“…kissing Kathy is like kissing her for the first time and the millionth time, new and yet familiar, fresh and yet filled with the memories of every kiss we’ve shared. Before I fall into the mindless spiral of desire, though, I realize something. What’s important isn’t the future, isn’t the possible forgetting. What’s important is right now, this moment, glorying in everything that it is with no other goal than mutual pleasure.” – Andrea Dale, "Sepia Showers"
Love, passion, desire…the pleasure that begins with the thrill of the first date, the breathless anticipation of the first kiss, and the euphoric wonder of the first night of passion only deepens as love grows. These stories of lesbian couples celebrating their lives and desire from some of the best romance and erotica writers today are heartfelt and best of all, hot!
Some things really do get better with time…come discover the never-ending passion of lesbian love and desire in these tales of Love So Bright!
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LOVE BURNS BRIGHT
A LIFETIME OF LESBIAN ROMANCE
Cleis Press, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Radclyffe
All rights reserved.
FOREVER YOURS, EILEEN
I'm sitting in a Manhattan diner with my grandson June. He's named after me and right now he's driving me nuts. I would have come alone, but I'm waiting for Eileen. It's been fifteen years since we've seen each other, so yes, I'm nervous. Juney offered to be my support today. I wanted to turn him down, but his chatter is distracting me. He came out to me when he was very young. We helped each other, I like to think. He's the right person to have by my side.
He reaches across the table toward the stack of envelopes I've tucked under my arm. I smack his fingers away.
"Ow, Grandma!" He laughs, though.
"You know better than to get all grabby."
"I can't believe you save all of these letters."
It was Mama's idea initially. Keep all the letters, and one day when we're old ladies, we can laugh about them. I'm too anxious to laugh now.
I shrug and gaze out the diner window. I think about the pages and pages I have in my hands, and there's not a second thought about having a choice in the matter. God wanted me to keep the letters. The letters are what got us here.
"Can I please read one?" June asks.
"Fine, but don't rip it." I reach down to the bottom and pull out the first envelope. There's two letters tucked inside, the first letter I ever wrote to Eileen, and the first letter she ever wrote back.
It's April 1956, and we're driving away from our home. Mama and Daddy fought for weeks over selling the farm. It was the first piece of anything Granddaddy ever owned. Mama was born in that house, but as Daddy has said a whole heap of times, "The South ain't what it should be, and it's time for us to go." Mama's upset because Grandma won't come with us. She's too old for the Klan to bother her, she says. She moves in with our uncle, who says he's not scared enough to walk away from his job in Jackson. Daddy calls him a fool, but he understands. My uncle doesn't have any sons.
I'm only nine, and even though I understand why we're leaving, I cry all the way to Tennessee. Later, after I have three sons of my own I'm finally able to wrap my mind around my parents' decision. You do what you have to do for your children. Daddy can fight for himself, but he doesn't trust his boys in the hands of Jim Crow. All the same, I cry with my head on Fredrick's shoulder all the way across the state line. I already miss Grandma and our dog Mickey. Mr. Hammond bought him with the farm because he's good at chasing small creatures that like to tear up the garden. Most of all, I miss Eileen.
She's my best friend in the world. We met when we were knee-high in Sunday school, and our mamas would joke that it would take the hand of god to pull us little devils apart. The hand of god or my daddy's determination. Mama said I could write Eileen letters. It would be a great way for me to work on my spelling and my penmanship. Plus I'd have my very own pen pal. And that's what I did. The minute we got to Brooklyn I wrote Eileen a letter, not caring a lick about my penmanship.
Dear Eileen, I hate it here. The people are weird. There's no grass and everything smells like gasoline and poop.
My grandson looks up from the paper. He's about to crumple with laughter. "Brooklyn smelled like poop in the fifties?"
"When you're used to fresh air everything in the city smells like poop. Do you want to read the letter or do you want to make fun of me?"
He laughs again. "Sorry. I'll be good."
It takes forever for me to hear back from Eileen, but her first letter is the first bright spot in our move. We come all this way and Fredrick gets beat up on his first day of school. George gets mussed up trying to help him. It takes Daddy forever to find work. Almost four months go by with the five of us living in my cousin's living room. Mama is cleaning rooms at this lousy hotel. She's exhausted every time she comes home, but she's always looking on the bright side. We finally get our own place, and the last day I'm helping Mama pack up our things, the mailman brings Eileen's letter.
Dear Juney, Sorry it took me so long to write back. I was waiting for something juicy to happen so I'd have some news. Nothing happened. Mama said you all were smart to leave. I asked her if we could move to Brooklyn too even though you said it was bad, but she said no.
* * *
"I can't handle how adorable this letter is," my grandson says.
I shrug again. "We were adorable kids."
"Are you nervous?"
"Well, you look fly, Grandma."
I glance down at my leather jacket and my matching boots. June helped pick out my jeans. He keeps me young. Finally I smile. "Thanks, baby."
"Let me read one more." I fish out the last letter I sent in junior high school. After that Eileen and I both start to mature, and there's things your grandchild doesn't need to know.
I write to her about Mrs. Stein and how she's invited me to take her ballet classes. Mama is wary at first, but after Mrs. Stein explains that her dream of dancing again is what got her through the war, Mama knows I'm in good hands. I hear people aren't so happy about her teaching mixed classes, but no one tries to stop her. I tell Eileen everything I'm learning, all the French terms. I promise I'll show her if we get to see each other again. When she writes back, she promises we will.
She writes me about the etiquette classes they started offering at the church and how her mama is making her go after she caught Eileen wiping her hands on the back of her sister's dress.
Our junior year in high school, Eileen writes me about her first boyfriend. Mama won't let me date. Some of my friends at school have steadies, but I think they are all jokers and my friends are silly for mooning over them. I want to think that maybe Eileen will shed some light on the appeal of liking a boy, but as I read her letter I find something other than curiosity rising in my mind.
It's a strange thing, Juney. I thought it would be different. Clara Winston and her boyfriend are always pawing at each other, but Harry doesn't want to neck or anything. He's going to college in the fall and he wants to be a doctor. I asked why he's not trying to get in my pants, and he said a gentleman waits until he's married. How sweet is that? I think that's why I like him. He's smart and he's going places and he listens to me when I talk. It's not a game of grabby hands when we're together. We did kiss, though. It was nice.
She sounds happy in the letter, and I'm happy for her, but later when I reread those particular pages I realize how jealous I was. I wait a while before I write back. I tell Mama about Eileen's boyfriend. She assures me it won't last. "It's just young love, Juney. He'll move on when he goes off to school."
"But you and Daddy met when you were young," I remind her.
"And I was the only girl around who wasn't bucktoothed or his cousin." She's teasing to make me feel better. When I finally answer Eileen's letter, I ask an obnoxious number of questions about Harry. When she writes back she tells me she's sorry for talking about him so much. I think she means it.
After a time, I finally see Eileen again. I've finished my third year at SUNY and she's finished her third year at Spelman. The government's just sent Fredrick's body back to us from Vietnam. Mama's a mess and she makes George promise he'll dodge if his number comes up. Daddy doesn't argue. I do what I can to hold it together, but I fall apart when I call Eileen. I can't wait for her reply in a letter. She lets me sob in her ear for as long as Daddy will let me be on the phone.
I come unhinged again when she shows up with her daddy at the funeral. She holds my hand the whole time, and I think that's the moment I realize I love her. I can't put it into words yet, but the warmth of her fingers is the first real comfort I've felt since we left Mississippi. I don't want her to leave, but of course she does. Her daddy can only miss so much work.
The following Christmas, Harry proposes to her. She calls me. I convince her that I'm happy for them. We all go down for the wedding that spring. Fredrick's with us too because a year later the war is still going strong and the cloud of his death hasn't lifted. Eileen looks beautiful. I can't keep my eyes off her, and I let the joy of seeing her and the comfort of being home get me through the day. I'm cordial to Harry, genuinely grateful that he does seem like a nice man. On the trip back to New York, I cry again. I tell Mama I miss Fred.
Back in Brooklyn I quickly find that I make a good secretary, but I make an even better dancer. I ask Mrs. Rosenbaum, Mrs. Stein's daughter, if she'll let me teach a class at her studio. She says yes. I meet Walter on the bus one night on my way back from class. He's new to the city from Boston. He likes that I still have traces of my accent. He walks me all the way home one night and many more nights after. He asks Daddy if he can marry me. I beg Daddy to say yes, not because I love Walter, but because I know I'm supposed to. Daddy says yes.
I call Eileen to tell her the news. She tells me she's pregnant. I think we both pretend to be happy for each other. We keep writing to each other. I actually find that her pregnancy mends things I didn't realize were broken. She focuses on the baby now and not Harry or her church friends. I like hearing about her joys and her fears of being a mother. She's too far along to come to our wedding, but I send her a few pictures and she sends us pictures of her baby girl.
After that, our kids are all we talk about.
* * *
It's not a particular movement on the street that catches my eye, it's Eileen. I'd see her anywhere. At any distance, in any crowd. She passes by the window, her daughter and two grandkids in tow. The bell rings on the diner door and I spring to my feet. The introductions are a blur except for the one moment Sandra looks at me. She hates me. Eileen's told me in her letters that she's taken the news the hardest. You'd think it was me that killed her father and not the heart attack.
Even though her upbringing keeps her from saying so, she wishes her mother were anywhere but in this diner with me. It's written all over her face. Still she smiles at June and half smiles at me. I smile back and keep from laying out the truth she doesn't want to hear. I've waited nearly fifty years to be with her mother again. Her attitude is not going to keep us apart.
"Mom, are you settled?" Sandra finally says.
Eileen looks at me with an anxious smile. "Yeah. You kids go on. I'll see you back at the hotel."
Sandra says okay before she turns to June. "We have an extra ticket to The Lion King—"
"Just in case these two chickened out?"
I call on all of Jesus to keep from smacking the boy in the back of the head.
Sandra and her kids all chuckle at his joke. "Yes. Would you like to come along?"
"Sure. I know some people. Maybe I can get you backstage." With that June sweeps them out the door with his charm. Sandra glances back one more time before they disappear down the street.
Eileen and I are still standing in the aisle, just looking at each other. We sit, suddenly nervous again when a waitress comes bustling by. It's been a long time. We're both older. We're both grayer, but nothing about either of us has changed.
"You look great, Juney," she finally says.
"So do you."
I ask her about her trip. She confesses that Sandra is still worried. Then she asks to see the letters. There are so many things I want to do. Making love to her being at the top of the list, but I need to give her time. I slide the stack across the table and then I wait. Our coffee comes, and then her salad. I order some fries and pie, and I watch her as she reads.
I had a feeling which letter she was looking for. I've read it over a hundred times, when I was preparing to leave Walter and on so many nights after I found myself alone in a tiny apartment, wishing I had the money to take my youngest baby with me.
It's the letter I wrote before I convinced Walter that we needed a vacation. I told him I wanted the boys to see their Southern roots. I promised him some romance near the swimming hole if it was still there. Really I want to see Eileen. She and Harry are more than happy to have us. Once we arrive and the boys are settled in chasing Eileen's girls all over her yard, and Harry's convinced Walter to play some dominos, Eileen and I set off down her road on our own.
We walk for a while. She tells me about her girls driving her crazy. I tell her about the fast hussies sniffing around my boys now that they've shot up. She gets quiet, though, after a while and then she says, "I was thinking about what you said in your letter about Walter, about it not being him."
"About men in general?"
"Yeah. I think about that sometimes too." We stop walking. I hear crickets everywhere, even the warm air moving around us as I turn to look at Eileen. She looks at the ground.
"I don't ... I don't think I have those feelings for Harry anymore."
I hear the words, but they don't make sense. I wrote that letter because I had to put those emotions somewhere before I burst. I think all women have a sense of wanting more or something different. It's in our blood, I think, but we deal with what we're dealt. I expect her to understand a little bit about feeling somewhat trapped or looking at a man after fifteen years and wondering if you can stomach fifteen more because you don't know when you'll ever get a chance to live for yourself. But that part I wrote and didn't take back about men in general? I didn't expect Eileen to understand that.
I try to play it off. "Maybe you just need to get the spark back." I say that foolish thing knowing how phony it sounds. I'm glad she doesn't give up.
"That's not what I mean, Juney. I don't think I feel that way about Harry anymore. Or anyone really. 'Cept you."
Her eyes meet mine. She's open and vulnerable, and I don't know what I'm thinking because we're out in the middle of the road, but I kiss her. The strangest part is not that I'm kissing my best friend, but that she doesn't seem shocked. She's kissing me back, guiding us sightless off the road until my back touches the rough bark of a tall pine. The scratching sensation through my shirt brings me back down to earth and I realize this kiss is real, not something I've made up in my mind. I know now that I've been kissing the wrong lips all along.
We break apart and I see that Eileen is just as scared as I am. She takes a step back and touches her lips. But that fear isn't disgust or shame. It's a realization. It's the truth.
"How do we do this?" I ask, because I know now for sure it's not Walter who I want to be with. It's not men at all.
"I don't think we can."
My heart sinks, but I understand how she feels. It's more than this feeling between us. It's our babies. It's these two men who've given us everything. Walter who's worked so we can afford for me to teach dance for next to nothing, and Harry who allows Eileen to stay home with the girls. It's friends and family. For Eileen it's church and community. How do we turn our backs on that?
I grab her and kiss her again. It's a final kiss. At least it is for a time. I know this is not our fairy-tale ending, that we won't get to experience that life, but I kiss her so she knows without a doubt how I feel. When I'm hundreds of miles away it's her I'll be thinking about. I kiss her again so I can remember how kissing is supposed to feel in your toes, in your gut. I want to remember the fireworks her lips set off between my legs. She moans and I know she feels it too. A truck rumbles on the gravel a ways down the road and we jump apart. It's just a neighbor, Eileen explains as the man drives by. He waves and we wave back and then we head back toward home.
It's a long time before I write Eileen again. I didn't know what to say. That kiss broke something in me, for better or for worse. I can't look at Walter the same. Every intimate moment we have, it's thoughts of Eileen that help me finish. Everything in my life is a lie.
Her next letter is the one that changes everything. The paper is nearly falling apart, I've read it so many times. It's short, but it says everything I need to hear.
Dear Juney, I love you. I'm putting on a brave face for Harry and the kids, but I'm thinking of you all the time. I can't leave him. He's innocent in all this, and it feels wrong to just toss him aside because of feelings I can't control, and I have to think about the kids too, but I do love you. My heart is yours, Eileen
* * *
Eileen looks up from the pages.
"I wrote this while Cole was napping. Woke her up and we went right to the post office."
Excerpted from LOVE BURNS BRIGHT by Radclyffe. Copyright © 2013 Radclyffe. Excerpted by permission of Cleis Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction Radclyffe, vii,
Forever Yours, Eileen Rebekah Weatherspoon, 1,
A Story about Sarah Cheyenne Blue, 16,
Waiting for the Harvest Sommer Marsden, 24,
Sepia Showers Andrea Dale, 32,
Palabras Anna Meadows, 41,
Good Girls Gone Bad Larkin Rose, 47,
My Sweetest Noelle Rebekah Weatherspoon, 57,
The Portrait D. Jackson Leigh, 69,
Heartfirst Kiki DeLovely, 83,
Darrell Jay Lawrence, 90,
Cooling Down, Heating Up Dena Hankins, 98,
Phone Call Away Derek Shannon, 110,
Ravens Rachel Randall, 117,
The Way to a Woman's Heart Catherine Paulssen, 129,
Ripples in Still Water Stella Harris, 141,
Women and Song Rowan Elizabeth, 154,
Full Circle Chris Paynter, 162,
Homecoming Kathleen Tudor, 174,
You Don't Bring Me Flowers Radclyffe, 181,
About the Authors, 189,
About the Editor, 193,