Salt , Vinegar Ch. 04

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This is the final instalment in the Salt & Vinegar series. It’s also a bit longer, so settle in.

While the other chapters are stand-alone stories, this one ties together many of the threads from the previous three. I suggest reading them first if you haven’t done so already.

Thanks to Warrior_Wolf once again for her valuable editing work.




My mobile rang; Beth again. I was going to have to put a stop to this. I’d let it go too far.

We’d made progress on Saturday night and I should have let it go at that. But, you know me; a sucker for pussy.

I’d seen her again on Monday night. And on Wednesday. I was afraid she was forming an attachment, replacing me for Stacy. Oh, the sex was great. It was just for all the wrong reasons.

I’d been thinking clearly enough when I’d been with her on Saturday night. Jus had helped keep me in check too. But I think I enjoyed the chance to be fully in control again. To have someone submit completely and utterly to me. To enjoy the feeling of power and domination.

It’s funny you know. I’m not like that with Jus. I can be rough and brutal, but it’s never domination. Well, to be more precise, she’s not submissive. She surrenders herself to me but it’s got nothing to do with submission. The stupid bitch is crazy in love with me. God knows why! I think I’ve realised though that for all that she’s selfless and puts up with so much shit from me, Jus is the one that holds the leash. How’s that for irony. And it’s why I’m feeling so fucking guilty over Beth. I sleep around all the time, but this is different. Three days in five is more than a one-night stand. Jus deserves better from me than this and Beth isn’t worth ruining the one good thing that’s happened to me, well, ever.

Scary to say, but in some ways Jus is like the mom I wish I had. Mine died of a drug overdose when I was ten. My memories are mixed, but mostly of mood swings and mania. Jus is calm, confident and strong. Her love is unconditional. Sometimes I feel like a kid in the playground, running round madly, exploring, having fun and doing whatever. And you know it’s OK ’cause Mom’s sitting on the bench over their watching out for you. You fall off the swings; there’s a hug. The play gets a bit rough; Mom steps in for you. You get hungry; Mom has the snacks. Jus is like that. Her quiet strength is my security. Her love my safety net. I play around but there’s always Jus to come home to and, with her, I know everything’s going to be alright.

A year and a half ago I would have instantly said that I’m the stronger one; I’m in charge. Now, it’s the opposite. Her quiet strength can stand against anything. She supports me. And part of me hates that I need it so badly. Really, really hates admitting my own weakness and that, at something I pride myself in – my own strength and independence – Jus is stronger and far more durable than me. And so fucking saintly as well. Damn the bitch.

Which is why, just like a kid, I push the boundaries. Test the limits. Rebel against authority. Do stupid stuff just to show that I can, that I can pretend I’m my own person and can do whatever the hell I want and damn the consequences. Just how much do you love me, Jus? Stupid bloody fool.

I was having coffee with Chrissie on Thursday morning, so I thought I’d ask Beth to join us and give her the bad news after Chrissie left. I also wanted Chrissie’s advice first. Shit, I’m getting soft. What ever happened to fuck-’em-and-leave-’em Lena? Chrissie didn’t hold back when we met either.

“What, you’re still keeping Beth on a string. Shit, girl, does Jus know?”

“No. She’s never minded before though.”

“Yeah, but this might be a little different don’t you think? Jesus, Lena. You’re going to risk Justine over some fucked-up ex of Stacy’s?!”

Which is when Beth arrived. Had she heard? Probably. But she didn’t appear offended. If anything she looked a little smug. Oh, shit, she’s taken it wrong. Now she thinks she seriously has a chance with me.

“Hi Lena, Chrissie.”

“Hey, Beth. Well, who wants a coffee?” I said, slightly too brightly.

“No way Lena, I’m ordering. You always stuff it up. What do you want Beth? I know what Lena has.”

“Skinny cappuccino for me please.”

Chrissie got up and went inside to order. I took a deep breath.

I turned to Beth, placing a hand gently on her knee. This was as good a time as any. Well, maybe not, but I had to make a start. This wasn’t going to get any easier. Unfortunately, Beth misread it again. She glanced down at my hand then looked up with a shy smile before throwing her arms around my neck and giving me a kiss. I was surprised for a moment before I disengaged myself. Chrissie was glaring at me from the counter. Shit. This wasn’t going to plan at all.

“Listen, Beth, we need to talk.”

She looked at me expectantly.

“When Justine and I helped you out on Saturday night, that’s all it was. You looked like you needed a hand in taking an objective Avrupalı porno look at your relationship with Stacy. What you did with that was up to you.”

“But didn’t you like being with me? Didn’t I do everything right?”


“Yes, but you don’t want to replace Stacy with me.”

“You’re a lot nicer than Stacy. Strong, but nice. You take care of me.”

Double shit. Hurry the fuck up with those damn coffees Chrissie!

“Do you know why Stacy hates me so much, Beth?”

“No. She’s mentioned it, but not why.”

“I trained Stacy, Beth. Stacy is what she is because of me. And I’m twice the bitch that she is. Didn’t know that did you?”

“Um, no.”

Well, Lena, here goes nothing. I put on my ‘evil witch’ face. The one Justine hates. The cold sneer that she says hardens my face and takes all the humanity out of it.

“Well, you don’t know me very well, bitch, do you? You want to be with me? Stacy is like Barbie compared to me. Stacy hurts people; I fucking break them. Then toss ’em away.”

I picked up one of the coffee stirrers from the caddy on the table and snapped it for emphasis. One half flicked towards Beth and landed in her lap. Hah! Beth’s eyes were wide and her face paled.

“Now you’ve got a choice. You’ve left Stacy and we’ve had a bit of fun. But playtime’s over and it’s time to move on. Find someone who’ll look after you right. That someone is most definitely not me, and it’s not Justine either. Clear?”

“Um, yeah. Very.”

Beth’s eyes had teared up. Bloody hell, Chrissie could you take any fucking longer! I just ditch people ’cause I hate this bit. I wouldn’t be a cold-hearted bitch if I could do this ‘let’s just be friends’ thing well! I handed Beth a napkin from the caddy on the table. Wow, sensitive me.

Chrissie returned and sank back into her chair.

“Bloody trainees. Stuff up the simplest order.”

‘You done?’ she mouthed silently at me. Beth was dabbing at her eyes. What, she’d seen the whole thing and had played it out to give me time? Bitch! She could have helped instead.

“Excuse me for a moment.”

Beth gestured vaguely inside and we got the message that she needed some space. The restroom’s such a great excuse for us girls.

“Sure. Hopefully they’ll have brought our coffees by the time you’re back.”

“You did OK, Lena”, said Chrissie after Beth had gone.

“What! You heard what I said?” I was suddenly worried that the whole cafe had witnessed the conversation.

“No, idiot. But I was watching and I figured out what you were doing. You’re timing’s absolutely shit but it seemed as though you handled it OK.”

“Gee, thanks”, I said sarcastically.

“You’re welcome.”

“It’s still easier to fuck ’em and leave ’em”, I muttered.

“Yeah I know honey; but you’re growing up. Justine would be proud of you.”

“What are you now, Chrissie? My fucking Mom?”

Chrissie laughed. The waitress gave us a curious look as she delivered our coffees.

Beth returned. She looked slightly brighter – if still a bit red around the eyes – and the next fifteen minutes went pretty smoothly as we chatted and drank coffee. Beth squeezed my hand and said thanks as she left. She’d be alright. Chrissie hugged me and then left too, saying she had a few other friends to meet. I sat back down, just enjoying the feeling that everything was turning out OK. Strange how life goes sometimes. I wondered if Justine’s day was going as well as mine.



It was an odd sort of day. One of those ones which have good bits and bad bits and nothing turns out like you expect.

Overall, the week had been OK, but last week’s effort had taken its toll. Everyone at work was tired and tempers were thin. We’d met a few critical milestones and the client was happy, but winning a battle isn’t the same as winning the war and the project was only half complete. It’s hard to maintain the energy and stay focused for such a long period.

So here I was pounding the pavement to drop some stuff off to the client because the account manager was off sick. I did my best to be polite and personable and was surprised when Sean asked if I was in a rush to get back and could he speak to me privately.

“I’m really glad you dropped this over today, Justine, because I’d been hoping to have a word with you.”

“Sure, how can we help, Sean?”

“No, nothing to do with the project. Well, not really. You know, of course, that we’re really pleased with how it’s shaping up. We also know that it’s largely due to your contribution. Oh, I know it’s a team collaboration and all that, but your coding and structure is what makes it so solid. Ideas are nothing without effective techs to back them up. We’ve been looking for a Programming Director for a while and the word is that you perform consistently like this on every project you’ve worked on, including rescuing a few marginal ones. You also get the best out of your people. That Video porno combination’s rare and we could certainly use your talent. So, you interested?”

Wow, that was unexpected.

“Yeah, sure. Thanks. Would you mind if we talked after this project’s complete? I think the change would affect our team dynamic and the outcome may not benefit either you or us.”

“Absolutely. Your loyalty and team ethic are a credit to you and part of the reason we want you with us. Let me know when you’re ready. Here’s my card.”

I left their office feeling elated. And then it started to rain. Typical.

I dashed for a cab and glanced across the street. I saw Lena sitting in one of the cafes and thought about joining her. Then I recognized Chrissie and Beth sitting with her. As I watched, Chrissie got up and walked inside. Lena kissed Beth and they were suddenly all over each other. What the hell?

“Hey lady! You want a ride or what?”

“Yeah, sorry. Downtown thanks.”

So what was that all about? I thought Lena had controlled herself pretty well on Saturday night, but had I been mistaken? Had the experience got to her more than she was letting on? Worse, had she enjoyed the domination so much she couldn’t help herself? I could be wrong, but this looked a bit different from her usual one-night flings. I wasn’t going to like it, but I needed to ask her.

The rest of the day passed slowly. I couldn’t really concentrate on much for thinking about Lena and Beth. And what did Chrissie being there mean? Did she know? Did she sanction it, even? If Chrissie knew, then how many other people knew as well? No secrets with Chrissie.

I left early and drove home through more rain. I paused at the door to our apartment and took a deep breath. Was Lena home? Only one way to find out …



I was flicking idly through one of my photographic journals when I heard the door latch click. Jus walked in and collapsed on the couch.

“How was your day?” she asked, giving me a kiss on the cheek and curling up to next to me.

“Interesting. Yours?”

“Same. I had a job offer from the firm we’re doing this project for. I’m tempted. The money’d be brilliant.”

“Then fucking take it. Glad to see other people recognise my girl’s talent.”

“Thanks. By the way, I saw you with Beth today at the cafe.”

I stiffened and I knew she felt it.

“You and she looked pretty cosy. Everything OK with you?” Jus asked, with a slight frown creasing her brow.

I reacted badly. First Chrissie, now Justine. They were bloody right, of course. It probably wouldn’t have bothered me except, for once, I’d actually done the right thing and I’d felt pretty good about it. Telling Justine how I’d fixed it would also involve admitting that she was right and I had crossed the line. I still felt bad about that. My bloody stupid pride fired up.

“So? I fucked her in front of you on Saturday night. I boned her again on Monday and fucked her again yesterday. What’s your fucking problem, Jus? You know I sleep around.”

She looked at me steadily for a long moment before answering in a carefully moderate voice.

“It’s you I’m worried about, babe. After what you told me about you and Stacy on Saturday night and how you asked me to keep a check on you with Beth, I want to know you’re OK and in control.”

I was in control in relation to Beth. More than she knew if I could only admit it. What I wasn’t in control of, I suddenly realised, was my relationship with Justine. For so long I’d been used to being the dominant partner in my relationships. I held the power, I dictated the terms, I decided how long it lasted and when and how it ended. I’d enjoyed the thing with Beth so much because I’d felt my old self again and I now knew it was because I’d been subconsciously frustrated and afraid of my lack of ‘control’ over Justine. I couldn’t intimidate her. Oh, I treated her like everyone else – in other words, bloody badly – but her love for me somehow neutralized it.

Jus wasn’t naive or anything; my bitchiness just had no effect on her. She knew what I was and loved me anyway. She returned my abuse with selfless care, which made it even worse. If she’d complained or berated me, it probably would have been OK because I knew I deserved it. What I couldn’t handle was her quiet acceptance of my flaws. Her generosity demanded better of me but it was easier to pretend it was actually OK and that I could indulge myself however and whenever I wanted without consequences. At least I’d been considerate enough to keep my casual flings reasonably private, but I’d definitely crossed the line with Beth. It’d been much more than a once-off. And I’d made it public. And now I was rubbing Justine’s face in it. My guilt made me worse.

“What, you don’t think I can handle myself over a piss-weak bitch like Beth? For God’s sake Jus, get over it, I’ve told you I’m fucking finished with her!”

“No, you hadn’t. What I saw today suggests you haven’t either.”

“Well, fuck you! You knew what you were getting when you signed on for this. I’ll fuck whoever I want whenever I want. Doesn’t mean anything. Now get over it, bitch and come to bed so I can fuck some sense back into you!”

Justine’s face went white and her eyes went wide. That she didn’t even raise her voice was a really bad sign. Shit, Lena you’re an absolute bitch.

“I’m not ready for bed yet. I need a bit of air. Think I’ll just take a walk. Don’t wait up.”

She turned and walked back to the door, grabbing an anorak. Was it wet out? Hell, I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I was incandescent with rage, more with myself than Justine, but how could I expect her to see that?

“That’s right, walk away”, I screamed after her as I heard the door open. “You can’t escape shit by running away from it you fucking dumb bitch!”



I held it together until I closed the door, then tears flooded down my face.

“Justine, what the hell … Are you OK?”

I looked up blearily to see John, who has the apartment across the hall, frozen in the act of turning his key. He’d obviously heard Lena and the outcome was pretty obvious. I quickly brushed past him and down the stairway with a non-committal wave which I hoped he interpreted as ‘yeah’. I didn’t trust myself to speak.

I stumbled out onto the sidewalk, shrugging on my anorak. It was still raining. A dull, monotonous drizzle, not enough to be useful but enough to soak anyone caught in it. It felt like the night knew my mood and was crying with me. At least no one could tell the difference between nature’s misery and mine in the wetness on my face. But I knew; my tears were bitter.

I walked blindly, consumed by a broken kaleidoscope of thoughts and emotions. I hardly registered, the lights, the sounds and the smells of the city in the early evening. I stumbled along sidewalks, pushed through crowds, crossed streets completely on autopilot. I had no idea where I was going and didn’t care. I just walked. In part, Lena was right. I was running away. That’s what makes her cutting remarks so effective when she’s being a bitch. There’s always an element of truth which hones the edge of her words. Tonight, they cut like a butcher’s cleaver. Solid, sharp and deep.

A part of me knew that her reaction wasn’t rational and that something else was going on. Most of me didn’t care because it was too numb to be that generous. I wallowed in self-pity. Why did I deserve this? I wasn’t the one that slept around. How come I get abused when I’m always faithful? Why do I have to be the one that deals with all her shit? God, why doesn’t she love me as much as I do her? What more can I give her?

I cried myself out and my thoughts turned to ‘what next?’ Realistically, was this going to work? I knew that almost a year and a half was a record – by a very long margin – for any sort of relationship with Lena. But could I keep this up? Could I keep absorbing the emotional damage? Being with Lena was sometimes like dating a supernova. Bloody spectacular until you got incinerated. It didn’t matter that I loved her. I wasn’t sure that I could survive her much longer. Was it better to end it now for her sake as well as mine, while I still had wonderful memories fresh enough in my heart to counteract the acid of our parting?

But I wasn’t sure that I could just walk away. Call me a fool, but I loved the girl too much. I knew what breaking up would mean to her. For all her seeming strength, she was emotionally very vulnerable and I shuddered to think what her wild rebound would look like. Forget train wreck, supernova was probably more accurate there too. There was a strong possibility she’d kill herself in the process, either deliberately or by accident. Apart from me, I didn’t know anyone in our circle of friends who would be able to be an effective brake for her. Could I live with that on my conscience?

A screech of brakes, a loud horn and the smell of rubber suddenly brought me back to the present. I was standing halfway across an intersection with a warm radiator grill a foot away from me. Cars sped past either side. Somehow I staggered back to the sidewalk with the driver’s abuse echoing in my ear.

“Stupid fool girl, don’t you know when to walk!”

I clutched a pole, trembling from shock and breathing heavily. Through the rainy mist I looked up to see the red flashing pedestrian signal on the opposite sidewalk. Didn’t I know when to walk? Didn’t I know when to walk! It was like a sign. Lena was wrong. Facing reality and choosing when to walk is not running away. It’s just plain sensible.

I’d decided what to do. I’d go back to our apartment, sleep on the couch and talk with her in the morning. I’d sign the lease on my apartment over to her with a few months rent paid in advance to help her get back on her feet. That bit of security might be enough. It would have to do. Lena was an adult; she could learn to cope the same as the rest of us. Or not. After all, she had choices too and they were hers to make, not mine. With my savings and the new job, I could find a new place readily enough. New place, new job, new life. Sans Lena. Deep breath, Jus, you know you have to do this.

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