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//Author’s note: This story is pretty long, and there might be a penis in there somewhere. Don’t worry, though. It’s 99% lesbian.//
“I know you.”
There weren’t many times where so few words were so difficult for Mary to interpret. Usually it was the longer sentences she struggled with. Even a little bit of ambiguity could create a lengthy list of possible interpretations or, if it was a short sentence, there was some kind of implied context that she had difficulty with. Any sentiment being expressed was often much more complex than the actual sentence and she struggled with that; body language was always hard and facial expressions could be a complete mystery, but in that particular case it was different. When Mary looked up from her small notebook, as she sat there in front of the phone system at the dealership, it was not hard to decide who the woman was talking to because the woman was looking right at her, and had moved behind the front counter to do so.
Mary wasn’t used to that. Clearly, she thought, the woman had made a mistake, except that she continued to hold Mary’s gaze for several seconds. The pressure of it gathered like a miasma in the pit of Mary’s stomach.
“Hi,” was all Mary could manage.
“It’s Mary, isn’t it?”
Mary nodded. “And you’re… “
Everyone who lived in the neighborhood knew who Penelope Longley was. She was impossible to miss. There was something about the way she carried herself, with a confidence that spoke of worldly sophistication, that was so alien to Mary that the woman seemed more likely to live on Venus than just across the street. Anyone could see it at a glance. The way she held her chin, or the set of her shoulders. The way nothing impressed her. She was a walking legend.
Mrs. Longley smiled slightly, and there was something in the tightening around her eyes as well. Mary didn’t know what that meant, but filed it away for use later.
“And of course, the picture wouldn’t be complete without one of these.”
Mary’s eyebrows rose as the woman laid a long, graceful finger on the cover of her journal. The bright red topcoat of her polished nail shone under the newly-installed fluorescent lighting, and though that same lighting also washed her out that somehow also made her look even more exotic. Thin smoke billowed from the end of a tipped cigarillo in her other hand.
Her eyes, however, were on Mary.
Mary smiled and looked down, employing a casual technique she’d mastered over the years wherein her voluminous black curls would refuse to stay where she put them, and in no time at all her face was safely hidden behind a wall of hair. Eye contact was never easy, but it got harder the less comfortable she was with someone and Mrs. Longley was, more or less, a stranger.
“I think we’re buying a car from you,” she said.
Mary couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard Mrs. Longley speak. There was a husky tone to her voice. It was somehow, simultaneously, exactly how she’d pictured it and so much more.
“Well, uh… a Lincoln’s a good car,” Mary said, quickly.
“Yes,” the older woman drawled. “Very spacious.”
There was something about the way she said spacious that piqued Mary’s interest. In fact, there seemed to be something in the pronunciation of almost every word. Mary looked to her journal, pinned in place by a single elegant finger, and bent her will toward its liberation like that spoon bender she’d just seen on Carson. She didn’t want to break the woman’s finger, of course, but nudging it away would be nice.
Fate had other plans. The phone rang and, since it was ostensibly her job to do so, Mary answered it.
Several nights a week Mary worked at the car dealership, that also employed her father, as an operator. No one ever called for her, and she enjoyed being an invisible part of the process. The pay was very little, but Mary had an ulterior motive for her job and it did not involve getting to spend breaks with her father.
Answering calls was a simple task. Most business was repeat business, sales or repair, and they all knew who they wanted to talk to. That particular call was no different, and Mary was done with her part of it in seconds, but she kept the receiver to her ear. It was a rare opportunity to study Mrs. Longley from so close, and every moment she could delay having to rejoin the conversation afforded her more time to watch.
The main thing she got from the woman was poise. Mrs. Longley stood there, leaning slightly against the counter with her finger still pressed down on Mary’s journal, and stared calmly across the sales floor. She was watching while her husband and one of the other salesmen haggled. She was watching from a distance not because she was uninterested or not allowed to be part of it, as so often happened with wives Mary observed, but because she was above it. Her husband was engaged in servant work. There was something regal about Mrs. Longley, something which Mary had seen from a distance but was even more plain up close.
They’d taken a powder blue Continental on a test drive, and Mary filed that away as well.
She bursa otele gelen escort wanted to be recording her thoughts, but the woman’s finger remained in place and Mary was far too nervous to try to just grab for it. What if Mrs. Longley decided to take it? It seemed unlikely, but she didn’t actually know the woman very well. She could be one of those kleptos Mary had read about in the paper.
“I can hear the dial tone,” the woman said, smirking.
Mary froze, feeling trapped, and sheepishly put the receiver back on the hook. It was the only thing she could think to do in the moment, and even that seemed like a mistake in hindsight when the older woman glanced sideways at her. It was always hard to not know how to react. Everyone else made it look easy.
“Am I making you uncomfortable?”
“No,” Mary said, quickly. She was, of course, but answering personal questions honestly had always gone badly for Mary.
Mrs. Longley lifted one leg slowly and sat down on the edge of the desk. The woman was wearing a skirt that ended above the knee. Her knees were not together, and her skirt was short. She was not supposed to do that. Mary had been told many times, and she knew. Of course, Mary did not wear skirts very often, for that exact reason, but surely this beacon of urbane sensibilities would be aware of how far apart her knees were.
The smile the woman gave her said that she did.
“How old are you now?”
“Nineteen,” Mary said, defensively.
“So you just graduated.” It wasn’t a question. “I thought I’d seen you riding around a lot more during the day.”
“Yes. I did.”
“That’s good. Very good.” She tilted her head, staring down at Mary from a strange angle, and Mary had the distinct impression that she was being observed too. “Do you read a lot?”
“Um… some. I…” Mary licked her lips and looked down again. “I mostly write.”
“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without one of these.” Mrs. Longley dragged her finger, sliding the journal across the surface of the desk. “Always writing, and always so secretive. Is this your diary?”
“No, it’s… um… It’s a book. Part of a book. It’s not finished.”
The older woman’s eyes danced. “What kind of book?”
“A… it’s a fantasy story?”
Mary blinked. “I don’t know who that is.”
“You’ve never read The Lord of the Rings? Frodo Baggins? Bilbo?”
Mary shook her head, and her spine got very, very straight as Mrs. Longley leaned to the side again, studying her.
“I bet a lot of people tell you that you’re strange, don’t they?”
“Well, out there? Outside of this little heap of a town? Strange people are changing the world.”
The math in her head told her she was being paid a compliment so Mary nodded and said, “Thank you,” as mechanically as she had ever said anything in her life, and in response the older woman let out a joyful peal of laughter.
“So tell me,” she said, sliding her hand to the side so that she could look at the journal proper. “How far along are you?”
“That’s book eighty.”
Mary nodded. “I didn’t really write it in chapters. I’m trying to edit them down a little when I go back through them, but I don’t know how else to say how far along I am. Sometimes a book is just one chapter… or…” She trailed off, feeling stupid for overexplaining. “Sometimes more.”
“Book eighty,” the woman repeated. She still stared down at Mary’s journal. “Has anyone else ever read this? Any of it?”
Mary shook her head, and her skin prickled from head to toe. Something in her reaction seemed to set off the other woman, because Mrs. Longley leaned over the table close enough to whisper.
“May I? Please? May I be the first?”
Mary leaned back into her chair and stared down at the journal still trapped under Mrs. Longley’s hand. She knew what was in that volume, and did not think that sharing it was the best idea, but she also did not know how to say no. Saying no would involve more pleading, and possibly an even greater intrusion into her bubble, both of which were anathema to her. The math was clear. “Yes.”
“Thank you,” she said, breathily.
She took up the journal in both of her hands, and Mary stared at it longingly. It had easily been more than a year since she’d faced the idea of not being able to write immediately, and it did not occur to her to simply start book eighty-one ahead of schedule.
The woman took a slow draw through her cigarillo, and smoke ebbed from her lips. “Will you be all right without it for a while?”
“Yes?” Mary said, blinking. “Yes. I’m… I’m also working on typing up book thirty-two, so I’ll… um…”
“Typing?” the older woman said, with an odd expression. “Really?”
Mary nodded, and then nodded again to her left. “I write by hand during the day, and then a few nights a week they let me use the typewriter over there.”
“Fascinating,” Mrs. Longley said, as she stared across the mostly-empty desk space.
“Dear,” came a male voice escort bayan from across the room.
Mrs. Longley turned, facing out toward the showroom proper, as her husband and one of the other salesmen approached. Her back straightened, and her head rose gracefully from her shoulders, but Mary was acutely aware that she did not bring her knees any closer together. One heeled foot remained firmly planted on the floor, while the other was raised.
“This gentleman keeps trying to steer me toward one of the leftover ’72 models, and I told—”
“No,” Mrs. Longley said, firmly. “I want a ’73.”
Her husband, Mr. Longley, a man Mary had only seen a few times, shrugged as if to say ‘I told you so’, and the two of them headed back towards the salesman’s desk.
“I’d better go,” the woman said, watching after the two men. “If I don’t stay on top of this I’m likely to go home with something other than exactly what I want, and that will not do. Not at all.” She turned and gave Mary a smirk. “Come by tomorrow and I’ll give you your book back. I’m a fast read.”
“Goodbye,” Mary said, and in hindsight she wasn’t entirely sure she wasn’t talking to her journal. The woman gave her a subtle handwave, ostensibly signalling the same in return although it could have been some kind of code Mary wasn’t aware of. It was a feeling not unlike nails upon a chalkboard to watch her book move farther and farther away.
Without book eighty to occupy herself with, Mary pulled out the older book she was in the middle of typing, and tried to refamiliarize herself with the events. The Regent had just exiled his youngest son for treason, and two of the Regent’s generals had finally made up their minds to turn against him. Mary had not yet introduced magic to the story, but she thought she saw a place where she could foreshadow its presence in the world. She repeated the sentences over and over in her head, experimenting with cadence and alternate sentence structures to make the words flow just right. Every time she did that she sat back in her chair and found herself staring at Mrs. Longley, as she oversaw over the negotiations, and as often as not Mrs. Longley was staring back at her.
Mary pushed her peas around her plate in a vain attempt to make the unpalatable vegetables look less numerous. There was no chance of being excused from the table before her mother finished, and her mother had already noted her pea count twice. Mary did not think she was up for a battle of wills over that, but neither was she ready to give up and eat the vile mush without doing her due diligence.
As she sat there, though, she became aware of her parents sharing glances where they didn’t think she could see them, and she prepared herself for the worst.
“Tough day, sweetie?” her mom asked.
Her father looked back and forth between them with a mouthful of food, and then chewed, swallowed, and patted at his lips with his napkin. “I, ah, missed out on a sure sale there at the end of the day. Woulda been nice. The commissions on the Continentals are real good.” He looked at Mary and leaned against the edge of the table. “I saw you talking to Mrs. Longley. She didn’t give you any trouble, did she?”
“Penelope Longley?” her mother said coldly.
Her father nodded and picked up his fork again. “Her and her husband came in when I was seeing to some tirekicker. Shame.”
“And what did she want?”
Mary leaned forward, grateful that the focus of the conversation had shifted away from her but unsure of why.
“Oh, they’re picking out a car for her. Randy said the husband is out of town a lot and she wants one of her own. Dead set on a light blue Continental. Wouldn’t hear of anything else.”
“You didn’t deal with her?”
“Not directly, no.”
Mary did not know what to make of the way tension seemed to dissolve from her mother’s shoulders at this revelation, but she filed it away. That observation, being the kind of thing she would write down for use later, reminded her that her journal was not within her possession, and the butterflies began to swirl in her stomach anew.
“Good,” her mother said. “I don’t like her.”
“Penelope?” her father said. “She’s harmless, but that husband of hers is a strange one. I got a queer vibe from him.”
“Not sure,” he said, shaking his head, “but I’m almost glad Randy was the one that caught him when they drove onto the lot.”
Her mother glanced furtively at Mary for just a moment. “Randy’s one of the new salesmen?”
“Mmmmhmm,” her father replied, around a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
“And are they still talking about buying that plot of land next door?”
Mary’s father blinked, and then his eyes grew much larger. “Yes! Yes! They are!”
“So they’re still going forward with expanding?”
“Yes!” her father said, nodding enthusiastically and casting sidelong glances at Mary. “Should be breaking ground on some new buildings in October!”
“October! That’s not too far away!”
Both of them turned and looked at Mary, and Mary did not know why.
“They’ll mudanya escort probably be hiring more staff,” her mother said, and just like that Mary finally understood. “Won’t they?”
“Oh yeah,” her father added, “and they’ll probably start with anyone part-time that wants full-time. Family first, you know.”
“That could be really good for you, sweetpea.”
Mary nodded four times, exactly as many as she thought they needed to see to convey that she was considering their proposal. It suited her purposes for them to think that she was, and they didn’t need to know that she wasn’t. Then she ate a forkful of peas, and that seemed to satisfy her mother.
“Yes?” her mother said, smiling.
“Can I borrow one of your watches?”
“Of course,” she replied, though her brow lowered after having said so. “Do you mind if I ask why?”
Mary stood on the Longley’s porch in the early morning sun, staring down at her wrist as the watch ticked along: eight fifty-nine and fifty-seven seconds, fifty-eight seconds, fifty-nine seconds.
And then she knocked.
“It’s open!” came the husky voice of a woman from inside the house.
Mary fought down a burst of anxiety as she opened the door, and steeled herself to the task at hand. Get the book back.
The foyer of the Longley home was sparsely decorated. A few pieces of art hung from the walls, and there were two small sculptures. The stark color contrasts in the decor set the poet in her mind scribbling furiously, but more than anything there was space to move and a sense of freedom to it.
Mary turned at the sound of footfalls cascading down a carpeted staircase. Mrs. Longley smiled broadly, wearing a long satin robe over a matching nightgown, but what Mary saw first was her journal clutched in the woman’s right hand.
“My apologies,” Mrs. Longley said, laying her hand gently across an expanse of bare skin on her chest. “I was up late reading, and I’m terribly behind schedule this morning. I must look dreadful.”
That did not seem to be true to Mary, though she could not put her finger on why.
Mrs. Longley swept around the lower end of the banister, robe flourishing in her wake, and stepped right in front of Mary in a way that emphasized the difference in their height. Mary did not often think of herself as being overly short, but Mrs. Longley stood close to five foot ten, barefoot, and the imbalance put Mary on her heels. The older woman held her journal in both hands, tight against her own breast, and smiled.
“You know, don’t you?”
“I’m sorry?” Mary asked, falling back on a neutral evasive tactic.
“All my careful planning didn’t fool you. You know about them, don’t you? All of them.”
Mary licked her lips, looking back and forth between each of Penelope Longley’s light blue eyes.
“I knew it,” she said, but where Mary had expected indignation and anger she instead found curiosity and fascination. “I’m in this book, aren’t I?”
“We all are.”
Mary took a step back, glancing down briefly at her book still clutched tightly, but the older woman followed, maintaining the close proximity that was giving her increasing discomfort.
“Not just Digby Street but the whole development?”
“Yes,” Mary said, hesitantly. Making so much direct eye contact was excruciating, but she didn’t dare look away for fear of misreading the other woman. “M… most of them, anyway.”
“That’s what you’re doing when you ride around, isn’t it? You’re watching.” She gasped theatrically, clutching the book even more tightly. “I never stood a chance against that kind of scrutiny.”
Mary had tried to prepare herself for the possibility that Mrs. Longley would see herself in the character of The Marchioness. What she had not prepared herself for was Mrs. Longley, upon confirming said connection, embracing it. And so, when Mrs. Longley wrapped her arms around Mary and held her while laughing, Mary did not know what to do.
“Oh, you dear girl,” Mrs. Longley said, chest heaving. “Do you know how good it feels that someone knows?”
She took Mary by the shoulders and stepped back, leaning forward ever so slightly to look Mary in the eye on an even level. Mary moved her mouth silently, turning her head away though their shared gaze remained fixed.
“I didn’t understand half of what was going on in your book, because of course you can’t just open a good book at the end and expect to know anything.” The woman’s face was so expressive, so emotive, that Mary was sure her leg was being pulled. “But the way you described her? The way you described me? I’ve never been so flattered in all my life.”
“Really?” Mary said, blinking.
“Yes! God!” She turned, ran her hand over her mouth for a moment as she paced back and forth. “Ten years ago, I was in New York and I saw the Mona Lisa at the Met, and I remember standing there among thousands of people and thinking about her. The woman. Who she was, and what her life must have been like. I mean, no one knows anything about her except what she looks like, but… but the idea of being immortalized like that, it just…” She turned back with a frantic look. “You captured me. Even through all the fantasy and the layers you added to distance this from…” She looked down at the book in her hand and smiled. “You captured a piece of me. Do you know what that feels like?”
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