away, soon reaching a heart-stopping speed of nearly thirty miles an hour...
Charlotte was at once terrified and thrilled. It was more fun than the time she had ridden the Gravity Pleasure Road at Coney Island when she had been a girl...nonetheless, she was somewhat relieved when Lydia finally stopped the motorcar in front of a small cafe in the theater district, where the new movie houses existed cheek-by-jowl with established lyric theaters, opera venues, Vaudeville houses and even dance halls.
Next door to the cafe, there was one such dance establishment. Out of the entrance came pouring the syncopated rhythms of the Negro music known as ragtime that was now popular with almost all the young people in the country - and even a few of the older ones. Charlotte herself secretly enjoyed it, though her husband considered it noise of the Devil - and even called it "jungle music."
She nodded her head in time with the sprightly sounds emerging from the dance hall. This was not lost on Lydia, who smiled. "That's called The Strenuous Life," she said. "Composed by a genius named Scott Joplin."
To Charlotte, the music didn't sound especially strenuous. To the contrary, it was trippingly playful and light. "It's delightful,” Charlotte declared. “It makes me want to dance."
"Would you like to?"
Charlotte was taken aback. "Here - in the street?"
With that, Lydia placed her right hand on Charlotte's waist, put Charlotte's left hand on her shoulder, then took the other woman's right hand in her left. "Now - it's step right, step back, step left, step forward - think you can manage that?"
In fact, Charlotte knew the steps already. Looking into her friend's eyes and beaming, she and Lydia danced the turkey trot for about three minutes until people began gathering to watch. The two women stopped and looked around at the small crowd that had begun to surround them. Without hesitation, Lydia took a bow - and the people applauded, laughing in delight!
Lydia then took Charlotte by the arm and led her into the cafe.
Anyone who suspected or pre-judged Lydia because she was a Jewess would have had to consider their reasoning on that score, watching her in a cafe on that Friday night - when devout Jews were supposed to be home or at a place of worship. Lydia dined with relish on a ham steak topped with mushrooms, bacon and a bleu cheese sauce, while Charlotte chose chicken almondine, and the two of them shared a bottle of claret.
In fact, Charlotte almost never thought about Lydia's ethnic ancestry, except when she would utter those delightful and amusing Yiddish expressions. She didn't understand them, usually - but they sounded so rich, poetic and full of life. Invariably, when Lydia would translate something for her, Charlotte would laugh.
Lydia often made Charlotte laugh. How I love her, she thought, looking across the table at Lydia. Impulsively, she reached over and took Lydia's hand tenderly.
Lydia stopped and smiled at her. "Nu?"
"I'm just happy we could spend this evening together. I know how busy you are and how important your - our - work is..."
"All I have to say is, odem yesode meofe vesofe leofe, beyno — l'veyno iz gut a trink broynfn," Lydia replied. When she noted Charlotte's quizzical look, she said "We come from dust and to dust we shall return - and in the meantime, it's good to drink vodka." She grinned, holding up her glass. "Or, in this case, good wine."
Charlotte giggled and clinked her glass against Lydia's as they drank a toast. "L'chaim," said Lydia.
An hour later found Charlotte and Lydia walking arm-in-arm toward the Orpheus Theatre, where In The Park with Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance was being shown, along with other short comedic films that starred Harold Lloyd and Fatty Arbuckle.
"Do you think Chaplin is as funny as Harold Lloyd?" asked Charlotte, who rarely went to see moving pictures.
"I think they're just about equal - they just have different comic acting styles," replied Lydia authoritatively as she purchased their tickets.
It was the second - late - showing, and the films had all been released weeks earlier, so the theater was not particularly crowded. Lydia guided them to some seats in the back toward the center.
"Don't you want to sit up closer? There are plenty of available seats," said Charlotte.
"We'll see it better from up here," said Lydia knowingly.
"Well - you're the expert in these sorts of things," replied Charlotte. The two ladies removed their hats, as was proper in a theater - even though they were sitting in the back - and sat down in adjoining seats.
Once seated, Charlotte looked over at her friend affectionately. She slipped her hand over Lydia's. The other woman responded by squeezing Charlotte's hand gently and gazing at her fondly.
"Thanks for getting me out of that office tonight," she said.
"Thank you for coming," Charlotte replied. "I wish we could do this sort of thing more often."
"Maybe we should," said Lydia. Suddenly, she leaned over and pressed her soft, full lips against Charlotte's cheek - almost impulsively - but in a lingering, caressing, and almost sensuous way.
Charlotte closed her eyes, suddenly experiencing the oddest sensations...feelings emanating from places within herself that she had almost forgotten...
And then it was over. Lydia looked over at her. "I love you, Charlotte."
Charlotte smiled and raised Lydia's hands to her lips, kissing it gently. "I love you, Lydia."
Still holding hands contentedly, the women settled back in their seats and turned toward the screen, waiting for the moving picture to begin.
The room darkened, the pianist down at the front began playing - and after a few notices on the screen (including the inevitable "Ladies Will Please Remove Their Hats"), the first film, In The Park, began.
Chaplin was in his usual excellent form as he engaged in a series of unlikely, but hilarious antics across the screen. Yet, for some reason, Charlotte found herself only looking at it - not truly watching it. What thoughts were going through her mind, she would not have been able to say at that moment...
She realized that her hand was still joined with Lydia's, their fingers interlaced. She turned and looked at her friend. Lydia turned and smiled - then leaned her head against Charlotte's shoulder and sighed with contentment.
Charlotte's heart almost leaped into her throat. Suddenly, her nostrils were filled with the scent of the peppermint oil soap with which Lydia bathed herself...the skin of her cheek fairly tingling with the sensation of Lydia's soft hair falling against it.
For a few minutes, they sat like that in the darkened theatre. Then, Lydia disengaged her hand from Charlotte's - slowly, deftly - and began caressing her palm and wrist tenderly, with her fingertips.
Charlotte continued to stare at the screen - but saw nothing. Her pulse was racing, and again, she felt powerful, irresistible impulses emanating from a place within her being that she had not felt in years...in fact, it had been so long, she did not as of yet recognize them.
As if of its own volition, Charlotte's free hand strayed into her lap. She began caressing the fabric of her skirt over her thigh, closing her eyes.
In the meantime, Lydia had reached over with her own far hand and and placed it over Charlotte's upper arm, caressing her as she nuzzled her head against her friend's shoulder.
Charlotte looked down at her lap, watching her hand - over which she seemed to have no control - moving further up...toward those most intimate, womanly areas lying beneath skirt, undershift and bloomers...and suddenly, she realized where those odd, yet oh-so-pleasurable sensations were coming from - and what they were...
Biting her lip, Charlotte forced her hand away from her lap - and reached over, cupping Lydia's hand as the latter was continuing to caress her wrist and palm.
Then, without turning from the screen, Lydia did something unexpected. She gently and slowly took Charlotte's arm and casually draped it over her own shoulders, then snuggled in closer, nuzzling Charlotte's cheek lovingly. Almost involuntarily, Charlotte pulled Lydia closer.
The hand at the end of the arm now encircling Lydia began to stray up her shoulder and over the open collar of her gray-blue suit, where an expanse of her soft neck was exposed below her pearl choker and above the lace at the uppermost edge of her blouse. Without thinking, Charlotte began running her fingertips lightly over Lydia's neck...
This elicited a heavy sigh of pleasure from Lydia, who turned her head and began caressing Charlotte's face with her lips. Trembling, Charlotte turned her face toward Lydia's. Brown eyes met blue-gray ones as the two women gazed into each other's being.
Slowly, Lydia kissed the corner of Charlotte's mouth. "My beautiful, dearest Charlotte," she whispered. She kissed Charlotte again - this time, full on the lips.
Charlotte closed her eyes as their lips - closed, but pliant - caressed each other for what seemed to be an eternity. She felt herself being sucked down into a vortex...a vortex of desire...a desire she had almost forgotten...
Suddenly, the reel came to an end and the pianist played the last chords. The lights came up; the spell was broken. Abruptly, Charlotte and Lydia separated, facing forward in their seats, attempting to look natural.
It was no good. Charlotte glanced at Lydia out the corner of her eye, and Lydia caught her glance - and the two women started giggling like a pair of naughty schoolgirls who had nearly been discovered engaging in a bit of mischief. Before long, the next picture - Just Nuts with Harold Lloyd - began showing on the screen.
For the rest of their time in the cinema that evening, Charlotte and Lydia watched the screen intently - but continued to hold hands.
They were silent as they walked toward Lydia's motorcar after the cinema, arms around each other's waists. When they arrived, Lydia opened the passenger side door for Charlotte and took her hand, helping her in almost as a gentleman would have done.
"Would you be a darling - turn on the switch and set the spark and magneto for me?" Lydia asked. As Charlotte did so, Lydia went to the front of the vehicle, pulled out the choke lever and rotated the crank twice. The four-cylinder motor came to life. A moment later, they were driving away.
For several minutes, neither woman spoke. Finally, Lydia asked, "Nu, zeyzeleh - which of those moving pictures did you like the best?"
Without hesitation, Charlotte replied, "the first one - with Chaplin."
Lydia smiled. "Me too," she said, putting one hand on Charlotte's lap. Charlotte took Lydia's hand and squeezed it lovingly - then released it, since both hands were necessary to operate the vehicle in safety.
Still focused on the road ahead, Lydia said, "You know, I got some new gramophone records a few weeks ago from Bernie Ellington - "
"The colored gentleman who practices law over in Roxbury?"
"Yes." There was just a bit of sadness in Lydia's voice. Charlotte knew that before she had met her, Lydia and the prominent and brilliant Negro attorney had had a secret love affair, which he had ended in order to protect her. They had remained close friends, however, frequently collaborating, referring clients to one another and consulting on particularly challenging cases. On two occasions, Lydia Franken and Bernard Ellington had even opposed one another in civil litigation.
"How is Mr. Ellington these days?"
"Busy as always," Lydia sighed. "Always another outrage - another injustice, another gevalt - and Bernie always there, charging windmills...but look, no business tonight. Why don't we go to my flat, have a little schnapps, listen to some ragtime...have a nice, cozy visit?"
"I'm in no hurry to get home," replied Charlotte. She caressed Lydia's cheek with the back of her hand, eliciting a smile, though Lydia never took her eyes off the street ahead.
Lydia's two-room flat was situated above the office from which she worked. Though far from new (the old clapboard building dated from a time preceding the War Between the States), the landlord - an unusual gentleman who actually had some sympathy for the poor and the working class - had had it updated with running water (though tenants still depended on gas lights and oil lamps). He allowed Lydia to use her legal schooling on his behalf on frequent occasions in lieu of paying rent.
Charlotte and Lydia ascended the stairs in silence, hand-in-hand. Charlotte began trembling again - at least within. Though she had never before imagined such things and knew what a terrible risk she would be taking, she also knew in her heart that the evening could - and would - end in only one way.
"Are you alright, zeyzeleh?" Lydia asked gently as she unlocked the door.
Charlotte smiled sweetly and nodded.
Twenty minutes later, Lydia and Charlotte sat side-by-side on the divan, sipping schnapps and conversing in intimate tones as ragtime played on the gramophone.
"...and I think - colored women standing in solidarity with us - that we can start pressing members of the House to support an amendment," Lydia was saying.
"Who was the lady member of Congress from out west you were mentioning?" asked Charlotte.
"Jeanette Rankin," replied Lydia. "But she's not there, yet - she's running next year."
"But this is Massachusetts - what good will it do for us to campaign for someone from - where was it, Wyoming? Colorado...?"
"Miss Rankin is from Montana," said Lydia. "The idea is to have a woman in government - she would be the first to hold federal office - and this could do such great things for the cause of universal suffrage," she continued animatedly, her face registering increasing excitement.
Charlotte beamed lovingly at her friend then shook her head, chuckling softly."
"Nu - what's so funny about that?"
Charlotte reached out and touched Lydia's face, stroking it gently. "It's not that - it's you."
"What about me?"
"We promised earlier that we would not be discussing business tonight - and here we are, talking about how we shall change the world..."
"Oh...I'm sorry, zeyzeleh," Lydia said, taking Charlotte's hand in her own.
"Don't be," replied Charlotte. "It's one of the things I have come to love about you...your passion...your concern for all people..."
Yet again, the two women gazed at each other holding and caressing each others' hands, eyes shining with love and affection.
Finally, Lydia said, "Nu...are we going to talk about what happened in the cinema?"
"During the Charlie Chaplin picture we both liked - and neither of us were watching."
"You kissed me."
"And you kissed me."
Again, they were silent. Charlotte looked away. She felt Lydia's body pressing against hers as she moved closer. Lydia's arms encircled her and drew her close. She began running her fingers through Charlotte's auburn hair.
"You know what the happiest day of my life was, zeyzeleh?"
Charlotte said nothing. At the moment, the sensations, the tingling emanating from the core of her womanhood between her thighs was beginning to overwhelm her - while at the same time, her heart was pounding so hard, it threatened to burst out of her ribcage.
"It was the day I met you," Lydia murmured softly, her lips brushing against Charlotte's ear.
Charlotte turned her face toward Lydia. She reached up and touched Lydia's lips, caressing them with such tenderness. Lydia's lips parted and her eyes closed as she sighed with bliss.
Slowly - tentatively - Charlotte moved her hand around the back of Lydia's neck and pulled her forward. Their lips met again in a soft, sweet kiss - not passionate, but warm and lingering.
Lydia hugged Charlotte close, her lips next to the other woman's ear.
"I love you so much, Charlotte...you are part of my heart and soul," she whispered.
"'Whither thou goest,'" Charlotte whispered back.
At that, Lydia pulled back to look in Charlotte's eyes. Slowly, she stood up, taking Charlotte's hands in her own and pulling her up gently. She took the other woman into her arms, embracing her tightly, moving her bosom back and forth slightly against Charlotte's. "Stay with me tonight, my love," she whispered.
Still moving slowly and deliberately, Lydia led Charlotte toward a door that led to her bed chamber...
A few minutes later, Charlotte and Lydia were seated on the edge of her bed, side by side, holding each other and kissing each other's faces and lips tenderly over and over.
Her lips against Charlotte's, Lydia whispered, "Have you ever tasted a lover's tongue?"
Charlotte giggled. "Oh dear...Ernest tried that on our wedding night...I found it repulsive..."
"Ernest wasn't doing it properly," Lydia replied softly, caressing Charlotte's lips with her own. Her lips were parted. Gently, teasingly, Lydia touched Charlotte's upper lip with the tip of her tongue - eliciting a gasp of surprise and pleasure from Charlotte.
"Oh my," Charlotte breathed.
"Kissing...with tongues...is the most intimate expression of tenderness between lovers...who truly love one another..."
Shyly, Charlotte ran the tip of her own tongue over Lydia's sweet, voluptuous lips. A chuckle of delight rose up from deep in Lydia's throat. As Charlotte continued caressing Lydia's lips with her tongue, the latter extended her own tongue, touching the underside of the Charlotte's.
Charlotte sighed again in pleasure. The sensation of their tongues caressing one another as they kissed was far more enjoyable than she could have imagined. It was nothing like it had been with Ernest on their wedding night over fifteen years before...it was playful...loving...intimate in ways that Charlotte couldn't begin to describe.
Over the course of the next several minutes, their kisses grew deeper, longer and more insistent. Lost in an undertow of growing passion and desire, Charlotte eagerly explored Lydia's sweet, welcoming mouth with her tongue, accepting Lydia's tongue deep into her own mouth. It was as if they were inside of one another in the most intimate manner possible...
Tenderly and playfully, the two women continued to kiss one another deeply, gently gnawing on one another's tongues, savoring each others' taste. Slowly, one article at a time, Lydia and Charlotte began removing each other's clothing.
Despite everything else, their movements were graceful as they slipped out of their skirts, blouses, undershifts and bloomers. Before long, Lydia and Charlotte were naked in each other's arms. Fondling one another's pendulous breasts, they continued kissing. Gradually, Charlotte and Lydia lay back on the bed, their arms and legs entwining.
By the light of the candle next to the bed, Charlotte noted the beautiful contrast between her own pale skin and Lydia's darker complexion - a legacy of her Turkic ancestors who had settled in the south of Russia and had embraced Judaism fourteen centuries earlier, establishing an empire that history had largely forgotten.
It added fuel to the desire burning in her loins.
By now, both women were gasping for breath, panting like a pair of lust-filled mares. Lydia began licking Charlotte's throat, chest and breasts, taking her hardened nipples into her mouth. Her hands and fingertips caressed Charlotte's ample thigh, moving around to the inside...traveling up...up...
Charlotte cried out as Lydia's fingers gently fondled and caressed her most intimate womanhood. She grabbed Lydia's head and crushed her open lips against the other woman's, her tongue plunging into her lover's eager mouth. Lydia sucked Charlotte's tongue deep into her own mouth, drinking their mingled saliva as if it were the sweet claret they had shared at supper.
Charlotte reached between Lydia's thighs, savoring the feel of the warm wetness of her lover's pubes. With cautious, gentle dexterity, Charlotte's nimble fingers began to stroke, manipulate and caress Lydia's molten center of desire.
Lydia gasped and gave a sharp cry of surprise and pleasure. Then, once again, she fastened her mouth on Charlotte's and the lovers continued sucking and gnawing on one another's tongues...
The first gray light of early dawn was beginning to show through the window of the bed chamber before Charlotte and Lydia finally drifted off to sleep, arms wrapped about one another, their legs still entwined. Over the course of several hours, the two women had explored and tasted one another in every possible way, loving one another in an exquisite and terrifying intimacy that neither had ever previously known.
It was full light when Charlotte awoke. She turned to find Lydia gone.
"Right here, zeyzeleh," she replied from outside the bedroom door. She entered, wearing a blue silken dressing gown, carrying a tray with two cups of hot tea. She handed one to Charlotte.
"I - I should go home...my children and Miss Flavia are probably beside themselves - "
"Not to worry, zeyzeleh - I called your house on the telephone downstairs first thing this morning, told them you spent the night at my flat." She grinned and placed a hand against Charlotte's cheek.
Charlotte's face grew concerned. "Did you - tell them why?"
Lydia shrugged. "They didn't ask."
Charlotte sipped her tea. It was unsweetened in just the manner she preferred. "How sweet and caring you are," she said, looking into Lydia's eyes.
"I love you," Lydia replied.
"I love you," said Charlotte. "More than - than I realized...or thought possible...but..."
"You regret what we shared last night?"
"Oh, no," Charlotte replied earnestly. "I - I think there was a part of me that...that knew it would come to this...but..."
"What 'buts'? We love each other, we become lovers...do you know how rare it is to share a love like ours?"
Charlotte looked away. "First of all, I'm a married woman - "
"And no doubt, your husband has a mistress. You said so yourself."
"I said, I believe he does - "
"And as my people would say, velkh iz gute oyf eyns iz gute oyf nokh."
Charlotte shrugged. "Meaning...?"
"What's good for one is good for another."
"It's not that simple..." Charlotte began to weep.
Lydia gathered Charlotte into her arms. "I love you so much, zeyzeleh...this you haven't yet figured?"
"And I love you...more than I thought I could ever love anyone...but Lydia - what will people think?"
"Why should we break our heads over what people think? Let people break their own heads."
"If people discovered we...we were Sapphists...why... we might be jailed - or locked up as mentally defective - "
"Why does anyone have to know?"
Charlotte looked up and smiled through her tears. "Dearest, sweet Lydia...before I knew you, I was contented - not happy, perhaps, but contented. And now...I know joy... of loving someone with heart, soul and body..." She wrapped her arms around her lover and held her close. "What could I do now without you...?"
Lydia smiled, gazing into Charlotte's eyes. "You won't ever have to know, zeyzeleh."
Lydia lowered her face to Charlotte's. Once again, their eager lips and mouths met in a deep, lingering kiss...
News of the sinking of the Lusitania arrived a week later. Ernest McReedy's body was never found, and he was presumed drowned off the coast of Ireland where the civilian vessel had been torpedoed by a U-Boat of the Kaiser's Kriegsmarine.
Ernest and Charlotte had not shared a conjugal bed as man and wife since the night their daughter Ernestine had been conceived. Nonetheless, Charlotte had treasured his companionship as a dear friend, and he had been an excellent father to their two children. She knew she would miss him greatly. In the meantime, little Charlie tried manfully to be brave, but poor Ernestine was inconsolable.
Shortly after Father Patrick held a memorial mass at St. Aloysius, Charlotte received a telegram from her late husband's law firm. Although he had little in the way of hard assets - most of which were held by the McReedy Family business - he had carried several insurance policies that would leave the widow McReedy and her children well-provided for.
Charlotte didn't see Lydia for several weeks after that, though she kept in touch by telephone and through letters. Lydia insisted that Charlotte take all the time she needed to deal with her grief and the change in their situation.
One afternoon in late August, Charlotte gathered her children and Miss Flavia into the parlor. She had something to discuss.
"First of all - I want to thank you children - and you as well, Miss Flavia - for your love and support during this time." She smiled at Charlie and Ernestine. "You have both been so brave and wonderful - and I am so proud of both of you."
The children smiled at their mother. A tear fell from Ernestine's eye - but she quickly brushed it away.
To Miss Flavia, Charlotte said, "I want you to know, Miss Flavia, that your services have been greatly valued here. Whatever happens, you will continue to have employment and a place in this family as long as it suits you."
"Thank you, Mrs. McReedy," Miss Flavia acknowledged.
"That said - I am bringing someone new into our home."
Miss Flavia gasped as the children's eyes grew wide. She said. "Mrs. McReedy - surely you aren't planning to marry again so soon?"
Charlotte chuckled and waved her hand. "Oh, no... nothing so grand as that. In fact, you've all met her...she's my dear friend and colleague, Miss Franken."
"Aunt Lydia?" asked Ernestine, her face lighting up.
"Yes, little darlings...your Aunt Lydia is going to come live with us. Won't that be fine?" She sighed. "I know she can never take the place of your father...but she has been dearer to me than a sister, and I know she will come to adore the two of you as much as I do."
"Wait," said Charlie. "Does this mean she's going to be - like a second mother?"
"Oh, nothing like that. It's just that...well, your father left us a fair amount of money, but it won't hurt a thing to have another person in the family bringing in a bit of revenue...and..." Charlotte hesitated. "I - I have been lonely for steady companionship. I love all of you dearly, but I do long for someone my own age to share the days with."
Fortunately, neither Charlie nor Ernestine were old enough to understand the difference that - ostensibly - existed between the relationship of a husband and wife and that between a woman and her closest, dearest friend.
In this case however, the differences would be miniscule.
Lydia moved into the McReedy household a week later. It was the first day of September - exactly four months since the night she and Charlotte had become lovers. A family dinner was planned that evening to welcome Lydia to the family. Charlotte hired a chef for the occasion, so that Miss Flavia would not have to cook and serve - and therefore, would be able to share in the festivities.
Although they had spoken on the telephone in the intervening weeks - and had exchanged letters full of passion (both political and erotic) - Charlotte and Lydia had not met in person since that night. Charlotte was as giddy as a schoolgirl as she sat before the vanity mirror that evening, applying a few cosmetics in order to emphasize what she considered her most attractive features - particularly her eyes and her lips.
Then, on impulse, Charlotte selected the same maroon and striped dress she'd worn the evening she and Lydia had gone to the cinema.
Lydia's Model T pulled up in front of the McReedy home at precisely seven that evening. Her typewriter, a box filled with writings, law books and legal documents, a wooden file cabinet, a disassembled desk and a chair, her gramophone and three valises containing her clothing and other belongings fought for precarious space in the rear seat and the passenger's side.
Charlotte had to restrain herself when she heard the sound of the four-cylinder motor outside. She walked out the front door and toward the curb, calmly and regally - though in her heart, she was as excited as a child on Christmas Eve.
She waved as she approached the car. Her beloved Lydia was seated behind the wheel, beaming - and dressed in the same outfit she had worn that night.
There was no doubt in Charlotte's heart that they were of one mind...
"Just pull into the driveway along the side," she called over the sound of the motor. Lydia cupped her hand to her ear and Charlotte pointed to the driveway. Lydia nodded, and pulled the vehicle in front of the old stable that had served as a garage since her late husband had finally exchanged his horse and carriage for the Chalmers Touring Car that had sat there, practically unused, for three years.
Lydia emerged from the Model T and into Charlotte's arms. Charlotte so desperately wanted to kiss her mouth, but didn't dare do so out here where neighbors might observe them. She settled for a warm embrace - moving her shoulders ever so slightly against Lydia's bosom.
"Welcome home, my love," said Charlotte.
Lydia smiled - then sighed as she looked at the motorcar, groaning under the weight of Lydia's belongings. Charlotte read her mind. She took two of the valises out of the back. "Don't worry about this, right now - it should be fine until the morning. I have your room all ready, and supper will be served in thirty minutes."
Lydia grabbed the third valise from the passenger's seat, too tired to argue.
"Aunt Lydia!" squealed little Ernestine in delight as she and Charlotte came through the front door. The children hadn't seen her in well over a year. The little girl ran and threw her arms around Lydia's skirt, her head barely topping the woman's waist. Lydia knelt and kissed the little girl atop her head.
"Oh, bubeleh - how much you've grown, I hardly recognize you!" She hugged the child, then stood, reached into her handbag, and withdrew a small sack, which she handed to Ernestine. She looked inside.
"Cherries!" she squealed delightedly. "Oh, thank you, Aunt Lydia!"
"We're going to save those for dessert, now," admonished Charlotte. "And if you're very good and finish all your vegetables, we can have some ice cream with them."
Young Charlie was also happy to see his "Aunt" Lydia, but was more restrained. "Aunt Lydia," he said, bowing and taking her hand like a perfect little gentleman.
Lydia grinned and curtseyed. "My - aren't you courtly!" she said. Looking at Charlotte as she handed the boy a bag of cherries, she said, "This young man is destined to be a lady-killer, I suspect."
Charlie smiled and blushed.
Supper was a festive occasion, though not without a solemn moment as Charlotte raised her glass and insisted they drink to Ernest's memory. Afterward, Miss Flavia was kind enough to pit the cherries Lydia had brought and serve them to the children over vanilla ice cream - a real treat.
Later, they retired to the front parlor, where Miss Flavia played word games with the children as Charlotte and Lydia sipped coffee laced with cognac. Charlotte had been delighted to discover that Flavia had gone to Oberlin College in Ohio (one of the few institutions in the country that would admit Negroes and women) and had received an excellent education. It had been like hiring a resident teacher as well as a nanny and housekeeper.
"I must increase her salary," said Charlotte, watching Miss Flavia with a mixture of fondness and profound admiration.
"So you should," Lydia agreed. “At least double.”
Charlotte didn't disagree.
As they finished their coffee, Charlotte said, "Would you like to see your room, now?"
Lydia nodded. Charlotte rose, offering her hand, and the two women started for the stairs. Over her shoulder, she called, "We'll be down in a few minutes, Miss Flavia!"
Miss Flavia looked up and nodded.
"This was Ernest's old room," Charlotte said upstairs as she opened the door of the bedroom that had been set aside for Lydia. It was neat, clean and comfortable - but had not been properly decorated, and in fact still had a masculine and utilitarian atmosphere. Lydia nodded in approval. "Of course," Charlotte continued, "you are free to decorate it in any manner that suits you - "
"It's fine the way it is," said Lydia. "We can do a lot of good work in here."
Lydia turned and slipped her arms around Charlotte. "I know it's supposed to be my 'bedroom' - but if you think I'm going to be doing much sleeping in here, you're completely meshuggeh." And with that, she fastened her mouth on Charlotte's in a wonderful, mouth-filling, five-minute kiss.
When they drew apart, Charlotte was short of breath. She fanned herself with one hand. "Oh, my..." she said.
"And that's just a little apertif for later tonight," said Lydia with a mischievious wink. "For now - shall we rejoin the party downstairs?"
= Epilogue – A Boston Wedding Night =
Charlotte sat before the mirror, her favorite pink dressing gown over her undergarments, brushing her lush, freshly-washed auburn hair by the light of a candle. After the last stroke, she sat the brush down and applied just a small amount of her jasmine-scented cologne. She looked at herself one last time in the mirror - just before she heard the soft tapping she had been awaiting on her bedroom door.
Slowly, she rose, went to the door and opened it. Lydia stood there, holding a candle in a brass holder in one hand and a small, gift-wrapped box in the other. She was clad in a silken gown of the same blue-gray color she usually favored, accenting the eyes Charlotte loved.
"Is everyone asleep?" asked Charlotte quietly.
"Miss Flavia and the children are all snug in their beds," whispered Lydia mischievously. Charlotte stood aside in order to allow Lydia to enter the room. She took a cautious peek up and down the hallway before ducking back into the room and closing the door silently.
Charlotte turned to see Lydia seated on the bed, her bare legs crossed and exposed from under her gown. She patted the mattress next to her, indicating that Charlotte should sit.
They sat together for several minutes, gazing into each other's eyes, caressing each other gently.
Finally, Lydia spoke. "I've been dreaming of this ever since May," she said.
"I think I've been dreaming of it even longer than that," Charlotte replied. She turned away. "It is selfish of me...but in a way, I'm almost grateful that Ernest took the Lusitania."
"Perhaps - on some theosophical level...Ernest knew that you and I wanted to be together...perhaps in his own way, he loved you enough to - shall we say, step aside - "
Charlotte looked at Lydia with a slightly shocked expression. "You're suggesting that Ernest chose to die - so that you and I - ?"
Lydia smiled in a small, sad manner. "Some theosophists believe we all make such choices." She leaned forward and kissed Charlotte's lips softly. "And I...choose to stay... with you ...for as long as possible..."
At that, she took out the small, gift-wrapped box and handed it to Charlotte. "Go on," said Lydia. "Open it."
Inside the box were two nearly identical gold rings - one set with a blue gem resembling a sapphire, and the other with a red setting like a ruby. Charlotte gasped. "Lydia - you should not have - "
"Oh, don't worry," chuckled Lydia. "They're only glass. But they look nice, nu?"
"I wouldn't have known the difference," Charlotte admitted. "And they are beautiful."
"The main thing is what's inside," Lydia said.
Charlotte gave her a questioning look, but Lydia only nodded. Hesitantly, Charlotte picked up the ring with the red setting and examined its inner surface. There was an inscription. It read: "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge."
Charlotte looked up with tears in her eyes. Smiling, she said, "I had no idea you were so devout..."
Lydia's eyes began welling with tears as well. "I'm not ...I'm just a sentimental sap when it comes to poetry..." She slid her arms around Charlotte, and the two held each other closely as they wept tears of happiness. Finally, Lydia picked up the ring with the blue stone, tenderly took Charlotte's left hand, and slid the ring on to her third finger. Then she looked up and nodded, offering Charlotte her own left hand. Charlotte nodded, her face a mixture of sublime joy, excitement and love as she placed the ring on Lydia's hand. They then shared a long, lingering kiss.
"You know it can never be legal between us," said Charlotte.
"I don't care," Lydia replied. "It means I love you and I want to spend the rest of this life with you - that's all that matters."
Again, Lydia leaned forward. Charlotte began to close her eyes, but Lydia stopped just as their lips touched and whispered, "Don't close your eyes, zeyseleh...I want to see you..."
Brown eyes gazing lovingly into blue-gray eyes, Charlotte and Lydia began kissing,their lips sliding against each other, their tongues teasingly touching and caressing. Slowly, Lydia pulled Charlotte down onto the bed.
For what seemed like hours, Lydia and Charlotte lay side-by side, facing each other holding each other, kissing each other's mouths in an astonishing number of ways. Sometimes, it was simply a soft, pillowy kiss with the lips; other times, it probing and passionate with tongues deep inside of one another. They would take turns gently sucking and nibbling on each other's lips. Occasionally, they would duel with their tongues playfully, as if fencing; at one point, Lydia took Charlotte's tongue, holding it gently between her teeth while circling and bathing it with her own tongue. Charlotte would run her tongue over Lydia's perfect teeth and gums, exploring all the places in her lover's sweet mouth...
Gradually, Lydia's hands moved over Charlotte's hip and on to her thigh. She stroked gently. Still locked in a long, sweet series of kisses with Lydia, Charlotte spread her thighs and guided her lover's hand inside. As she continued to savor Charlotte's beautiful mouth, Lydia gentry ran her fingertips along Charlotte's inner thigh. Charlotte began to reach between Lydia's thighs and do likewise.
After a short time, each of the women had her hand on the other's most intimate places, fondling and caressing... their kissing became deeper, more ardent and passionate... hearts began racing and breathing became heavier between kisses as small moans and cries of pleasure and delight escaped their throats.
Finally, the pleasure became almost unbearable. By now, Charlotte and Lydia had their tongues out, flat against their lower lips, squeezed together. Breaths came in ragged gasps...
The throbbing sensation that began between Charlotte's thighs spread all the way up into her belly, her breasts...despite herself, she emitted a primeval cry from the depths of her being. At the same time, Lydia's eye's squeezed shut as she threw her head back in ecstacy, howling like a she-wolf...
Panting, Charlotte and Lydia lay in each other's arms for a long time, not speaking, simply caressing one another. Finally, Charlotte asked, "Will it always be this wonderful?"
"Oh...probably not," sighed Lydia. "Nothing ever is."
"I'm surprised to hear you say that," Charlotte said.
"Nonsense, my love," replied Lydia. "You are even more pragmatic than I...you know that's how it is."
"Actually, I don't," said Charlotte. "I've never been in love like this before."
Lydia pushed herself halfway up and looked down at Charlotte lovingly. "We can't - and shouldn't - fool ourselves," she said. "Anytime two people decide to be together like this, it eventually takes some effort." She sighed. "That was the problem back when I was married - Saul didn't want to work on it." She smiled at Charlotte. "But - I'm willing if you are...because I think we're worth it."
Again, Charlotte teared up. She opened her arms. "I love you so," she said. As she enfolded Lydia into her arms, she said, "And who knows what an adventure lies before us? Perhaps...weathering storms between us will draw us even closer..."
"I think that's how it's supposed to be," said Lydia, bringing her mouth to Charlotte's yet again...
Over the coming years, Lydia was proven correct. Eventually their physical ardor and passion cooled from a white-hot flame to softly-glowing embers that last far into the night. And at times, they fought and almost hated each other. But hatred is only the reverse side of the coin of love - and each time, their lifelong love overcame their passing hatred. Their fights and arguments against one another - sometimes over political issues, not infrequently over petty domestic matters - were like summer thunderstorms that were dark, furious and quickly past.
Their fight for each other - and to stay together - was an ongoing one...and well worth the effort, as they both came to realize.
In the meantime, outside the bedroom where Charlotte and Lydia played, laughed, cried, talked, fought and made love with each other, nobody was any the wiser. People they had known socially and professionally continued to visit and be part of their lives. True, it was unusual for two women to form a household in this manner. But it was not unheard of.
To most of them, it was simply another "Boston Marriage."
= THE END =
© 2012 by Jeanne D'eau. All rights reserved.