There was a plodding rhythm to it that took absolute concentration and focus but such things came naturally to her. Dactylic hexameter was not necessarily something that one could easily find the flow and natural breaks in, the pauses in oratorial breaths, that allowed the reader to fall into the story itself with the kind of entrancement she desired. Poetic licence poured complicated word structure over tragedy and gave it the sheen of distance and antiquity. It was just foreign enough to distract a reader’s concentration towards a hand slapped softly against a table in the hushed library. Could one find the same translated passion in the Iliad as the slow quiet heat that built in the arguments and debates in Fay House? Olive Byrne lifted her head from the book in front of her, her class notes unfinished as she watched two of her classmates quarrel as ardent as one could in a library.
“Why must you always do that? You know I care about you.”
Radcliffe attracted a certain sort to be sure. Intelligent, Inquisitive. Open. Seeking. Olive could barely make out the faint conversation that followed between one woman she knew from her sorority and the other, an intense freshman she had seen studying in the yard all fall. The way the older woman’s eyes flashed at her table companion told her that there were impassioned sieges large and small in the world all around her if there were modern day poets who wished to commit them to treacherous word compositions. She sighed and closed her eyes, the hours of mid-term study had taken its toll as was the absence she felt from the Marstons. Bill had insisted that she suspend her work for them during exams and she had protested to no avail, to both of them. Elizabeth Holloway Marston’s crossed arms and stern nod could not be brokered, even when Olive had said please in a way she had come to know might sway.
Now, at the end of what was the longest two weeks she had experienced at the college and with exams completed, she had reluctantly thrown herself into Homer to gain ground for the spring term. She would be damned if she would take another forced two-week reprieve from the two people she had fallen for so resolutely, “with fervent flame aglow” if she were scribing a poem about her own Andromache and Hektor. Who would she be, though? What character would describe Olive? Was she Briseis, captured and ransomed, or was she Krisayis, the one who escaped?
“Are you Olive Byrne?”
She opened her eyes to the voice of Ms. Stein, head of Radcliffe’s own Carnegie library, and sat up straighter, placing her hands instinctively on the table in front of her.
“Yes, I’m Olive.”
For a moment, she felt as if she were back in the convent under the suspicious glare of the sisters. There was a perceptible, if slight, nod and Olive felt something pass between them before the older woman slipped an envelope the color of eggshell on the table under her fingers.
“Then this is for you.”
Olive blinked at her before looking down at the square with her name scrawled in inked cursive. As the librarian turned to leave, she leaned down to Olive and spoke very quietly.
“I’ll not be your courier, Ms. Byrne, but I owed a favor and now it is paid.”
Olive could still smell her perfume clouding her head as she walked away, gardenias too sickly sweet for her taste. Looking down at her hand, she picked up the thin envelope and glanced around her. The two classmates were silent now, their heads bowed in study while the unresolved tension remained. Other students were pulling books from shelves, reading, writing, or staring out the large windows facing the yard, daylight quickly turning into evening. No one seemed to be paying attention to her and so she looked back down at her name. The writing was familiar but she couldn’t quite place it. With her nail, she slid under the flap and opened, pulling out a small, crisp card.
99 Grove Street. 9 o’clock. Please.
Olive looked up again, her eyes darting back and forth before her fingers traced the scrawl on the card. Inside the envelope, three silver quarters glimmered. It could mean many things, of course, but she had a growing suspicion that she knew who had sent this but not why. Or maybe not the exact why. With the large clock in the room showing near 6, she would have a few hours to stew and prepare for the unknown. Olive felt that familiar crawl inside of her, the way her heart picked up the pace and heat followed to her cheeks at the thought of what might lay ahead. She couldn’t be sure, but turning over the envelope again and seeing her name written the way it was written, the way the word Please was written with the same confident pressure she had come to recognize, made her close her eyes again.
She would be ready.
The yellow cab deposited her at the quiet, dead-end intersection. Brick walkups surrounded her on either side and the chill of the night air was cut with the sounds of families in windows on one side and soft piano keys on the other. Olive took a deep breath and pulled her coat tighter, clutching her purse to her side and watching where her feet fell, cobbled stone uneven all around her. Glancing both ways, she found the five story building with the right address on the northwest corner, a dimly lit stoop the only thing guiding her way. At the top of the stairs, she hesitated. Not because she was afraid, not because she was unsure. She hesitated because she needed to prepare herself, to be ready for what was to come. Olive took a deep breath and closed her eyes, imagining what it felt like to let go, to sink into that place she went where she was open and pliant and seeking. This came naturally to her and always had. Now, as she had grown older, the way such things became had taken a different turn. Finding two people who encouraged and cultivated and desired her nature was a revelation and it brought out the softer animal inside her. The Marston’s understood; there was no shame, there was only celebration of what was needed and given, not what was repressed or hidden. Her hand went instinctively to her wrist, the comfort and weight of a slivered bracelet reminded her of what kept her firmly in place in this world.
Olive blew out a breath and opened her eyes, her hand trying the locked doorknob before her gloved hand rapped against the thick worn wood. Olive looked behind her to the empty street before she leaned in, hearing piano from the other side and soft laughter. Still, no response and she wondered if she was at the wrong entrance to this..place. She stepped back and looked at the doorframe, taking it all in before she noticed a gray tinned box to her right. There was a single small slot in the middle of it and nothing else. Looking around, she peered more closely at the box and realized the thin opening was just the right size. Reaching inside her purse, she pulled out the remaining quarter after the cab ride and slipped it through the slot, her feet moving back down a step when a lighted lamp above the box came on, glowing green in the Boston night. With a slight whoosh, a panel opened on the door, music came wafting out, and two dark eyes appeared.
Olive swallowed before she stepped up and peered back, a nervous smile on her face.
“I’m here for..”
At this, she stopped, not sure how to describe why she was here or what she was looking for and she thought better of saying who might have sent her, not knowing what was behind the door. Olive looked down at her hands as if there was an answer there before she looked back at two questioning eyes. The man behind the door waited, blinking at her, before he spoke again.
“What’s the magic word?”
Olive couldn’t help herself and let out a soft laugh at that, feeling a bit foolish at the intrigue and mystery on a lonely residential street in the city. Brows narrowed behind the panel and it started to slide shut before she put her hand up.
“Wait! I’m sorry...I’m sorry..”
The panel hesitated half open and half closed and Olive Byrne considered that a sign of how her life had been to this point. She was separated from something she could not name just yet, half open, half closed herself. She was the daughter of a revolution, raised by women married to God who assumed her guilt and saw only her original sin, and she had had to rely on only herself for succor and comfort. Closed to the world, unaware of what passed for normal, she was deposited wholecloth at the doorsteps to Radcliffe as if she were prepared, as if she were ready for what the real world entailed. But Olive was smart and she was open and she was focused and that had gotten her this far. When deprived of comfort for too long, one may seek it in other ways. The rules of the world didn’t apply to someone who had not really lived in it. And so, she smiled and let herself open up, showing herself because she knew no other way.
The panel slid shut and for a moment, she wondered how she would make it back to the college, three silver quarters now gone with less to show in her own pocketbook. Just as she was about to turn and walk down the steps, plotting her long, dark course back across the city, the wooden door swung open and a man dressed in a dark suit nodded at her, allowing her access inside.
The anteroom was dark and claustrophobic in the way that narrow hallways could be. When the door shut behind her, Olive had blindly followed the taller man, her eyes barely able to make out the black of his back as he led her further into the building. She put her hand out to the side until she felt the solid wall, her purse straps slipping down to her wrist as she used her fingers on plaster to keep herself steady. She nearly ran into the man when he abruptly stopped and turned to his right, opening another door that suddenly leaked muted gold light, music, and smoke all at once. Olive stumbled into the room as the smell of liquor and freedom covered her senses. All around her were dim banquettes and tables lit by candles only and a few wall sconces. The ceiling was high and all around her was dark wood and she marveled that such a space could exist in an innocuous apartment building. it was almost the size of the library, she had left earlier, thoughts of how Troy was lost now forgotten. Couples mingled at tables and men stood along a wooden bar on the left, the din of music and voices made her entry unnoticeable.
“Your cover charge gets you a free Ward 8. The rest is up to you.”
Olive blinked at her chaperone.
He chuckled and shook his head, leaning down to her so she could hear over the way the piano swelled and the murmurs of the large room’s patrons increased. Olive’s eyes followed his arm and pointed finger.
“Liquor in the front, poker in the rear, mind yourself so I don’t have to ask you to leave later because you got sloppy or caused a scene. The Lighted Lamp is no place for amateurs, sweetheart. If the rum chasers come, we’re all trouble.”
She watched him go, pushing his way through the crowd and towards the back of the long hall. Olive realized this was another of those illegal speakeasies that Bill and Elizabeth had taken her to once before. It had been a revelatory experience, fueled by the burn of alcohol and the way they both had looked at her, as if they couldn’t believe she might exist. Olive was still getting used to others’ eyes on her, appraising her in ways that were new. Again, growing up in the convent had kept her, mostly, from those kinds of gazes and Radcliffe had shielded her further, but weekends with Harvard fraternities and the like made her keenly aware of who was looking and why. She imagined that her mother and her aunt would have had much to say about predatory looks and pretty girls, but those two stalwart feminists were ironically absent from her life. Female power came to her in other ways.
Olive glanced around the room and searched to no avail before she made her way to the tall wooden bar, the men standing around it glancing down at her and smiling, making space between them for her to squeeze. She took in a deep breath and leaned forward, determined to act like she had been here before. All along the wall, glass bottles full of clear liquid or amber liquid or even a smoky green bottle or two stood presenting themselves for all who wished to look. The bartender gave her a glance and a nod before he began pouring a smokey rye into a stemmed glass, splashing it with a dash of lemon, a dash of orange and two bright red cherries harpooned like the best catch of the day. When he set the drink down in front of her, he slid a small square card under it.
Outlawing liquor had only served to drive it underground and in places like this, where such things were craved and desired, laws meant nothing. As her eyes took in the rows of glass, she caught a glimpse of herself reflected back in the mirrored wall and wondered if she too were an outlaw, now, not because of what she consumed, but because of what consumed her. She was never one for shame, even as a child, and as she reached up to sweep an unruly blond lock of hair from her eyes, Olive would become her own revolution. Prohibition had nothing on a determined woman and she watched her reflection carefully to see what it looked like to break the law. The first sip burned just like sin and the word on the white card, written with the pressure of conviction, reminded her of why she was there.
It never occurred to Elizabeth Holloway Marston that she couldn’t have it all, not really. She was smart, she was clever, she found a way off the Isle of Man and never looked back. She desired. She pursued. It was in her DNA, to seek and to chase the things she wanted and thought she deserved. It made her headstrong and stubborn and mildy arrogant, yes, but when she looked around the world she now occupied, Harvard and the Boston environs, she knew such things were valued in this America. Women had barely won the right to vote and the fight ahead would be a long, arduous one. America needed strong women like her, she felt it was her duty to be counted as one of the “difficult ones”. But Elizabeth sometimes felt like she was a woman born at the wrong time, she and Bill both did. They were kindred spirits, outsiders in many ways and too smart for their own good. It got them in trouble, it drove them, it was why they now sat in a smoky speakeasy and could not take their eyes off the woman entering the room.
“You know, Bill, I often wonder our luck.”
Two and a half drinks into the evening, Elizabeth sat back into the banquette near the back wall near the piano. It was their ‘usual’ table and they had slipped Ricky the doorman a little extra to keep it theirs tonight. Bill rolled his head to the side to look at her, his arm draped across the back of the leathered seat. Elizabeth shook her head at him and the look on his face, already half-guessing his response, the intent if not the words.
“Luck has nothing on us, my dear. We make our own luck. You’re crafty and I’m brilliant, you’re smart and I’m imaginative. Together we are a force to be reckoned with.”
Elizabeth chuckled as she sipped her drink and watched Olive make her way to the bar.
“We are certainly something, I’ll give you that.”
It was a common refrain, the banter of old friends and long-time lovers, two people who were complimentary enough to be distinct while being similar enough to be hopelessly entwined. The way their minds thought and their bodies wanted suggested that the same coin held Elizabeth on one side and Bill on the other. She took a drag from her cigarette and watched Olive Byrne through the smoke, her open, memorable face standing out in a place where most came to forget. This had been her idea, Elizabeth finally caving into the missing they both felt after having banished the student assistant to midterm prep. They were determined not to be the academic downfall of Olive Byrne, but couldn’t be trusted to not be the cause of her moral failing. Elizabeth laughed a little at that, as if morals had a place here.
Bill’s soft sense of wonder as he spoke those words made Elizabeth smile as she watched the bartender push a drink and a card to the blond at the bar. Olive Byrne looked out of place here, as if she were sent from some mythological island of soothsayers to rescue the sinners from their eventual fates. She was young, yes, but her eyes held none of the naivety of the rest of the Radcliffe students. Bill had seen it right away, the first day he lectured and caught the attention of a student seeking answers. Elizabeth had been wary of it at first, the preternatural look of someone who saw beyond the surface and looked far into the future. If pressed, she would say she was afraid of what that vision might entail. Even early on, Olive could see more of her than Elizabeth was ready to claim. With vision came power and she was beginning to realize what that truly meant.
“Of course she did. I asked. Nicely, I might add.”
Bill looked at her and chuckled, shaking his head.
“Nice for you is still a little game. What are you hoping for with this, Elizabeth? You know Miss Byrne has suitors.”
“Oh come on, Bill. Every Radcliffe co-ed has some Harvard boy hoping to fuck them, luckily most are smarter than that. Olive included.”
Bill raised an eyebrow but didn’t argue as Elizabeth downed the rest of her drink and pondered the blond woman from afar, watching her take her own sip of strong rye and close her eyes. What was Elizabeth doing, exactly? That was a good question. She had already warned Olive not to fuck her husband and yet here she was, her heart thumping a little harder when she watched Olive pick up the card she had given to Jack at the bar earlier. Her life was full of secret favors requested or granted and this was no different.
“I think she has fallen in love with us.”
Elizabeth looked down at her empty glass and smiled ruefully. Bill was so easily convinced of his own greatness, always sure that women loved him like she loved him. It was his most endearing and irritating trait. She rolled her head to the side and watched him watch Olive.
“As I said, she’s smarter than that. It would lead to nothing but ruin and scandal, anyone can see that. You look like a lecherous professor right now.”
Bill laughed and took a drink of his own gin and tonic, shaking his head. Her eyes returned to Olive across the now smoky room, the jazz piano starting to cover a Marion Harris tune. She watched as Olive turned the card over and looked up, her eyes searching across the room until they found Elizabeth and Bill in the back corner.
“Elizabeth, if I didn’t know better, I'd say you’re the one courting prurient thoughts of your own.”
They both watched intently as Olive made her way through the crowd. Her fitted light blue coat definitely a shade out of place in the Lighted Lamp, all dark and patterned to blend in with the night and the secrets held in these four walls. Her blond hair was haloed around her head, held loosely back and pincurled in the style of the day. She held the still full glass in her gloved hand, careful not to slosh but clearly not practiced in the art of navigating a room full of people with liquor starting to work its magic. She dodged left and defly spun to her right before she set the glass down at their table and exhaled a breath, the wide smile on her face so fresh and genuine they both were left speechless for a half a beat.
The joyful word hit an incongruous note with the piano and they looked at each other, waiting for what would come next, before Bill stood, offering a seat in the banquette between them.
“Please, won’t you join us?”
Olive smiled and nodded once, but all Elizabeth could do was watch the younger woman pull the gloves from her hands, bracelet dangling at her wrist as Olive unbuttoned her coat. Bill took it from her shoulders and hung it on the hook near the wall until Olive was left with standing in a navy dress, buttons up the front and a belt at her skirted waist. Elizabeth smiled, holding out her hand.
“Diana. Diana Prince. Nice to meet you.”
Olive’s brows came together as they shook hands and she looked over at Bill who smiled, holding his hand out as well. Elizabeth watched as Olive looked baffled as she shook his hand too.
“Steve Trevor. It’s a pleasure. And you are?”
There was something thrilling in watching the confusion on Olive’s face as she sank into the banquette and looked between them, her inquisitive eyes trying to catch up. Elizabeth reached over and slid the cocktail towards Olive and watched as the other woman glanced at the drink and decided that another sip might help after all. Bill slid into the seat next to her and smiled when half the drink was consumed. Olive swallowed and sat back, shrugging her shoulders at it all in a way that made Elizabeth feel a little guilty. But she wanted to see what Olive would do, how she would react.
“I’m surprised to be here, to be honest. But I must say, I’m also intrigued.”
Elizabeth let out a little laugh and Olive slid her eyes from Bill’s to hers and firmly caught her gaze, holding it as she waited. The look was expectant and trusting and enough to sober Elizabeth up, just a little as she lit a cigarette out of habit, nervous or not, and cocked her head to the side as she spoke.
“Everyone’s a stranger here and everyone has a story. Steve flew Sopwith Camels as an ex-pat against the Germans. He was on track to beat Rickenbacker’s ace record, but got shot down on the Western Front. Steve had to traverse no-man’s land back across enemy lines and hopped Allies transport train through France. He made his way back to Bristol and that’s where I met him, “recovering” in a pub, flag at half staff I might add.”
At this, Bill laughed and shook his head.
“I take umbrage at your characterization of my recovery, Ms. Prince. The heroics were true, but my flag always flies high.”
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows at him and shrugged her shoulders before she turned to Olive, a smile on her face.
“I’m sure you’ll pardon the embellishments.”
She watched as Olive let out a soft laugh, still trying to make sense of what what was being said. Elizabeth pushed a moleskin journal towards Olive and flipped a few pages, sketches and notes filled them, circles and figures and silhouettes and weapons and words marched across the pages and she watched Olive trace a few words with her fingertip, soft enough that Elizabeth smiled.
“I’m an..archeologist. Dealing mostly with ancient antiquities. Trying to preserve history before the men blow it all to bits. I’m in town to convince the fine gentlemen at Harvard to give me access to the Thessalian collection to trace the stater and drachm back to their origins. Follow the money as they say. But I’m having a hell of a time breaking through the ranks. Apparently, one must possess a PhD around here to even look at a dull penny. What about you? What’s your story?”
Olive kept looking at her when she had finished and Elizabeth simply took another drag from her cigarette and sat back, waiting, as a cloud of smoke wafted around her head and upward, blending in with the rest. The thing about the Lighted Lamp and their life is that the Marstons knew how to play by the rules. Not the written ones, but the unspoken rules. That meant conforming to their environments, blending in or standing out, working the system or circumventing it. They were unconventional people living unconventional lives in a time when neither were tolerated well. That didn’t mean they were going to change or give up what they wanted, it just meant Elizabeth and Bill would find their own way of being in the world and filling it with the things that intrigued them and gave them pleasure, intellectually and otherwise.
The woman sitting in the booth with them now intrigued them. Not as a shiny object to be collected, but as another investigative mind and alluring spirit to be pondered. And possibly seduced. Elizabeth wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted, just that she did. She saw something in Olive that she recognized, even if she couldn’t name it. It drew her, it attracted her in every sense of the word and she needed to see where this would go. She knew where Bill would go if given the chance, but they had talked and it was up to Elizabeth to set the boundaries or break them down, depending upon what Olive herself would allow.
The piano kept up its tune as the din in the room picked up. Elizabeth watched as Olive looked between them both as if she were choosing right or wrong, stop or go, stay or leave. With a smile, Olive reached out and brought the glass to her lips and finished the rye and citrus, before taking the cherries to her lips, white teeth pulling each one off the skewer before devouring them. Elizabeth dared not look at Bill at this moment but kept her eyes hooded, one hand holding her cigarette and the other holding on to the leather seat as if a cushion could hold her in place when the heat spun to her cheeks.
“Well, my story certainly isn’t as exciting as yours. My mother had me out of wedlock when she was young and I was left at St. Catherine’s convent to be raised by the sisters. As you can imagine, having a child out of wedlock was nearly a crime and my mother devoted her life to helping women choose when or if they would have children. My mother wasn’t ready to care for me so I learned to take care of myself. I learned to read both what the sisters gave me and what I smuggled into St. Catherine’s. I learned how to study human behavior and how people react to each other, especially in socially restrictive environments. And I learned forgiveness. I’m a student at Radcliffe now, studying with two brilliant people who I hope can teach me how to live in the world outside the confines of four walls.”
Elizabeth watched as Olive paused, her eyes going to Bill’s when she saw Olive put her hands on the table in front of her, the golden bracelet clinking against the wood as turned her wrists upwards. Blue eyes looked between her and Bill before Olive continued, soft enough that they both leaned in, entranced.
“I think you know who I am. I think you see something in me that lives inside you too.”
Maybe it was the alcohol buzzing in her blood or the way the lights dimmed just then as the night started to kick in, but Elizabeth’s normally ready comeback and banter tripped inside her mouth. She was accustomed to Bill’s storytelling, his intellectual bluster and curiosity, she loved him yes. But as she sat in a dark booth in one of the Boston speakeasies that they frequented to be other people for the night, live other lives, Elizabeth was struck speechless at the truth sitting right next to her. It hit her like a suckerpunch and she tried to keep her hand from shaking as she shifted and put out her cigarette to gather her wits. She was not used to being captivated or captured. It was unnerving, especially to feel the open, seeking look Olive gave her fall squarely on her, pulling her in. That look would be the undoing of Elizabeth Holloway Marston as surely as it would be for William Moulton Marston. They were doomed.
“Who are you?”
It was Bill who found his voice, somehow, and gave rise to their collective question. Olive looked at him, holding his gaze before she smiled and then turned to Elizabeth. Her voice was clear above the piano that softened for a slow refrain.
“In these four walls, you can call me...Ruth.”
At this, Olive reached down and let her hand settle over Elizabeth’s, fingers easing between knuckles that were tense. She felt the clank of delicate metal warmed by skin settle against her own wrist and Elizabeth took a deep breath as Olive leaned towards her. When she was young, Elizabeth was a serious child, all dark hair and curious eyes as she studied the sea around her. Looking out from her book that mapped the world, she knew she was on an island and that there was so much more out there for her if only she could get past the vast and immeasurable blue of the ocean that kept them captive. She was reminded of that blue and that map and how everything was about to be turned upside down by one Olive Byrne, student of the world. If that wasn’t clear by the soft blue eyes looking back at her, seeing into her, the softer word spoken from full lips sealed her fate.
Many things swirled that night, orbiting around one object or another like a shiny orrery with Olive Byrne in the center. An upright bass and soft trumpet joined the piano until the men making music all blended their notes into dizzying, chaotic jazz of the day. Smoke from cigarettes and cigars left a haziness to the room that made her eyes water and her head spin. Liquor sloshed freely around glasses, unaware that it was the reason everyone in the room moved in close circles around and around each other. Through it all, Olive tried to keep up with the cacophony, if not the drinks, her first and only glass of rye remaining half finished. To her left, Bill Marston regaled her with stories of his adventures flying behind enemy lines, carrying out secret missions against the Germans, spying on the Central Powers, saving damsels in distress. Words and smiles and boyish lies until all she could think about was what it might feel like to fly and be lucky to be alive afterwards. To her right, Elizabeth Holloway Marston stayed quiet, watching her, watching Bill, watching the room swirl around them all.
“If you’ll excuse me.”
Putting her hands on the table with the soft announcement, Olive needed a little space, a place where she could steady herself and regain her bearings. It was all a little much and while she had fallen for the Marstons (his contagious charm, her aloof strength), she wasn’t sure where they stood on such things. When Olive touched Elizabeth, it was a test, to see if there was a reaction, visible or not. Was there...something? The answer was just as clouded as the smoky room and Bill too stood, eager to join the poker game in the back and leave the women to stew together in his absence.
The fact of the matter was that Elizabeth had been very clear at that first meeting about not fucking her husband and the coarseness of the words had momentarily stunned her. Olive had had no intentions of such, the thought hadn’t even occurred when that command was issued. Yes, she had been intrigued by Professor Marston’s ideas, the way he talked about people and their hidden lives. So many unspoken feelings and intentions and desires, how they drove behavior in subtle ways had sparked an intellectual curiosity and nothing more. But as the semester had carried on, as she spent more time with the Marstons and the passion they had for their work and ideas, the more that curiosity turned to something else. At that something else wasn’t just restricted to the good professor, it slid on to the skilled lawyer in silk skirts and hawkish eyes. So gradual was the shift that it only really dawned on her when she had gone on a date with one of the many Harvard fraternity brothers who chased her Radcliffe colleagues and tried to imagine her life with him or anyone like him. The blank she drew told her all she needed to know.
“You came tonight.”
Olive looked into the mirror of the lavatory behind her as she washed her hands, the small anteroom had a chair, a small table, a lamp and more importantly, Elizabeth Marston. The taller woman languidly sat, legs crossed and arms on the chair, her white patterned silk shirt standing out in soft relief against the ochre plaster walls. The music from the bar’s larger room was muted behind the door and the smoke was thinner here, lending only gauziness and lacing the air instead of haze. Olive smiled back to the reflection.
She saw the twitch of Elizabeth’s lips in a liquor-loosened smirk.
“Do you make it a habit of always doing as told? Were those nuns of yours so strict that they broke you of any rebellion?”
Olive looked down as the smile on her face stayed before she glanced back up, catching Elizabeth’s studied gaze.
“And how would you know I’m not rebellious?”
She heard Elizabeth chuckle softly, her elbow now resting on the stuffed chair and holding her jaw in long fingers. They talked through the mirror as the rest of the world outside the door let the allure of forbidden alcohol consume them further.
Olive let her hands fall to the white porcelain sink, watching Elizabeth’s eyes drift down her back at the sound of her bracelet hitting snowy ceramic. She let the other woman regard her as she studied Elizabeth too. She was a curious woman; extremely smart, darkly intense, prone to seriousness and smoulder, her smile often bringing challenge rather than warmth. Elizabeth was a contradiction and Olive could see it: tightly controlled yet secretly yearning for release.
“I’m here, aren’t I? Nothing says rebellion like breaking the law in an illegal speakeasy.”
Elizabeth’s eyes found hers and she saw a slight shrug.
“True. So now you’re a rebel. Just like me.”
While it was said to be clever, there was something else under Elizabeth’s words and the way she said just like me that caused Olive to pause. So she turned, her back now leaning against the sink as faced the woman six feet away.
“Just like you, hmm? Shall I be following strange women wherever they go too, Ms. Prince?”
Olive watched as Elizabeth smiled at the formality and played along.
“I am an archeologist, Ruth. I follow the trail wherever it leads.”
She could hear the looseness coming out now, the way liquor had made Elizabeth a little more open, a little less aloof. What she could see in brown eyes across the room was cavalier, but now you’re a rebel, just like me made her wonder. And the way Elizabeth’s hand went to her own neck, idly pressing against where a pulse point lay hidden underneath soft skin, ready to betray the truth.
“And where do you want it to lead?”
Olive let the smile on her face soften into curiosity. She could feel her own heart thumping a little at the question because it was as close to intimacy as she dared, like the brief contact of her hand against Elizabeth’s in the booth. Olive had caught Bill smiling at the look on Elizabeth’s face, caught off guard and trying to hide it. At the question now, she watched Elizabeth’s frame rise slowly from the chair and come closer to her in the quiet space.
“You’re playing a dangerous game.”
It wasn’t an accusation, it was a statement and as telling as anything that Elizabeth Marston might say. She was testing her too and Olive couldn’t look away from brown eyes probing, seeking. Olive walked over until she looked up at Elizabeth, open and soft.
“I’m not one to play games, I assure you. And I’m not afraid. Are you?”
She could feel the way Elizabeth swayed towards her before she caught herself and pulled back. Olive Byrne was often too honest, too true. It was the only way she knew how to be. The pained smile that slide across lips just at her eye level made Olive search Elizabeth’s eyes, her face, for subtle cues.
“What we want and what we can have are two different things, Ms. Byrne. Didn’t the good sisters instruct you on how not to be led into temptation?”
This was why her head swirled in the Lighted Lamp, everything felt off even if Olive’s own lips barely touched bitter-sweet rye. Just like the secret identities, she found herself trying to catch up again. Elizabeth was like someone who was at war with herself and it showed, always hedging her bets and not giving too much away. It was jarring and Olive wanted to understand why she did that, what was under the surface that kept Elizabeth tied behind her sharp barbs and quick wit and cautious distance.
“They also taught me about salvation and deliverance. Do you believe in such things?”
“I’m an atheist.”
Olive couldn’t help herself and she let out a soft laugh at Elizabeth’s serious confession. She reached out without thought and took Elizabeth’s hand, her fingers entwining until reluctant pressure eased. Olive’s smile was enough to force a smirk from Elizabeth, her head cocking to the side a little as Olive looked at her. They were quiet and close and Olive felt the way blood flowed through the hand she held and wondered not of sin, but of saving. What did that look like for someone like Elizabeth Marston? Would she even allow it? What would that feel like to someone so deep in their own head yet desperate to be known?
“I could make you believe.”
Olive watched an eyebrow raise and the smirk glide into something softer.
“Of that, I have no doubt.”
Olive leaned in a little and watched as Elizabeth imperceptibly leaned back, the push and pull of the night and whiskey making every moment laden with potential. She saw the internal war raging behind Elizabeth’s dark eyes and it only made her soften more. It made her want to lean in and press her lips against all that darkness and strength and willful distance just to see what would happen, whether Elizabeth would give in or deny her. At least she would have an answer, would know where she stood with this Marston who was too reluctant to let herself freely have, despite her liberal ideas and her progressive intellectualism. After all, Boston was still a fresh city full of old puritans trying to embrace the new world. Olive smiled softly as she looked at this British import as dark as tea and what might sweeten her reserve. Then she closed her eyes and let herself feel in sonnets, far far removed from epic hexameter and closer to that faint beat of a pulse point she saw jumping wildly on Elizabeth’s throat.
“When you’re ready, when you’ve followed my bones and curves to where they lead, when your hands have held back resistance and release, when your faith wavers and returns, I’ll show you something ancient. I’ll give you my ruins and let you trace the history of salvation under my skin. Let me deliver you, let me show you what it looks like to find, let me give you what you seek.”
Here, Olive opened her eyes and moved closer, this time Elizabeth’s body did not sway away but towards.
“Where you go, I will go.”
And she could feel something sparking from Elizabeth’s skin to hers and she briefly wondered if such a thing could be seen with the lights out. What would that kind of spark look like in complete darkness and how could she follow it with only her hands outstretched in front of her? It wasn’t until she blinked that Olive realized that they were in fact in complete darkness, the lights in the lavatory having gone out and the scuffle and shouts of men’s voices outside the door told them both that something was not right.
“Fuck! It’s a bloody fucking raid!”
Elizabeth’s shout snapped her back to reality and she felt a hand grab hers. Olive was first pulled forward and she heard, rather than saw, a door locked to the outside and then she felt herself propelled back into where the toilet and sink became obstacles to bump into and bruise. She couldn’t see a thing in pitch blackness and it was briefly terrifying. Elizabeth pulled her along and she put her own hand out to find a skirted hip that held her steady as they pushed into the small room until her own face was pressed into Elizabeth’s back at a sudden stop.
“There’s an escape door in the corner, we need to find it and get out of here.”
Olive was still trying to find her wits from the whiplash of the emotions still swirling inside her and the chaos outside the door. The lack of light and the physical closeness of Elizabeth and the danger of getting caught ran her thoughts a bit ragged. She felt herself pulled forward, Elizabeth’s hand gripping hers tightly and she heard a click, a slim door cracking open.
“Watch your step and hurry!”
Her heels kicked against wood and she blindly put her other hand out to find purchase against an open frame, stepping up and forward until they both occupied a very small space in complete darkness. Olive felt Elizabeth’s words before she heard them, the taller woman leaning down to find her ear.
“Shut the door behind you, we’re going up these stairs.”
Olive did as she was told before she tugged back at a hand that tried to pull her up.
“But what about Bill?”
She felt Elizabeth press into her, due to the close quarters or something else, she wasn’t sure.
“Bullocks on those guys playing poker, they have a million escape routes built into that back room. He’ll be find his way. After all, he claims to have made it across no-man’s land once so let him be his own fucking hero.”
Olive couldn’t help but laugh a little at the absurdity of the situation and the way alcohol still flowed through Elizabeth Marston and made her say such things.
“But you love him.”
She said it because it was true and clearly felt despite the dismissive words. Olive heard the stair step squeak a little as Elizabeth started up before she stepped back down, pressing herself into Olive.
“I do, God help me, I do. But right now, it’s just us. And if we don’t get up to the safe room, I’ll have to explain to the dean at Radcliffe why one of their rebellious students was in a speakeasy with Professor Marston and his lovely wife. The optics are not ideal.”
The optics shifted just enough for Olive to see a faint flash of white from Elizabeth’s teeth in a smirk and honestly, all she wanted to do right now was be led into temptation or to tempt in return. Everything about the moment was perfectly imperfect and Olive felt herself leaning further in, her body coming into contact with a taller form. She couldn’t see Elizabeth’s eyes, she knew the general distance between her mouth and those of an archeologist, deep in this hidden place between what was and what could be. If she were to write of their history, to tell the story of their potential, what would this moment mean in it? Would she be catalyst or conduit? Would there even be a story to tell sixty years from now or would it all be lost to the whims of prohibition? Olive heard Elizabeth take a breath at the contact of her bones and curves and skin and thought of what would be unearthed and what would stay hidden. Because it was dark and she was uncertain, Olive reached up until she found warmth and pressed her fingertips against skin, smiling at the way a rebel beat jumped wildly under her thumb. She even felt Elizabeth swallow at the touch. Olive Byrne discovered that there was more than one way to find the truth and get the answers she needed, even if Elizabeth's mouth was reluctant to speak it.
Of fucking course a goddamn raid would mess with her elaborate little fantasy, expertly planned (if not fully thought out) and frustratingly thwarted. If she weren’t distracted by the way Olive Byrne wordless took her hand as they started up the hidden staircase, Elizabeth Marston would make the all too apt comparison of this raid to the way her life was currently going. Her whole life up until now had been exceedingly well-organized. She was a precocious child. She was whip-smart and ambitious. It gave her a well of reserve to draw from, but it made Elizabeth particularly aware of injustices and pissed off enough to do something about it.
She got off her island of birth and blazed a trail through New England institutions -- Holyoke, Boston University, and the now-infuriating, elusive Harvard -- often the smartest in her class and often the only woman. That made her sharper, more focused, and quite honestly, more guarded. It didn’t take too long in that kind of environment for Elizabeth to realize that, in order to survive, she would have to adopt a more..removed..exterior. Never let them see you cry, show no weakness, hold your own or be dismissed, devalued, demoted. It was still a man’s world in the academy and she was fighting Boston blue-bloods for recognition and Harvard had some of the bluest bloods in the league. Suffrage was one very big thing, but actual career progress as a woman was another.
Elizabeth had a plan, she always had a plan. She and Bill would earn their doctorates at Harvard because they both would toil hard for the right of the titles. They would become scholars and it wouldn’t matter that she was a woman. She would put in the work and earn the reward. That’s how it should work and how it would work if she had anything to say about it. She and Bill would push the boundaries of what was known of human behavior and the mind at a time when such things were still new to critical thinking and theory. They would contribute to the field, together, as equals. Her life was mostly going as planned. Once she had finally won her admittance to Harvard, it would be smooth sailing from here on out. She hurried them up the stairs in darkness, away from the raid and into the hidden walls of this unassuming Boston walk-up - never underestimate the ingenuity of people determined to hide their vices.
But as Elizabeth listened to the muffled shouts of the Boston police through plastered walls, she realized that she hadn’t planned on the feeling in her hand. Elizabeth hadn’t planned on the way Olive’s delicate hand fit into hers, smaller, softer, but more sure than she would have imagined. She hadn’t planned on these feelings or really, feelings in general. She had invited Olive to the Lighted Lamp to see if she would show up. It was a test. It was an experiment. It was to prove a hypothesis. What Elizabeth hadn’t factored into the equation was Olive herself - how she could provoke a response in her by what she said, the way she looked at Elizabeth, what was left unsaid. Elizabeth, her hand pulling Olive further up narrow stairs and the breathlessness she heard in the dark, had counted on being an unbiased observer. Now she was realized the best laid plans were meant to be broken.
“...where...are we going…?”
She felt herself pulled to a stop when they had come a landing, their breaths both filling the space in the dark and Olive’s panted out question made it hard to focus. Elizabeth felt the loss when Olive dropped her hand and in the pitch blackness, she reached out to find the walls of the stairway to keep her balance, willing her eyes to acclimate. They had climbed several floors, zig-zagged up into the building and further away from the commotion down below. Elizabeth had never actually needed to use the get-out and had no idea where it led. She reached up and pushed unruly hair from tickling her face and regretted the third drink she had downed, feeling herself sway a little. They stood in silence, catching the breaths, before she laughed. At the absurdity, at the pounding of her heart, at the whole situation.
“Fuck if I know. To the moon?”
There was pause before she felt Olive’s breathy laugh join her own and they shook, trying to contain the release of their laughter and pent up something or other. All Elizabeth knew is that she was hiding out from the Boston police who were likely rounding up the happily inebriated downstairs and wondered if such a thing would help her Harvard admissions appeal. Academics could be sneaky, she could sell them on that. Quick-witted and able to think her way out of a tight spot. She’d be great during her dissertation defense, that potential must count for something. Olive’s soft laughter subsided and they grew quiet again, even if she could still hear the smile on their faces.
“Elizabeth Marston, you make my head spin. You lured me to a house of ill repute while I was trying to study Homer. You will be my downfall yet.”
She let out a small laugh.
“I lured you? Oh no, I saved you from a fucking overwrought “poem” about men who think they own the world and the women in it. Let’s start rewriting that insufferable story now. And I certainly did not lure you -- you came willingly to this den of iniquity.”
“You said please.”
And the way Olive let that word drop coyly and softly between them made Elizabeth pause, the alcohol and height drawing blood to her face and neck. She nodded in the dark, conceding.
“Do you do that often?”
Elizabeth let out a soft chuckle, intrigued at the way Olive could turn a moment into something else with little more than her sincerity and curiosity. She wondered how much was an act and how much was genuine. Olive Byrne had said she was not one for games, though, and Elizabeth believed her. Even in the dark, she could imagine those blue eyes looking at her with an openness that was unsettling.
“Do what? Save Radcliffe co-eds from enduring another night of the adventures of Achilles and Patroclus?”
“No, say please.”
Again the word and again the way it was said made the corner of her mouth twitch and heat find her cheeks like a stubborn secret. Elizabeth leaned her back against the landing wall and crossed her arms. It was as much to steady her swaying as it was to ground herself against the effects of the woman whose smaller stature was starting to come into focus in the darkness, a dim light above taming their unruly eyes. She challenged, curiosity getting the best of her.
“Are you always like this?”
She saw Olive in front of her, her blond hair standing out in the low, low light, her fair skin shining, and eyes looking back at her in the dimness.
Surely Olive must know. The words she said, the way she looked at Elizabeth, the way she touched her. She must know that she was inviting certain responses from her, inducing interest, applying Bill’s theory intentionally. Elizabeth just never thought she’d be the subject of such things, that she was too removed and objective, too..impervious.
“Like what? Like this! Like the way that you’re..doing..this...intentionally to me.”
Olive’s soft puff of a laugh filled the space and she saw her head shaking.
“I’m doing this to you? What is this? Have you even considered the intentionality of what you’ve been doing to me? You invited me. You and Bill both wanted me here. And here I am. Why?”
Elizabeth felt Olive step closer and knew that the other woman was trying to study her face and look for clues in the faint light and the closeness. She tried to keep her reactions under control, not wanting to give away too much. But Olive had asked the question she herself was still struggling with - what did Olive mean to her, why was she drawn to her, why could she not keep her own heart quiet right now. So Elizabeth decided that honesty would be a good choice.
“We missed you. I missed you.”
She saw a smile on Olive’s face, the white of her teeth peeking behind soft lips she was drawn to and wanted to fall against. It was a new feeling, this rawness. Usually Bill was the one who had other..interests..other women he pursued and she was not one for jealousy, not now after this whole time with him. They were solid with each other, with..others. Men had needs, Bill loved her and that wasn’t going to change. It worked for them. But Elizabeth had removed herself from those kinds of feelings, approached it from a more objective standpoint, from the supportive unconventional spousal point of view. She had kept her own desires, her own needs, focused on her career, her writing, her ambition.
It was jarring, now, to be confronted by a living, breathing temptation of a different sort. The trio had grown close in their intellectual relationship, but underneath it, Elizabeth knew something else was also spinning between the three of them (love, Bill claimed, but she was always more cautious about naming such things). Now that it was sparking acutely between the two of them, she was confronted by it in the guise of a preternaturally open young woman who piqued her intellect and her id equally. It was a goddamned mindfuck that she, Elizabaeth Marston, was not prepared for in the way she prepared for her life.
“You missed me?”
Olive’s voice of wonder brought her back to the here and now and she swayed forward a little, a smile barely cracking the corner of her mouth. Elizabeth looked up towards the remaining stairs and cursed the way liquor made her more honest than she thought prudent.
“I did. I’ve..grown accustomed to your daily presence if you must know.”
“Hmm..that’s a nice and tidy answer. That feels very logical. Quite practical. But is that the only reason you wanted me here?”
Here was Olive, again pushing her in ways that made her uncomfortable. Soft questions that she knew would provoke and push Elizabeth further against this wall. But the only problem was that Olive wasn’t playing with her, wasn’t being coy, she was genuinely asking because she wanted the truth and wanted to see what was under Elizabeth’s skin, what was making her tick, what..this..was between them. The only real question was whether Elizabeth was ready to stop hedging her answers.
She heard Olive take in a breath at the admission and she smiled at the tell. While Olive might not be one to play games, Elizabeth was still someone who had mastered the art of being what was needed in any given situation. Her career and ambition pushed her to navigate a traditional, conventional structure, but her nature made her cautious about showing too much or giving too much away when it came to matters of the heart. Still, there was something about Olive and the softness of her voice now that got her full attention and attuned her senses to the imperceptible cues of her academic training. Olive blinked up at her and exhaled a genuine question.
“What is it you really want from me, Elizabeth Marston?”
She felt Olive press towards her, breasts lightly touching against her crossed arms and it was disorienting. Under Olive’s question, she could feel what the other woman pulled her towards, the subtle supplication of her words, the desire lacing the surface and deeper. Elizabeth pressed back and shifted, listening for the effect it had on Olive’s breath, the look in her eyes.
“What is it you’re willing to give?”
They were at an impasse it felt as they stared at each other in the muted light. Gently, Elizabeth felt a tentative hand against the hem of her skirt where it met just above her knee as Olive’s fingers plucked against the cloth. She could see grey-blue eyes looking up at her, lips parting and Elizabeth’s arms dropped, palms finding the stairwell wall, cool and rough-plastered. Olive stood still, looking up at her, their body inches apart as softer words followed.
“I appreciate the question and your consideration of my wishes. I do, really. But you didn’t answer me. What do you want from me?”
The thing about this whole situation, the way they danced around the obvious without naming it, made the liquor swirling in her body go to her head and the stairwell grow smaller and her sense of being trapped by what she wanted and what she could have grow larger.
Elizabeth wanted. Plain and simple. She wanted. She wanted to know how it would feel when Olive said please to her, specifically and desperately and softly and breathlessly. She wanted to know what it would feel like when Olive let her have whatever she wanted. She wanted to feel Olive submit to her mouth and her hands and her body in ways she couldn’t logically explain but could only crave, deep down. She wanted to take what was freely offered, what was given, what relinquished. She wanted power, dominance, the feeling of dominion not through coercion but through Olive’s gentle granting. She wanted a theory in metaphysical form, in soft curves and quiet pleas, contained and released, held back and let go, tied up and cut loose. She wanted.
But Olive wanted all of what Elizabeth felt inside, all of her deepest secrets and needs, to be acknowledged, said outloud, shared, given. Her head pounded at struggle between admission and submission and the consequences for herself, for Bill, for them both, and for Olive. The weight felt heavy and the pull towards want was becoming overwhelming. The fall of Troy and the fall of Elizabeth Holloway Marston were no longer disconnected, separated by dactylic hexameter, as Olive Byrne studied them both in one night, tearing apart their structure and meaning with her curious eyes.
Elizabeth barely said the word, barely claimed herself before the door at the top of the stairs opened and a head appeared with an arm waving frantically.
“Hey! Up here, quick! The cops are looking for the get-outs!”
The two women standing precipitously close to each other looked up and then at each other before the moment was broken, gone, in an instant. With a quick nod, Elizabeth felt her face fall into something more safe, something less open and she reached out, putting her hand on Olive’s lower back and urging her upwards. To say that simple act that led to Olive smiling softly at her and nodding back before she let herself be moved upwards didn’t have an effect on Elizabeth would be telling a lie. There was something electric shared between them and she was determined to name it, experience it, claim it. But there would be time to face the truth later, to come back to the spell they held each other under. Now it was time to flee.
Olive Byrne blinked several times at the light as she and Elizabeth Marston spilled into the brightly lit living room from a closet door, both stumbling a little as they tried to orient themselves to the situation they were now dealing with in the later hours of a Boston early spring night. Elizabeth still held her hand and their faces were both flushed as they were confronted by a room full of women in varying degrees of inebriation and agitation. Olive recognized a few of Radcliffe panhellenic sisters from other sororities, one administrative assistant from the dean’s office, and the rest of the women were strangers clearly brought together by booze and sin and prohibition. The room smelled of liquor and anxiety and she heard Elizabeth let out a brief laugh and softly exclaim under her breath.
“What the fuck..”
Olive felt her hand dropped as Elizabeth smoothed back unruly hair and ran a hand down her skirt to straighten it and herself. She herself kept blinking to get used to the light after the dark hallway climb. An older woman, dark hair peeking out from under her pinned hat and cheeks rosy from the night and from waving them up the stairs, turned to them, a little flustered and out of breath.
“The cops are knocking on all the apartment doors! They’re just down the hall!”
They both moved further into the room, eyes all on them and the energy filling the room with a palpable ripple. The two sorority girls were crying softly, drunkenly, on the couch while the rest of the ten women in the room were in various stages of panic and/or sloppy stumbling through the small quarters. It was chaotic and a clear disaster waiting to happen and Olive swallowed, thinking about her academic career coming to an end in addition to the consequences for the Marstons. The swirl of energy that had been passing through her and Elizabeth all night got sucked into the mix and she questioned, briefly, her choices. Just then, she heard a throat clear and a loud voice ring out in the room.
“Ladies! Pull yourselves together for fuck’s sake!”
At the sound and the harsh words, all eyes turned to Elizabeth Marston as she moved to the center of the room and the chatter and sobs quieted down. Olive watched as Elizabeth shook her head and put her hands on her hips and only she was wise to the telltale sway of liquor coursing through a British body. In a commanding voice, Elizabeth pointed at the woman who had led them up the stairs.
“You. What’s your name?”
The older woman reached up and pressed a hand to her hat in what was likely a nervous habit exacerbated by gin, her voice was calmer though as she answered.
“Is that your real name?”
Elizabeth spun around the room and caught everyone’s eyes as she spoke calmly.
“Find another name. All of you. Think quick and get your shit together. Never tell the cops your real name, this isn’t grade school, this is a fucking raid.”
The women stirred a little, looking at each other and murmuring to themselves before Olive saw Elizabeth point at the Radcliffe secretary standing near the back wall.
“You. Turn down these bloody lights. If they have a clear view of our faces, they’ll see how poorly you lot can handle your liquor and we’re all balls up here.”
Olive watched as the woman stared at her before she moved to turn out the overhead lights and flick on only a lamp or two. The living room space held two couches and a few chairs, a small dining table, but was otherwise nondescript. Olive could only assume that the Lighted Lamp rented a few apartments out in the building for traveling musicians, wayward rum runners, scandalous trysts, and hideouts for just such occasions as this. Or she supposed this could be some strangers apartment who was simply out to dinner. The first choice was better for the story and so she went with it. The other women in the room must have found their way here through other get-outs and escape routes. Only the good lord knew where Bill was. Hopefully not in jail. Elizabeth’s voice rang out clearly again as the police pounded on the apartment down the hall, all of them turning their eyes to the front door.
“Listen. This next part is going to be the hardest for you all so don’t fuck it up for the rest of us. I need you all to act normal.”
Olive watched as Elizabeth caught their eyes and their attention once again, trying to control the anxiety in the room and the whispered words. Elizabeth put her hands up and down in calming manner while her voice was steady.
“Okay. We are at a meeting of the Women’s Temperance Union right here, right now, so act like it. Find a seat and sit... casually...concernedly. And pray! If you’re going to cry, cry because of those lost souls sinning it up down there. If you’re too drunk to maintain...like you there, the ginger in the back, get your ass in that bathroom and don’t come out.”
All eyes turned to a redhead near the kitchen, her swaying and hiccuping gave her away and they tsked at her, before one of them lead her off to the back of the apartment. Olive smiled a little at Elizabeth when she heard the Radcliffe secretary whisper to the woman guiding the more inebriated woman to lock the door behind her, ‘she’s three sheets to the wind, she’s a liability waiting to happen’.
“Finally, let me handle this. I’m a lawyer.”
Olive looked around the room and saw the women murmuring again and she caught Elizabeth’s eye, a cocky smirk coming to lips that she tried not to stare at, soft and full of potential. The pull of Elizabeth’s charm and what they had shared not more than five minutes ago was still coursing through her body. Olive’s heart was pounding, from the night, from what was arcing between them, from the now very real danger of getting caught and she felt Elizabeth’s hand on her arm. The taller woman moved close and leaned down, her lips pressed against Olive’s ear and she tried not to shiver. Now was not the time or place for such things, but that didn’t mean she was immune to feeling what Elizabeth Marston did to her.
“Are you okay, darling?”
It was the first time that Elizabeth had referred to her as anything other than Olive, the casual intimate endearment seemingly slipping out without too much thought by the woman who was often very careful about her words. She couldn’t help but smile, her eyes finding Elizabeth’s own and she watched as the realization of what she said appeared. But Elizabeth didn't take it back. It was hers now, the word and the feeling behind it. Her own voice was quiet and sure.
Elizabeth looked at her gently, seeking assurance before she saw a small smile just for her.
“Do you trust me?”
She didn’t hesitate.
Elizabeth gave her a slight nod and a quirk of her lips, leaning in again, this time pressing her mouth against Olive’s ear to speak as the rest of the room of women tried to settle and act natural, to varying degrees of success as footfalls came closer to the door.
“I’ll remember that.”
The way Elizabeth said it, low and inappropriately sultry for the context and the situation they were in made the heat sweep up to Olive’s cheeks and neck, feeling flushed. If she was going to ‘act normal’ in the middle of a speakeasy raid, she needed her wits about her without the cocky smirk of Elizabeth Marston rocking her boat. She smiled softly and made sure her eyes conveyed the right message as her own whispered words dropped in the quiet between them. She might not be one for games, but two could play.
Olive watched as the pulse point of Elizabeth’s neck bounced and her eyes darkened a little as she shook her head and backed away from Olive, the smile on her lips told her that she had had the desired effect. The moment, however, was quickly interrupted by the harsh rapping on the apartment door, thundering into the room. Olive watched as Elizabeth looked around the room and held her hand up, nodding at them all reassuringly as the rest of the women tried to calm their nerves.
“Open up, Boston PD!”
Olive wasn’t entirely sure what to do with herself so she moved towards the bookcase, her eyes quickly scanning for a book or something to do with her hands so she looked busy and engaged in whatever might happen at a union meeting, she wasn’t entirely sure. Elizabeth calmly sauntered to the door and unlocked it, glancing back to all with a warning and a conspiratorial glare.
“Hello, yes? May we help you?”
Three Boston cops peered in and around Elizabeth’s tall stature as the rest of the room’s occupants tried to act naturally, glancing at the police officers while they looked at each other and hushed themselves, more or less.
“Ma’am, we’re conducting an investigation of an illegal saloon downstairs. Are you harboring any men or have any of you been drinking downstairs?”
Olive watched as Elizabeth brought her hand to her chest and leaned, as if taken aback, shocked even.
“I beg your pardon? I assure you no man is in attendance and we are perfectly sober.”
One of the officers pressed in a little to peer at the room before Elizabeth put her hand on the doorframe and smiled, blocking his way with her body. His voice was gruff and intimidating and she watched as the women in the room reacted to it. Elizabeth, however, the picture of calm amid the storm.
“We’ve had reports of Harvard and Radcliffe students and faculty coming to these illegal rum joints. Who are these women and what are you all doing in here?”
She watched as Elizabeth smiled and used her other hand to sweep behind her, casually, naturally.
“Sir, we are in the middle of a proper Women’s Christian Temperance meeting at this very moment. I believe such things are quite legal and apparently of great need in this building. These women are good, decent wives and humble daughters of God doing his work."
"Isn't it a little late for a meeting?"
Olive watched as Elizabeth cocked her head to the side and continued.
"Does sin ever really sleep? I think not. As a matter of fact, we were just about to begin our final prayer led by..”
Here, Elizabeth gestured towards her and Olive waved at the officers as she held up a book. She glanced at the thing in her hand, hoping it would pass for the Bible and nearly dropped it when she saw it was a copy of the Odyssey. She croaked out her name and smiled.
She watched as Elizabeth turned back towards the officers and smiled.
“Ruth. We’re joined by several novitiates from..St. Catherine’s..tonight and are eager to hear the scripture - Isaiah 5:11, I believe, warn us of the dreadful Devil's scourge that has overtaken your country.”
Olive watched as the officers kept peering into the dimly lit room, the women in it finding things to do with themselves, clumsily holding an empty teacup, hand-wringing in prayer or knitting (?), she wasn't sure, or pretending to have a conversation about anything other than what was happening. Her Radcliffe classmates just looked at her and tried not to cry and she quickly shook her head to ward off a sob she saw coming. In the back of the apartment, a soft sloppy rapping on the bathroom door was quickly covered up by one of the women pushing her chair out from the table and coughing, her hand trying to hold herself steady. They all remained still until one of the officers turned his attention to Elizabeth.
“And who exactly are you? You’re not American, what are you doing here?”
Olive saw Elizabeth stand taller and bristle, the telltale sign of her Isle of Man spine straightening for a fight, verbal or otherwise. If anyone in the room was at risk, it was Elizabeth. She was the one who was seeking admittance to Harvard, her career and Bill’s was on the line if she were caught. The rest of the women said not one word, watching the standoff nervously. Olive found herself moving as Elizabeth took a deep breath and she came to stand next to her in the doorway, her hand discreetly pressing against Elizabeth's lower back to gently stop her. She smiled up at the officers as innocently as she could, which was very much so, and her words were confident.
“This is Dr. Diana Prince, renowned scholar of antiquities. She’s here to teach us about..the historical use of Grecian urns to transport alcohol and how we must be vigilant, as Temperance members, against that kind of trickery. I’m sure you can relate.”
The officers looked at her and then at Elizabeth before the one in the back shook his head.
“I thought you said there were no Harvards here.”
She saw Elizabeth smile and take a breath, all she could do was hope for the best. Her British accent came out in full as she spoke.
“Oxford, if you must know. If Harvard is as full of inebriated men as you suggest, I can’t imagine being associated with an institution sullied by the sin of alcohol and likely temptations of the flesh. Isn’t that right Sister...”
Here, Olive watched as Elizabeth turned towards the Radcliffe secretary, standing awkwardly near the window with a candlestick in her hand for some reason. The older woman paused before she blurted.
“Mar..Mag..Margaret. Sister Mary Margaret. That’s me. Gin and sin and skin, all bad.”
Olive dared not look at Elizabeth but could feel her holding in a laugh, her ribs through the silk shirt against Olive’s hand expanding and shaking a little. They just needed to get through this and all would be fine. She was sure of it. The Boston police looked at each other and shook their heads before looking back at them all.
“Sisters...ladies..if you’ll excuse us. Have a good night.”
Olive stifled a laugh at Elizabeth’s parting words and she gazed up at her, a completely believable innocent smile on the taller woman’s face as she closed the door behind her. They all were completely silent as they listened to boots retreating down the hall to the stairway that would lead them further away. Cautious, if not still blurry eyes, looked at each other until they could no longer hear footfalls. There was a collective exhale of relief from the room and she watched as Elizabeth leaned back against the door and let out a laugh.
“Holy shit, I can’t believe that worked. Fucking hell.”
Olive laughed too and she fell against Elizabeth, relief at their luck and the danger passing made her lean into a body that was taller and more solid than hers. She felt Elizabeth’s arms wrap around her, the other woman loosened by the experience, less guarded, and it felt a lot like somewhere she wanted to be again. Now that she realized there was something sparking between them, Olive was anxious to follow that trail where it led. The rest of the room joined them, collapsing back into seats or shaking heads or hugging at their good fortune. The women in apartment 6b were now a thing, ten drunken or slightly slurry ladies bonded together over the fear of getting caught and the injustice of prohibition. From somewhere in the back of the apartment, a quiet voice called out.
“‘ello? Can..someone open the door....”
They all looked around before Olive felt Elizabeth’s voice against her body.
“Sister Mary Margaret, can you please let Ginger out of that bloody bathroom so we can wrap up this meeting and get the hell out of here?”
Olive Byrne could not have predicted what the evening would turn into, how it would ebb and flow, the twists and turns between them and the situation was unpredictable. She could feel her own heart beating and could hear the one under her ear, pressed against Elizabeth’s chest, the skipping and steadiness made her smile. Olive reluctantly pulled away, her body no longer in contact with Elizabeth Marston’s and she felt the absence immediately. An expression fell over Elizabeth’s face, somewhere between the truth and what could be said under such circumstances. The look in deep brown eyes exposed more of this Marston than she would have thought, and it was so fleeting she wondered if she imagined it. She recognized it, at a fundamental level, because that same feeling lived in her too. Fellow rebels finding each other and it was something deep and needy and hungry. Olive wanted that, desperately. Elizabeth cleared her throat, reaching up to push away dark hair that had down swept across her eyes and it was gone. The cool British exterior came out, though she knew under it was something softer.
“Shall we go find Steve Trevor and bail him out?”
Olive smiled at the fondness in Elizabeth’s voice, her thoughts going to Bill and his boyish charm and flights of fancy. The three of them were in this together and whatever was coming next, she would be ready. As one last act of rebellion, Olive reached out, finding the edge of Elizabeth’s skirt and pulling it towards her, wanting to see if the woman in it would follow, would react. With a smirk, Elizabeth moved towards her and swayed in, close but not touching, almost teasing. Olive watched as Elizabeth’s hand reached up, hesitantly, before she felt a thumb press against her bottom lip, running across it with just right touch before retreating. Right then and there, she knew she needed more of that promise. With a raise of an eyebrow and a cock her head at Olive, she watched Elizabeth open the door to the outside world and lead the way. There would be more to...this...whatever this was..if Olive had her way.