A Stringed Instrument Ch. 11
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It was a short trip to the station, and Helen was quiet for most of it. Just as we got to the car park she spoke rapidly: “You must think I’m mad, talking at you like I did before. I probably am, a little bit. I can’t deal with too much happening in my life, I need to keep it simple or I start going off the rails. But I have to know Phoebe’s all right.”
“I worry about her too, you know. It’s hard when she’s living so far away, and she pushes herself hard. But I love her, I’m going to do my best by her.” And then, since we’d just we pulled into a spot, I leant over and hugged Helen. I don’t know if it was welcome, but she looked so worried, I felt I ought. “Thanks for the lift. I promise I’ll look after her. Catch you back here tomorrow!”
I arrived at John’s place late, thanks to a delayed train, but that was okay: he was still vacuuming as I walked in. “Evening ‘Von.” He looked out the door, side to side. “Did you bring this girlfriend of yours?”
“She’s running late. Her grandma’s in hospital.”
“That’s no good. Give us a hand moving this sofa.”
“You vacuum under sofas now? Well, I never.”
“Cat says it gets her hot when I do housework. What can you do?”
From the kitchen I heard: “Yeah baby. That’s how I like it. And don’t forget to change that top, it’s filthy.”
“Hi Cat!” I called out.
I helped set the table and then caught a quick shower to rinse off the day’s dust. As I was coming out of the bathroom I heard Cat at the door: “…and you must be Phoebe? Nice to meet you!”
I hurried over to greet her with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Hey sweetie!”
“Hey there. Sorry, I was planning to dress up a bit, but I came straight from the hospital.”
“Don’t sweat it. We’re casual here… yeah, like that.” My brother had just made his appearance in a Megadeth T-shirt that I’d given to him for Christmas eight years earlier. “Phoebe, this is my brother John. John, this is Phoebe.”
“Evening!” He shook her hand. “Get yourself comfortable, dinner’s in five.”
As we ate, John made conversation: “So, Pheebs, little sis says you’re a cellist?”
“What’cha play? Anything I’d have heard?”
“Um, I don’t think so… mostly classical and folk…”
“She does a good version of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’,” I offered.
“Do you know S&M?” John asked.
Phoebe looked thrown by the question — I’ve no doubt he was making mischief — but Cat came to the rescue. “It’s a Metallica album. With an orchestra.”
“Oh! Oh, yes, I’ve heard it. San Francisco Symphony. I’m auditioning for the Sydney Philharmonic, if I get in I might get to do stuff like that occasionally. And things like movie scores, video game soundtracks…”
John interrupted, “Grand Theft Auto?”
“I don’t think so…”
I patted her knee. “John is making trouble. He did four years of music in school, he knows what a cello is.”
“I did! You wouldn’t believe how crap I was.”
“We were in school band together,” I said. “Pachelbel’s bloody Canon, over and over and over. He played the triangle.”
“Oh god,” said Phoebe, “I used to have a T-shirt that said ‘NO I WILL NOT PLAY PACHELBEL’.” And she delivered a small rant on the subject. It’s a lovely piece of music, easy to play, and so it suffers the death of a thousand scrapes at the hands of every school string group. “I had a gig at a restaurant for a few months. Guy wants to impress his date, can’t name anything else classical, guess what he asks for? Every time.”
That set off an animated discussion about good music ruined by overexposure: “Hallelujah”, “Gran Vals”, “Smoke on the Water” and a dozen other classics. As we talked I felt Phoebe’s fingers stroking mine under the table. She seemed to be settling in nicely with the company, and soon she was giving John as good as she got. As the conversation drifted on to Cat’s work in architecture John and I rose to clear the table and rinse off the dishes in the kitchen.
“Well, she seems nice. Very classy.”
“Yeah, I still feel out of my league with her.”
John humphed. “Can she fix a computer?”
“No, but —”
“She’s never dated a woman, but she’s dating you. That tell you anything?”
“It says she likes you. Now come and pick a movie.”
We sat out in the lounge and put on a DVD. It was something called Cardinals that I’d never heard of: pre-rehab Rob Downey Jr. as world-weary Bishop Stephen Doherty, Chris Rock as hard-living pro baseballer Stevie Doherty. Stephen gets appointed as a Cardinal, Stevie gets selected for the St. Louis Cardinals, letters get mixed up, hilarity ensues.
John and Cat had left us the sofa, so Phoebe and I cuddled up next to one another as the opening titles rolled: Stevie’s fiancée walks out on him after catching him in bed with a cheerleader, while Stephen’s given up hope of finding the money he needs to fund the underprivileged kids’ sports program.
Cat brought out a dessert wine; as a rule I don’t drink much, but I have a weak spot for a good botrytis, bahis firmaları and Phoebe and I sipped as we watched.
: And of course, you’re celibate.
STEVIE: [fishes engagement ring out of pocket, looks at it sadly, throws it in the Missouri] Yeah, guess I am now.
EMISSARIES: [look at one another in shock]
Phoebe slipped her hand behind me, covertly stroking my back. In reply I rested my own hand on her knee, in plain sight, and squeezed. She tensed up and looked cautiously in my brother’s direction.
“It’s okay, they’re cool.” I kissed her earlobe and slowly I felt her relaxing again.
I don’t know whether it was the wine or the company, but I enjoyed the movie more than I’d expected. It was one of those comfortable stories where you can predict most of the ending once you’ve seen the first five minutes. Bishop Stephen lost his glasses and hit a home run, Stevie D gave a passionate sermon about the “goddamn blessing of marriage” and proposed to his fiancée from the pulpit, the kids’ sports program got saved. Everybody except the evil property developer got a happy ending.
By then Phoebe was curled up with her head in my lap. “You still awake, love?” I asked, stroking her hair.
She yawned. “Yeah. Just. Sorry, long day.”
“Sounds like we’d better head home.”
Another, longer yawn. “Yeah.”
So we said our good-nights and shambled to the station. As we waited for our train I thought to ask, “So how is Yaya?”
“Bit of a heart wobble from the chemo. They’re going to keep her in overnight for observation. She should be home tomorrow but we’re not going to do any more packing, just the family stuff.”
“So you won’t need me there tomorrow.”
“No, sorry babe. So we’d better make the most of tonight.”
“Mmm.” We were the only ones in the carriage, and I nuzzled her neck. “So, how tired are you?”
She tilted her head, giving me better access. “I think I could stay up a bit longer. But I’m going to need a shower first.”
The flat was quiet when we got home. As usual, Aleks was out. While I shed my clothes Phoebe made straight for the shower. I stopped to check my email, and when I looked up a few minutes later she was standing in the bathroom doorway wearing only a towel.
“Darling…” she said.
She began walking toward me, reaching out to me, towel falling away from her hips and leaving her naked. “Put the laptop away.”
I obeyed, and as soon as it was safe on my bedside table she pounced, pinning me to the bed. “Much better.” She stooped to rub noses with me. “Give us a kiss?”
I obliged, and we tumbled around in one another’s arms for a while, ending up side by side. “How you doing, love?”
“Oh… okay, I guess. Taking Yaya to the ER isn’t my idea of fun.”
“I’m not surprised.” I squeezed her tight. “I’m okay if you just want to cuddle up and go to sleep.”
“I could do that. But what would you like?”
“Well, I…” I was going to say “cuddle up and go to sleep” but realised: no, that’s not what I want. That’s what I think Phoebe wants me to want. What I want is…
What I want is scary to ask for. Is it too much? Will it scare her away? Will she say yes out of pity?
I sat on the bed and gestured at the floor in front of me. “Stand there, please. Back to me.” As she obeyed I shifted forward to the very edge of the bed, reaching for her hair, pulling loose the ties that kept it neatly corralled. She’d braided it earlier; I undid those braids now, teasing her hair out until it hung loose all around her.
I took a deep breath. “Kneel on the floor. Facing me. Hands and knees.”
“As you wish, my love.”
What was that in her voice? Desire? Amusement? Surrender?
Not distaste. Not distrust. She knelt, her drifting hair tickling the insides of my knees, her palms flat on the floor.
“Phoebe. I want to be selfish tonight. I want you to go down on me, make me come, over and over.”
Her cheeks brushed my thighs now, and she spoke without looking up: “And is that all?”
“No.” I placed my feet on top of her hands. Not hard, not enough to hurt — god, the thought of damaging those accomplished fingers! — but firm enough to say: These stay here. “No, it’s not. I need you to tell me: do you love me?”
How many times can I hear that question answered, and see the proofs of it, and still need to hear the answer again?
“Yvonne.” She kissed the inside of my thigh. “Let me show how much I love you.” And I opened my knees wider as she rocked forward. My fingers settled at the nape of her neck — I don’t remember whether I was clawing her or caressing — as I felt the warmth of her tongue. I had to look down and reassure myself that she really was there, that I wasn’t in my bedroom alone caught up in some daydream.
“Mmm. Yesss. Like that.” I took her by the earlobe, pulled her in a little, my legs wide as her tongue flickered into me, and out again, and upwards to explore the neighbourhood of my clit…
Slam. Drunken laughter from the kaçak iddaa lounge. Both of us froze.
“That,” I whispered, “will be Aleks. Don’t stop.”
She resumed licking me, leisurely slow strokes. It was very pleasant but I was more than a little distracted by the noise. Noises. Footsteps in the lounge, more than one set, and a second voice mixing with Aleks’, although it was too soft for me to make out what he (she?) was saying.
“I guess he brought a friend home.” And then I whispered “More,” tugging at her hair suggestively, placing just a little more pressure on her hands. She obliged me, the tip of her tongue describing circles around my clit like a tiny moon orbiting its planet. It was only a soft touch, but it felt so very good. I’d been in a state of high arousal since the moment she went down on her knees, before her tongue touched me.
Right next to my room, Aleks’ bedroom door slammed — I’ve spoken to him about that more than once — and the laughter continued just the other side of the wall, muffled a little so I could hear the tone but not the words.
After a little while I realised my body was anticipating the path of Phoebe’s tongue, little bow-waves of delight outrunning her and setting my nerve-endings tingling even before she came to tend to them. “Mmm. Nice.”
Next door the voices had changed. Not laughter any more. Quiet conversation. Sighs?
“Sounds like Aleks is getting lucky.”
Soon after she slowed again and moved away from my clit, kissing my labia and running her tongue up and down. My arousal had been concentrated around my sex; now it was spreading, that delicious sensitivity creeping outwards along the highways of my body. I ran fingernails over my own belly, striking shivers like sparks from my skin, fingers sliding up to my nipples to savour what Phoebe had set in motion. Speaking with lowered voice: “So very nice. Can I keep you?”
She drew back for a moment, so she could speak: “Yes.” And sunk herself between my thighs again, tongue now darting in little flicks, frustratingly unpredictable.
Thump. Thump. Thump… and I felt Phoebe shaking with laughter, for it was very obviously Aleks’ bed bumping against the shared wall. As if to settle the matter beyond any doubt, we soon began to hear a rising series of moans that seemed quite excessive. I was more familiar than I wanted to be with the noises Aleks made in bed — he’d brought enough people home at one time or another — so I was pretty sure most of it was his bedmate.
I am oddly self-conscious sometimes, and although the noises from next door were hilarious, I didn’t want to be heard myself. And I was getting close, my face hot and flushed. So I leant back a little, one hand firm on Phoebe’s forehead so she couldn’t follow, and we took a breather.
“Is that a man or a woman with him?” she whispered. “I can’t tell.”
“Not sure. I think maybe a guy?”
Thump. Grunt. Thump. Gasp. Thump. Grooooan.
“I think that’s a woman. Too high for a guy,” she said.
“Maybe.” I shifted forward again, combed my fingers up into her hair, grasped. “Go on. Slowly.” And she did, not that she had much option, with my hand pulling her in close.
Next door somebody came, noisily and at length: a sound like “Aaaheyargh”, followed by softer grunting and talk that gradually died away.
“Keep going,” I whispered. “Yes, harder. Eat me.” Squeezing my own breast. Looking down at the curve of her back, the flow of her hair. My other hand at the back of her head, holding her close in, and feeling the tension in her fingers still caught under my feet. “Yes, I want you… aah!” I’d stuffed my knuckles in my mouth at the last moment, but it was barely enough to keep me from crying out as a tsunami flooded my nervous system. I came, thick fast pulses that I felt throughout my body.
And when at last they ebbed, I took Phoebe by the hair, tugged her head back so I could look her in the eye, and told her, “More.” And I did not release her until her tongue had coaxed out every last ripple of pleasure.
When I finally did let her up, I fell back onto the bed — feet still dangling off the side — and she curled up alongside me.
“Sweetie?” she said.
“I love you. And I loved doing that for you.”
I drifted off to sleep, still tingling, tangled up with my lover. It was eight in the morning when we were woken by her phone with a text message from RJ:
Back at Mum’s. She’s doing well. When will you be over?
We scrounged breakfast — there was no sign of life yet from Aleks’ quarters — and I kissed Phoebe goodbye at the door. Then I went back to bed for another couple of hours.
She called me in the evening:
“Hey love, what’s doing?”
“Sitting at the airport, waiting for my flight. Just thought I’d call.”
“How’s your grandma?”
“Oh… you don’t want to know.” In the background, I could hear the airline paging somebody.
“Still feeling poorly?”
“No. Well, not like that. They said her heart kaçak bahis was okay, discharged her in the morning. I don’t think Dad got any sleep, he looked awful today. Doctor told her to take it easy, so of course she insisted on having the big talk with us all anyway, and then she got into a fight with the priest.”
“Okay, let me start at the beginning. So, we sat down in the lounge and talked about… arrangements. Powers of attorney and so on. She showed us the valuables and the memorabilia and told us who gets what if she… you know. She made me write down a list, it’s five pages long. Photos, jewellery, tablecloths, even the kitchen stuff. If you were wondering, I get the pots and the knife set, Helen gets the egg-beater and the cake trays and some money.”
“Your mum? I didn’t think they got along.”
“They don’t, but… oh, I don’t know. Maybe Yaya’s trying to build bridges, maybe she’s trying to tell Helen she’s still part of the family whether she wants to be or not. And honestly, Mum could do with the money, she doesn’t have much. Anyway, then Yaya had me write down another long list of how to look after the garden. She’s really worried that if she’s in hospital for a long time we won’t know how to do it, so…”
“Yup. She’s getting really picky about everything. She used to be so easy-going, but now… today she grumped at Hamish because he made us sandwiches and he cut them in halves on the square instead of the diagonal. He looked quite angry.”
“Well, I imagine she’s under a lot of stress.” I’d seen it happen before: people who’ve suddenly lost control over the course of their lives, trying to compensate by controlling everything and everyone else around them.
“Trust me, by that stage we all were. And she grizzled at Helen about the way she and you sorted stuff yesterday. Don’t take it personally, Yaya’s like that with all of us at the moment. I really hope she’s going to mellow out after she’s had her surgery.”
“Uh-huh. So where’s this priest come into it?”
“Well, it’s Palm Sunday, right? And Yaya’s not well enough to make it to church, and Father Kimon knows she’s not well. So he comes over to give us all a blessing, which is nice. And then she explains how she wants her funeral to be. Father Kimon tells her she’s got plenty of years of life left in her, but she says just in case.”
“So what did they fight about?”
“She wants to be cremated, so her ashes can go back to Greece.”
“Oh. That’s a problem?”
“Yeah, it’s a no-no with the Church. Something about the resurrection of the body. But Yaya says… how did she put it? All those people who burned up in the bushfires three years ago, can God make new bodies for them? So surely He cope with one old lady who just wants to go back where her parents were buried? She couldn’t afford to go back when her parents died, you see. We visited when I was eight, but that was much later, and I think it still bugs her. Anyway, Father Kimon argued with her, and he ended up telling her she couldn’t have her funeral in an Orthodox church if she was determined to insult God by destroying what he’d given her, and she said what about the cancer in her arm, is she allowed to destroy that or is that insulting God too, and he started to answer back, and she clutched her chest and said her heart was giving her trouble, and we persuaded Father Kimon it’d be better if he left. He’s a decent sort of guy but not the type to back down from a religious argument.”
“But your grandma? Her heart?”
“She wouldn’t let Hamish check it, refused to go back to hospital. I’d be more worried about that but I suspect she faked it to make him feel bad.”
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry right now. I hate this, I just want my Yaya back the way she was.”
“Doesn’t help that I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep for ages.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I should’ve let you get to bed earlier.”
“Not your fault. I was happy to… you know. But I think I had a bad dream about Yaya, woke up worrying about how things were going in hospital and feeling guilty for not staying with her last night. And then just as I finally managed to relax myself enough to go back to sleep… um, your housemate decided to go for seconds, judging by the noise.”
“Oh dear. I’m going to have to talk to him about that. But that does remind me, I found out the answer to our question.”
“Whether he was with a guy or a girl.”
“Oh, was I right? Was it a guy?”
“We were both right. They left while I was taking out the laundry this morning.” Somehow my good shirt had gone missing, the one I’d worn to dinner with John and Cat; I’d spent ten minutes looking for it, with no success.
“Huh. I should have thought of that!” There was a loud and garbled announcement behind her, and we stopped talking until it finished. “Well, that’s my boarding call. Love you, I’ll call you later.”
I went back to work after the long weekend to find several emails from Susan waiting for me. That wasn’t unusual; there was always something to do on the Redmond Barry project. What surprised me was the timing of her messages.
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