Brilliant writer and gorgeous seductress Anna Lessing wants to resolve her intimacy issues, but she finds that her attractive psychotherapist makes things even more complicated. Carolin and Rebekka, the most constant couple in their constellation, continue to forge ahead in building their lives together. Sadly, grief prevents Silvia from enjoying life in the way that Luise can, no matter how much their delightfully youthful students offer. Thea's new admirer makes her life ... interesting. And dear, sweet Anita finally gets what she deserves. Welcome back to "L as in Love", and the lovely, lively women who congregate at the Sappho Café.
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Translated from the German bySusan Way
Cover illustration: © ag visuell – Fotolia.com
The therapist sat in her armchair and smiled. “How are you feeling today?”
“Good.” Anna smiled as well. “I always feel good when I see you.”
The therapist’s smile didn’t change. “Tell me about your week.”
“Would you go out for coffee with me sometime?” Anna asked, instead of answering the question.
The therapist raised her eyebrows. “Why?” she asked.
“Why not?” Anna replied.
“Because you’re my patient?” The therapist seemed not even a tiny bit ruffled by Anna’s inappropriate question, and perhaps even entirely disinterested.
“I just feel that our relationship has . . . matured,” said Anna. “Beyond that of merely therapist and patient. Don’t you think so?”
The expression on the therapist’s face became even more professional. “Why do you think so?” she asked.
Anna gave her a searching look. “We understand one another. We can talk about anything. It’s more than a professional relationship. I’ve never felt like anyone understands me the way you do. If this were in one of my books, I’d call it love.”
“All of my patients,” the therapist laughed softly, “male and female, ‘love’ me. We call that transference.”
“I know,” said Anna. “I’m familiar with the term. But aren’t there exceptions? Haven’t you ever fallen in love with a patient,” she grinned, “male or female? As close as we get to one another?”
“That would be unprofessional,” the therapist replied coolly. “There are no exceptions.”
“I’ve never admired a woman the way I admire you,” Anna said softly, almost surprised. “This is completely new for me.”
“You admire me because I’m helping you to find yourself,” the therapist replied. “That’s completely normal. Once you’ve found yourself, when you’ve gotten to that point in therapy, you’ll stop fantasizing that you love me. That’s just a subjective impression that passes with time.”
“No.” Anna got up from the matching armchair, leaned over her, and kissed her. “Was that a subjective impression that passes with time?” she asked defiantly. “Was that mere fantasy?”
The therapist studied Anna from below, her gaze neutral. “You’re good at fantasies,” she replied, completely unperturbed, as if the kiss had never happened. “You are a writer, after all.”
Suddenly uneasy under this clinical scrutiny, Anna straightened up, turned around, and sat down again. “Excuse me,” she murmured, embarrassed. “I went too far.”
“That’s an old problem of yours,” said the therapist. “You cross people’s boundaries in real life the same way your characters do in your books. But fantasy isn’t reality.”
“Are you familiar with my books?” asked Anna.
“No.” The therapist smiled gently. “But I can imagine.”
“You’re straight.” Anna laughed derisively. “What could you possibly imagine?”
“It’s not a matter of sexual orientation.” The therapist shifted in her armchair, as if suddenly uncomfortable. “Boundary violations are a universal psychological problem.”
“They are that,” Anna replied slowly, observing her opponent closely. They were evenly matched, she was sure of it. That was the appeal. Nonetheless, she hadn’t made any headway over the last six months. Neither with her neurosis, nor with Dr. Kaiser, Ph.D.
“Why is it so difficult to gauge other people’s boundaries?” she asked.
“It’s difficult for you.” Dr. Kaiser laughed. “Not everyone has so much trouble with it.”
“But you haven’t set any boundaries with me,” Anna claimed. “That’s why I could cross them.”
“A boundary you couldn’t cross would have to be secured with barbed wire,” said Dr. Kaiser. “And I’m afraid I don’t have any handy.” She smiled. “Even if I did, I’m not sure you wouldn’t just cut right through it.”
Anna took a deep breath. “Am I really that bad?”
Dr. Kaiser considered her for a long, thoughtful moment. “You’re used to being in control – of your stories, your characters,” she said. “You dictate what they do, where they do it, when they do it, and what the consequences are. There’s nothing you don’t decide.”
Anna laughed. “Apparently you don’t know my characters very well!”
“You’re evading,” said Dr. Kaiser. “Whenever I get too close, you try to sidestep me.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” Anna replied with a smile. “On the contrary.”
“Or you flirt with me – which is another type of evasion,” Dr. Kaiser continued. “Ducking into territory that’s comfortable for you – where you feel superior. Where you can’t lose.”
“I don’t particularly like losing,” Anna admitted. “That’s true.” She leaned forward and smiled at her therapist. “But I’m convinced you could still teach me a thing or two about flirting . . . and I wouldn’t mind learning from you at all.”
Dr. Kaiser laughed softly. “Which brings us back to the subject . . .” She shook her head. “Just drop it, Ms. Lessing. This isn’t getting us anywhere.”
“Isn’t it?” Anna asked, still smiling. “Persistence is one of my most successful tactics. Steady drips wear down the hardest stone.”
“Like with Sabrina?” Dr. Kaiser became serious. “That’s why you’re here now.”
Anna’s smile died. She threw up her hands. “You’re too clever for me,” she sighed. “Always leading me back to the straight and narrow. No woman’s ever managed that before.”
“The straight and narrow?” Dr. Kaiser raised her eyebrows. “You?”
Anna shrugged. “I think I’ve been quite virtuous over the last several months.”
“Then our definitions of the term differ considerably.” Dr. Kaiser contemplated a point in midair. “As far as I can recall, since you’ve been coming here, you’ve mentioned at least one new woman a week whom you’ve . . . gotten to know. I would estimate twelve women in twelve weeks.”
“Yes, well, that’s only three months,” said Anna. “I was quite virtuous during the other three,” she grinned, “if you haven’t left anything out in your bookkeeping. But it sounds like you’ve been keeping a pretty close count.”
“I make notes after every session,” Dr. Kaiser remarked dryly. “It’s part of my job. But I can’t know, of course,” she paused briefly, “whether or not the list you’ve given me is complete.”
“I don’t keep lists,” said Anna, “I leave that to you – if you enjoy it.”
“It’s one of my duties to keep written records of every session,” said Dr. Kaiser. “I don’t find it particularly enjoyable, it’s simply my professional responsibility.”
“And how many patients do you have who can chalk up that kind of a list?” asked Anna.
“Are you proud of it?” Dr. Kaiser asked in return.
Anna opened her mouth to answer, but then didn’t.
“You are,” Dr. Kaiser determined. “In a way.”
Anna shrugged again. “It’s too easy to be proud of.”
“Has any woman ever said no to you?” Dr. Kaiser asked. “Other than Sabrina?”
“If only she had!” Anna moaned in despair, burying her head in her hands. “If only she’d never said yes . . .”
“Which, no doubt, would have very difficult with you,” Dr. Kaiser supposed. “When I consider your behavior. . .today, for example –”
“My aggressiveness never made any impression on Sabrina – no more than it did on you,” said Anna.
“Oh, it made an impression on me,” replied Dr. Kaiser. “Just not the one you were hoping for.”
“Have you ever kissed a woman?” asked Anna. “I mean – not me, today. Another woman.”
“I didn’t kiss you,” Dr. Kaiser corrected her. “You kissed me. I think you know the difference.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” said Anna.
“We’re not here to answer that question,” said Dr. Kaiser. “This is about you, not about me.”
“But it interests me,” Anna persisted.
“I know.” Dr. Kaiser smiled.
Anna felt that smile penetrate the deepest fibers of her body. That kiss today was the last straw. She could still feel the softness of Dr. Kaiser’s lips on her own.
“Time’s up,” Dr. Kaiser said suddenly, with a glance at her watch. “Until next week.” She stood up.
“Already?” Anna felt disappointment creep over her. “The time always passes much too fast.” But she stood up too.
“Time always passes at the same pace,” said Dr. Kaiser as she walked Anna to the door. “You just feel like it passes faster when you’re with me.”
Anna stepped closer to her and leaned forward.
Dr. Kaiser frowned. “One kiss is enough for today,” she said. “I’ll see you next week.”
“I wasn’t going to –” Anna hadn’t been conscious of how close she’d come to Dr. Kaiser’s mouth when she’d leaned toward her.
“You have trouble saying goodbye to a woman without kissing her, don’t you?” asked Dr. Kaiser. “We’ll have to work on that.”
Anna could say no more; she simply nodded, shook Dr. Kaiser’s hand, and left.
“Oh, man. I can’t believe you talked me into this!” With a pained expression, Carolin slid off the bicycle seat onto the grass.
“That’s the deal.” Rebekka grinned. “We spend more time together, but fifty percent of the time, I get to decide what we do.” She sank onto the grass as well, minus the pained expression.
“Good thing we have a marriage of equals,” said Carolin, “and that I get to decide on the other fifty percent.”
“Every marriage should be a marriage of equals,” said Rebekka, rolling onto her back and sticking a blade of grass between her lips. “Equal terms and equal footing.”
“Sure, but how many actually are?” Carolin groaned a little as she leaned over toward Rebekka. “And as to whether our marriage is completely equal . . . I mean, aside from decisions about how we spend our time . . .” She nipped the blade of grass away from Rebekka’s lips with her own.
“What, are you feeling oppressed?” Rebekka asked, as she bent over Carolin to retrieve the blade of grass with her own lips.
“Hm-mm.” Carolin pressed her lips together firmly to defend her possession of the tiny green frond and shook her head. But Rebekka managed to steal it nevertheless. “You?” asked Carolin.
“Well . . .” Rebekka now held the stem between her fingers. She looked reflectively up at the sky.
“What?” Carolin stared at her, surprised.
“Well . . .” Rebekka repeated cautiously. “My life has certainly changed since we’ve been married.”
“But that’s not entirely my fault,” protested Carolin. “It also has a lot to do with the restructuring of your company,” she smiled. “Which actually means we have more time for each other now.”
“Yes, that is an exceptionally positive effect,” Rebekka admitted. She let the blade of grass fall, leaned over Carolin, and kissed her gently. “I never imagined it would be this good.”
“There’s one drawback, of course,” said Carolin. “When we could only see each other once in a while, I knew that would help keep me interested in you. But now . . . when we wake up together every morning and go to sleep together every night . . . and do so many other things in between . . .” Her eyes twinkled mischievously.
“I know,” said Rebekka, letting herself fall onto her back. “You’ve become so uninteresting to me. Thanks for reminding me of that, by the way. I’d better start looking around for another woman right away.” She leapt up onto her bicycle as if she were about to ride off.
“Rebekka . . .” Carolin groaned, standing up and clutching at Rebekka’s bottom. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Of course not.” Rebekka dismounted once more. “My sweet little wife just wanted to draw a compliment out of me – because, after all, they’re so rare.” She smiled and took Carolin into her arms.
“Oh, I’m not little,” Carolin protested. “You’re just . . . really tall.”
“It’s all relative,” said Rebekka. “Lots of men are taller than I am – and probably every runway model in the world.”
Carolin kneaded Rebekka’s backside. “Good thing you’re not as bony as they are. They’d leave me bruised all over.”
“Doing what?” Rebekka asked saucily, holding Carolin away from herself slightly and looking into her face with mock curiosity.
“As if you didn’t know.” Carolin moaned. “Doing something that would probably constitute S/M, if you tried it on me right now.”
“Does that mean we have to wait until later?” whispered Rebekka, seeking out Carolin’s lips and kissing them.
“Mmm . . . darling . . .” Carolin murmured, cuddling up when Rebekka released her lips. “Do you produce pain-relieving substances, too? You could already market your kisses. . .”
“No, I’m not in the pharmaceutical industry,” Rebekka replied with a laugh. “So then . . .?” She buried her nose in Carolin’s hair, savoring her scent. “Does that mean it wouldn’t be S/M after all?” Her hand slid down Carolin’s back, stroking its way to her bottom.
“Your kisses aren’t quite that good.” Carolin let herself sink onto the grass with Rebekka again and grimaced. “But if it must be S/M, so be it.” She embraced Rebekka and spread her thighs so Rebekka could glide in between them.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Rebekka whispered hoarsely.
“You’re not.” Carolin planted her feet and raised her hips in order to rub herself against Rebekka. “I can’t even feel anything anymore.” Her voice sounded even rougher than Rebekka’s.
“Nothing at all?” Rebekka’s hand slid over Carolin’s breast.
“No pain,” whispered Carolin. Her nipple swelled beneath Rebekka’s palm.
Rebekka started to roll over with her.
“Don’t,” said Carolin. “I want to be underneath. If I sit on you, I’ll have to use my butt’s biking muscles again.”
“I just want to be fair, after this morning . . .”
“You talk to the union too much,” said Carolin. “We don’t have to be that fair.” She grinned. “And if you’d told me this morning what you had planned for the rest of the day, I wouldn’t have let you go after just three or four or five orgasms. I would’ve demanded ten, until you were completely worn out and this ride was cancelled.”
“I can still ride a bike after ten,” claimed Rebekka. “I’d just need a little time to recuperate.”
“You and your workouts.” Carolin sighed. “I’m always going to feel like a sack of flab next to you.”
“What’s flabby about you?” Rebekka massaged Carolin’s side, her hips, her thighs. “All this is solid and luscious.”
“Mhmm . . .” Carolin closed her eyes. “Keep going.”
Rebekka lifted herself slightly to push up Carolin’s tight cycling shirt, then her sports bra. She bent down and took a nipple into her mouth.
Carolin cried out softly. “I thought . . . this morning . . . I’d never be able to . . . again . . .” she gasped. “I was so wiped out.”
“Recuperation time.” Rebekka grinned. “You’re in better shape for it now, too.”
“Three times a day . . . isn’t exactly . . . a fitness program,” Carolin teased Rebekka as she tried to catch her breath.
“Just wait . . .” whispered Rebekka. “I guarantee you’ll get more than that today.”
“Isn’t Sunday supposed to be the day of rest?” Carolin cried out as Rebekka pulled down her bicycle shorts. “If anyone comes along . . .” she whispered, suddenly bashful.
“Let them look,” Rebekka replied hoarsely. Her eyes sparkled with excitement as she regarded Carolin’s form, half-naked in the grass. “It’s nobody’s business if I sleep with my wife. In fact, it’s my marital duty.” And with that her mouth sank down between Carolin’s legs.
Carolin felt Rebekka’s tongue thrust inside her and moaned out loud.
Rebekka stopped, concerned. “Did that hurt?”
“No . . . no . . .” Carolin tossed her head to the side. “Please . . . don’t stop . . .”
Rebekka smiled and spread Carolin’s legs wider, then turned her attention back to the swollen labia. “You look so beautiful down here,” she whispered, rapt. She thrust her tongue deep inside Carolin once more.
Carolin moaned, reached for Rebekka, stroked her hair. She felt Rebekka’s tongue deeper inside her than it could possibly be. Every fiber of her being yearned for Rebekka, wanted her deeper and deeper inside. “I want a baby with you, Rebekka,” she whispered. “Please . . .”
Rebekka paused. Her head lifted. “What?”
Carolin was breathing heavily. “I want . . . a baby . . . with you,” she repeated between gasps. “You said you did too, right?”
“Yes.” Rebekka pushed herself up next to Carolin and took her in her arms. “Yes, I did. That would be nice.” She caressed Carolin’s back pensively.
“What? What is it?” asked Carolin. Her breathing began to slow as she felt the warm breeze blow across her naked backside.
“I don’t know,” Rebekka replied slowly. “I have more time now . . . maybe I could . . .”
“Don’t you want my baby?” Carolin asked, somewhat disappointed.
“Yes, I do.” Rebekka smiled at her. “I’d love a whole crew of little Carolins. An entire houseful.”
Carolin laughed. “I wasn’t planning to mutate into a baby-making machine. I was thinking one, maybe two.”
“Yes. Two would be ideal,” said Rebekka. “I didn’t like being an only child.”
“Then two,” Carolin smiled. “One from you and one from me. That would work. Although . . .” She looked at Rebekka. “To be honest . . .”
Rebekka made a face. “You can’t picture me as a mother,” she said.
“Not really,” Carolin admitted. “But if you want to be . . .”
“I was just thinking . . . about my mother,” Rebekka mused, somewhat haltingly. “We’d talked about using my eggs – even if another woman were going to carry the baby . . .”
“Svenja,” Carolin said dryly.
“Yes, Svenja.” Rebekka looked solemnly at Carolin. “But that was under different circumstances. With you, of course, that wouldn’t be necessary. My mother loves you.” She smiled at Carolin.
“But she might rather have your genetic material in her grandchildren than mine?” asked Carolin.
“She would never say so, of course,” answered Rebekka, sounding slightly unhappy, “but if I had a boy – and if he resembled my father . . .”
“That would be wonderful for her.” Carolin nodded. Then she took a deep breath. “Fine, then, you can have the baby. The first one, anyway.”
“Oh, hell.” Rebekka swore. “Why can’t it just work for us like it does for straight people? A piece from me, a piece from you . . .”
“Science isn’t there yet,” sighed Carolin. “Fusing two eggs. So we’ll just have to work with what’s available.”
“Yes, I suppose we will.” Rebekka gave her a tender look. “But . . . to be honest . . . I’d be glad to let you have the first one. I think I’m . . . not quite ready yet.”
Carolin grinned. “That’s absolutely fine with me. You have plenty of time. And now,” she whispered, pushing her hips against Rebekka, “let’s work on the pilot program for egg fusion. Maybe we can make it work after all.”
Rebekka gasped for air. A hot streak ran between her legs. She quickly pulled off her bike shorts, turned around, and settled herself over Carolin’s face.
“Mhmmm . . .” Carolin sighed as she sucked in Rebekka’s labia. “That, of course, is even better.”
Rebekka’s head disappeared between Carolin’s legs as Carolin let her tongue slip back and forth across Rebekka’s pearl.
They began to moan in unison. Their movements became more forceful and their moans louder until they finally ended with one double wail.
Even if it hadn’t been so far away, they wouldn’t have heard the soft whirr of the video camera as they sank down happily on top of one another.
“How is she?”
“Unchanged.” Chris sighed. “Since she opened her eyes, there haven’t been any further changes.”
Rick and Anita sat down next to Chris at Sabrina’s bedside.
“You need to get some rest, too,” Anita said softly to Chris. “Go home. I’ll stay here.”
“I . . . I can’t,” Chris whispered. She looked into Sabrina’s face, at the open eyes that saw nothing yet seemed as if they were sentient. “I can’t leave her alone.”
“We’ll take care of her.” Rick rested a hand on Chris’s arm. “Everyone in the hospital is doing looking out for her. It won’t do anyone any good if you collapse, too.”
“I already have,” said Chris. “It just doesn’t look that way.”
“I know.” Rick gazed at her with sympathy. “We all believe that she’ll wake up . . . really wake up. It’s just going to take time.”
Rick recalled how Chris had nearly gone crazy when Sabrina had opened her eyes after a couple of weeks. Everyone had thought the ordeal was over. But it wasn’t. The coma had deteriorated into a vegetative state. What Sabrina actually perceived, no one could tell. She barely reacted.
“Yes, time . . .” said Chris. She sounded hopeless. After six months, she could hardly picture what Sabrina had looked like before her accident. The beautiful, desirable woman she’d known had become a lifeless piece of meat.
And yet, Chris couldn’t accept that it might be over forever. She couldn’t imagine a life without Sabrina, even if it had to be this way.
“I’m going to get some coffee,” she said, casting one last look at the bed before she left the room.
“Do you think there’s hope?” asked Anita, observing Sabrina’s pale, haggard face. Sabrina seemed to look back at her, but Anita knew it was just an illusion.
Rick took a deep breath. “Who can say? All we can do is keep supporting Chris, as much as we can.”
The door opened. Rick looked up briefly, expecting to see Chris returning, then did a double-take. “What are you doing here?” she blurted out, surprised.
Anita turned around, too.
“I just found out today,” said Anna. “I had no idea.” She stared at Anita and swallowed. “Hello.” Her voice barely carried across the room.
Anita swallowed, too. “Hello,” she answered weakly. It was the first time she and Anna had seen each other since their breakup.
“May I?” Anna glanced toward the bed.
Rick stood up. “Yeah, sure,” she said. “She doesn’t react, though. You won’t get much out of it.”
“That’s not why I came,” said Anna. She stepped past Rick to the bed and looked down upon Sabrina’s lifeless form. “Sabrina . . .” she whispered.
Anita stood up and walked out.
“You really are tact personified,” said Rick. “Bravo.”
Anna turned around and looked at her. “I didn’t know Anita was going to be here,” she said.
“What are you doing here?” Rick asked again. “You’re making Anita even unhappier than she already was, and Sabrina certainly wouldn’t be overjoyed to see you if she could tell the difference. Not to mention Chris, who’s liable to be back any minute now. She just went to get a cup of coffee.”
“It seems I don’t exactly have a fan club here.” A crooked grin crept into the corners of Anna’s mouth. “But I wasn’t expecting one. I was just so shocked when I heard. I had to come.”
“Well, fine,” said Rick. “But make it quick. You’re not going to get any more from her than this.” She indicated Sabrina’s face. “It hasn’t changed for months. And I don’t want Chris to see you.”
“Yes, Chris . . .” Anna took a deep breath. “How is she coping?”
“As if you were remotely interested,” said Rick. “You couldn’t care less about Chris. You certainly didn’t seem concerned when you took her wife away.”
“You don’t understand,” said Anna. “I –” She broke off. Her eyes rested on Sabrina, taking in her image. She tried to subdue the horror that gripped her. When she heard the news, she hadn’t been able to imagine it. She could never have believed that Sabrina could be lying here like this, with open eyes but absent, asleep, unresponsive.
She bent down and brushed a kiss across Sabrina’s lips, which felt neither cold nor warm, neither living nor dead.
Slowly, she straightened, but her eyes were still riveted to Sabrina’s face. “Apparently, I’m not the prince – and you’re not Sleeping Beauty,” she said quietly.
“What did you expect?” Rick’s remark pulled Anna from her fantasy. “That she would wake up because you kissed her? Who do you think you are? Don’t you think Chris has tried that enough?”
Anna closed her eyes briefly to collect herself; when she turned to face Rick, they were clear again. “I don’t want to intrude any longer,” she said, composed but with difficulty. “I just wanted to see her.”
“And now you have,” said Rick. She pointed to the door. “And I would be much obliged if you wouldn’t upset Anita any more, either.”
A touch of the mocking smile that was Anna’s trademark returned to her lips. “Does she need a big sister that desperately? Or are you speaking as her ex-lover?” She pursed her lips. “Don’t we at least have something in common there?”
“Hardly,” said Rick. “And if you must know, I’m speaking as her friend. Something I still am. Which can’t be said for you.”
“How can you know that?” asked Anna. “She left me, I didn’t leave her.”
“And for good reason, too,” said Rick. “Now please, leave. Chris will be back soon.”
Anna cast one last, long look at Sabrina, then went to the door. As she stepped into the hallway she saw Anita leaning against the wall a little way down. She went over to her.
“How . . . how are you?” she asked softly.
Anita didn’t answer, didn’t look at her.
“I haven’t written one usable word since you’ve been gone,” Anna continued. “I miss you.”
“Not me. Your muse,” Anita replied wearily.
“Are you seeing anyone?” asked Anna.
“I’ve given up on that.” Anita looked at her. “And I’ll spare myself asking you the same.”
“Yes, I – ” Somewhat embarrassed, Anna shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “But it doesn’t mean anything to me. And it never lasts long. Often just one night, a week perhaps . . .”
“I’ve heard about a few of those weeks,” said Anita.
“It’s a small scene,” Anna replied. “Even in the big city.”
“And even though you’ve tried out so many women, there wasn’t one muse among them?” asked Anita. “I’m surprised.”
“You underestimate your uniqueness. You’re very special,” said Anna. “I thought I’d at least conveyed that to you.”
“How?” Anita asked, resigned. “The way you looked at Sabrina . . . even now, in her condition . . . you’ve never looked at me that way.”
“Well, you’re not her,” said Anna. “My feelings for you were . . . completely different.”
“Feelings?” Anita lifted her eyebrows. “You had feelings for me?” She let out a cheerless laugh. “Yeah, okay, in bed.”
“Not just in bed.” Anna propped her arms against the wall on either side of Anita’s head and gave her a beseeching look. “It was much more than that.” She leaned in and brushed a kiss across Anita’s lips. “Much more.”
Anita shut her eyes for a moment, then opened them again. “What do you want?” she asked painfully. “You didn’t come here because of me, you came because of Sabrina. Nothing has changed. All your thoughts focus on her.”
“Not all of them,” said Anna, “but it’s true, some do. I’m in therapy for it.”
“Therapy?” Anita looked at her in astonishment. “Because of Sabrina?”
“Not because of Sabrina.” Anna turned halfway around and leaned against the wall next to Anita. “Because of me. Because of what I did wrong.”
“What you did wrong with Sabrina,” Anita surmised. “So you think you can make it all better when she wakes up? Do you think she’d still be interested? And Chris? What about Chris? She’s a martyr for Sabrina. She’s here at the hospital all day long, even overnight. She has no other life anymore.”
“That’s awful,” said Anna. “For both of them. Is there any hope at all that Sabrina –?”
“I don’t know,” said Anita. “But you shouldn’t get your hopes up that she’ll ever come back to you.” She lowered her head.
“I hope for Chris’s sake that she does wake up,” Anna said softly. “For Chris and Sabrina, the two of them. Not for me.” She turned to face Anita. “What I really wish for myself is that you’d come back to me.”
“Me?” Anita looked up. “I’m sure you’re not in therapy over me.”
“I am,” said Anna. “I’ve spoken to my therapist about you, too.”
“Is she attractive? Your therapist, I mean.” Anita made a face. “If she weren’t, I’m sure you wouldn’t go to her. You always have to have your fun.”
“Did I really hurt you that much?” asked Anna, still somewhat shocked. She touched Anita’s cheek gently with one finger. “After I read your letter, I wanted to call you. For days,” she continued softly. “But I didn’t dare. I didn’t want to hurt you even more.”
“You didn’t dare?” Anita laughed. “I don’t believe that. I think it’s more likely you were busy with other . . . things.”
“With other women, you mean.” Anna sighed. “Yes, that’s true. What can I say? You left a huge void.”
“Please, Anna . . .” Anita grimaced. “Don’t feed me that kind of a line. That’s too much, even for me.”
“I’m not feeding you a line,” said Anna. “I’m completely serious. Yes, you are my muse. I’ll confess to that. And I miss the excitement, the inspiration.” She leaned in toward Anita once more and caressed her cheek. “When Sabrina was with me, I couldn’t write anything – anything good, that is. But when you were with me, it all just poured out. Who do you think I would want back?”
“It’s not just about writing, though,” said Anita. “And even if,” she swallowed, “even if Sabrina wasn’t your muse, she was still the woman you wanted. You wanted her so badly that you took her away from another woman. I doubt you would’ve gone to that much effort for me.”
“I didn’t just happen to come into your department store that day,” said Anna. “After our conversation at the book fair, I could sense that . . . that I needed you.”
“Sure, like someone needs a computer or a pencil,” said Anita. “Like a tool. To write with.”
“No,” said Anna. “That’s just one side of the coin. I won’t deny it. But you are a wonderful woman. You brought me so much peace, so much strength.” She sighed. “I wish I could’ve given you something like that in return. Apparently, I couldn’t.”
Anita swallowed again. “You gave me . . . a great deal,” she said softly. “But I always had to ask myself whether it was really me you wanted to give it to, or the one you couldn’t have . . . Sabrina.”
“Sabrina was nothing but pain and torture,” replied Anna, slowly and thoughtfully. “You were joy. Pure, unadulterated joy.”
“She was worth the pain to you,” said Anita. “Maybe joy is . . . not as interesting.” She grimaced in mild torment. “But it’s nice of you to say that. I’ve always wondered what it was you wanted from me.”
“I’m sorry you had to wonder,” said Anna. “I know I never gave you a satisfactory answer to that question. Because I didn’t know it myself. It wasn’t until I lost you . . . and went to therapy . . .” She sighed. “My therapist has been helping me get my head on straight, so to speak.” She laughed. “As punishment, I kissed her today. She didn’t like that.”
“I knew it.” A smirk crept across Anita’s lips. “She is attractive.”
“Yes, she is,” Anna admitted, suddenly much more relaxed. She tilted her head to the side. “And I think maybe she did like it; she just won’t admit it.”
“I can’t imagine that your kissing skills didn’t impress her,” said Anita. “With me –”
Anna cut her off by kissing her again, this time less cautiously. “Your lips are the sweetest temptation there is,” she whispered against Anita’s mouth.
Anita enjoyed the kiss, but pushed Anna away. “Therapy hasn’t done you much good, I’d say,” she stated dryly. “You still think you can have any woman any time. Especially me.”
“Have you really gone six months without sex?” Anna asked in disbelief.
Anita laughed softly. “You think I must be starved for it, don’t you?” She shook her head. “No, Anna, it’s not that simple. Those days are over. I’m going back to Sabrina’s room to take care of Sabrina and Chris now. You’re not at the top of my list anymore.”
She smiled at Anna, patted her cheek in farewell, and walked off down the hall.
“Who did you sleep with last night?” Geraldine demanded furiously, storming into Silvia’s room. “Was she worth it?”
Silvia looked at her, took a deep breath, and folded her arms across her chest. “What did we agree on?”
“Loving you is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it,” Geraldine spat out between clenched teeth.
“Excuse me?” Silvia laughed in disbelief.
“Loving you –”
“Oh, thanks!” Silvia put her hands up in defense. “I didn't mean for you to repeat yourself. I heard what you said.” She shook her head, still disbelieving. “I never would’ve dreamed,” she said softly to herself.
“Did she kiss you the way I kiss you?” Geraldine asked, hurt. She grabbed Silvia and kissed her hard, against her will.
Silvia let it happen, didn’t react, just waited for Geraldine to let go of her.
“Sil . . . oh, Sil . . .” whispered Geraldine, pressing Silvia against herself. “Why do you torment me so? Can’t you love me even a little bit?”
“I’ll never say ‘I love you’ to you, nor do I ask that of you,” Silvia replied softly. “That’s what we agreed on. I never promised you anything more. You agreed. No demands, no obligations. You’re just as free.”
“What good is that freedom to me?” Geraldine pushed Silvia away from her slightly. “I don’t need it. You’re the only one who takes advantage of it.”
Silvia didn’t answer. She regarded Geraldine, then turned away.
“Talk to me!” Geraldine screamed at her. “Do you think it’s enough for you to just sleep with me?”
Silvia turned to face her. “You seem to enjoy it,” she replied calmly. “But we could stop.”
Geraldine threw back her head helplessly. “Yeah,” she blurted. “For you, that’d be easy. You have plenty of others.”
“Why don’t you pay a little more attention to your fellow students?” asked Silvia. She sat down behind her desk. “You’re much too fixated on me.”
“I love you,” whispered Geraldine in despair. “I don’t want anyone else – just you.”
“That’s your problem,” Silvia answered soberly, “not mine. Would you please excuse me now? I have to prepare for a seminar.”
“Why don’t you forbid me from participating in the seminar?” Geraldine whispered, exhausted.
“Why should I?” said Silvia. “It’s your choice.”
“It would be simpler for me if you’d take the choice away,” said Geraldine.
“I know,” Silvia nodded, “but that’s not my job. You’re responsible for yourself. If it torments you to have to see me in the seminar, then don’t come.”
“Why are you so cold and hard?” asked Geraldine, despondent and even more exhausted than before. Debating with Silvia always sapped her strength.
“I’m not,” said Silvia. “I just look out for my own interests. You’ve known that from the start. No one is forcing you to stay with me.” She looked up at Geraldine, who was standing in front of her desk. “Least of all me.”
Geraldine didn’t reply immediately. When she did, she only whispered her response. “Why do I love you so?”
“I have no idea.” Silvia arched her eyebrows. “If I were in your place, I’d spare myself the whole thing. It’s hopeless. You’re torturing yourself for nothing.”
Geraldine went around Silvia’s desk. “Kiss me,” she pleaded in a whisper. “Please, just kiss me one more time, like you did in the beginning.”
Silvia looked up at her from below. “I can’t remember that anymore,” she said. “But you’re always welcome to a kiss – you don’t have to ambush me.”
Geraldine leaned over her and tenderly sought her lips, pleaded for entry, was answered, and sank into the kiss as though it were her last. Silvia kissed her softly back, as if they were tenderly bound together. She didn’t perceive it that way, but in the last six months, she’d learned to forget that perception, whether she was with Geraldine or another woman.
In truth, she still thought only of Karla. It was never any other woman, only Karla, the one, the only, the love of her life. That was also why she didn’t have a guilty conscience.
She woke afterwards as if from a dream, every time, and she looked into a strange face that she wasn’t expecting, that surprised her each time – because it wasn’t Karla’s.
She had no connections with these random faces, no sentiment, no feelings, and above all – no love.
She only felt love when she was dreaming of Karla. Then, and only then.
Geraldine let go of her. “Will we see each other this evening?” she asked, full of hope. “Please?”
“I –” Silvia looked like she wanted to say no, but changed her mind. “Fine,” she said, “but later.”
“Who . . .” Geraldine swallowed. “Who are you meeting beforehand?”
“Not that it’s any of your business . . .” Silvia sighed. “With Luise. We have a meeting. Work-related.”
“Work-related,” repeated Geraldine. It was obvious that she was doubtful.
In earlier days, Silvia would’ve laughed; now, she didn’t. It was pretty funny, though, seeing as Luise was practically the only woman she didn’t sleep with.
Geraldine took a deep breath to find the strength to part from Silvia. “I’ll see you tonight, then,” she said.
Geraldine went out and shut the door behind her. Teresa was sitting at the little desk in the outer office. “Was she with you last night?” Geraldine asked sharply.
Teresa looked up and blushed. “N-no,” she stammered. “Of course not. Where’d you get that idea?”
“She must’ve been with somebody.” Geraldine shrugged. “You’re as good a guess as anyone.”
“I’ve always thought she was wonderful,” Teresa replied with modest dignity, “but I would never dare touch her.”
“Oh, believe me, that wouldn’t be a problem.” Geraldine threw her head back and laughed. “Go ahead, try it. If she loves one thing, it’s that!” Still laughing, she went out.
Outside, her desperate laughing stopped abruptly. Geraldine’s face collapsed in on itself, as though it had lost its support. Tears rose in her eyes.
“What am I going to do?” she whispered, choked. “What am I going to do?”
“Céline? Did you iron my shirts?” Tobias Kaiser called loudly as he stood before the open clothes closet and looked inquisitively inside.
“I didn’t have time.” Dr. Céline Kaiser entered the bedroom and strode over to him. She brushed a kiss across his cheek. “Sorry.”
He sighed. “You knew I was going to need one today.”
“You knew it, too,” she replied, slightly annoyed. “Why am I always responsible for ironing?”
“Because women are just better at it,” said Tobias. “I never learned how.”
“How practical of you,” Céline responded tartly.
“Could you iron it now, sweetheart, quickly?” He kissed her perfunctorily. “I have to leave in half an hour.” He left the bedroom.
“Yes, of course I will,” she murmured. She retrieved a shirt from the laundry basket. For a moment, she held it in her hand as if she were about to put it back, but then she unfolded the ironing board and plugged in the iron.
Since they’d lost their housekeeper to maternity leave, taking care of the household had begun to consume her completely. She and Tobias worked all day, and when they came home neither of them were interested in doing anything in the apartment. They went out to eat or had food delivered – but unfortunately, that did little to curb the mountain of dirty dishes, and nothing at all about the mountain of laundry.
She knew she ought to take the laundry to a wash-and-fold service that would return it already pressed, but unfortunately that thought occurred to her too late to be of help now. In recent years she’d become spoiled by the fact that her cleaning lady had taken care of everything.
Men must get to feel spoiled all the time, she thought. When they come home, everything’s already been taken care of for them.
It hadn’t ever occurred to her before just how little Tobias did around the house. After all, she hadn’t done much either – not since they’d been able to afford a housekeeper. But if anything was lying around, she was always the one who put it away. Tobias never thought about it; he didn’t even notice.
Suddenly she felt like one of her patients, always lamenting the laziness of their husbands. Normally Céline just laughed and advised them to discipline their men better. But those patients would hardly take her seriously anymore if they saw Tobias.
He was a great guy, of course, but . . . She tested the temperature of the iron with a damp finger. Hot enough.
She arranged the shirt on the ironing board. She was very young when she and Tobias got married; they were both still in college. Really, they’d only gotten married to be able to get a room together in student housing – one of the small studio apartments that were only allotted to married couples.
Of course, back then, she’d believed that she loved him . . .
She ran the iron over the shirt’s sleeves and watched the fabric smooth out. Was this what love amounted to? Preparing crisp collared shirts for your husband?
“What is love, anyway?”
Céline looked up, startled, as if someone had spoken, but there was no one there. It was Anna Lessing’s voice that she’d heard. It was something she’d said during their last session.
Céline didn’t have to answer questions like that, and certainly not when they came from Anna. She’d simply asked back, “What do you understand it to be?”
Always put the ball back in the patient’s court. They had to find the solution themselves; Céline was only a mirror for their wishes, and she had to keep them focused – something most patients weren’t able to do on their own.
“I write about it,” Anna had answered, “but understand? . . . I don’t understand love. It’s completely foreign to me.”
“You loved Sabrina . . . you still love her,” Céline had reminded her. “Don’t you?”
“Sabrina . . .” Mentioning that name always created a problem – one Céline had not been able to help Anna solve thus far. “Is that really love?” Anna had looked at her, questioning.
“Well, to decide that, we first have to define love,” Céline had answered. “There are so many kinds.”
“For example, mine and yours,” Anna had smiled in her particular mocking way. A woman like her didn’t let the ball be placed in her court so easily, not without sending it back. “How do you define love? Do you love your husband?”
“That’s an inappropriate question.” Céline had fended that one off automatically, but now the question echoed in her head again . . . Do you love your husband?
“Damn you, Anna Lessing . . .” Céline murmured angrily to herself as she turned over the shirt. “What business is it of yours?”
And that kiss . . . Of course, her patients were always trying to cross the boundaries she set for them or that were set by society, but Anna was especially shameless. After that, Céline ought to have declined to continue treating her.
But how would that have looked? Aplomb was an essential requirement of therapeutic relationships. She had to rise above that sort of thing.
When one heard of therapists who couldn’t manage that, it was usually men. Men who got involved in relationships with their female patients. But men were just . . . different.
Anyway, Anna was a woman – a lesbian woman, for whom kissing other women was normal. Céline had never felt that desire, herself. She’d only ever exchanged kisses with men.
Anna’s kiss had been surprising, though. Something out of the ordinary. Women apparently kissed differently than men did. Céline had been astonished to discover that, even if she hadn’t shown it. Really, she was proud of her professionalism.
Tobias came in. “Are you finished?”
“Almost.” Céline looked at the shirt.
“I love it when you do housework,” he said, sliding a hand across her bottom and kissing her on the shoulder. “Too bad I have to go now.” His hand squeezed her backside more firmly. “Although, I could take five more minutes . . .” His voice sounded raw, and he slid his hand beneath her skirt.
“Here’s your shirt.” Céline turned around; his hand dropped.
“Thanks.” He took it from her. “Five minutes isn’t enough for you, I know,” he said. It sounded almost reproachful.
“For any woman,” said Céline, “not just for me.”
“Then . . . maybe this evening,” he said.
“Yeah.” Céline nodded. “Maybe.”
She glanced at his naked, hairy chest as he pulled on the shirt. Anna wore men’s shirts sometimes, too, but her chest would certainly look different underneath.
Where did that thought come from? She shook her head in irritation.
“What’s wrong?” Tobias was tying his necktie.
“Nothing.” Céline turned around and folded up the ironing board.
“I’m off, then.” Tobias patted her on the butt. “Looking forward to tonight!” He laughed.
She heard the door latch.
Slowly, she walked back to the kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee.
The stories and problems Anna related to her often differed very little from those straight relationships between men and women. Nonetheless, Céline began to reflect on what the differences were. Not just the kissing.
How would it feel to hold a woman in her arms? She knew how it felt when she hugged her female friends in greeting or in farewell, but that was different. They hardly touched one another.
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