Anar, Urim 08, 03262
Honest Impulses 25: Steadfast
Gazelle sat on a short wooden bench by the window, her face turned away from Shandy, seemingly looking down into the street below. She was so still like that, only her breathing and the occasional flutter of a loose strand of hair revealing that she was more than a statue. She wore something from her new clothes, which Shandy liked. Shandy had always had a penchant for orange and Gazelle had chosen its complement, a beautiful turquoise, for most of her outfits. Turquoise and white, dazzling colors that would make Gazelle stand apart from Shandy, as both of them wanted, while uniting them in a complementary way. Linia had shown her the results, and Shandy had approved, all the while insisting that her approval was not required.
Shandy walked up behind her, thought for a moment to touch her, thought otherwise, thought again and laid her hand on Gazelle's back. Gazelle turned to her, smiled. "Sorry," she said. "I have a lot to think about."
"Tell me about it?" Shandy said. "I can no help you when you do no tell me your troubles."
"Help me?" Gazelle's eyes widened. "Shandy, I'm here for you. Not the other way around."
"'Tis no true! We're here for each other."
"How?" Gazelle gestured around the room. "I don't know how Linia does it. I've been talking to her, I've been reading--" Shandy's steady gaze froze her. "Sorry."
Shandy sat on the bench next to Gazelle and looked up at her. Their height difference probably had some comedic value for outsiders. She reached up and touched Gazelle's cheek. The other woman closed her eyes and tilted her head into the caress. She said, softly, "It shouldn't mean that much when you touch me. You don't want it to mean that much. You don't love me. But it does."
"For Linia and Misuko, they said weeks is what it took. You've only been here a few days. Back home, they marry people off who've only just met and then tell them to make it work for the rest of their lives." Shandy nodded toward Gazelle. "This, I'm ready for. Linia says I'm 'culturally primed.'"
"Not with a woman."
"With no robot, either. I'll make do. I left home because there were other things about it I could no ever live with." Shandy grinned, but she felt embarrassed, shy. In her intellect, she knew Gazelle had given her literally everything: fealty, loyalty, her body, even her soul. In her moral heart Shandy knew she had to give back the same. She wanted to open her heart to Gazelle, play show and tell with its contents. She knew almost nothing at all about Gazelle, and Gazelle's knowledge about her was limited to a few hours together, a comprehensive encyclopedia entry on Abi and whatever Linia saw fit to tell her. In Shandy's life, the gulf between knowing what was right and knowing what was next had never been greater.
"Linia said you liked to cook," Gazelle said.
Gazelle was attempting to change the subject. Shandy let her. "Linia figured out that I like to put stuff together, get into the little details and make magic happen. You mix stuff together and it magically becomes delicious."
Gazelle nodded. "My cooking is ordinary companion cooking. Full of high-end recipes that I can follow precisely, but... nothing magical. He never noticed."
"You can learn," Shandy said. "Come on, let's make cookies."
The kitchen in the new apartment was small but well-appointed. Without chocolate chips, she fell back onto simple sugar cookies. She explained to Gazelle the magic, the little tricks of waiting to let the glutens set, of browning the butter until it was deep to pull out a soft, nutty flavor, and of using the broiler to melt the heavy, decorative crystals on top into a crisp layer that would feel fun when bitten through. Gazelle even smiled once or twice. "But that's for when we bake them. Tonight." She picked up the rolls and put them in the chiller.
"I said we had to wait for the gluten to form. That's going to be a few hours."
"Oh, I thought you meant a few minutes." Gazelle looked disappointed.
Shandy said, "If you want the best cookies, you do what you have to. That means waiting. Just like..." Her eyes glanced over the kitchen countertops. They'd worked with the habitual cleanliness Shandy's mother had drilled into her all those years, but there was still a bowl, and a nylon spatula, and still two beaters. She grabbed the spatula, the pale brown dough glinting with sugar crystals still smeared along one side. She cleared the dough onto her finger. Gazelle watched her intently, her eyes crossing as Shandy reached out with that finger to touch the other woman's lips.
Gazelle tasted the dough, closed her eyes, and sighed. "If I do as Linia said, and just remove all the numbers, and let myself think the way she does--" She sighed. "That's wonderful."
Shandy smeared the last of the cookie dough on Gazelle's lower lip. "I used too much," Shandy said, her voice quavering. "To get my own taste, I'd have to, um, uh, well..."
Gazelle's pretty pink tongue touched the residual sugared paste, then she leaned over, her knees bending a bit, to bring her to share eye-level with Shandy. "Shandy, you don't have to push this."
"Gazelle," Shandy said, with a mock dismay she barely felt, "Stop thinking you know all what's in my best interests. Just live." She grabbed Gazelle's shirt and pulled her close. For all the bravado in her words, Shandy hesitated underneath, as if between her and Gazelle waited a layer a cellophane that she had to push through to get to the other woman. They locked eyes and for a moment the cellophane grew thicker as Shandy was again hit full-force by Gazelle's beauty, a beauty which in her eyes had grown since the depurposing. Gazelle may have been terrified of the consequences of surviving her Purpose, but with her freedom had come a relaxation, a kind of ease with no longer having to hold herself in the way the bodyguard and protector of a high-powered wealthy politician might. She pulled a little harder and their lips met.
Shandy felt Gazelle's mouth against hers, warm and wet, and she knew she had made a good choice. Now was the time. Working together in the kitchen, they'd made a good team, and if they weren't yet in harmony they would learn. Her mouth slipped down along Gazelle's cheek until she was kissing Gazelle's neck and shoulders, pushing aside the fuzzy turquoise top, kissing and nibbling. Gazelle's breath was loud in her right ear, and she moved back up, kissing Gazelle's mouth again, their tongues touching, slicking and struggling against each other. Shandy giggled suddenly.
"Your..." Shandy blushed. Could she talk this way? She had just been kissing the woman. "Your tongue. It's much bigger than, well..."
"Anyone's!" Shandy said, and laughed. She could even compare Gazelle to Wynneau without feeling angry anymore. "I know, it should no matter. 'Twas just something that popped into my head when we were kissing." The sudden rush of lust had worn off. She suddenly felt serious, as if someone had suddenly handed her the gloves with which to handle the future. Her throat constricted, and what came out next was so husky she almost didn't recognize herself. "Let's talk." She led Gazelle back to the bench.
They'd had such a nice hour together, just making cookies. They sat by the window, and Shandy couldn't bring herself yet to meet Gazelle's eyes. Finally, she said, "I have to stop comparing you to her. But the one other person I have to compare you to..."
"Only one?" Gazelle said.
Shandy nodded. "Only one." She felt her expression become a small, shy smile. "I was mighty surprised when Linia told me I was only her third. I thought, given her background and all she would be so much more experienced, but no, 'twas no like that. And you're only my third."
"You'll be..." Gazelle ticked off on her fingers. "One of many women, I'm afraid."
"It was like that?" Shandy said.
"It was like that."
"I want no to compare you to Linia. And I surely want no to compare you to Wynneau." There. She'd said the name aloud. It wasn't impossible for her to speak it aloud, it just didn't feel good when she did. "Wynneau." She looked down at her hands. She was wringing them again, a bad habit to have if she was going to be using somatic control systems for the rest of her life.
Gazelle's hand covered hers, held hers gently. That hand was so pale against her skin. So beautifully different. "Tell me about Wynneau?"
"I only knew her for... two weeks. We met on a vacation to the shore. My parents took advantage of the late summertime, before the harvest was truly going, to drive Northeast to the ocean and live in a small cabin, part of a resort. 'Twas so nice. I was seventeen the last time we went, and I met Wynneau the first night we were there.
"We connected. Oh, we connected big. My Ma and Pa were thrilled to know that their daughter, their shut-in, freaky, news-reading, machine-loving child had finally found a friend who no did tease her, no did bully her." A lock of hair fell into Shandy's eyes. She blew it out of the way. "What they did no ken was that Wynneau and I had connected deep, too. By Thursday we were sneaking off to some empty conference room in the main hotel to make out."
Gazelle's skin showed blushes so nicely, and her smile made Shandy feel warm inside. She continued. "Ma caught us. By then my hands knew what Wynneau's skin felt like. We had got no much further than putting our hands under each other's blouses, but..." Shandy closed her eyes against the hurt, then opened them to stare into Gazelle's faultless emerald eyes. "Wynneau blamed me. She told her parents, and Ma, that it was my fault, that I'd seduced her, that she'd no ever have gone so far, or done such things, if no for my wicked tales about the galaxy so far away.
"My mother, I no ken if she believed her or not. But she surely blamed me for falling. For being tempted and for tempting others. She took me home, told me that what I had done was to be spoken of only between women, and sent me to Sister Rachie. She threatened to ground me, but 'twas no matter much, I had no many friends as it was anyway, but 'twas the principle of the thing. She left me my terminal, which was a blessing I suppose, because a few months later the first stories about Misuko started filtering in.
"The censors blocked everything that was really important about Misuko out. There was no word in the reports about Linia at all. No stories about Nozomi or De Ette or Nawazi. No stories about you either. I would have remembered someone so beautiful as you." Gazelle blushed harder, her cheeks twitching slightly. "Please do no cry, 'twill make this harder."
"I know," Gazelle said, her voice barely a whisper. "But I can't help it."
"But in the third story, the long one about Misuko Ffanci, they said hard that the school had robots and the first time I saw you I thought... 'twas so confusing. I thought how corrupt Hiroshi has to be if the school president has one of them watching over him." Shandy put vitriol behind the 'them.' "But 'twas no real heat to that. You were no what I had expected. All focus, and purpose, and a wee bit mechanical, but when you kept me from hurting myself, you seemed so.... nice. 'Twas no the kind of machine I understood. Somehow, I put you in the same class as Mr. Nawazi."
"I am not in Nawazi's class!" Gazelle said, eyes widening.
"Oh, I ken that now." Shandy freed one hand from the grip with Gazelle's and her own to reach up and touch Gazelle's cheek again, to try and reach through the woman somehow, to communicate on some level that she understood just how much more human and lost and alone Gazelle must have been feeling at that moment, unanchored from the only love and duty she'd understood her entire life, to convince Gazelle that Shandy was going to make this work because that was the promise she'd made, and life only meant something when you kept the promises you made.
Shandy said, "When my mother found out that I was attracted to girls, she handed me over to the church, and Sister Rachie. She told me that she had felt what I had felt, that what I had was called a 'special burden', a gift from God, and if I spent my whole life holding the burden up like she had, if I didn't fall under its extra weight, there would be a special reward for me after I moved on. Nobody knew what the reward was. Just that it had to be, for God to make so many people with temptations like mine.
"Misuko told me she ever no made the connection before, but I think having you in my life was another special burden." Gazelle's expression flickered with concern. "She said that there's a special temptation in knowing someone like you, Gazelle." She smiled. "God, But I do love your name. 'Gazelle.' It fits you so right. She said she's only once given Linia a purposeful order. Linia makes it easy to forget that she can give those kinds of instructions, and it would make Misuko miserable if she did. I ever no want to be the kind of person who does, either. Right? That future self is one I ever no want to meet."
Gazelle nodded. "Shandy, do I even deserve you?"
"Compared to Governor Moor? I'm no special at all."
"You're the woman who kept the campus from becoming a smoking ruin. You're the woman who ran toward the danger to save lives rather than run away. You're the woman who really saw Raij Mertum for the rat that he was. You're the woman Linia and Nawazi both thought important enough to embrace and encourage." Tears fell down Gazelle's cheeks. Shandy's hand returned to touch one. "You told me not to cry, but in the past weeks, I find myself crying all the time, for no reason I understand without delving deeper into my mind than I want, and I don't want. But I'm not sad. I'm not upset. I just... want to cry. I'm overwhelmed. Because you're the woman who told me I had more to give as a secondhand than I ever had as a new contract." Her eyes rose to meet Shandy's again.
"Is this too soon?" Shandy whispered.
"No," Gazelle said. "Not for me. I love you."
Shandy's hand guided Gazelle's face toward her own. Their lips touched once more, and this time their kiss melded into a gentle, communicative blessing. Shandy felt Gazelle's tongue against her own, soft and delicate and still much larger than any other she'd touched, and she wanted to know what that tongue would feel like against her sex. She wanted to know what Gazelle tasted like.
They kissed until that moment when they both knew it was time to stop. They separated, staring at one another in the late spring light streaming through the window.
Shandy pulled her orange tunic off and tossed it aside. "Do you no dare get that yet," she told Gazelle. Gazelle giggled, then pressed her lips together in certainty and pulled off her silky turquoise shift. Gazelle's breasts were small but Shandy didn't care; all she could do was drink in her first sight of the other woman's naked skin. "No bra?"
"For these?" Gazelle said, reaching up to touch herself just below the left side with her left hand. "You must be joking."
"I need mine."
"Yes, you do." Gazelle's hand reached up and cupped one of Shandy's breasts. "Heavy. Beautiful." She bent down and kissed the skin of Shandy's chest. "So beautiful."
Shandy stood up, reached out a hand, said, "Come on." Gazelle took her hand, and Shandy led them both into the bedroom. They sat on the bed together, and Shandy felt a new blush in her face as she regarded Gazelle across the distance between them. "I can no believe we're here." She turned her body towards the other woman. "I can no believe I have... you."
Gazelle didn't say anything. Instead, she leaned over and kissed Shandy's shoulder, and the two of them fell back onto the bed, Gazelle's body half-covering Shandy's, and the kissing, the kissing it went on, mouths silky against one another, growing damp, spit covering lips and faces until there was wetness everywhere on Shandy's cheeks and chin and lips, and still she kissed Gazelle. Now her body demanded more, now there wasn't enough, now they couldn't stop because Shandy's desire for this, for the attention, for the affirmation, had become a living thing in her heart and down in her sex. "Touch me, please," she said.
"'Please,'" Gazelle said. "That is the sexiest word you know."
"Please," Shandy repeated.
"Let's get fully on the bed." She and Shandy turned over and managed to pull their legs onto the mattress by some complicated convolutions of their bodies, giggling as they settled into the middle of the vast rectangle. Gazelle knelt next to Shandy, her hands on the belt of Shandy's faded, militaristic grey-green trousers, tugging them over Shandy's hips. Shandy raised herself to give Gazelle the clearance the other woman asked for, then settled back as Gazelle tossed pants and underclothes aside, leaving Shandy completely naked. Shandy blushed, embarrassed, but Gazelle's eyes were looking slowly from her feet to her head, taking in the whole sight of Sandy's heavy body. Shandy felt a hand on the inside of her knee, on her thigh, moving upward, and she gasped again, "Please."
"Maybe," Gazelle said. Shandy whimpered. Gazelle covered Shandy's mouth with her own, her hand moving with cruel deliberation up Shandy's thigh, moving outward, avoiding completely the center of Shandy's pleasure, moving upward toward her belly, her breasts. "What do you feel when I do this?" Her fingers closed on Shandy's nipple.
Shandy felt the pleasure of Gazelle's touch shoot through her like a starburst in all directions: her sex, her head, her other nipple. Her fingertips tingled, but maybe that was just a desire to get her hands on the other woman. She embraced Gazelle and stroked Gazelle's back, wanting to reach Gazelle's ass but it was out of reach, the other woman was too tall. She seemed to know what Shandy wanted, and she kept those wants out of Shandy's reach. Shandy's frustration grew in the best way possible.
Shandy couldn't just lie there, but that seemed to be what Gazelle wanted as her mouth kissed Shandy's mouth, then her shoulder, then her nipple. Shandy moaned louder as Gazelle's tongue flickered and her teeth nibbled and her mouth slid and left wetness and Shandy could not get enough. "Please," she whispered.
Gazelle's hand, the one that had been so still Shandy had missed it, began moving again, this time back downward, down in the right direction, this time going for Shandy's sex, touching her pubic hair, tickling Shandy and touching the padded mound of Shandy's sex, slipping past the thin hair into the folds of Shandy's leaking sex, wet with anticipation of Gazelle's fingers inside her. Shandy had known only a few opportunities with Linia, but she had learned that this was what she wanted, a woman touching her, loving her, telling her things about her body that she hadn't known before this day, and would need constant reminders for the rest of her life. Pleasure and want this great could not be held in the human heart for long. It leaked out under its own pressure, to be remembered only as future hunger for more, so much more. "Please."
Gazelle's fingers pressed in, parting the fleshy overlapping shields of Shandy's vulva, exposing Shandy's deeper secrets to the lead finger until contact, and Shandy arched her back momentarily in gratitude, in pleasure, in expectation as Gazelle stroked over her clit, over that intense point, over that moment when she had wanted so much.
Shandy rolled into Gazelle's body, buried her face in the taller woman's shoulder, and held on. "Please," she whispered. "More."
Gazelle's touch grew more insistent, her one finger joined by another, then another. The pleasure of their gentle, perfect rubbing against Shandy's clitoris was a growing constant, getting stronger every second, Gazelle's mouth kissed Shandy's cheeks, her neck, her forehead, and Shandy held on as Gazelle's fingers touched and circled some critical centerpoint of ecstasy. "Yes," Shandy whispered. "Oh, God, yes."
It wasn't enough for them to be this close. There had to be more. Shandy wanted to be breathing Gazelle, to be touching and tasting her, to be inside her, to get Gazelle inside of herself. This, this was all right, this she could let herself do, let herself go, let herself feel what Gazelle wanted to give her right then. That hand, those fingers, so delicate and soft, so determined and so right, circling her clitoris, pressing in on her pleasure, communicating with her. Gazelle's other hand was pinned down underneath the two of them, yet with only one she was slowly granting Shandy an ecstasy Shandy could only have imagined.
"Gazelle," she sighed. "Gazelle, Gazelle, oh... oh..." Pleasure burst behind Shandy's eyes, soared through her body, warmed her through her belly and thighs to the tips of her toes and fingers, filled her mind with a cleansing fire that left behind only Shandy, only Gazelle.
Only tears. Shandy felt herself crying and couldn't stop. She leaned into Gazelle, and felt the other woman's arms envelope her, and hold her until the tears stopped.
It took a while. "It's like you said," Shandy managed to gasp when she had voice back under her control. "It's just like you said. I'm no sad. I'm no too happy. I'm just too much."
"Oh, Shandy," Gazelle said. "Thank you."
They lay together for a while, as the day grew later and the sunlight began to fade completely through their bedroom window. Shandy let her head doze, set her mind wander as she contemplated what she'd been through. She thought of her father, and his letters, and her responses. The warm body against hers still felt unfamiliar, angles and curves and lines that she hadn't grown to know yet. There was so much to do yet. Her head still pressed against Gazelle's shoulder, she said, "Gazelle? I can no say it yet. 'Tis too soon for me." She kissed the woman on her cheek. "God, I want to. But 'tis no there yet."
Gazelle took almost a minute to reply. "I won't take it back."
Shandy couldn't help but giggle. It came as part of a sob. "We both learned a lot from her, did we no?"
"Yes. I'll wait until you're ready to say it to me. I will not pressure you. Ever." Her arms squeezed Shandy tightly. "And I will do everything I can to make every day better. As Linia taught us: for both of us."
"I believe you," Shandy said. "I do."