environment

Hi Litsters,



After the unexpectedly good reception for my first lesbian story earlier this year, I’ve decided to try my hand at writing another one. Unlike most other things I’ve written, this one is a quaint, tranquil romance between an older and a younger woman. I hope you like it.



This story was originally planned as my entry into the Earth Day contest, but a whole lot of work drowned me back then. There are several environmental themes in it.



There is a lot of story before the actual sex comes. If you came here looking for a quick stroke, you will probably end up disappointed.



All characters and events in the story are fictional.



A lot of credit is due to my editor, NaokoSmith, who corrects my wrong choices in verbs and wines with equal élan. Despite her busy schedule and advanced years, she sends the edited drafts back with unerring punctuality.




* *




“Just look at the view from this place!” screamed the excited new associate. The balcony at the Metropolitan Theatre overlooked the multitude of rows of patrons shuffling to their seats, getting ready for the show to begin.



“Get used to it,” said Heather Franklin. “We’re in the big league now.”



“And to think we’re barely starting out at the firm,” said her animated friend. “Did you see the signing bonus? It’s more than everyone at our old place made put together.”



“Comes with a hundred hour work week, sweetheart,” Heather said dryly, exhaling the last wisp of smoke from her lips. “Wait till we get a big case. That’ll be the last you’ll see of your free time for months.”



“Live in the moment, Heather. Live in the moment,” said Wendy. “Shh… the show is about to start.”



Heather sighed and tucked her reddish brown hair behind her ear. She didn’t even like Hamlet, or anything else by Shakespeare for that matter. But, she was a filthy rich associate at Griffin, Markham & Wiley now; and with that came the pretentious compulsion to see a play from a seat costing an astronomical amount.



No self respecting snob misses such things.



The bombastic voice of an actor resonated all around the hall. Heather looked to see her friend staring with rapt attention at the action playing out on stage. She pretended to be interested, but her mind drifted.



It drifted to her life growing up. Her home in Scarsdale with a white fence and trimmed hedges. Her family and friends. Every Greenpeace meeting she went to and every park she vociferously protested to save.



It seemed a lifetime ago. She got into Yale on a full scholarship. Her brilliance was only matched by her perseverance and determination to save the world. Every bit of the environment was worth saving.



Circumstances conspired against her. The vicissitudes of the world wore her down and now she had found herself fighting for the other side. The money was worth it. Someday she might even force herself to believe that lie.



A round of applause signalling the end of the first act brought her back to reality. Wendy was clapping enthusiastically. She turned to Heather.



“The actress playing Ophelia is a total knockout. Do you fancy her?” she grinned mischievously. “Or are we still firmly in the closet?”



“It was a one time thing and we were both drunk,” said Heather, rolling her eyes. “It was a mistake, granted a very enjoyable one, but still a mistake.”



“The mistake was you haven’t even kissed me once since,” pouted Wendy.



Wendy’s attention returned to the stage as Hamlet began pondering whether to be or not. Heather looked around aimlessly before ruminating once more.



The tedious play wore on. Heather distracted herself by thinking about her job, but that made her cringe even more than the play. A vision floated in her mind of herself on her knees with the sticky cum of her boss streaked across her face. To be a corporate whore had meant going all the way.



Her eyes moved off the stage and she surveyed the first row of the audience below her. She knew some of them and had heard of a few others. She casually browsed upwards along the aisle, before her eyes came to a sudden halt.



Even though she had an oblique view of the face from her vantage point, lit only by the distant stage lights, she immediately recognized the face. It seemed like a face from another life, a parallel universe. It had been years since she saw that face, but she would never forget it.



* *




“You go on ahead. I’ve got to catch someone.”



“Who?” asked Wendy, puzzled.



“None of your business. I’ll see you at work on Monday,” Heather replied brusquely and hurried off into the crowd. All the while, she kept half an eye on her target. The woman stepped onto the pavement and looked up the street for a cab. Tentatively, Heather approached her.



“Excuse me, but aren’t you Norah Vaughan?”



The woman looked surprised and nodded. Heather broke into a wide grin and extended her arm.



“It’s an honour to meet you again. You probably don’t remember, but I was at one of your public speeches ten or so years back.”



“I’m flattered you remember,” said Norah, a twinkle coming into her eye.



“Heather Franklin,” came the reply. They shook hands.



“Nice to meet you again, Heather. Did you come for the play as well?”



“A friend dragged me along,” she said. “You still look just like I remember all those years ago. I watched every news feature you ran and every documentary you made.”



“Thank you,” Norah said, looking surprised. Despite nearing fifty, she still took the effort to run a mile every day. Her body barely showed any sign of ageing and her face remained unblemished by wrinkles. She wore an elegant red dress with matching heels.



A drop of water fell on the dress. Then one more.



“Damn. It’s about to rain,” sighed Norah, holding her hand up above her head. “There goes my dress. All the cabs are full.”



“Let’s make a sprint to my condo. It’s just around the corner.”



“You have a condo in this neighbourhood?” said Norah, raising her eyebrow and running behind her new friend. “What’s your job again?”



“I’m a lawyer.”



Heather paused, suddenly remembering how Norah Vaughan probably hated corporate lawyers who routinely impeded her efforts to save the environment. To her relief, the older woman smiled.



“Right now, you’re my saviour.”



* *




“How wet are you?” Heather asked in the safety of her living room. It took a few moments of awkward silence for her to realize exactly what she had said. Norah laughed out loud.



“Not too bad,” she replied between laughs.



“You can grab a change of clothes if you want. I’ll get us something to drink.”



“Just the drink,” Norah said. As her host walked off, she looked round at the condo. The walls were washed with a pale shade of peach, gradually melding into a creamy hue going towards the foyer. An eclectic collection of antiques and artworks dominated the entire space leading to a double-glass sliding wall that opened onto a covered balcony.



Norah stood admiring a long thin canvas on the side wall. There were swirls of colours thinning out at the edges and forming a woman’s distorted face with her mouth open at the centre.



“Do you like it?” said a soft voice behind her. “It’s a reinterpretation of Edvard Munch’s Scream by an upcoming artist named Katrina.”



“It’s very…” said Norah contemplatively, trying to come up with something artsy.



“Colourful,” finished her friend. “I don’t understand shit about art, but my colleagues think it’s worth hanging up on my wall. I come bearing alcohol.”



“Bordeaux,” said Norah appreciatively. “You sure know how to treat a guest.”



They each took a goblet of the red elixir and headed to the balcony. The storm was picking up pace. Rain lashed the city in slanted sheets. There were two deck chairs facing outwards and the two women reclined to watch Mother Nature unfurl the full extent of her wrath on the city. Lightning flashed in a series of blinding white bursts from the sky.



“Do you remember it raining this heavily in May before?” Heather asked.



“Global warming at work,” replied Norah. “It’s only going to get worse every year. More rain, more hurricanes, more extreme weather in general. All the while we happily pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”



“I try not to think about it,” Heather said wearily. “We had one good planet and we blew it. That’s the long and short of it.”



Norah turned to her new friend and looked at her petulant face, taking a sip from her glass. A streak of lightning lit up the sky, its dazzling tentacles reaching out towards them before disappearing an instant later.



“How come you’re jaded so young?” she asked curiously. “What happened?”



“Life happened.”



“Life happens to all of us,” said Norah. “What happened to you?”



Heather took a deep breath and collected her thoughts. She began in a heavy tone, every syllable of the account of her unfortunate past laboured.



“I passed out of Yale, summa cum laude, in 2007, ready to make a difference. Sadly, the world changed that year. The recession ate away my family’s wealth, leaving them at the mercy of the economy. Suddenly, I was made acutely aware of every next bill. Environmental lawyers don’t earn a fraction of their corporate counterparts. I could just about make ends meet for us.



“Then one day, I took my mother to the ER after she had repeatedly complained of abdominal pain. She thought it was the turkey from the previous night.”



Heather paused and took a sip of wine. Norah turned on her side and propped her elbow on the armrest. She rested her chin on her palm, listening intently. Heather resumed, minimal emotion in her voice.



“It was ovarian cancer.”



“I’m so sorry,” said Norah softly.



“In the blink of an eye, everything changed. There was no way my family could cope with the mountain of medical expenses. Life gave me a cruel choice, to save the world or save my mother.”



She stopped once more and looked at the storm. Norah could see her milky white skin juxtaposed against the darkness of the night and torrents of rain outside the balcony.



“I chose my mother.”



Heather Franklin revisited a very private memory, her mother lying frail and weak on the hospital bed as she gently stroked her hair. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was being with someone she had looked up to for so long, but she chose this moment to say it. The words themselves struck deep within her core.



“I quit my job and accepted an offer from one of the biggest law firms in the state. My new salary was enough to foot the hospital bills and then some,” she continued emotionlessly. A decade back she might even have cried.



“I sold my soul to the devil.”



“You didn’t have a choice…” began Norah, but Heather went on as if she hadn’t heard.



“The cancer took my mother anyway. My father followed her to an early grave within a year. The last two vestiges of my conscience lie buried in Westbrook cemetery. On the same day as my father’s funeral, I had a trial defending Baron Oil against charges of illegal drilling in a fragile ecosystem. I demolished the opposing lawyer; an underpaid, nameless, spineless entity from some lowly law college.”



Heather turned her face and smiled wistfully.



“My transformation into what I had always hated was complete. The worst part was that I hadn’t even put up a fight.”



“The system always finds a way to beat you,” Norah urged. “Trust me, I know.”



Heather saw a glimmer of weakness in the woman she had idolized all her life. The woman who went to the remotest corners of the planet to bring unflinching accounts of the environment being raped by corporate greed, solely for personal gain. The woman who had done more for the environment than anyone else in the media over the last twenty years.



That woman looked nothing like the dispirited being beside Heather.



* *




“Great. No power now,” sulked Heather. Manhattan suddenly looked eerily dark, lit by the occasional brilliant flash of lightning.



“It doesn’t matter,” brushed off Norah. “It’s fine out here.”



“I guess,” came the reply as Heather’s eyes slowly got accustomed to the darkness. She could only see Norah’s silhouette, to her right. She got up to fetch a small emergency light, and placed it between them.



“What happened to the woman who fought tooth and nail to save the environment?” she said, settling back into her chair.



Norah sighed heavily. Her eyes drooped and an expression of futile regret washed over her face. The light cast a dim shadow over her, almost like a pall of gloom.



“I was an idealist once. I fought for the environment because I believed in the struggle. Whether it was deforestation of the Amazon rainforests, poaching in Kenya or BP destroying water bodies with their indiscriminate drilling, I made sure the Wall Street Journal had the inside scoop before anybody else,” she said with a half smile. “I thought I was making a difference.”



“You were. You still are,” said Heather indignantly. Two empty bottles stood on the table and a third was around half consumed.



“Hardly,” Norah retorted. “Nothing’s changed. The environment is worse off than it was two decades ago.”



She went on. “I wanted to be in the field, finding new stories and investigating them rather than being an editor behind a desk. Most of my contemporaries are now sitting behind desks and pushing paper. The closest they come to an occupational hazard is a faulty spacebar.”



“So you don’t feel like you’re making a difference by being in the field?”



“Fighting for the environment is like trying to put out a forest fire with a watering can. You can’t even make a small difference. Sure, there is a public outcry for a few days. The companies weather that out and eventually make sure nothing ever reaches a court.”



“Even if it reaches court, they drag it out using depositions and hearings with the sole objective of making it financially impossible for the plaintiff to keep fighting,” Heather concurred dispiritedly. “My firm has done it often enough.”



“Write to your Congressman, that’s what I say,” joked Norah, pouring some more wine in her glass.



“The Congress has been bought and paid for by big industries,” said Heather. “They’re happy to play the role of mute spectator.”



“And the spectacle is the destruction of our planet.”



The rain grew more intense, every drop splashing against the concrete and scattering in a plume of fine particles. Occasionally, a spark of lightning illuminated the puddles before the thunder rippled the surface. There was a simultaneous calm and fury to the whole scene.



“I was always afraid of what I could say when my grandchildren asked me what I did while humanity destroyed the planet,” Norah said sadly. “All I could have told them was that I stood by and watched, like everyone else. Thankfully, that day won’t come.”



“Why not?” asked Heather, her brow knitted with confusion. Her friend stared at her blankly for a long while.



“I have a question for you,” Norah asked finally with a wry smile. “Would you ever die for a cause?”



Heather thought it over. Try as she might, there was no rational answer she could think of. Instead she put her glass down and stared into nothingness. Norah went on.



“I would and as fate would have it, I will,” she said. “I will end up dying in poverty. Very soon as it turns out.”



Heather’s head snapped up to look at her. In the dim light, she saw the weak smile quivering around the corners of Norah’s mouth. Norah pointed to her head.



“Glioma,” she said heavily. “The doctor gave me ten months. A year at most.”



“I-I…” Heather began, utterly unable to come up with words to express the whirl of thoughts in her head. It all seemed surreal.



“No need for pity. Not now anyway,” sighed Norah. “Just now, all I have are daily headaches and some vomiting. It will get worse soon enough. And before you say it… I am not going in for any treatment. I don’t want to make this any harder than it has to be.”



“How can you be so unfazed?”



“Do I have anyone who will give a crap?” Norah laughed in response, taking another gulp of the claret. “My ex husband is happy with his second wife in Chicago. I’m lucky if my daughter calls me on Christmas. My zeal to save the world cost me everything. I gave up my family for my cause.”



“I gave up my cause for my family. Do I look that different?”



Heather looked at the strange creature who had emerged from the woman unexpectedly seen in the theatre. She looked nothing in stature or tone like the fearless reporter Heather had looked up to all her life. Norah Vaughan looked emotionally burnt out.



She looked surprisingly mortal.



“Don’t I paint a pretty picture? A bitter old lady cursing the world before she dies. I want to give away my money to Greenpeace, but I won’t have any left.”



“Why not?” asked Heather curiously.



“Legal fees. Some of the companies I went up against are suing me for defamation. You’d be surprised at how much faster these cases move compared to the ones against the companies,” she said evenly. “I’m almost broke. They seem hell-bent on making an example out of me to scare off anybody else.”



Heather wished she could be surprised at the legal system being used in such a perverse manner, but she was world weary enough to know that it is made so that the guilty and rich get away.



Every time.



Norah sighed and poured more wine into both their glasses. Heather bit her lip and spoke up in the near darkness.



“Let me represent you.”



“There’s no way I could pay…”



“I’ll do it pro bono,” she waved Norah’s astonished look off. “Please. I insist. It’s the least I can do. I couldn’t live with myself if the law I took an oath to uphold is used to bankrupt a dying woman. You gave me the courage to dream once and I didn’t fight for that dream. Let me try again.”



“Do you offer to help out everybody you meet at the theatre?”



“Only the ones who once inspired me.”



* *




Vikram Sengupta lay back on his bed. The morning sun did him no favours, reminding him it was time to get up. Even if he never followed laws set down by men, he was honour bound to follow those set down by nature.



He yawned and fleetingly wondered what his middle class parents would say if they knew his whole story. Being of Indian descent, his values often differed from those of his classmates. His parents emigrated to New York when he was a toddler, but he could never truly make himself part of the American Dream.



Girls? Drugs? Booze? None of them made sense to him.



But computers? That was a different matter entirely.



From when he was old enough to sit on a chair, he typed away on his father’s PC. The internet was his playground. He fit in perfectly with the nameless, faceless mass of users, sharing little bits of themselves with others. Parts of the internet which had restricted access made him mad. He was smart, gifted in fact; he took it upon himself to learn hacking. His grades suffered at school because he couldn’t care less when the Boston Tea Party happened, but his hacking skills grew.



He started small, changing his grade in History to an A. Then he sent several erotic books to unsuspecting saintly-looking Amazon users (who no doubt had some difficulty explaining this to less than amused spouses). With every successful hack, his confidence grew. He covered his tracks expertly. It all seemed natural to him.



One day, two men in black suits knocked on the Senguptas’ door. It was regarding the trifling matter of their fourteen year old son hacking into the Pentagon servers. They were not angry, rather they were worried that such a thing could be done. They spoke to Vikram pleasantly and offered him a sizeable amount of money if he could explain to their security experts how he managed to access nuclear launch codes reserved for the President alone.



They also tried to lure him into the shadowy depths of the nation’s cyber security force, but he was not interested. A job, any job, was beneath him.



He could have easily paid full tuition with the money he got, but where would be the fun in that? The fun lay in scamming the already beleaguered Bank of Cyprus into making a significant donation into his account. The poor Cypriots were still looking for their money while Vikram enrolled in NYU.



He went only to those classes that he gave a damn about. And he only gave a damn about classes where he could sit behind Laura Duquesne and gaze at her lovely blonde hair and tight ass.



Vikram yawned again and stretched his limbs. His awakening ritual was interrupted by a phone call. Grumbling under his breath, he picked up.



“You had better have a fucking good reason for calling me on a Sunday!”



“I do,” said Heather Franklin on the other end. “I need you to use your mad skills again.”



Vikram groaned loudly. His skills had brought him up on the radar of several organizations who needed access to classified information. He couldn’t care less about the money, it just seemed like a fun pastime.



“Go on,” he said, stepping into his flip flops.



“Look into a man named Herbert Townsend. He’s the CEO of Chevron,” Heather went on. “Go over this guy’s life with a fine toothed comb. Online history, credit cards, sites he visits, everything. If he has a fetish for lubed carrots, I want to know by the end of today. It would be especially helpful if you could find something work related.”



Vikram shook the sleep off. His right hand went into his tousled hair and twirled the unkept mass of strands. Mentally, he evaluated the situation.



“Are you asking me to hack into the servers of one of the world’s largest oil companies to look for dirt on their CEO? Those servers have military grade security, a firewall bigger than the Great Wall of China and are constantly monitored by some of the best cyber security professionals in real time.”



“Are you saying you can’t do it?” Heather asked flatly.



“All I’m saying is,” came the reply, “at least give me a challenge, Heather. This stuff is too easy and it gets boring after a while.”



“I’ll expect your email by four. Your usual fee will be in your account tomorrow.”



The line went dead before Vikram could ask her out on a date. He cursed himself and mentally promised to do it the next time she called. The best lawyers covertly employed all sorts of fringe citizens – hackers, former gang members, forgers, ace PI’s and more to get what they needed.



“It’s all about leverage,” Heather had said once. “Get that and you have your opponent by the balls.”



Vikram turned on his laptop and began typing in his practised mode.



“I am just a facilitator. I am a rich man’s Google. What they do with the information is none of my concern.”



Far away, Heather Franklin prayed that he could find something she could use to save Norah.



* *




The settlement room literally stank of greed and unfettered gluttony. Actually it smelt of Clive Christian cologne, but one usually begets the other.



“Let me do all the talking,” said Heather quickly, seeing three men walking towards the conference room. “I’ve looked up who their attorneys are and I know what to say.”



Norah and Heather were sitting beside a stack of papers when the men from Chevron arrived. Expecting a swift win, the CEO himself had made an appearance, flanked by two sharply dressed attorneys. Norah had been an annoyingly persistent thorn in his side, one he wished to extract at the earliest.



“Have you agreed to our offer, Ms Vaughan?” asked one of the lawyers. “A one time payment of two hundred thousand dollars for all the slander and negative publicity and we can part ways.”



Norah laughed. “Even if I had that much money, I’d rather burn it than see it go to you.”



Heather coughed and looked at her, reminding her to be quiet. The opposing lawyers took the opportunity to size up their new adversary.



“Who’s the new face?” snickered the other lawyer, gesturing towards Heather.



“I’m her new lawyer, Heather Franklin,” came the short reply.



“In that case,” began the CEO, Herbert Townsend, “you will be happy to know that we have a revised offer in mind which would be easier on your client’s pocket. We will settle for fifty thousand dollars and a public apology on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.”



Heather eyed all three men on the other side of the table. As much as she loathed the fact, she was one of them. Right after this case, she would go back to being a dirty suit.



But not today.



“I have a counter-offer, Mr Townsend,” she began in a chillingly calm voice. “I believe you will be interested in it.”



“Let me hear it.”



Heather took a deep breath and began. “You will drop this case right now, reimburse my client all her legal expenses plus interest and then you will write her a cheque with many zeroes in it to compensate for the relentless harassment, intimidation and hounding you subjected her to over the past five years. How does that sound?”



There was silence in the room while the opposing attorneys looked at each other. Townsend leaned forward and asked humorously.



“With all due respect, Ms Franklin, are you high?”



“Not quite.”



“Then what could possibly possess you to think that we would be doing any of those things?” he asked incredulously.



“I was hoping you would do it out of the goodness of your heart,” said Heather snidely.



“I don’t have that much goodness,” Herbert laughed. “As I see it, we hold all the aces here. You have nothing. Let me repeat the offer – fifty thousand dollars and a full page apology. This offer expires in the next minute.”



“I do have one ace up my own sleeve, Mr Townsend,” said Heather. “Polymeric alkyl-substituted phenols.”



Those three complex words had the cumulative effect of discolouring Herbert Townsend’s face. Suddenly, all the blood rushed out of it. He held his handkerchief to his mouth and coughed. He turned to his lawyers.



“I need to talk with Ms Franklin in private.”



They looked at each other, bewildered by the sudden change in their boss’s demeanour. He dabbed his handkerchief on his suddenly sweaty brow while his lawyers left. His shaky eyes turned to Heather.



“How much do you know?” he croaked out.



“I know that polymeric alkyl-substituted phenols are very promising additives to conventional fuel which could increase efficiency, decrease wastage and more. So promising in fact, that your company allocated over 20 million dollars to researching those compounds over the last two years. The research is being carried out in a facility just south of Modesto, California. Am I right so far?”



Townsend nodded, still shell-shocked at what he was hearing.



“Here is a list of wire transfers for the funding of that research and here are all the memos regarding those additives,” Heather said, handing over some of the papers beside her. “Your board of directors were so taken by the new compounds that they selected you to personally oversee the project. You handled everything.”



Norah broke into a smile too. She had dreamt of this moment for too long and just two days ago, it had been no more than an idle fantasy. She made a mental note to tattoo “I heart Serendipity” on her arm at the earliest opportunity. Heather went on after a small pause.



“The only problem, Mr Townsend, is that the research facility does not exist. The research does not exist. You took that money and cleverly transferred it to several bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. It was almost impossible to piece it all together, but here are the transfers to your accounts.”



Heather handed over some more documents and Townsend stared at them, wide-eyed.



“You embezzled 20 million from your own company, all the while feeding them bogus progress reports so they would keep investing. Eventually, I guess you would just say that the project turned out to be a failure and the money was sunk. It would be written off as a loss.”



“How did you get this information?”



“It hardly matters,” said Heather dryly.



“It will never hold up in court,” he declared. “The means for obtaining it are illegal and I will sue for…”



“Who said anything about court?” interrupted Heather. “All I plan to do is send this to your Chairman, every member on your Board of Directors as well as all your major shareholders. What they do with it is none of my business.”



Townsend slumped back in his chair, reeling from the unexpected punches flying his way. His heart rate was through the roof and his brain hurt from the developments over the past few minutes. Finally, he stopped shaking enough to ask softly:



“What do you want?”



“Everything I asked for earlier. I leave the exact amount of the settlement to your wisdom, but be careful. If I don’t think the figure is large enough, I will send these documents anyway. Also, nobody from Chevron ever contacts my client again. Are we clear?”



He nodded. Heather leaned back. “Call your flunkies in. You have some paperwork to draw up.”



Townsend motioned for his lawyers to come in through the glass door. Curtly, he told them the new terms of the settlement. Their faces fell. One of them turned to Heather angrily.



“I don’t know what you’ve told Mr Townsend, but this is clearly blackmail. I will be sure to let the New York Bar association know of your conduct, Ms Franklin.”



“Mr Stolarski,” Heather began, rising up from her chair. “From one corporate shark to another, let me remind you of the two unwritten rules in our line of work. Number one – the truth doesn’t matter, the money doesn’t matter, the law doesn’t matter, all that matters is leverage and who has it.”



Norah grinned and started towards the door. Heather held it open and let her leave before turning to the opposing attorneys again.



“Number two – always know when your opponent has more leverage.”



* *




“I still can’t believe it.”



Norah lay on the deck-chair and held the cheque up with both hands. Her mind was still coming to terms with the number written on it. Heather looked at her from the adjacent chair with a smile on her lips and another glass of her favourite Bordeaux in her hands.



“Is it enough?” Heather asked.



“Enough?” replied Norah disbelievingly. “I would have settled for a tenth of this.”



“Shh… don’t tell them that,” giggled Heather. “Townsend was obviously scared enough to give you that much for your silence.”



They were back on Heather’s balcony. The weather this night was calm, in stark contrast to the storm on their first meeting.



“We won, Heather,” said Norah softly. “Thank you.”



“We won the battle but we lost the war years ago,” sighed Heather. “Humanity is heading for a massive course correction. Before I grow old, many of the world’s coasts will be submerged by rising water levels, New York included. I will also have the unique pleasure of seeing half our population starve to death when our food supply falls hopelessly short.”



“You sound very negative for someone who just won a major case against an oil giant?”



“Negativity is the modern day realism,” said Heather, downing another gulp of wine. “It’s what keeps my hopes from daring to rise. That way I’m never disappointed.”



“Don’t you have anybody in your life? Any family or a boyfriend maybe?” Norah asked in a small voice after a moment’s hesitation. She was unsure about prying into Heather’s personal life.



“I have a funny uncle who likes to grab my butt, but otherwise no,” she replied. “As for boyfriends, I’d rather not go there.”



“Come on,” wheedled Norah. The wine was clearly getting the better of her. “Just between us girls.”



Heather heaved a sigh of resignation. Maybe she could blame it on the wine later.



“I’m a lesbian. At least, I think I could be.”



“You think you could be?” asked Norah curiously.



“I mean.. I don’t know,” she said defensively. “I’ve had several experiences with women. I’m still figuring it out. For the most part, it’s something I deny.”



“How many other people know?”



“No one really,” she replied. “I’m not into repeat performances, if you get what I mean. I cruise dyke bars when I feel low. It helps me escape my reality for a few sweaty hours.”



Norah didn’t say anything, goggling at the previously cool lawyer for a few minutes. Heather turned on her side and looked at her idol longingly.



“What about you? Have you ever been with a woman?”



“That’s usually a question for a third date,” Norah said with a coquettish smile.



“We’re both drunk enough not to be ashamed any longer.”



Norah pondered the question for a few long moments. Moonlight came in through the glass pane and lit up the space between them.



“It was twenty years ago. I was in Nigeria, covering how oil companies had polluted the ground water and destroyed large tracts of arable land by drilling irresponsibly. There was a village which dared to stand up to them in protest. The villagers blocked the local refinery. I stayed with the village headman’s daughter, who was spearheading the movement. Her name was Vasi. We talked at length about her protest.”



Heather listened in closely.



“One day, she took me deep into the forest to a small hut she had built. She stayed there at times during the summer. We went inside and began unpacking, when suddenly she kissed me. She said she had wanted to do it ever since she saw me for the first time. I’m sure you can imagine the rest. The tropical summer got much hotter in that hut. It was a wonderful few days that we spent there. I have never experienced such pleasure again.”



“What happened to Vasi?”



Norah paused, extricating the painful memory from some private crevice in her brain. Her tone quivered.



“She disappeared from the village. Her body was dumped a few days later, beaten, stabbed and raped multiple times. It was a warning to all the others. Her cause died with her.”



Heather gasped. “You don’t think…”



“Different methods for different countries, Heather. In the US, they will bury you in trials and intimidate you till you give up, while in Nigeria, they will pay off the rebel army to make their statement for them.”



“Did you file a case against them?”



“Yes,” said Norah, the emotion creeping into her voice. “I even dragged it as far as New York. The judge kicked the case out of court, calling it an effort to slander American industry. The next month, he announced he would be running for Council spokesperson with the generous donation the oil company made to his election campaign. No one looked twice. That’s how our judiciary works.”



“True enough,” said Heather wearily. They looked at each other again.



“How did it feel when Vasi kissed you?”



“It felt like a smooth velvet. Her lips were so soft. I could tell she was experienced by the way her lips pulled at my skin as they explored different parts of me-”



Norah’s story was interrupted by Heather rising off her chair. Norah looked as the petite young lawyer walked over and lowered herself. Their lips met in a loving embrace. Heather’s tongue tentatively explored Norah’s mouth, brushing from side to side. The first kiss was slow and measured, like a flower peeking out of its bud and feeling its first ray of sunshine.



“Did it feel like that?”



* *




“Are you sure you want to do this?” Norah asked, lying flat on the bed. Heather leaned over her, their eyes mere inches apart. Her ruby red lips parted and she whispered. “I have never wanted anything so much.”



Heather lowered her lips to Norah’s again. Her tongue probed deeper this time, swirling against Norah’s in a dance of carnal ecstasy. The older woman gradually reciprocated, tilting her head to the side to accommodate more of Heather’s roving tongue. Her hand reached in between their two bodies and found the younger lawyer’s breasts.



Heather lifted her face when she felt her lover’s fingers in her cleavage. She looked into the crystalline blue eyes under her, so sensual in the dim light. Norah smiled and Heather sat, straddling her hips. She reached behind her back and undid her bra. Her breasts were in plain view now. Their average size had made her feel the occasional pang of insecurity.



Norah smiled and reached out to cup the breasts. Her deft fingers kneaded the supple flesh. Heather closed her eyes, feeling eddies of pleasure spread out over her torso. Her skin tingled at the delicious sensations the older woman imparted. She gasped and her eyes opened wide when Norah held one nipple between her fingers and twisted it gently. She took the hint and mirrored the action on the other nipple, stretching it out. Every tug made Heather moan. Norah looked straight into Heather’s eyes and smiled. Her fingers continued to play with the hardened buds, pulling them precisely enough.



Norah sat up and brought her mouth to Heather’s pendulous breasts. Heather’s nipples stood out like hard points. Norah let the tip of her tongue graze around the areola, while continuing to tweak the other nipple between her fingers. She alternated her mouth on both nipples, teasing with her tongue. Heather could hardly bear the arousal welling up inside, then she finally felt teeth.



Teeth and nipples met, sending fireworks through Heather. Norah held the nipple between her teeth, lapping at the hardened nub with her tongue. Heather ran her fingers through Norah’s hair, clutching her tresses and holding her head in place. Norah worked away on the nipple, grinding her teeth into it just hard enough to make Heather squeal.



“You’re definitely more experienced than you let on,” panted Heather as Norah redoubled her efforts on the nipple. Norah raised her mouth to Heather’s and they kissed passionately. Her arms locked around Heather’s shoulders and nails dug into her back.



Now Heather seized the initiative and stuck her face between Norah’s voluptuous breasts. They sagged slightly, but remained plump and full. Heather grabbed a handful of one and gripped it tightly. Her fingers sank into the flesh. Norah’s nipples were larger and more pronounced, sticking out of her skin like bullets. Heather traced them, eliciting a low moan from Norah. She ran her fingers in a concentric spiral, lazily teasing her before she finally clasped the protruding nubs. Her fingers pressed them and stretched them out.



“You’re beautiful,” Heather said softly.



“You really think this old lady is beautiful?”



In answer, Heather kissed her lips again. There was no restraint this time. The kiss was a torrid explosion of passion lighting a fire within them. They mouthed each other desperately, slurping each other’s tongue with a frantic intensity. The need behind the simple kiss was indescribable and yet, they took time to explore each other’s mouths and savour the intimacy of the moment.



“You once described the sunset over the Andes glaciers as the most beautiful sight in the world. I think you are even more breathtaking.”



Norah sat on Heather’s bed, naked in body and soul. She had not felt quite so exposed and vulnerable in years. A slow warmth spread through her heart as her younger lover slowly knelt and leaned between her legs.



“I see you shaved,” Heather commented, seeing a neatly trimmed patch of hair leading to Norah’s succulent folds.



“I always keep myself presentable, hoping that someday I might meet someone,” she shrugged. “I have one year to live after all. Might as well make full use of it.”



Heather still wondered how someone could be so casual about an impending, inevitable fate. Norah sensed this and said evenly. “Let’s not dwell on that now.”



Still pondering, Heather kissed under Norah’s breasts. Her lips trailed down the older woman’s torso to her navel and then traversed her torso from side to side. Her efforts elicited a low moan from Norah.

Heather’s hands went under Norah’s knees and held them apart. Her tongue gently kissed her inner thigh, moving towards the centre in a series of agonizingly slow pecks. Each time, her lips pressed against Norah’s skin and pulled on the skin.



Her lips were nearing Norah’s clit now. She studied the engorged mound of flesh intently before prodding it with the tip of her tongue. Her tongue darted out again, pressing against the sensitive spot. Norah emanated the sweaty aura of sex, her body writhing under the ferocious pleasure coursing through her nervous system.



Heather held on and steadied Norah to keep her in line with her tongue. Slowly, she ran her tongue down along her inflamed lips. They were already wet and Heather eagerly slurped her lover’s liquid arousal.



Norah felt a restless need grow within her. She was sweating and every sense in her body was working at full steam. With every passing second, her vision slowly gave way to a swirl of colour. It was as if her entire body had become one large erogenous zone. She let out a guttural groan, raw, insatiable lust ruling her body. Every sensory cell within her lit up brightly, like a million fireflies fluttering within her until the glow of her arousal threatened to burst through her skin and dazzle Heather.



Heather dropped one of her hands and traced out the inside of Norah’s labia with a finger. She felt the fleshy warmth and pressed harder, moving her fingertip slowly. Her ministrations caused a rush of hormones through Norah’s body, heating her all the way to her core. She opened her eyes wide and looked upwards. Feelings long dormant blazed through her mind in vivid flashes.



Heather wanted to devour, to consume her idol. But even more than that, she wanted to love her.



Norah moaned at the feeling of Heather inserting two fingers into her sopping wet depths. Heather was gentle and moved carefully until she felt Norah shudder. Her G spot lay in Heather’s reach. She looked into Norah’s pleading eyes and gently rubbed. Every stroke of her fingers caused a paroxysm of pleasure to course through Norah’s body. She squirmed and bucked, pushing off the bed and embedding Heather’s slender fingers deeper within her. Heather took the opportunity to lock her lips around Norah’s clit and sucked on it. She used the underside of her tongue to massage the aching clit, before switching to a rough layer of tastebuds.



Norah was already delirious with pleasure. The fingers and tongue in tandem spurred her ecstasy to hitherto unknown highs. She bucked and thrashed on the bed. Her back arched upwards, pushing Heather’s fingers deeper within her. Her head rocked back and she felt the dark abyss of her pleasure hurtling closer. She closed her eyes and surrendered herself to it. All her senses gave way to the inky blackness.



Then suddenly, she had a feeling akin to an electric shock surging through her body. It set every neuron ablaze and made her scream. Waves of pleasure cascaded through her body, making her spasm and convulse. Her thighs locked around Heather’s face, holding it in place as her orgasm erupted. She looked into an incandescent flash of colour before going black again. Her body felt limp and her weak limbs gave way as she floated back down from the euphoric high of orgasm.



Even as she lay, gasping for breath, she saw Heather’s sweaty smiling face clambering up to see her. Evidence of her titanic orgasm was splattered all over that young face, dripping off the corners of her smile.



They kissed, tasting the unique cocktail of their sweet mutual adoration.



* *




Norah lay flat on her back and gazed upwards at the starry night. A myriad twinkling stars looked down at her, embedded into the black fabric of the sky. Sweat glistened off her body and her breasts heaved with each pant. Heather was propped beside her, equally naked and sweaty.



“I see why you like this place, Heather. The view is incredible.”



“So is the view here,” said Heather longingly, propping her head up and gazing at her lover. They kissed softly.



“The best part is I have no cell signal here. This is my personal bubble.”



They lay back and looked upwards once more. Norah heaved a sigh. It was not the sigh of someone who had just won a case against an oil giant. Neither was it the sigh of someone resigned to dying before her next birthday.



It was a sigh of futility. Her hardened exterior had dissolved and now she was bare and vulnerable in a way she hadn’t been in a while.



“Penny for your thoughts?” asked Heather, resting her face on Norah’s shoulder.



“A few regrets,” she said heavily. “I fought to save nature, but I never got the chance to admire it. I just wish I could see the world’s best natural sights before I go.”



“You’re rich now, thanks to Chevron’s generosity,” Heather reminded her. “You can go see all the forests and lakes you want.”



“That would be selfish,” she replied, turning to her side. “I’d rather donate the money to environmental NGO’s around the world. They need whatever they can get.”



Heather thought over it for a few moments.



“What if I pay for it?” she said. “I could come too.”



“You would?”



“Why not?” reiterated Heather with more purpose in her voice. “I have more than enough money and you’ll need somebody to take care of you when the cancer gets worse.”



Norah gaped at her. The possibility seemed so strange.



“Don’t be silly,” she said. “You’ll never get that much time off work.”



“I’ll find a way,” Heather replied with conviction. “It will probably take me about a month to get medical custody of you and sort out some other legalities, but it can be done. You could use that time to get your affairs in order while you’re still able.”



Norah laughed at the absurdity of it. She sat up and spoke, her voice distinctly mirthful. “We met at a theatre one week ago and you want to sacrifice one whole year of your life for me. Do you realize how bizarre it sounds?”



Heather smiled and beckoned Norah over to her. They kissed once and Heather pointed to the sky. Norah turned to see a single star racing through the cosmos, flying past its stationery companions.



“When I saw you as a kid, I used to wish I could be more like the woman on screen. You were my falling star. When I let my dream go, I let you go…”



Heather paused and composed herself.



“I’m never letting you go again.”



* *




EUGENE HOLT



JUNIOR PARTNER




Heather cringed seeing the name on the door. She despised every letter carved into the polished wood and embossed in bronze. Light gleamed off the writing, telling her she was about to knock on her boss’s door. She steeled her resolve and rapped her knuckles twice.



“Come in.”



Heather Franklin walked in, her lips pursed. She saw the top of her boss’s head as he looked down into a mass of paperwork. His salt and pepper hair grew sparser by the day, leaving significant patches of scalp exposed.



“Yes?” he asked, not even looking up.



“This is regarding that mail I sent earlier, sir.”



Finally, the junior partner turned his head and deigned to look at his visitor through his gold rimmed glasses. He studied his protégé carefully, scanning her from head to toe. Every pore in her body exuded resolute purpose. He moved his glasses further up his nose and spoke.



“Yes, I did receive that mail,” he said smoothly. “It was certainly interesting.”



“Will I get it?”



“I don’t know,” he stated. “It’s not the policy of this firm to give one year long sabbaticals.”



“It’s not exactly firm policy to receive oral sex from your subordinates either, but that hasn’t stopped you, has it?”



Eugene chuckled. In two decades of practising law, he had never seen anyone as sharp as his new acolyte. He got up from his plush chair and walked towards the door.



“You really are special, Heather. I hope you realize that,” he said softly, closing the door and walking up to her from behind. She stiffened, feeling his hot breath on her shoulder and up her neck. Her skin crawled with disgust as his wrinkly lips pressed onto her shoulder. His arm reached around her and pinched the underside of one of her breasts. His fingers curled upwards as he cupped her supple flesh through her shirt. She stood rooted to the spot and let herself be groped.



“You have a bright future ahead of you,” he whispered into her ear, then brushed his tongue against her earlobe. “You are willing to do whatever it takes to get what you want. Whatever it takes.”



His hand slipped lower, slipped into her pants. She clenched her eyes, gritted her teeth and stood perfectly still. Every cell in her body screamed out in revulsion, but she did not move. Her veins literally throbbed all the way to her head. A maddening rush of blood coursed through her body until she was barely able to hear Eugene’s voice over the blood pounding in her ears.



Yet she didn’t move a muscle.



“It will be tough, but I think I can convince the senior partners to agree to your unusual request. When do you want to start your leave?”



“From the end of the month,” said Heather, exerting a superhuman amount of effort to ignore the hand which had slipped under her dress and fondled her bare breast. This hand felt so rough and animalistic in stark contrast to Norah’s soothing touch.



‘Norah,” she thought, remembering why she was here, why she was tolerating this ordeal.



“One month,” he said in a breathy voice, inhaling her feminine scent. “One month should give you plenty of time to earn your sabbatical.”



Finally, he released his grasp of Heather’s body. Her eyes remained closed, every bit of skin feeling the lingering sensation of her boss pawing at her. It took a resolute determination on her part to keep a straight face.



“You are destined for great things, Heather,” he said wistfully, unbuckling his belt. He undid his button and pulled his expensive trousers down a few inches.



“But for now, you’re an associate, climbing up the ladder. For now, you must obey your superiors, starting with me.”



She looked at her boss’s expression. It reeked of chauvinism built over decades of being in power over his subordinates. Even as junior partner, he earned far more than his contemporaries at other firms. Eugene emanated everything she stood against in her early days, but she was wiser to how the world worked now. There were few sure ways to get what she wanted and one of them was right before her.



Heather turned her stony gaze down her boss’s body to his groin, where she saw his penis sticking out of his jockeys. His hairy balls hung loosely under the wrinkled member, gradually filling with blood flow. She saw it harden and stand straight, pointing in her direction.



Wordlessly, Heather Franklin sank to her knees. She brought her lips close to the grimy head of her superior’s dick. She felt his hand at the back of her head, pushing her forward. She wrapped her lips around the cock of corporate America and sucked hard; just like a good whore should.



* *




“I still can’t believe you’re doing this,” said a clearly incredulous Norah.



“Stop whining before I change my mind,” snapped Heather. She lay on her back, her legs spread and knees resting on Norah’s shoulders. Norah took the cue and returned her meticulous attentions to the inflamed clit in front of her. She placed the nub between her lips and sucked delicately.



Heather hooked her legs around Norah’s shoulders, drawing her lover’s face deeper into her mons. Her orifice leaked copiously onto Norah’s chin and dripped onto the bed. Norah placed her thumbs on either side of Heather’s lower lips and pulled them apart. Her tongue slipped inside Heather’s warm crevice, gliding into her velvety depths. She pulled her tongue back and repeated her motion, going deeper with every successive movement.



Heather threw her head back and her eyes rolled. She felt a warm sensation spreading from her pussy. Her muscles tightened, anticipating a burst of pleasure. It came, followed by more. Little waves of ecstasy lapped at her body, ebbing and flowing in tune with Norah’s tongue. The waves crested, peaking her arousal before washing over her in a warm flood of bliss. It went on, stippling Heather with goose-flesh all over.



There was a break as Heather lifted her legs off Norah and held them apart. This gave the older woman more space to manoeuvre, now running her tongue from top to bottom of Heather’s vulva in slow, languid licks. Every time, the tip of her tongue just feathered Heather’s raging clit before falling back again. Heather’s face contorted, her muscles taut. Sweat was layered all over her body.



Norah licked with greater urgency, plunging her tongue deep within Heather. One of her fingers went into the sopping opening so invitingly spread out before her. She probed gently, feeling Heather roll her hips as she approached her destination. Heather’s velvety muscles closed around her, like a tightly fitting glove. She licked around Heather’s clit and gently grazed her teeth over the hypersensitive mound of flesh, causing Heather to open her eyes wide with the jolt of pleasure shooting through her.



She was close. Heather pressed her hips forward and Norah pushed even deeper into her. An electric feeling seared through her and illuminated every sense into overdrive. She writhed and squirmed, waiting for the dam to burst and send her into the heights of climactic oblivion.



And it happened… not with the explosive inferno engulfing her as she had expected, but a quiet, quivering flame which heated her core. She felt light headed, floating blissfully on a cloud while Norah eagerly lapped up the liquid satin dripping between her thighs. Norah’s tongue tasted the tarty sweetness, savouring every drop. She kept her tongue firmly in place, even as Heather floated down from the high of her sexual nirvana.



Norah propped herself up on her shoulders and looked at her lover’s naked body. The low violet light in the room shimmered off every bead of sweat. One drop trickled down Heather’s side, reflecting the light all the way down to a pool of perspiration on the bed. Heather gasped and heaved, her breasts rising with every breath. The lawyer who seemed so powerful in the settlement seemed so vulnerable now.



Heather was vulnerable. She was trying to break all those shields she put up all around her and figure out what it meant to be vulnerable.



Norah crawled up and saw Heather staring out of the window. Her eyes were fixed on the starry darkness, her lashes fluttering.



“What’s the matter?”



“I was admiring the night. Beautiful, right?” she said with a longing sigh.



“Mother Nature is beautiful. It just takes someone as beautiful to realize it.”



“Is that why you fought so hard all your life?” Heather asked, turning her face to look at Norah.



“Among other reasons,” Norah replied.



“You sound so much like my mother,” Heather reminisced. “You would have liked her. She always wanted me to chase my dreams. Even when Dad got laid off, even when she got cancer, she never wanted me to quit my job so I could earn more.”



Heather paused. Her tearless grief bled inwardly.



“Even when she lay on her hospital bed, she told me ‘Please don’t let your dreams die with me.’ I just wasn’t strong enough to listen to her.”



Norah brought one of her hands up to comfort her lover. She caressed her soft cheek and stroked her hair. Heather continued without flinching in the slightest.



“The day she died I was at her side, holding her hand. She was too weak to speak clearly, but I could make out one word from the incoherent jumble. She told me ‘sorry’. She apologized to me because she made me give up my dream. That was the last thing she ever said to me… sorry.”



There was a splash of liquid on Heather’s cheek. Something had finally given way inside the world weary Norah; a stray teardrop crept past her defences and fell. Heather continued to look upwards with that stony look and dim disquiet. She never grieved, she internalized.



Grieving was a luxury reserved for the weak. She was not weak.



“How long did she suffer?” Norah asked, her fingers still stroking Heather’s face.



“One year. I saw her suffer in front of my eyes. Not a day went by when I didn’t cry for her. I used up all my tears. I’ve got nothing left.”



“Why do you want to see someone else suffer and slowly die for one more year?”



Heather smiled wistfully.



“My mother had one year to die. You have one year to live. I’m going to do it right this time.”



Norah studied the woman in front of her. There was so much about her she understood, and so much more she didn’t. Heather was an enigma to her and at the same time, the woman she seemed to know all her life. The dichotomy hung in the air, like a spectre over the sweaty lovers.



“Where shall we start?” asked Norah, forcefully changing the topic.



Heather smiled. “Let’s go to Arizona. I’ve always wanted to see the Paria Canyon. From there, sky’s the limit.”



* *




ABOUT A YEAR LATER



SOMEWHERE ABOVE THE ARCTIC CIRCLE



“I think it’s time,” said the doctor through pursed lips. He stood beside the bed, ready to perform his duty.



Heather looked down. She saw Norah lying on the bed, pitifully weak. Over the year, Norah had grown progressively worse. The headaches grew more intense and more frequent. Norah barely ate, vomiting whatever passed her lips. Her steely resolve, however, refused to give way.



She had her first major seizure while admiring the spectacular green vista of the Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania. Heather took her to the nearest hospital where they sedated her. When she came to, she wanted to go back to seeing leopards and lions streak across the grassy expanse.



She passed out a few days later, inside the Jeita Grotto in Lebanon, admiring the magnificent stalactites and stalagmites reaching out. Luckily, Heather was mindful enough to have a doctor accompany them.



Her seizures became more frequent. More than once, Heather considered returning to New York and admitting her into a hospital, but every time Norah firmly dissuaded her and insisted they keep to their itinerary.



“I don’t care how much it hurts, I’m going to see all I can.”



And they did. From the ice caves at Gangotri to the Ayers Rock in Australia. They fed dolphins off the coast of Malaysia and gazed at the incredible view of Moraine Lake in Canada. Norah began losing her vision as the expanding tumour pressed against her optic nerve, but she forced herself to keep watching.



Towards the end, she became delusional. She would be unaware of what she was saying or where she was. Heather stayed at every sight until Norah was lucid enough to appreciate it.



“Shall I do it now?” said the doctor, forcing Heather back to reality. She looked at the doctor, his eyes fixed on the morphine drip. Norah wanted to slip away quietly into the night and morphine could do that.



She nodded. The doctor was about to press the button, when they heard a weak voice. It was so frail that they had to double check to make sure it was real.



“I want to go outside. One last time.”



“The cold will kill you,” said Heather.



Norah smiled as best as her emaciated face would allow. “It’ll be painless, Heather. Just you wait and see.”



Heather looked at the doctor. He slumped back into his chair, emotionally wrecked from the experiences of the last few weeks. “You can wheel the bed outside or carry her if you want.”



Heather needed the doctor’s help to take Norah in her arms. Her thick coat and multiple layers of warm inners weighed her down enough, but she still found the strength to hold her lover. She carried her out to the deck of the hired yacht. The sea was placid and the yacht stood still.



“Put me down now, Heather.”



Norah lay flat on her back and looked up at the sky. The aurora borealis was visible. Green lights flared across the sky, arcing in bright streams. They swayed against the black night, occluding the stars.

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