The first time Bella came it had been snowing for hours. Caroline was soaking in a hot bath. James was away at a medical conference, unable to leave because the airports had closed in anticipation of the storm.
“Safe travels, James, everything here is fine,” Caroline said when he called earlier. She held her breath, as always, wondering if she’d got it right.
“I wouldn’t travel if it weren’t safe, Caroline. And I expect you not to travel at all. Please make sure the faucets are left on a trickle so the pipes don’t freeze and make sure the car is in the garage. Which is where it should be right now. It is in the garage, isn’t it Caroline?”
Caroline closed her eyes and wanted to say she knew to keep the faucets on… but she only said, “Yes, James.”
Now, Caroline sighed and sipped white wine. Setting the glass carefully on the table next to the claw foot tub she rolled her shoulders, inhaling the scent of lavender essential oil. Mmmm, peace, such glorious, wonderful peace. James wouldn’t be home for two days. Snow swirled gently outside the window over the tub and Caroline watched in abstract fascination, remembering Bella’s love for it. There was no sound save her own breathing and she closed her eyes. Only occasionally in the year since Bella’s disappearance had she allowed the lingering sadness to swell. She rarely cried now, not since James had caught her in the act.
“Tears, my love?” he asked with false tenderness, his hands resting heavily on her shoulders as he appeared behind her. She was seated at her vanity, and hadn’t seen him come in.
“It’s nothing,” she murmured, hastily wiping the tears from her face.
He moved away and lay down on the bed, watching her take down her long chestnut hair. She watched him in the mirror. His cruel eyes narrowed as he motioned for her to come to him. Her heart lurched and her stomach tightened. Since he had found out about Bella, he made her undress for him almost every night. Her humiliation would never end, she thought as she removed her clothes and lay under him.
Now, Bella’s favorite scent filling her senses, she remembered the afternoons they had shared, the secret meetings, the whispered promises. Her thighs trembled with the memories. Caroline’s arm moved below the surface of the water and stroked those thighs, remembering how soft and supple Bella had said they were. Slowly, as Bella used to show her, she moved gently, sensuously toward her sex. Her breath caught as the sensations rose from her cunt, through her thighs and on to her rounded breasts, silky and slick with oil. She rubbed against her labia, gently at first, then with more force as she rolled her other hand over her taut nipples.
“Oh, Bella,” she whispered. Bella’s face grew sharp in her mind, remembering the way she kissed and moved over her. Bella had found the secret hunger in Caroline, unexplored and unnamed until the first time Bella kissed her.
She had met Bella in the library, almost three years ago. It had been snowing that afternoon, too. A light, gentle snow.
“It’s lovely, isn’t it?” Bella had asked, nodding toward the glass doors beyond the checkout counter.
Caroline stood with her week’s worth of books and widened her eyes. She spoke to very few strangers, even women; it seemed safer. She never knew exactly what might displease her husband so remaining aloof had become a habit.
“What? Oh, yes. First snow of the season.” Caroline stopped, unsure how to continue.
Small talk had never been easy, and since her marriage, even more difficult. It was something James chided her for constantly when they had to attend social events. Whatever she said, it always seemed to be wrong. This woman, tall, attractive, turned to her with a bright smile.
“This will be my first winter here, so I’m looking forward to the change in season. I just moved here from Florida. I know everyone else fusses about the cold and the snow, but I’m actually looking forward to it.” Bella continued to smile at Caroline, her eyes holding Caroline’s with unusual intensity.
Most of the people Caroline talked to seemed to move over her face quickly, then go on, as if she were barely there. Caroline felt a shock of attraction so strong she caught her breath. Bella had beautiful eyes, a mass of hair caught up in a careless bun, and full lips. Her skin glowed with good health. She watched Caroline for a moment, then put out her hand.
“I’m Bella. Moved here from Orlando, home to squalid tourism and old people. I’m hoping to spend the winter watching it snow. Wish me luck?”
Caroline set her books on the counter and shook hands, still unsure what to say.
“Oh, good luck! I’ve never met anyone who moved towards the snow.” Caroline suddenly realized she was still holding Bella’s hand and released it clumsily, smiling and looking everywhere but Bella’s beautiful face.
“Why don’t you let me buy us a cocoa, and we can talk the afternoon away watching the snow. What’s your name?”
“Caroline. Nice to meet you.”
They walked out of the library together, and Caroline’s life changed.
Now, as she stroked her clitoris and massaged her breasts, Caroline felt the surge of sensation she had come to know and need so desperately. Her hips moved unbidden and the water splashed against the side of the tub. Moaning, her hands worked faster, her breathing grew labored.
“Oh Bella,” she moaned.
Suddenly, she felt Bella’s touch on her breasts, felt her lips against her mouth. Caroline’s eyes flew open and there was Bella, her Bella, smiling down at her, her hair falling forward, the ends wet in the water. Bella stood and slowly let her white robe fall, then lifted her golden leg and stepped into the tub. She straddled Caroline and covered her, kissing her mouth and neck, her strong hands massaging Caroline’s wet, silky breasts. She ground herself against Caroline’s sex, as both moved their hips against each other.
Caroline felt the heat rise inside her, felt the twist in her belly as her orgasm built. Crying out, she gripped Bella’s shoulders and bit her neck, and Bella raked her teeth over Bella’s breast. They splashed and cried out, until finally they slowed and lay against each other in the water. The mat by the tub was soaked, the glass fallen onto it. Bella and Caroline gasped and moaned.
“Oh, Bella, where have you been? How…?” Suddenly Caroline sat up and Bella now sat on the side of the tub, her white robe in place, her hair dry.
“I will always come when you call me, Caroline.” Bella stroked Caroline’s hair and slowly faded from sight.
The next morning, Caroline woke to an unnatural brightness, which she realized slowly was the morning sun’s reflection on the snow. She bounded out of bed with more energy than she’d had in a year, and thrust the heavy curtains aside. It was still snowing, piling in drifts against the house. Maybe James would never get home, she thought irrationally. I hope he never gets home.
She went through the morning chores singing softly to herself. Occasionally she looked up at the snow and laughed. She and Bella would have such a wonderful, cozy weekend, just like all those times they had planned.
They had planned weekends together, trips to romantic places, both secretly knowing it would probably never happen. Even in the 21st century there were situations that didn’t allow for their relationship. While it may have been a cold, arranged relationship, Caroline was still married. She’d wanted to leave James before she ever met Bella, but had lacked the force of will to do it. She couldn’t face the anger and disapproval from not only James, but her family, and she wasn’t at all sure what she would do if she did work up the courage. She thought sadly of the one thing she’d wanted to do. Once.
She wanted to work at the library. She had no library science degree but they had a part time position that didn’t require one. Her college degree, in English Literature, seemed like enough. And the librarian she knew so well had assured her she would enjoy it.
James had simply looked up from his morning paper and said, “Caroline, I have a certain social standing in the community. If you want a real career, something that would add to that standing, of course you may pursue it. A part time job at the library would only announce to the world that you can’t do anything worth a real salary. You would look quite dim. Librarians are typically perceived as socially awkward, introverted spinsters. I don’t care what the facts are, perception is what matters.”
Carolina had been shocked at first, then shouted at him, “I’m not stupid!”
He looked back down at his paper and asked quietly, “Don’t you have a degree in something? Can’t you consider that? Why don’t you do something that will benefit us, Caroline? Why do you think of no one but yourself?” James put down the paper, picked up his briefcase and left.
Caroline’s family was old money, as James liked to remind her. His family was old money. They had a marriage made in old money heaven. His career had guaranteed them an embarrassingly rich lifestyle. James didn’t have to be on call, didn’t have to work long, late hours. His rich clients were happy to pay his obscene fees. Caroline didn’t have to work, of course, but many in her social circle — not to be mistaken for actual friends, of which Caroline couldn’t name one — added volunteer work to their list of activities: shopping, planning parties, managing house staff, shopping, bridge, shopping, the gym, shopping. Caroline never felt part of the group James had deemed “their circle.” This select group included couples from their exclusive neighborhood, of course, friends James had grown up with, gone to college with. Keeping up with each of them could have been a full-time job on its own. But Caroline grew bored with their chatter and pointless parties. She wanted to be home, reading.
Now, as the snow continued to swirl lazily outside her window, Caroline plumped the pillows on the guest bed she’d just made, smiling to herself. She visualized Bella curled under the 600 count Egyptian cotton sheets, her hair like a silk waterfall over the pillow. She wrapped her arms around herself and moaned, her legs already beginning to tremble. Food, she needed to prepare food, make everything as if this were a real holiday. A holiday like the ones they’d planned.
She set the table with her best china and crystal, and the silver tea set she’d received for her 21st birthday. That week James had consulted with her father and their engagement was announced. The tea set had never been used.
Bella showered quickly and changed into a long silk gown she had bought when she and Bella were making plans. It was going to be what she wore the first night they slept in a bed together. She brushed her hair and examined her image. Her large eyes, fringed with thick lashes, were luminous in the mirror. She applied red lipstick, but nothing else. She liked to see her smudges on Bella’s breasts. Her gown, silk with fragile lace at the throat and hem, rippled down her body like something alive, flowing over her full breasts and erect nipples. She pulled on the matching robe and cinched the belt at her slender waist. Picking up the tiny silk slippers she remembered how Bella had loved her small feet.
“So tiny and soft,” she used to murmur, stroking, massaging her sole, then kissing all the way from her toes to her ankle. Bella liked to place them gently on her stomach and stroke herself, running them slowly over her breasts. Sometimes, she positioned herself above Caroline, moving her hips back and forth over the balls of Caroline’s feet and toes, moaning. Tonight, Caroline massaged body oil scented with lavender all over, but especially into her feet. Now, she stepped into the matching slippers.
“Barely there slippers,” Bella would say.
The wind began to moan outside as the snow grew increasingly heavy. Caroline poured a glass of wine and turned on the softest, sexiest saxophone music she could find. She and Bella had often played soft jazz or blues in the afternoons when Caroline managed to steal a few hours at Bella’s small apartment. Caroline never drank anything, knowing she needed a clear head at home. Still, the slowness of her responses to James in the evenings after had annoyed him. After a few months, he had become visibly suspicious.
No, Caroline thought, he can’t have any of this weekend. Not one minute. He took her from me… I know he did.
“Ah, Bella,” she moaned, lowering her head and brushing the tears from her cheeks.
“No crying, my love, no crying.” Bella’s hand gripped Caroline’s arm and pulled her to her feet.
“You’re here!” Caroline laughed, wrapping her arms tightly around her lover.
“Pour some wine, Sweet Caroline. We have two days to talk and love. We aren’t going to waste a minute, are we?”
Caroline laughed and walked with her lover into her glass and steel kitchen to fetch the wine.
“I see the beautiful table you’ve set. I see a beautiful woman in a silk gown. I’ve missed you so much,” Bella murmured, her hands gliding over Caroline’s hips and breasts.
Caroline let her head drop back slightly as her lips parted in pleasure. Just being touched sent shivers of fire through her veins. Her breathing quickened and she reached for Bella.
“Touch me, God, touch me. I’ve missed you so much.”
Caroline laid her head on Bella’s shoulder and breathed in the scent of lavender, then something sharp, bitter underneath. But she was so glad to hear Bella’s voice, feel the sure, strong touch of her, that she brushed it aside. It doesn’t matter, she thought.
“Here, lie back, on the table.” Bella moved Caroline onto the table, with the beautiful place settings at the other end.
Caroline giggled; sex on the table with the china and silver would be so…unsanitary, wouldn’t it? She giggled again and Bella said, “Oh, what he’d think if he could see this!”
Caroline put her fingers against Bella’s full lips and said, “Oh no, we aren’t going to talk about him. He can’t have you, not any part of you. Please.”
Bella nodded and bent to kiss Caroline. Slowly, softly, with growing need as she slipped her tongue over Caroline’s small white teeth. Caroline kissed back, gripping Bella’s shoulders to bring her closer. Bella lay against Caroline’s breasts, her hands stroking, molding Caroline’s supple body, so soft and pliant on the mahogany tabletop. She moved down, pulling the gown up, hearing the silk whistle against skin. Bella lifted Caroline’s legs and slowly kissed and licked along the silky thighs.
When she moved over Caroline’s cunt, she whispered, “My God, you are beautiful, you taste beautiful.” And Bella bore down on labia and clitoris and inside thighs until Caroline was almost screaming. Caroline’s hips were thundering against the table, her hands wrenching Bella’s hair as her head rocked side to side. Finally, Caroline’s moans and whimpers subsided and Bella glided up beside her on the table.
Somehow, the glasses had fallen to the floor and the settings were no longer in order. Caroline laughed and Bella said, “No matter. We can eat tomorrow. Or never.”
Later, after rediscovering each other, they had a sandwich and the last of the wine.
“Where were you, Bella? Why have you taken so long to come back? Are you staying? Can we be together now?”
Bella stroked her lover’s hair and smiled sadly. “I don’t think so, my love. Maybe. I never left, you see. And if James finds out I’ve come back, well…”
“Oh he won’t, he can’t! I can leave, I can leave now. I can leave them all. I know I can.”
Caroline’s tears dropped onto Bella’s breasts and she licked them away. Bella simply stroked her hair and murmured until Caroline fell asleep. In the morning, Bella was gone.
Caroline cleaned everything up the next day, singing and smiling. Another whole day! But when she glanced out the window at lunchtime, waiting for Bella, the snow had stopped. Caroline straightened the house, bathed, put her silk gown back on and spent the day walking from room to room, waiting, calling for Bella. Sometimes it seemed she’d been calling and waiting for hours, then she’d see a clock and realize it had only been minutes. Time fell so softly it hung in the air, then stopped, like the snow that had brought her back. By late afternoon, her eyes were blurry from watching the blinding snow under a shining sun.
“I should be home in the morning. I have a car service, so you don’t need to pick me up,” James said in his clipped voice when he rang just after noon.
Caroline walked fretfully back and forth in the guest room. She’d changed the sheets, and opened another bottle of wine. Two glasses sat on the bedside table. Where was Bella?
Caroline had fallen asleep after finishing off the bottle, waiting for Bella. When she woke, groggy and disoriented, it was after midnight. She sighed and walked slowly to the window, hoping the snow would start again. Anything to get back what she’d had for such a short time. She felt a soft stroke at her neck and she turned, startled.
“Please, Caroline, listen. We don’t have much time. I wasn’t sure about this, but after yesterday I couldn’t stay away.”
Bella sighed and held Caroline close, stroking her hair. The bitter scent was stronger now, gathered in Bella’s hair, her skin.
“What’s wrong? Why should you stay away? I told you, we can leave. We can leave now! I don’t care about anything but you.” Caroline’s voice rose at the end of her desperate sentence, terrified Bella would leave again.
“I need you to listen to me, Caroline. My love, Caroline. I have to make you understand something.” Bella gently guided Caroline to the bed, then sat with her arm around Caroline’s thin shoulder.
“Remember the last time we were together, last year? You came to my apartment, we made love all afternoon? It was raining, remember?”
Caroline smiled, remembering the music, the soft melody of the rain outside Bella’s open windows, their own soft moans and rustling sheets. She remembered the low voices between them, the plans, the fragile promises.
“After you left I was closing the windows, getting ready for bed,” Bella said slowly, “and I saw James walking up my drive. He stopped when he saw me at the window. Just stood there and watched me. I walked outside, furious that he thought he could intimidate me. He stood there, in the dark, and told me quietly that if I didn’t leave town, he would put an end to me. That’s how he phrased it — put an end to me. I laughed at him and told him to get off my walk and leave me alone. It never occurred to me that someone as emotionless, as cold as James would ever do anything.” Bella leaned forward so Caroline could see her face.
Caroline’s eyes widened slightly and she turned away. “No” she said quietly, “No, no, no…”
“Caroline, yes. He did. Look at me. he did this,” Bella turned then and Caroline could see, for an instant, the glistening, matted mess at the back of Bella’s beautiful head, the hair stained a sickening, spreading red.
Nononononono Caroline closed her eyes tightly and turned her head away, the bitter smell becoming acrid and nauseating, like meat left out in the summer, like the garbage in the streets in town, the sound of flies becoming louder in her ears. Nonononono.
“Caroline, it doesn’t have to be this way,” Bella said gently, holding her tighter, kissing her ear, her cheek. “You can be with me always, we can go anywhere you like, anywhere in the world. I will always come when you call me, I will love you as I have loved you these last days. But only if you want me. And you must want only me, my Caroline, my love.”
Bella’s hands stroked the now quiet lover beside her. She eased her down onto the soft silk comforter, kissing her tears away. She pushed Caroline’s clothes away, hungrily tasting her smooth, sweet flesh. Caroline groaned, her thighs on fire, her hands tangled in Bella’s thick hair, clean and soft now, pushing her probing mouth against her wet cunt. Bella licked and sucked and teased until Caroline’s hips rocked, until she pulled Bella up and kissed her mouth, tasting her own juice on Bella’s lips. Bella and Caroline ground their cunts together, the orgasm fierce in their bellies. Sighing, Caroline lay in Bella’s arms, the expensive sheets tangled around their limbs.
“Stay with me, Bella, stay with me,” Caroline whispered softly as the dawn began to glow over the still sparkling snow. Bella murmured and nestled closer.
James unlocked the front door and pushed his suitcases into the hallway.
“Caroline! Please help me with this.” James unwound his cashmere scarf and removed his coat.
As he closed the hall closet after hanging up his coat he frowned at the silence. Goddamn, she should be here. The car was here, why couldn’t she have been waiting, he was tired, these clothes needed seeing to, he was hungry, where the hell was the maid? It wasn’t snowing anymore, where the hell was everyone?
He finally found her in the guest room, humming and combing her hair, in a silk dressing gown that needed to be washed… where had that come from? He’d never seen it before.
“Caroline, what are you doing?” James said angrily and turned away toward the hall, expecting her to get up and follow him.
He was almost to the stairs before he realized the only thing he heard was the soft humming. He walked back to the guest room and watched her for several minutes, slowly realizing that Caroline had no idea he was standing there. He waited, wondering what to do, how he would explain this. There must be someone to call. Yes, he would call someone. James turned and walked briskly down the hall to make some calls. Someone would know what to do.
Alone in her gentle madness, Caroline sang to her lover and felt the tremble in her thighs, the quickening in her belly, and knew they had all the time in the world.