By SoCal Bard


Recap: Sylla Iper is an artist living in New York City. Gwen Nottingham is her network's star anchor for its vaunted morning show. Sylla is conducting a workshop in North Carolina when she gets an interview request from Gwen's producer. During the interview the curiosity of both women is piqued. When Sylla makes her way back to the city the relationship between the two women begins to simmer.

Disclaimers: This is my first submission. Yup, there's some sex (altho' I prefer to call it loving), but it's not the kind that requires Amazon ice to cool you down. C'mon, this is my first story for the academy. I need to ease into this! ß Wait. I wrote that BEFORE I wrote the steamy love scene. Now that the scene is done, I guess I'd have to say it is kinda, um, hot. I don't know for certain as I've never done this. To be safe: if you're not considered an adult according to your country's laws, please move along to another story. Thank you.

Language: No bad words, nary a one!

Feedback: Would be lovely, thanks:

Copyright © 2009 by SoCal Bard. All Rights Reserved.

It was a big interview for me.

Skilled en plein air artists may be well regarded in small circles, but my circle enlarged considerably when Gwen Nottingham, the anchor of her network's top-rated national morning show, saw some of my work in a Chelsea gallery. One of my paintings at the gallery had been selected for a tour with the American Masterpieces program through the National Endowment for the Arts. Gwen decided to do a story on the masterpieces program and chose two people to interview - the program's director and me.

A network producer tracked me down in Asheville, North Carolina where I was teaching a workshop and arranged the interview. At the network's affiliate I settled into my chair and slipped on the proffered ear bud. The technician asked me if the device was working.

I gave a thumbs up and he said, "Good. They're going to commercial. We've got a minute-thirty. When it's ten seconds Kenny'll call it and we'll give you a verbal count down to two and then you'll be on."

"What about the one?" I said.

"The one? You mean Obama?" he asked, confused.

I explained, "You said you'd do a verbal count down to two - what about the one?"

"Oh. That one. Kenny'll call out ten seconds and then do a verbal count from five to two and then he does the one silently. He'll point at you which'll mean you're live with Gwen in New York. Watch the monitor and you'll be able to see her during the segment." My mind whirled with his instructions.

I heard a new voice say, "This is Gwen. You ready to go?" I nodded.

"Harry," Gwen said in my ear bud, "Check the feed. I don't have sound." A pause, then Gwen said, "Sylla, can you hear me now?"

Before I could respond my ear bud blared and I heard the first technician's voice, "You actually have to say something instead of just nodding." Right. D'oh.

"I knew that, I was just trying to throw Gwen so I'd have the edge in the interview," I said with mock defensiveness.

Gwen laughed. "So you're a technical whiz and a strategic thinker? I'd better watch out," she teased.

"Well, I don't know about the technical part - after all, I am a card carrying Luddite," I responded. "Just today I got a new string for my telephone can. "

Gwen's laughter tinkled across the miles. "Was that a giggle?" I demanded. More laughter. "It's good to know that high-powered TV reporters can still giggle - there's hope for the world," I said, as Gwen's laughter continued. "I can hear you extremely well. Did you get a new string and can, too?" I asked. More laughter.

The producer's all-business voice intruded, "Forty-five seconds."

"If you ever get to New York you'll have to stop by so I can see your Luddite card," Gwen said, aligning her papers.

Adopting a slight country twang, I said, "Getting to New York might be tough what with the spring thaw and all. But I'm getting a new buckboard and younger mules so . . ." I trailed off.

". . . So you'll stop by?" Gwen asked. Her query took me by surprise. Was she serious?

"Actually, I live in the city and I'll be back in town in two weeks. So, yes, I could stop by," I said.

"Good - that'd be great!" Gwen effused.

"Ten seconds!" Straightening, I listened to Gwen's introduction and moments later she fired the first of what proved to be 15 thoughtful and insightful questions about the work of Sylla Iper, plein air artist. When we went to commercial at the interview's conclusion, Gwen asked for my email and gave me hers.

* * *

Sixteen days later I stood outside Gwen's townhouse door with a bottle of wine.

Over the previous two weeks we had exchanged dozens of emails. She proved to be a pithy, articulate and entertaining correspondent. The network's online bio of Gwen was accurate in its broad strokes about her education and career climb. But it was through Gwen's emails that I filled in the blanks on how she had achieved prominence in her field.

She'd known early on that she wanted to be a network journalist and be based in New York. "In junior high and high school I had crushes on news reporters when my friends had crushed on the latest pop star heartthrob," she wrote. She barreled through her undergraduate degree, wowing her professors who urged her to get a doctorate and follow an academic path. Instead she stuck to her plan to double major in journalism and U.S. history, and then earned her Masters in political science at UCLA.

While working at NBC's Los Angeles affiliate as a reporter she started a Ph.D. in public policy but decided to take a long-term break when her career moved to New York. She was ambitious, smart, talented, and attractive. More importantly she seemed to be one of those reporters who was always at the right place at the right time.

"My colleagues at other stations thought it was luck, but it wasn't," she wrote late one night. "It's because I knew the community and I studied it every waking moment. I read all the local papers, I checked city websites daily, I culled sources at all levels of government. Then I expanded my information net and began cultivating news sources from around the country and the world whose industries impacted my community. I used the Internet to keep me informed - and that was in the days of dial-up. People talked to me and that's how I knew how to be in place for stories. And if I didn't have an inside track on the story itself, say a wildfire spurred on by Santa Ana winds, I had an inside track with sources in the fire department so I was able to get more info and share it with our viewers."

Her empathetic, well-informed and hard-hitting reporting brought her to the attention of network execs in New York. She was given a weeklong tryout as a guest host of the network's national morning news program. Shortly after her tryout she accepted the job offer from the head of the network's news division.

I wrote back, "So, not exactly an overnight sensation? It was all hard work, grit and stick-to-it-iveness? How disillusioning!" I imagined Gwen's wistful laugh in her email response, "Yeah, not having a relationship, not having kids, BUT being at the top of my game - it was all part of my plan to succeed."

I quickly pecked back a reply, "And have you? Do you feel that you're at the pinnacle of success? Or is there a secret plan you're not sharing?" I clicked send and waited for what I expected would be a light-hearted reply. Gwen's response moments surprised me. She wrote, "I want to learn how to make love stay."

It seems I stared at this revelation of her heart a bit too long, because my inbox chimed the arrival of an incoming message. It was from Gwen, who must have been embarrassed by revealing so much of herself. The uncharacteristically abbreviated sign-off read, "Hey, I just noticed the time! I've got an early call so I'll catch you next time. G."

I spent much of the rest of that evening contemplating her statement. I was intrigued by its simplicity and depth. Except for a lucky few, I think many of us have asked ourselves that question in one form or another - albeit approaching it from a less positive perspective. For some it takes the form, 'Why can't I find someone to love? Or, 'What's the matter with me?' Or, 'Everyone good has been taken.'

I liked the way Gwen worded it because she had identified an area of her life she felt was lacking. She wasn't whining about the lack of love in her life - rather she had declared her intent to address the problem. If she applied herself to finding love as she had to becoming a network news success I had no doubt she would find the person with whom she needed to be. A few days later we resumed our emails without a nod to our last exchange and set the time to meet at Gwen's townhouse on Bank Street in the West Village.

When I got to Gwen's townhouse for our first face-to-face meeting, we decided to cancel the restaurant reservation and stay at her place. After finishing the wine I'd brought we dashed to the corner bodega, taking back to Gwen's an assortment of finger foods, deli salads and two bottles of burgundy. Gwen was working on a special project and wasn't scheduled to appear on her network's morning show the next day, which meant a late arrival - for her - to the office of 10 am.

I sat at one end of Gwen's sofa and she anchored the other end, each of us wrapped in cozy chenille throws. She talked into the wee hours of the morning on a variety of subjects: Washington politics, her love of Italy and Greece, and the dogs of her childhood. I shared briefly about the California citrus ranch on which I'd grown up and my infatuation with horses, and she talked about love. Or, more to the point, the lack of romantic love in her life. After a lifetime of climbing the career ladder, Gwen elaborated on her decision that she was ready to open her life to include another. It seemed easier for her to talk about this issue directly with me than it had been to converse by email.

She hadn't mentioned anyone special so I asked, "Do you find that guys are intimidated by you?"

Gwen stilled. After a moment she took a small sip of wine, and said, "They may be." Her eyes dropped a moment and then she looked back up at me and took a deep breath. "I think it may have more to do with putting that part of my life on hold for so long not just because I was in school and working on my career," she took another sip of wine, "but probably because I'm only just now really acknowledging that I'm attracted to women."

It was my turn to become still. Now this was news. Gwen studied me. "Sorry, I'm sure that comes as bit of a shock," she said quietly.

"No, God, no," I stammered. "I mean I was just thinking that's quite a bit of news to . . ." There was no way out of it. I put my glass of wine down and looked Gwen in the eye. She held my gaze.

"I'm going to be honest with you, because I know that's what you want and expect," I said. Gwen nodded, her expression a bit guarded. "It is surprising to hear that you're gay - and I don't even really know why I think that. I guess in your case I'm just a pawn for accepting the roles society puts on us. I guess I just assumed you'd be straight."

Gwen nodded again. "So . . . you're good with it?" she asked quietly.

"Absolutely," I said, picking up my glass again. I moved it toward Gwen's glass, tilting it until our glasses met with a chime. "I completely understand being attracted to another woman. For me it's not necessarily the gender I'm attracted to - it's the person, the individual, who they are. As it happens I'm attracted to women, too. Geez, I sound like one of those chick lit books that Costco sells by the zillions," I said sheepishly. "Here's to you finding the right person to share your life with, and learning how to make love stay."

We sipped our wine and after a time of silence Gwen cocked her head, brunette ringlets brushing her shoulder as she fixed her soft brown eyes on me. "And what of the loves in your life, Sylla?" Gwen asked. "Have you found a way to make love stay?"

Reader, I am embarrassed to write it, but I practically squeaked. "Me?" I asked.

Gwen's nose crinkled as she leaned back and laughed. "Yes, Sylla - you. I've monopolized the conversation and it's about time you weighed in on something more personal than why you like girl horses better than boy horses."

"Mares," I said, "I like mares more than geldings - they're more interesting - more temperamental, less staid." I practically stammered it!

As an artist I have spent my life as an observer. I have always enjoyed listening more than talking, and have loved the challenge of drawing people out of their shells. In truth, most people prefer to talk about themselves and that means there are really just a small number of us who prefer to listen. That makes us a very valuable commodity - well, to the talkers, anyway. In my adult life only a few people had successfully gotten me to talk much about myself - the most recent being Gwen during her interview. I'm not certain if it's because an artist's life tends to be solitary or if it just depends on the individual.

The last time I'd been with someone had been two and a half years earlier. My girl friend broke up with me because, she said, I didn't share enough of myself. It's true that over the years I'd become adept at turning the conversation in such a way that I would be the listener and observer. My would-be interlocutors never seemed to realize our roles had reversed - and that suited me just fine. The girl friend took my reticence to share myself as a personal challenge to draw me out. There was little give and take and her approach was too direct for me. We had other issues as well and when she decided to leave it proved to be a relief. I'd buried myself in my work and hadn't looked back.

But Gwen's method of questioning was different; it was, with certainty, one of the key things that made her a great reporter. She knew how to draw people out of their shells. Not given to watching much television prior to meeting Gwen, I had started to watch her show and Internet clips and paid particular attention to the interviews she conducted. I could tell that she understood in her core that it took a commitment and willingness on her part to pose her questions and then be comfortable sitting with her interview subject in a gentle and elegant silence. But, to be honest, Gwen was also someone I was drawn to. I found myself wanting to share more of myself.

Gently, she persisted. "Tell me about you. When I interviewed you for the show we talked about your work, but didn't spend much time on the woman away from the easel," she said, holding the bowl of her wine glass in her right hand as she pulled the chenille throw to her chin. Then she studied me and waited.

"About me," I restated. My God, I thought. I am completely discomfited! Gwen merely nodded and very slowly swirled the burgundy in its bowl. That gentle and elegant silence settled around us.

Reader, I started with a rivulet of words but after a bit I became a human Johnstown Flood flowing with the memories of childhood, college life, trips I'd made to Europe and the Middle East, and the struggles I'd gone through to make a living as an artist. I shared with her the wonder of watching the light so favored by plein air artists begin to creep across a meadow, filtering through the trees and gradually caressing the grass and wildflowers with its gentle wash. As I talked, I noticed that her gaze flickered across my face and that the corners of her mouth edged slightly upward. With Gwen's warm encouragement it was easy to share and I realized as I wound down that I was filled with a quiet delight that I'd actually been drawn out.

We sat in silence for a bit. Gwen cocked her head slightly, and said, "Now that wasn't so hard was it?" And I began to laugh, filled with a euphoria I didn't quite understand. I'm laughing like a complete ninny. What's up with that? Gwen sipped her wine with a bemused look and chuckled, shaking her head. "You know, I noticed that you didn't answer the question about love in your life," she smiled. "But that's okay. You don't have to share that."

"Well, I've got a question for you," I said. "During that interview we had - why did you invite me to meet you? That surprised me."

Gwen's brown eyes twinkled. "That's easy. You made me laugh. I'm drawn to a sense of humor every time," she explained. She held my gaze and I believe we were both aware at the same time that things had changed between us. We were no longer embarked on establishing just a friendship. We were on the cusp of something more, something deeper. It was, at that moment, intangible, but something had definitely shifted.

"Lucky me," I finally said, sitting up and resting my hands on my knees. "I've had such a great time tonight. I know you don't get many mornings to sleep in, so I'm going to get a cab and head home," I said, standing.

Gwen smiled and stood, folding her chenille throw. I hesitated, then said, "It's a bit late to ask, but my neighbor gave me two tickets to Billy Elliott for tomorrow. Would you like to go?"

"I'd love to!" We agreed to meet for dinner then head to the theatre. Gwen briefly rested her fingers on my arm, "I'll walk you down and wait 'til you get a cab." I felt the press of her fingers long after she closed the cab door and bent down to catch my eye as she waved me down Bank Street.

* * *

I lay awake in bed for a very long time that night. I ran over in my mind Gwen's revelation. I ran over the parts of my life I'd shared with Gwen. And the part I hadn't shared with her: that I was, inexplicably, attracted to her. Or was it truly unexplainable? The mostly solitary life I'd led, honing my craft, completely focused on opening myself to nature, studying technique and then trying to let the science of it turn into something magical as it flowed off the end of my brush and onto the canvas.

When had I had time to let in another? There had been a few flirtations with women and then the more long term girl friend from a few years earlier, but nothing lasting, nothing remotely serious. Was it simply that the right person hadn't come along? I couldn't deny my attraction to Gwen. Yes, it was physical, but it was much more than that. We got along so well, our senses of humor meshed, our worldviews seemed to dovetail, and we were both goal setters in our careers. Was it time to slow down a bit, to step off the well-trod path I'd been on for so long and take a path not before traveled?

It was in the morning's wee hours that I decided to see if Gwen might be the one I had unwittingly been waiting for, and to determine if Gwen might possibly feel the same. I had absolutely nothing to lose - and everything to gain.

* * *

I texted Gwen early that morning. "Can you meet me at 11 today in your building's lobby?" Her affirmation came moments later. At five minutes to the hour I was waiting by the bank of elevators when Gwen emerged. "Hey," I said.

"Hey, back," Gwen smiled, her eyes lighting up when she spotted me. "Is everything okay? Are we still on for tonight?"

I took her by the elbow and guided her to a side of the foyer, "Everything's fine. I just had a long night after I left you and some things came up and I wanted to just say . . ." God, what was I doing? Was I actually going to say that I, what, liked her, right here, right now at 11 o'clock in the morning in the main lobby of the network?

"You just wanted to say . . . what?" Gwen prompted, a curious look on her face. I must have looked blank because Gwen gently took my hand and stared intently at my face. "Sylla? Are you all right? Is everything okay?"

"Yes! Everything's fine! I just . . . I was just . . . feeling like a cup of coffee and . . . thought you might want one, too," I finished lamely.

Gwen studied my now flushed face. I could see her expression cross over to decision-making mode and she said, "Well, then, let's get some coffee," and led me to the deli counter where she ordered coffee. We had the place to ourselves and our pick of booths.

"Now, what's really up?" she asked softly.

I took a very deep breath, and then another, and that seemed like a natural segue to hyperventilating - so I did.

Gwen quickly grabbed a paper bag from the deli clerk and placed it over my mouth, standing by my side and rubbing circles gently on my back as my breathing finally settled into a normal cadence. Gwen crouched down so that her head was at my shoulder. "Sylla, tell me what's going on," she said quietly.

I blurted it out - sometimes it's the best - and only - thing to do. "I - I like you," I whispered, my tone leaving no doubt as to what I meant. My eyes roamed Gwen's face, and finally settled upon her eyes.

Gwen's eyes crinkled as she grinned. "Yeah?" she asked. "You do? You like me like me?"

"Yes! I like you - I mean that I'm attracted to you! I couldn't sleep last night. I feel like I'm 14! You started to intrigue me during the TV interview and since last night I haven't been able to stop thinking about you! How's that for telling you what's going on?" the words rushed out of me.

She laughed, that bright tinkling laugh that so captivated me. "Well, I think it's great - it's wonderful!" Gwen said.

Then we sat there, beaming at one another like ninnies until Gwen's Blackberry buzzed. She glanced at it and stood. "Look, I really have to go. But I'm glad - really glad - that you told me," and she laughed again, a tinkling crescendo that again filled me with delight. I began to laugh, too, only now it wasn't unexplainable.

I walked Gwen to the elevators, held her hand as if in a business handshake, and beamed at her as I repeatedly shook it. She took a half step forward, quickly pecked me on the cheek and slipped into an open car. She was gone, but my euphoria wasn't. I fairly skipped out of the building and made my way to Sixth Avenue, where I turned and walked south toward my East Village apartment. Did I say walked? I meant floated. I floated home.

As I made my way down the nearly 40 blocks, I knew I needed to devise a plan so that I could avoid the near disaster that had almost happened in the deli, which had so impressively included a spotlight on my faltering courage and my hyperventilating.

Devising a plan was, after all, the way I approached life. I hadn't become a successful artist by chance. It had been the result of planning and hard work and a laser beam focus to keeping on track with goals. So I began to plan.

* * *

I got home, pulled out my sketchpad and wrote at the top: "Gwen" And then I began to brainstorm how I could make Gwen understand how I felt about her. How would I like to have someone approach me in a dating situation? It became my guiding question - but then I threw into the mix the things I knew about Gwen. And my list began to grow.

Mid-afternoon I checked off the first item on the list. I found a t-shirt with a photo of yellow daffodils in full bloom - Gwen's favorite flower which I'd learned the previous night - slipped it in a gift bag with a card I'd written -- and made my way uptown for our dinner.

Our dinner was delightful. During dessert I handed her the gift bag and, at her questioning look, simply arched my eyebrows. "Open it," I said, impishly.

She loved the daffodils and said she'd wear the shirt when doing Pilates. At my direction she found the card, which had slid to the bottom of the bag. I'd written:

Dear Gwen, I'm wondering how you'd feel about taking things slowly? It's not because I'm unsure about my feelings, I assure you. It's just that I'm old enough to know that rushing into a relationship can be the very thing that causes it harm in the long run. I'd like to go slow because I like what you had to say about learning how to make love stay. And I think something like that is best done over time as two people get to know one another. What do you think? Sylla.

Reader, you must never underestimate the power of heartfelt words. Gwen was still for the longest time, her eyes on the open card. I tentatively touched her hand, which rested on the seat between us. She looked up at me, her eyes moist. She nodded and said, simply, "Yes." And then she said it again, only this time her voice caught, "Yes." We gazed at one another for long moments until the waiter dropped the check on the table. After taking care of the bill we left for the show, exchanging shy glances and small talk until the theatre's house lights went down.

* * *

The show, of course, was terrific. Well, what I remember of it. I was, to be honest, astonished by the emotions swirling within me. Had they always been resident in me? If so, they had never before been known to me. Was this love, I wondered?

Many theatergoers recognized Gwen and she was gracious in her acknowledgment of them. A dip of her head, a smile, and for several more bold types, autographs. I stood to the side and watched as she greeted the fans. Her inherent grace seemed to flow to her admirers. There was no squealing or boisterous excitement, just people happy to bide their time as they waited for Gwen's attention. Several times she caught my eye and her warm gaze caressed my face. Warmth suffused me each time.

Shortly after midnight we found ourselves at Gwen's place. I stopped just inside her front door, which caused her to turn. "Coffee? Or a drink?" she asked.

I slowly shook my head. "No, I just wanted to see you safely in. I'm going to go," I said. She had reached me by this time, and lightly took my hand.

"I had such a nice time," Gwen said. "Thank you for the daffodil shirt," she said as she rested her fingertips on my cheek. She hesitated the briefest of moments before she leaned in and with a light touch kissed the spot where her fingers had just rested. "But I especially thank you for your note," she said, whispering it as she embraced me.

My body was on sensory overload so I'm still not certain how the words emerged from my mouth, but I heard a voice say, equally softly, "You're welcome, Gwen." And then I fumbled for the doorknob, and pulled open the door with the speed of stop motion photography.

At last I stood outside the door while Gwen stood in the frame. "I had a really great time," I said.

Gwen nodded. "Well, good night," she said, a smile turning up the corners of her mouth. And the door closed.

I stood there, breathing heavily. This might already be love, but it was also raging hormones! I knocked on the door, which Gwen quickly opened. My mind fought for clarity and focus. "I forgot that I wanted to say that I'll call you tomorrow," I said, dumbly. My eyes swept Gwen's face. "And that I really, really, really want to kiss you."

Without a word and in a seamless movement, Gwen stood belly to belly with me, her hands resting lightly on my hips. She stared straight ahead for a moment and then lifted her hand to the back of my neck and gently pulled me to her. "I'm so glad you said it," she whispered, letting her lips graze mine so softly it was like being touched by a cloud. Oh, that kiss! It was sweetness and passion rolled into one.

I tilted my head just a bit and returned her kiss. As she felt me pull back her hands came up and cupped my elbows, effectively pressing us into one another. I quaked at her touch and rested my forehead against Gwen's forehead. "You are trouble. Big, big trouble," I said softly.

"Well, you're not exactly Susan Boyle," Gwen replied and then we laughed which took us from DefConOne and back to reality - as well as to our mutual promise to take things slow. We agreed to talk the next day and I went home. Did I mention that I was euphoric? Because I was.

* * *

The next morning I awakened to my doorbell buzzing. A beautiful bouquet of roses awaited me with a note that read: So traditional, I know, but timeless and classic, which made me think of you. Loved the kiss, G.

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. I wasn't just in trouble, I was in "Houston, we have a problem," kind of trouble.

* * *

Gwen and I continued seeing one another. And while she hadn't publicly declared her sexual orientation, she was quite comfortable having me visit her at the network and to watch her on the air. She was very intentional in her affection toward me - holding my hand, standing close, and hugging me. But I found the most obvious cues to her feelings toward me could be found in the warmth of her gaze when she caught my eye and in the tone of her voice. More than once I found myself talking to one of Gwen's coworkers and could feel her eyes upon me. I'd turn and find her ducking her head, the corners of her mouth slightly upturned, knowing she'd been caught. Then, in the next moment with her head still bowed, she'd flick a quick glance my way to see if I was still looking - and that's when her glorious smile would break across her face. My God. She was beautiful. And I'd smile back with frank admiration.

We both agreed that we wanted to be sure about taking our relationship to the next level. What would be the point of having sex just for the physical release if we were both committed to finding a way to make love stay? I know, the cynics among you would say, "Well, an orgasm is a pretty great thing." And you'd be right. But we wanted that and more - we wanted to be sure of one another and our relationship.

We came to know these things about one another because we talked - constantly. The reticent artist was no more. I yearned to talk with Gwen, to listen to her ideas, her dreams, her hammering out difficult issues even as I shared the same with her. When we were together the world receded and we paid it no mind. During this acquaintance-making time we contented ourselves with holding hands, snuggling, cuddling on the couch, and some great make out sessions.

To the growing list of topics discussed - which included parents, childhood friends, sibling relationships - we added politics, religion, abortion, the death penalty, children, and where to vacation. We both had friends who vacationed apart from their spouses or partners. And while we agreed that circumstances sometimes dictated that couples travel apart because of schedule conflicts, to attend to family matters, or just for what we called self-collection time; we wanted to share the significant travels with one another.

We agreed on the UK - especially Scotland and England, then added Italy, Greece and Turkey. Gwen wasn't too sure about the Maldives and Seychelles, but I think I won her over with a promise to take her snorkeling in the bathtub first, which brought forth a burst of laughter. It took some wrangling, but Gwen convinced me to agree to another trip to the Middle East - something on which I wasn't too keen given the region's unrest, but it was too hard to resist Gwen's pleading brown eyes.

As we sat together on the couch, Gwen turned quickly and stared intently at me. Her eyes raked across my face. "Promise me that we'll do that - promise me that you'll teach me to snorkel. And that we'll eat all the local foods and that you'll show me how to see light the way you do."

My hand slipped easily to Gwen's thigh and I whispered, "I promise," just before my lips teased her mouth. "I'll teach you to snorkel," I nibbled her lower lip. "We'll eat the local food together." Just the tip of my tongue sought entrance to her mouth. Gwen opened her mouth and leaned in. Our tongues met softly and teasingly moved against the other. It was so hard to withdraw, but I wanted to tell her one more thing. My hands cupped her face and I lightly kissed Gwen's cheeks, the tip of her nose and her eyelids and said, "And I especially promise to show you the light." Then we traded maddeningly teasing kisses for a while. You know the kind I mean: teasing kisses where your lips barely graze one another, the kind where when you lean forward, your partner pushes you lightly away so that contact is minimized? But then when you comply and lean back she follows, pressing against you and a kind of lasciviously extra sexy upper body dance ensues? Where just your tongue tips play with one another until you try to slip further in and then she pulls lightly back so that just your tongue tips are touching again? Yeah.

As I was thinking about heading back to my apartment, Gwen said, "I'm ready." At my questioning look, Gwen stepped to my side, grabbed a handful of my blouse, gave it a gentle tug and said, "Stay. Tonight. Stay with me. You know what I mean." As she kissed me her hands slipped over my hips and she pressed herself to me. "I really need you, sweetie. The last few times we've been together I've spent most of the night thinking about making love to you."

"Yeah?" I asked.

"Yeah," Gwen said. She pulled my t-shirt up my sides, dropping her head onto my chest where she took several deep breaths.

"You okay, darling?" I moved my hands under Gwen's blouse and rested my hands on her waist, lightly brushing my thumbs on her stomach. She shivered, and then slipped my shirt over my head. Her hands came up to cup the sides of my breasts, her touch so gentle. I cupped her hands to me and increased the pressure. "You can press harder. I like it," I whispered in her ear.

Gwen gently squeezed my breasts. Then her hands slipped around my back to the bra enclosure. "Help me," she said.

"Nah, you can do it," I said, whispering into her ear. My teeth lightly grabbed her ear lobe and I drew in a breath. "I love you, Gwen," I said. She shivered and stilled. "Something the matter?" I asked. I breathed warm air over her ear and caressed her temple with kisses. "Keep going, love. I like what you're doing."

She undid the bra's clasp and slowly moved the bra straps off my shoulders, peeling the cups down and dropping the bra on the coffee table. Her palms held my breasts and she lightly lifted them as if to feel their weight. "Wow," she breathed. When her thumbs grazed my nipples, I felt goose bumps cover my upper body. She lifted her head, sought my lips with hers and we kissed for a long moment. When we pulled apart, she held my face between her hands and said, "I love you, too, baby." I nearly wept.

"C'mon," Gwen said, grasping my hand. She tugged me down the hall to her bedroom where she pushed me onto the bed. I sat on the edge while she stripped off her blouse and skirt. She stepped between my legs, placed her hands on my shoulders and said, "Scoot back a little." I complied and she nestled her legs on the bed on the sides of my hips. My hands trailed down her smooth back to her panties, slipped inside and moved slowly over her bottom. I fell back and Gwen fell forward with me, planting her hands on the bed. Her breasts swelled forward with our movement, her hair tumbled over her forehead and she paused.

"Oh, sweetheart," I breathed, "You're so incredibly beautiful." Gwen smiled. She lowered herself and sat lightly on my mid-section, which was instantly comforted by her warmth. Gwen ground into me a bit and closed her eyes; her head tilting up a bit. She caught her bottom lip with her teeth and slowly released it. "Does that feel good?" I asked.

"Hmmmmmnnnnn," she moaned. And after a moment, "Yeah. That feels so good." She seemed to catch herself for a moment, and snapped her head down, fixing me with her now dark brown eyes. "I need you to . . . you know," she said. And with that she rolled off me and onto her back. "Show me, baby," Gwen said. She wet her lips.

Her lips glistened as I rolled to my side and kissed her lips lightly. "Yes," I said. I kissed my way down her neck, completely skipping her pulse point. I undid the front clasp of her bra and watched as Gwen's breasts spilled out. Perfection. They were full and heavy. Her nipples sat perkily atop dimpled areolas. When I dropped my lips to them I breathed in Gwen's scent, a delightful combination of her excitement, and her lavender and bergamot body wash. I opened my lips and began kissing my way around her breasts, coming closer to their centers with each pass.

Gwen's chest was rising and falling rapidly as her excitement increased. I became aware of her hand in my hair, guiding me toward a perky bud. My tongue snaked out and blanketed her nipple with a warm bath. Oh, I was so tender with her. I sucked the pink tip with devotion. Just before I moved to Gwen's other breast I opened my mouth wide then lightly grazed my teeth across her areola and up her nipple. When I got to the tip I let go with my teeth and rewarded her with my tongue, a gentle kiss and a moan that unexpectedly slipped out.

I moved atop Gwen, settling myself on her mound. I ground into her with increasing pressure and felt a tiny orgasm eke out. I stilled a moment to recover myself then moved to my knees, between Gwen's legs. As I moved her panties over her bottom and down her legs I looked her in the eyes and said, "You are so, so beautiful." She cocked her head to the side and smiled at me.

As her panties came off I trailed a hand from her sternum lightly across her stomach, feeling her intake of breath and the slight dip of her belly. I glanced at her face and her eyes had closed. She had parted her lips and tilted her head back slightly. I leaned over her and traced with my lips the path my hand had just taken.

Gwen's scent drifting up from her center was just so . . . fine. My lips lingered at her navel, where I allowed my tongue to dip in with hardened tip. I heard Gwen's "Ahhhhhhhh" and responded by cupping her breast with my hand and squeezing. Her hand then covered mine and she encouragingly stroked the back of my hand.

I felt her leg raise and rest lightly on my lower back. Bringing both hands down I lifted Gwen's legs over my shoulders and nuzzled my way up her thighs. One of my hands curled around her hip and down toward the top of her pubic area. My fingertips gently pulled up and Gwen's full scent wafted over me. I actually salivated with anticipation. I felt Gwen's fingers rest lightly on my head as I tilted toward her center.

My tongue so gently made its way through the tufted curls until I reached Gwen's velvety smoothness. I paused, reveling, and was briefly overcome by the wondrousness of the moment. Gwen began to press herself into me and I had to grin at her eagerness. Well, yeah! I thought.

Gwen's wetness was flowing heavily from her nether region and across her labia. I lapped what I could easily reach and moved my tongue further inside her warmth. I brought the fingers of my other hand to either side of her opening, spreading her just a bit wider and then slipped in two fingers. Her walls parted to receive me. My fingers were then clenched by the powerful muscles and gave me something to move against. Curling my fingers I reached higher and was rewarded with a moan that was breathed out softly. I kept my fingers high and pulsing and Gwen began to move more erratically against my hand. Her moan became a series of staccato whimpers, increasingly high-pitched. When she threw her hips into it I knew she was about to go over the edge. As my tongue rapidly lapped her I sent a vibrating moan through her center. Gwen stilled for a long moment and then her hips thrashed without direction and she let out a long, breathy sigh.

As she came down from her orgasm she fought for every little orgasm that followed with tiny pulses of her hips. She held my head in position at her center, and pressed against me for two long minutes. Two very enjoyable minutes, actually. Finally her hand slipped off my head and I felt her body relax completely on the bed. Her arm covered her eyes as she recovered her breath. As I withdrew my fingers from her wet center I pressed my other hand firmly to her mound so that she would continue to feel me. She lightly pressed back and wiggled her hips a bit, and wonder of wonders, I felt a final shudder as she had one last tiny orgasm.

"My, my, aren't you the one," I said. She lifted her arm, raised her head slightly and tossed me an enormous grin.

"I'm completely and utterly wasted," she said. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" She grabbed my arm and tugged. I clambered up past her to the pillows as her hand trailed along my side and over my bottom.

I arranged pillows and blankets and invited her up, tapping my shoulder as I stretched out my arm. Gwen snuggled in, resting her head on my shoulder and I pulled the covers over us. "But it's your turn," Gwen mumbled.

"I'm letting you off easy this time," I said. "I'll get my turn," I grinned and kissed Gwen's forehead.

"I promise you will," Gwen said sleepily.

"Let's just sleep and we'll see what happens later." By the time I finished my sentence Gwen was asleep. And me? I followed soon after, very content.

And if you're keeping score, when Gwen woke up, she kept her promise.

* * *

Tony, her show's producer, invited Gwen for drinks a few night's later to discuss work. She asked him why and he said that it was personal.

"Personal - about you - or personal about me?" she queried.

"About you and about Sylla," Tony said.

When Gwen told me I offered to accompany her. We arrived at the bar to find Tony at a corner banquette. After drinks were served and some chitchat, Tony adopted a serious mien and clutched his glass, thumping it abruptly twice on the table.

"What's up?" Gwen asked lightly.

"Gwen, the division president knows about you and Sylla. And he's concerned about it negatively impacting the show if word gets out," Tony swallowed the last of his drink, caught the waiter's eye and signaled another round for our table. "Our highest viewer ship is in the 25 to 54 group - especially skewing to the higher end - and he's concerned we may lose them over this."

I was stunned. But, this was Gwen's job and I awaited her response, squeezing her hand.

She was cool. She was icily calm. She was collected. She let him have it - albeit in her gentle and elegant manner. "Tony, thank you for telling me about Bill's concerns for the show. I'm going to be very clear with you."

Tony nodded. And I think he gulped - which pleased me.

"Before I met Sylla I put everything in my personal life on hold for the sake of my career. Just before I met her I set some personal goals - the most important of which was finding someone to share my life with. I didn't know at the time how that would come to play out. But now that Sylla and I have found one another," - I squeezed Gwen's hand; I liked the sound of that - "I am not giving her up for anything - and most certainly not for a TV show."

I liked the sound of that even more.

Tony nodded. He got it. How could he not? Gwen's eyes were riveted on him, plus there really was no way of misunderstanding her words or tone.

"Look, Tony. I want to keep this job. But that's what it is to me - a job. It's not my life. The biggest surprise to me here is that there are successful shows on television right now, which have gay or lesbian leadership. Look at Rachel Maddow. Ellen hosts her own show. I really don't understand Bill's objection," she shook her head exasperatedly.

"Maddow is cable and Ellen is taped syndication. Our show is live, daily network television. Look, he's old school, Gwen. Rumor has it he's retiring in a few years, but while he's here we have to deal with him," Tony waved his hand tiredly. "I'm telling you this because I'm your producer. I don't want you to be blindsided by overhearing someone talking about this. It's my job to bring things like this to you. And having been around you and Sylla for a while, it's obvious to me that you really care for one another. I mean, we can all see that it's not a fling."

Gwen looked at him sharply.

"I just meant that it's obvious to the staff and crew that the two of you have something really special together."

"We do," I said, speaking up for the first time. I squeezed Gwen's hand and she looked gratefully at me.

"All-right. Let's tackle the problem," Gwen said, becoming even more no-nonsense. "Let's find a way to make this work. And by make it work, I don't mean sweeping this under the rug, Tony. I will not hide from this. If I did it would be denying who I really am and it would be denying Sylla. Let's do a segment on this very thing - on the burgeoning acceptance of gays and lesbians in positions of power and influence. That can be the hook, but the reveal can be that it's me - someone everyone thought was straight now turns out not to be."

Tony nodded carefully. I wondered if he was concerned about his job. In the next moment he proved himself friend.

"There's no way Bill would approve this if we took it to him. So, we won't. We'll just report it as the news story it is. The hook is going to be you. You just need to know that the repercussions may be uncomfortable for a while. Coming out, live, on the nation's highest rated morning show, might just prove to be the very thing to show Middle America that homosexuality isn't scary," Tony said. "The LGBT community couldn't ask for two more beautiful role models."

I was ready to marry him.

* * *

Tony was true to his word. I'd do just about anything for him for the way he took care of Gwen. When the piece was ready, Gwen added to the script her personal touch and did just what she said she would; she came out on national TV. There was a moderate hue and cry from the conservative right, and just two of the advertisers made serious noises about pulling their ads. But an Internet-based grass roots campaign by Gwen's fans put a stop to the companies' threats when they determined they could lose more customers if they pulled their advertisers. Bill, the division head, was assuaged when the bottom line wasn't impacted. He's a little awkward around Gwen and me, but we're getting through it.

The joke behind the cameras was that the rival networks were searching frantically in their affiliates for closeted or just-emerging-from-the-closet reporters they could bring to New York. The networks have always had a kind of monkey-see, monkey-do approach to news and entertainment.

Gwen's and my relationship? It's thriving, thanks. Gwen has shown me her favorite places in Greece and Italy, which I loved. She could have shown me a rock hut in Death Valley in mid-summer and it would have been the best rock hut I'd ever seen; that's the way it is when you're in love, you know?

Next summer we're headed to Laguna Beach in southern California, which has some wonderful coves to tuck into with some beach towels, an umbrella and a picnic hamper. It's not the Seychelles, but it's what we have time for right now. Gotta run because I have a bathtub to fill. I bought Gwen some snorkeling gear last night and she's due home any minute.

* * *

EPILOGUE: Gwen retired last month from the network. We're in our late 50s now and we're moving back to California. We'll be a bit north of Los Angeles in a great little arts town called Cambria. It's just south of San Simeon where William Randolph Hearst built his bizarre and wondrous castle.

Our place is on a mountaintop surrounded by avocado trees and oranges. We bought it a few years ago. No, we've not become farmers - we've hired a grove management company to take care of that. Gwen began writing fiction under a pseudonym a few years ago and is going to work on developing a book series. I'm continuing with my art and have found a small gallery in town to showcase my pieces in addition to the Chelsea gallery in New York.

We're also involved in PFLAG, the organization that's for parents and friends of gays and lesbians. Coming out to one's family needs to be easier and not as fraught with tension and histrionics. How many people do we lose to the closet and worse, to suicide each year because they're too terrified to be who they actually are? If we can help one kid - or adult, for that matter - feel comfortable in their sexual orientation, well, that's a good thing.

I paint Gwen a canvas every year and give it to her on the anniversary of our sofa talk at the townhouse. I leave it on an easel in her writing area and without fail she finds me, hugs me and leans in close. "Thanks," she says, and then gives me a knowing nibble that I feel in my very center. And then? Well, of course we make love! Sometimes right away, but sometimes we just tease one another the remainder of the day with glances, or touches as we pass in the hall, or leave provocative notes for one another. When one of us can no longer withstand the sexual tension we make love like bunnies in spring.

You might be wondering if we ever answered that question. You know, the one about learning how to make love stay? But I think you know the answer.


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