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“Ashes to ashes, Dust to dust…,” the voice droned on, my brain barely comprehending the unreal scenario before my swollen, red eyes, hidden by my sunglasses.
My body was leaning against Ali’s, her hands on my shoulders, steadying me as we watched the casket being lowered into the ground. The half-tab of Valium that Ali had given me before we left my condo, that morning, was helping me keep control of my nerves, preventing me from breaking down into emotional pieces.
We walked to the edge of the gravesite, both of us tossing a long-stemmed red rose down into the hole, landing on top of the casket.
Others did the same, slowly leaving the burial plot, walking towards the cars that were parked a short distance from the site.
“Goodnight, my sweet Betsy, I’m going to miss you so much,” I heard my voice say, cracking as it said it, my brain still not quite connecting to this moment in time.
An aneurysm at the young age of fifty-four had taken Betts from me, from us, from her grieving family.
“She was getting ready for work that morning,” her husband had told me between sobs at the funeral home, “and all of a sudden, she had a strange look come over her and she just collapsed; right there in our bedroom, collapsed and fell to the floor,” his cries of anguish, wrenching my heart.
The next three days following that awful morning were a blur to me.
After I regained consciousness, after Ali made sure that I was alright physically, she laid me in our bed, covering me to help quiet the shivers that had overtaken my body.
When my shaking had stopped, after she had given me a Valium for my nerves, she jumped on her own cell phone, making calls, one right after the other, and my brain not fully comprehending all of the words I was hearing as she talked to several different people that morning.
She had called one of the local power-brokers in the city, told him of the situation and thanking him, had received the use of his corporate jet to fly us back to my home that very morning.
She dressed me, grabbed our stuff and drove us back to the big house, breaking every speed limit that the City of New Orleans had along our route.
Momma Jo was already there, Ali having called her, told her of the sad event that had just crashed into my world. Momma Jo had already stuffed clothes into our bags and had them ready for us.
Momma hugged me tight to her body, her tears falling from her face onto the top of my head as she held me, comforted me to her large body.
“Oh, Miz Lynn, oh child, I’m so sorry, I wish I could make it all go away for you, child,” my crying causing my body to shake as she held me tight to her, her hands lovingly, soothingly rubbing my hair, the side of my face.
Shooing us out of the house after Ali had loaded our bags into the big car, Momma Jo waved us goodbye, standing under the portico, tears streaming down her face as Ali sped us out of the driveway.
She drove us to a small airport near Lake Ponchatrain, parking near the jet which was waiting for us.
The crew loaded our bags, Ali tossing her car keys to one of the hangar workers to park her car in the secured lot, next to the hangar.
She had also called Nat using my cell and introduced herself to Nat, explaining the situation.
Nat told her not to worry, that she’d be waiting for Ali’s phone call, letting her know which airport we’d be landing at so that she could pick us up when we arrived.
Ali knew of Nat, of course, from our conversations, and Nat’s willingness to help did not go unnoticed by Ali in that moment of sadness.
Two hours after we left New Orleans, we landed at an airport that serviced the corporate jets in my city. Nat was waiting for us at the hangar, after Ali had called and told her where to pick us up.
“Oh, Lynn, baby, I’m so, so sorry,” Nat said, hugging me tight to her body, Ali loading our bags into Nat’s car.
They introduced themselves to each other, formally, Ali gushing her thanks for pitching in at the last minute like this.
Nat shushed her thanks, saying to her that if she couldn’t be there for me in times like this, then she wasn’t much of a friend, was she?
They had decided, between themselves, that they would pick up my car from the remote lot at the International Airport where I had parked, when I left to visit Ali, a couple of weeks ago. Ali drove my car, following Nat as she drove us to our condo complex.
Both of them got me settled into my bed, the Valium that Ali had given me taking my body into much needed sleep and rest.
When I awakened a few hours later, I left my bed and walking into my kitchen, I saw Ali sitting at the counter, staring into her cup of coffee.
“Hi baby,” she said softly to me, holding her arms open to me.
I leaned into her embrace, the depth of my sadness causing my stomach to ache.
“Feel like some coffee?” she asked, as she held me tight to her, her hand softly stroking my face, my hair.
“Yeah, gaziemir escort I’d better get something into me,” I answered, pulling from her arms to sit on a stool at my counter.
She fixed me a cup, set it down in front of me, kissing me sweetly on my forehead before she sat down on her own stool, next to mine.
Allowing me to take a couple of sips, when she thought I was ready to talk, she placed her hand over mine, causing me to look from my mug of coffee to her face.
“Okay, here’s what I’ve done so far,” she began.
Alice had called my office and spoke with Teri, my lead tech; the office had already heard of Betsy’s demise and was in shock, of course, but between Ali and Teri, they worked out a plan for the next few days.
We had closed our office, on the day of the funeral, all of ‘my troops’ present to pay their respects to the matriarch of our company.
Those kids were free with their tears, wearing their sadness at Betts’ passing on their sleeves; they’ll miss ‘mom’ just as much as I will, I thought that awful afternoon when we buried her.
Teri, bless her, took over the ‘Alpha’ role in the office for the next couple of weeks, scheduling jobs, handling the calls; in short, running my business, and running it well, a fact not unnoticed by both Ali and myself..
I was certainly not in any shape to do it, that’s for damned sure. And Ali? She made several phone calls after the funeral, making changes to her scheduled meetings and such, making plans to stay with me indefinitely, to make sure that I would be safe and well.
Ali and Teri talked every day, and anything of major importance, she’d discuss with me; if it wasn’t major, Ali and Teri took care of it, whatever it was, I was totally fucking useless.
Dee, Janice, and Nat, of course, stayed in touch with me through Ali, they becoming friends with her in the process of her running my life, for now. I was to find out much later, from Dee, that they saw the deep feelings between Ali and me, and were happy for us.
In fact it was Dee who first told me, one day when she was over, while Ali was at the market picking up some groceries, that she thought that Ali and I were in love with each other.
I knew that I loved Ali, but ‘in love’? Well, that was different wasn’t it? Or, was it?
I shared Dee’s observation about us with Ali that evening, as we shared some wine on my small patio. She listened, looking at me the whole time I blabbered on about what Dee ‘thought’.
When I fell silent, finally, she nodded her head a bit, staring into her wine glass for a bit, finally raising her eyes to look at me as she began to speak, her hand reaching to take mine in hers.
“She’s not wrong, Lynn; at least, as far as my feelings for you are concerned.”
“I am in love with you, Lynn,” squeezing my hand softly.
“I knew it the moment I saw you coming off the plane, when I saw you walking up the concourse towards me. My heart jumped into my throat at the sight of you,” her eyes welling with tears now, “and when I held you in my arms, in that moment, I knew; I knew that I was in love with you.”
My own eyes began to tear up as I gazed into Ali’s face; it was then I knew what that ‘feeling’ was in the pit of my stomach when I saw her that day, I knew exactly what was causing me to feel the flutters when I kissed her, when I made love with her, when I was standing in the same room with her.
I was in love with her, too. I was in love with another woman.
And I’ve never felt better about anything in my life as I did about that.
“I love you, too, Ali; I am in love with you, too,” I said, tears streaming down my cheeks.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do about it, but I do know that I don’t want you to be out of my life now, or ever.”
“Baby, I don’t want that, either,” kissing me sweetly on my lips, the salt of our tears from our faces, tasted by us in that kiss.
No, we didn’t make love that night; we hadn’t made love with each other since that night with Kay, in New Orleans. It had been a few weeks, by then, since either of us made love to the other, but it was alright.
It was okay with us both because of what we finally admitted to that night; it was beyond any physical love, it was way beyond that, and we were accepting of this new sense of us, of Ali and I being together.
Three weeks after we buried Betsy, I finally had the wherewithal to go into the office. Ali flew home to take care of some business but would be flying back the following Sunday, flying back to be with me, with us.
Teri and I spent the first two days of my return, bringing me up to speed; Teri had become a force in her own right, firmly taking control of the business, keeping our ‘face’ before the clients in a very professional manner.
I was impressed; so much so, that I rewarded her take charge attitude with a hefty bump in pay, a very hefty bump that I told her about that night when I took her to dinner in celebration karabağlar escort of her promotion.
Oh yeah, that; I made her Operations Manager, a move that was received very well by my crew, by her former ‘peers’.
“Baby, I miss you so fucking much,” Ali was saying to me as we talked that night by phone.
We talked every night since she returned home and, several times a day, most days.
“Me too, Ali, I can’t wait for you to return,” I said to her, “I’m ready now, I’m ready to make love to you again, and I can’t wait.”
It took me those few weeks since Betsy’s passing for me to let the grieving process recede from my consciousness, a few weeks before I began to feel normal again.
And I was ready to move on with my life, ready to become a part of society again. It’s what Betsy would have wanted; I knew this and I did so.
Sunday finally arrived and when she cleared the concourse, she ran into my arms, our hug and kissing causing people to go around us as if we were a rock in a stream, the waters parting to flow around us.
There were some looks; looks of distaste at the two of us as we unashamedly embraced and kissed, but we didn’t fucking care one whit about that.
I broke several speed limits as I rushed us to the condo, leaving her bags in my car as we rushed into my place, tearing at each other’s clothes as soon as I had closed the door from my garage.
I took her into my arms, pressing her against the countertop, my hand hungrily invading her sex, the wetness of her pussy, soaking my hand and fingers.
Our lips were mashed together, our bodies trying to become one as we embraced, my fingers furiously fucking her.
Her moans of contentment became a scream of orgasmic release, the intensity causing her knees to weaken, to slowly sink to the floor, taking me down with her.
She took me there, on the floor of my dining room, her tongue feeling a mile long as she explored my sex, as her hands squeezed my breasts and nipples, turning them red with pinch marks.
I felt her tongue as its tip slid across the wet skin between my ass and pussy as she gave my crack long licks and, unexpectedly, I felt Ali’s finger enter my asshole as her tongue slipped into my pussy.
The orgasm that overtook me was as intense as any I’ve ever had; causing sparks to flash behind my closed eyelids.
It wasn’t until around eight that night that we came up for air and a bite to eat, both of us having had our fires sated from the prolonged absence of sex between us.
We stayed naked, after we had showered, neither of us tiring of looking at the other’s body as we fixed a light supper for ourselves.
Sitting at the dining table, we held hands as we ate and shared a bottle of wine with dinner.
“I love you, baby,” she cooed, “I love you more than I thought it possible to love another.”
“You’re preaching to the choir, Ali, you’re telling me what I feel about you as well.”
After dinner, we put on a couple of short wraps and took our wine to the patio, night now having fallen.
“Any ideas about what or how we’re going to handle this thing we have between us?” she asked.
“Hadn’t thought that far ahead yet,” I said, chuckling a bit, “I’m still in the ‘wow’ stage of this thing; why? Have you?”
“Yes, I have and I have a few ideas I’d like to run by you sometime,” she answered, her beautiful eyes looking at me with a sense of love that I’ve never known from anyone, man or woman.
“No time like the present,” I said, feeling so happy inside.
“Okay, sit back and hear me out; don’t react, don’t interrupt, don’t say anything until I’ve finished. Okay? Promise me?”
“Okay; I promise you,” wondering what it was that she had already worked out for us.
She looked at me seriously, took in a deep breath, as if gathering her nerve; exhaling, she began outlining her plan.
“In my ‘perfect’ world, you would move to New Orleans, to live with me and we would pursue our passion, our art.”
“I would return to painting, something I have a talent for, something I enjoy doing.”
“You would concentrate on your photography, refining your ‘eye’, becoming the photographer you’ve said that you’ve always wanted to be, but didn’t have the time to work at.”
“You would turn over the day to day operations of your business to Teri; God knows she’s proven herself capable of taking charge and running your business.”
“You’d return for a week, once a month, to keep your face in front of your clients, to keep your presence with your business.”
“You’d keep the condo as your base for whenever you had to return for your business; for us, for whenever we came back here, together.”
“We would explore life together, traveling, making whatever time we have left on this earth-and at our ages, it should be a long life for us both-precious to the both of us.”
“In time, we’d open a gallery for new artists, including photographers, kemalpaşa escort and become movers and shakers of some sort within the Artisan Community of New Orleans.”
“We’d grow old together, as our love for each other kept us young at heart.”
“We would be together, and that, above all, is what’s important to me,” she ended, taking another breath now that her soliloquy was finished.
We looked at each other, Ali waiting for me to say something, to say anything in response.
For my part, I was quickly processing the big picture of everything she had said; could it work?
Would it work? I wondered, in my mind.
On the surface, I liked what I heard from Ali, and in truth, I had toyed with similar ideas in my own head these past few weeks as I wondered how we’d keep this thing of ours alive, living apart as we did now.
“Lynn?” she said, softly, “Lynn, you can speak now if you’d like. You can tell me what you think of my cockamamie ideas. You hate it, I know it, I knew I should have thought this out a bit more,” her eyes welling with tears.
“Be quiet, Ali, I don’t hate it,” I said to her, reaching to take her hand in mine, “I don’t hate it at all.”
She just stared at me, listening for me to say something more, her hand squeezing mine, her hand shaking a bit, with nervousness I supposed.
“Do you really think that we could make it work? Do you really feel that what we are feeling, now, is not going to go away?”
“Tell me that, Ali, tell me that you’d be in this for the long haul with me; not just for a while, not just because of the sex between us, tell me that, Ali, tell me that, baby.”
“If I could, if we could, Lynn, I’d marry you today; I’d promise to be a part of your life, forever,” tears falling from the corners of her eyes, but her lips smiling at me.
“It wouldn’t be legal but ask me to take an oath, to pledge my love to you, for you and I’ll do it; right now, if you’d like,” Ali said softly, her voice catching in her throat from her emotions.
Rising, pulling her to stand along with me, I took her into my arms, embraced her to my body, my hand wiping the tears from her eyes, and kissing her sweetly afterwards.
“You just did all of that, baby, you’ve just answered me,” accepting her kisses to me.
“I do love you so much,” she said, our heads against each other’s, “I can’t bear to think of being separated from you.”
“I love you, too, baby, I love you too,” I said, leading her back into the condo, back to our bed, where we made sweet, sweet love to one another long into that gorgeous night.
My life would never be the same, I thought, and I wasn’t sad at that at all.
The next few days, Ali and I talked it all out, looked at ‘the plan’ from every different angle that we could fathom; at the end of it all, it sounded better and better to me and I committed to move forward with our plan.
Ali cried tears of joy when I fully committed myself to doing this.
I asked Teri, the next day, to make plans for dinner with Ali and me, that we had something to discuss with her.
She said that it’d be no problem for her, “seeing how I have no fucking love life anymore,” she joked with me.
We made the date for the next evening.
Teri was my first full time techie when I started my business and the second employee, behind Betts. She was my age, thirty-one, held a Masters in business administration, and a BS in computer science.
She ran the crew with an iron hand, but encased in a velvet glove. She was a good ‘soul’, and I’ve always liked her as a person, not just an employee.
I suspected that she might be gay before I discovered women, and since then, I was convinced of it.
Certainly, it’s not a problem for me, especially these days.
“Teri, here it is in a nutshell,” I said to her, after the wine had been poured.
I laid it all out for her, the complete plan that Ali and I had worked out. Ali answered questions when Teri asked her a couple but otherwise, stayed silent.
This was, after all, my business and livelihood that was ‘on the table’, so to speak.
“Now I know you’ll want some time to think…”
“I’ll do it,” Teri said, interrupting me.
Blinking, “You’ll do it?”
“I’ll do it, and I appreciate the opportunity that you’ve offered to me; I will not let you down, Lynn, I swear to God, I will not fail you, or the company,” she said, her eyes just a tad moist.
Saving the best for last, because I knew, in my heart, that Teri would take on the challenge.
“Well, you better not fail the company, kiddo, because you now own twenty percent of it.”
Teri’s mouth dropped open in shock, as did Ali’s; I hadn’t told Ali of my plan to give Teri a piece of the ownership.
I take that back; I gave Teri nothing. She was rewarded with an ownership stake because she had demonstrated her loyalty and abilities too many times over the past seven years to me.
She earned it, in the trenches, on weekends, on holidays.
It wasn’t a gift; it was a just reward.
And if I want someone to run my business for me, I want that someone to have a stake in the results of the job.
The next few weeks were crazy with lawyers, accountants, investment brokers, yada, yada. Fucking crazy, insane.
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