“AM I?”-3

“Ms. Crowder, I’m from Great Oak!” Stephanie gushed. “And, and, and, get this! I worked at Elegantre, right there, right across the street from Two Alliance Square!”

“Get out of here! You did not!” Nina laughed.

In hushed, excited giggles, the two women talked about Texas, talked about people and places they both knew.

“I moved when Thibodaux Investments wanted to start their collections,” Nina said. “You come here for T. Dayton’s?”

Stephanie lost her happy smile. Nina reached out and clutched the woman’s hand.

“I, I was, my borfriend; he, Glen was always this kind of real controlling,” Stephanie admitted. “You know, would steal my money, then run off and go get high. Couple days later, ‘Oh I’m so sorry, babe, it’ll never happen again, I’ve had it, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired, baby.'”

Nina squeezed Stephanie’s hand; she’d had a few relationships with men that had used her, used Nina’s insecurities to manipulate her.

“But the last time? When I told him his bullshit wouldn’t work? Son of a bitch broke my jaw. Then when he got out on bail? Tried to choke me to death,” Stephanie whispered, blushing in embarrassment.

“Hope they put his ass under Stratton,” Nina said, naming the maximum security prison located in Lowridge, Texas.

“Hope his boyfriend treats him like he treated me,” Stephanie whispered and the two women giggled.

“And…” Stephanie said when she finished.

“Perfect, again,” Nina approved her reflection in the mirror.

“I uh, I’m not supposed, you ever eat at Cowboy’s? Barbecue?” Stephanie asked, adorable blush on her pretty face.

“Right there on um, on fifty two?” Nina asked.

“Get off at six; see you there at um, Six thirty?” Stephanie asked quietly as they walked to the cashier’s station.

“Okay,” Nina quietly agreed.

“And adding in the sixty six on your gift card…” Selena said, tapping rapidly on the keypad.

“And add another twenty four for Ms. Cimo’s tip,” Nina ordered.

Away from the opulent setting of the salon, Stephanie squealed, giggled and laughed like a girl. Nina joined in and their food was cold by the time the two finished eating.

Outside, Stephanie pointed out a nondescript Kia sedan. Nina proudly pointed out her dark blue Charger.

“That, that’s a Charger?” Stephanie gushed. “I, Glen was always wanting one; even tried to get me to co-sign for one for him. Thank God I didn’t; Glen’s never had a job longer than couple of weeks.”

Their first kiss, Nina trapping Stephanie against the open door of her Kia, was an electric jolt. It was a simple lip to lip kiss, but both Stephanie and Nina felt the kiss surge throughout their bodies.

“I uh, I, you ever had the wings at Dead End?” Stephanie stammered. “I, Friday night? Six thirty?”

“It’s a date,” Nina confirmed after punching Stephanie’s phone number into her phone.

Their second kiss, again, just a lip to lip brush sent another electric jolt through their bodies. Stephanie got into the Kia and smiled through the window as Nina waved, then walked to her Charger.

Nina showed off a little, leaving a little strip of rubber in front of Cowboy’s. Then, driving past Burns & Burns Grocers Grocery sore, Nina quickly scanned the parking lot, trying to see if she could see Christine.

At work the next day, Nina found it hard to concentrate. She found it hard not to text Stephanie, not to call Stephanie. She remembered she and Marla spending hours on the phone, not really saying anything, just squealing and laughing together.

“I’m doing tuna steaks on my back patio,” Nina said when Stephanie answered her phone at six oh two that evening. “I like to do some asparagus spears and some sweet potato wedges with that. Come over?”

Nina texted the address to Stephanie and began to prep her food. Thirty minutes later, her heart pounded in her chest as the doorbell of her condo chimed out.

“Hi, I know, we got plans to see each other Fiday, but God! I, I just couldn’t wait,” Nina admitted as Stephanie entered the living room of her condo.

“Wanted to text you like a million times today,” Stephanie admitted as she and Nina embraced.

“Oh my God, me too!” Nina laughed happily.

Their first tongue kiss was a hurried, frenzied one. Both girls were trying to suck the other girl’s tongue as their lips mashed together. Nina cupped Stephanie’s beautiful round face in her hands and stuffed her tongue into Stephanie’s mouth.

“Come on; you drink? I got this drink I make, you like chocolate covered cherries? It kind of reminds me of that; let me make you one, tell me what you think, come on,” Nina babbled, pulling Stephanie to the liquor cabinet.

On the back patio, Stephanie admired the hot tub and playfully shrugged when Nina suggested they could use it later. She sat in one of the chairs and sipped her drink as Nina grilled their supper.

“Tuna? Doesn’t take long at all,” Nina said, carefully monitoring the food.

After their meal, Nina and Stephanie sat on the couch and talked and kissed. Stephanie declined a second drink; she was driving and certainly didn’t need to be pulled over.

“You uh, you could stay the night,” Nina offered, blushing hotly.

“I could, couldn’t I?” Stephanie mused, then held out her glass for a second drink.

Stephanie’s 35C breasts were capped with large areolae and hard nipples. She admitted, before Glen had broken her jaw and severely bruised her esophagus, she’d been a 38D, but having a jaw wired shut and a throat too sore to swallow had helped her whittle off those last few pounds.

“God, they, they’re beautiful,” Nina cooed, gently caressing Stephanie’s breasts.

Stephanie’s belly still had some softness to it. Her navel was a little tunnel in her belly. Stephanie’s hips were generous, a thirty six inches around. Nestled underneath her pale belly was a very neatly trimmed bush of brown curls. Stephanie’s light pink lips peeked through the brown curls.

“God, you were any more beautiful, I’d hate you,” Nina sighed, looking at Stephanie’s body.

They touched one another, throat, shoulders then breasts. Nina was the first to lean her head forward and bring her mouth to her partner’s hard nipples.

“Ooh, Nina, yes,” Stephanie sighed, holding Nina’s head firmly against her breasts.

Stephanie was somewhat submissive and allowed Nina to set the pace of their lovemaking. Stephanie allowed Nina to pull her mouth toward Nina’s breasts. Stephanie allowed Nina to pull her hands toward Nina’s bald mound.

Stephanie was quick to orgasm when Nina lapped at Stephanie’s pussy while driving two, then three fingers into Stephanie’s pussy. She followed up with a second and third orgasm as Nina sucked, then bit Stephanie’s clitoris.

“You, I want, I need to taste you,” Stephanie finally gasped out as Nina was working a fourth finger into Stephanie’s sloppy pussy.

Their morning was a hurried affair of scrambling into their clothes, kissing, promising to call later, kissing, then finally dashing out of the condo.

Friday, over very spicy wings and ice cold draft beers, Stephanie heard about Christine. She saw the pain in Nina’s eyes as Nina talked about the blonde beauty that had allowed herself to be sold for a pint of cheap gin.

“But, if she hadn’t been there,” Stephanie softly asked as a girl gyrated on a small stage to ‘Everybody Wants Some’ by Van Halen. “Would we be together right now?”

“I don’t, I don’t know,” Nina admitted. “I guess, probably not.”

“No. Definitely not,” Nina mumbled as Stephanie walked away toward the Ladies Room.

Stephanie and Nina both had work on Saturday morning, so had agreed, they’d meet, they’d eat, then they’d go to their separate homes. In the parking lot, as they kissed ‘good night’ Stephanie begged Nina to come to her apartment.

Nina laughed as she followed Stephanie to Venice Apartment. She parked in the ‘Visitors’ space and Stephanie and Nina held hands as Stephanie led Nina to Apartment 211.

Two days after Christmas, Stephanie moved into Nina’s condominium. Slowly, the couple settled into a comfortable existence.

January 18th, three days after she’d seen Christine, while she was preparing breakfast, Nina heard Summer Duhon, a Channel 12 reporter talking about the three bodies that had been discovered in Trahan Park.

“With temperatures reaching twenty degrees overnight, with the wind chill as low as eleven degrees, the medical examiner states the probable cause of death to be hypothermia,” Summer said as the camera showed the leg of one victim sticking out from underneath a wooden gazebo.

“Nina?” Stephanie softly asked.

Nina didn’t hear Stephanie. She stared at the leg, stared at the large vinyl boot on the screen of the television.

“Oh, Christine,” Nina sobbed out. “Oh, dear God, oh Christine.”

There was no service for Christine or her two male companions. There was no one to claim the bodies and as far as the workers of the small Pinoak, Louisiana cemetery knew, there was no one mourning the passing of the three meth addicts.

During the day, Nina was as business-like as ever. She guided her agents with a firm hand and also kept her own production quite high.

At home, Stephanie held Nina as Nina sobbed for the loss of a tortured soul. Nina sobbed that Christine never knew how loved and treasured she was.

“I’m still here,” Stephanie finally said, two weeks after the morning broadcast had shown Nina what had become of her lover.

“I know, Baby,” Nina smiled softly.

“Do you?” Stephanie asked.

“What you mean? I…” Nina asked.

“When’s the last time we made love?” Stephanie challenged. “Nina, when’s the last time we took a bath together?”

“I, just last, I,” Nina struggled to remember.

“I bought those body paints; jars haven’t even been opened,” Stephanie said, a demanding tone creeping into her voice. “You know, I’m used to being second fiddle; I been the girlfriend guys would fuck because the girl they really wanted wouldn’t go out with them. I’m used to…”

“you’re not second fiddle, you’re the, God, I made a God damned fool out of myself over you,” Nina protested.

“Only because Christine isn’t here,” Stephanie screamed. “She was here? I’d still be just your hair stylist and you wouldn’t give a damn about me.”

The make-up sex was slow and tender. The bath water was cool by the time they got out of the tub. Stephanie allowed Nina to dry her, then lay her out on their bed and slowly, lovingly massage scented lotion into Stephanie’s skin. They slept in the nude, naked body touching naked body.

On Valentine’s Day, Nina took Stephanie to Henri’s, a trendy, expensive French restaurant in Elgee. Over the delicious raspberry truffle cake and bitter expresso, Nina gave Stephanie an heart shaped pendant with large emerald stone in the center. Stephanie’s gift to Nina was a pearl necklace with matching earrings.

Home again, the lovers used the last of the washable body paint, drawing hearts onto each other’s breasts, bellies and buttocks. Helping each other wash off the body paint was nearly as much fun as applying the thick colors. Stephanie even painted a large green heart over Nina’s bald pubic mound. That took extra rubbing with a soft washcloth to make sure all traces were fully removed.

“You know, if we had a baby, we could name her Christine if it were a girl,” Nina commented over dinner of tacos with her home-made salsa and home-made guacamole.

Stephanie took a hefty gulp of the sangria wine. Carefully, she set the glass down and looked across the table at Nina.

“One problem with that, Nina,” Stephanie said, voice tight. “Well, two problems. One, I don’t have a dick and last time I checked? You don’t either. And two? I’ll be damned if I’d ever let you name any baby we might ever have after that skanky ass meth addict.”

“No, no, we’d name her Christine Stephanie,” Nina tried to bargain.

“No, Nina, not just no but fuck no,” Stephanie screamed, hurling her dish across the dining room to smash against the wall.

The dish shattered into several pieces. Remnants of taco and refried beans clung to the wall and baseboard and floor. Stephanie followed the sudden violent act by hurling her glass of wine at Nina’s shocked face.

“I, I hate you!” Stephanie screamed at Nina.

“God damn you, you selfish bitch,” Stephanie screamed, running from the room. “And God damn that fucking Christine; I hope she’s burning in Hell right now.”

Nina dabbed at the wine that had spilled onto her blouse, wondering if Professional Dry Cleaner would be able to get the stain out. Tears spilled down her face as she slowly cleaned the broken dish and glass and Stephanie’s dinner. Then, refilling her glass, Nina sat and finished her own meal.

Overhead, Nina could hear Stephanie marching back and forth. She could not make out the words, but could hear Stephanie screaming at her from time to time.

“Stephanie, I…” Nina said, knocking on the closed door of the guest bedroom.

“Go away, Nina,” Stephanie’s heavy voice called out. “Just, I can’t. I can’t look at you right now.”

“I love you,” Nina sobbed out, but got no response.

Nina almost called in sick the following morning. She certainly felt ill; head hammering, brain foggy from lack of sleep, heart heavy with pain. But it was the first of the month; there were calls to be made, papers to be filed, accounts to be reconciled.

Nina knocked softly on the closed door of the guest room.

“What?” came the heavy response.

“I, I’m going to work now,” Nina said.

There was no response. Nina rested her forehead against the cool wood of the door.

“I’m going to work now,” Nina repeated. “I uh, I love you Stephanie. I, I hope we can talk tonight, okay?”

There was no reply. Nina slowly pulled her head off of the door and walked down the stairs. She grabbed a protein bar and a yogurt before leaving the condo. The garage door was beginning to jerk and hesitate; Nina wondered who to call to take a look at the door.

At her coffee break and her lunch break, Nina did send a text message to Stephanie. She sent a simple declaration of love and a sincere wish to talk. She got no reply to any of her messages.

Arriving home, bone tired from lack of sleep and a grueling day at the office, made all the more grueling by two associates abruptly quitting and walking out, Nina wearily climbed the stairs. The door to the guest room was open and Nina looked in. She couldn’t help but smile; Stephanie had neatly made the bed before leaving for work. Stephanie was incapable of leaving a bed unmade.

The smile quickly left Nina’s lips. Stephanie’s pillow was not on the bed. Stephanie’s fuzzy flip-flop slippers were not peeking out from underneath the bed.

Nina turned and walked quickly to her bedroom. Stephanie’s pillow was not in her usual spot. Stephanie’s slippers were not underneath the bed.

Stephanie’s cosmetics were gone. Her clothing was gone. The only thing of Stephanie’s left behind was her emerald heart pendant and gold chain. That, Stephanie had placed on Nina’s pillow.

Calls and text messages to Stephanie’s phone were unanswered. The next day, on her first coffee break, Nina called T. Dayton and was informed by Selena that Stephanie no longer worked at T. Dayton; siting a family emergency.

The heavy ball of lead in Nina’s stomach turned into a ball of icy determination. If the wish for a baby had driven Stephanie away, then Nina would see it through to the bitter end.

“That’s the fucking problem with you, Nina,” Ted, Nina’s last boyfriend had yelled. “You’re in a fucking hole, you know you’re in a hole, but do you stop digging? Fuck no! You just keep digging and digging until there’s just no hope of ever getting out the fucking hole, Nina.”

The University of Louisiana at DeGarde had an on-line newspaper. Nina went on and logged into the ‘Personals’ section. She clicked on ‘Woman 2 Woman’ then laughed at herself. She then clicked on ‘Man 2 Woman’ and read through the profiles. A few interested her and she clicked the check mark next to their profile header.

The two that had pictures showing handsome blonde college boys, Nina composed a little note, explaining she was not looking for a relationship; she was looking for a few hours of fun. The one that did not have a photograph, Nina asked for a photograph and explained she wasn’t looking for any relationship.

Harrison Smith replied that he was not looking for fun; he was tired of playing around and was looking for someone to share his life with. Nina thanked him for his response. The gentleman without a photo responded and Nina shook her head. Bobby was a Latino male; therefore, did not suit Nina’s agenda.

In the ‘Woman 2 Men’ section, Nina posted a recent photograph of herself, one that Stephanie had taken just as Nina was stepping into the living room, ready for a date. Nina’s eyes filled with tears; it had been their Valentine’s Day date.

Within hours of posting the profile and photograph, Nina had received seventy three responses. The next day, Nina requested that the profile and photograph be removed; she had almost three hundred responses.

“Who says Honesty don’t pay, huh?” Nina smirked.

Weeding through the emails, Nina deleted most of them. Her ad had stated she was looking for a white male, preferably blond, for some fun and nothing else. But the vast majority of her responses were from African-American males promising her that they’d deliver on the fun. Since her ad had been pretty specific, Nina saw no reason to send a polite note of rejection to the men.

A few back and forth responses helped Nina whittle down the fifty seven men down to twelve potentials. Another two fell out when their responses took on a demanding tone.

The ten remaining were shuffled and seven fell out when they balked at providing a clean bill of health. Nina got out her tablet and guesstimated that her most fertile time would be between Saturday, March twentieth and Sunday, March twenty first.

Freddie Loomis agreed to meet Nina at Saladelights for an early lunch on Saturday. Austin Orr agreed that A Sunday brunch at Side By Side Steaks would be wonderful. Greg Knowles was agreeable to dinner Saturday evening at Tommy’s Po-Boys.

Nina rented a room at the DeGarde Inn, locked her purse in the trunk of her car and walked to the trendy Saladelights. Entering the restaurant, Nina did conclude, it had been a poor choice to meet and get to know a man she was about to have sex with. The tables were small and crowded together. The seats were hard and uncomfortable. And the floor was ceramic tile. Sound bounced off of the hard walls and floors and chairs scraping back and forth made an unbelievable racket.

“Hi, please tell me you’re Nina,” a large, handsome, well-built young man smiled down at Nina.

“I, even if I wasn’t, I’d say I am,” Nina admitted, looking at the young man.

“That’s very sweet of you,” Freddie smiled. “ever eat here? They have an amazing roasted vegetable salad; they serve it warm.”

Freddie Loomis told Nina about growing up in a very small town in rural Illinois; he’d never even played backyard football as a kid. He was actually attending U.L.D on an academic scholarship, currently he was working on his Doctorate in Engineering. But his freshman year, he walked on and the coach put him in as Nose Tackle and he’d fallen in love with the game.

“A lot of people look at football and say it’s just a bunch of guys hitting each other,” Freddie said, very animated. “But there’s preparation, and anticipating what your opponent will do and what will you do if he does this, or if he does that?”

Nina agreed; she’d looked at football as little more than twenty two big sweaty men fighting over one football. But listening to Freddie explain the components of the sport, Nina found herself looking forward to the next U.L.D. Storm football season.

“I have a room over at the DeGarde,” Nina admitted as she lost the attempt to pay their bill.

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