Christmas AngelbyColleen Thomas©
From the darkness of sweet oblivion she awakened to gnawing pain. It took her some time to realize she was lying on the floor in the living room. She tried to sit up, but a lancing pain her side nearly caused her to scream. When she did manage to sit up she had to hold her arm tightly to her side, there was no doubt in her mind that ribs were broken. Her left eye was swollen shut and she could taste the unmistakable metallic taste of blood in her mouth. It was only when she realized she was naked from the waist down that her dazed mind began to function and when it did the memories crashed in on her like a violent surf.
She and Damon, her husband of almost two years had been arguing. This time it had been about money. He had been unemployed for six months and the small amount she made at the local community college wasn't enough to make rent, much less utilities and food. She remembered screaming at him for spending the money she had set aside for rent on an evening at the bar with his buddies. The holidays were coming and she hadn't even managed to sock enough away for presents for her family. His squandering of the rent money had set her off. Normally she was very shy and submissive, but that had been the last straw. She hadn't realized he was still drunk or she might have held her tongue even then.
This time his angry words had ended in violence; she had not even seen the backhanded slap that sent her crashing into the glass top coffee table. Lori began to cry as she remembered him hitting her again and again until the blows seemed like they would never stop. He was cursing and screaming at her as he methodically beat her and even after she curled up into a ball to protect herself the blows kept coming. She barely remembered him ripping her jeans and panties off. Thankfully he had been too drunk to get an erection after he quit beating her and she passed out as he stumbled off towards the bedroom.
She remembered the predictions of her mother, that he would kill her one of these days as she painfully rose to her feet. Lori had not listened. Damon had been everything she had wanted. He was wild, handsome and exciting. She had never been turned on by "nice guys" and had always gravitated to the bad boys. Now she knew her mother had been right and she had to get away. Damon had hit her before, but had always seemed contrite and promised to change his ways. Lori had always stayed and forgiven him. This time had been different, he hadn't stopped after one, and the blows had just kept coming. Lori was a small girl to begin with and months on short rations had left her even more frail than normal. Damon was a large man and in his rage the blows he landed had seriously hurt her.
She staggered to the cramped bathroom, kicking piles of empty pizza boxes and empty beer cans out of her way. The face that greeted her in the mirror shocked her. Her nose was obviously broken, both eyes were black and the left one was swollen shut. Her lips were covered in a crust of blood, her dark hair was matted where the blood from her nose had run down into it and one cheek was deeply cut and still oozing blood. Each breath was a new adventure in pain and she knew a tooth was either broken or missing.
She considered briefly just lying down on the cold tile floor and giving up, but something inside told her that to give up now was to die and so she stumbled into the bedroom. Damon was passed out on the bed with stained boxers and an empty fifth of cheap whiskey still clutched in his hand. Those hands were bloody and the knuckles were swollen.
Lori quietly removed the small bag she usually kept her books in and went to her dresser. She grabbed what was there, a pair of old bras, an unopened package of cotton panties, two clean t-shirts and one pair of jeans. The rest of her meager wardrobe was dirty. Damon considered washing to be "woman's work" and with her working full time the laundry hadn't been done in a week or two. From the overflowing hamper she grabbed her only other pair of jeans and a pair of socks. She took her shoes from the closet, a pair of sneakers and one pair of heels. She dressed quickly and glanced around the room for anything else that was hers. The photo of her and her father and her one Cd were all she could find and she stuffed them into her bag. She looked for her jacket but, it was nowhere to be found and when Damon stirred she decided she could live without it.
As she made her way back to the front door she paused and glanced around the room. The place was a wreck and it was obvious that Damon had demolished more than her body in his rage. Strangely, the sickly Christmas tree in the corner had not been damaged; the gaily winking lights added a surreal quality to the scene. As did the two beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree, both from her to him.
Where am I going? she thought as she closed the door and began walking. She had cut off everyone to be with Damon, her family, her friends, everyone. She was far from home and had practically no money. Several times such thoughts had stopped her from walking out, but now she knew he would kill her one of these nights if she stayed. She hated to admit her marriage was a failure and that everyone had been right all along, but she had to now. That hurt even more than the ribs or her face. She was alone in a strange state and had no one she could call on for help.
A single named leaped to her mind, Margaret. She and Maggie had been best friends since grade school. Damon had been insanely jealous of their close friendship and had forbidden her to speak to Maggie ever again. Lori had complied, even though it hurt and Maggie's sorrowful expression still haunted her when she remembered that last night out together. She wondered if that was a bridge burned or if they were still best friends despite over a year of not communicating. Maggie lived in Manhattan and was the closest person she knew. She could call her mom back in Tennessee, but there would be little her folks could do for her immediately. She stopped at the convenience store on the corner and went into the phone booth. After a few tries she fished some quarters out of her bag and deposited them. She heard the hum and metallic clicking sounds as she dialed zero.
"Thank you for using Verizon, how may I help you?" the somewhat haggard voice said.
"I'd like to place a collect call," Lori managed. Her tongue seemed to stick to the roof of her mouth and she knew she was slurring. With an effort she swallowed and cleared her head. It was cold and the rising wind seemed to cut through her thin shirt and jeans. December was still a week away, but you couldn't tell from the steadily falling temperature. At least the cold was helping to clear her head.
"All right, just dial your number and at the tone say your name. Once your party picks up you will be put on hold while they accept,"
Lori suddenly realized she couldn't remember the number. She didn't have it written down anywhere either. When they were still close she had dialed the number at least twice a week, she closed her eyes and just let her fingers hit the buttons. She hoped they had better recall than her foggy brain. There were several rings then a sleepy "hello?" the line went dead.
"Please state your name," came over the line followed by a tone.
"Lori..Lori Cartwright," she managed. She was put on hold and it seemed an eternity before she was reconnected.
"Thank you for using Verizon," the operator said and then there was quiet.
"Maggie?" Lori asked after a long pause.
"Lori? What's wrong?" The voice was soft, concerned and without a trace of distance or anger. She broke down then, telling Maggie everything through her sobs. When she finished there was silence at the end of the line for a few moments.
"All right honey, stop crying. Where are you?"
"At the quick stop in Fort Montgomery,"
"That's on nine-W, right?"
"Yes, just past the Bear Mountain Bridge,"
"Are you in any danger where you are now?"
"No, I don't think so. There is nothing moving here. I'm just afraid he will wake up and come looking for me and I'm cold,"
"I'm on my way, I'll be there soon," she said and the line went dead.
The next forty-five minutes seemed like an eternity to Lori. She was torn between hiding and trying to see if it was Maggie each time a pair of headlights topped the hill. When Margaret's sleek black jaguar pulled into the parking lot and rolled to a halt Lori simply collapsed into a heap inside the phone booth. Relief flooded her body and with it the adrenaline that had been keeping her upright seemed to give out. The door opened and Margaret hurried to her.
"My God!" she said. Lori was shivering frightfully and could only dimly see her friend's features in the weak light from the phone booth. Margaret was a tall woman with aquiline features and black hair that was beginning to show a little gray. Somehow she managed to get Lori into the car. The interior was warm and the small woman faded out once her shivering stopped.
When she came to again she was lying in a hospital bed. A nurse smiled encouragingly at her and then shook Margaret awake. The tall woman had been dozing in a chair next to her bed.
"Thank you," Lori said after the nurse departed. The words were so soft she wasn't sure Maggie had heard them, but the tall woman nodded and rose. She moved to the side of the bed and gently squeezed Lori's hand.
"Don't try to talk, save your strength, I'll tell you what's going on. You're at Columbia Pres, in the ER. Your ribs aren't broken, just cracked. Your nose has been reset and should be fine and you have some stitches. A police officer is waiting outside to take your statement,"
"I couldn't do that to Damon," Lori said.
"You can and you will. I've stood back and watched this long enough and I've had it," she said. Lori tried to speak, but Margaret placed a finger over her lips.
"I love you Lori, I have for a long time. I sat back and let this happen, hoping you would see, but it took him nearly killing you to open your eyes. I won't let you go back to him so he can finish the job and I mean that. If you don't press charges I will pick up the phone and call your brothers," she said with a determined expression.
Lori shuddered at the thought. Her two brothers both worked at a rock quarry and either of them dwarfed Damon. They loved her dearly and had hated him from day one. If they found out he had laid a hand on her they would both be up here on the next flight. Knowing their tempers and intelligence the odds were good no one would ever find the body. She felt that she should have resented Margaret for taking such a highhanded approach, but she didn't. She had never been very assertive and it actually felt kind of nice to have someone else making the decisions for her. Being the one making all the calls for the last six months had left her nerves frayed and she was mentally and emotionally fatigued.
A policewoman entered the little room with a pad and took her statement. Lori was surprised to find it took a lot out of her just to answer the questions. A couple of times she almost faltered, but Margaret's hand was on her shoulder and always gave a reassuring squeeze. As the officer left and the nurse slid a hypodermic needle into the IV bag, Lori realized she had burned another bridge. For better of worse, she could never go back to Damon now.
--- Lori was released from the hospital on the 21st. Maggie was waiting in the lobby with a half dozen long stem roses. She wore a white top and black leather pants that accentuated her hips and a long over coat that fell to just below her knees. The white top showed off her large full breasts and Lori realized just how beautiful Margaret could be when she wanted. The tall woman smiled and thrust the flowers into Lori's hand while taking her small bag. The flowers were beautiful and smelled wonderful; she couldn't remember ever getting flowers before and she realized now why girls loved to get them. They weren't only beautiful; they just made you feel special.
"What are these for?" Lori asked as she followed Maggie to the big glass revolving doors.
"Do I need a reason? They're just beautiful flowers for a beautiful woman, but if you need a reason then consider them congratulations on your divorce," Maggie said dryly.
"It isn't finalized yet," Lori observed. It was snowing outside and very over cast. She could see the plow going past and Maggie's Jag parked under the canopy.
"Might as well be. Gloria put the screws to Damon, he isn't contesting it and gave you all you wanted. It was that or serious jail time," Maggie said. Lori just nodded, she hadn't been able to afford a lawyer, but Maggie had a lot of friends in the city including Gloria Sovic. She was one of the top divorce lawyers in the state and took Lori's case for free. Damon was forced by the agreement to give her half their assets, get a job and pay her six hundred a month for the next year while she got back on her feet and was bared from coming within one thousand feet of her. Maggie stopped at the door and turned to Lori.
"Just let me get the door open for you, then hurry, it's really frigid out today," she said. Lori watched as Margaret glided out to the car and opened the passenger door. Lori noticed for the first time how graceful Margaret was and how elegant she looked. Margaret tossed the small bag into the back seat and then motioned to Lori. It was cold out, the wind seemed to slice through her clothing and she was shivering when she made it to the car and she sank into the deep leather seat. Maggie closed the door and walked around the car. She got in and smoothly accelerated out onto the dirty road, easily negotiating the heavy traffic. The interior of the car was deliciously warm and the soft strains of Beethoven's Fur Else filled the cabin. Outside it was all dingy and gray, but Lori felt curiously buoyant and happy.
"So now what?" she asked. Maggie eyes never left the road.
"Well, that's up to you really. I was hoping you would stay at my place for a while, but your folks have offered to wire the money for a plane ticket home if you would rather,"
Lori considered that. While she would love to see her folks again, there was really nothing for her back home. If she went she probably wouldn't come back as it seemed there was nothing for her in New York either. Or maybe there was. Reconnecting with Maggie had awakened something inside her. She wasn't sure what it was yet, but it was comfortable, pleasant, mildly exciting and worth investigating further.
"I don't feel like flying," she said carefully. Margaret smiled and nodded.
"Great, I didn't feel like spending Christmas alone,"
Maggie lived in a neat little brownstone. Lori found she loved the small apartment with its cozy atmosphere and soft furnishings. She slept the first night in the small guest room. It had a double bed, dresser, vanity and a comfortable overstuffed chair. Lori usually didn't sleep well away from home, but she felt comfortable here and fell asleep in no time.
The following day Margaret dragged her out of bed early and took her shopping. At first Lori wasn't happy, but the bright lights, happy people and extravagant decorations soon had her smiling and enjoying herself. Christmas music was everywhere and there seemed to be a Santa on every corner. Margaret seemed to be in the spirit and even had them both stand in line for an hour to get a picture taken with Santa. It was childish, but Lori realized that for a long time now her life had been devoid of simple pleasures. The whole day turned out to be grand.
They bought a fake Christmas tree, boxes of decorations, strings of lights, an angel for the top of the tree, Christmas Cds, DVD's of their favorite Christmas shows from when they were children and a fruitcake. On the way home Margaret stopped and picked up eggnog at the deli and rum at the package store. Lori felt kind of guilty, letting Maggie buy everything, but Margaret would hear none of it and after a few mild protests Lori forgot about it.
Once they got all the boxes into the apartment they cleared a space and Lori began to set up the tree while Margaret made eggnog. The laughed, drank, listened to Christmas songs and managed to get tangled up in the lights. It took hours to get the tree decorated and once done they curled up on the floor and watched Christmas movies, reminiscing about doing the exact same thing when they were kids. Lori was relaxed and a little buzzed; she had not had this much fun in forever it seemed. She couldn't remember the last time she had shared honest laughter with someone or felt so happy.
Margaret had gotten quiet and as the movie ended she turned and without warning leaned over and kissed Lori. The small girl was surprised, but her lips parted of their own accord. Margaret's hands came to her cheeks and Lori's went to her friend's shoulders as what started as a peck turned into a deep soul kiss. When it broke Lori was breathless and aroused, but Maggie just smiled and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Lori snuggled up close and the rest of the evening passed watching movies. When the last one was over Margaret killed the television and lead Lori to her room.
The tall woman disappeared into her bathroom and returned in a nightshirt. She handed Lori a very daring nightie, which the small woman put on in the bathroom. When she was done brushing her teeth she returned to a darkened bedroom to find Margaret in bed already with the covers turned back. Lori hesitated only a moment before joining her in the big bed. The tall woman wrapped her up in her arms and Lori waited expectantly, but nothing happened and soon she could tell from the even breathing that Margaret was asleep.
The next day Margaret dragged her out again, although this time she was far less reluctant. Today her friend seemed to be on a mission and that mission was to get Lori an entire new wardrobe. Shoes, dresses, tops, skirts, jeans, lingerie, makeup and even some racy bedroom things. By the time they got home Lori was exhausted, but it was a happy kind of exhausted. The evening was spent in much the same way, watching old movies and just getting used to each other again, but there was a new note in it. An under current that Lori recognized as the way two people felt each other out before making a move. She had never considered lesbianism before, but she realized that she found Margaret attractive and by the end of the evening was actually hoping her friend would try something with her. For the second night in a row they slept in the same bed and for the second night Lori's private hopes were frustrated by Margaret being a perfect gentlewoman.
The 24th dawned and Maggie again pulled her from her warm bed. This time it was a trip to the spa where she got a manicure, pedicure, massage, leg waxing, and finally a makeover and new hair do. When they got in Maggie made eggnog and spiked it with rum.
They both sat and watched Christmas shows until it started to get dark out. Maggie excused herself and left Lori alone with her thoughts. These last few days had been the happiest she had ever spent and for the first time since she learned there was no Santa Claus she was in a festive holiday mood. She had forgotten how much fun she had when she was around Margaret and how wonderful life could be. She felt giddy and giggly and realized she was acting like a schoolgirl. Not just that, she was acting like a schoolgirl falling in love.
The thought should have been sobering, but it wasn't. Lori didn't care, she knew in her heart she was falling for her best friend. Admitting it to herself had been the hard part, but now that she had she wondered how to act on it. She felt certain Margaret felt the same way, but she just had no idea where to go from here. She would have to think about it later, right now she was just too mellow and content to let anything worry her. Maybe tonight, once the lights were off and she was snuggled up she would find the courage to try another kiss with Margaret.