They decide to spend the night at Therese’s, turning the sofa into a bed for Rindy, which she would be much more excited about it she weren’t completely cashed out by the time they get home, just after 10:00. The original plan was for Carol to take Rindy back to Jersey, and Therese to spend the night alone, since she has class in the morning, but after Maurice’s revelations, it seems imperative that they not part ways tonight.
Carol feels a little… untethered, if she’s honest with herself. The information from Maurice was shock enough, a totally unexpected scheme that he has apparently been plotting for two weeks. But more than the prospect of spending half the summer in Europe, it’s Therese’s reaction that has Carol feeling nervous and unsure of herself.
It’s not that Therese reacted badly. She listened to the whole plot with no overt signs of displeasure or refusal. Carol was so busy cutting glances at her that she hardly understood half of what Maurice said. But the gist of it is pretty clear: Maurice has contacts all over Germany, and others in Prague and Paris. He wants her to tour the shops and estates of over two dozen contacts and build a pipeline. As he knows very well (and as Carol does, too) the New York City elite will lap up the opportunity to purchase pieces from Europe. With the funding he’s secured from the sale of his father’s estate, as well as a couple of San Francisco investors, Carol will have carte blanche to select a whole catalogue of pieces.
And, she’ll be with Therese.
But Therese was quiet on the car ride home, and Therese is quiet now, as she pulls a blanket over Rindy and makes sure Rindy’s lion is carefully tucked under her arm. She’s quiet as she walks into the bedroom, Carol in her wake, and starts taking off her clothes, getting ready for bed. No doubt aware that Carol is watching her, she throws her a slightly amused smile. But her eyes are solemn.
“Angel,” Carol murmurs. “Talk to me.”
Therese sighs, pushing her hair out of her eyes. She’s down to her underwear and Carol thinks she looks very small in this moment, small and worried. As Carol watches she discards her bra and takes an oversized t-shirt out of her dresser, pulling it over her head. It dwarfs her, skimming the top of her thighs, adorable. She goes to the bed and sits, eyes averted for a moment, before at last she looks at Carol.
“I was planning to tell you,” she says, “that I had decided not to go to Europe.”
Carol says nothing for several moments, considering. And then, “Because of the expense?”
Notably, Maurice’s scheme meant that he would be paying for Carol to keep an apartment in Berlin, as well funding her trips to Paris, Prague, and Rome—all of which would benefit Therese’s budget by association. If expense was Therese’s reason for giving up the program, there’s no excuse now. But Therese gives a little shrug, bottom lip between her teeth, eyes cast aside again. “Partly,” she admits. “But also because… I didn’t want you to be alone, if Harge had Rindy.”
Carol is momentarily stunned. Then, something melts inside her, warmth spreading through her limbs. That Therese would have given up Europe for that, for her—she doesn’t know if anyone has ever done something like that for her. Probably not. It is one of the purest, most selfless acts Carol can imagine. So of course Therese would have done it. Carol can just imagine the argument they might have had, as she tried in vain to change Therese’s mind. Happily, an argument they don’t have to have.
Except… Therese doesn’t look like someone who no longer has to make a sacrifice for the woman she loves. Therese’s little brow is furrowing, her thoughts clearly at war. Carol doesn’t want to bully it out of her, but the sight makes her feel restless. Needing something to do, she starts to take off her own clothes, stripping down efficiently and conscious after a moment of Therese watching her, not lustfully, but with a supreme focus, as if her eyes can’t help themselves. Carol finds the pair of sweatpants she left here this morning, and another of Therese’s sleepshirts. The front is screen printed with a fading portrait of Ms. Piggy. Therese’s eyes land on it, and suddenly she is giggling.
Carol’s lips split with her own grin, pleased and relieved to hear Therese laugh.
“What?” Carol asks. “You don’t find this sexy? You don’t want to be my little Kermie?”
Therese laughs harder, plopping down on her back on the bed, a hand covering her face. Carol goes to her, laying down beside her and dancing fingers up her ribs. Therese yelps, grabbing her hand before she can continue, and then they are looking at each other, and smiling at each other, fingers laced. The look on Therese’s face is so sweet, so pure. The love Carol feels for her is like a physical ache, welling up in her throat, pricking the backs of her eyes. They gaze at each other for a long time, Therese’s free hand rising to trace Carol’s brow, her jaw, her lips—like she’s memorizing her.
“Tell me what’s wrong,” Carol murmurs at last, as gentle as she can.
Therese keeps tracing, her eyes following the path of her finger.
“Can it really be this easy?” she whispers.
Carol frowns, confused, but before she can ask Therese what she means, Therese has a question of her own. “Do you know why I wanted to get into that institute in Amsterdam?”
Carol hesitates. “I… because it was such an incredible career opportunity?”
Therese smiles a little. “Yeah, I know that’s what was supposed to be the reason, but, really… it was this fantasy I had. Of being in Amsterdam. With you.”
The warmth already glowing in Carol’s chest expands, so sweet it aches. Traveling with Therese. A vacation, with Therese. Their planned getaway to South Carolina had to be canceled when Therese got sick, and they haven’t discussed rescheduling. They will reschedule, of course, but to be in Europe together…
Quietly, Carol tells her, “We can go to Amsterdam. We can go anywhere you want, Angel.”
“But that’s just it,” Therese’s eyes lock with hers. “I feel like… I feel like all I did was get a job in a holiday market. All I did was help a gorgeous woman find her gloves. And now I’m…” She swallows, eyes cutting away again. She looks so anxious, so small. Carol wants to gather her close, protect her, shy all her demons away. Therese says, “I never had anything growing up, Carol, don’t you understand? I never had anything. I left foster care with the clothes on my back and two hundred dollars in my pocket. And now I have… famous photographers inviting me to attend their symposiums and I’ve got… I’ve got rich furniture barons paying my way through Europe and—and I’ve got you.”
That last word breaks in Therese’s throat. Her eyes are still down but Carol can see the sheen of tears.
“You do have me, Darling,” Carol whispers. She brushes an errant tear from the apple of Therese’s cheek, and combs her fingers through her fine dark hair.
Therese swallows. Her voice is as small as a child hiding in a closet. “I’m afraid it’s all going to disappear…”
Carol considers. She asks, “Are you talking about grand trips to Europe, or something else? Because I don’t take you for someone who needs the lap of luxury to be happy.”
Therese admits softly, “I’m not talking about Europe.”
Then, very gently, Carol puts a finger under Therese’s chin, lifting her head to look at her. “Are you talking about me?” she asks. After a moment Therese gives the faintest approximation of a nod. Carol leans forward, and their lips touch, soft. “You have me,” Carol tells her again, whispering but urgent. “You have me, Therese. For as long as you want me. I’m yours. We can travel the world, or we can stay right here. We can move to Manhattan or we can move to the middle of nowhere. I don’t care what we do, so long as we’re together. So if something about this is making you uncomfortable, then we won’t go.”
Therese’s eyes widen in surprise. Carol wonders what can have surprised her so much, until, “You’d do that? You’d say no, to Maurice? Just because I…”
She trails off. Carol says simply, “Yes. If you don’t want to go, we won’t go.”
Therese swallows. There are clearly quite a lot of thoughts running through her, but Carol doesn’t press. She lets her process on her own, and finally Therese asks, her voice a little timid, but hopeful, “Do… do you want to go?”
Carol pictures the two of them, traveling the continent. She pictures schnitzel in Berlin and cafes in Paris, sight-seeing in Rome and strolling the Karlov Most in Prague. Carol will hunt furniture and Therese will hunt for better and better photographs, and at the end of the day they’ll come together, and tell each other all they’ve learned.
“It sounds like a grand adventure, my dear,” she admits.
From Therese’s expression, she knows her young lover is thinking the same thing, is imagining it, one of those fantasies she thought she’d never have. Then a little frown creases her eyebrows. “People told me I’d never do anything. I’d never go anywhere…”
Carol releases a breath through her nostrils. She thinks she will never stop being angry—at the parents who failed a young Therese, at the men who made her feel worthless and weak, at the social workers who neglected her, at the boyfriends like Richard who couldn’t see her for what she really is.
“If only you knew how special you are, Dearest.”
At that, Therese pinks, and scoffs, no doubt trying to hide her embarrassment. “I’m not special, Carol, I’m—”
“You fucking well are,” she interrupts coolly. Therese gives her a shy look. “You’re special to everyone who knows you. You’re special to me. You came into my life out of nowhere, just—just flung out of space, and you’ve changed me. You’ve changed everything. You will always be so incredibly special, Therese.”
For a moment neither of them says anything, eyes locked, the air heavy between them. And then, slowly, an impish little smile curves Therese’s lips.
“Flung out of space?” she repeats.
Carol blushes, realizing she’s being teased. “Well—you are!”
“Does that mean I’m an alien, or—?”
“Oh, you!” Carol cries.
She climbs on top of her, kissing her, and Therese is laughing into her kiss, laughing and wrapping her arms around her. Carol presses into the cradle of her hips, and keeps kissing her, so they are as close as they can be. And before long Therese’s laughter has stopped, and she is kissing her back, deeply, beautifully.
“Carol,” she sighs, like her name itself is a balm that soothes away all cares. “Carol,” she repeats, and then, low and sweet, “Make love to me.”
Carol groans in the back of her throat. The groan turns to a growl. “With pleasure.”
Slipping the oversized t-shirt up over Therese’s head takes but a moment, yet Carol makes it last. She kisses her slowly and delicately, all over—the crooks of her elbows and the curve of her ribs; the dip of her belly and the tops of her thighs. She drags her underwear down her legs and kisses her knees and calves and ankles, and when Therese’s socks are off she gives her big toe a nip. Therese squeals with laughter—and then claps a hand over her mouth, eyes widening.
“Fuck,” she says. “Rindy.”
“She’s fine, Dearest,” Carol answers, wandering her way up again, with more nibbling bites.
“Are you sure?” Therese asks. “Maybe I’d better go check?”
She makes as if to get up, but Carol places a hand on her sternum, gently holding her in place.
“Ah-ah-ah,” she cautions, letting a low edge of command into her voice that makes Therese’s throat bob. “None of that. You stay right where you are. I’ll check on her.”
Therese’s eyes are wide for a different reason now, and it fills Carol with pleasure and excitement. She leaves her on the bed and goes to the living room. In the outlet nearest to the couch Therese has plugged in a nightlight that she bought for just such a potentiality as Rindy spending the night, and the sight of it, shedding soft, warm light through the otherwise dark room, makes Carol’s heart swell. She confirms that Rindy is still dead asleep; in fact, she hasn’t moved an inch since they left the room. She’s safe. She’s well. And not just right this moment. They’ll explain the custody arrangement to her and she’ll still have her daddy and she’ll have Therese now, too, and everything will be okay. For the first time, Carol really lets herself believe it. And buoyed by that belief, she slips back toward the bedroom.
Therese is still lying on her back, exactly as Carol left her.
“What an obedient girl you are,” Carol hums (Therese’s answering whimper is exquisite), and gently shuts and locks the bedroom door—just in case.
She can feel Therese’s eyes on her, but is careful not to return the look as she pulls off her sweatpants and the ridiculous Ms. Piggy shirt. Once she is naked she stands a moment, tipping her head back and combing fingers through her hair. The posture makes her breasts jut forward, and the little catch of breath from the bed assures her that Therese has noticed. This proof, of Therese’s regard, of Therese’s arousal, spears Carol with her own intoxicating want. Carol knows that she is beautiful, knows that her body is beautiful, but she was never vain enough to flaunt it with her other lovers. Never brave enough, either. But Therese makes her want to flaunt, to show off—to please.
When she looks at her again, Therese’s eyes are running all over her with unambiguous admiration. She’s got one arm lifted and bent behind her head as a pillow, and one of her knees is bent. The sight of her slim, nymph-like body in such a provocative pose makes Carol salivate. What she wants in that moment is almost overpowering.
“Where is your camera, Angel?” she asks.
Therese’s eyes widen. For a moment they hold each other’s stare, Carol’s real question clear in her eyes, Therese’s answer momentarily withheld—and then, Therese looks toward the desk across the room. Her camera is resting upon it. Carol goes to it, taking it from its case and turning it on. She’s no wizard where the thing is concerned, but Therese has showed her the basics of how it works. She carries it back to Therese, and stands at the side of the bed. Therese watches her, her chest rising and falling with her breaths.
“Color?” Carol murmurs, voice gentle—she’s not in the mood to be stern with her tonight.
“Green,” Therese whispers, eyes big and pupils dilated.
Carol shivers with pleasure, but keeps her tone relaxed. “You’re very beautiful, Therese,” she tells her.
There’s a moment of silence, and then Therese whispers, “Thank you.”
“I’m wondering something.”
Another pause, then, “Oh?”
“I’m wondering… why I don’t have more pictures of you.”
She lifts the camera, looking at her through the lens—her smooth torso flecked with freckles; her small firm breasts, nipples hard; the points of her hips and the lines of her thighs. She’s pure art, and Carol clicks the shutter. Therese has been holding her breath, and at the sound she lets it out, shakily.
“You have lots of pictures of me on your phone,” Therese observes.
Carol looks at her over the camera, smirking. “Not pictures like this.”
This time she focuses on Therese’s lower body, from the neat tuft of her pubic hair to her little feet, toes curled in the blanket. She clicks the shutter again.
Therese makes a thoughtful sound. “I don’t have naked photos of you, either.”
Carol zooms in to photograph the curve of her arm, the shadow along her side, the hard tip of her areola, blushed and perfect.
“Would you like to?” she asks.
Therese moans. “God, Carol. If you let me, I would fucking worship you with that camera.”
Her intensity makes Carol flood with heat. She zooms out, taking another photo of her entire body. She lowers the camera, but only long enough to climb onto the bed, and straddle Therese’s thighs. Therese blushes shyly, pressing the side of her face into the bed as Carol photographs her again. Carol turns the camera around to show her the picture.
“Have a look at yourself,” she says.
Therese looks, and then looks away, giggling in pleased embarrassment, a giggle that makes Carol laugh with bright happiness. “Beautiful,” she tells her.
Therese pulls herself together enough to look up at her again, still with that embarrassed smile. She puts her hands on Carol’s thighs and takes a deep breath, letting it out. “Okay,” she says. “What’s next?”
“Would mademoiselle be so kind as to lift both arms above her head?” Carol asks dryly.
Therese obeys, fingers curling over the edge of the mattress. The position lifts her breasts, flexes her biceps, makes her look—fuck, incredible. Carol clicks the shutter three times. Under her, Therese’s thighs tighten and relax, her hips churning. Her body is flushed with arousal.
“I should make you touch yourself,” Carol muses, photographing her throat, her mouth, that lip caught between her teeth. “I could take your photo, while you come. Wouldn’t that be delicious?”
Whining, wanting, Therese grips the mattress tighter, pulse beating in her throat as she squeezes her eyes shut.
“Look into the camera, Angel,” Carol orders.
Those eyes blink open, looking directly at her. The fierceness of her, in this moment, is electric. Her eyes a brilliant green, heavy-lidded, full of lust. Carol takes the picture—and then sets the camera down on the end table. Still straddling Therese’s thighs, she runs her hands all the way up, from her belly, over her breasts, up her straining arms. She unwinds her fingers from the mattress, and Therese eagerly follows her lead. Soon those hands in Carol’s hair, and they are kissing, deeply.
“You were right about Rindy, of course,” Carol muses.
Therese makes a frowny sound into their kiss. “Huh? What?”
“Just that… she’s asleep on the other side of this wall. And we know how thin these walls are.”
Therese blushes, Carol grins, both of them remembering a night in February when Therese’s neighbor started banging on the wall, apparently of the opinion that they should have stopped after the third screaming orgasm.
“Which means,” Carol growls, “you have to be quiet.”
Therese takes a deep breath and lets it out, shivering. Carol grins at her, and bends to kiss her again. Gently, sweetly. Only this time, she slips a hand between her legs.
Therese barely chokes off a cry. She’s so wet and silky between her legs, it makes Carol want to cry out, too. Instead, she dips her finger, gathering the wetness and dragging it up to her clit. She circles delicately, gliding effortless across the swollen tip of her. Therese shudders, neck arching as she fights to stay silent. The sight of her like this is exquisite, wracked with helpless pleasure and yet trying so hard for control—a mind-meltingly sexy contradiction.
Carol thinks of last night, of how relentless Therese was, making love to her over and over. More than once Carol tried to return the favor, but Therese would have none of it, her hunger to give apparently insatiable. Carol felt consumed by her, taken apart piece by piece, til she begged, til she sobbed. It was a thrill like she had never experienced before, a complete dissolution of all cares, all modesty, as she turned her body over to Therese’s body, knowing it was safe.
But now, Therese is the one who shivers and twists, hips lifting toward the pressure of a single circling finger. Carol feels a heady sense of power, knowing all she can accomplish with just the slightest touch to this small and needy part of Therese. She considers going down on her. Considers sliding inside her. But the look on Therese’s face—brows scrunched together and cheeks red and lip caught in her teeth—makes her want to take her time. To go slow and easy, like this. She dips down for a little more wetness, and returns to her gentle circles.
“Oh!” Therese gasps.
“Quiet,” Carol croons, reveling in the tremble of her lover’s limbs, the way her throat moves as she swallows, an almost convulsive gesture. Carol puts her other hand on her throat, lightly, to feel the sensation of her aborted cries. Therese’s eyes snap open, staring at her desperately. “Quiet,” Carol repeats, low and warning.
Therese nods, whimpers almost soundlessly. To Carol’s surprise, she puts her hand on top of Carol’s hand, the hand against her throat, and presses. Carol frowns, slightly unnerved. She doesn’t think she could ever choke Therese, but—
“Hold me,” Therese whispers, her eyes glassy with arousal. “Not—not too tight, just—just—hold me, here.”
Carol thinks she understands. It’s a sign of Carol’s control; it’s a way for Therese to give Carol her trust, and, thus given, melt even deeper into feeling safe. Carol tightens her grasp on Therese’s neck, nowhere near to squeezing, but only firm. Therese nods that she likes it, and Carol focuses on her clit again, circling a little quicker. Therese shudders, makes a choking sound. Carol can feel it, under her hand. It’s intoxicating.
“Such a good girl,” Carol murmurs, running her eyes all over Therese’s body, glorying in how the praise makes Therese start to gasp. “So beautiful… So perfect.”
“C-Carol,” Therese whispers, urgently, her eyes widening.
Carol presses a little firmer, a little faster, feeling the tension ratchet in her lover. One of Therese’s hands is clutching the sheets again. With the other she grabs Carol’s hip, nails digging in, a wordless warning. Close. So close. Carol looks into her eyes, puts all the desire and adoration she feels into her gaze, and tells her, “No teasing, tonight, Sweetheart. Come when you’re ready.”
The look of relief on Therese’s face transforms, almost instantly, to bliss. Her eyes roll back; her body lifts off the bed, neck arching into Carol’s hand. Her hips start jerking out of her control, til it’s all Carol can do to keep constant pressure on her clit. Carol can feel the scream of pleasure in Therese’s throat, barely contained, and it’s Carol who groans louder than she should. Incensed. Overwhelmed.
When at last Therese glides over the roughest waves, Carol moves her finger, but uses her entire hand to cup the swollen wetness of her sex, hot and throbbing against her. Therese pants for breath, her eyes still squeezed shut as she struggles to control her sounds.
“Good?” Carol asks her.
Her eyes flutter open, and she offers a lazy, sated smile, almost goofy. It makes Carol grin. She slips the hand on Therese’s throat around, to cradle the back of her head and lift her up into her kiss. Therese’s kiss is slow and drunken, her body warm, damp, and boneless. Whole minutes pass before she gets her voice back.
“God,” she whispers, sounding hoarse and thoroughly fucked. “God, Carol, that was…”
She licks her lips. Her eyes are still hazy and as Carol watches, she forces herself to focus. One of the delicious things about Therese is all the different ways she comes—screaming and shaking, silent and locked up in pleasure, fast and intense or slow and melting. Sometimes she’s instantly ready for more. Other times, she barely has enough energy for a few more kisses before she drifts off to sleep. Carol is fully expecting this to be one of those times. Which is why it surprises her when Therese arches up into her, eyes turning fiery.
“Go inside?” she whispers.
Carol groans with excitement, immediately slipping down to test her response. Two fingers glide into her without a hint of resistance, and Therese’s sigh turns to a groan of need.
“Yes,” she gasps. “Yes, like that.”
Carol starts thrusting slowly, fingertips pressing against the sensitive spots inside.
“Yes, yes,” Therese mutters, eyes slipping shut again as she starts to lift toward the rhythm Carol is setting.
She’s so hot, so wet, so overwhelmingly sexy, her movements focused as she chases pleasure. After such an intense clitoral orgasm, Carol hesitates to touch her there again, so she asks, “What else? What do you need?”
In answer, Therese’s hand moves down. Carol thinks she’s going to touch herself—but no. She reaches for Carol, slipping down into the heat between her thighs. Carol shudders, her own fingers pressing harder inside Therese at the first heavenly touch.
“Oh, God,” she sighs.
“Here,” Therese mumbles, “Like this.”
It’s tricky with Carol’s fingers inside her, but Therese moves them onto their sides, giving her enough room to enter her, to grind her heel into Carol’s clit. A wave of warmth blooms outward from her touch, and Carol starts stroking her again, deeper, harder. She puts her thigh over Therese’s, opening herself, and Therese slides deep. Carol makes a sharp sound, pleasure gathering inside.
“Shh,” Therese warns her, lips pulled into a cheeky grin. “Don’t forget Rindy.”
“Fuck,” Carol mumbles. “Fuck, it feels so good.”
“Yeah?” Therese always sounds so delighted when she realizes that she is giving Carol pleasure, like a kid who’s been given free reign in an ice cream store. “What about this?” she asks, and pulls out long enough to push back in, three fingers now. Carol clenches, and Therese growls. She bends to Carol’s shoulder, sucking and nibbling at her, licking a wide swathe up her neck to whisper in her ear. “You feel amazing.”
Carol answers by diving for her mouth, licking inside, aggressive and hungry. Therese doesn’t give quarter, kissing her back just as fierce, her fingers starting to pump harder. Carol answers her rhythm, hoping she can hang on long enough to get Therese there, first. But the pressing against her clit, the rubbing against her G-spot, are a devastating combination. Carol can feel her orgasm rush toward her, inexorable.
“Oh, honey.” Her free hand slides into Therese’s hair, holding her tight. “Honey, I’m so close.”
Therese whimpers. Her hips start twitching forward in little desperate jerky motions.
“Me, too. Fuck, me, too. Stay with me, love. Look at me.”
Carol forces her eyes open, forces herself to keep them open, locked with Therese’s, which are growing glassier by the moment, her cunt starting to flutter. It’s like a spark of electricity, and their bodies intertwined make a feedback loop, the current charging through Therese, and into Carol—who barely chokes down a sobbing cry as the impact hits. They try, they do try, to keep eye contact. But is it really necessary, when she can see Therese’s eyes in her soul? When it is just as intimate, just as powerful, to bury her face against Therese’s neck and feel Therese’s face pressed to her own, both of them muffling their cries against each other’s skin? Carol can feel herself coming, and she can feel Therese coming, and who knows which is which? Does it matter? It’s divine. It’s ecstatic. Huddled close and thrashing, skin on skin through every pulse of release, they may as well have folded into one being.
Only minutes later, when their bodies are finally starting to cool, when they have wrapped each other close and their breathing has returned to normal, does Carol lift her face from it’s gorgeous burrow. This time, when Therese pulls back to look at her, she has tears in her eyes. But Carol doesn’t need to know why, doesn’t have to worry, because there are tears in her eyes, too.
“My angel,” she whispers, cupping that gorgeous jaw.
“Carol,” Therese whispers back. “I love you. I love you so much. Will you come to Europe with me?”
Carol starts smiling so deep she’s afraid she’ll hurt her own face, and in this fresh surge of happiness she can’t help teasing, “Will you come to Europe with me?”
Therese’s own smile breaks across her face. “I’ll go anywhere with you, Carol Ross. Anywhere and everywhere, if you’ll have me.”
This time it’s Carol whose eyes prick with tears, overwhelmed by this perfect woman in her arms. But her answer is simple enough:
“Well,” she says. “That’s that. Sold.”