Big Red Bow

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August, 1991

I nervously tore thin strips from the complimentary pita bread while I watched the restaurant door, dipping them in oil and then abandoning them in an oozing mess on the plate. When she tapped my shoulder from behind, I lifted a full two inches from my chair.

“Holy shit! Where did you come from?”

“Nice to see you too,” she laughed, opening her arms to meet my hug.

“Happy birthday!” I said, pulling her tight. I couldn’t help but notice the smell of her shampoo.

She sat down across from me and slid to the center of the booth. She was wearing a light cotton sundress that seemed no more than a mirage, an illusion that hid her body only by some textile sleight of hand; but my eye was drawn by a sparkle reflecting the pendant light above the table.

I grabbed her hand and carefully examined the small solitaire in a delicate white gold setting. Speechless, I raised my gaze to her eyes.

Elizabeth forced a smile, clearly uncomfortable.

“Yeah, I, uh, got a birthday present.”

I was lost. I didn’t know where to look, or what to say. I settled on the obvious.

“Congratulations. Do I know him?”

“Umm…” Elizabeth dropped her eyes and shifted in her seat. She bit her tongue in a characteristic gesture, the tiny pink tip protruding between her lips as she stared at the table. After a long silence she finally looked up.

“I’m engaged to another woman, Dave.”

I felt a strange calm as I let the news sink in; as I accepted the many clues I had ignored or denied over the past six years.

I took her hand and squeezed it, the edges of the diamond sharp against my fingers, before raising it to my lips and kissing it.

“I think I knew. Congratulations.”

She tensed further. “You knew? How did you know?”

I laughed to break the tension, kissing her hand again. “All kinds of stuff that it would offend the feminist in you to hear. So take a second to be offended, and then tell me about her.”

She laughed, the desired effect, and returned my squeeze.

As Elizabeth told me about the hair stylist she planned to spend her life with, she became more animated, and I felt myself growing more distant. The understated anxiety that I had accepted as part of Elizabeth’s personality melted completely away, and for the first time in six years, I sensed my friend was overwhelmingly happy. I felt my face breaking into a smile and it seemed the most natural thing in the world to reach across the table and take her hand as she told me about the lakeside promise ceremony they were planning until the day when their marriage would be legally recognized.

But an enormous ache settled in my chest. I took small solace in the knowledge that it was nothing personal. I simply could not offer her what she needed.


Every university is full of pretty girls. Many are relatively plain, but “clean up nice” as a friend had put it, with a little extra attention to their makeup and clothing for a night out. But the redhead sitting on the aisle in the second row of Introductory Rhetoric was one of the most naturally beautiful women I had ever seen. Her hair fell in thick, natural waves around a flawless oval face and occasionally over one enormous blue eye. Although her body was hidden by a baggy university crested sweatshirt, so new the folds were still visible, the shapely legs in the tight jeans hinted at toned but feminine curves.

As Dr. Lindner began to drone in an annoying monotone buzz about the dynamic and tragically denigrated field of classical rhetoric, she focused totally on his words and the overhead slides. Her complete disregard of anything else in the lecture hall gave her the air of intelligence and confidence.

I arrived early for the second lecture and took the third seat from the aisle in hopes she was a creature of habit. Not only did she gravitate to the same aisle seat, but she moved over to share my handouts from the first lecture, having forgotten her own.

Over coffee, I discovered that Elizabeth had been playing piano since age four and violin since six. Her education in music was as extensive as my interest, and she quickly filled in some gaps in my knowledge. We continued our conversation in my car, driving around listening to mixed tapes for almost three hours.

“…Okay, so, the reason that bridge works so well is because you’ve been lulled into an expectation. The minor key makes you uncomfortable anyway, but at least you figure you know what’s coming. And then the dissonance in the bridge comes along and blows that expectation out of the water …”

After class coffee became a ritual. We had a lot in common, but it was the differences that fascinated us, differences in background, in experience, in perspective.

Elizabeth seemed amazed that a master’s candidate in philosophy would make his living as a landscaper. She gave me the same intense focus as she gave Dr. Lindner as I explained the satisfaction I found in the seamless connection between the abstract conceptualization, the hard, fulfilling güvenilir canlı bahis siteleri physical labour and the living art of the final creation.

And I was fascinated the advantages she had wrought from her privileged upbringing. By the difference in my merely adequate public school education and the incredible relevance her private school had instilled in her. By her grasp of the role of cultural history in current events. By her appreciative knowledge of jazz and classical music. By her devotion to her circle of friends who frequented the bars and concert halls along the Queen Street West. By her thick red hair and her flawless complexion. And by her prominent, well rounded ass.

Then she set me up with her roommate.

It seemed Jen had a crush on me since Elizabeth had introduced us. But she figured out early in the evening where my interest lay, and she promised to encourage Elizabeth to keep me for herself. I remembered now, morosely munching the oil soaked pita bread, that Jen’s promise was strangely distant. Like she was pessimistic about my chances.

Turned out she was right.


October, 1991

Musical voice on the phone.

“Hey. Glad I caught you at home. I know it’s short notice, but are you busy Saturday?”

Elizabeth and I were seeing more of each other than we ever had. Part of it, she confided, was that now that her sexuality was no longer a secret, she could see me without feeling guilty about my obvious crush. But mostly, I was one of very few of her friends who treated her as I had before she came out. Even her parents were having trouble accepting it. She told me, halfway between laughter and tears, that her mother was still encouraging her to keep in touch with that handsome gardener with all the muscles, hinting that I could save her from her evil lesbian roommate.

Ironically, Elizabeth had been the one to save Karen from an evil heterosexual. Karen had been in an abusive marriage, and their lingering secrecy had been as much out of fear of Karen’s ex-husband as it had been out of fear of general homophobia.

I had never met Karen, but she captivated me. She sounded like more of a party girl than Elizabeth’s usual crowd, and Elizabeth’s cultural experience was expanding to metal concerts and basement bars. I had suffered two bad hair cuts at the hands of junior stylists at her hair salon in vain hopes of seeing what she looked like. I made a mental note to find out what days she worked.

“No, I have the weekend off. What’s up?”

“Dinner, Saturday night? Here?”

I had no plans, and no reason to beg off. I knew, knocking on her apartment door, that I would brood for days afterwards. After all, I had brooded for the days leading up to dinner, obsessing over my clothing and my choice of wine.

When Elizabeth opened the door I was glad I had taken the time. She wore a loose white silk blouse over black leggings. Her makeup was several shades darker than I was used to, and her hair fell in thick waves to her shoulders. I picked up the familiar scent of her shampoo when she hugged me.

“I come bearing gifts from exotic places,” I said, grandly presenting my wine choices. I had no idea what I had purchased, other than a white and a red, but I knew that Elizabeth took great pride in her wine pairings. I hoped the soft spoken old guy at the upscale liquor store hadn’t steered me wrong.

She examined the labels. “Very nice,” she nodded, taking the bottles. “Did you chill these in the freezer?” she asked with a strange wrinkle above her eyebrow. I nodded, equally confused by how she knew and then by her controlled giggle.

She led me into the kitchen, apologizing for the raging heat in the small apartment. The south wall was mostly windows, and the open balcony door did little to mitigate the late October sun. The apartment was cheap and run down but spartanly clean. The table was set with crystal and linen. An expensive boom box on the bookshelf played Brandenburg Two, a lighter, more playful interpretation than the recording I was used to. She put the wine away while I absently whistled along with the clarino.

Elizabeth glanced up. “You don’t play an instrument, do you?” I stopped whistling and shook my head. It had come up in conversation before that my lack of musicality was one of my many regrets.

She shook her head sadly. “It’s too bad. You have perfect pitch.”

In the adjacent living room, two cups were on the coffee table, along with a birthday card, torn wrapping paper and a big red bow beside a stack of CDs.

“Karen’s birthday,” she explained, seeing I had noticed the mess. “Come on, you have to meet Karen.”

She took me by the hand and led me down the hall, pausing to knock before leading me into the bedroom. A very pretty brunette was sitting on the bed, surrounded by stacks of paper, with a binder open in her lap. She looked shocked to see me standing in her bedroom.

“Hey, babe. This is my friend Dave. Dave, this is my girlfriend, Karen.”

Karen climbed awkwardly güvenilir illegal bahis siteleri over the paper to shake my hand and mutter a hello. She was tiny, barely five feet, and extraordinarily pretty, with thick dark curls and eyes so dark they were almost black. She wore a cotton tank top and a pair of cut-off jean shorts. I couldn’t help but notice a large hole worn in the ass of the shorts, showing nothing but smooth skin underneath.

“Dinner will be ready in about fifteen, babe,” Elizabeth said, kissing Karen on the cheek before taking my hand again and leading me back to the living room.

Elizabeth poured three glasses of a thick red and we chatted absently about Bach while she finished fixing dinner. I watched her work, trying to avert my eyes from the movement of her unencumbered breasts under the white silk. The top button had come undone. I was pretty sure she caught me staring, but she diplomatically said nothing and refastened the button without breaking stride. I sipped the wine and noticed the subtleties of the flavour, wondering again at her amusement over my choice or wine.

“So, how did you guys meet?” I asked, noticing the button had already slipped open again.

“I get my hair done at the salon where Karen works. She knew I volunteered at the legal clinic at school and at the women’s shelter. So, when her marriage went sour she asked me to put her in touch with some people to help her get out and then get back on her feet. Her husband is a real jerk and I held her hand through the whole mess.” Elizabeth grinned. “Figuratively at first, and then literally. I figured out pretty quick that she was bi. It didn’t really come as a surprise when she told me she had feelings for me. I had kind of been waiting for it.”

I heard the water shut off down the hall and Karen came into the living room, picking up the third wine glass and smiling wordlessly at me in greeting. It looked like she had freshened her makeup, dark lipstick and dark, dramatic haloes around her eyes. The overall effect was that of a heavy metal songstress, although she still wore the cut-offs and tank top. A subtle glance confirmed my earlier speculation that she was bare beneath the cut-offs.

She walked over to Elizabeth and stretched to kiss her on the cheek before slapping her on the ass and whispering, “Bitch.” Elizabeth laughed musically. I missed what led to the exchange, but I felt vaguely guilty witnessing the intimacy.

I distracted myself by contrasting them, the white silk redhead and the rocker chick brunette, wondering where the connection lay. But whatever their differences, one thing were clear, even to the casual observer. They were very happy.

I drained my wine glass.


Karen incredulously shook her head at Elizabeth and leaned forward over her wine glass. “Are you… really? Unbelievable!” She slumped back into the chair, eyes wide in astonishment. “You are so naïve!”

Dinner was over, and I had helped Elizabeth clear away the cake and coffee while the birthday girl had a cigarette on the balcony, something that was apparently forbidden in the apartment.

Karen had loosened up considerably with a few glasses of wine. She was a perfect foil to Elizabeth, outspoken to Elizabeth’s tact, with a razor sharp wit that was as quick and pointed as it was vulgar. She had an encyclopedic knowledge of heavy metal and challenged me on the genealogy of several of my favourite new wave and underground rock bands. I genuinely liked her, and I was enjoying myself in spite of the awkward situation.

“No, I don’t think so,” Elizabeth countered, leaning forward to put her empty glass on the coffee table. Two more buttons on her blouse had come undone sometime during dinner, and I tried not to notice. Well into our second bottle of wine, Elizabeth didn’t seem to care anymore. “Lynn and Suzanne have been living together for, like, five years.”

“That doesn’t mean they’re not up for a threesome!” Karen shot back. “They got you drunk and put on a porn tape, and you think they were just being sociable? Baby, they tried the same thing with my sister! And I’m pretty sure they had a little party with Amy Hillier. Let me guess, Lynn kept your wine glass filled and Suzanne started to give you a shoulder rub?”

Elizabeth laughed, filling the wine glasses and flopping back on the couch next to me. She put her arm on the back of the couch pulled her feet up under her, her knees resting on my thigh.

“I didn’t say I took them up on it. I just said I was surprised how much porn they had. Suzanne just didn’t strike me as the type, but they have more than you do.” She smiled teasingly. “But if they really were up to party… well, you can’t question their taste.”

“Yeah, you’re right. My sister’s hot,” Karen replied with a wink. She sighed. “Even I have to admit that. It’s not fair. I got the brains in the family, but I would kill for her body.”

“Apparently, so would Lynn.”

“Well, good luck to her. My sister’s straight.”

Elizabeth shrugged. “So’s Amy. güvenilir bahis şirketleri Well, mostly. She’s… adventurous, shall we say?”

“I would say bi. You got a problem with bi, honey?” Karen narrowed her eyes in mock challenge.

I lay my head back with a loud groan.

“What?” Karen asked.

“Are you kidding me? Sitting drinking with two beautiful women, talking about their porn collections and lesbian threesomes?” I sighed theatrically. “I can die now.”

“Gets you hot, does it?” Elizabeth teased.

“Of course it does!” I snapped, feigning irritation.

“Oh, and would you like to see us make out?” Karen asked mockingly .

“Of course I would!”

Karen laughed and uncurled from her chair, moving over to sit beside me on the couch, opposite Elizabeth.

“Would you like to see me kiss her?” she asked playfully.

I didn’t answer. I didn’t know how.

Karen smiled and leaned across me toward Elizabeth, who moved forward to meet her kiss inches from my eyes. Their lips brushed, gently, and parted before meeting again. Their mouths caressed, and then pressed hard. Karen’s eyes met mine, an equal measure of amusement and lust. She placed a small hand on my thigh to take her weight as her other hand wound in the hair at the back of Elizabeth’s neck. I watched, vaguely aware of the hitch in my breathing, as their tongues wound around each other, hard, sharp teeth tugging on full red lips. Another button had somehow come undone on Elizabeth’s blouse, and her bare breast moved in an agonizing dance in and out of the gap.

Even as my heart raced, I struggled to figure out how to extract myself. Their kiss had originally been for my benefit, but the atmosphere had changed so drastically, so quickly, that I knew it was no longer about me. I was suddenly an intruder.

But their position on either side of me made subtly slipping out was impossible. I would have to break their embrace to escape, making an uncomfortable situation even more awkward.

Karen broke their kiss and rested her head against Elizabeth’s cheek, again locking eyes with me as Elizabeth continued to kiss her forehead. Her hand moved up my thigh to the hard ridge along my belly, scratching slowly with dark red nails and then squeezing and kneading. She leaned toward me and ran her tongue over my top lip. Her mouth pressed fully against mine, her tongue an ugly but overwhelmingly erotic mix of red wine and cigarette smoke.

Karen suddenly stood, taking each of our hands to guide us out of the low couch. Elizabeth stopped and scooped up the red bow from the torn gift wrap on the coffee table. Giggling at Karen, she slapped it on top of my head.

Karen walked backwards as she led us by the hands into the bedroom, and turned to guide me onto the bed. She took the bow off my head with a smile, and began to slowly unbutton my shirt. I instinctively tensed my abdomen as she undid the lower buttons, and she drew her breath in appreciatively as her fingers traced the muscles on my lower belly.

I looked for Elizabeth, who was standing at the door watching us. Her face had no expression, but her hand was inside her blouse, her fingers moving in lazy circles.

Karen pushed me back onto the bed and up against the headboard, my back propped against the pillows. Elizabeth stole behind her and watched me while her hands cupped and weighed Karen’s breasts, dark nipples hard and clearly visible through the white cotton. One pale hand relinquished a breast and slipped lower, slowly plucking open the buttons of Karen’s jean shorts. I saw a maddening glimpse of dark hair before Elizabeth’s hand slipped inside the jeans. Karen groaned loudly and ground her hips back against Elizabeth.

Elizabeth nudged Karen toward the bed, and Karen leaned on her elbows while Elizabeth tugged her shorts down over her hips. Karen turned and pulled Elizabeth down with her on the bed, using her heels to pull Elizabeth in between her open legs. I watched, still unsure of my role.

Maintaining their embrace, Elizabeth rolled Karen back against my chest and then sat back to strip off her leggings. Karen reached above her head to pull me down into a kiss while I caressed her breast through the thin cotton. My other hand crept between her legs. I relished the feel of the coarse, wiry hair against my fingertips, giving way to the soft skin of her lips, and then the dripping warmth beneath. I felt her groan in my mouth.

Karen spread her legs further, lifting her hips and grinding against my fingers. I slid my hand underneath her to support her ass as Elizabeth bent forward, planting tiny kisses and flickering her tongue over Karen’s thighs, and then in smaller, maddening arcs over the creases of her V.

Karen moaned and gripped a handful of Elizabeth’s thick red hair, pulling Elizabeth’s face between her legs. Elizabeth finally relented, narrowing the arcs of her wandering tongue until it dropped below my sightline, her nose nestling into Karen’s neatly trimmed mound. Her eyes closed and I watched the subtle movements of her cheeks as she sucked gently on Karen’s clit. Karen moaned, and then moaned again, her hips starting to thrash. Elizabeth’s nose dropped below Karen’s mound, and the pitch of Karen’s moans increased as she drew her knees up toward her chest. My heart hammered harder as I realized Elizabeth was exploring Karen’s ass with her tongue.

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