Falling In Love AgainbyPussyrider©
It was a sultry July day as I stepped out of the taxi; Ali would have loved it. As I walked into the synagogue, however, I reflected how much she would have hated that. Ali despised all religion – I wanted to give her a humanist funeral, but whereas her family had totally rejected her in life, in death they had reclaimed her, doing their best to freeze me out entirely. I'd had to ask our solicitor to tell me where the ceremony was taking place. I glanced across the temple and saw them – her tall patrician father, her small dumpy mother, and her portly elder brother, all pretending I didn't exist.
I'm Suki, by the way. Well, my parents christened me Susan, but I always hated having such a dull, conventional name, and the moment I left home I changed it. Home is a small town in New Mexico which nobody from more than 20 miles away has ever heard of. I live in London, England (God, that is such an American expression), and for the last six years of her life Ali has been my significant other. To be honest, our relationship had hit a bit of a rocky patch at the time of her death; but the end came with shocking suddenness. One evening we were lying in bed together when Ali got up with a terrible headache. Within minutes she was sobbing with pain and fear. I called an ambulance and held her; by the time help arrived she was unconscious, and she never woke up. I wasn't really listening when, two days after it all started, the doctor told me the medical term for what had killed her: basically a blood vessel in her brain had burst, and even if she'd survived she would almost certainly been in what they call a vegetative state – that is such a horrible term.
So now here I was, being completely shunned by the seemingly dozens of her black-clad relatives who crowded the building, like so many carrion crows. Turning my back on them I gazed nto space, waiting for the whole grizzly business to start. I felt a hand settle lightly on my shoulder – and my blood froze in my veins as I turned and stared into the face of my dead girlfriend!
The next thing I knew, I was lying on a chaise longue with a dull ache at the back of my skull and a pink oval hovering over me. It swam into focus and I saw it was a concerned face, which belonged to, I remembered, an old friend of Ali's who had stayed friendly when her family spurned their evil lesbian Jezebel. He was some kind of doctor at one of the big London hospitals. As I tried to sit up my head protested like it had been kicked and Paul, that was the guy's name I recalled, gently pressed me back down. "Take it easy, you cracked your head on the way down. You had us worried for a few minutes – we thought you might have damaged a valuable antique table."
The feeble joke passed me by, and I felt physically sick and bewildered. I asked, "What happened, did I faint or something? How long for?"
Paul stroked a strand of hair out of my eyes and said, "Only a few minutes, but you need time to recover. Just lie back and think of Uncle Sam." From my reclining position I could see I was in some kind of office – there was a crowded noticeboard to my left. The room was also pretty crowded. There was Ali's mom, looking worried; and beside her, Ali's dad, seemingly furious that I was apparently trying to steal the show at his daughter's funeral; the rabbi was there, glancing at his watch, concerned I was going to foul up his schedule; and one other figure. Hanging back by the door, pale and looking as if she'd been crying, was the Ali look-alike. Paul must have noticed me staring at her. Without taking his eyes off me he whispered, "Alison's sister, Andrea."
Jesus, what a shock that was! I knew Ali had a sister, but she'd never bothered to mention the small fact that they were identical twins. Feeling embarrassed by the whole situation, I heard myself mumbling, "Look, I'm sorry, I don't know what happened, I guess it's so hot today, and I'm not used to wearing pantyhose, I guess I just…" I knew I was babbling. Thankfully Paul silenced me before I made an even bigger ass of myself. After a glass of water and a few minutes sitting upright holding my head in my hands, and stuffing my damn pantyhose in my handbag, I felt okay, refusing Paul's suggestion that I go for an X-ray, and I made it through the ceremony. I felt a little faint but whether that was due to the heat – which should have been like a cool spring morning to a gal from New Mexico – or the fact that I was bidding my lover farewell, I couldn't say.
As I made my way out of the temple I started to wonder if Paul would give me a lift to the burial ground, since everybody else there hated me. Then I saw Andrea tentatively approaching me. Now I looked at her properly I could see clear differences between her and Ali. Andrea's black hair was styled into gentle waves ending at the nape of her neck, unlike Ali's long straight locks. Her pale face was the tiniest bit fuller, her eye brows thinner and sculpted, her body that bit more rounded and fleshy than those of her dead sister. Nevertheless, there was enough of a resemblance to make my heart skip several beats. (For the record, I'm physically quite different to the sisters – at five-nine in my bare feet I'm a good five inches taller, and leggier, with sandy brown hair, inherited from my dad, which I wear to shoulder length, and skin that always looks healthily tanned, courtesy of my Mexican mom. I'm also quite slim, apart from a respectable pair of boobs. I've been compared, flatteringly, to the young Lauren Bacall. Ali was less kind, teasing me that I looked like a boy wearing a pair of joke shop fake tits.)
Andrea smiled nervously and, reaching out, lightly touched my shoulder again, as if I was a scared rabbit or something. She said, "Suki, I'm so sorry about what happened earlier. It was completely thoughtless of me. How are you feeling now?" I shrugged her hand from my shoulder and told her coolly that I was fine. She then offered me a lift to the cemetery with her and her husband Martin, which was a help. As we walked slowly to her car, she said sadly, "I didn't want to lose touch with Ali, but I felt so pressured by Mum and Dad. We used to be very close and I've really missed her. Now I'll never be able to tell her." With that she burst into tears. Suddenly I found myself, at the funeral of my girlfriend, trying to comfort the sister who hadn't spoken to her for six years, hadn't even invited Ali to her wedding.
On the way to the graveyard Martin, who was driving, pretty much ignored me, but Andrea, her emotional squall over, asked me by way of conversation if I was going to keep on the flat I'd shared with her sister. I explained I couldn't. Islington Borough Council had said that because my name wasn't on the lease they couldn't transfer it to me. I wasn't sure they had the law on their side, but in any case it would have been difficult for me to stay there – I'd been sleeping on the couch since Ali's death. Besides, they'd already provisionally offered the place to a couple of Somali refugees. When Andrea asked what I was going to do I shrugged. "I've got three weeks to find another place. I guess I'd better make a start on it tomorrow."
After Ali had been interred, my only wish was to get the hell out of there as quick as possible, link up with a few friends and get very drunk. Before I could escape, though, Andrea cornered me. "We're asking people back to Mum and Dad's for tea and nibbles. You will come, won't you? Please?" My first thought was to plead an aching head; but Andrea was trying so hard to be nice to me, and that would just have made her feel guilty about freaking me out earlier. Then I thought, fuck Ali's parents, she was my girlfriend, and they hadn't even seen her for six years. Why should I allow them to take over her memory, and pretend I never existed? So, knowing I'd be about as welcome as Bin Laden at the White House, I told Andrea, sure, of course I'd come.
Once there I hid away in the corner of her parents' huge lounge like a bad smell. Andrea attempted to keep me company, but every time she joined me some uncle or aunt gently steered her away to talk to cousin Reuben or whoever. At one point Ali's mom came and sat next to me. She said, "Thank you for coming Suki, I'm sorry we don't know you better." Then, taking my hand in hers, she asked, with what seemed genuine concern, "Are you feeling any better? Would you like me to get you some paracetamol?" I was both amazed and touched. I thanked her and told her I was okay. As she drifted away I had a quiet chuckle to myself, imagining what Ali would have said about it: that her mother was just trying to head off a possible law suit.
Jut as I was thinking of quietly slipping away Andrea joined me again, with her husband in tow. Sitting beside me, she said, "Suki, Martin and I have been talking about this, and we'd like to suggest that you come and stay with us. Just for a few weeks, while you get back on your feet. We've got a big spare room, and you'd be most welcome, really, wouldn't she Marty?" I stared from one to the other, stunned. Martin's face looked as if they'd just invited me to set up a lesbian bordello in their back yard, but he nodded grimly in agreement. I asked Andrea if it wouldn't upset her parents if she put me up. Pouting slightly, she replied, "If it does, that's their problem. I'm 27, not 12, and it's our home. Please think about it. I'd really like to get to know you, and I believe that Ali would have wanted me to ask you. Oh, and by the way, my friends call me Andi."
I had gotten sufficiently used to Andi that my breath had stopped catching in my throat every time I saw her, but I wasn't sure how I'd feel about lodging with someone who would constantly remind me of Alison. On the other hand, I had to find somewhere, and property rental in London is horribly expensive. I work in an art gallery in trendy Covent Garden. I enjoy the work and I have a great relationship with Joel, the hip gay French Canadian who owns the place, but it isn't the best paid job in the world. I could probably afford to rent a room in a house, but I wasn't sure I was ready to throw my lot in with total strangers. So I told Andi that if they were serious, that would be so kind. Within a couple of days I'd sold the contents of the flat to a local house clearer, loaded my meagre belongings into two suitcases, and a friend had driven me over in his minivan to Andi and Martin's terrace cottage in the northern suburbs of London.
I had a nice big bedroom with a couch and a desk, and my own shelf in the refrigerator. Andi and I negotiated my rent – she trying to talk me down, I insisting that she wasn't charging me enough. She struck me as quite prissy, and far more house proud than her sister or I had ever been. Every drink had to stand on a coaster, every plate and cup had to be washed up as soon as they had been used, and so on. At first it irritated the hell out of me, but I gradually began to settle in.
From the first day it seemed to me Andi and Martin had a slightly odd relationship, in which they hardly ever actually saw each other. She worked in central London and was up and out of the house before he was awake. Then Martin went training two nights a week with the amateur soccer team he played for. Most other evenings he was either in his den, surfing the Internet or watching live soccer games on satellite TV, or in his lock-up garage half a mile away tinkering with his car. Most Saturdays he travelled all over the country watching his beloved Tottenham Hotspur, and on Sunday mornings he played himself, which usually culminated in a long boozy session in a pub with his team mates, unless Spurs were playing a Sunday match at home, in which case the boozing followed that. Andi hated soccer, but I was mildly interested, and talking about it was pretty much my main connection with Martin. Other than that, he more or less left me to my own devices.
So, Andi and I started spending quite a lot of time together. We travelled to work together, me getting off the tube at her stop, near the City bank where she worked then walking the mile or so to my own workplace. I had a small TV in my bedroom, but most evenings I sat in the lounge with Andi, watching their 36-inch multi-channel set with her: initially out of sympathy at Martin's lack of presence, but increasingly because I began to enjoy her company. The only times I made myself scarce were the rare evenings when Martin stayed home, in order to give them a little privacy.
I liked to make myself an early dinner when I got in from work, then take a shower. That meant drying off and getting dressed again to go and sit with Andi. One evening I couldn't be arsed (as my English friends would say) with dragging fresh clothes on, so I just wrapped myself in my big towelling bathrobe, swathed my hair in a towel turban, and padded barefoot downstairs. Andi did a double-take that first time, but she didn't say anything, and from then on that became my regular routine. We'd sit at opposite ends of the couch, my long brown legs tucked under me, sipping white wine as we let that and the TV anaesthetise us. I found our taste in programmes was quite similar – current affairs, documentaries on wildlife or aspects of history, police dramas and one particular soap opera. For all Ali's undoubted intellect, her preference had been for what she freely admitted was "trash TV" – the likes of Big Brother, X Factor, and shows about perfectly attractive women desperate to submit themselves to cosmetic surgery.
In fact, as I got to know Andi better, I increasingly realised how very different she was to her sister, beneath the superficiality of looks. Ali was a great laugh, but she had a kind of "fuck you" attitude to the world, and a hard, cynical edge that I always found unattractive. Andi was softer, with a kinder, more considerate outlook. She also had a more subtle brand of humour than Alison. Andi would often make pithy little throw-away comments that would have me snickering in a most undignified fashion. Where Ali, so passionate about the left-wing causes she believed in, would have blasted the pomposity of a politician on TV with a shotgun, Andi would slide a metaphorical stiletto between the guy's ribs, to far more telling effect in my view. I began to discover she had distinctly liberal political views which I – and I suspect her husband – would never have guessed at.
Andi also had a romantic streak that was a million miles removed from Ali. One Saturday afternoon one of my favourite Hollywood weepies, Now Voyager, was on TV. Ali would have sat through the whole thing making sarcastic comments, and making fun of me for watching it; but as big sloppy tears rolled down my cheeks I glanced across at Andi and saw her dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. Without even thinking what I was doing I reached out and took her hand in mine. We watched the rest of the movie like that, our fingers intertwined, sobbing our hearts out as Bette Davis and Paul Henreid played out their melodrama before us. At one particularly emotional moment Andi even squeezed my hand, and I reciprocated.
That evening I'd been invited by friends to a pasta party across town and, off the cuff, I asked Andi if she'd like to come. No I didn't, I actually asked her if she would come with me. She gave me a smile in response, and within five minutes she'd changed into a simple white slip-on cotton blouse, tight stonewash blue jeans and open-toed sandals, the plum nail varnish on her toes contrasting with the her ghostly pale feet. She stood framed in the doorway to the lounge, and I felt my mouth go dry and my gut lurch as I took in her curvy figure. At the party I thought I'd never seen Andi more relaxed. The prissy middle-class attitudes I'd originally seen in her seemed a distant memory as she sat on the floor, her back braced against a chair, her shoes kicked off, sipping a can of beer between laughing at anecdotes from my friends' chaotic and, occasionally, bizarre lives. We kept exchanging amused glances and, her eyes sparkling with the heady mix of enjoyment and alcohol, I also thought she'd never looked more lovely.
At one point Julia, a friend by marriage, cornered me in the kitchen. She grinned conspiratorially, and chuckled, "It's nice that you've found someone else, you two just look so right together. Bit spooky, but still…"
I smiled at the misunderstanding. "You've got it wrong, Andi's just a friend, and my landlady. She's also unavailable, and extremely hetero."
Julie frowned. "Oh come on Sukes, I can feel the sparkle between you, we all can. I mean, the way you look at each other, it's so sweet."
I laughed, shaking my head. "Really Julia, there's nothing there. We really are just good pals."
Turning on her heel, apparently piqued at the thought I was bullshitting her, she flounced towards the kitchen door. "Okay Suki, whatever." She paused in the doorway, and glanced back over her shoulder at me mischievously. "Anyway, I'm still pleased for you." The rest of the evening I watched my friends closely. Most of them had known me for years, and it appeared that Julia was not alone in her misconception. I began to detect warm smiles as people glanced from Andi to me, and the occasional eyebrow cocked suggestively, just little hints here and there that the guys thought we made a great couple.
On the 20-odd stop tube journey back home Andi was still happy and relaxed. Resting her bare feet on the seat – something I would never have imagined she'd do – she asked me if my friends liked her. I assured her they'd loved her – they really had. Dreamily, she said, "Your friends are so nice, so laid back. I haven't really got any friends outside work – except you of course. When we do get together with people we know, or with my brother and cousins, the talk's always about who's got the newest car or the flashiest stereo system, whose husband's got the swishest job, how wonderfully the kids are doing at school, it's all so dull. Your friends are really interesting." In a friendly gesture I reached across and lifted Andi's small feet into my lap, and began gently massaging them. She almost purred like a cat! I wondered aloud if she and Martin didn't want kids. She snuggled back in the seat and closed her eyes. "Oh, Mum and Dad are desperate for us to give them more grandkids to spoil, but Marty and I agree we're going to put it off as long as we can. Most of the time I feel like a kid myself, why would I want the responsibility of having one of my own?"
That night I lay in bed staring at the ceiling and reflecting tipsily on what a great evening it had been, and how funny it was that all my friends seemed to assume I was having an affair with Andi. I had really enjoyed seeing her have such a good time with them. She was such a sweet person…so easy to…oh shit! I sat up in bed with a start. I wasn't really falling in love with my dead girlfriend's twin sister, I couldn't be – could I? Now that I was really thinking about it, I knew the truth beyond any doubt. If I was honest with myself, I'd barely thought about Alison for weeks: all my thoughts these days were about Andi. Something deep inside told me I had to get out of there, now, before I allowed myself to get badly hurt. But after a restless night, I began to rationalise the situation. I was happy living there, I enjoyed Andi's company, irrespective of any deeper feelings I might have for her. I was good for her too, she was blooming under my influence. She was off-limits, it was as simple as that. I was a mature adult, and I could handle it.
The day after the party, as we were sitting digesting lunch and wading through the Sunday papers, completely out of the blue Andi asked me how I had met Ali. The question totally threw me, and I was silent for at least 30 seconds; then I pretty much told her my life story.