How To Catch A Falling StarbyLaRascasse©
After the unexpectedly good reception for my first lesbian story earlier this year, I've decided to try my hand at writing another one. Unlike most other things I've written, this one is a quaint, tranquil romance between an older and a younger woman. I hope you like it.
This story was originally planned as my entry into the Earth Day contest, but a whole lot of work drowned me back then. There are several environmental themes in it.
There is a lot of story before the actual sex comes. If you came here looking for a quick stroke, you will probably end up disappointed.
All characters and events in the story are fictional.
A lot of credit is due to my editor, NaokoSmith, who corrects my wrong choices in verbs and wines with equal élan. Despite her busy schedule and advanced years, she sends the edited drafts back with unerring punctuality.
"Just look at the view from this place!" screamed the excited new associate. The balcony at the Metropolitan Theatre overlooked the multitude of rows of patrons shuffling to their seats, getting ready for the show to begin.
"Get used to it," said Heather Franklin. "We're in the big league now."
"And to think we're barely starting out at the firm," said her animated friend. "Did you see the signing bonus? It's more than everyone at our old place made put together."
"Comes with a hundred hour work week, sweetheart," Heather said dryly, exhaling the last wisp of smoke from her lips. "Wait till we get a big case. That'll be the last you'll see of your free time for months."
"Live in the moment, Heather. Live in the moment," said Wendy. "Shh... the show is about to start."
Heather sighed and tucked her reddish brown hair behind her ear. She didn't even like Hamlet, or anything else by Shakespeare for that matter. But, she was a filthy rich associate at Griffin, Markham & Wiley now; and with that came the pretentious compulsion to see a play from a seat costing an astronomical amount.
No self respecting snob misses such things.
The bombastic voice of an actor resonated all around the hall. Heather looked to see her friend staring with rapt attention at the action playing out on stage. She pretended to be interested, but her mind drifted.
It drifted to her life growing up. Her home in Scarsdale with a white fence and trimmed hedges. Her family and friends. Every Greenpeace meeting she went to and every park she vociferously protested to save.
It seemed a lifetime ago. She got into Yale on a full scholarship. Her brilliance was only matched by her perseverance and determination to save the world. Every bit of the environment was worth saving.
Circumstances conspired against her. The vicissitudes of the world wore her down and now she had found herself fighting for the other side. The money was worth it. Someday she might even force herself to believe that lie.
A round of applause signalling the end of the first act brought her back to reality. Wendy was clapping enthusiastically. She turned to Heather.
"The actress playing Ophelia is a total knockout. Do you fancy her?" she grinned mischievously. "Or are we still firmly in the closet?"
"It was a one time thing and we were both drunk," said Heather, rolling her eyes. "It was a mistake, granted a very enjoyable one, but still a mistake."
"The mistake was you haven't even kissed me once since," pouted Wendy.
Wendy's attention returned to the stage as Hamlet began pondering whether to be or not. Heather looked around aimlessly before ruminating once more.
The tedious play wore on. Heather distracted herself by thinking about her job, but that made her cringe even more than the play. A vision floated in her mind of herself on her knees with the sticky cum of her boss streaked across her face. To be a corporate whore had meant going all the way.
Her eyes moved off the stage and she surveyed the first row of the audience below her. She knew some of them and had heard of a few others. She casually browsed upwards along the aisle, before her eyes came to a sudden halt.
Even though she had an oblique view of the face from her vantage point, lit only by the distant stage lights, she immediately recognized the face. It seemed like a face from another life, a parallel universe. It had been years since she saw that face, but she would never forget it.
"You go on ahead. I've got to catch someone."
"Who?" asked Wendy, puzzled.
"None of your business. I'll see you at work on Monday," Heather replied brusquely and hurried off into the crowd. All the while, she kept half an eye on her target. The woman stepped onto the pavement and looked up the street for a cab. Tentatively, Heather approached her.
"Excuse me, but aren't you Norah Vaughan?"
The woman looked surprised and nodded. Heather broke into a wide grin and extended her arm.
"It's an honour to meet you again. You probably don't remember, but I was at one of your public speeches ten or so years back."
"I'm flattered you remember," said Norah, a twinkle coming into her eye.
"Heather Franklin," came the reply. They shook hands.
"Nice to meet you again, Heather. Did you come for the play as well?"
"A friend dragged me along," she said. "You still look just like I remember all those years ago. I watched every news feature you ran and every documentary you made."
"Thank you," Norah said, looking surprised. Despite nearing fifty, she still took the effort to run a mile every day. Her body barely showed any sign of ageing and her face remained unblemished by wrinkles. She wore an elegant red dress with matching heels.
A drop of water fell on the dress. Then one more.
"Damn. It's about to rain," sighed Norah, holding her hand up above her head. "There goes my dress. All the cabs are full."
"Let's make a sprint to my condo. It's just around the corner."
"You have a condo in this neighbourhood?" said Norah, raising her eyebrow and running behind her new friend. "What's your job again?"
"I'm a lawyer."
Heather paused, suddenly remembering how Norah Vaughan probably hated corporate lawyers who routinely impeded her efforts to save the environment. To her relief, the older woman smiled.
"Right now, you're my saviour."
"How wet are you?" Heather asked in the safety of her living room. It took a few moments of awkward silence for her to realize exactly what she had said. Norah laughed out loud.
"Not too bad," she replied between laughs.
"You can grab a change of clothes if you want. I'll get us something to drink."
"Just the drink," Norah said. As her host walked off, she looked round at the condo. The walls were washed with a pale shade of peach, gradually melding into a creamy hue going towards the foyer. An eclectic collection of antiques and artworks dominated the entire space leading to a double-glass sliding wall that opened onto a covered balcony.
Norah stood admiring a long thin canvas on the side wall. There were swirls of colours thinning out at the edges and forming a woman's distorted face with her mouth open at the centre.
"Do you like it?" said a soft voice behind her. "It's a reinterpretation of Edvard Munch's Scream by an upcoming artist named Katrina."
"It's very..." said Norah contemplatively, trying to come up with something artsy.
"Colourful," finished her friend. "I don't understand shit about art, but my colleagues think it's worth hanging up on my wall. I come bearing alcohol."
"Bordeaux," said Norah appreciatively. "You sure know how to treat a guest."
They each took a goblet of the red elixir and headed to the balcony. The storm was picking up pace. Rain lashed the city in slanted sheets. There were two deck chairs facing outwards and the two women reclined to watch Mother Nature unfurl the full extent of her wrath on the city. Lightning flashed in a series of blinding white bursts from the sky.
"Do you remember it raining this heavily in May before?" Heather asked.
"Global warming at work," replied Norah. "It's only going to get worse every year. More rain, more hurricanes, more extreme weather in general. All the while we happily pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere."
"I try not to think about it," Heather said wearily. "We had one good planet and we blew it. That's the long and short of it."
Norah turned to her new friend and looked at her petulant face, taking a sip from her glass. A streak of lightning lit up the sky, its dazzling tentacles reaching out towards them before disappearing an instant later.
"How come you're jaded so young?" she asked curiously. "What happened?"
"Life happens to all of us," said Norah. "What happened to you?"
Heather took a deep breath and collected her thoughts. She began in a heavy tone, every syllable of the account of her unfortunate past laboured.
"I passed out of Yale, summa cum laude, in 2007, ready to make a difference. Sadly, the world changed that year. The recession ate away my family's wealth, leaving them at the mercy of the economy. Suddenly, I was made acutely aware of every next bill. Environmental lawyers don't earn a fraction of their corporate counterparts. I could just about make ends meet for us.
"Then one day, I took my mother to the ER after she had repeatedly complained of abdominal pain. She thought it was the turkey from the previous night."
Heather paused and took a sip of wine. Norah turned on her side and propped her elbow on the armrest. She rested her chin on her palm, listening intently. Heather resumed, minimal emotion in her voice.
"It was ovarian cancer."
"I'm so sorry," said Norah softly.
"In the blink of an eye, everything changed. There was no way my family could cope with the mountain of medical expenses. Life gave me a cruel choice, to save the world or save my mother."
She stopped once more and looked at the storm. Norah could see her milky white skin juxtaposed against the darkness of the night and torrents of rain outside the balcony.
"I chose my mother."
Heather Franklin revisited a very private memory, her mother lying frail and weak on the hospital bed as she gently stroked her hair. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was being with someone she had looked up to for so long, but she chose this moment to say it. The words themselves struck deep within her core.
"I quit my job and accepted an offer from one of the biggest law firms in the state. My new salary was enough to foot the hospital bills and then some," she continued emotionlessly. A decade back she might even have cried.
"I sold my soul to the devil."
"You didn't have a choice..." began Norah, but Heather went on as if she hadn't heard.
"The cancer took my mother anyway. My father followed her to an early grave within a year. The last two vestiges of my conscience lie buried in Westbrook cemetery. On the same day as my father's funeral, I had a trial defending Baron Oil against charges of illegal drilling in a fragile ecosystem. I demolished the opposing lawyer; an underpaid, nameless, spineless entity from some lowly law college."
Heather turned her face and smiled wistfully.
"My transformation into what I had always hated was complete. The worst part was that I hadn't even put up a fight."
"The system always finds a way to beat you," Norah urged. "Trust me, I know."
Heather saw a glimmer of weakness in the woman she had idolized all her life. The woman who went to the remotest corners of the planet to bring unflinching accounts of the environment being raped by corporate greed, solely for personal gain. The woman who had done more for the environment than anyone else in the media over the last twenty years.
That woman looked nothing like the dispirited being beside Heather.
"Great. No power now," sulked Heather. Manhattan suddenly looked eerily dark, lit by the occasional brilliant flash of lightning.
"It doesn't matter," brushed off Norah. "It's fine out here."
"I guess," came the reply as Heather's eyes slowly got accustomed to the darkness. She could only see Norah's silhouette, to her right. She got up to fetch a small emergency light, and placed it between them.
"What happened to the woman who fought tooth and nail to save the environment?" she said, settling back into her chair.
Norah sighed heavily. Her eyes drooped and an expression of futile regret washed over her face. The light cast a dim shadow over her, almost like a pall of gloom.
"I was an idealist once. I fought for the environment because I believed in the struggle. Whether it was deforestation of the Amazon rainforests, poaching in Kenya or BP destroying water bodies with their indiscriminate drilling, I made sure the Wall Street Journal had the inside scoop before anybody else," she said with a half smile. "I thought I was making a difference."
"You were. You still are," said Heather indignantly. Two empty bottles stood on the table and a third was around half consumed.
"Hardly," Norah retorted. "Nothing's changed. The environment is worse off than it was two decades ago."
She went on. "I wanted to be in the field, finding new stories and investigating them rather than being an editor behind a desk. Most of my contemporaries are now sitting behind desks and pushing paper. The closest they come to an occupational hazard is a faulty spacebar."
"So you don't feel like you're making a difference by being in the field?"
"Fighting for the environment is like trying to put out a forest fire with a watering can. You can't even make a small difference. Sure, there is a public outcry for a few days. The companies weather that out and eventually make sure nothing ever reaches a court."
"Even if it reaches court, they drag it out using depositions and hearings with the sole objective of making it financially impossible for the plaintiff to keep fighting," Heather concurred dispiritedly. "My firm has done it often enough."
"Write to your Congressman, that's what I say," joked Norah, pouring some more wine in her glass.
"The Congress has been bought and paid for by big industries," said Heather. "They're happy to play the role of mute spectator."
"And the spectacle is the destruction of our planet."
The rain grew more intense, every drop splashing against the concrete and scattering in a plume of fine particles. Occasionally, a spark of lightning illuminated the puddles before the thunder rippled the surface. There was a simultaneous calm and fury to the whole scene.
"I was always afraid of what I could say when my grandchildren asked me what I did while humanity destroyed the planet," Norah said sadly. "All I could have told them was that I stood by and watched, like everyone else. Thankfully, that day won't come."
"Why not?" asked Heather, her brow knitted with confusion. Her friend stared at her blankly for a long while.
"I have a question for you," Norah asked finally with a wry smile. "Would you ever die for a cause?"
Heather thought it over. Try as she might, there was no rational answer she could think of. Instead she put her glass down and stared into nothingness. Norah went on.
"I would and as fate would have it, I will," she said. "I will end up dying in poverty. Very soon as it turns out."
Heather's head snapped up to look at her. In the dim light, she saw the weak smile quivering around the corners of Norah's mouth. Norah pointed to her head.
"Glioma," she said heavily. "The doctor gave me ten months. A year at most."
"I-I..." Heather began, utterly unable to come up with words to express the whirl of thoughts in her head. It all seemed surreal.
"No need for pity. Not now anyway," sighed Norah. "Just now, all I have are daily headaches and some vomiting. It will get worse soon enough. And before you say it... I am not going in for any treatment. I don't want to make this any harder than it has to be."
"How can you be so unfazed?"
"Do I have anyone who will give a crap?" Norah laughed in response, taking another gulp of the claret. "My ex husband is happy with his second wife in Chicago. I'm lucky if my daughter calls me on Christmas. My zeal to save the world cost me everything. I gave up my family for my cause."
"I gave up my cause for my family. Do I look that different?"
Heather looked at the strange creature who had emerged from the woman unexpectedly seen in the theatre. She looked nothing in stature or tone like the fearless reporter Heather had looked up to all her life. Norah Vaughan looked emotionally burnt out.
She looked surprisingly mortal.
"Don't I paint a pretty picture? A bitter old lady cursing the world before she dies. I want to give away my money to Greenpeace, but I won't have any left."
"Why not?" asked Heather curiously.
"Legal fees. Some of the companies I went up against are suing me for defamation. You'd be surprised at how much faster these cases move compared to the ones against the companies," she said evenly. "I'm almost broke. They seem hell-bent on making an example out of me to scare off anybody else."
Heather wished she could be surprised at the legal system being used in such a perverse manner, but she was world weary enough to know that it is made so that the guilty and rich get away.
Norah sighed and poured more wine into both their glasses. Heather bit her lip and spoke up in the near darkness.
"Let me represent you."
"There's no way I could pay..."
"I'll do it pro bono," she waved Norah's astonished look off. "Please. I insist. It's the least I can do. I couldn't live with myself if the law I took an oath to uphold is used to bankrupt a dying woman. You gave me the courage to dream once and I didn't fight for that dream. Let me try again."
"Do you offer to help out everybody you meet at the theatre?"
"Only the ones who once inspired me."
Vikram Sengupta lay back on his bed. The morning sun did him no favours, reminding him it was time to get up. Even if he never followed laws set down by men, he was honour bound to follow those set down by nature.
He yawned and fleetingly wondered what his middle class parents would say if they knew his whole story. Being of Indian descent, his values often differed from those of his classmates. His parents emigrated to New York when he was a toddler, but he could never truly make himself part of the American Dream.
Girls? Drugs? Booze? None of them made sense to him.
But computers? That was a different matter entirely.
From when he was old enough to sit on a chair, he typed away on his father's PC. The internet was his playground. He fit in perfectly with the nameless, faceless mass of users, sharing little bits of themselves with others. Parts of the internet which had restricted access made him mad. He was smart, gifted in fact; he took it upon himself to learn hacking. His grades suffered at school because he couldn't care less when the Boston Tea Party happened, but his hacking skills grew.
He started small, changing his grade in History to an A. Then he sent several erotic books to unsuspecting saintly-looking Amazon users (who no doubt had some difficulty explaining this to less than amused spouses). With every successful hack, his confidence grew. He covered his tracks expertly. It all seemed natural to him.
One day, two men in black suits knocked on the Senguptas' door. It was regarding the trifling matter of their fourteen year old son hacking into the Pentagon servers. They were not angry, rather they were worried that such a thing could be done. They spoke to Vikram pleasantly and offered him a sizeable amount of money if he could explain to their security experts how he managed to access nuclear launch codes reserved for the President alone.