On the second evening of the Yangtze River cruise, I slipped on deck and saw two women from our tour group kissing. They had found a niche formed by some superstructure and a lifeboat, where they thought they would be hidden, where they thought they could see anyone who approached. I slid to a shadowed area and watched them kiss.
They were roommates, but more, always together. Any time one was there, the other was close. Of course there had been friendly speculation that they were gay, but they were circumspect and the speculation was just to pass time on the tour. If they had been older no one would have thought about it at all.
Or maybe they would. The couple made a lovely contrast. One was an administrator from my school, fair, with blown-dry, gray-blond hair. No, not fair, but pale. Creamy, English pale. And funny. She had an unlimited supply of jokes, could spout Simpson's lines, and once, when we had over-sampled the local beer in Shanghai, she had managed to count to five in one belch. I would laugh at her jokes and try to one-up her, but I also liked to look at her. Her friend was dark, with dark brown eyes and dark curly hair. She was quieter and more serious. Perhaps she had a darker soul? She listened more than she participated. Both were athletic and trim, one trait they shared.
Now they were kissing and everything was different. I watched them brush their lips on each other's, their mouths open only slightly. The pale lover put both her hands on the brunette's cheeks, caressed her cheeks with the backs of fingers, moved her mouth over cheeks, eyes, back down to mouth. She combed fingers through that curly hair.
I was creeping, slowly, quietly, to see better, but they had become lost in each other, so had grown oblivious to the possibility of discovery. There were murmurs and I heard one say, "Yes, please." I couldn't hear their breathing but I heard rustlings as they moved. I was that close.
I hadn't been aroused in, how long? Days? Weeks? That dry spell was over. The dark lover moved her hand in a lazy s-shape all the way down the other's front, ending between her legs. I heard her unsnap and unzip slacks, and she must have pushed her fingers deep inside panties. She ignored a soft protest: "No, not here." Her companion didn't mean it, not really. She leaned back against a rail and pushed her hips out. I caressed my penis, the full length of it.
I was surprised at first that they were taking this chance, but the moon was full and the terraces marched up the incredibly steep slopes of the gorge, almost from the water all the way to the stars. Everything white -- railings, life preservers, deck chairs, walls -- had a faint iridescence, as though illuminated in black light, and there was enough light in their hideaway to show their faces. It was enough to illuminate the pale lover's teeth, to make them unnaturally white. It was enough to show her cupping both her hands over the other's breasts, even as she tilted her head back.
When I left the bar I had been captured by that otherworldly light, so different from the light on our little group in that vinyl-clad room watching karaoke sets on the TV. If I had not been quiet, because the spirit of the night demanded it, they would have seen me. They must have been captured the same way: the night had called them out. There were only the three of us in the world, our little world. They moved their mouths over each other's and then moved their breasts against each other's in circular motions, but the darker woman kept her fingers buried. She moved her hand in and out, smoothly, over and over. My penis swelled enough to push against my slacks. I rubbed the head; it throbbed. The blonde made a sound in her throat and the other bent to nip the tip of her breast.
They were suddenly aware of me and jerked apart, trying almost comically to appear nonchalant, the way Lucy would if Ricky had caught her giving Fred Mertz a blow job. One was fooling with the snap of her slacks, though, and both looked stricken. My fair lady seemed about to cry. I could see the liquid in her eyes in the moonlight.
"I... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to intrude."
It always helps to sound a little hesitant in these situations, to let people know you aren't being predatory. Though of course I had been. I backed away, turned, and went inside, to my cabin and my wife. They hadn't said anything, or moved after they'd pulled apart. They could have been statues.
I lay in bed that night, listening to my wife coughing occasionally in the dark, but mostly playing the kiss over and over while moving my hand quietly, tickling the shaft of my penis, using my thumb to rub my fluid in a circular motion around the underside of the head. I saw the movement of the brunette's hand, heard, "Yes, please." Were they worried about my catching them? I rubbed my slippery penis. I was very still and worked hard to control my breathing and not shake the bed. I saw a face, so wan under the moon, and then I stopped. Her look had been woebegone. Lost. Her eyes had been swimming in tears.
After a bit I entered a fantasy in which her eyes were half closed and swollen with desire. I did something to her to bring her to ecstasy. She whimpered, "Yes, please." Then I came.
They weren't at breakfast the next morning.
I thought to go to their cabin, to look in on them, but decided it would just compound their embarrassment, and anyway I didn't know what I'd say. That I was sorry I'd seen them kiss and caress each other? They were, both of them, successful in their careers, and they must be tough-minded. They would live it down. But I couldn't keep my mind on anything else. I wanted to see them and didn't want to. I asked casually if anyone had seen them that morning.
Around midmorning she sought me out in the bar, my pale administrator. She certainly was not creamy now, but washed out, almost pasty. She was trying to look nonchalant again, and again not doing a very good job of it. Her eyes were bloodshot. I think she hadn't slept. She always wore a little bright red lipstick, but not this morning.
I was schmoozing with some other tour members. She stood beside and slightly behind me, sipping a diet coke, pretending to listen to people's stories, waiting for a time when attention was elsewhere. From time to time I turned to her to smile and nod in a friendly fashion, really wanting to talk with her, but she wouldn't look me in the face. Then she seemed to screw up her courage and bent to whisper to me, asking if I would come outside with her.
We went out the back exit together, not talking or looking much at each other, and climbed to the open observation area over the bar, away from everyone. The sun was brilliant, so that we had to shield our eyes. The wind blew with the passage of the ship along the river.
She didn't know how to begin. After a false start, she said, "Look, I can guess what you think you saw last night, and maybe what you thought was happening."
Then she stopped. She didn't know what to say or even what to admit. She had to think I would out her, ruin her career, and destroy her social life. Frankly, I don't think I could have accomplished all that, and maybe she should have realized it. But how would I take it if someone had discovered my dark side?
I waited for her to go on but she was frozen, even her mouth. The wind blew her hair into her face and when she pushed it back I could see she was again almost crying. She was facing the sun and the light made her look odd, ghostly, like she might disappear at any moment. I decided that I would have to step in.
"I didn't see anything last night. I was in the bar all evening. I saw nothing anyone will ever know. Please now. Don't go expecting the worst."
"But what, I mean, what, well what must you have thought of us?"
She wasn't hearing me. Her chin was quivering. I'd never seen that in an adult. She had been cheerful and confident and outgoing. Now she was terrified, trying not to cry, swallowing hard, and she looked so vulnerable that I fell in love with her right then.
I liked her and would have liked to fuck her, but I didn't want to love her. Nonetheless, it happened. I could almost stand outside of myself and watch the transformation, and amidst everything else that was happening at the same moment I made out a mocking comment from some odd corner of my mind: In love with a lesbian? Why not just shoot yourself?
"What I thought?"
It was time to take a chance. Carpe diem.
"What I thought was that you were beautiful. The two of you were, but especially you. I didn't think anything bad of you."
The ship's horn sounded, a deep, deep blast, almost overwhelming when you stood too close. It vibrated through bodies and drowned out everything. But it gave me time to think. Then:
"Maybe for a moment, just for a moment, I felt some... jealousy, or regret. Because I could imagine how your mouths felt. I could imagine sharing your breath. And I knew you weren't for me."
Oh hell! End this nonsense.
"I wouldn't ever expose you. Please believe me. I'll go tell your roomie. You don't have to worry."
Then she did start crying. She had been holding everything in all night and had believed whatever the absolute worst was. Her face crumpled. She was standing there helplessly, not even trying to hide it, while I looked around to see if anyone would stumble onto this scene.
I took one of her hands and whispered, "It's okay. It's okay. Really. Here."
I pulled her close, pulled her to me. She put her face between my left shoulder and my chest. Ah damn, damn it, no! Don't do this to me! I was completely aroused again, and I hated myself. I put my left arm around her waist. I stroked her hair a very light stroke with my right hand. I kissed her hair. She smelled wonderful. This would be my one time to feel her body against mine. "There, there," I said.
At lunch they sat at our table. They looked tired and drawn and said they'd been a little sick. Everyone understood. Who hadn't been? As time passed, though, they entered the conversations, grew jollier, sampled the dishes off the lazy Susan, told tales. My wife ate a little and returned to our cabin and the jokes and comments continued.
To his darling: If I love you, what business is it of yours? The line I was thinking is an old one, from Goethe. The couple was sitting directly across from me, acting as though nothing had transpired, and I was trying to do the same. More, in fact. I had to hide what I knew of them, which wouldn't be difficult. The hard part was hiding my feelings from them, so I was helping them play a role for the audience at the table at the same time that I was playing a role for the two of them. It was hard work.
We were joking about administrators and about using The Force only for good. When the couple got up to leave, my ghostly darling stopped behind me, put her hands on my shoulders, and announced that henceforth as a department chair I should be called "Grand Pooh-Bah."
I said "Make that Grand Pooh Bear," but my attention was focused on her hands and I found it hard to be witty.
Her hands were soft and warm, the way you'd expect. There was nothing out of the ordinary about them except that they were perfect. I didn't want to feel like a moonstruck teenager, but there she was standing almost against me, resting those hands as lightly as ectoplasm on my shoulders while she joked with someone, and I was filled with that fantasy about being the one guy who is man enough to turn her straight. She bent and kissed the top of my head theatrically. I patted one of her hands.
Then she put her mouth next to my ear and said, "Can you come up to our cabin when you finish here?"
No, I don't remember the rest of the meal. Would you?
I'm adult enough to know what fantasies are and aren't. They aren't to be taken for the genuine article, for guidance on how to act when she confesses her love and slips off her robe, revealing a perfect body, because that isn't going to happen. My fantasies wouldn't stay banished, though. They were worlds better than what was going to happen. Most likely she wanted to apologize for crying up on deck earlier. In the worst case they would formally thank me for keeping their secret, reinforcing what I already knew, that I was forever an outsider to them.
But she was alone, and serious, and wanted to talk.
It was as awkward as it could be. "I... wanted to thank you for being so kind to me today."
I had a retort about rescuing damsels, yadda, yadda, but it wouldn't come out, so I said something about being happy to be able to help. It grew quiet awfully fast. The cabins had lovely, dark paneling, and she moved her hand back and forth over some wainscoting, going with the grain. A boat went past the window traveling upstream, and still nothing was said. Finally, in hardly more than a whisper:
"Did you mean what you said this morning? I mean about us? About me?"
Cyrano de Bergerac would have the magic answer that would clarify everything and win her, but that wasn't me. So after another moment I just said:
"Yes. Everything." Then, "I'm not usually so bold."
Again, silence. We couldn't have been more than three feet apart in that tiny stateroom. This wasn't right. I shouldn't have said anything. I shouldn't have come. I should make my excuses and leave, so I could be miserable alone. I almost did, when she spoke:
"No one ever said anything like that to me before. It won't leave my mind. It was the most beautiful thing anyone ever told me."
Then she stepped forward and kissed me very lightly on the lips.
My hand went to her cheek and I stepped backward, bumping the desk behind me. Something was squeezing my chest. I didn't know what to think. It was hard to talk, without any air. Finally I managed:
"I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry. I know it can't be. I shouldn't have said anything like that when you were so upset." The thought came unbidden: so lovely.
She was suddenly relaxed and happy. She put her right hand up on my left cheek.
"Don't be so certain it can't be, you silly head. A lot of us have been with men before, and some of us like men."
'Silly head'? What was she leading up to? Her 'us' was my 'them, ' and that was what made this impossible. She paused, then became serious:
"And I like you so much."
She came to me again and we started kissing. I had a hand where her waist flared out to her hip, and one in her hair. She kept caressing my cheeks while we kissed. Her tongue flicked between my lips and I captured it and sucked on it. I still didn't believe it.
Things are complicated when you're an adult. There was something I had to know. "What about your roommate? Will she barge in on us, or do we have a limited time, or what?"
She giggled. I wouldn't have expected that. It just burbled up out of her. Her eyes were half closed, but she smiled and said: "She doesn't mind. She and I, we're not like that. We're not lovers or anything. We're just friends who like to get together sometimes to travel and play. And the fact is, she thinks you're cute."
We kissed some more, and I stroked her neck with my finger tips. I was still shy about touching her body, but growing bolder. "So," she finished, "we have all afternoon if we want it."
"Maybe we could all play grown up games together?"
She used a Mae West voice: "Not today, big boy. I'm all you get."
There are only so many ways to sex your partner, only so many things that you can do, and you enjoy doing them over and over. It isn't any different if you love someone. It is in one respect, sure. The experience has a different quality if you've fallen. Still, there isn't anything you can do in love that you can't do just for passion. So shall I tell you what we did? Do you want to hear it again?
How often have you unbuttoned a blouse and pulled it open, or had yours opened? She wore a white blouse, a white bra, white on white on her white skin. I undid her pants so I could take the blouse off completely. She reached behind her back to unfasten the bra, and I pulled it off. She looked at me the whole time she did it. Do women know how erotic the unfastening is?
The first look at our partner's body is exquisite, always different than we expected. She was like other women, her own version. She held her hands to her thighs and presented her chest to me, and it was obvious she didn't need the bra. Her small breasts wouldn't sag; they went with her body. The flesh of her breasts was more creamy even than her face, and had beauty marks. It added to her ghostly aspect, but her nipples were long and pink. I suddenly thought of that limerick about the man who made love to a beautiful ghost. But she was solid, a body of flesh to fuck and love.
I did what lovers do, what you have done. I licked and sucked on her nipples, first one side and then the other, while she kissed my head and ran her hands down my back. When I looked up, she had gone red and blotchy from the tops of those breasts, up her neck, all the way to her chin. No ghostliness there! Her eyes were swollen and half closed, exactly as in my fantasy.
My penis ached from being confined to my jeans. I didn't want to take it out too soon, in case it might ruin things. When had she last seen a penis? You say you never worry about that? I hadn't with any other lover, either.