(see header in part one)
Hallows, by Scott J. Welles
Gail watched the slim girl leave, feeling somewhat disappointed herself. A large part of her had been looking forward to having Dali be part of her first lesbian experience. She looked back at Kara. "Change of plans?" she asked, nodding in the direction of the doorway.
"My plans for the evening have been changing unpredictably since I first saw you here, Gail," replied the immersed woman. She picked up the wine bottle from where it was perched on a small ledge by the tub and refilled her glass. "Are you coming in?"
The question seemed like equal parts invitation and challenge to Gail's ears, and she reacted with a similar mixture of anger and arousal. There was another short, fierce debate within herself, and then she thought, fuck it, let's do it.
She peeled off her white tee shirt, which was nearly transparent from the moisture by now, anyway, and tossed it aside. She kicked off her biker boots and wriggled out of her jeans, then discarded them similarly and stepped, naked, into the water. She kept her eyes locked on Kara's the entire time.
Kara finished her glass, then poured some more. "Are you sure you wouldn't like some?"
Kara downed the glass. "It's an excellent vintage..."
"Well, goddammit, I don't want any!" Gail snapped. She wouldn't have spoken so sharply to this woman at work, but things were different here. They were different here, she had to keep reminding herself.
"Suit yourself," Kara said as she refilled her own. They sat quietly in the water, not speaking while Kara drank, showing no signs of turning her attention to Gail. The liquid warmth was comfortable, or at least it should have been, but Gail couldn't quite relax as long as that nagging ambiguity kept her on edge.
"Look, what the fuck is going on here?" she demanded, impatiently. "I'm getting more mixed signals than a visit from my mother. And believe me, that's really not someone I need to think about right now."
"What's the matter?" Kara asked her, apparently unfazed by either the wine or Gail's irritation.
"I can't get a handle on this," Gail replied. "Are we going to do anything, or am I just here to watch you drink yourself stupid? I mean, I thought we were gonna have some kind of...I don't know, threesome or something, then you sent Dali away..."
"Would you like me to bring her back in?" Kara sounded almost reluctant.
Gail waived her hands in exasperation. "I'd like you to make up your mind about what's going on, then maybe explain it to me."
Kara looked down into her wineglass, appearing uncomfortable now. "I'm not entirely sure either," she said. "This isn't easy for me, Gail..."
"And why don't you stop calling me Gail? We're alone now, and you already know my real name."
"Yes, and you know mine," Kara said, meeting her eyes. "That's the problem. I don't know how to think of you, or how you're going to think of me."
Okay, that was something that Gail could understand. She'd been wrestling with the same question all evening. "I would never have imagined you like this," she admitted, "running a sex-and-fantasy club."
Kara smiled sadly. "Neither would I. It was the sort of thing I just ended up involved in, somehow. It started as a small thing, and then snowballed." She emptied her glass again. "Do you know the story of the monkey trap?"
Great, another conversational shift. "Is this another riddling game?" Gail asked, cautiously.
"It's not a riddle, it's a parable. Do you know it?"
She knitted her brow. "I think so. Something about the monkey trying to get fruit out of a gourd with a narrow neck, and it can reach its empty hand in, but once it's holding the fruit, it's stuck, right?"
Kara nodded. "Yes. The monkey can escape if it abandons the fruit, but it won't let go, so it's trapped. Fruit or freedom, but not both."
"Okay, so what's the point?"
There was a long pause before Kara spoke again. "Now imagine that the monkey has one hand in one trap, and the other hand in another, and it won't let go of either fruit."
Gail pondered that, but still couldn't quite see how it applied. She did feel somewhat more at ease, though, now that Kara's veil of mystique had relaxed some.
Kara set her glass aside, then drifted buoyantly across to Gail. "Never mind," she said, "It's not important." She kissed Gail's cheek softly, then trailed her lips along her guest's jawline. The permeating warmth of the water on her body was joined by a new kind of heat, this one from within.
Gail let her head fall back against the rim of the hot tub as Kara's hands gently kneaded and stroked her breasts under the water. She had never had sex in water before, so this was a new experience for her in more ways than one. She reached for Kara's shoulders, wanting to pull her closer.
Kara eluded her grasp, pulling back, but reached down to take hold of one of Gail's legs. Gail, stretched easily out in the tub, allowed Kara to lift her foot out of the water, feeling the relative chill of the cooler air against her skin. Water dripped from her calf, and vapor rose from it as Kara brought Gail's foot to her mouth, taking her toes between her lips. The toes were already starting to prune, but Kara sucked gently on them, one by one. Yet another thing that none of Gail's lovers had done for her. It was a surprisingly erotic feeling, and she moaned in approval.
"You like that?" Kara asked.
Gail nodded. "Yeah."
Kara kissed her instep, then slid her tongue over the ankle and along the length of her calf. "Then I think you'll like this," she said, and Gail felt Kara's fingers penetrate her easily. She gasped and tightened involuntarily, but that just emphasized the pleasure. Those fingers pumped in and out a few times, then withdrew, to Gail's disappointment.
It was short-lived, however, as Kara slid both hands under Gail's buttocks and lifted her hips out of the water. With one leg propped over Kara's shoulder, and her head against the tub's rim, Gail had no problem supporting the rest of her body on the water's surface. The contrast between the water and the air was thrilling.
That thrill paled by comparison, however, as Gail felt a warm mouth between her legs, and Kara's tongue entering where her fingers had been. Gail grasped the tub's rim with both hands, her back arching with delight as Kara electrified her. The rhythmic panting and sighing sounds seemed to be coming from someone else, but Gail knew it was her own voice she was hearing. Dear God, no wonder Dali had reacted so strongly down in the storeroom when Gail first saw her. If this was what she had felt...
The orgasm that swept over and through her was like a blast of fresh air clearing away the cobwebs in her mind and body. A sweet, momentary rejuvenation that made her feel all the cares of adulthood had been discarded. She let out a yowling sound...and lost her grip on the rim.
A mouthful of water nearly choked her as she went under, but she shoved against the tub's benchrest and surfaced again, spitting it out. She shook wet hair out of her face, laughing. "Oh, wow," she said.
"I'm glad you liked that," Kara said, having sat back where she was earlier. She sipped from her wineglass, as though cleansing her palate.
"Liked it, are you kidding? If I'd known you could do that so well, I'd have cornered you in a suture room or something, and..."
She broke off, realizing suddenly that Kara was on the brink of tears. Kara slammed back the rest of the glass, and there was a bitter quality in the movement.
"Umm, maybe you've had enough of that...?" Gail ventured, again uncertain what was going on. The wine bottle was closer to being empty than full, she noticed.
Kara looked at the glass, then angrily threw it aside. Gail heard the sharp tinkle as it shattered. "Damn it, I knew this would happen," she said, her voice tightening.
The Lady ignored her, pressing the heels of her hands into her eyes, as though to hold back the tears. She let out a shuddering sob, and her whole body seemed to tighten in on itself. There was a strange, pathetic quality about the sight of her, crying naked in a hot tub.
Gail moved over and put her arms around Kara, holding her carefully. "What are you crying for?"
"I shouldn't have brought you here," Kara sobbed, her voice only slightly muffled. "But I knew it was too late to turn back as soon as I saw you downstairs. Why did Dali have to bring us together?"
"She said we had a similar energy, or something like that," Gail replied, although she knew it was a rhetorical question.
"Damn her for being so perceptive. She couldn't have known..." Kara uncovered her eyes and let Gail hug her. "You're the first person who's ever seen me in both places, and in both guises," she explained. "Nobody else knows me both as Kara and my real name. Not Dali, not anyone."
"Don't worry, I won't tell anyone," Gail assured her.
"But you'll know," Kara said. She pulled back to look
into Gail's eyes. "You've seen both the masks I wear.
That means you could learn to look past them and see
the real me, and that makes me
vunner...vullen...VULNerable to you." Stumbling over the word was the first indication of the wine she'd consumed.
Gail was becoming more confused than ever. "Then why did you draw me in? Why not just avoid me?"
Kara shook her head. "It was too late as soon as you saw me. And that same vunn'rability also drew me to you. Don't ask me to explain that."
That part actually made some sense to Gail. Maybe Kara was tired of hiding behind false images, so the chance to let someone see her true self was as attractive as it was daunting. "Both masks?"
"Huh?" Kara was becoming a little bleary.
"You said both masks. So when you're at work...?"
"Yeah. It's my real name, and all, but it's still a mask, too. Lady Kara's just the one that's obviously a mask." Kara's face had relaxed, and it was as if Gail saw it in an entirely new way. She wasn't being either a sophisticated seductress or a businesslike authority figure now. Just a tired, lonely woman. Her face was somehow more real than ever, and for the first time, Gail thought of it as beautiful.
Without stopping to think about it, she leaned forward and kissed Kara on the mouth.
It was not an aggressive, sexual kiss, like those she'd shared with Dali, but it held acceptance, solace, and sympathy. It was a kiss of recognition and reassurance, with a gentle sweetness that was very different from anything she'd expected at Hallows'.
When it ended, Kara whispered, "I am so afraid of you, right now. You can hurt me..."
"I won't," Gail assured her. "I promise."
"I...I don't know what to call you right now."
Gail brushed damp strands of hair from Kara's forehead. "Call me Gail," she said with a smile. "I'm Gail, you're Kara, and tomorrow we'll be back to our other selves, and none of this will have happened. Okay?"
Kara nodded, and somehow Gail found herself kissing her hungrily. This time it was definitely sexual. Her friend's unguarded honesty - yes, her friend, she decided - had touched her intimately, and sparked an impulse that she'd never felt for a woman before tonight. It must be part of whatever spell Hallows' casts on its patrons, she decided, before putting the issue aside and concentrating completely on the woman in her arms.
Gail's mouth left Kara's, gliding over her face and neck. The skin under her lips was hot, whether from desire or the heated water she couldn't tell, and soft. So very soft. Gail's tongue found Kara's stiff nipple, taking it in her mouth with an eagerness that surprised her. Kara let out a throaty moan and pulled her closer.
Although Gail had no experience with women, she now found that things she'd done at work lent her a degree of expertise. She took the entire areolae of Kara's breast in her mouth, as she'd instructed new mothers to let their infants do, and sucked harder. Kara's response was tangible, shivers of delight running through her despite the heat of the water. Kara's fingers raked through Gail's damp hair, signifying her sharp desire.
Gail let her hand slide between Kara's legs, under the water, and inserted her fingers. It was not the first time her hands had been inside other women, but all the other times had been business, this was pleasure. Kara's reactions increased as Gail caressed her internally, still suckling at her breast. The Lady's head lolled back, eyes closed and mouth wide open. "Ohhh, God, Gail..." she moaned. "Yes..."
Gail found Kara's clitoris with her thumb, brushing over it lightly, but rhythmically. First in synch with the motions of her fingers, then in counterpoint. "Let yourself go," she whispered to Kara. "I've got you."
The words seemed to trigger her lover's climax, almost as a sharp noise can sometimes precipitate an avalanche of snow. Kara convulsed, a scream seizing in her throat as she held it, then escaping as her orgasm was released. She melted in Gail's arms, head sagging against Gail's shoulder. As the last breath left her, she whispered Gail's name. Her real name.
Gail held her closely, supporting her head above the water, kissing and caressing her face. "I'm sorry if I was hostile earlier," she murmured.
The Lady didn't respond, and after a short while, Gail realized she had passed out.
Probably not surprising, she decided, considering that Kara had most of the wine bottle inside her. Plus, the heated water of the hot tub would make her drowsy, then add sex and stress to that mixture, and it's no wonder she was out cold.
Gail stood, trying to lift Kara out of the tub, but it was more difficult than she thought. Out of the water's buoyancy, Kara was heavier than Gail expected, and they were both slippery. She didn't think she could manage it by herself. "Dali!" she called towards the doorway, hoping the girl hadn't gone far. "DALI!"
The hairless young woman appeared immediately. She still wore the thigh boots, spiked collar, and the skintight mesh, but her halter and miniskirt had been discarded. Gail noticed again what a lovely body she had, but this wasn't the time to deal with that. "Yes, Gail?" she said.
"Umm, could you help me? I think Kara's asleep, and I can't get her out by myself."
Dali smiled tolerantly, as though she'd half expected this to happen. "Of course," she said, and stepped into the tub, boots and all. She stood on the benchrest, so the water didn't reach the tops of her boots. Taking Kara's arm over her shoulder, she bent and slipped an arm under the Lady's knees, then straightened, lifting her completely out of the water without Gail's help. Gail was struck by the ease of the movement, and thought that Dali, slender though she was, must be stronger than she looked.
The girl stepped out of the tub, still carrying the sleeping woman in her arms, and said, "There's towels in that cabinet. Can you get them?"
"Uhhh, sure." Gail got out of the water, shivering momentarily, and extracted the largest, fluffiest terrycloth towels she'd ever seen from the cabinet in question. She helped Dali wrap Kara's body in them, drying her off carefully and gently. The Lady stirred briefly, mumbling something in her sleep, then subsided.
"I think I should put her to bed," Dali said. "Don't worry, this happens sometimes when she's overstimulated."
"You need any help with her?" Gail offered.
"No, but thank you. It's kind of you to offer." Dali left the room, and Gail followed, drying herself with another of the huge towels. She watched as Dali toed open the door to a softly-lit room containing a king-sized bed, and placed Kara under the covers. Dali got her settled with a tenderness that impressed Gail. The girl would make a good nurse, she thought.
Suddenly feeling conscious of her nudity, Gail went back to where she'd dumped her clothes and dressed again. Her tee shirt was soaked, so she left it off, retrieved her leather jacket from the suite's living room, and zipped it shut to cover herself. Setting her baseball cap just so on her head, she returned to the bedroom doorway, glancing inside.
Dali kissed Kara once on the lips, then came back out and shut the door. "She'll be fine," she told Gail.
"You really take good care of her," Gail commented. Maybe it was part of the arrangement.
"I love her," Dali said in simple agreement.
"Oh," said Gail, who hadn't considered that possibility. "Does it bother you that she had sex with me?"
Dali crossed her arms, but looked thoughtful rather than upset. "It surprises me, but I don't know that it bothers me," she said. "That's not the way we've usually done things."
Gail recalled Dali's surprise as Kara sent her out of the room. "How do you usually do things?"
"Normally, when we select a third party, we bring them here, we enjoy their company, perhaps in the tub, or the living room, as the mood strikes her. Then I...attend to them while she watches. When they depart, satisfied, then it depends how she feels. We may have sex, or we may not. Sometimes, she's like this." Dali nodded toward the bedroom. "I've never seen her take care of a guest personally..."
"So why now?"
"I don't know. But I was right, she did see something special in you." Dali stepped closer and put her arms around Gail's waist with an inviting smile. "I'm usually right about these things, and somehow I knew the two of you would get along."
Gail had to admit, Dali had somehow picked up on their connection, even before seeing them together. "Do...do you know her name?" Gail asked, cautiously. "Or who she is on the outside?"
Dali's eyes widened in surprise. "No," she replied. "Of course not."
The damn rules. "How do you know you love her, then? What if she's someone you wouldn't want anything to do with if you knew what they were like outside the club?"
"I don't, any more than she knows anything about me. Gail," she added, placing a delicate hand on Gail's cheek, "it doesn't matter to me who she is. I love the woman I know as Kara. I wouldn't want to know anything else if I thought it would change that. And I definitely don't want her to know me when I'm not being Dali."
"But what if you were two people who would really like each other if you saw each other for who you really are?"
Dali just looked in her eyes and didn't answer.
"You're afraid to take that chance, aren't you?"
She didn't nod or speak, but her face said Gail was right.
Gail suddenly found the whole thing terribly sad. It was ironic to think that Kara and Dali could have each other, or perhaps anyone else they both wanted, but only while hiding within the safety of their alter egos. They could do anything they wanted at Hallows' except be themselves, and they had to give it all up when they went home...
Suddenly, Kara's story about the monkey trap made perfect sense.
Dali's hands slid up under Gail's jacket again, the palms warm and smooth against her back. "Kara's hospitality extends for the night," she said. "You're welcome to stay, if you like. We have a second bedroom, and you can help yourself to anything here." She leaned closer, her breath tickling Gail's lips, and added, "Including me."
Gail hesitated, considering. Dali was a lovely, strikingly erotic young woman, and Gail did want her. But she was a creature of pure fantasy, and Gail couldn't help comparing her to the reality that Kara had displayed, which had touched her so deeply. Kara had all this, she realized, glamour, illusion, sex...everything except a human connection. And for lack of that, she felt empty.
"I'm sorry," Gail said. "Maybe another time, but right now...I think I've had enough." She'd had her fill of Hallows' for now, and yearned to go home and just be herself again.
Dali accepted the refusal with good grace, easing back. "I understand," she said, and Gail had the feeling she really did. "I hope we'll see you again sometime."
"Maybe you will," Gail said.
"If you press the button marked P, the elevator will take you to parking," Dali told her. "There's a car and driver there, and he'll take you wherever you'd like to go. Or, you can just use the front entrance, same as you came in."
"Okay, thanks. Good night."
Dali reached up to give her a sisterly kiss. "Good night, Gail."
Mr. Burton's labs were back, but the results weren't as clear as the student had hoped. "Is there an attending around?" she asked Lydia.
"I saw Dr. Greene by the desk a minute ago," Lydia replied.
Thanking the nurse, she headed in that direction, hoping to spot Mark Greene there. But instead, she saw the ER Chief herself, snapping angrily at Malik about a patient who hadn't been taken upstairs fast enough to suit her.
Malik turned away to obey the Chief's orders. "Watch yourself around her," he whispered in passing. "Possibly hung over, definitely cranky."
She thanked him, too, and approached the Chief with two different reasons for trepidation. "Excuse me, Dr. Weaver...?"
The Chief glanced at her. "What do you need, Abby?" she asked treating the student no differently than she ever did.
"Fifty-four year old male, suffering shooting pains through both legs, intermittent nausea, and I'm thinking Breckman's Syndrome." She handed the chart to her Chief. "Would you concur?"
Weaver scanned the chart briefly, but efficiently. "Looks like you're on the right track," she agreed, her voice losing some of its hard edge. She offered the chart back. "Good call."
"Thanks." The student took the chart, but Weaver didn't release it. Their fingers touched, and their eyes met.
Kara was right, Abby realized. Seeing her from two different perspectives had given her a clearer view of the woman inside. Like stereo vision supplying an added depth. If she looked at Kerry just right, she could now see the woman behind this mask, too. It was a very private, secret feeling, and it was one she treasured.
Kerry held onto the chart for only a moment, but the contact of their skin was charged with meaning. She mouthed the words 'thank you', and the eyes behind her glasses had a softness Abby had rarely seen.
She smiled, as if to say, my pleasure, and then the moment was over.
Kerry Weaver let go of the chart and turned back to her files, mask firmly in place, and scowled as she tried to read Dave Malucci's handwriting.
Abby Lockhart went back to check on her patient.