In loving memory of
Colleen Thomas, A.J.M., Lemon Pound Cake,
& 'snow-forts' built of Scottish quilts…
Penny stepped through the open sliding doors -- a tattered yellow patchwork quilt, well-loved-to-lumpy, the only buffer between her steam-fresh flesh and this new brisk sting of the seasons' first snowfall. The makeshift cloak proved more cumbersome than cozy, as she tried to keep it in place with one hand and bent to trail her fingers through a perfect unmarked drift.
"Snow doesn't taste the same as it did when I was a kid." Penny closed her eyes and brushed her fingertips back and forth over chilled lips. She sounded more puzzled than disappointed.
From the second-floor balcony, Penny looked out over the sleeping neighborhood. She watched the light dusting of white -- rise, shift, swirl, and fall -- collect into assorted points and peaks atop the single-story buildings and silent bungalows.
"Wool..." Kate mused -- her voice soft and distant, searching a remote corner of memory -- as she joined Penny on the balcony, a tall steaming mug of mulled wine in each hand. Penny cooed, curled her cold wet fingers around the warmth of the cup, and then promptly furrowed her brow at the word.
"Yarn..." Kate continued with a slight air of contemplative hesitation. "I think you're remembering the taste of wet mittens," a proud decisive smile bloomed through her far-off thoughts, "more than the snow itself."
Penny's teeth ached the instant she joined Kate in evoking the long-forgotten sensation, "My god, I think you're right!" She shivered at the sharp metallic tinge, as her mouth closed down on a memory and tongued the cold hard nubs -- tiny clinging balls of snow dangling from wiry threads -- on a soggy yellow-and-green-striped pair of misshapen hand-knit mittens.
Kate's eyes shone as she watched Penny hug the mug up to her pursed lips (cooling the hot liquid with a few quick visible breaths, before taking a series of slow careful sips) to chase the strange imagined taste away. The appreciative "Mmmm" sounds, that followed every dainty swallow, warmed Kate from the inside. They stirred a sweet mix of lust and longing, folded in with mild traces of -- somewhat disconcerting -- maternal affection and a dollop of concern.
"I wish you would stay."
Kate labored to wean the melancholy weight from her words, but they fell bleating and gloom-laden just the same.
A quiet pain plaited through the frost-laced air.
"Oooh!" Penny forged through -- overdoing her sudden gasp of delight and squeal of girlish excitement, just enough to invalidate would-be deaf-ears.
"We used to pretend we were mining diamonds!"
Kate managed a thin intrigued-sounding "Hmmm?" through a long calming dose of spiced-wine.
"My sister and I. We'd scoop up the snow... you know, when it's all loose and powdery and it sparkles in the sun? We'd spend hours and hours, and we'd 'oooh and ahhh' like every handful was some great magical find." Penny laughed down into her mug. "We'd haul it from one end of the yard to the other...
My God, how did we spend so much time? We'd just get totally lost in it, you know..."
The momentum fizzled. Penny's giddy train-of-thought slowed, got stuck in and swallowed up by thick complicated batter -- that muck that kept rising between them despite the best intentions and efforts on both sides.
"You miss your family." Kate hoped genuine heartfelt understanding had kept any pinch of nagging judgment or tang of (equally genuine) heartache from her tone. "We should have... had more time," she couldn't disguise the heavy sigh. A suspended blue-gray fog gave it away, even had it not resounded -- loud and clear -- in the still night air.
Kate nestled her unfinished cup into the never-planted window box. She opened her own makeshift-blanket-cloak and reined Penny in. Kate only intended a firm companionable hug -- a little warmth and compassion -- but she couldn't stifle the flutter in her belly or the wanting ache swelling in her breast as Penny's body pressed against hers. She couldn't keep her willful lips from brushing across Penny's smooth forehead, slowing and stopping, finding their way into the shape of a kiss.
"Pen," Kate whispered into the clean coolness of Penny's soft brown hair, "I don't want you to go..."
Penny's head nodded, then turned from side-to-side, then nodded again. She nuzzled against Kate -- muffling a soft wanting whimper -- before looking up with wide glistening eyes.
"...and the snow drifts were like mountains!" she breathed. Big beautiful tears spilled, just as fast and as full as the words that poured out.
"I know. I know." Kate soothed -- with her sweetest voice, her kindest smile, her gentlest rocking.
"My cousins would make these amazing tunnels and forts. We'd hide in them... have to be called and called and called to come inside for supper," Penny pushed through shivers, sobs, and anxious laughter. "Now, I bitch about having to walk three blocks to the store in the shit".
A squeaky hiccup served as punctuation. The odd sound caught them both by surprise. Easy laughter broke through to dilute the heavy muck, disperse the clouds of tension, and lighten the air.
"Thank you for this..." Penny held up her empty cup, before reaching over and tucking it in next to Kate's, "and for the bath..." Her eyes flashed, as she took Kate by the hand. That oh-so-familiar sweet mischievous smile returned.
Penny led Kate inside. Still laughing softly, she let the quilt fall from her shoulders as she passed through the sliding doors. Kate dropped her wrap on top of it. With a gentle tug at Penny's hand, she knelt down on the discarded blankets just inside the open doorway. Penny turned, smiling, allowing Kate to draw her close before letting the cold hand slip from her fingers.
As she looked down upon the beautiful ethereal shape kneeling before her -- Kate's naked form, a breathtaking study of shadow and light, cast in a strange diffused deep-blue glow, with the hypnotic moving curtain (future diamonds-to-mine trailing through the night sky) behind her -- a tentative gasp of awe caught in Penny's throat. Her heartbeat quickened. A thin sweet whistle threaded in on the light wintry breeze, tiny wings fluttered in her stomach, a forgotten song played in her head. Love swelled in her breast.
Kate pressed her face to the warmth of Penny's belly. She brushed her lips back and forth across the taut silky skin, making the same appreciative "Mmmm" sounds Penny had made into her mulled wine.
Night-air-chilled fingers tickled over Kate's shoulders and found their way into her still-damp hair. They twisted in playful circles and urged with gentle tugs.
Kate smoothed her own cool hands up the back of Penny's legs, her icy fingers curling around to warm themselves between compliant thighs: they flexed, slid apart, opened for her without coaxing.
Between each tender kiss she placed in a perfect line down the center of a sweetly trembling tummy, Kate whispered "at the delta... the alpha... Mmmm... the omega."
Penny's breath snagged again -- the Cohen reference, uncanny -- but it freed itself, became a soft contented giggle. She leaned back, entrusting herself to the resolute harness made by Kate's loving hands, and welcomed the 'worship'.
"God, I've missed you..."
Kate bathed Penny with a long slow teasing sigh of moist warm breath before pressing her open mouth over soft parted lips. She slid the tip of her tongue into consenting silken wetness and drew an unhurried circle around the perfect firm nub of Penny's clit.
The brisk winter wind whistled in through the doorway, played a wonderfully chilling song on Kate's bare back, flickered its icy tongue down her spine, and between her legs. She arched and slid her knees apart to welcome it. She moaned hungrily into Penny, as the naughty breeze accepted her private invitation -- cuing up an aria of fervent frost-tipped licks.
Kate's hands -- clutching and kneading the supple flesh of Penny's thighs, pulling delicious intoxicating heat to her devoted mouth -- rocked Penny's body, splayed in boundless surrender, to the same sweet melody.
Quiet tremors met her mouth and matched her kisses, joined in a rhythm scored before the dawn of time. Beautiful soft low cries fluted in -- rising and falling and fluttering around Kate's ears -- as Penny came.
Suddenly, Kate had to fight against an all too familiar weighty sadness that welled up in her breast, tightened around her heart, and threatened to find its quickest escape route up through her eyes. The impish wintry wind withdrew its playful tongue and left a dull lonely ache in its place. The way Penny sounded, the way she felt, the way she smelled, the way she tasted: too long since Kate had last knelt here, found that reprehensible sense of belonging, the confounding calm of coming home. Far longer still since she'd been at peace with her right to feel it, want it, need it; too long since she'd come here without fear of tears.
"My love, my love, my love..." Kate mouthed an unheard string of anxious endearments into the tender wet folds of Penny's soft yielding flesh, while -- inside her head -- Mr. Cohen again matched better words to the bittersweet protest in her heart.
"...but you'll never be forgiven for whatever you've done with the keys".
Penny cradled Kate's head in her hands and, with some gentle manual persuasion, willed her to look up. Quieting the short stray gasps of her subsiding climax and mustering a sweet (but careful) smile, Penny whispered, "It ain't exactly prison."
Uncanny -- proof that their once infamous unwavering mind-meld still held in a few unspoiled places, but proof of these undamaged ties only served to undo Kate's fragile resolve.
Candid tears fell, pitiless in their objectionable course down Kate's flushed cheeks, right into the intimate sticky glisten around her trembling lips.
"I don't want to share you anymore," the dreadful appeal squeaked out, despite visible expression-contorting pains to suppress it.
Penny drew in a long audible breath. "Please don't spoil this," she exhaled, shoulders falling: the parallel struggle to keep exasperation from her tone, just as faulty. Quickly, she tried to repair the air with an awkward smile and a thin little string of strained laughter. "I can't have another conversation about... cake," Penny implored -- her eyes alight with compassion, awash with conflict. She pulled Kate towards her and cushioned the beautiful tear-dampened face against her tummy. It was Penny's turn to soothe with gentle rocking, Penny's turn to comfort with wordless whispers.
"The stupid cake thing never came from me," Kate breathed into the warmth of Penny's body, "you know that..." The words were soft and muffled. There was no argument in them, only a little willful clarification (in Kate's mind, dogged fact).
"Shhhh," Penny hushed. "You're freezing. Let's close these doors... come on, let's get to bed. I have an early..."
Penny cleared her throat, shifted, blushed in apology, "It's late."
Kate blinked back the unwanted tears, nodded, and managed a compliant smile through a stifled sigh.
She collected herself, and the lumpy faded quilts, and followed Penny across the ice-cold hardwood floor toward the bed they'd shared for the better part of a decade and change; and the worst part of another half.
The room looked much as it always had. The bedding was new, but (beneath the unfamiliar sheets with their unpleasant whispers and unauthorized pattern, color, and thread-count) the mattress -- a housewarming gift from Kate's Grandmother, quite an extravagant one from the frugal woman who'd been infamous for only gifting unwanted stores from her pantry and re-gifting frozen fruitcake -- slept sweetly: safe and sound. It breathed with a million tender memories, murmured tales of a love deemed unbreakable, and it dreamed -- still -- all the beautiful dreams that they'd shared on it through the years.
As Kate curled on her side, tucking her still-shivering hands up under the pillow beneath her head, an odd little memory stirred: something her Grandmother (the same) had said about putting wedding cake under a pillow. With a quiet inward laugh, laced with surly sarcasm, she wondered if perhaps she should have listened.
Inside Kate's weary mind, she flashed a great mocking smile at Grandma, "...but lady, can you sleep on your cake and still eat it too?"
Outside this little imaginary confrontation, a sleepy child-like voice slipped out -- along with one last plump rebellious tear.
"I miss you already."
* * *
Penny curled in behind Kate. Her left arm encircled the other-half-of-her-body-mind-and-soul's troubled puzzle, her left hand found the soft profile of a small right breast it knew so well, her left leg hooked around familiar warmth and curve -- the shape of home.
She pressed her lips to the back of Kate's neck. She held them there, poised on the edge of an unfinished kiss. Her restless mind raced through stores of idyllic promises, mislaid plans, and random thoughts.
"Let's get up early and drive up north! We should go out for breakfast. It's too early for Christmas shopping, right...? Hey, why don't we tackle the basement tomorrow? Is it too cold and wet to stain the front steps? Hell, we could make a snow-fort (fuck that, it's too cold, let's stay in bed all day -- we'll make a blanket-fort instead)! You know I despise Scrabble, but I'll play. How come we still haven't been to Spain? When are we going back to Rome? Do you remember...? Didn't you say...? I think I owe you a foot-rub... I think you owe me some new dirty photos! Our next house HAS TO BE fully detached. Why don't we...? Whatever happened to...? Did you... Kate, did you set the alarm?"
None of these things found their well-meaning way to Penny's mouth.
* * *
On the warmer side of closed sliding doors, under blankets piled high (not the least of which, on top -- a tattered yellow patchwork quilt, well-loved-to-lumpy), Leonard helped Penny find her voice. It came in soft low whispers.
"...and for something like a second, I am cured and my heart is at ease."
The whispers stirred a sweet light breeze that got lost in the silky tresses of Kate's lovely sleeping head, but the mattress found them and tucked them away for safe-keeping.