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Both Sides Now
A few words from the author:
Like I always seem to, I struggled with how to categorize this. First and foremost, it's a romance. It just happens to be between two women. Does that mean it HAS to be categorized as Lesbian? In my opinion, it does not. But I'm sure there are some who do not wish to read that kind of story, so I bowed to convention. If you don't want to read about two women falling in love, please stop now.
The amusing bit is that originally, I had a completely different premise in mind and did not intend to write about a lesbian relationship at all. But then I started typing, and when Holly opened the door, I swear - of their own accord - my fingers typed one name instead of another, and the whole story changed. Now I can't even remember the original premise.
I owe a tremendous thank you to GirlintheMoon, who graciously accepted my request (aka unsolicited demand) to edit this. If you haven't read her writing, please take the time; you're in for a treat.
I would also like to thank MadaamSedusa for volunteering to review, comment, and make suggestions.
Any characters involved in extracurricular activities (actual or implied) are over 18.
Hope you enjoy it.
My name is Holly Pemberton. I grew up with my mom and my older brother, Hal. Yeah, Mom loved alliterative names. I think Hal is supposed to be a nickname for Henry or Harry or something, but he was just Hal. He was five years older than me, and while he was never mean to me, I got the sense that he... resented me somehow. Maybe because our father left right after I was born. Maybe. Probably. I'd never really talked to Hal about it. Or Mom for that matter, about why he left. She made it pretty clear that she didn't want to talk about it. I have never had any contact with my father, at least not when I was old enough to remember. Not a card, not a Christmas present, nothing. As far as I knew, he had moved on. I didn't know where, or with whom, or if he had a new family or what.
Anyway, Hal was just old enough that we never went to the same school at the same time. When he learned to drive, Mom made him take me around to my practices and stuff, but we never talked much. We had nothing really in common; I liked sports and music, and he liked computers. Don't feel sorry, I'm just trying to explain that I was alone a lot growing up. I got used to it.
I didn't hide out in my bedroom 24/7; I did have a life. Parks and Rec sports were free, or nearly so, and since I enjoyed it, Mom was happy to support me. She also bought me a cheap guitar when I was ten; she said it was to balance sports, and I fell in love with it. I spent most of my alone time teaching myself how to play. It's weird, I was kinda like two different people. Playing sports, I was confident, almost outgoing. When I came off the field though, I was much quieter. And my music? That was very personal. I never shared.
I played soccer, basketball, and softball, and my teammates, some of them, became my friends. When I got to middle school, I played on the school teams, and by the time I got to high school, I liked to think I was pretty good.
Not as good as the girls who played on those travel teams, but that was never in the cards for me. We weren't exactly hurting, but we were certainly on a budget. Things like travel sports and music lessons and summer camps were an extravagance. Still, I was first-string varsity in all three sports from the time I was a sophomore. My size helped. More about that in a bit. Sports kept me in shape, and after high school, I found adult leagues to play in. It kept me busy, I loved it, and it was better than hanging out in bars getting drunk. So not my scene.
Socially, high school was... difficult. As long as I stuck with my teammates, I was fine, but... dating? Yeah, right. I mean, I went on a few dates. I don't think I went out with the same person more than twice, though. Especially since...
There was this one guy. His name was Craig, and he was one of the football jocks. You know, the high school caste system, right? Jocks and cheerleaders at the top; nerds at the bottom. I was in a weird caste all my own. I was good at sports, but I was so shy off the field that I wound up being overlooked for the most part.
Don't date outside your caste was the rule. So, I don't know why Craig started talking to me. I mean, I know what his excuse was. And I found out the real reason, but much too late. Anyway, I guess it was not long after Christmas break of our senior year when he came up to me after school and asked if I'd help him with physics.
"Uhh... why me, Craig? Aren't you dating Kelly? I know she's doing pretty well in that class; can't she help you?"
He gave me an uncomfortable look. "I asked her, but you know, she's busy with her activities... and she did try once, but she just got so frustrated with me! I'm worried she thinks I'm stupid." He did the bowed head and sad eyes thing. Oh man, he was smooth, and I fell for it.
"Oh... okay, I guess I can find some time..."
"Thanks, Holly, you're the best. I'll call you." With an easy grin, he jogged off to join his friends.
I missed the looks they gave me.
I'm sure you can all see where this is going, and you'd be right. I was so naïve, and it was so cliché. A few weeks of him slowly putting the moves on me, under the guise of tutoring. I don't want to rehash the details. Suffice it to say he got inside my armor, and then he got inside my panties. It lasted all of a minute, one afternoon when Mom was at work. He was dressed in record time, threw another "Thanks Holly, you're the best. I'll call you!" at me, and was gone.
The only smart thing I did was to make him wear a condom, but that didn't lessen the pain, emotional or physical. Of course, he never called. I did go up to him at school once, after.
"Craig..." I started to say.
"Oh hey, Holly, sorry, I gotta run. I'll talk to you later, okay?"
I could only nod, and he jogged off like before.
As I stood there, Kelly came up behind me. In the most awful, condescending tone, she murmured in my ear. "Awww, poor Holly. You didn't really think he would dump me for you, did you?" And she gave me a look - fake pout and big, fake sad eyes - and continued, each word stabbing into my heart, "It was a pity fuck, didn't you know that?" And with a smirking laugh, she walked away.
I stood there in shock. No, that's not what I had thought. I just wanted to know why? What had I ever done to deserve that kind of treatment? I never did get any kind of an answer. I cried myself to sleep for a week. Mom knew something was up, but I was too humiliated to talk to anyone about it, and I didn't have the kind of friends that I could open up to either. I mean, they knew - most of the school eventually knew - but for the most part, I just suffered in silence, tried to avoid him, and prayed for school to be over.
But eventually, I did wind up having a breakdown. Mom found me curled in a ball, sobbing in my room.
"Oh, Holly, what's the matter?" She sat on the edge of my bed, stroking my hair.
"What's wrong with me, Mom?"
"Honey, not a thing! What happened?"
"Why did they leave? Why don't they love me? Why did they abandon us?"
She was quiet for a moment. "Your dad and your brother?"
I nodded, still sniffling. That was the real issue. Craig didn't matter, compared to their betrayal.
"Scootch over," Mom said, and she crawled into bed behind me and wrapped her arms around me. Holding me tight, a real embrace, for the first time in a very long while.
"I'm so sorry honey. I should probably have told you a long time ago." She took a deep breath. "Your father cheated on me when I was pregnant with you. I found out about it and threw him out. Hal was five - old enough to remember. I think he equated your arrival with his father's departure, and he blamed you. Nothing I ever said seemed to make any difference.
"Nothing that happened was your fault. You hear me? Nothing." She squeezed me tighter. "You're my good girl, Holly, and I love you. I know I don't tell you often enough."
Well of course that got the waterworks going again, and I fell asleep with Mom still holding me.
Later, she told me that she suspected Hal had somehow found Dad and started communicating with him and that probably led to his cutting us out of his life.
"His loss," she stated firmly.
So... yeah, never anything serious. Mostly I hung out with my few friends who had stuck with me, after... you know.
When I graduated high school, there just wasn't any money for college. I accepted it. Hal was the smart one. He had earned a scholarship to Northwestern, and I haven't seen him since, except maybe for an awkward Christmas or two. It did make me sad. I mean, he was my brother, and he may as well have been a stranger. I didn't know how to fix it. The sad part was that I didn't know if I wanted to. But the worst? The worst was that I was pretty sure it didn't matter to him. And that's part of what led to me sobbing on my bed.
My grades were good but not great. I was a good athlete, but not great. I did get an offer to play basketball at St. Michael's, which is Division II, but it's a private school, and it was only a partial scholarship. Mom just laughed - not in a cruel way - just, there was no way. So, like a lot of my fellow graduates, I went job-hunting. I found one as a cashier at a pharmacy - one of the big chains - and Mom let me live at home. It was a job; one that I knew I didn't want to do forever, but I didn't have another plan. When I had my first review at the end of my probationary period, my supervisor asked me that exact question, and I was honest with him. He thought about it, and I guess he decided I was worth keeping because he suggested that I look into getting my pharmacy technician certificate. It took a year, but I succeeded and was promoted. I was proud of myself and even thought I might want to become a pharmacist someday. But for the time being, a PhD was a pipe dream.
With my salary increase, I was able to afford a small apartment, and I think Mom was secretly pleased to have me out of the house. I was pretty sure she was dating again, and if she was happy, that was fine by me. We got along, but we were just different. She loved me, she just never got me, you know?
Just as when I was in school, my adult-league teammates became my friends. We socialized a little, and that's actually where I met Josh. I was 23, and playing in a co-ed basketball league, and he was on the other team, guarding me, and playfully trash-talking the whole time. At one point, I threw a spin move and went around him for an easy layup. He just stood there, and I smirked at him. I expected some smart-ass comment, especially after some of the guys did that hand-over-the-mouth-and-point thing, but he just grinned and told me that was a nice move.
After the game, both teams decided to hit a local sports bar for some wings and beer, and we wound up chatting for most of the evening. He surprised me by asking for my number, and I surprised myself by giving it to him. He called a few days later to invite me to dinner, and I surprised myself again by accepting. We shared stories about our pasts - well, he shared; I doled out snippets. I've never been one to open up like that, especially with someone new. So, I gave him the highlights.
I learned that he was the oldest of three. He was two years older than me, had a sister my age, and a brother who was four years younger than me. He had gone to college and was working as an IT Systems Developer. He reminded me of my brother in that regard, although physically they were quite different. Josh was about two inches taller than my own 5'8", and had brown hair and brown eyes. He had a pleasant face and was built like a runner. He said he ran track and cross country in high school but just ran for exercise now.
Me? I always thought I was big. Strong legs with muscular thighs and butt. I really hate the word 'thick', but it pretty much fits me. I weigh about 170 lbs, which logically, is fine for my height. As I said earlier, I was in shape. But there's no logic with girls and their self-image, and mine was pretty poor. I know that now, but then... My mother always called me 'healthy', and I knew she was trying to help, but... it didn't.
I didn't want or even understand the attention my body garnered. In my mind, it was always a negative thing, so I tended to wear basketball shorts and baggy T-shirts to work out, or when playing sports. If I had to wear a bathing suit, it was always a modest one-piece. I was happy with my borderline C-cups; I didn't want the ogling that bigger boobs would have brought. I do think that I have nice hands. I know, I'm weirdly proud of them. I have long, nimble fingers, which helps with my guitar.
I have coppery red hair, which was almost orange when I was younger, and a face full of freckles. When middle school started, I was dubbed 'Carrot Top' by some half-wit, and it stuck. Thankfully, as I got older, the hair darkened a little bit. I let it grow long and usually wore it in a ponytail. The freckles faded some as well. When I was younger, I was a little heavy too, but when I found sports... well, I don't think I lost weight, but it kinda got redistributed as muscle, and I eventually developed a few curves.
But inside, in that secret place that I kept locked away, I was always the big girl, always Carrot Top.
Anyway, when Josh started to pay attention to me, at first, I was wary. But as we hung out more, I was surprised and pleased. We did seem to click. We already had sports in common, but we had a few other interests that we shared, like hiking and skiing and other outdoorsy activities. Also, I liked that he was okay with us doing our own thing when it suited us. As I said, I was used to being alone, and I valued; no, I needed that time to myself. I appreciated that he seemed to understand.
I'm also glad that he seemed to be willing to wait. For me, I mean. When we finally did have sex, it was okay, over a little quick, and I wasn't quite ready, so it wasn't all that great for me. But Josh seemed happy, and he didn't go rushing out of my apartment. It's not like I had all that much experience anyway, so I guess I thought that's what it was supposed to be like. To be fair, as we learned each other's bodies, it did get a little better, but usually, it was just starting to get interesting about the time he'd finish, and I'd be left to fend for myself. And I was just too introverted to say anything.
For about nine months, we shared time between my little apartment in Winooski, which is just across the Winooski River from Burlington proper, and Josh's place in South End. Then, coincidentally, our leases were both set to expire within a couple of weeks of each other.
Josh was definitely more practical than I, and he dropped a bit of a bomb on me when he suggested that we move in together. He had a lot of valid arguments. We could afford a bigger place if we shared rent, we were already spending most nights at one of our places or the other, etcetera.
I thought about it, and couldn't come up with any real negatives, other than being afraid of losing my 'me' time. I explained this to Josh, and he suggested we look for a three-bedroom place. He said we could each have one of the smaller rooms as our personal sanctuary.
When I asked about guests (not that I really expected any), he suggested we put a daybed in my space. And when we were searching for just the right place, Josh found one that he just had to have in South Burlington. When I complained about having to commute, he said I was being silly and that it was only 15 minutes from my job. My counter-argument that I could walk to work from my current place was ignored.
These were all little things in the grand scheme of our relationship. I'm just pointing out that there were some signs, early signs, that when it came time for compromise, it was me who was doing the compromising.
So I was mildly annoyed when, without me, he said he had found the perfect place It was a small house on a cul-de-sac, and after seeing it, I ruefully agreed that it was very cute. Eventually, I wound up loving it. It had a fenced-in backyard and a nice patio. Josh immediately began making noises about putting in a hot tub, and I just smiled at his enthusiasm. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.
We had a bit of a fight about the lease, though. We'd been dating for almost a year by then, and Josh argued that we should sign the longest-term lease that we could, in order to save money. When I told him that I was more comfortable with a yearly lease, he asked if I had that little faith in our relationship.
That stung a little bit. But I just replied, "I never said that, Josh. But what if you get a new job, or an offer that's too good to turn down? What if... I don't know, we decide we hate our neighbors? I'm not willing to take the risk. We can always re-think it in a year."
And I wouldn't budge. It was one of the few times that I refused to compromise.
I just realized, looking back, that I may have been overly critical in my characterization of Josh. I think the narrative is being tainted by what came after, and that's not quite fair. We weren't even married, and things were good. I don't think I loved him, but I did like him quite a bit. I was content.
The neighborhood was nice, with eleven houses in total, counting the ones that lined the street leading from the cul-de-sac up to the main road. They were all smaller homes, and the residents were a mix of older retired couples who had downsized and young couples like us who were just starting out.
We had been there for a couple of days and had organized most of what little stuff we had, when the doorbell rang.
"Can you get that?" I heard Josh holler. He was closer, but sure. Compromise.
I opened it and was struck dumb. Like, deer-in-the-headlights. Frozen. Did you ever meet someone who just hits ALL your buttons? It's not like they're necessarily gorgeous, although to me, this person was, no doubt. Just... the combination of features, the total package, it all just works for you? That's what this vision did for me. Even discovered some buttons I didn't know I had, and pushed those too.
In a word, I was gobsmacked, and I don't know why. This had never happened to me.
She (yeah, she) was barely 5 feet tall, and maybe 100 pounds. She was built like a dancer, with well-defined legs, and a perfect little bubble butt that spoke of hours in the gym. She had small breasts that fit her body perfectly. Her hair was streaky blonde, and cut in some kind of shaggy bob, and she had these emerald green eyes that by rights should have belonged to someone named Saoirse. Standing next to her made me feel like a frikkin' walrus.
I have never, ever reacted that way to another human in my life. The fact that it was a girl made it very, very confusing.
She grinned at me and stuck out her hand. "Hi, I'm Gretchen. I live next door." She pointed to her right briefly, then stuck her hand back out.
I just stood there, and she arched one perfect eyebrow, just slightly.
"Uh... hi!" I broke from my stupor. "Holly. I'm Holly." Belatedly I reached out and shook her hand. "Oh, uh, would you like to come in?" I asked, and stepped to the side. Smooth, Holly, real smooth.
She floated in, looking around. "Oh, I love that print," she said, indicating a Peter Lik reproduction that I had splurged on. It was called Beyond Paradise, and showed a pier over a blue ocean, under a blue cloud-filled sky. If you looked at it just right, the pier seemed to stretch to infinity. It was very tranquil, and it relaxed me. Just then, I felt like I needed to sit and stare at it for a long time. A month should do it. Maybe.