Usually at this hour the beach was not nearly so deserted as it was now. Only a few lethargic sunbathers remained, and up the coast a little ways you could see a group of local boy engaged in their daily game of fútbol, a sport which to me would always be thought of as soccer.
The sun was beginning its daily descent and submitting readily to dusk which would soon slip quietly and gently into the night. The sky for the first and only time today was distinguished from the blue-green of the water. As the daily phenomenon of nightfall crept upon it there were streaks of pink purple and red-orange making their way across the horizon as the fiery ball of the sun became muted and appeared to slowly drown in the rich waters.
I turned away from the sunset, barely touched by it's beauty. I had been in Rio for five years now and, although I had tried to assimilate myself into the culture, I feared I would always have the sleek healthy appearance of a rich American in a foreign land. I had known poverty in the states and been what the government would have sanctioned as poor, but my arrival in Brazil at the age of 23 had taught me that the way I had lived was leaps and bounds beyond the poverty of the masses in this country. Still it's beauty and the spirituality of its people had me loving it from the first moment I stepped off of the airplane.
It was two days before Christmas and as my feet traced the steps to our house I found myself reminiscing and reliving the past. As I walked I saw that someone had put a Christmas tree and for the first time it was lighted. Even after all these years of spending holidays here I found the appearance of a Christmas tree odd. The northern fir all luminescent with lights and decorations seemed out of place in the heat, as if someone had put it up as a lark in July, trying for what they thought might be bohemian. I walked along the mosaic sidewalk that smacked of old Portugal influences and thought.
I couldn't fool my body into my daydream but my mind wandered back to a time when I had lived in New York. I knew it was slightly neurotic the way I was constantly reliving the past but knowing did not cause me to stop. Instead it was reason for worry, I had thought that I wouldn't start reliving the past until I was middle aged. But here I was wishing for snow, black ice, down coats and the discomfort of a broken radiator in a little tiny apartment with White Christmas blaring from a clock radio, and a table top tree winking away in the night.
I would perhaps have talked to my psychiatrist about this issue had it not been so very personal. The reason I was reminiscing and pining so for the days before I became a best selling mystery author and before Isabel had become a household name was because I missed what we'd had then.
In the first months of our "marriage" I had loved to lie in bed on Sunday mornings watching Isabel slumber. In those days she had loved to sleep until at least eleven. I on the other hand have always been restless and compelled to rise early, fearing that in my slumber life might be passing me by. I would lay in bed and watch her sleep at times dozing back into dreams myself. I couldn't believe she had agreed to spend the rest of her life with me, just that fact alone kept a smile on my face.
She would rise late and we would eat a breakfast of whatever was in the house. Generally it wasn't much unless she had gotten a good acting spot and therefore a good check. My check always went to pay rent and some utilities. Isabel was an actress, well a struggling one anyway. In the meantime she waited tables. I was a writer for an up and coming gay and lesbian magazine simply called Pulse. The pay was good enough and besides that they were the only magazine hiring or at least the only one willing to hire me. So there we were
For the two years of our union we had struggled and at times it was a miracle that we had made ends meet, but we had done it. Sometimes we'd had to rob Peter to pay Paul but the important bills were always paid. I was still at Pulse although my real passion was a novel that I was writing on the side. Still I was practical and I knew I had to do what would pay the bills. Right about the time I finished the book, Bella landed a job on soap. We would both laugh until tears ran down our face at the lines her character had to speak but at the show she was the epitome of professionalism and she played the role as if it were a Spielberg movie.
As such things go she stayed on the soap for only six months before the character was killed off in a horrible boating accident, of course the body was never found so there was always the hope that she would be recast, but no such luck. Two or three months after her role on the Soap ended she was advised by her agent to go to a casting audition for a movie. Apparently the wife of the producer was a die-hard fan of Bella's soap and had requested that she be invited to try out. Nearly everyone had taken her as a joke because she had only a few commercials and a daytime drama as background, but after the first audition no one had been laughing. The rest as they say is history. I was genuinely happy for her, why wouldn't I be when I loved her so?
For me things were going less great, every publishing house I'd sent my work to had sent me rejection letters. I literally felt that with each rejection my heart was being ripped out. Nobody wanted a first time author especially in the mystery category. Apparently this genre required a steady fan base and as an unknown I was too risky, I spent my time sulking although I was already working on my next novel. This one wasn't a mystery instead it was a bodice ripper with barely any content and predictable results. This book only took only a few months to pen, instead of the year and a half I'd spent slaving over research and forensic science books for my first novel.
I'd sent it to the romance peddlers under the pen name Bella S. Menina Barely anyone got the joke but the book was published. The book in my mind felt like some sort of cosmic joke, I was laughing all the way to the bank with the royalties' check.
Eventually I'd had enough money to self publish and print my books. Selling them hadn't been a problem, once I got an up and coming actress who also happened to be my wife to endorse them. After I had an underground "cult" following publishing houses had been falling all over themselves trying to pick me up.
At the time struggling hadn't seemed quite so quaint as it did in retrospect, but at least I'd had Bella to struggle with and that made it bearable. Now we were both living our dreams but the togetherness was gone. Sure we lived in the same house, hell we even shared a bed but the bond that had once been the strongest thing in my life seemed weak and frail. I couldn't put my finger on what exactly made me feel at once too comfortable and quite uncomfortable with the woman I had loved for eight years.
Bella had wanted, no needed to move to Brazil to care for her ailing father dying too young from skin cancer. Years of working bare back in the Caribbean sun without the protection of SPF had proved to be his demise.
She had put her flourishing career on hold to care for a man she barely knew; Not coming with her had not even been an option in my mind. After we'd gotten here we had both fallen in love with the landscape as well as the people. We had decided to stay on even after the death of Bella's father. The reasons were far less superficial than a liking for the tropical atmosphere, in support of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or the MST Bella had chosen to live on the land that her father owned. By doing so she could ensure that the land would be used to contribute to the advancement of the Brazilian economy. Instead of being used for crops that would be used only for export. In such cases where export was the main goal the economy took a beating, since the sale of the crops would benefit only the owners of the land on which the crops grew (which would be foreign corporations).
The gesture at the time seemed like a small step toward equality had actually proved to be the first block to the building an empire. In five years we had used our money to buy adjoining land and obscure plots in outer lying areas. Only 20 percent of the crops were used for export, which more than paid for the upkeep of the land and farming. The rest was used internally.
Sure we could have made much more money exporting all of the crops but money wasn't the issue, really. Together the property we owned supported the economy of at least three small villages and our capital and land gains grew with each year. Our plan was to divide the land and "rent" it at reasonable prices. We still wanted to maintain ownership to make sure the land didn't fall into the hands of foreign corporations a piece at a time.
Everything should have been going well and on the surface it even seemed to be, but when we touched I couldn't feel the spark I'd once known. Bella would stiffen as my hands brushed over her, causing me to draw back. The look in her eyes was like she half expected me to continue, mixed with a vague sort of disgust. The look hurt me more than her refusal, I'd never had to take what had been given so freely before and I sure as hell wasn't going to force her.
I couldn't understand what was happening was it me? Or was it her? Walking through the front door I entered our house. Everything was too bright and too warm and too cheery. I could feel the sweat starting between my breasts and near my hairline. I wondered why I hadn't been sweating so outside. Or perhaps I had and just failed to notice.
I could see Bella sitting in a white robe on the couch in the living room. I paused to watch her, Her once dark hair had been streaked with honey blonde and lightened a bit, it fell around her face in untamed waves. Cascading past her shoulders and stopping just under her breasts. I loved to run my hands through that hair from root to tips, or I used to anyway. Her skin was dark belying her ethnicity, and her eyes were hazel the exact same color as honey.
She must have felt my eyes on her because she looked up, from the magazine she had been reading. "Hey baby where have you been?"
"I was taking a walk."
She went back to reading as I walked down the hall. There was a time when my brown eyes alone would have pulled her off the couch and into my arms. By the time I got to our room I was crying. Bella followed much later and when she entered I was under the thin sheet pretending to be asleep. She dropped her robe to the ground and the sheets rustled faintly as she slipped into bed completely naked. I turned to face her running my fingers over her hip to cradle her against me. Her body stiffened, I could somehow tell it was the kind of stiffness that came with an unwanted touch and not the type that came with sexual arousal.
I don't know why I constantly sought this rejection, I had perhaps hoped with the holidays upon us things would be different. I pulled my hands away got up. Without a word between us I rose and left our room going down the hall to one of the many guestrooms. I stood in front of the full-length mirror examining myself, I was still pretty enough, and at least I thought I was. I was as thin as I'd ever been although my breasts were a little to full for my frame they were still firm, my stomach was flat and my dark skin was unflawed still. My black hair was a little unruly but such had been the case since my childhood
For the first time I let it come to my mind that this was the beginning of the end for us. I wondered if there was someone else, but I knew there wasn't. Bella was honest to a fault. She would never take up with someone else while we were still together. Somehow I wished there were someone else because it would have been so much easier to blame the situation on someone else than to realize it was the two of us. Or worse yet maybe it was me.
She was away a lot at first I had traveled with her, when her career took off again, but more and more now I had begun to stay home. It was easier to pretend things were fine with her so far away. I couldn't stand the coldness that filled the space between us. I missed her all the time now though even when she was home, even when she was in our bed. I cried myself to sleep as I had for countless nights and hoped tomorrow would bring change.
When I woke the next morning she was sitting in an armchair across from the bed. She was curled up like a sleeping child wrapped in the sheet that she must have brought with her. In the eight years we'd been lovers we had never slept apart when we were in the same house. I smiled and I wanted to wake her and tell her to get in the bed, but I couldn't bear the rejection that might have resulted. Instead I lay awake as I had done in the beginning and watched her.
When she stirred I closed my eyes regulating my breathing as though I were asleep, she reached out and touched my face. I had a feeling she knew I wasn't sleeping but she didn't say a word, she just turned and swept quietly from the room. I wanted to cry again, it seemed like I'd cried more in the past few months than I had in all my 28 years.
On Christmas Eve we were to attend a party, I didn't really want to go but I couldn't bear the thought of spending Christmas Eve alone. Bella wore a yellow dress cut almost to the point of indecency in the back and dipping low in the front. The ties around the neck seemed precarious at best and with the flick of a hand could be undone. Her hair was swept into a simple elegant knot at the base of her neck. The contrast of the yellow material on her brown skin made my heart skip a beat. She looked beautiful and elegant though not at all like the girl I had married.
My dress was a simple white sleeveless affair that stopped mid thigh. I felt awkward in it. Since I had begun to worry so much over our relationship I had turned my plate down, more and more. My already lean frame had become at least in my eyes too thin, not so thin as to be gaunt but thin enough to go from wearing a size seven to a size four. In the car Bella slipped her hand into mine and for a moment my heart soared. I looked at her for a moment studying her profile before speaking.
"You look beautiful."
She smiled briefly, "You do too."
Her words seemed more reflexive than genuine, but her fingers tightened in mine and she turned and looked into my eyes. I wanted very badly to kiss her but the car had stopped in front of the lavish villa where the party was to be held and before the driver could round the car to open the door she was out. I nearly tumbled onto the mosaic driveway because I had been leaning toward her. I regained my balance and stepped out trying to arrange my face into a cordial carefree mask. I wondered if anyone would notice that my heart was breaking.
Inside of the party I located her with my eyes and spent the whole of the evening watching her, and drinking more than I should have. The house was air conditioned and the CD of American carols that was playing seemed out of place in the roomful of people dressed for tropical weather. At one point during the evening quite by accident I suppose we found ourselves standing beneath the entrance of the dining room where a light dinner had been served. The hostess of the party, an American socialite who visited Brazil to escape the cold Manhattan winters pointed above our heads. "You're under the mistletoe."
It seemed I would finally have my kiss, Bella leaned forward hesitantly and brushed a kiss across my lips and leaned back tossing the hostess a smile. Bella had never been chaste with public displays of affection nor had she been ashamed of our sexuality and her brief kiss felt more like an insult than a victory. I would have much preferred a slap across the face, at least then my indignation wouldn't have seemed so petty.
When the woman departed I told Bella that I was going home and would send the car back for her. She shrugged and said a cold goodbye.
At home I stripped off the dress tossing it to the floor, before taking a shower. The heat and the alcohol I'd consumed made me tired but I couldn't sleep. Instead I sat on the couch in the living room waiting for her return; I sat there for hours staring into space even daydreaming couldn't sooth the ache that started in my heart. When she opened the door I felt relived, just to see her I realized I had half expected her not to return. My fears were inexplicable but overwhelming just the same. She went into the bedroom without giving me a second glance, I pretended to myself that maybe she hadn't seen me, that would have been easier to believe if she hadn't looked right at me, and walked away.
I followed after her, needing to be near her although the fact that she didn't have the same need was tearing me up. She had already removed her dress and donned a robe by the time I got there. She was at present removing the hairpins that had held her chignon all night. Her hair cascaded down her back as I sat on the end of the bed watching her. She was pulling the silver hairbrush I had gotten her years ago roughly through her hair. I was hypnotized by the waves in her hair straightening then snapping back once the brush left them.
The words slipped from my lips although I hadn't meant them to. I wasn't ready for what the words could bring, but it was too late. "We need to talk."
She stopped brushing her hair and stood there with her back to me although I could see her eyes in the reflection of the mirror. She met my eyes for a brief moment in the glass, and then without warning she threw the brush at the image of the two of us. I was stunned Bella had a temper but she had never been one to have tantrums. I was trying to understand why she was so upset but nothing came to mind. She whirled around to face me hands on her hips. "Is there someone else?"
Again I was stunned, and my surprise caused me to stammer. "I don't...What? No.."
She dropped her arms looking defeated. "I knew it. Damn it." She was screaming but the anger was gone, or at least dormant as she started to cry. I stood closing the space between us. I wanted to shake some sense into her but I just rested my hands on her shoulders and searched her eyes.
"Why would you think that?" She didn't say a word so I continued. "In the past eight years have I ever given you a reason to doubt me? Have you ever tasted anyone but you on my lips?"
"Don't be vulgar."
"There's absolutely nothing vulgar about what I do to you."
"Fine then if it's not someone else what the hell is it Liz? Are you and I through? Do you not love me anymore?"
I hadn't thought I could be anymore shocked than I had been a moment ago, but clearly I was wrong.
"Of course I love you Isabel, more than anything, but you can hardly stand the sight of me. You never want me to touch you anymore. I feel like a goddamn peeping Tom if I accidentally see you naked... " I had more to say but she cut me off.
"I'm not your sex object. Don't you get it? I want more than sex, you never want to talk anymore or hold hands or do anything all you want is sex. I want someone who wants to know how my day was or what I think, I'm a sex object to half of Hollywood I thought I meant more to you."
"Baby you mean everything to me but-"
"But what?"
"I don't know, I thought maybe you were tired of something or me. I don't talk to you because I don't know how anymore. You seemed so distant so removed and I was so afraid that if we talked, really talked you would tell me it was over."
I was crying too, I wanted to hug her but I wasn't sure if the physical contact would be acceptable. Bella solved the problem by hugging me. Her lips were near my ear and still her voice was almost inaudible.
"We've been so stupid."
"Yes." I agreed.
"I love you Liz"
"I love you too."
We stood there holding one another for what could have been minutes or hours. I was far to content with the woman in my arms to notice how much time passed. When she pulled away from me I immediately missed the warmth of her body.
She dropped her robe and for the first time in months I didn't feel the need to look away when she saw that I was staring. I wanted to touch her as casually as I had in the past and claim her for just a while but in light of her revelation I was so unsure. She sat at the foot of the bed and returned my stare. "Come here."
I walked over and stood in front of her waiting. She embraced me resting her head on my chest. I ran my fingers through her hair
"I'm so sorry baby."
"Me too."
I could hear the smile in her voice as she spoke. She leaned back suddenly throwing me off balance and pulling me on top of her. I felt her legs lock around my hips and the look in her eyes told me what would come next.
When she pulled me towards her lips I resisted. I saw the question in her eyes, and as much as I wanted her I spoke the traitorous words that could end in another sexless night.
"We don't have to do this tonight, baby."
"I want to, and besides its morning, Merry Christmas."
"Are you sure?"
She guided my hand between our bodies after unlocking her thighs slightly. I could feel her heat and wetness under my hand. "More sure than I've ever been."
I got the feeling she was talking about more than just love making. She pulled my lips to hers as I slipped my fingers into her slick sex. She moaned against my lips as my fingers traced a beautiful and familiar path over her clit. My fingers slipped easily into her as my thumb rolled over her clit. I could feel the walls of her pussy convulse around my fingers as she spent herself on my hand.
I slipped reluctantly away from her lips kissing her smooth neck and nibbling her collarbone. The taste of her sweat made me feel drunk as I kissed the place between her breasts before sucking one nipple and then the other. My fingers were inside of her although I kept them still, comfortable just to have them there. She flexed he muscles around me and begged with her lips in the sweetest voice I'd ever heard, and I put my hand in motion again bringing her to the edge, I removed my fingers and knelt on the bed between her thighs.
Her sex was spread before me slick wet and ready. I pressed my lips against her letting my tongue enter her and taste her core. Her hips thrust up as she exploded in my mouth. I kept my lips on her sucking liking and nibbling. She let me take her to the height of passion again and again with my mouth and fingers. When she pulled my head back sometime later I smiled.
"Had enough?"
She returned the smile, but her tone told me she was dead serious. "I'll never have enough of you."
She took my hand, not caring that it was wet and sticky and pulled, signaling for me to get up. We lay side by side and she put our intertwined hands to her lips and licked them clean. Then she pulled my hand to her mouth and licked my fingers one by one sucking them between her lips. She was looking into my eyes as her mouth touched my palm and she nipped me with her teeth. She released my hand and her fingers traced a path from my shoulder to my hip. She slipped her hand around to cup my ass. I gasped as her fingers entered my pussy from behind, moaning her name and pushing back against her hand. She bit my left nipple hard enough to make me wince and twirled the other nipple between her fingers.
My hands were in her hair and I pulled her closer. When I was spent her fingers rested inside of me, and I muttered the name of Jesus although it had nothing at all to do with the international celebration that was his birthday. Bella pulled her fingers from me cleaning them with her tongue. Neither of us had slept and by now the sun was creeping over the horizon.
She leaped out of bed like a child grabbing my hand She picked up her robe she bounded out of the room wanting to open presents. I followed laughing as I tied the new robe I'd grabbed from the door. The other one had been markedly wet from our very early morning activities.
I couldn't have been happier. The gifts were beautiful and extravagant but the reason for the happiness had nothing to do with them and everything to do with the woman across from me.
The living room floor was covered with wrapping paper and bows we both sat on the floor across from each other. The gold and diamond bracelet I'd gotten her winked in the morning light. We had laughed because the both of us had picked almost the exact same bracelets for one another although mine had been purchased in California.
She smiled at me happily. "There's still one more present." I cast my eyes around puzzled. Everything had been unwrapped. I looked at her as she picked up a discarded Christmas bow and placed it on her head. I laughed as she crawled across the space between us. Her lips were right in front of mine now. "Aren't you going to open it. "
I nodded taking her chin in my hand I looked into her honey colored eyes. "This is exactly what I wanted all along."
"Well then Merry Christmas, baby girl."
I was still smiling when our lips touched. Smiling crying and thanking god all at once. Who knew Christmas could really bring miracles?

The End

Copyright © 2003. Used by permission of author. All Rights Reserved.

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