"Let's quit early today, Jeff. I've had it with reading other people's manuscripts."
Paul stood in the doorway, looking frustrated. For six months now he was trying to write a novel. He'd told none of his colleagues what the novel was about. They could read it when it was finished. Everybody knew it wasn't ever going to be finished. He knew a good novel when he read one, but writing one was a different thing altogether. Jeff looked at his watch. It said 16.11. A bit early indeed for having a beer, but what the hell? It was Friday.
"I'm game, Paul." He closed his laptop and put it in his attaché case. Ten minutes later they were in their favorite hang-out, one block away from Central Park, beers in front of them. Paul still looked frustrated. Saturday and Sunday were his 'writing days'. He didn't look forward to them. He knew what would happen. He would sit in his study, facing the monitor, rereading what he'd written so far, 79.345 words. In the last three weeks, not one word was added. He knew he was stuck. He should stop, but he wasn't ready yet to admit that he would never be an author. He asked what Jeff's plans were for the weekend. "I'm going to meet Jennifer's sister. I'm even a bit nervous about it."
He'd met Jennifer four months ago. He was having a beer in the hotel bar after the first day of a two day editor's conference in Washington. He wasn't a socializer. He hardly ever started a conversation with people he'd never met before. He didn't want to talk football, baseball, cars or women. He didn't want to talk shop either. He'd just decided to go up to his room, when someone asked: "Mind if I sit here?"
He looked aside and was stunned. A face without any makeup, it didn't need any. Blue eyes, long blond hair that covered her shoulder blades. She wore blue jeans and a T-shirt. The T-shirt was tight enough to reveal small breasts and the absence of a bra. He didn't say a word. He simply didn't know what to say.
She smiled. "I take that as a yes." She took the stool beside his. She ordered a bourbon. "I'm Jennifer Anderson. Thank you, by the way."
"You have a nice way of staring at a woman."
He couldn't believe this was happening to him. He'd had a few girlfriends. Fewer still had lived with him for some time. He had never regretted their leaving. This woman was different. He wanted to know what the difference was. Being silent wouldn't get him any further down that road.
"I'm Jeffrey Pontiero. I wasn't staring, I was admiring."
Was it him saying that? Usually it took him several days to say something complementary to a woman. She was blond, but she didn't look dumb at all. She understood quite well he wasn't admiring her blue jeans and her T-shirt. There was no jewelry to admire. He liked what was underneath the T-shirt, but his eyes had not rested there long enough, he thought, to show any specific admiration. He was admiring not the parts, but the sum.
"Now you're talking! Go on, Jeffrey."
"Cut it out, Jennifer. I don't talk like that. Not usually, anyway. Will you excuse me? I'm going outside for a smoke."
"Sure. I'm not going anywhere."
She watched him walking to the door. He wasn't really handsome, but kind of attractive. Maybe one inch taller than her 5'7". No fat in the wrong places. Maybe just a few years older than her 28. Black hair, brown eyes. He wasn't going outside for a smoke only, she knew. He wanted to think: What would his next line be? Not a stupid question like 'You're in publishing, too?' Would he ask her where she lived? She couldn't possibly be the only one coming form New York, could she? Hey, wait a second there, Jen. Why do you want him to come from New York? Is he that attractive, after all?
He came in again. He smiled. What would his next line be? He ordered a second beer. "I don't know what to say, Jennifer." At least he was honest about it.
"Well, I don't mind if you keep on staring, I'm used to that. You'll discover I'm not from outer space. I'm quite human, the female kind. You know what someone of the male kind would do in a situation like this? He would ask if I would like another drink. I would graciously accept another bourbon. We can break the ice together. That's a joke. Now you say 'Ha, ha'."
He laughed, genuinely, but not about the joke. "You're a funny female human being, Jennifer. I'd like to learn more about you."
"You see? It's easy. I say something, then you say something. Before you know it, we're having a conversation."
"Why did you say you're used to people staring at you? You're not the conceited type, I think."
"You're right. I'm not used to people staring at me, but staring at us. 'Us' being my twin sister and me. We're very much alike. Most people can't tell us apart. We're together a lot. Only not for the last two months, nor for the next four months. She's in Europe, you know. She's directing a movie about all the capitals in the European Union. I miss her. She's the only relative I have. Our parents were in a car crash, three years ago."
"Thank you. Her being my only relative is only a minor reason for missing her. As twin sisters we've always been very close. We're together quite a lot."
"You can phone her, can't you? There's e-mail, too."
"You tell me. We talk by phone at least every second day, you should see my phone bill. We send e-mails every day. But it's not the same as seeing, touching. Why didn't you know what to say?"
"I saw you and I was impressed. No, I was stunned. That's where it ends for me, usually. I never learned the smart way of approaching a woman. I don't know how to go about it."
"You're not telling me you never talk with women, are you, Jeff?"
"I talk with them, sure, after I've met them a few times more, learned more about them. Know what they're interested in."
"Well, let this be the first lesson in the Jennifer curriculum."
Over two more drinks they talked about books and favorite authors. Both avoided one question: Where do you live? Her room was two floors up from his. He walked her to the door of her room.
"Thank you for a nice evening," he said. "See you at breakfast?"
"I'll be there at eight."
"So will I. Sleep well."
She undressed and looked at herself in the mirror. It was like looking at Jessica. She took her cell phone and dialed.
"You should be in bed now, Jen." There was music in the background, other people talking.
"I almost am, Jes. I'm looking at you right now. There's this large mirror."
"What am I wearing?"
"Nothing of course. I told you I was almost in my bed. You know what? I met this man in the bar this night. I'm having breakfast with him tomorrow."
"He's not with you now, is he?"
"No, he's a bit shy, I think. He didn't even try to kiss me. You should have seen the way he looked at me. We talked for four drinks."
"There's something in your voice, Jen. I haven't heard it before, when you were telling me about a man you met."
"I'm in a bar now. We'll have dinner in about half an hour. Don't change subjects."
"I'll tell you more after I have talked with him some more. How's Amsterdam?"
"You'd love it. It's peculiar. This is the only national capital, as far as I know, without a government. I mean, the national government and parliament are not located in the capital. Why is that?"
"Beats me. I'm going to bed now. Bye, Jes."
They always told each other everything, about boyfriends, about lovers, up to the last intimate detail. What had Jes heard in her voice? Was it that obvious that she liked him? After one more drink and some talking, he loosened up. He was less shy. What would he be thinking now, or was he sleeping already?
He wasn't. First thing he would ask her tomorrow would be: Where do you live? He hoped it would be New York or not too far away from there. What would he do when the answer was Seattle or Denver? 'Oh, that's nice. Let's have dinner together, some day', wouldn't be the logical thing to say. Well, he would know more after breakfast. Wait and see.
He stood up and waved when he saw her enter the dining room the next morning. She came to his table with coffee, two buns and cheese. They exchanged 'good mornings'. They didn't speak while they were eating. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence. They looked at each other when they drank their coffees.
"Where do you live?" he asked.
His face told her enough. So he was living in New York too. What would his next move or line be?
"How did you get here?" he asked. "Plain, train, car?"
She'd come by plain. He liked the train. He proposed to have dinner somewhere next night. She accepted. One week later they made love for the first time, in her apartment. Afterwards Jennifer said: "It really started during that breakfast. I had this twin feeling. You know, the feeling I have when I am with Jessica. We don't have to spell it all out. We know."
"With me it started the moment I met you. You know what? I really love small breasts. You have beautiful small breasts."
"Kiss them again, Jeff. You're the first man ever to say I have beautiful breasts."
Two weeks later they started living together in his apartment.
"You still with me, Jeff?" Paul asked.
"Sorry, what were you saying?"
"Why are you nervous about meeting Jennifer's sister?"
"Because I don't know what to expect. Will I be able to see the differences between them? Jennifer always tells me they are very much alike and very different at the same time. How will it be to be with her, when for some reason Jennifer isn't around? You must've been alone with Chloe's sister some times. What's it like?"
"You can see they're sisters. I like her. That's all."
"I'm sure I'll like Jessica, but what if that's not all? I fell in love with Jennifer the moment I saw her. I'm going to meet Jessica at the airport. Jennifer can't come. She's got this appointment with an author."
"Well, you won't have problems recognizing her. Look at the bright side."
After Paul left, Jeffrey had one more beer. Jennifer wouldn't be home before seven. When they were still young teens Jennifer and Jessica had sometimes shared a boyfriend, but that been innocent stuff. The boys sometimes suspected they were being had. Most of them were not amused. As grownups they'd never shared lovers.
"Suppose I fall in love with Jessica too," he'd said to Jennifer a few days ago.
"Couldn't blame you, could I? She's a beautiful woman."
"Suppose she falls in love with me?"
"Couldn't blame her, could I? I did."
"She'll be here a lot, don't you think so?"
"I hope so. I missed her being around. Would you mind if she's here often? She will be, you know. We like to see each other, be together, talk together."
"I don't know. I don't want to come between you and Jessica."
"I know you don't, Jeff. By the way, I've never told you before. We call each other Jes and Jen, but only when we're together, never when anyone else is around. We never wanted anyone else to call us Jes and Jen, not even our parents. I'll ask Jessica to make one exception: you. I'll ask her now."
She took her cell phone. Jessica agreed.
He saw the long blond hair first. She was looking over her shoulder, saying something to someone behind her. He didn't want to meet between lots of other people. He walked in the same direction she was going until the masses thinned out. He touched her shoulder. She put her suitcase down and turned around. For a few moments they looked at each other.
"Hi, Jeffrey. You're still the shy one, aren't you? Why don't you kiss me?"
He put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her lips. Then he looked at her again, no makeup either, blue jeans, tight fitting T-shirt, small breasts, no bra, no jewelry.
"You know, Jes, you look very much like Jen, but I will never mistake you for Jen. Don't ask me how I see it, I don't know. Let me take your suitcase."
"Don't worry, Jeff. Our parents always could tell us apart." On the way home she did most of the talking, especially about the capitals she'd visited in Europe. The voice was Jennifer's voice. He told her.
"That's right. Even our parents never knew who was speaking if they didn't see us."
"You want to go to your apartment first?" he asked, "Take a shower, put on other clothes?"
"No, I want to see Jen first. I missed her. I'll use your shower and put on some of Jen's clothes. We do that all the time, swap clothes, I mean."
Jennifer wasn't home yet. Jessica took a shower. She was still showering when Jennifer came home. She went straight to the bathroom. He only heard 'Jes!' and 'Jen!' About fifteen minutes later they came into the living room together, hand in hand, naked. He wasn't surprised. Jennifer wasn't self-conscious about her body. Jessica wasn't either, apparently.
"Have a good look, Jeff," Jennifer said, smiling. "Point out the ten differences."
"Give me a few hours more."
"He's just a dirty old man, Jes. Come on."
A few minutes later they came back in blue jeans and T-shirts. He poured them glasses of wine and started preparing dinner.
"You really got it made, Jen," Jessica said, "a man making dinner. Does he do that often?"
"Whenever he can, Jes. He hates washing dishes. I don't like cooking, you know that."
Over coffee it was decided Jessica would stay overnight. She wanted to go to bed at nine thirty. Jennifer went with her. Jeffrey took a book and read till around midnight. Jennifer and Jessica weren't sleeping. He heard them talking constantly, catching up. He went to the bedroom and looked at them from the doorway. They lay close together on the blankets, naked, still talking. Jessica started to get up. Jeffrey put up his hand. He sat at the edge of the bed.
"I'll sleep on the couch, Jes. You can talk some more. Talk as long as you like. I'll make breakfast."
He got a blanket and kissed them goodnight. He didn't fall asleep as quickly as he usually did. He knew this was only the first time that Jessica would stay overnight. There were more times to come. It wouldn't bother him. He knew that, too. She was not just a sister in law. She was more than that, he knew that already, but how much more? He loved Jennifer. No one could come between them. He was certain about that. Yet … He slept.
He looked at his watch when he woke up. It said 8.37. No talking was coming from the bedroom. He had forgotten to take his bathrobe from the bedroom, but he didn't want to wake them up. Jennifer and he hardly ever bothered to put on a bathrobe, anyway. He started the coffee machine and made fresh orange juice.
"Good morning, Jeff."
He had to turn around to see who it was. "Hi, Jes. You slept well?" It didn't feel uneasy at all to see her naked and be naked in front of her.
"Not long, but well, yes. Jen en I talked for hours. She told me everything about you, up to the last intimate detail. I knew I could come in naked. I knew you would be."
He gave her a glass of orange juice and took one himself. "Is Jen still sleeping?"
"No, she isn't," Jennifer said, coming into the room. She kissed Jeffrey and Jessica. "It really feels good to be with the two people you love most."
Jeffrey gave her a glass of orange juice and started to make scrambled eggs and toast. Over coffee Jeffrey asked: "Why is it you never wear jewelry, Jen, not even a simple ring? Jes wasn't wearing jewelry either yesterday, I noticed."
"Don't you think we're pretty enough without them? Just kidding. Actually there's no specific reason. Our parents gave us bracelets once. We were still in grade school. It was our ninth birthday. We undressed for bed. We always slept naked, you know, even as kids. We looked at each other, wearing only the bracelets. One way or the other, we found those bracelets distracting somehow. We wanted to see each other, not something specific. We never wore them again."
"Now what do I give you for your birthday? I'll have to think more about it. You got any plans for today, girls? Hey, I don't want to call you girls, or women. What do I call you two together?"
"Our parents found a solution for that," Jennifer said, "when we were kids. They called: 'JJ, dinner time' or 'Hurry up, JJ'. How about that?"
"I like that. So, what are your plans, JJ?"
Jessica thought it was a nice day for having a walk in Central Park. Jennifer and Jeffrey agreed. In the subway Jeffrey learned how it felt to be stared at. He had the impression the men stared at him even more than at Jennifer and Jessica. He could imagine why. Jennifer noticed too. She smiled. "Don't you look so smug, Jeff. Nobody would look at you twice if you weren't between Jes and me."
"I'm not smug," he lied. "I'm proud." That was true.
There were many people in the park. It was a really warm day. He walked between them, holding their hands, watching heads turning, fingers pointing, loving every minute of it.
"I'm going to catch some more sleep," Jessica said. She lay down on the grass.
"I'm with you." Jennifer lay down too. In a few minutes they slept. He watched them. He compared them. Jennifer had told him that they were sometimes very competitive when they were kids. People wanted to know if one of them was better at this or better at that. They wanted to show. They quarreled sometimes, but never for a long time. They hated to be separated in school, being in different classes, because teachers had told their parents it would be better for their personal development. From third grade on they were in the same classes. Getting older, they'd become certain of their separate identities, but there had always been that special bond. It was very much like the bond Jennifer had with him, she'd explained. When she came home after work, he had but to look at her to see whether she'd had a nice day or not. It was the same with Jessica. When they met, they never asked "How are you?" They knew. What was his relation with Jessica going to be? He hadn't thought it through last night. Maybe he shouldn't think about it at all. Time would tell. He lay down too.
They sat up when a little boy was crying. Running after a ball, he'd stumbled over Jeffrey's leg. He didn't look really hurt. A young woman came running and picked him up. "I'm sorry," she said, "Bobby is a little clumsy. Have you ever seen such pretty ladies, Bobby?" Bobby smiled and pointed at Jennifer and Jessica. The woman smiled too and walked away.
"I don't feel like cooking today, JJ," Jeffrey said. "Let's have a drink somewhere and enjoy some real Italian food. What do you say?"
JJ said yes. They went to the bar where he usually had drinks with his colleagues. He'd met a few times there with Jennifer too. The bartender looked quite surprised when they came in.
"You never told me there were two of her, Jeffrey. Which one is Jennifer?"
"Can't you see, Charlie? The beautiful one. The other one is Jessica."
"Suits me fine, Jeffrey, as long as you pay for the drinks. I take it you want the usual, the usual and ...uh?"
"The usual," Jessica said.
Charlie nodded and brought a beer and two red wines. Jessica smiled at him. "You see how easy it is, Charley. The beautiful one wants a red wine."
Jeffrey told Jessica why he liked Italian food. The grandfather from his father's side had come to the States from Italy. His grandmother had taught his mother all there was to know about Italian cooking.
"He is good at it too," Jennifer added.
When they came home after dinner, Jennifer offered to drive Jessica to her apartment. It was only a short drive, but it was over two hours later when she returned.
"Jes likes you, Jeff." She didn't go on and poured a glass of wine. He knew there was more to tell.
"Go on, Jen."
"The night we met, I phoned Jes. I told her I'd just met you. Jes said she heard something in my voice. Hearing me talk about you, she could hear I liked you. I heard something in Jes's voice, when she was talking about you. I didn't tell her, yet, I heard something."
"And you don't want to keep it from her. Are you worried or something?"
"No, not at all. You like Jes, don't you?"
"Jen, it's impossible to love you and not like Jes."
"You want to see more of her?"
He smiled. "I have already seen all of her, remember?"
She smiled, too. "You're not answering my question, Jeff."
"I've been thinking about that. I know she will be here a lot and I'd like that, really. But I haven't been thinking beyond that. I met her only yesterday."
"You knew you loved me after three days. It only took you some more days to make love with me. You think too much, sometimes. You wanted to be certain, not about me, about yourself."
"You think I'm going to love Jes as well?"
"I don't know. I can tell you what I feel, though. It doesn't feel wrong. I love you and I love Jes. I know you and Jes love me."
"Let's not talk about love. Let's make love." They did.
Jessica was with them at least twice a week. It wasn't different from the time before Jennifer and Jeffrey met. Sometimes she came before dinner, sometimes after. A few times she was with them for a whole weekend. In July the three of them went to Wyoming for two weeks. They were going to stay in a cabin that was owned by one of Jeffrey's colleagues. They had stopped in the nearest village to buy food and drinks for several days. There were still ten miles of unpaved country road to go before they came to the cabin.
They fell in love with the place at first sight. There was only one room, a table, four chairs, two beds, a twin bed and a single on, two closets, a sink, a cupboard. Fresh water came from a nearby stream. Lighting came from oil lamps. Cooking had to be done on two Coleman stoves. There was an outdoor toilet. A footpath through the woods led to a small lake, about a mile away, the colleague had said. They opened all the windows and put their clothes in the closets, books on the table and the things they'd bought in the village in the cupboard. Jeffrey took a blanket, a bottle of wine and three glasses outside. There would still be sun for at least an hour. He poured three glasses. When they just sat, Jessica asked: "What are we dressed for? Fat chance we make a public nuisance of ourselves, is there? Or is one of you expecting a visitor? For once in my live I want to have a tan all over, without those silly untanned parts of my breasts, belly and butt."
Jennifer and Jeffrey agreed she had a point. They undressed.
"One more point," Jessica said. "There's only one room. If you two want some privacy, you know, want to make love, just whistle, or whatever, let me know. I'll make myself scarce."
She didn't look at Jennifer or Jeffrey. She looked into her glass of wine. Jennifer and Jeffrey looked at each other.
"There's something in your voice, Jes," Jennifer said.
"Let's talk, JJ," Jeffrey said.
Jessica looked at Jennifer. "You know, Jen, that the last thing I want is to come between you and Jeffrey." She looked at Jeffrey. He saw now, but why hadn't he seen it before? He'd seen her often enough in the last two months, spoke with her often enough. Speaking with her was as easy as speaking with Jennifer. Had he tried to push something way deep down? If so, why?
"Nobody can come between Jeff and me, Jes. Not even you, try as hard as you want. But that's not the point."
"So what is the point?"
"That's what only Jeff can tell us."
JJ looked at him. He smiled. "I've never seen you so close together, JJ, and I don't mean physically close. I'm a stupid ass, Jes. I'm sorry. I've known all along that we, I mean the three of us, might come at this point. I knew before I met you at the airport. Before that I wondered what meeting you could come to mean."
"I'm sorry, too, Jes," Jennifer said. "When I came home that first weekend, after driving you to your apartment, I told Jeffrey there was something in your voice. I didn't tell you then, and later ... I don't know. I guess I got used to it. Didn't hear it anymore."
She got up and sat beside Jessica, put an arm around her shoulder. Jessica did the same. They kissed. Jeffrey knew that for some time he didn't have to say anything. It was Jennifer who spoke first again. "As far as you're concerned, Jes, I don't give a damn about privacy. I've told you what Jeff does to me to make me forget everything but myself, when we make love. So what if you saw it really happen? I wouldn't mind." She looked at Jeff.
"Give me some time, JJ. I've got to sort things out. I've got to think things over. I've got to be certain, one way or the other. I can tell you this already, Jes. I would miss it, if you didn't come along as often as you do. I'm glad you're here. I'd miss you if you were not. Can you live with that, for the time being? I'm a quick thinker. I won't need fourteen days, maybe not even fourteen hours."
Jessica looked at him. "I can wait more than fourteen minutes at least, Jeff. I'm really happy I can say it now. I love you, Jeff. I'm gonna kiss him, Jen."
She kissed him, not as a sister in law, but passionately and he responded in kind. Jennifer watched, smiling happily. When the sun disappeared behind the mountains, they went inside. Jeffrey made dinner. After that they read by the light of an oil lamp.
They went to bed early. "I may be gone when you wake up, JJ," Jeffrey said. "Don't worry. I'll be out for a walk, a long walk, possibly. I do my best thinking while walking."
It was barely past six when Jeffrey woke up. Outside it wasn't fully light yet. He moved as silently as possible. He ate three slices of rye bread. He made no coffee. When he opened the door, Jessica whispered: "Be careful." He tiptoed back and kissed her, caressed her small breasts. She pressed his hand on them for a moment.
It wasn't really warm yet outside, but there were no clouds. It would be another nice sunny day. He took the footpath to the lake. He had a towel around his neck. He might take a swim. During his walk he saw chipmunks and heard a woodpecker. The path was going up, at some places right along the stream they got their fresh water from. Sometimes he had to stop to catch his breath. His condition wasn't that bad, was it? He didn't smoke that much. Then he remembered. The cabin was at an elevation of about 5000 feet. Air was thinner here, better get used to that before doing any real walking.
The lake was completely surrounded by trees. The size was about eight acres. The path circled it. It branched off where the stream came in to feed the lake. He undressed and put his foot in the water. He could have known: it wasn't really warm water. It was quit cold, actually. He went in nevertheless, if not for long. There was a fallen tree to sit on, when he had dressed again. He lit a cigarette. He imagined coming back to the cabin. JJ would lie on the blanket, getting a tan all over. He remembered a song: Who do you love, sung by Ronnie Hawkins and The Band, The Last Waltz. He loved Jen, no doubt about it. He loved JJ, no doubt about that, either. Did he love Jes, too, not as a part of JJ, but as Jes? What the hell was love, anyway? He'd talked about that with Jen, several times. Lots of people said, that loving someone meant that you'd do anything to make that person happy. Of course he wanted Jen to be happy. How could he possibly be happy, if she wasn't? But could he make Jen happy if, for one reason or another, he was not happy himself? He'd realized, that almost from day one, he'd wanted to be with Jen, not to make her happy, but to make himself happy. He didn't go so far as to say that being with Jen made him a better man. It had certainly made him a different man. She had, unwittingly, stirred things within him, that he hardly knew were there. He couldn't exactly define these things. What it all boiled down to was: since he'd met Jen, he liked himself better. Suppose Jen passed away, would he live with Jes happily ever after, fondly reminiscing about Jen from time to time? Suppose Jes passed away, he wanted that to happen neither. A man could have sex with more than one woman, no question about that, but having sex was not the same thing as making love. Could a man love two women, equally and at the same time, whether they were twin sisters or not sisters at all? He grounded out his cigarette carefully and got up. He followed the path where it branched away from the lake. He walked slower now. It wasn't the fact that they looked so much alike. He knew it, he saw it, but he had passed that stage. He saw the subtle differences. He even heard sometimes the different inflexions in their voices, in standard phrases, like saying 'Hello' on the phone. Jen was in publishing, aerobics, European movies. Jes was in making documentary movies, tennis and American movies. Both drank red wine, Jes never drank bourbon. He found another fallen tree and lit another cigarette. He should have told JJ where he was going. He could stumble and break a leg. How could they know where he was? They'd be worried sick if he didn't come back after a few hours. He'd be worried sick, if on of them wasn't coming back from some trip. That made things somehow more real than imagining one of them passing away, he realized. He imagined himself with Jen, sitting in the cabin, waiting for Jes to come back from wherever she went, being way too late. He wouldn't be only comforting Jen. She'd have to comfort him as well. He'd want desperately to hear that everything was going to be alright. 'Alright' meaning Jes coming back to Jen, to them. Go on Jeff, he told himself. Don't play hide and seek. Jes not coming back would be just as bad as Jen not coming back. Not because she was Jen's twin, because she was Jes. It was about nine o'clock when he decided to go back to the cabin. He took his time. It was getting warmer. Sitting by the lake he smoked one more cigarette. He knew what he was going to tell JJ, tell Jes in the first place. It felt good.
Only Jessica was lying on the blanket. Jennifer was in the cabin, making sandwiches. He went inside and kissed her. She looked at him and smiled. "I'm happy, Jeff. Make Jes happy. Tell her."
He undressed and sat beside Jessica, stroking her breasts and belly. "I'm back, Jes."
She kept her eyes closed. "I can feel it, Jeff. You had a good walk? Wait, don't say it. Let me feel if it was a good walk."
He kept on caressing her. Without looking, he knew Jennifer was watching them from the cabin. She knew what was going to happen. Jessica opened her eyes. There were a few tears and she smiled. "You don't have to say it, Jeff. I know. I can feel it. You love me. Make love with me, Jeff. Now, please."
They made love passionately. He could almost feel how long she had waited for this, how much she'd longed for this to happen. The next time would be more like making love with Jen, only subtly different. He kissed Jes's lips and breasts. He felt Jen's lips and hands on his back.
"Did you like it too, Jen?" Jessica asked.
"It was beautiful, Jes. It wasn't exciting. It wasn't arousing. I wish I could explain to someone else than you two, how beautiful it is to see the two people you love making love." She got up. "I'll get the sandwiches and coffee. You must be hungry, Jeff. Walking for hours first and making love afterwards."
"Don't forget al the work his brain had to do," Jessica said. "Our poor love must be really tired. Hey, Jen, I like that! He's not my love, he's not your love, he's our love."
"Sounds good, Jes," Jennifer said.
They ate the sandwiches in silence. After her last sip of coffee Jessica said: "There's one thing I've kept from you, Jen. I can tell you now. I always thought it was written all over me, for anyone to read. Whenever I came to your place, I mean your and Jeff's place, it always felt like coming home. I was going to be with the two people I love. Going to my apartment was just that, going to a place to sleep, to eat, to watch TV, nothing more than a roof over my head and walls around me, a shelter."
"You should stop directing and start acting," Jennifer said. "I can understand you fooled Jeff, but I'd never have believed you could fool me too, Jes. Don't you try that ever again. I might get angry with you." She smiled. "For five seconds."
Jeffrey didn't hear. He'd fallen asleep. He didn't wake up when JJ put sunscreen on his back and legs. They took their time doing it.
"He can be a damned fool sometimes," Jennifer said. "He thinks too much. After he's made up his mind about something, he won't change it until someone hits him over the head with new facts. He'd made up his mind to meet this lovely sister in law at the airport. So that's what you were, up to the moment yesterday I realized for the second time there was something in your voice. I knew right then and there what I heard."
"The damned fool knew it too, Jen."
"Well, he didn't need all fourteen hours to sort things out. Let's give our love that, he can really think quickly."
"You know what, Jen? As long as this damned fool is around, we'll never get married."
"Yeah, how come I don't care at all? I don't want anything more than us being together, the three of us I mean."
Jessica yawned. "Making love at this elevation makes one sleepy. Keep that in mind, Jen. I'm going to lie close to the only damned fool we love. Do not disturb."
Jennifer went to the cabin to get her book. Around three o'clock Jeffrey woke up. JJ were reading.
"Come on, JJ. We're not only here to get a nice tan."
"You're right," Jennifer said. "I've never made love in the sun. Why is it Jes always gets first chance? She's only ten minutes older than I am."
"You have a one track mind, Jen. I was thinking about some real exercise. Let's go for a swim."
Jennifer went to the cabin to get towels.
"Do we have to dress?" Jessica asked. Jeffrey didn't think so. His colleague had told him that he'd never met anyone there in five years. "We can always put our towels around us, if need be. Your lovely small breasts are easily covered, aren't they? A few leaves will suffice."
Jeffrey took the lead, walking at an easy pace. They reached the lake in forty minutes. "Do not jump in right away, JJ. Put a foot in first."
Jennifer did. "Jeez," she exclaimed, "you knew this, you lovely bastard. Let's get the hell away from this lake, Jes. It's part of the Pole sea."
"Get in, JJ. Cool down. Tonight I just want to sleep, you know. OK, I'll go first."
He went in slowly, until only his head was above water. "You see? Come on, I'll keep you warm."
He held them tightly. JJ clung to him. After five minutes they went out. Jessica laughed, pointing at Jeffrey. "Look at him, Jen. Let's remind him when he talks about small breasts again."
"He'll be alright, Jes. Don't you worry. Just flaunt those small breasts. He loves them."
The sun had almost disappeared when they came back. They went inside for a glass of wine. They talked about the future. The first thing to do, once they were back in New York, was to find an apartment fit to house three people. That meant a living room, three studies and one bedroom.
"And a shower with room enough for three," Jessica added.
"Where do we find a bed that's wide enough for three," Jennifer wondered.
"How do we tell my parents?" Jeffrey asked. "You know, I don't think they will give us a standing applause when I tell them I don't have one wife, but two."
Jennifer had met his parents a few times. They were nice enough, but they'd rather see Jeff and her properly married. That wouldn't happen now. Instead Jeff had to tell them he wasn't living with her only, but with Jessica as well. It wouldn't be easy to convince them that the three of them could only be really happy living that way.
"I'll have to think about it," Jeffrey said.
"Don't think about it all by yourself, Jeff," Jennifer said. "Jes and I are part of this too."
"I won't, Jen. I'll make dinner now."
Before they went to bed they put the two beds side by side. Jeffrey slept between JJ.
Next morning it was raining cats and dogs. Jeffrey got up and went to the door. It wasn't cold outside. There was hardly any wind. The rain was warmer than the lake's water. "Hey, get up, JJ. Let's have a shower."
"A kiss first," Jessica said.
"Orange juice second," Jennifer said.
"If at all."
He kissed them and made orange juice and breakfast. "I've thought about my parents. I think I'd better talk with them alone first. Sort of prepare them. They'll be shocked, I know that. I hope they can cope, that at least they will accept reality."
"What if they don't?" Jennifer asked.
"They won't see me, until they do."
"Take it easy, Jeff," Jessica said. "You can't rob them of a son. They love you in their own way. You can always visit them on your own. You've got to accept reality, too, you know."
"How many parents with only one son get two beautiful daughters in law? They ought to be damned happy. They're just worried about what the neighbors would say."
"You won't know a thing before you've talked with them, Jeff," Jennifer said.
"OK, I'll talk to them as soon as we're home, on one condition." Outside it was really raining now. "Shower now."
They went outside. The rain temperature took some getting used to, but that didn't take long. They were fooling around more than getting a natural shower. They were warming up for the next act. Jessica whispered something in Jen's ear. Jeffrey couldn't hear. They looked mischievous and giggled like school girls.
"What's going on here, JJ? Quit keeping something secret for me."
They told him after they'd made love. "Jes was only kidding, you know," Jennifer said. "She said you'd never bring it of, making love with two women at the same time and really satisfy them both."
"Did I pass the exam?"
"With honors," Jessica said. "We love you."
The afternoon was almost over when the rain stopped and the sky cleared. They'd spent the day reading. The next day they would start with going to the village, to get new food and drinks. After that they would go for a walk.
The last Thursday they left for New York. They would have loved to stay for many more weeks. For almost two weeks they had not read a paper, seen no TV and heard no radio. Apart from some people in the village they had met no one. JJ got their tan.
"But there's no place to show it and no one to show it to," Jessica complained.
"Stop wearing T-shirts," Jeffrey advised. "Put something on that shows some cleavage."
They had walked, read, talked a lot and taken a short swim a few times. Jeffrey made photos.
"I feel like Adam leaving paradise," Jeffrey said. "I've one advantage over him, anyway, I'm leaving with two Eves."
"And they're not taking any fig leaves with them," Jessica said.
They took their journey home easy and spent two nights in a motel. It was noon in New York when they came home. JJ did some shopping. Jeffrey made lunch. After that he called his parents to tell them he'd come over the next day. They didn't have to talk about where Jessica would live until the day they'd move to a more suitable apartment.
Jeffrey went to his parents feeling like he had lead in his shoes. "We'd like to see you more often, Jeff," his mother said, "and Jennifer too, of course. Baltimore isn't that far away from New York City, is it? Why isn't Jennifer with you? She's not sick or something?"
"No mom, she's alright."
"And her sister, what's her name again, you see her more often than us, I think?"
"Her name is Jessica, mom. I see her every day. That's why I'm here today, to tell you and dad about Jessica."
"You didn't come here, just to tell us you see Jessica everyday," his father said.
"I came to tell you I love Jessica."
"Of course you do," his mother said. "She's your sister in law, in a way." She had that disapproving look on her face.
"No mom, she's not my sister in law in any way. I love her like I love Jennifer. I see her everyday, because the three of us are living together."
It took some time before they realized what he really had been saying. Then his father spoke. "You can't do this to us, Jeff."
"I'm not doing anything to you and mom, dad. I'm just being happy, that's all. So are Jennifer and Jessica. Why can't you be happy too? For me? For them?"
"But you can't love two women at the same time. It's against ...well, against nature. You can't marry two women. It's against the law."
"Is love against nature? It feels quite natural to us. I'm not going to marry them, or one of them. I don't care about marriage. It's not against the law to love two women and live with them."
"It's against God's law," his mother said.
"When was the last time you went to church, mom? God is supposed to be Love, with a capital L. He wouldn't mind my loving two women and them loving me."
"What you want to know," his father said, "is: can you come visit us with both women?"
"They're called Jennifer and Jessica, dad. Yes, that's what I want to know. I won't come here with only Jennifer or only Jessica. They could fool you easily enough. You wouldn't see the difference. Neither would your neighbors, for that matter. I'll visit you alone or with both of them. Take your choice. If you want to see me more often, let me come with both of them."
"This is difficult for us, Jeff. We already had to get used to your not being married. We are looking forward to having grandchildren. Are we going to have grandchildren?"
"I don't know, dad. We haven't really talked about it. Jennifer and Jessica aren't even thirty yet. We'll have time enough to decide. Look, dad, I know this comes as a not so nice surprise for you and mom. It was a surprise for me as well, the best surprise I ever got, believe me. I know it's difficult for you. Jennifer and Jessica know it too. We don't expect you to agree. We just want you to accept. Maybe it's a bit more easy for you, if you visit us first. You'll love them. It's easy."
"May we think about it?"
"Of course. Think about it carefully. You don't want to lose a son."
After that the conversation was about the usual inconsequential things.
Two days later Jeffrey was surprised again. His father called. They would come next Saturday and have lunch with them.
"We are not going to explain to them," Jessica said. "We'll show them."
"We'll charm the hell out of them," Jennifer said.
They did. When Jeffrey's parents arrived, Jessica went to the door to meet them. "Hello Peter, hello Emily, I'm Jessica. I'm really pleased to meet you too. Come in, Jeffrey makes good coffee." Jennifer kissed them both. Jeffrey hugged his parents. "I'm really glad you came."
Jeffrey didn't need to talk much. JJ talked, but they managed to let his parents do most of the talking. They made them talk about his childhood - "He was always at home, reading." - about his time in high school - "He hardly ever dated. He was always studying." - about his university time - "He finished third of his year, you know." At all the appropriate moments JJ looked at him admiringly. Jeffrey saw his parents relax more and more. JJ told them about their parents' deaths, how they missed them. The tears they wiped away weren't fake, Jeffrey knew.
They'd been talking for an hour when Jeffrey said: "Let's not forget lunch JJ." JJ got up. His mother got if figured out in a moment. "You call them JJ together, right?"
"Right, mom. I didn't make that name up, their parents did. I don't have to say: Let's go shopping Jennifer, Jessica. I say: Let's go shopping JJ. When I'm watching TV, I can say: Shut up, JJ, I want to hear what they're saying. So now I say: Let's not forget lunch, JJ."
"Usually, Jeff makes lunch on Saturdays," Jessica said. "We let him think he's better at it than we are. We'll show him."
After lunch Jeffrey told his parents about their vacation in Wyoming and showed them the photos he'd made, omitting those where JJ were naked. He'd underestimated his mother. "It was this beautiful weather all the time. Why didn't you make any pictures of them sunbathing? I'm sure JJ look nice in bikinis."
"Well, you see, Emily, we didn't bring any bikinis with us," Jennifer explained.
"You're naughty, JJ and I'm sure Jeff made photos of you. Maybe I'll want to see them later. I'm afraid Peter and I are becoming somewhat old-fashioned."
"I'll tell you, kids," Peter said, "Emily and I have talked a lot since Jeffrey told us. We were really shocked at first, you know that. We were only thinking about what everybody is supposed to find decent and proper and moral and whatnot. We've always been thinking mainstream, which isn't really thinking at all. It's just following routine. You've made us start thinking for real again. We won't pretend we understand yet the way the three of you are living. We know that Jeff has always had this open mind. Even as a kid he always wanted to know why people did what they did, his parents included. He wanted to know why this was wrong and that was right. Well, we're not always sure. The least we can do is give someone the benefit of the doubt. About you, there's little doubt left now. What it all boils down to, Jeff: When you come to Baltimore again, bring JJ with you. I don't think it will be difficult to love them as daughters in law."
Jeffrey hugged his mother, JJ hugged his father. After his parents had left, Jeffrey opened a bottle of wine.
"You really did it, JJ. Next time my mother probably wants to see the pictures I made of you in Wyoming."
"Quite recently," Jennifer said, "I heard someone say you think to much. Maybe you worry too much as well. It was easy: show and let them tell. We only had to show that we loved the cute little kid, the shy high school boy and the bright student. They are bright enough to see that Jen and Jes and JJ love today's cute, shy and bright editor."
"So, next time you're worrying again," Jessica said, "talk to JJ, or Jen or Jes. They all love you."
The next hurdle was less high, but more complicated. Jeffrey's publishing firm was established forty years ago. That called for a party on a Friday night. Wives, husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends were also invited. Jeff hated parties and the more people there were, the more he hated them. He also knew that he, as the up and coming editor, couldn't stay away. There was another reason for going. Some of his colleagues had met Jennifer once or twice. He hadn't told his colleagues yet that he was living now with her twin sister as well. Only Paul knew she even had a twin sister. The party was a good opportunity to show and tell. JJ agreed.
"How formal will it be?" Jessica asked. "Black tie and al that jazz?"
"Black tie isn't strictly necessary, but a nice suit will be appreciated."
"I hoped you'd say that," Jennifer said. "Now what else can us girls do but buy new dresses? I seem to remember that on such an occasion a lot of cleavage is more or less expected. Right, Jes?"
"Almost mandatory, I believe."
They bought sleeveless dresses that were different only in shades of blue. They covered their legs from the ankles up. They showed the desired amount of cleavage and left there backs almost totally bare. They came to the party later than expected. They had to make two detours because of an accident and a fire. Just before they entered the large room where the party was being held, Jeffrey said: "OK, JJ, brace yourself."
"Relax, Jeff," Jessica said. "We've been there before."
"Not as beautiful as you are now. OK folks, here come the beauties and the beast."
Jeffrey was right. There almost fell a hush when Jeffrey led JJ to the editor in chief, to introduce them. "Hello, Jim, meet Jennifer and Jessica. JJ meet Jim, the editor in chief."
"Very pleased to meet you, ladies. In this case I can understand why someone also brings his sister in law to the party. I would be tempted myself."
"Neither of them is my sister in law, Jim. If we were the marrying kind and it were allowed, they would both be my wife."
"I see. Excuse me, there's this state senator I'd like a word with."
"Oh oh," Jennifer said. "Will this be bad for your career, Jeff?"
He didn't have the time to react and they didn't get the time to mingle, which was fine with Jeffrey. He never knew how to mingle. They were soon surrounded by the colleagues he worked closest with. Introductions and explanations were made. As could be expected there were different reactions. Some people avoided them for the rest of the evening, some were neutral, some were supportive, Paul among them. "I think I know you a bit, Jeff," he said. "We've had enough beers together. I've never seen you chasing women. You're not the type. I remember you told me that it made you nervous, picking Jessica up at the airport. You don't look nervous now. It all turned out quite well, I think."
Eventually they got some time to mingle. Jeffrey stayed with Jennifer or Jessica and let them do the talking. They left as soon as it was socially possible. They didn't talk about the evening until they were home and had a glass of wine before them.
"You look tired, Jeff," Jessica said. "Was it that bad?"
"No, it wasn't. I always look tired after being at a party. I hate them."
"What about your editor in chief," Jennifer asked. "He wasn't amused. Could it be a bad mark, your being there with both of us?"
"I don't give a damn if he was amused or not. I wasn't hired because of my home situation. I'm a good editor and Jim knows it. He wouldn't have looked twice if I had come to the party with a boyfriend. He's gay and old enough to know about intolerance towards gays. He came out only two years ago. He loves a man, I love two women. What's the bloody difference?"
"He's really tired, Jes," Jennifer said. "He doesn't know the difference anymore between a man and two women. We'd better do something about it."
"I could show him some more leg than just ankles."
"Not really convincing, Jes. Showing something more feminine would do the trick, I guess."
"You don't mean ..." Jessica looked quasi shocked.
"I'm afraid something drastic is called for, Jes."
"Oh well, all in a good cause." Jessica put off her dress.
"That's good so far, Jes. You may keep the stockings on, but I think one more item should be removed."
Jeffrey laughed. "Alright, JJ. Why don't you do some more convincing in the bedroom?" JJ were very convincing.
Next morning, over breakfast, they talked some more about it. Jeffrey's colleagues had the whole weekend to think about the way how to react when they met again on Monday, Jessica pointed out. Jeffrey didn't really care. He'd met some colleagues's wives or husbands for the first time at the party. He wasn't supposed to comment on them, was he? If they'd lived in a Muslim country his colleagues would probably wait for the third and fourth woman to join the Pontiero-Anderson household. There were a number of Mormons in their own United States who wouldn't raise an eyebrow. Apart from all the legal ramifications, they were three consenting adults, living the way they wanted to live. Jeffrey raised another point. What was Jessica or Jennifer going to do when they were invited to a party where they were supposed to bring her husband or boyfriend?
"Easy," Jessica said. "I'd bring you with me." She waited for a few seconds. "And Jen of course."
"Why bring your sister to party? Nobody else does."
JJ frowned. Jeffrey held up his hand. "I'm playing devil's advocate, JJ."
"They are inviting couples, right?" Jennifer said. "Now, what are couples? Two people who live together, whether they're married or not, whether they're from opposite sexes or from the same sex. They're supposed to do so because they love each other. We're an extended couple, as simple as that. I rest my case."
Jeffrey returned the verdict: "I love you, JJ."
They found a suitable apartment sooner than they'd expected. A realtor showed them around. There was a spacious living room and four other rooms. The shower in the bathroom had room enough for three. JJ asked some questions which the realtor answered. After a time he said: "I'm a bit confused, I still don't know which one of you is the interested party."
"We both are," said Jessica.
"Oh, I thought that one of you and Mr. Pontiero were interested."
"I'm also interested," Jeffrey said.
The realtor was still more confused, but didn't ask further questions.
"OK," Jeff said, "we'll talk about it. I'll phone you in about two hours."
They went home and agreed that they all liked the apartment. I didn't come cheap, but on three incomes it was affordable. Each of them could have a study and there was a spare bedroom in case somebody wanted to stay overnight. At four in the afternoon they went to the realtor to discuss the price and other details. They came to an agreement.
"I'm still curious," the realtor said, "if you don't mind. Who's going to live there?"
"We are," Jeffrey said.
"You mean … ?"
"Yes, that's what he means," Jessica said.
"But ...well, none of my business."
"That's the spirit," Jennifer concluded.
A fortnight later they moved in. They'd found a small firm to do all the redecorating. They bought some new furniture, among which was the widest bed they could find. Jeffrey left all the details to JJ. He didn't have a clue about color schemes, anyway. Often enough Jennifer or Jessica had told him to change socks because they didn't match with his trousers. At seven pm they sat on the couch, close together, after having showered and ordered a pizza. There was a sense of accomplishment. This day was the beginning of the next phase in their lives. This apartment would be their home for the foreseeable future.
"You know what?" Jeffrey said.
"Watch it, Jes," Jennifer said. "He's started thinking again."
"I shouldn't be thinking alone, remember? The thought occurred to me just minutes ago."
"Go ahead, Jeff," Jessica said. "The bitch on your other side will listen, I promise."
Before Jeffrey could start again, the doorbell rang. Jessica got up, took her purse and walked to the door.
"Jes," Jeffrey said, "the delivery boy might misunderstand a naked woman waiting for a pizza."
Jes went to the bathroom and put on a bathrobe. She got the pizza and put it in front of Jessica and Jeffrey, with three glasses, and gave Jeffrey a bottle of wine to open. She didn't bother to get plates. They ate two slices each out of their hands and set back with their wine.
"Go ahead now, Jeff," Jessica said. "Share your thoughts."
"Until today we were camping, more or less. Three people in a three room apartment was a bit crowded. We had to improvise sometimes and we did it well, I think. From now on we each have our own space beside this room and the bedroom. We'll be here for some time, a long time I hope. We're going to develop and follow routines. Routines are good, you don't have to think about everything you do. Routines can be bad too, meaning you are going to take things for granted. Taking for granted that there is always someone to eat with, sleep with, make love with. Jeez, I'm going to sound like a preacher."
"You do, Jeff," Jennifer said. "But I think you're right. I think that right now we feel like a couple on the day they get married. A fresh start! Wow! After a few years it's nothing but routine. I've seen too many examples of it. I doesn't have to be that way. I know that lovely bitch on the other side of you for more than twenty eight years now. I see her now every day again, like in the old times. Every day I see her come in, or find her here, I'm as glad as I was ten or twenty years ago. I've never taken her for granted, not for a minute. Jes has never taken me for granted. We've been together for eight months now, Jeff. We've been together with Jes for four months now. The minute you think one of your JJ is taking you for granted, you may slap her face and we'll talk about what has gone wrong. You run a greater risk: you may get slapped twice. You don't even have to turn the other cheek."
"Amen," Jessica said.
"I'll make coffee for you two lovely bitches," Jeffrey said. He got up.
"Do you really want coffee now, Jeff?" Jessica asked.
"Why would I not want coffee?"
"What Jes means," Jennifer said, "is that you can hide a lot, but you can't hide everything, not without a bathrobe, anyway."
"OK, JJ, you win. Let's try out the bed for size. I'll make coffee afterwards."
"I'm gonna miss you, JJ," Jessica said.
"Are you talking to yourself now?" Jeffrey asked.
"We should have thought of this sooner. J as in Jennifer and J as in Jeffrey, right?"
Next day Jessica would leave for fourteen days. She was going to make a movie of live in the favelas, the slums, of Rio de Janeiro. She'd spent a lot of evenings in her study lately, gathering and reading all the information she could get her hands and eyes on. They realized there were risks involved. One member of the crew was in Rio for a week already, to see what kind of protection was needed and how to get it. He had talked with the police too. Things looked good.
Jeffrey looked dubious. "You know you can't always trust the police over there."
"We know. You can't trust every car driver in New York City, either. About 250 pedestrians and cyclists are killed each year in traffic accidents here, you know."
"You'll have us worried," Jennifer said.
"I know, but it's my job. It's what I like doing. We'll call every day. I don't want one of you or both of you seeing me off at the airport. It hate standing around there, just making conversation about nothing important. A colleague will pick me up at nine am tomorrow. I'll give both of you a quick kiss and I'll be off."
"Just like that?"Jennifer said.
"Of course not. I'm not going yet, am I? Let the alarm go off at six thirty. We can do all the things we can't do at the airport. We can hug, we can fondle, we can kiss, we can hold, we can talk, we can be silent, we can laugh, maybe even a cry a little."
"Four words sum it all up, Jes," Jeffrey said. "We can make love. We'll miss you, Jes. It'll be a bit easier for me and Jen than it will be for you. I'm a lucky man, really. My love will be away for fourteen days, but my love will be with me, for comfort. How many men can say that?"
Jennifer agreed. "I'll miss you as much as I did when you were in Europe, but it will be different now, in a way."
Jessica looked glum. "And I will be the only one of the crew to miss two people. Let's have some wine, Jeff."
Jeffrey opened a bottle and filled three glasses.
"Some of the crew must have children, Jes," Jennifer said. "They'll miss more than one as well."
"You're right of course. But isn't it wonderful to make yourself feel a tiny little bit sad? It's only fourteen days now, not six long months. I'll manage. We've got a lot of work to do. I won't have much spare time to think of you and to show of in my new bikini at the Copacabana."
"You bought a new bikini," Jennifer exclaimed. "Show it."
Jessica went to the bedroom and came back a few minutes later. Jeffrey whistled. Jennifer said, with mock disapproval: "You slut. That's not a bikini, that's ...nothing. You might as well be naked. Let me try it on." She was already undressing.
"Well, Jeff, what do you say?" Jennifer asked, when she'd put the bikini on.
"You know, when a man sees that, he only wants you to take that of, too. You better be careful, Jen."
"Come on, Jeff. You're the only man we know who loves small breasts."
"I love all of you, JJ. Finish your wines and let's go to bed early today."
Jessica slept between Jennifer and Jeffrey that night. She was the one who needed the most comfort.
Jeffrey woke up a few minutes before 6.30. He put the alarm off. JJ were still sleeping. He'd let them sleep for a while. There was no hurry. A few days after Jes's return would be JJ's birthday. He still didn't know what to give them for a birthday present. He didn't have to go to a jeweler. The only thing they wore, beside clothes, were watches, and those for practical reasons only. He'd like to give them one thing, not two separate, different things. Something they could enjoy together. That meant something that would stay in the apartment. A painting was a possibility. Jessica turned around, now facing him. She still slept. He didn't touch her yet. He could ask Mary's advice. She was Jim's secretary. She'd just turned sixty. George, her husband had died two years ago. She had no children. Some of his colleagues sometimes jokingly called her 'mother'. Besides being a very good secretary, she was also a problem solver, a kind of 'Dear Abby' for all of them. She hadn't been at the party where he had introduced Jes. She hated parties as much as he did and she could get away with not attending. She came to him the Monday after. "I heard I missed something, Jeff. I'd like to meet your wives." He had invited her for dinner. JJ loved her, urging her to come more often.
Jes's hand was moving, searching. She touched his breast. She opened her eyes. "Hi, Jeff," she whispered. She snuggled up to him. He kissed her softly and caressed her back. Jennifer woke up a few minutes later. She raised her head and blew him a kiss. Then she shook her head. He knew what she meant: this time be there only for Jes. He took his time. Jessica's hand was moving over him, but he made it clear she didn't have to do anything this time. She relaxed and let him build the tensions within her slowly, with hands and lips and tongue. One of her hands searched for and found Jennifer's hand. Jennifer felt her grip growing more and more tight. She could feel what Jessica felt. She could feel the moment of release coming. She kissed the nearest of Jes's breasts. It was the last touch she needed. Jessica lay back, eyes closed, smiling, waiting for and getting more caresses. After about fifteen minutes she opened her eyes. "Jeff, I did nothing for you."
"You did a lot, Jes. You let me enjoy your body. You let me show I love you. I'm sorry, I'll be practical now. I'll make orange juice for you two. Then we shower." They took a long time showering. While JJ were drying each other's hair, he made breakfast. At nine sharp the bell rang. Jes opened the door and gave her suitcase to her colleague. "Go ahead, I'll be with you in a minute." She put on a jacket. "Well, I'll be going. I love you. Take care." They kissed quickly.
"Wait," Jennifer said. She ran to the living room. She came back with Jes's new bikini. Jes put it in one of the pockets of her jacket. "Bye." She took the stairs.
Jeffrey closed the door. Jennifer was in the living room. "Let's have one more coffee."
They drank their coffees without speaking. They walked to the subway together. Jennifer's train came first. In the office he went to Mary first and explained his problem.
"That's a tough one, Jeff. I thought I'd heard all the problems in the world. But no, Jeffrey has to lead some weird kind of life to make new ones. Just kidding, you know. Jes is leaving today, right? Come to mother when you need some comforting words. Don't forget your appointment with this author Whatshisnameagain."
Whatshisnameagain was almost half an our late. Jeffrey didn't care. The man had written one book so far. Jeffrey didn't think much of it, but the public thought differently. He was now busy writing his second novel. He'd asked for the appointment, only to tell Jeffrey how well he was doing again. No problem about meeting the deadline. He already had the beginning of a plot for his third novel. Blah, blah, blah. At one forty-five Jeffrey lied about another appointment and paid for the lunch. The rest of the afternoon he couldn't really concentrate on his work. He searched the Internet for timezones. Rio was three hours ahead of New York. Jes would be there between eight and nine pm, New York time. He came home at six. Jennifer was already there, sitting at the table, sipping bourbon. He kissed her and took a beer from the fridge.
"You OK?" she asked.
"Yes. No. I'm new to this. I'm glad you're with me, Jen. You know, we've started this way, just the two of us, but it doesn't feel like old times. I don't want the old times back. You understand, don't you?"
"I wouldn't have it any other way, Jeff. I held Jes's hand this morning. I not only saw what you were doing. I could feel it. I loved you very much."
Jeff didn't feel like making dinner. He didn't know yet what kind of meal to make. Usually he thought about that on his way home. Today he hadn't. In his mind he'd seen Jes walking in the slums of Rio. He'd heard gun shots. He'd seen Jes walking along the Copacabana beach in her new bikini, drawing a lot of attention. Men were looking at her. No, not looking, leering. He didn't mind other men looking at JJ. He hated the leering, hated men who saw nothing more than a body, didn't see the woman inside that body. "I'll order pizza. That OK with you?'
"I'll do it. Relax, Jeff. Jes will be alright. She knows how to take care of herself. I was alone for two months when she was in Europe. I got through it. I even managed to pick up this man in a hotel bar. Shall I tell you what happened after that?"
He smiled. "Of course you're right, Jen. I know. I just want to feel sorry for myself, ourselves. I know you miss Jes as much as I do. Go order that pizza."
They didn't talk much, didn't do much. The pizza came. They ate it. They watched TV without really looking or listening. They were waiting for the phone to ring. The phone rang at eight fifty . They'd bought a new hands free phone, so they could both listen and talk. Jennifer picked it up and pushed a button. "Hi, Jes. You had a good flight?"
"It was OK. Is Jeff there too?"
"I'm here, Jes."
"There's not much to tell. I'm waiting for my suitcase. Just wanted to hear your voices. It's really hot over here. I can put my new bikini on. Oh, I see my suitcase coming. I'll call you tomorrow."
"Wait, Jess," Jeffrey said. "Pick it up the next time it comes along."
"OK, Jeff. Jen?"
"Take care of our love, will you? We've left something unfinished this morning. Got to go now. Here comes my suitcase again. Love you. Bye."
They weren't sure if Jes had heard their 'Love you, too'.
"Let's go to bed, Jeff. That was some sound advice she gave. Not that I really needed it."
Eight days went by. Jes called every night. They were making good progress, but she would never get used to life in the favelas. Children grew up accepting violence as a normal part of everyday life. Drug lords reigned over their small or bigger fiefdoms. Sometimes the police came to reclaim authority. A neighborhood was a war zone for some days. The police left again, leaving authority to the local drug lord. Miserable life, for most people, went on. The crew had made a deal with one of the more powerful drug lords, Enrico. He was actually proud of himself. He was taking care of 'his people', or so he said. He provided a bodyguard for the crew, four young men, carrying Uzi's or AK-47's. "Let my people talk. They will tell you the truth about me and about the filth. That's what the police and the authorities are, filth. They don't care about the people. I do." It was easy to believe what people said about the police and the authorities. Jes had read enough about them, before she went to Rio. How could they believe an old man speaking about Enrico enthusiastically? The young men were listening too. Thursday afternoon they'd gone to Copacabana, to relax. "You think my bikini was revealing too much?" Jessica said. "You wouldn't believe what I saw here. Compared to that I was decently clothed. My cameraman made a few pictures. I'm afraid I can't include them in the movie. It would be X-rated."
Jeffrey and Jennifer had just finished dinner. "I still don't like all the hardware around Jes," Jeffrey said. Jennifer was making coffee. He turned on the TV to watch the news. There was breaking news from Rio de Janeiro: an American film crew was caught in the middle of heavy fighting between the police and a local drug lord. He didn't have to call Jennifer, she'd heard. She sat beside him, holding his hand in a tight grip. There were images of Rio, the favelas. A voice told about the general situation. The American reporter came into view. "Two members of the American film crew were wounded." Jennifer held her breath. "They're now in the hospital. With me here now is Jessica Anderson, the director. Ms Anderson can you tell us what happened?" They hardly heard what Jessica said. They saw what they wanted to see. She looked haggard, but she wasn't hurt. The last thing she said, was: "I want the police to let us go to our hotel. We want to call our loved ones. I want to visit my colleagues in hospital." "More news after the break," the anchor man said. Jeffrey pushed the off button of the remote control. He turned to Jennifer. She was crying still, but she looked relieved.
"She'll be coming home now, won't she, Jeff?"
He wiped away her tears. She did the same for him.
"She'll call us tonight, Jen. She's alright."
The phone rang. Jeff took it. "Jes?"
It wasn't Jes, it was a TV network. Would he comment? "Get the hell off my phone! My wife's trying to call me from Rio." He slammed the phone down.
There were more calls after which he slammed the phone down. The last call came at one thirty am. This time it was Jessica. She was crying. "I'm OK, JJ, really. I went to the hospital first. My colleagues are OK too, they'll recover. I couldn't call sooner. The police wouldn't let us. The wanted statements first. I'll tell you what happened when I'm home. I don't want to think about it now."
"When will you be back, Jes?" Jennifer asked. "We want you here. We want to hold you."
"I don't know yet. Maybe tomorrow night. Someone at the consulate is taking care of that. She was really helpful. I'll call you in the morning."
"Call us if you can't sleep, Jes," Jeffrey said. "We'll talk."
"I'm almost sleeping, JJ. I'm in bed already. A doctor gave me a sleeping pill. I want to sleep between you. I love you."
"We love you too, Jes. Sleep well. Bye."
The phone woke them up at seven next morning. They ran to the phone. Jennifer won. "Jes, you're alright?"
"I feel much better, Jen. Is Jeff with you? He's not shopping or something?";
Jeffrey laughed. "You woke us up, Jes. Ever heard about time zones?"
"Jeez, I'm sorry, JJ. I'm still a bit confused."
"When will you be here, Jes?" Jessica asked.
"Tonight, ten thirty, Kennedy Airport. "You'll be there?"
"What do you think, silly? Do you think anything can stop us from being there? Get your beautiful ass over here as soon as possible. Jeff and I want to kiss it. And other parts of your body."
"I can't wait, Jen. I'll pack my suitcase now. Bye, JJ."
"Bye, Jes. Hurry up."
They went back to bed and slept until ten am. Someone of the company Jessica worked for called. A conference room was reserved at the airport where the members of the film crew could meet with their families. There would be a press conference later. That couldn't be avoided. Jeffrey did the shopping. When he returned, Jennifer told him that his parents, Mary, Jim and Paul had called. Jeffrey was surprised that Jim had called. He'd never spoken about Jennifer or Jessica. He seemed to be human after all. They decided to go out. Staying home would only make the time go slower. They saw a movie. Afterwards they went to a bar and had dinner in an Italian restaurant. They arrived at Kennedy at ten pm. Most of the families were already there, children among them. Jes's boss met them. "You really made me jump there. You must be Jennifer. For a moment I thought Jessica was already here. I'm John Gilbert. I'm really glad it all turned out so well. Even the wounded people are coming back now. They're well, considering the circumstances. Sorry, this must be your brother in law?"
"No, this is Jeffrey Pontiero, my husband, so to speak."
"Jessica's husband couldn't make it?"
"Jeff is Jessica's husband, so to speak."
He looked confused. Then he understood. "Nice to meet you, Jeff. You too, of course, Jennifer."
They sat and drank coffee with other happy family members. There were many looks at the clock. An announcement came at ten thirty one: the plan had landed. Most people stood up already. Ten minutes later a man on a stretcher came in first. He was smiling. The next one was a woman, walking with crutches. Jessica came in last, smiling, looking happily at the hugging groups and couples she passed. She kept smiling, but when Jennifer and Jeffrey held her, there were tears too. "I want to go home," was all she said. She knew that all the other people didn't want anything else but go home too. After ten minutes she went to John.
"Let's get it over with, John. Call the press."
The film crew, twelve people, sat behind a table. Jessica in the middle. There were five TV networks and about twenty reporters from radio and papers. Again Jennifer and Jeffrey hardly listened to what was being asked and said after Jessica had read a brief statement, she had prepared earlier. They would hear it all at home. They were admiring Jessica who was doing what she was good at: directing. She choose the reporters to ask a question, she pointed at a crew member to answer. After half an our she put up a hand. "Ladies and gentleman, that's it. My colleagues and I have been through quite an ordeal and we're living through a twenty seven hours day. We now want to be with our families. Thank you, very much."
Several reporters shouted more questions. She looked at them. "Shut the fuck up." To her crew members she said: "Let's go home, people." She kissed them all and came over to Jennifer and Jeffrey. "Let's go home." Several reporters came their way when they saw Jessica and Jennifer together. Jeffrey met them. "Beat it, gentleman." They backed off.
John had taken care of the eleven taxis and one ambulance that were standing ready. The company would pay. They came home at twelve fifteen. "You know what I want, JJ?" Jessica asked.
"I know, Jess," Jennifer said. "You want to sleep now, between us. You'll be really safe."
In the bedroom Jeffrey untied her shoe laces. She kicked her shoes off. Jennifer pulled of her T-shirt. Jeffrey unbuttoned her jeans and pulled them down, the panty went with them. She lay down on the bed. She slept before Jennifer and Jeffrey were fully undressed. They gently pulled the duvet from under her and covered her.
Jeffrey raised his head when he woke op. Jennifer was already awake. He stroked her cheek.
"We'll stay until Jes wakes up," Jennifer whispered. He nodded. It was past nine. He hoped nobody would call. He'd been awake for a short time during the night. He'd gotten a marvelous, he thought, idea for a present for JJ's birthday. It wasn't lasting, not in a material way. He'd take them on a week's trip to Amsterdam. Jessica had been raving about the city, but had had too little time to really explore it. He knew she'd like to go back there just for fun and Jennifer had already said once that she would like to see the city too. It wasn't probably the best time of the year, the second week of December, but he knew the winter over there wasn't as cold as the New York winter. There would be no problem in finding a hotel, he supposed. Now that he was awake, it still seemed like a good idea. It took two more hours before Jessica stirred. She moved her hands until she felt them.
"Yes! I'm not dreaming. I'm home. Don't you move." She threw her duvet off and got out of bed. A minute later they could hear she was making fresh orange juice. Jennifer moved over to Jeffrey. They kissed. "She's crazy," Jennifer said. "But what can I do? She is my older sister. I just follow orders." Jessica came back with three glasses of orange juice. She sat on the edge of the bed. "I've realized something. Making fresh orange juice for people you love, can be as satisfying as making love. Why do people make so much fuss about sex? It's overrated."
"OK, Jes," Jennifer said. "From now on, you take care of the orange juice, I take care of the sex. Now, take these glasses away and hop in right between Jeff and me. Are you up to talking about it?"
"I was scared as hell," Jessica said, when she was between Jeffrey and Jennifer again. She lay on her back, eyes closed. Jeffrey and Jennifer caressed her. "I didn't see my whole life flashing by. I only thought I would never see you two again, that I would die. I saw you standing by my grave. Putting flowers there. I remember thinking: Well, they won't be alone. And all the time there was this terrible noise."
They'd just stopped at the place where they were going to start filming that day. The crew used a van with all the technical stuff and two other cars. Their bodyguards had two cars, one in front, one in the rear. They always got out first, scanning the surroundings. One of them gave a thumbs up, meaning that it was OK to get out of the cars. They did and then the shooting started. One of the crew had yelled to lie down. Before they could, two of them were hit. She had seen a police car in the direction where the shooting had started. The shooting lasted for an hour. It stopped when more police came and the bodyguards left, abandoning their cars.
"I didn't know what to do. I lay there and saw these boots coming and stopping in front of me. I waited. I expected to be shot. I wasn't afraid anymore. I was resigned. I knew you'd be happy together." She smiled. "After some time."
The boots belonged to the man in charge of the second group of policeman. He spoke English reasonably well. He told them that the first group of policeman were bad cops, not much better than the men they were supposed to fight. He told them too that one of their bodyguards was actually a policeman, working undercover. This young man had called his chief by radio, out of sight of his comrades. An ambulance had come to take care of the wounded crewmembers. The rest of them were taken to police headquarters to make statements. A policeman had brought her to the hospital, to visit her colleagues. She was happy enough to hear they were not critically wounded.
"And then, at last, I could call you, speak with you." She kissed Jennifer and Jeffrey. Jeffrey kissed four breasts.
"Now that sex seems to be an overrated pastime in this household, I'll make breakfast for you." He looked at the alarmclock. "No. I'll make lunch, or brunch, whatever. After that I'll have a surprise."
It took fifteen minutes to toast bread, make coffee, put plates on the table, with more bread, jam, cheese and ham. He fried three eggs, sunny side up and called: "JJ, come and get it."
Jennifer poured coffee. "What's the big surprise, Jeff?"
"Your birthday present."
"This isn't our birthday yet. Wednesday next week is."
"I know, but the present will start a week from now."
"Presents don't start, Jeff", Jessica said. "They're chosen very carefully. Then they are wrapped and given. The recipients unwrap them and admire them. With tears in their eyes they look up thankfully at the giver."
"Then they drag him to the bedroom," Jennifer continued, "and do all the things to him he likes best."
"I like the last part, Jen, but this present can't be wrapped. Next week we go to Amsterdam for a week. My treat."
JJ were silent for a time, but he could see the idea was very appealing.
"I'd love it, Jeff," Jennifer said, "but, you know, we have jobs. We're expected to be there tomorrow."
"Right. We talk with our respective bosses tomorrow. We'll tell them Jes needs a week of R & R. The best way for Jes to recuperate is to be with us, Jen. Am I right, Jes?"
"Couldn't think of any other way. I'll speak with John."
It didn't take long to convince John. It took Jennifer and Jeffrey some more time to convince their bosses. They argued, they pleaded and, at last, they won.
Six days later JJ were packing. Jeffrey had surfed the Internet. Booking a flight was done in less than thirty minutes. Finding a place to stay took some more time. He first made Google search for 'Amsterdam' and 'hotel'. Finding a room would be easy, just as he had expected. Then he had a better idea and searched for 'Amsterdam' and 'apartment'. There was a wide choice. Even houseboats could be rented. He found a map of Amsterdam and made his choice. Booking and making a down payment could be done online. He went to the bedroom where JJ had already finished packing their suitcases. Now they were packing his.
"Do we rent a car in Amsterdam?" he asked.
"No we don't," Jessica said. "We rent bicycles. You wouldn't believe how many people ride bicycles over there. You even see people with one kid in front of them and one behind. I spoke with a few Dutchmen when I was there. They told me cycling was the best way of transport in the city. Finding parking space is nearly impossible, anyway, especially in the old part of town. Have you booked a good hotel? We haven't been told yet."
"No, I have not."
"Oh no," Jennifer said. "He'll have us backpacking, Jes, the cheapskate."
"I've done better than that. I'm spoiling you. I've booked an apartment, overlooking Vondelpark. It's self catering. It's in walking distance from the city center. It has a king size bed, by the way."
"Speaking of beds," Jessica said. "We've done the unwrapping. Jen, I think it's time to look up thankfully with tears in our eyes."
"Let's start dragging now." Jeffrey didn't resist. JJ were all over him.
They arrived at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport twelve fifty five pm on a Tuesday. There was a cloudless sky. The temperature, the plane's captain had told, was 6 degrees Celsius, 43 degrees Fahrenheit. They went to a bank first to change dollars for euros and bought a map of Amsterdam. Jeffrey called the agency that let the apartment. A lady would be there to let them in and take care of some other formalities, like giving them the key and receiving payment. They took the train to Amsterdam. Twenty minutes later they arrived at Central Station. A taxi needed another twenty minutes to bring them to the apartment. They crossed five canals on the way. The agency's lady looked surprised when she let them in. "We assumed the third person would be a child. The second bed is a bit small. I'll see if I can make some arrangements. Let me show you the bedroom."
"Don't bother," Jennifer said to the lady. "The bed is wide enough for three."
The lady showed relief. "Thank you. Shall we take care of the rest of the business?"
Business was settled soon. The lady wished them a pleasant stay and left.
"She didn't blink an eye," Jeffrey said, "when you said that the bed was wide enough for three."
"You'll find the people around here a bit more permissive than in the old US of A, Jeff," Jessica said. "You must have read somewhere that you can buy weed here just around the corner. Gay people can get married here like any hetero couple. You have to act really weird here to surprise people."
Jennifer was studying a stack of brochures with places to visit and things to do. There was also a map of the neighborhood, that showed shops, bars and restaurants.
"OK, JJ," Jeffrey said. "We've lost a few hours sleep. I say we go to a bar somewhere near, grab something to eat and go to bead early. What do you say?"
JJ agreed. Jennifer studied the neighborhood map some more and led them to Overtoom, a busy street, five minutes from the apartment, with many shops and bars galore.
"Hey, I remember what that means." Jessica pointed at a sign saying 'Eetcafé'. "That's a bar where you can eat too."
They went in. It wasn't crowded, but it was just past four. There were three people at the bar, a couple at a table and an old woman at the bar, drinking coffee. She said something unintelligible to them.
"I'm sorry," Jeffrey said. "I don't speak Dutch."
"She told you you're a lucky man," the bartender translated. "You being with two beautiful ladies. She also wanted to know how you keep them apart."
"I don't," Jeffrey said. "I keep them together."
The bartender translated for the old woman. She laughed.
Jeffrey ordered a pint of beer, Jennifer a bourbon and Jessica a red wine. While drinking they started to make a list of 'must see' places. The Van Gogh museum came first. It was only a short walk from the apartment. The Old Church came next, the oldest building in the city.
"It's in the Red Light district," Jessica said. "You know, all these half naked women behind windows. You won't like it, Jeff. No small breasts, as far as I can remember. It's a beautiful part of the city, though."
The bartender had been listening to them. "May I suggest something? Take a boat trip through the canals. It's one of the best ways to get a good impression of the old city. And if I may be so bold: don't spend too much time inside museums. I'm sure there are beautiful things there, but the old city is one big open air museum. Just walk through it. Better yet, rent a bike. I'm living here now for almost fifty years, but that's what I often do in my spare time. You'll love it."
"The man has a point there, JJ," Jeffrey said. "We can visit museums when it rains."
JJ insisted they visit at least the Van Gogh museum. Jeffrey asked the bartender when the kitchen would open. It had been open since nine am. The bartender suggested they take the specialty of the house: sateh. It sounded like 'suttay'. It was two skewers with grilled meat and a peanut sauce. There was a choice of beef, pork, chicken and goat. It came with French fries and a salad. They went for the beef, pork and goat. None of them had ever eaten goat's meat. The meat was delicious. They exchanged pieces to taste all kinds. The peanut sauce was spicy. There was a lot of garlic in it. The fries were crispy. The salad was common place. Red wine went well with it. They took another glass instead of coffee. Jeffrey lit a cigarette. He didn't have to go outside for a smoke. JJ yawned. On their way to the apartment they bought what they needed for breakfast. In the apartment JJ went straight for the bedroom. Jeffrey put away the things they'd bought and went to the bedroom as well. JJ lay on the bed, still fully dressed.
Jennifer opened one eye. "We've brushed our teeth, we've said our prayers, but now we're really beat. If you don't want to sleep with two fully dressed women, you must do something about it yourself."
"There's a bonus," Jessica said. "You can sleep between two undressed women."
He unlaced four shoes one by one, then pulled them off one by one. Four socks followed. He unbuttoned and unzipped the jeans and pulled them down. He made them stand up for a few moments to get them out of their sweaters. He pulled the two panties down simultaneously. He kissed their lips and breasts. "I love you, JJ. Get in now. I'll be with you in a minute." He brushed his teeth, undressed and put off the light. It wasn't completely dark. He hadn't closed the drapes. Some light was coming in from the lanterns in the park. JJ had left room enough for him, but as soon as he was between him, they snuggled up. Before he feel asleep, he had a few moments to feel wonderful.
It was still dark when he woke up. He listened intently for any noise from the outside, traffic noises. That was no use. The bedroom was at the rear side of the apartment, that bordered the park. He took his watch from the bed stand, careful not to wake up Jennifer. It was almost six. It was JJ's birth day. He managed to get out of bed without disturbing them. He closed the bedroom door as silently as possible. In the living room he started the coffee machine and connected his laptop to the Internet. He saw that the weather would be the same as the day before. He found several sites about Amsterdam and made notes. A quarter named Jordaan seemed to be one, of many, to be of special interest. Weed could be bought in coffee shops. Would coffee be sold in weed shops, he wondered. The National Museum was only a few steps away from the Van Gogh, but the main building was being renovated. Only a small part of the collection, among which Rembrandt's famous Night Watch, was being displayed.
"Jeff, are you there?" He went to the bedroom, singing 'Happy birthday, dear JJ'. He fell on the duvet between them, resting on his elbows. "I've got a problem, whom do I kiss first?"
"I'll be generous", Jennifer said. "Jes is the oldest."
He kissed Jes first, then Jennifer.
"Well," Jessica said, "will that be all? You're not tired anymore, are you?"
"Of course not, I'll make orange juice for you."
"You're not that dumb, Jeff," Jennifer said, smiling. "Get off this duvet and get this duvet off us."
He followed orders dutifully. He stood, looking at them, admiring them, loving them. "Well, I did what I was told. What's next? Anything else I can do for you, apart from making breakfast?"
JJ looked at each other in mock desperation. "He needs some time to make up his mind, Jen."
"Yeah, the rest of him is made up already. You must have noticed."
He played along. "I seem to remember there are some pleasurable things a man and a woman can do together."
"Correction," Jennifer said. "Two women."
"Two is company," Jessica added, "three is ...uh ...much more fun."
They had a lot of fun. JJ made breakfast. There was no need to hurry. Opening time of the Van Gogh museum was ten am. It wouldn't take more then twenty minutes to walk there. There were already some people waiting when they arrived at the museum a few minutes before ten. The admission fee wasn't much different from the Guggenheim's. They spent two hours in the museum and were properly impressed. One of the most remarkable paintings, in Jeffrey's opinion, was one of the head of skeleton with a cigarette between in his jaws. Passing the National Museum, they walked to Leidseplein for lunch. They also studied the map of Amsterdam that Jessica had taken with her from the apartment. The waiter told them bicycles could be rented at Central Station. Several trams were going there from Leidseplein. They decided to walk. The only means of transport allowed to pass though Leidsestraat were trams. They noticed that a lot of cyclists, locals probably, didn't seem to mind much. Later they noticed that many cyclists didn't seem to mind red traffic lights either. "Are these people suicidal, or what?" Jeffrey said. Jennifer thought they didn't like rules very much. "It's something in the air, possibly. I like it here. Look, have you ever seen so many flowers?" They walked along the Flower Market. Jeffrey bought two roses and put them on their lapels.
On Dam Square they sat on a stone bench, admiring the 17th century Royal Palace. Jessica told they needn't wait for the changing of the guards, like with Buckingham Palace in London. There were no guards. None of the Dutch queens had ever lived there. A local beside them on the bench told them the palace was built as the Amsterdam city hall. When Napoleon made the Netherlands part of the French empire, he made his brother king of Holland. The latter made city hall his royal palace. "Some of us here," the local said, "still think it's a bloody shame. I, for one."
They'd almost reached Central Station when they saw a place where they could take a boat trip. The bicycles could be rented the next day as well. The bartender had been right: they saw Amsterdam in a nutshell and a really marvelous nutshell at that. After the trip Jessica led them to the nearby Red Light district. Jessica had been right: Jeffrey wasn't really impressed by the women behind the windows. They were impressed by the Old Church and the narrow canals with all the old houses along them. Leaving the district they came to Dam Square again and walked south along Rokin. About halfway Jeffrey, on an impulse, pulled them into an alley. They crossed a busy shopping street into another. They went into what looked like a bar. It was, but there was no bar. It was the size of a large living room, with two rows of small tables and chairs along the walls. In the rear was one round table. Four men were playing a card game, which apparently needed a lot of banging on the table. The wooden floor had been strewn with sand. There was no music. There was a small TV set, but it was off. This was a place to drink and talk.
"I'm going to love this town more and more," Jeffrey said. They ordered beer and red wines. A man at the table opposite theirs had a small glass refilled up to the brim with a colorless liquid. He didn't lift the glass up. He brought his lips to the glass to take the first sip. At five thirty there weren't many empty chairs left. A young man asked if he might sit at their table.
"You're from the States, I guess," he said. "You like it here?"
"Well", Jennifer said, "it's only our second day here, but I'm sure we'll hate to leave."
"You better believe it," the young man said. "I came here five years ago to study. I come from a small rural village even most Dutchmen have never heard of. I'd like to find a job here when I've finished my studies and live here for the rest of my live. I'm Peter, by the way."
Jeffrey introduced JJ and himself.
"You know, Peter," Jessica said, "Jennifer and I are used to being stared at. Why don't you?"
He looked at his watch. "You'll see in a few minutes. Ah, there they are." Two young women just entered, about twenty years old. They looked very much alike. They kissed Peter's cheeks. "Meet my twin sisters," Peter said. That moment the card players were leaving. "Let's move over there," Jeffrey said.
The twin sisters were Anne and Janet. They were delighted to meet JJ. Jeffrey and Peter were left to themselves. Peter told he was quite used to twins. His mother had a twin sister too. His aunt had twin daughters. So what else was knew? They talked American foreign policy. Peter told the Dutch administration was in favor of the American Middle East policies, while the majority of the population were not. Jeffrey said he agreed with the population.
"No", Anne exclaimed, "you're putting us on, Jennifer. Aren't you jealous all the time?"
"Of course not," Jessica said. "Jeffrey's learned to be an expert in dividing his attention. Haven't you, Jeff?"
"First time anyone told me I'm an expert in anything else but publishing."
Janet looked thoughtful. "If only Anne had a better taste. She always has this awful boyfriends. Ouch, stop kicking me, Anne, or I'll pull your hair out."
Peter didn't understand yet. Anne told them that Jeffrey was living with both Jennifer and Jessica.
"Pretty selfish, Jeff," Peter said, smiling. "Keeping both of them for yourself. A lot of men in New York must be unhappy."
"They've got their problems, I've got mine. Hey, why don't we have dinner together, someplace? Peter, you should know of a decent place to eat. You're my guests, just like JJ. It's their birthday, you know." JJ were kissed three times.
Peter asked if they liked Portuguese food. They would try anything. They walked to a tram stop, where they took tram 1. When they got off the tram, they saw that they were on Overtoom.
"Very good choice, Peter," Jeffrey said. "Our apartment is only a few minutes from here."
The food was good, as was the wine. They all had a good time, too. They exchanged names, addresses and phone numbers. Jeffrey invited Peter and his sisters to have another drink in their apartment, but Peter had a rather important exam the next day, so he didn't want to be in bed late. They kissed and shook hands. In the apartment Jeffrey opened a bottle of wine.
"This was a terrific birthday, Jeff," Jennifer said. "Come on, Jess. He deserves some kisses."
"Kisses only?" Jessica asked.
"For the time being."
"You're too much, JJ," Jeffrey said, pouring the wine, smiling. "Can't you ever leave a decent man alone for a few hours?"
"You don't want to be decent at all," Jennifer said. "You want to sleep with two women."
"What's indecent about sleeping? My mother always taught me to get enough sleep."
After the wine they did just that: sleep.
The next day they went directly to Central Station by tram, to rent bicycles. They first went to the neighborhood called Jordaan. It was a crisscross of narrow streets where two cars couldn't pass each other. Most streets were lined with little shops, bars and places to eat. In one of them they had some rolls and coffee. The waiter pointed out another neighborhood on the map, west of Central Station, bordering the harbor. He said it was one of the most beautiful parts of Amsterdam, where hardly any tourist came. He was right. There where centuries old warehouses, converted to apartment buildings. They crossed an old drawbridge.
"It's remarkable," Jennifer said. "It's all centuries old and people are still living here and going about their daily lives. They're living history and modern times at the same time. I love it. This place and a cabin in Wyoming, what more do you want?"
Friday and Saturday they also spent walking and cycling through most parts of the old city. They went to the National Museum, after all, to see the Night Watch and some other famous paintings. One night they saw a movie in a theater near Leidseplein. Early Saturday morning a taxi brought them to Schiphol Airport.
"It feels just like leaving Wyoming," Jennifer said. "I hate it."
The flight to New York was uneventful. They took a taxi to their apartment. "Coming home isn't so bad," Jeffrey remarked. JJ agreed.
The phone was ringing when Jessica came home. She was first this day. "Jessica Anderson."
"Let me speak with Jeffrey." It was a man.
"He isn't here yet. Who is this?"
"Doesn't matter. Tell him he's got one wife too many. I'll call later."
The line went dead. What was that all about? She told Jeffrey and Jennifer about the call when they were having a drink before dinner.
"Just another creep," Jeffrey thought.
"I didn't like the tone of his voice," Jessica said. "He said he'd call later."
The phone rang. Jeffrey took it and pushed the button for hands free calling."Hello."
"Is this Jeffrey Pontiero?"
"You've got one wife too many, Jeffrey."
"What's it to you? Who are you, anyway?"
"Maybe we'll meet sometime, Jeffrey. I haven't got a wife."
"Go to a singles bar and stop calling us."
"You don't want anything to happen to one of your beautiful wives, would you?"
"Drop dead, motherfucker."
He slammed down the phone. "Jeez, how crazy can you get?"
JJ didn't look happy at all, a bit frightened even. None of them had recognized the voice.
"Could the police find such a man?" Jessica asked.
"If he has a grain of intelligence, he knows a call can be traced," Jeffrey said. "He will have used a public phone, or phoned from a bar. Maybe it's just a prankster, a colleague of one us, with bad taste. Changed his voice, put a handkerchief over the phone, something like that."
"Maybe we should call the police anyway," Jennifer said. "I don't like this. I don't want to look over my shoulder every time I go out. It can be some weirdo who has seen us together in that bar we go to sometimes. He could've asked someone for your name. He could have followed us. We kind of stick out, you know."
"OK, JJ, you start dinner. I'll call the police."
Like he expected, the police couldn't do much right away. The one call could be no more than a prank. If it happened again they would see what they could do about it. In the meantime it might be better if the two ladies didn't go out alone. Jeffrey didn't feel comforted. Neither did JJ. Next day Jeffrey would bring JJ to their jobs in Jessica's car and pick them up again in the afternoon. JJ wouldn't go out for lunch. They would do that for a few days more and wait and see.
Next day the man called again. Apart from saying 'Hello' Jeffrey said nothing. Let the man feed his nickels and dimes until he ran out of them. Jeffrey tried to concentrate on background noises. He couldn't be sure. The man threatened again to do something to JJ and hang up. The sixth time the man called, he got really angry, when Jeffrey again didn't say anything more than 'Hello'. Jeffrey couldn't do this and couldn't do that to him. Who did Jeffrey think he was? He must have saved his coins, because he was going on for ten minutes. "This is my last dollar, Jeffrey, so you better pay attention. I won't take it anymore." Jeffrey remembered something. 'Bingo!' he thought and put the phone gently down.
";JJ, your troubles are over. Our troubles are over. I know who the son of a bitch is." There was a man in accounting of Jeff's firm, about forty five. Nobody really liked him. He wanted to be treated with respect, especially by the women. One of his favorite expressions was, that he wouldn't take it anymore.
"I've only once or twice heared him say it," Jeffrey said. "I didn't recognize his voice, I recognized his inflexion. I'm positive about, JJ. I'll confront him tomorrow."
Next morning Jeffrey went to Mary first. He told her about the phone calls.
"That's terrible, Jeff. How are JJ?"
"They're alright now, Mary. I think I know who it is. Have you ever spoken with this man from accounting, Hayward?"
"Jeffrey, I'm not an attorney or priest, but whatever is said here, I consider privileged."
"I understand, Mary. I just want you to have a talk with him. Tell him that JJ and I won't take it anymore from him. Exactly that."
"I'll see what I can do, Jeff."
Around four pm Mary called Jeffrey. "You'll have a guest for dinner. Me. I like Italian, homemade. I'll be there at seven."
When he'd picked up Jessica and Jennifer, Jeffrey told them. "JJ, I'm going to cook my best Italian dinner ever. Mary is coming."
"What's the occasion?" Jessica asked. "I'm not really in the mood for entertaining. Jen neither, I think."
Jeffrey told him about his talk with Mary and that later that day Mary had invited herself. JJ cheered up visibly.
"You think she made it, Jeff?" Jennifer asked.
"I'm almost sure, she did. She wouldn't invite herself if she didn't. Do we have any goat cheese in the fridge?"
Jessica was sure they had. Mary arrived promptly at seven. She wanted a bourbon first, no ice. "OK, kids, Listen up. For one time I'll bend my rules a bit. Don't you tell anyone I did, Jeff. I'll have you fired. You know I can."
"I know, mother. Tell us."
"I called him under some pretext. He broke down almost immediately. He's pathetic, actually. His wife divorced him after one year of marriage. She didn't even want an alimony. That was about twenty years ago. He hasn't had a girlfriend since then. He was jealous of you, Jeff. Why did you live with two women, beautiful ones, while he did have to live alone? He's completely harmless, believe me. He just wanted to get rid of this frustration. I advised him to take a few days of sick leave and think about another job. I'll be able to bend a few rules there too. I think he wanted to kiss me before he left. He didn't, but he sure was glad he'd told someone. Now, how about that Italian food I always hear so much loose talk about?"
"We love you, mother," Jeffrey said. He and JJ hugged her. Mary enjoyed dinner. JJ and Jeffrey would have enjoyed it even if there had been nothing more than bread to eat.
"I know you're happy together, kids," Mary said, drinking coffee and sipping brandy, "but let me give you some advice: keep a low profile. This is New York, not some small town in the Mid West or Deep South. But don't you ever think that everybody in this Big Apple will agree with the way you're living. A man that fucks around with every woman he can lay his dirty hands on, will condemn you for living with the two women you love, Jeff. Same goes for you, JJ. Never tell anyone that it's beautiful to see your love making love to your sister. Yeah, I know what you said once, Jennifer. Was it Wyoming? Once in a while Jeff and I have this quiet little talks."
"He may tell you everything, Mary," Jennifer said. "But I didn't exactly say 'making love to my sister'. We've never heard Jeffrey say he wanted to fuck Jes or me or us or to make love to us. He wants to make love with us. He's right, you know. If you don't do it together, enjoy it together, what does it all mean? Some physical relieve, that's all. Don't misunderstand me, I've got nothing against that. If two consenting people want to have sex, that's fine with me. When Jeff and I had just started to live together, he once said: It's not so difficult to go to bed together, it's the waking up together that can be hard. Well, it's never been hard for us."
"I believe," Jessica said, "that living together as this extended couple has made us more aware of the intricacies of loving and living together than other people are. We've made this deal that we'd never take each other for granted. We have one advantage: Jen and I already knew what it meant to be very close to someone, without ever taking the other one for granted. I don't know what might have happened if we'd been not sisters, but just good friends. I don't care, either. I'm perfectly happy with the way I'm living now."
Mary sipped her last brandy. "Got to go, kids. Jeff, you made a perfect dinner. Walk with me until I find a taxi."
A taxi came along pretty soon. Jeffrey hugged Mary. "Thank you, mother, for everything."
"It's all in a day's work, Jeff. You take care now."
When Jeffrey came home, only the light in the bedroom was still burning. JJ lay on the duvet. Both had one hand covering one of the other one's breasts.
"There are still two breasts left, Jeff, " Jessica said. "Hurry up."
A few weeks later it was Jennifer who got the first call.
"Hello, I'm Bobby." It was a little boy's voice.
"Hello, Bobby. Are you OK? Is mommy or daddy with you?"
"Mommy is with me."
"That's fine, Bobby. Let me speak with mommy." She heard a woman's voice, but couldn't hear what she said.
"Mommy says I must speak with Jeffrey."
The line went dead. Well, Jennifer thought, that didn't sound life threatening. A boy about four years old and his mother could hardly be dangerous.
"You know a little boy, about four years old? Bobby?" she asked, when Jeffrey came home.
"Never heard of. Why?"
"He called just a few minutes ago. Wanted to speak with you. His mommy told him."
"Who's his mommy?"
"I didn't speak with her. She said something to Bobby, but I didn't understand."
"Maybe one of my colleagues has a little boy called Bobby. I'll ask Mary tomorrow."
Mary didn't know of any Bobby and they forgot all about it, until a week later. This time Jeffrey got the call. "Hello?"
"Are you, Jeffrey?" It was a little boy's voice again.
"Yes, I am Jeffrey. Who are you?"
"Hi, Bobby. Let me speak with mommy, OK?"
"Mommy says she doesn't want to speak to you."
"Why not Bobby?" He heard the boy ask: Why not, mommy? He heard nothing for a few moments. Apparently the phone was covered on the other side. Then Bobby was back.
"Because you've forgotten all about her. Bye, Jeff." The line went dead before he could ask Bobby what mommy's name was. He told JJ about he call.
"Why do we get this weird calls all the time?" Jennifer asked. "Former girlfriend of yours, maybe?"
"Beats me." He'd already thought about that. None of his girlfriends had ever told him she had a kid.
"A one night stand, the girl getting knocked up?" Jessica asked. "You're not a father, are you, Jeff?"
He knew she wasn't serious, yet he answered her question.
"You know I never had a one night stand and I've always been a strong believer in very safe sex."
Another week went by before the third call came. It was Jeffrey again who took the call. It was Bobby. Jeffrey pushed the hands free button, so JJ could hear what was being said.
"Hi, Bobby. Listen Bobby, will you tell me mommy's name."
There was silence again for some moments before Bobby answered. "Mommy's name is Claire, she says."
"That's a nice name, Bobby. What's your daddy's name?"
Silence again. Mommy must be holding the phone.
"My father's name is Jeffrey."
"Well, that's a nice name too. Don't you think so, Bobby? Is your daddy home now?" Silence.
"I've never seen my daddy. Bye."
"This is impossible," Jeffrey said. "I've never met any Claire. First there is this crazy Hayward, then there is this crazy Claire. What's going on here?"
"His mother told Bobby to say her name is Claire," Jennifer said. "She's probably called something else."
"OK," Jeffrey said. "Let's suppose for one minute that some years ago I knocked up this woman. Why would she, after four years, make these weird calls? Any normal woman would ask if she could meet me, ask me for money, for child support or whatever. Any normal mother wouldn't involve her little boy in a scheme like this. Does any of your female colleagues have a boy called Bobby?"
JJ didn't know of any. Jessica supposed, that Bobby wasn't necessarily the boy's real name. "Let's make one thing very clear," she continued. "We're in this together. We will not let this come between us. Jeff, don't you think for a minute that Jen or I will ever doubt you."
";Same here, Jeff," Jennifer said.
"I love you, too, JJ."
For three weeks there were no calls. Jeffrey and JJ went about their business as usual. Claire or whoever she was had stopped with her prank calls.
She hadn't. Jennifer had picked up the phone.
"You're one of his sluts?"
"Who is this?"
"Claire. You're one of his sluts?"
"I'm one of Jeffrey's wives."
"Let me speak with him."
"He's not available at the moment."
"OK, you tell him he can drop dead after he's paid me fifty thousand dollars."
"I'll ...." The connection was broken.
"This is good," Jeffrey said. "Now it's extortion. She'll have to think of a way to receive the money. I don't think she will give us an account number. It's a police matter now. I'll go there now."
He spoke with a lieutenant Harry Stevens. He explained the way he and JJ were living. The lieutenant didn't comment. He first told about Hayward's calls and how that problem was solved, omitting Mary's role. Hayward had left Jeffrey's firm. Jeffrey didn't know about his next job. Claire came next. The lieutenant made notes.
"So we think that it is extortion now, lieutenant. That's your job."
"Call me Harry. Sure, this is extortion. Any possibility this Hayward and Claire know each other?"
"Hayward hasn't been known to have a girlfriend for years."
"You're positive you don't know this Claire?"
"I've never met any Claire. I didn't speak with her on the phone. Jennifer did."
"Well, she'll call again. Be sure you speak with her. Maybe you recognize her voice. Call me when she calls again. Here's my card."
It took Claire two weeks to call again.
"Claire. You're going to pay up?" There were loud music and voices in the background. She was probably calling from a bar. Her voice didn't ring any bells.
"Tell me first where we've met, Claire."
"You know damned well were we've met, Jeffrey. And keep this in mind: I've got some protection now. I'm not in this alone."
"What's the deal, Claire?"
"I'll tell you next week." She hang up.
He called Harry and told him about the call. Harry thought that there was a strong possibility that Claire was only being used by a man, whose voice Jeffrey might recognize. "Do you know any man who doesn't like you very much?"
"No man which such a dislike that only fifty thousand dollars can cure, which I don't have, by the way."
"This Hayward," Harry told, "has a job now in Baltimore. He's got two sisters. None of them is called Claire. One of them has a little boy. His name is not Bobby. Call me when you've got instructions about delivering the money."
"So there's a man involved," Jennifer said. "I don't like it. It must be a man who knows one of us, or the three of us."
"I don't like that a little boy is involved," Jessica said. "How can a mother do that? I couldn't."
"You'd like to be a mother?" Jeffrey asked.
"Jen and I talked about it. We're not sure yet."
"Don't exclude me from these talks, JJ. I've got to contribute a little something before there's any child. If you want me to be the father, of course. I will have to do some parenting, too. Maybe I will even like it."
"What we're not sure about, among other things," Jennifer said, "is: can we share kids like we share you? Maybe we'll be very possessive about a kid. You know, like: Stop interfering in the way I raise MY child. You are our love, but will Jes's child be our child as well? It will be yours, Jeff, but will it be mine also?"
"Has there ever been anything in your lives that you would never share?"
JJ thought hard. "I can't come up with anything," Jessica said.
"Maybe some small things when we were little kids, but after that I've never considered anything as being mine. It was ours. We quarreled sometimes about who was going to use some specific item, like a dress for instance, but that never took long. The only time I wasn't sure, of course, was when I realized I loved you, Jeff. I was sure I could share you with Jen. I wasn't sure Jen could share you with me and the last thing I wanted was to hurt her."
"I think we can only find out by getting pregnant," Jennifer said. "There is no other way of knowing. There are no textbooks on the subject I'm afraid. Maybe we should talk with some lesbian couples with children. What do you want, Jeff?"
"I'm not certain yet. Do I want the responsibility? How much will our lives be changed? One thing I'm sure of: we don't have to spend much on babysitters. One of us can always be home, while the other two go someplace. Let's say the latest day to take a decision will be your thirty first birthday. We'll have enough time to look at it from all angles."JJ could live with that.
The next call from Claire came on a Monday. It was very short. "Look in your mailbox tomorrow."
Jeffrey found the letter. It was addressed to 'Jeffrey Pontiero & sluts'. The letter came from a printer.
Friday night, from 6.00 pm, Jeffrey will stand in front of the entrance to Penn Station on West 34th Street.
The 50.000 dollars will be in an attaché case. Used money only. All bills being less than $ 100 worth.
Between 6.00 and 7.00 pm a red pick up truck will come along. It will slow down, but it will not stop.
Jeffrey will throw the attaché case in the back of the truck.
Jeffrey brought the letter to Harry Stevens. He read the letter. "Either they are the worst amateurs I've ever met, or they've got something up their sleeves. They know or should know they can never get away with that car. We've only got to block two crossings. Now, what can they have up their sleeves? I'll think about it, Jeffrey. Come along Thursday night, to discuss details. No, I'll come to you. I think I've got a right to meet the sluts people make so much fuss about." It was OK with Jeffrey.
Harry came Thursday night after dinner. Jeffrey made the introductions. "Well, Jeffrey, I must say this: They sure are a sight for sore eyes." Harry said the police were almost a hundred percent certain a pick up truck would not be used. The most likely thing to happen was: one man, maybe two, would come on foot. They'd take the case from Jeffrey and go into Penn Station, a good place to disappear in, what with all the people there around that time. Of course there would be plainclothes policeman around. All the exits would be closed the moment something happened. Jeffrey would stand as near to the curb as possible. Of course the possibility that they were stupid enough to use the pick up truck wasn't totally discarded. If necessary the crossings would be blocked. Jeffrey could throw an attaché case, loaded with papers, in the back.
Jessica looked worried. "What if they use weapons?"
Harry picked up the bag he had brought with him. "New York's finest think of everything, Jessica. Here's a bullet proof vest for Jeffrey. It won't show under a jacket."
JJ looked only slightly relieved.
"Suppose," Jeffrey said, "just for argument's sake, they get away with it. They open the attaché case and only find papers. They won't be very delighted. They don't want only 50.000 dollars anymore. They want revenge."
Harry assured him that in that case there would be more police surveillance around the block than usual.
"What if this man, or these men, are not on foot, but are riding bicycles", Jennifer asked.
"Well, then they won't go into Penn Station, too conspicuous. And there will be the road blocks of course. And I didn't tell you yet," Harry added, "about the helicopter being around."
There were no more questions left, so Harry left. JJ were still looking worried. Jeffrey wasn't looking too happy either. "I don't like it JJ, but a man's got to, what's a man got to do, right?"
"Yeah," Jennifer said. "When the going gets tough, blah, blah, blah. Are you that tough, Jeff?"
"; I'm not. I'll be nervous as hell tomorrow. I'll be scared shitless. You see another solution?"
"We'll go with you," Jessica said. "We'll have coffee in Starbuck's, on the other side of the street. If anything happens, we want to be with you."
She looked at Jeffrey. "Don't argue. We'll be there. Period."
Jeffrey stood by the curb a few minutes before six am. There was a slight drizzle. Two times a taxi stopped. He told the drivers he was going to be picked up by his wife. At six fifteen he was tapped on his shoulder. He stiffened and turned around. He relaxed when he recognized a former neighbor. They'd never talked much. The man, who lived alone, had moved a few weeks ago. "Hey, Jeffrey, how are you doing? I'm living in Pittsburgh now. Did I tell you I'd go there? Great place, but not as great as New York. Glad to be back for the weekend. I'm staying with my sister in Queens. Oh, by the way, what you're feeling in your back now is a gun. Don't do anything foolish, just release the attaché case. My companion will take it over."
Jeffrey did as he was told. What followed was an anti-climax. The two men sprinted for Penn Station. Thirty seconds later they were on the ground, being handcuffed. Two minutes later they were in a police car. Harry walked up to him. "You'd better wave to those two gorgeous blonds on the other side of the street. Here's your case. See you around."
"Thanks, Harry. Very good job." He waved and walked to the end of the block, like JJ did on the other side. He could hardly wait for the sign to say 'Walk'. He didn't walk, he ran. After hugging and kissing, Jeffrey proposed going to a restaurant.
"No way," Jessica said. "We go home and unfreeze a pizza. In the meantime we'll practice making babies. I'm badly in need of an update." She waved and a taxi stopped.
They sat on the backseat together, holding hands.
"Crime makes me horny," Jessica whispered in Jeffrey's ear. Jennifer wanted to know what she was whispering.
"She wants a private lesson," Jeffrey whispered in Jennifer's ear. In a normal voice he asked: "Don't you two want to know what happened?"
"Later," Jennifer said. "For now we only want to enjoy the happy ending."
"I'm trying to remember what we did wrong the last time we were practicing, "Jessica said. "But that was ages ago. Help me out here, Jen."
"I can't go back as far as two nights, Jes. Things start getting fuzzy. Didn't you say something about misplaced hands? Or was it just one hand? Were they, or was it yours, mine, his?"
"I know what you mean, Jen. All the times we're practicing , we get exited to much."
"Right, and then you want to postpone the happy ending."
"Or you want more happy endings. Let's think about a whole new scenario."
"I like fireworks in the end."
"Yes. Things exploding."
Jeffrey knew they could go on like that for a long time. "JJ, stop it, or I start practicing in the taxi. I don't know if the driver will agree."
The driver didn't show that he understood what it was all about. While Jeffrey paid the taxi driver, JJ went inside. The driver took his time searching for change, so when Jeffrey came to the elevator, it was already going upward with JJ. When Jeffrey arrived in the bedroom, JJ were sitting on the bed already, in a kind of lotus position, the long blond hairs covering their breasts, their hands on their knees, looking serenely to the end of the bed.
I wish I could make a painting of you two now, JJ."
"Master is stalling," Jessica said, reproachfully.
"Maybe master is considering new positions," Jennifer said.
Jeffrey didn't hesitate in making his position very clear. The scenario had several, consecutive happy endings, including fireworks and explosions.
"They can't ask that from us," Jeffrey said. "Children are not conceived to be presents." He was angry. They'd just come back from Baltimore. In the car on the way back Jeffrey had refused to say anything. He wanted to think. Emily had called on Thursday and invited them for lunch on Saturday. She had spoken with Jennifer.
"Is anything wrong, Emily? We've been with you only last Sunday."
"We've something to tell you, but I'd rather not tell by phone."
"OK, Emily. I'll ask Jeffrey and Jessica."
"Something's wrong," Jeffrey said, after Jennifer had told them about the call. "Maybe dad lost his job, something like that."
"Maybe one of them is sick," Jessica said. "I mean, really sick."
"Whatever it is, we can't say no, Jeff. They're not just acquaintances. They're your parents."
Jeffrey called to tell them they would come. Emily met them at the door. Her eyes were red rimmed. Peter was sitting on the couch. He looked very distressed. Jessica sat next to Peter on the couch. Jennifer and Jeffrey sat at the table with Emily. Emily gave them coffee. Neither Emily nor Peter said anything. Jennifer put her arm around Emily's shoulders. "Why don't you tell us, Emily? That's what we came here for. Is it that bad?"
Emily started crying again. Peter said nothing. It took some time before Emily recovered enough to go on. "Peter was feeling more and more tired lately. He ate less than he used to. He didn't want any one to know. At his job he told people he was a bit stressed. When you visited, he did his best to be as he used to be. When you left he went to bed immediately. I urged him to see a doctor, but you know how he is, Jeff. He never was sick. It was just busy at work. Last Monday he finally went to the hospital for a complete checkup. I'd threatened I'd leave him if he didn't. Thursday the results came in." She cried again.
Jessica took Peter's in hands. "Is it that bad Peter?" Peter only nodded.
"It's cancer," Emily said. "Of the liver. There's nothing that can be done. It's too late. The doctors can't say how much time he still has. Maybe a year, maybe less, maybe more. They don't know." Again she cried.
Jeffrey and JJ didn't know what to say. There were no words of consolation, yet. They had to let the truth sink in, deep down, before there could be any words. Jeffrey put his chair closer to his mother's and also put an arm around her. Jessica stroked Peter's hands. After some time Jennifer made some lunch with Emily.
"What you're going to do dad?" Jeffrey asked.
"I don't know yet. Quit working. There's a good life insurance for your mother. She'll get by. She can stay in this house. I'll read some. I'll have some time now. Visit some friends. I really don't know. I've never thought about dying. I'm not old yet. I don't want to leave Emily behind alone."
At last he broke down. Jeffrey and Jessica tried to comfort him, sitting beside him on the couch, their arms around his shoulders. They had a gloomy lunch, Peter hardly eating anything. Emily had recovered. Jeffrey discovered that his mother was stronger than he'd ever thought her to be. He'd always thought that she was completely dependant of his father. She was now telling him what he still could do, if he didn't overexert himself. She told him about people and places to visit once again. She was in charge now. Jeffrey and JJ promised they would come more often, once a week at least. Not long before they left for New York, Emily said: "You know what Peter really would like: to see his first grandchild."
JJ only had to look at Jeffrey. Their message was clear: Don't say it now! He only said: "We'll let you know, mom." He didn't elaborate on what they'd let them know. Jeffrey's feelings were mixed. On one side he was grieving for his parents, on the other side he was furious that they'd asked JJ and him to provide a grandchild. "Do we have to produce a child, while we are not even sure if we want one? Don't they realize that it takes nine months from conception to birth? I don't want him to die, but maybe he hasn't got nine months anymore. Will it make him happy enough to see one of you with a growing belly, or maybe both of you? Do we have to keep notes on the proper days of making love? Are you going to say to me: We know you're tired, Jeff, but we need some sperm again, today is the last day for another four weeks. I want to make love with you whenever we or one of you wants it too. I've never wanted to make love because I wanted a child. I wanted to because I love you. It's not impossible that after a lot of deliberation one of the results of making love is a baby. I know we'll love it. Maybe there will be more. We'll love them all. But I'm not going to make a child only because it makes my father a bit happier just before he dies."
He put his head on his hands and cried. "Why the hell didn't the old fool go to doctor sooner? He might have seen all his grandchildren."
JJ just watched him. They knew better than to try now to comfort him. There were times when he wanted to be alone with his feelings. Talking about them would come later. After some time he looked at them. "Talk to me, JJ."
"Not now, Jeff," Jessica said.
"Not here," Jennifer said. They took his hands and led him to the bedroom. He let them undress him and put him under the duvet. A few minutes later they were beside him, close to him.
"We love you very much, Jeff," Jennifer said.
"Think about that," Jessica said. "Then sleep." They kissed him.
Jeffrey woke up alone. He heard JJ talking in the living room, but couldn't hear what they said. He stayed in bed. He'd wait to see what their plans were. Maybe he had been too harsh on his parents yesterday night, but he thought that essentially he was right. He was really worried about his father. What would his mother do, when his father had passed away? Yesterday she had surprised him. The bedroom door was opened. Jennifer looked in. "Hi, love. Jes, he's awake."
Jes brought a glass of orange juice. He drank it. Jes put the empty glass on a little table. JJ snuggled up to him, pressing their breasts and bellies against him, putting their legs over his. Their hands caressing his breast.
"Was I wrong, yesterday, JJ?"
"You weren't, Jeff. You were overwrought. You were not thinking things through enough," Jennifer said.
"You want to be honest to your parents," Jessica said. "You don't want to give your dad false hope. But what else can we give him but hope? Not for his own life, but for a new life?"
"Even if Jes and I stopped today taking the pill, there would only be a very small chance for him to see a grandchild, even to see a growing belly."
"So why not tell him a little white lie? Why not tell him we make love every spare minute? Is that such a bad thing?"
"I guess you're right, JJ. I just hate it, when people try to run my life. Telling me what to do to make them happy. I wouldn't take it even from you. I want you with us here everyday, Jes, but when you come tell us that you're going to Mongolia for six months to make a picture, I won't beg you not to go because I'd miss you. You know I would, but it's your job and you like it. I know that you'd miss Jen and me too, but that won't stop you either. That's how it ought to be. We love each other, but that doesn't have to mean we have to see each other every minute. We don't run each other's lives. We're lucky enough to see that most of the time we travel along the same road. So what if someone is taking a detour sometime? It will turn back to the main road. We'll camp together again. Jeez, I sound like a preacher again. I love you, Jen. I love you, Jes."
"We love you, Jeff," JJ said in unison. They made love passionately and gently at the same time.
After lunch they went for a walk in Central Park. They talked about Emily, mostly. Jeff told JJ that she had surprised him. Of course she was terribly sad. Of course she cried a lot, after hearing the terrible news. But she had not broken down completely. She'd always been there for his father and him, doing what his father asked her, or sometimes told her, to do. Most of the times doing what Jeffrey asked her to do. Hardly ever did she take a decision on her own. One would have thought that after hearing the terrible news she wouldn't know what to do, wouldn't be able to cope. The bedrock of her live would soon disappear, wouldn't it? And yet, she had not behaved, had not spoken, as if she really felt that way.
"You remember, Jeff," Jessica said, "that some time ago the three of us made this deal never to take each other for granted. I think that that has always been what you and your dad have done to your mom: taken her for granted. It's time to think again, Jeff. Who really was the bedrock of your family? Who really took the most important decisions? Was it your dad or was it your mom, making your father believe it was him? Who helped you to take the right decision when you had to choose what you were going to study after leaving high school? You remember what your dad's advice was and what was hers? Think about it, Jeff. Your mom knows quite well that, maybe in a few months already, she'll be on her own again, after more than thirty five years of taking care of you and your dad. I'm not one hundred percent sure of course, but I think she's going to take good care of herself once more, maybe even spread her wings a little."
"So next time we go to them," Jennifer said, "we'll tell your dad that we are hoping that he will live long enough to see his first grandchild."
Peter's face lit up when they told him next Sunday. He even managed to joke a little. "Well, Jeff, after all it's a good thing you gave your mom and me two daughters in law. That doubles the odds, doesn't it?" Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Emily said to JJ: "It was nice of you, kids, to tell Peter in such a convincing way. It makes him really happy to have something to look forward to." She smiled a little. "Come on, JJ. You don't have to convince me. I'd love to be a grandmother, you know that, but I know I won't be one the day we'll be burying Peter. You don't have to be afraid either that I'll start bothering you when I'm alone. I've some good friends here in Baltimore. Of course I wouldn't mind your coming around once in a while. You've made it very easy for me to accept the fact that I've not one, but two daughters in law. I wouldn't have it any other way anymore. You know what? I still haven't seen the pictures Jeffrey made of you when you were in Wyoming. I'll pick out the nicest one and have an enlargement made. I'll hang it on the wall, in the bedroom. I'll be proud."
JJ looked at her, astonished first, than crying a little. They embraced Emily. "We love you, mom," Jennifer said.
Less than three months later Peter died quietly in his sleep. Only Emily was with him. Jeffrey and JJ went to Baltimore straight away. JJ went back to New York at the end of the day. Jeffrey stayed until the burial. to keep her company and to help her arrange things. There wasn't much for him to do in that way, but he wasn't surprised anymore.
"I knew it was coming, Jeff," his mom said. "Your dad and I talked about it. JJ and you made us really talk again. We've made the arrangements together. I'll miss him very much, but I'll know how to get along. Don't you worry."
There was a quiet burial. There were some friends of Peter's and Emily's, some acquaintances and neighbors and the boss and colleagues of Peter's. Emily stood between Jennifer and Jessica. "I want people to know that I'm proud of my daughters in law." Jeffrey was behind her, a hand on her shoulder. There wasn't a preacher. Peter's boss said a few words and than Emily. Some people went with them to Emily's home after the burial for coffee and something to eat. Emily introduced JJ as her daughters in law. "But ..." a neighbor said. "Yes," Emily said, "one son, two daughters in law. I love them."
Jeffrey told his mom, that he and JJ had planned to go to Wyoming two weeks later. "If you'd rather we'd postpone it, come here some more, say so, mom. Or maybe you'd like to come along."
"Knock it off, Jeff. I'm too old to run along naked all day. No, just you go. Relax. I'll relax here, in my own home. I'll do a lot of crying, I suppose. I'll call you if I feel really bad. Don't you worry. Now, you go back to New York. I want to sleep."
In the two weeks before going to Wyoming, Jeffrey and JJ phoned Emily every day. "She's going to be alright," Jennifer said, the day before they left. "You have a great mom, Jeff."
They took three days to go to Wyoming. They arrived at the cabin around noon of a sunny, warm day. They got out of the car and undressed before doing anything else.
"Get a blanket, Jeff," Jessica said. "You know what we've been thinking about all the time, driving up here. First things first." For ten days it was a strange mix of feeling sad and being very happy. They walked much, swam a little, read, got tanned and made love every day. They phoned Emily several times. She was sad but alright.
Things settled. Life went on. They went to Baltimore every second Sunday. One weekend Emily came to New York, but she didn't like it. Of course she liked to be with Jeffrey and JJ, but she didn't like New York. Life there, even during the weekend, was much too hectic for her. She'd rather be in her quiet residential neighborhood in Baltimore.
A big change might be ahead for Jeffrey. Jim was leaving the firm for a job with another publisher. He'd be CEO there. Jeffrey was one of the contenders for the job of editor in chief. He wasn't quite convinced if he would really like the job. "A lot of it is managing, going over budgets, haggling with accounting. When I read a manuscript now, I think: Do I like it? Is it well written? When or if I'm editor in chief, I have to think: Will it sell? Will I have to lower my standards? Jen, you know what I'm talking about. What would you do?"
"You know I'm not ambitious at all. I like what I'm doing now. I'd like to go on doing that for the next ten years. Maybe one of these days I want to be a mother, who knows? I know you're not that ambitious, either. You don't want to be boss and tell people what to do. But as editor in chief you might be able to turn the firm's policies more your way. Won't you like that?"
"You have a point there, Jen. I'll think about it some more."
Jessica was almost done preparing for her next movie. It had taken some time to convince her boss. She'd told him she was getting to be an expert on the subject: polygamy in the United States. Marrying more than one person was forbidden, but what was the reality? She knew that many Mormons were married to one woman, but had fathered children with many more. Why was that? Was it a purely sexual thing? Was it about making as many little Mormons as possible? How about American Muslims? Their religion permitted a man to have four women, but US law forbade them. How many cases were there of one woman living with two men? How valid, really, were moral and sexual codes? After many discussions her boss had agreed. The filming would take about four weeks, but the longest time she would be away from home, would be a week. She'd be in Utah then, talking with different Mormon denominations.
Jeffrey's talks with the firm's management went well, until the last question. The CEO himself posed it. "Jeff, you know that with the post of editor in chief go some representational occasions. In some ways you'll be the figurehead of the firm. Now, on some occasions you'll be asked to bring your wife. We know you have two wives, not officially of course, but that's the way you live and that's fine with us. But, you know, going to more or less official parties, diners, that kind of thing, people might get a bit confused, you being there with two wives, clearly being sisters.
"What you mean", Jeffrey said, "is not that they would be confused, but that they might disapprove and that it might backfire on the firm."
"Well, yes, that's the gist of it. What we'd like to ask you: why not bring only one of them along?"
"We've had the same kind of discussion with my parents, you know. They thought they strongly disapproved. Call my mother and ask her what she thinks now of JJ, Jennifer and Jessica I mean. You were liberal enough to accept a gay editor in chief. You didn't mind him attending official occasions with his boyfriend. You're not going to tell me you're going not so liberal on me, are you?"
"Thank you, Jeff. You'll hear our decision soon."
He went to Mary first. "Don't tell me. I see it. You blew it. I'll get you some coffee." She sat behind her desk when she returned with two coffees. "You had to make clear that you've principles where JJ are concerned, right? I know you would. You know what? I'd be very disappointed if you had not. Stand by your women, always, no matter what the consequences are. I've seen too many men letting their woman down."
JJ took the same position. He hadn't expected anything else. The management's decision was expected in two days. It took them a week. Then the CEO called him to his room. "Sit down, Jeff." He was smiling. "You're a damned good editor, Jeff. You can also be a damned fool, if you think that's what you have to be. We all hope that you'll be a damned good editor in chief as well."
Jeffrey was flabbergasted. "You mean ...you're telling me ..."
"Yes, Jeff. That's what I'm telling you right now. It was a very tough decision, Jeff. We even decided to consult the chairman of the board. It's our decision, finally, but we wanted to be sure. You know what the man said? He said: If that man is willing to miss a much better paying position, because he stands by his women, hire the son of a bitch. Well, we want to hire you, Jeff." He looked at his watch. "A bit early, but let's have a small drink, before you go tell the good news to the rest of the staff." He poured two bourbons. They toasted. "You better go to Mary first and give her a big hug, Jeff. Not because she's your secretary now. We'd heard she'd met JJ a few times, so we asked her to tell us what her opinion was. She was quite convincing. Now, get back to work."
Jeffrey went to Mary first, again. "Here's my first order for you, Mary. Call everyone together in the big room."
She was as stunned as he was. "I know bosses are not supposed to kiss their secretary," Jeffrey said, "but it will be overlooked this time." He kissed her and hugged her. "Now, call the troops."
Jeffrey made his announcement. There was much cheering, kissing and shaking of hands. He went back with Mary. "Aren't you going to call JJ, to tell them?"
"No, I'm inviting you for dinner. I want you to tell them. That's an order. We leave early today. Let's go."
Jeffrey was almost ready preparing dinner, when Jennifer and Jessica came home. They were pleasantly surprised to find Mary there. When they all had drinks before them, Mary her second, Jeffrey asked Mary to tell something. "OK, JJ, here goes: I'm Jeff's secretary now."
It took some seconds to register, but then JJ jumped up to cover Jeffrey with kisses. Jeffrey told JJ what role Mary had played. It was Mary's turn to be covered with kisses. I was a pleasant evening, after which Jeffrey walked with Mary until she found a taxi. When he came back, JJ were sitting behind new drinks.
"You know, Jes," Jennifer said, "now that Jeff's going to be a big earner, he can be a big spender, too. I think he can buy us new dresses, don't you? Now that we have to go to all this official dinners and parties."
"Actually, I was thinking about some new underwear. I'm sick and tired of the dull panties we're always wearing. I was thinking about something more appealing. It will cost a bit more, but think about the money we have saved on bras all these years."
"Yes, I happened along this real chic shop on Fifth Avenue, the other day. You wouldn't believe what really nice underwear can be had these days. It's a pity, really, you always have to cover it."
"Well, what I've seen sometimes in these fancy magazines, that kind of underwear doesn't cover much."
"Of course not. It's supposed to be appealing."
"Ok, JJ, you've won. I'll pay for these dresses from my own personal account. Maybe I even throw in some fancy underwear, too. Now you go on fantasizing and I'll go to bed. I will dream of fancy women in revealing underwear instead of the drab panties I'm used to. Good night, my loves."
Not long after that he once more discovered that reality could surpass dreams. Jeffrey's firm, for forty years, published only that what was called literary fiction. There had been some bestsellers, there had been some setbacks: debut novels that they thought highly of, but fell flat on their faces. One thing they were certain of: the literary or reading tastes of the public at large could never precisely be predicted. Good reviews in literary magazines could be a big help, and bad reviews wouldn't always stand in the way of a big commercial success. He'd read somewhere that Graham Greene had once said, or written: "As a reader you can choose any writer, but as a writer you can't choose your readers." The same went for publishers, he thought. The publisher couldn't choose his buyers. He didn't go for literature, whatever literature was. In his opinion most people bought or borrowed a fiction book to fill in their spare time with something exciting, uplifting, stimulating or any other -ing they read for, not caring if reviewers thought it was good or bad. They also relied on the tastes of their friends and relatives. It was his responsibility now to make as sure as was humanly possible that the books his firm published were commercial successes, but the books could only be that if the story appealed to enough readers. His final judgment had always been: is the plot believable and intriguing or interesting enough and is the story well written. Until now, none of the books he'd edited and recommended for publication had been flops, some were even very successful. He was now preparing a conference with all the editors. The main theme was: would they keep on publishing one genre, literary fiction, or would they start publishing other genres as well, like whodunits, thrillers, chick-lit. He knew for sure most of them were reading one or more of these genres. If they liked them, why not publish them? A well written thriller wasn't a lesser book than a book of literature. He came home somewhat later than usual. Only Jennifer was there.
"Jes called yet?"
"Yes, she's fine." Jessica was in Chicago for three days, talking with a group of Muslims, and filming them, of course.
"I have a question, Jeff. I've told Jes I would ask you. We both thought it would be better if I talked about it with you first. We'll talk with Jes, when she's back, alright?"
"Is something wrong, Jen?"
"No. I mean, I don't know. Do you think or feel something has changed between us, I mean between you and me, since Jes moved in with us?"
"No, I don't. Not basically. Do you?"
"I don't know. What do you mean with 'not basically'?";
"Well, it was a big change when Jes moved in, of course, because we realized, all three of us, that Jes and I loved each other. You both loved to be together again. You both loved to be with me and I loved to be with both of you. But I still love you as much now as I did when Jes was not with us. That's what I mean when I say that nothing has changed basically. Do you think I've changed? Is there something I don't do anymore with you? Do I talk differently? Do I pay more attention to Jes than to you?"
"No, there's nothing I can point to. I've never noticed you make love with Jes differently than with me. You know we like to watch when you make love to one of us. We see what happens. I can almost feel what Jen feels. And for Jes it's the same. And we both are completely satisfied when you make love with both of us. Believe me. I really wouldn't know if you pay more attention to Jes than to me. I'm not counting. If I was, I would tell you. I don't know if you're talking more with Jes. I'm not counting that, either."
"What does Jes think?"
"She can't know, can she? She has not been with you for four months before I moved in. She has nothing to compare. She's happy."
"Are you not happy? I love you, Jen. Come on, let's sit on the couch, be a bit closer."
"I'm happy, Jeff. If I wasn't, I couldn't have asked you. Maybe I feel this way because Jen's not here. A few days ago it was the dread of knowing she was going away. Having a sense of incompleteness. I had this feeling before when Jes was in Europe. When I met you the emptiness was filled for a great deal, but this feeling of completeness came back only when Jes came back. I doesn't mean I need Jes more than you. I need you both. That's the same for Jes, I know that. Maybe I'm projecting. I miss Jes, but I think I'm missing something of you."
"Believe me, Jen. I can feel it too. I think that a couple that love each other feel the same when they're not together for some reason. The difference is we need a third person to be complete. Not just a person, we need Jes. When I was living with you only it felt complete to me. Now I feel the same incompleteness you feel. We both miss Jes."
"I love you, Jeff. I feel much better, now that we've talked. As long as we talk, honestly and openly, nothing can go wrong."
"You and Jes are better at it than I am. You know that if I had such a problem, I would first think about it all by myself for weeks, not finding an answer. Then you or Jes would say: Hey, Jeff, something bothering you? Only then I'd talk and the problem would be solved. You should do that more often. I want to talk, especially with you two, but I still have a lot to learn. Teach me."
"OK. You make dinner. There's a movie on TV I want to see, The bridges of Madison County, very romantic. I love to see a romantic movie while someone is fondling my breasts."
Two days later Jessica came back from Chicago, just before dinnertime. Over her glass of wine she looked at Jennifer. "You don't have to tell me, Jen. Problem solved, right?"
Jennifer told her what the real problem had been. "Ha," Jennifer said, "you should complain. What about me? You're only missing one. I'm missing two, you know. The last night there was this new crewmember who followed me to my room to tell me he was crazy about pretty women with long blond hair. Couldn't keep his hands off them. I told him he'd be looking for another job if he touched me with his little finger. It's his last trip with me, anyway. I don't like creeps like him. Then I had to lie alone in this small bed, while you two were probably fooling around in our king size bed."
"We were not, bitch," Jennifer said. "I was watching a romantic movie. Jeff was only fondling my breasts."
"That was just foreplay, slut."
"Quit quarrelling, JJ," Jeffrey said. "You don't even know how to do that the right way."
The next Sunday they had to attend a party, starting at four pm in one of the more expensive hotels in New York. It was the 25th anniversary of Jeffrey's CEO's marriage. It was a big event and this time it was really black tie. JJ thought it was the right occasion for Jeffrey to make good on his promise to buy them new dresses on Saturday. "Let's not forget the appealing underwear," Jennifer said.
"I remember someone talking about revealing," Jessica said.
Jeffrey didn't have a tuxedo. The very few times he'd needed one, he'd rented it. He expected he'd need one more often in the future, so he decided to buy one. They went for the tuxedo first. It was easy, there wasn't much to decide on. JJ thought he looked smashing. Jeffrey himself thought he looked like a sissy. He liked blue jeans better. The buying of dresses took more time. JJ were in their best naughty form.
"What are we going to show this time, Jen," Jessica asked, "cleavage, back, or legs. Or all of it?"
"We must not forget butt."
"We can't show butt, this is a formal occasion."
"We can't show it, but we can accentuate it."
"You have a point there."
Again JJ decided on identical dresses in different shades of blue. They were sleeveless, showed no cleavage, no bare back, but were tight enough to accentuate breasts and butts. There legs were covered to the ankles as long as they stood, but as soon as they walked , they showed a generous amount of tanned legs. When they came out of the dressing rooms Jeffrey realized again why they never wore any jewelry. That would only distract. They still wore their watches. They were out of place. He decided to throw in two pairs of new high heels too. They were sold in the same store, the saleswoman told him, and yes, they had a fine choice of exclusive underwear as well. The high heels didn't take long. That left some extra time for the underwear. JJ were like two little girls in a candy shop. They could hardly decide. They didn't want Jeffrey to know what their choice was, at last. He could see what it was after the party.
When they were on their way home, Jennifer said: "Must've cost you a bundle, Jeff."
He laughed. "It did, but I'd gladly spent two bundles."
They weren't the last ones by far to arrive at the party. They went to the couple that were celebrating. "Congratulations, Hank, and many happy returns and all that. You've met JJ, I believe."
"Get the hell out of here, Jeff," Hank said, smiling, "and take JJ with you. You're stealing my party. Before you go, meet Helen. There is only one of her, but even after twenty five years I still think she's the most beautiful woman I've ever met. Helen meet Jeffrey and JJ, that's Jennifer and Jessica. Jeff will explain who's who."
Jeffrey did and they congratulated her as well. They went to the bar for a drink. When they had it, an elderly gentleman said: "Your health, Mr. Pontiero, and yours, ladies."
"Have we met?" Jeffrey asked.
"No, we haven't, but I'm glad we do now. I'm Charles Connoly, the chairman of the board. You don't have to tell me who the ladies are, Jeffrey. Mary and I are old friends, we go back a long time."
"I've told JJ what role you played in making me editor in chief, Mr. Connoly. Thank you very much."
"Call me Charles. I'm not that old, Jeff. I like a man who is not only going for a higher position, more power or more money. A good job is important, but a good home front is much more important. Now that I've seen JJ I know why you made that choice, Jeff. Don't misunderstand me, JJ. I'm not talking about your being two beautiful women. I think I'm a good judge of people. When I see a couple, I watch the way they look at each other, how they relate. I've seen you coming in. I've seen you talking with Hank and Helen. I've seen you coming this way. I've seen enough. Come around some time, the three of you. I'll invite Mary too. Again, don't misunderstand. Mary and I dated twice when we were about eighteen years old. The second time we knew we would never marry, but that we would always be good friends. We still are. Actually we're kind of family. George was my wife's brother. Her name was also Mary." JJ looked at him, saying nothing. "Thank you, JJ," Charles said. "I hope to see you soon. You too, Jeff. Excuse me. I really must have a word with the publisher over there."
"You see now, Jeff," Jessica said, "not all parties are that bad. You sometimes meet really nice people."
"I know. You're right. But ..."
"We know, Jeff," Jennifer said. "If we weren't with you, you'd be hiding now behind one of those artificial palm trees. Or you'd go outside every ten minutes to smoke a cigarette. Now, you stay with us and we'll show you how it works. Let's mingle."
Jessica took the lead. She went up to a couple, about forty years old. "Hello, you must be Hank's brother. I'm Jessica. This is Jennifer, she's my sister. And this is Jeffrey, our husband. He was made editor in chief recently."
The man confessed being Hank's brother Theo. He said he was very charmed and introduced his wife. JJ easily engaged them in a conversation about topics that were of no interest to anyone. Jeffrey didn't have to do much else but nodding occasionally or brightly remarking thinks like 'Oh, really'. He was also taking care of the refills. Waiting by the bar he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around. He remembered the man vaguely, an author's agent.
"Hey," the man said, "I saw you talking just now with those gorgeous blondes over there. Do you know them?"
"Are they in publishing, too?"
"One of them is."
"Marvelous. Which one?"
"The one in the blue dress."
"You're kidding me, right? Why don't you introduce me? I'll try to make a date. An appointment, I mean."
Jeffrey got his drinks and went back to JJ. The agent followed him.
";JJ, this is ...What's your name again?"
The man said what his name was. "Meet Jennifer and Jessica Anderson," Jeffrey said, without pointing. "Jennifer is in publishing. Excuse me."
He went outside for a smoke. JJ could have some fun, confusing the man to pieces. They did.
"If you know Jeffrey, you must be in publishing. Am I right?" Jessica asked.
"Yes, I'm an agent. I've recently met this young author, wrote a terrific first book. Why don't we make an appointment. I'll bring a excerpt"
"You think the book can be made into a movie?"
"Well, I don't know. Let's get the book published first. What do you say we meet next week some day? Maybe we can have lunch or dinner."
"My sister's in Salt Lake City next week, making a movie," Jennifer said.
"Oh, you're making movies, too?" The man spoke to Jessica.
"No, I only make movies."
The man now turned to Jennifer. "I see. You're one of Jeffrey's colleagues?"
"No, I'm not. I'm his wife."
"But Jeffrey said one of you is in publishing."
"Of course he did. Ah, there he is. Jeff, the couple over there want to meet Jessica's husband. Let Jessica introduce you."
Jeffrey and Jessica left them. "Now, you were saying?" Jennifer said to the agent. But he gave up and excused himself. They didn't have to mingle much. People came to them, most of all to meet JJ, but thanks to them Jeffrey met several people who might be of interest to him, professionally. Most of all author's agents, who would like to make an appointment. Jeffrey gave them his card. Mary would know whom to make an appointment with. Ten o'clock seemed like a good time to leave the party. The doorman hailed a taxi and twenty minutes later they were home.
"OK, JJ, now I want to see those panties."
"No sweat," Jennifer said. She went to the bedroom and came back with a closed plastic bag, which she gave to Jeffrey. "Open it, Jeff, they're really beautiful. Thank you once again for giving them."
"You're not telling me you didn't put on the most expensive panties I've ever bought, do you?"
"They're the first you've ever bought, Jeff," Jessica said.
"You're cute, Jeff," Jennifer said. "You're always looking at the whole, never at the details. You see two beautiful women. Period. Some men tonight saw long, blond hair. Some saw blue eyes. Some saw legs. Some men paid attention to other parts of the female anatomy. Most people notice the outlines of underwear under dresses. They're difficult to hide. Well, tonight we got nothing to hide. You may unzip our dresses."
He unzipped them. The dresses slid down to the ground smoothly. They stepped out of their high heels.
"You see," Jessica said. "One single piece of clothing is enough to go to a party without being indecent."
"We'll show the panties some other time," Jennifer said. "Let's not waste time now." They put the time to good use.
Jeffrey's meeting with his editors went along smoothly. The great majority agreed with his plans to broaden the scope of the firm. Now came the time to convince management and probably the board as well. He didn't expect enthusiasm all the way. The firm was doing well. Why change things? The public knew what kind of books they could expect from the firm. Jeffrey wondered how many readers really remembered the name of a publisher of a book they'd read. Of course for some the imprint would be guarantee enough for buying a book. There was also the blurb on the jacket, word of mouth, or just the spur of the moment. However, the best way to sell books, was to publish good books in whatever genre. Jessica suggested he talk to Charles, but that was not his way. He didn't want to invite himself and wanted to follow the proper channels. He did some revising of the paper he'd written for the editor's conference and gave it to Hank for a first reaction. Early morning on Sunday Jennifer and Jeffrey brought Jessica to the airport. She was going to Utah for a week. She would return next Saturday. Jennifer and Jeffrey went on to Baltimore to visit Jeffrey's mother.
"You feeling all right, Jen?" Jeffrey asked.
"Salt Lake City isn't as dangerous as the favelas of Rio."
"And apart from that?"
"You know, the usual, but I don't have to ask you any silly questions this time. I'm sure of that now."
Emily looked cheerful when she opened the door. "Hi, kids. Where's Jes?" A few weeks before Jessica and Jennifer had asked her to call them Jen and Jes, like the three of them did among themselves. Emily appreciated that very much. Inside she showed them the design she had received for the tombstone on Peter's grave. "I feel kind of happy thinking about it. Like I can still do something nice for him. It feels good." The design was simple, but Jeffrey and Jennifer liked it. There was no more on it than Peter's name and the dates of his birth and death. Emily didn't want any exalted text on the stone. "I know what I think when I'm there. That's enough."
"We've got to show you something too, mom," Jennifer said. "We've brought the pictures Jeffrey made of Jes and me in Wyoming. Want to see them now?"
Emily seemed a little embarrassed when she saw the first one, but gradually she became enthusiastic. "You know, I was thinking of these nude pictures you see in those girlie magazines, like Playboy. Yes Jeff, your mom has leafed through them a few times. I know what's going on in the world. I think I know why men look at those pictures. The pictures you made are quite different, Jeff. They were not made with some specific effect in mind. They are so natural, just pictures of your loves, only they haven't any clothes on." She spread out the pictures on the table and studied them. Finally she picked one up. "Have this one enlarged and put behind glass. I'll hang it on the bedroom wall."
It was a very simple picture. Jeffrey had made it just before they went into the lake for a few minutes. They were standing beside each other, hand in hand, looking straight at the camera, smiling. "What if someone comes into your bedroom, mom?" Jeffrey asked. "None of my friends go to my bedroom and I don't think there will be many more visitors who want to be shown around. And what if they see them? I'm proud of my daughters in law. They're beautiful, aren't they?"
"I couldn't agree more, mom."
Emily told that she'd become a little bit used to being alone in the house. She didn't want to flee from the loneliness, but of course she went out from time to time. She visited and received friends. Next week she would go to a bridge club for the first time. She thought she'd like to learn the game. On their way home Jennifer observed: "Your mom is doing fine, Jeff. She's not playing that victim role: Why does this have to happen to me? She knows how to accept reality, even if it is not a very nice reality."
Jeffrey agreed. "I think only now I'm learning to see who my mother really is. She is much stronger than I knew.";
When they had just finished dinner at home Jessica called from Salt Lake City, just to tell that all was well. Jennifer told her about the design for Peter's tombstone and the picture that Emily had chosen for enlargement. "You're not watching any romantic movie now, are you?" Jessica asked."
"No, and Jeffrey is in his study. May be I call you later tonight and give you a blow-by-blow account of the proceedings."
After shopping and lunch on Saturday Jeffrey and Jennifer went to the airport to pick up Jessica. In the car already Jessica started to tell her story. "Some of these Mormons are really weird. Of course most of them are just like the average American people. They are monogamous, have a job, watch football or baseball, etcetera, etcetera. Nothing out of the ordinary. But most of the men I've spoken with, were members of those fundamentalist groups. They tried to make me believe that polygamy is some cornerstone of their religion. That's fine with me. One of my best friends is a polygamist. Who am I to criticize? But most of them I couldn't believe for a minute. I sometimes got the impression that these men weren't doing very much else but making babies. No, that sounds too friendly. They were just fucking, plain and simple. Now that's fine with me too, if we're speaking about consenting adults. But I also heard, and I've read about it too, that in quite a few cases underage girls are involved, and I mean really underage, some as young as thirteen years. As far as I know there are not that many religions that condone sexual relationships between grown up men and underage girls. I'm afraid that conscientious objection, for the girls, is not in their books. Some of these girls are raped and brainwashed. To me these men looked more like sexual maniacs than religious fanatics."
At home Jessica went on. "At one time I couldn't really control my disgust. This men asked me why I was so disgusted with a man having two or more wives. I told him polygamy as such didn't disgust me at all, on the contrary. I told him that my husband had another wife as well, that we lived in a real loving household. He said: ";What has love ..."; and then he stopped. I think he wanted to say: What has love got to do with it? I didn't even try to explain. The son of a bitch wouldn't know what I was talking about. I'm glad I'm back in this loving household. Jeff, as soon as you say you're living with two women on principle, I'll leave at once, dragging Jen with me."
"Don't you worry, Jes. My only real secret is, I tell you now up front, that I want to be admired as this great Italian chef."
"So get cracking. Jen and I will do the admiring afterwards."
Next Monday Hank told Jeffrey that his idea of expanding the scope of the firm had been approved, with one proviso: Let's go easy. "We've decided to start with one new genre at the time and see where it leads. Now, a lot of people read thrillers, let's start a new series: The Literary Thriller. You try to think of a catchy title. Do we have an editor to handle this series?" Jeff thought so. He approached Paul about it over drinks in their usual hangout. As expected Paul was delighted. Jeffrey knew Paul was an avid reader of thrillers and quite knowledgeable about the subject. "I'll let you in on a secret," Paul said. "You know I was trying to write a novel. What I wrote has been removed from my hard disk a long time ago. It was rubbish, but it was to be thriller. The problem was, I couldn't invent a believable plot. What's a literary thriller, by the way?"
"You tell me. Let's say: not too much emphasis on violence. The protagonist isn't hopping from one continent to another. No secret service stuff. A policeman or a private eye can play some role, but they are not the main character."
"What about romance, sex?"
"Let's go light on those two. Now the idea is to make a series of this. Blah, blah, blah, literature with excitement. Something like that. Think about it. The books must be recognizable as part of the series, so they all get more or less identical jackets. We begin with someone's first novel. I take it you know some agents that specialize in this kind of writers?"
"Hi, guys." It was Jennifer. Jeffrey and JJ were invited for dinner by Charles, the chairman of the board. Mary would come too. Ten minutes later Jessica arrived. She had time for just one drink. Jeffrey told JJ that his idea had been approved and that Paul would be the editor of the new thriller series.
"Oh, Paul," Jeffrey said, "four books in a year?"
"Piece of cake."
"Come in, come in," Charles said. "I'm delighted to have you here at last. Mary is here already."
When they sat, Charles said: "Jeff, I'm not so good a cook as Mary tells me you are, so I have dinner catered. I'm an expert on the microwave. We'll have more time for drinks. One beer, two red wines, I presume?"
"You presume right, Charles," Jennifer said.
"So what have you all been up to these days? I heard something about thrillers. Am I right, Jeff?"
"Well, I think we're on opposite sides of the same pipeline, aren't we?" Jeffrey looked at Mary.
"You don't mind I told Charles, do you, Jeff."
"Of course not. I can't have secrets for the chairman of the board, can I?"
"Good idea, Jeff," Charles said. "I don't think all the members of the board will agree. Some are a bit stuffy. But as long as the shares go up, they won't complain."
Someone at Hank's party had told Charles about what JJ had done to the author's agent. "Nice game, JJ. The man was utterly confused, I heard. But I guess you are used to deal with man coming on to you like that."
"Until today," Jennifer said, "I've met only one man who didn't know what to say to me. I really had to drag him into a conversation."
"Must be the same man I met in the airport once, " Jessica said. "I had to ask him would he please kiss me. Now, I'm not that ugly, am I?"
Charles chuckled. "He wouldn't be an expert on Italian cooking, would he? JJ, done anything exciting lately?"
Jessica of course told her story about the Mormons. "You're right," Charles said. "The great majority of the Mormons are just Americans with a religion. Good for them. But like any religion, they have their sects and smaller groups of fanatics, stressing this or that point of their religion out of proportion. We have our own Christian fundamentalists. We have learned the hard way about Muslim fundamentalism, although I'm still not quite sure if their terrorism is of a religious or of a political kind. Even the Jews, who have learned in a terribly hard way, what persecution means, have their fanatics who don't hesitate to assassinate their own prime minister.";
The doorbell announced the arrival of the caterer. The dinner table was already set and the starter was a shrimp cocktail that could be eaten cold, while the first course could be kept warm in the microwave. The main course was a roast that went with fried potatoes and a variety of fresh vegetables. When Charles asked Jennifer if she'd done anything special lately, she said: "No Charles, I'm the dull one of the three of us. I go out to edit books and come back home. Just kidding. I love the work I do. It's not adventurous or exciting, but it's nice work. I read a lot of good books and some bad. One of the differences between Jessica and me has always been that Jessica is more outgoing, more active than I am. She goes places, I've got two places, home and work. For me that's enough, if of course there are some nice people around. I can't complain."
"You always miss Jennifer when she's away for some time," Mary said.
"Always. One might think: What's she complaining about? Jeff's right there. Jeff feels the same way. We've called ourselves once the extended couple. Two is company, three is completeness."
"Nicely put," Charles said. "Mary and I feel the same incompleteness, I think, since our spouses died."
"How come you knew after two dates already that you would never marry," Jeffrey asked. "You wouldn't have dated if there wasn't something you saw in each other."
"In the first place, Mary was a very good-looking girl, a girl a boy wanted to be seen with."
"And vice versa," Mary said. "The first time we went to a movie and had a coke afterwards. That was all."
"The second time we went for a walk," Charles said. "We talked, about school, about parents, about other boys and girls. We sat somewhere for a rest. I told Mary that she was a beautiful girl."
"And then I asked," Mary said, "why he didn't try to kiss me or grab me, you know, the things boys that age usually try to do. And I told him why. He didn't feel any lust or passion, whatever, and he wasn't the type that only wants to score. He's a bit like you there, Jeff. But we had a nice talk that afternoon, so we agreed we should talk some more. Well, we did and still do. When I met George I introduced Charles to him. They became good friends too. Later he met Mary, George's sister, and he started grabbing right away. Right, Charles?"
"Not in front of the kids, Mary." They laughed like good friends.
Over desert and coffee Charles told them he was a banker. He'd always liked a good read. At some time he'd inherited a considerable amount of money. As a banker he also knew something about the stock market. As an investor he went for stability rather than for adventure and big gains. A well established publishing firm seemed like a good proposition, so he'd put money in Jeff's firm. In fact he was the biggest shareholder and that was why he was the chairman of the board. "So now you're going to make big bucks for me, Jeff. If you ever decide to have children, make me a honorary granddad and I'll buy them these expensive presents. I'll spoil them rotten. That is, if they look like JJ, not like you."
The rest of the night, until ten, they talked books and movies. Mary took the same taxi. They brought her home first. At home they drank some more wine.
"I haven't told you about my day yet," Jessica said. "This afternoon I was in Greenwich Village, speaking with these three lesbian women who live together. It was totally unprepared. One of my colleagues told me this morning that she had this friend in Greenwich Village, who had told her only yesterday that she lived next door to these women. I went there unannounced, hoping that at least one of them would be home. Two of them were. The third one came an hour later. They all work in the same bookshop, filling the hours of two staff members. The owner doesn't care which one of them shows up, as long as they make their quota. They're 28, 34 and 39 years old. I told them I'm making this movie and would they mind telling me about their way of life. They were a bit hesitant at first, thought that I was looking for some sensation. When I told them about the way I'm living, we are living, they had no problems at all. You know, basically there are no differences between them and us. The two oldest were living together first. About a year later they met the youngest one. The both fell in love with her. The youngest one liked them both but wasn't sure straight away if she could and wanted to live with both of them. They started on a trial basis for three months. In less than two months they knew they didn't want to live any other way. They are living together now for more than five years. Of course their sexual relationships are a bit different from ours."
"Are you sure?" Jeffrey asked. "You sleep as close together with each other as with me. You like to caress and kiss each others breasts as much as I do."
"We've slept that way for as long as I can remember." Jessica said. "Most of all it is this feeling of togetherness. We've seen our breasts developing. We explored and we compared. I've never wondered if there were sexual elements in it. So what, if there are?"
"You're right," Jessica said. "You know what, Jen? They wanted to know if we took turns sleeping with Jeff, and they meant real sleeping. They'd never hit on the idea of sleeping together. They thought it was a great idea. They'd like to meet with us some day. You know, the polygamist meeting. And there is the last thing you must know: the two oldest women both have a child, both are boys. The youngest is one year old, the oldest almost three. The youngest woman said she felt as much a mother to them as the natural mothers. The kids don't care at all whom they're with. Next week I go back there with my crew. They'll be in my film for sure. I'll ask them if it's alright that you come too, when I'm done filming. I want to know more about their having and raising kids together. You're OK with that?"
Jeffrey and Jennifer were OK. "Now there's something else, JJ," Jeffrey said. "I still haven't seen those panties I bought for you. And no tricks this time." It didn't take JJ long. They stood together in the doorway. Jeffrey looked. "You mean to tell me, JJ, that I paid all that good money for two panties that can only be seen by using a magnifying-glass?"
"Don't forget that we've bought four of them. They cost more than two," Jennifer said.
"Let's be honest, Jen," Jessica said. "We deceived you a little, Jeff. These are not really panties. These are called thongs. We are modern women, you know. These are just the things to wear these days. You wouldn't want us to accompany you to a party wearing those old-fashioned panties, would you? We'd be the laughing stock. You wouldn't like that, we're sure."
"I thought the latest fashion was wearing just one piece of clothing."
"You have a problem, Jeff," Jennifer said. "You don't know a thing about woman's fashion. Each particular piece of clothing has it's specific purpose. Now, Jeff, think hard. What could be the specific purpose of a thong?"
"It would help, I think," Jessica said, "if we'd turn around." They turned.
"Go ahead to the bedroom, JJ. I know what my purpose is as far as these thongs are concerned."
Before he kissed them goodnight, he said: "Two more thongs to go."
The three women in Greenwich Village had invited Jeffrey and JJ for dinner on the day Jessica was there to interview them for her film. Jennifer and Jeffrey met at Houston Station and walked from there. Jessica of course was already with the three women. When Jeffrey and Jennifer arrived, she was holding the smallest boy. She had brought a bunch of flowers, Jeffrey and Jennifer each brought a bottle of wine. The women introduced themselves as Cathy, Barbara and Anita, Cathy being the youngest, Anita the oldest. Barbara made tea. Cathy was spoon feeding the older boy.
"You know," Anita said, "the first thing we did last week, was ordering a new bed. We still don't know why we've never thought about it. When Cathy moved in, she brought her single bed with her and that was it. Do you always sleep between them, Jeff?"
"He should be so lucky," Jennifer said. "No, the one who needs the most comfort for a certain reason, you know, having had a bad day at work, having a headache, something like that, may sleep between the other two. Hey, Jessica, let me hold that baby for a time. Let me know how it feels."
Jeffrey told the three women that JJ would like to know how it was, how it felt, to be the mother of a child you were not the birthmother of.
"We have of course the same problems as hetero parents," Anita said. "We do not always agree on what is the best way of treating a kid in a specific situation. Do we let it cry, when it won't sleep or don't we? That kind of thing. I don't have the last word on how to treat Terry, just because I gave birth to him. He's not my boy, he's our boy. That's one more advantage of living with three. If necessary we take a vote. With a normal couple it's always a stalemate, with us there's always a majority. Cathy actually has the most patience with the kids. When Barb and I are sometimes fed up with them, and believe me, sometimes you are, we can always leave them with Cathy and go out."
"I still don't know if I want to give birth to a child myself," Cathy said. "I'm very happy with the kids I have now."
"That's what you really feel, don't you?" Jennifer said. "You are the mother of two kids. That's what Jessica and I were not sure about."
Jeffrey noted that she was using the past tense.
"I'm a proud mother. Believe it."
"It's probably still easier for you than it is for us," Barbara said. "You've shared everything from the minute you were conceived. You share a husband. Why not share a baby?"
Jessica told them about her interviewing and filming the Mormons. Several women might be married, in their own Mormon way, with the same man, but there wasn't this sharing of children.
"They're not sharing a husband, either," Jeffrey said. "They share a supplier of sperm and they don't have the right to look for an other supplier if they're not satisfied. They're even forced to accept every delivery the supplier wants to get rid of."
Over dinner the five women mostly talked about the pros and cons of having kids and raising them. Jeffrey noticed one problem was solved for JJ: raising a child they had not giving birth to themselves. They had seen for themselves now it didn't have to be a problem.
"You're not saying much, Jeff," Barbara said.
"I'm listening," Jeffrey said. "You've cleared up one thing already, for JJ. The questions we still have are the usual one: will we or will we not have children and why or why not?"
"What's your answer?" Anita asked.
"I think all the pros and cons balance each other out. In that case: let nature takes it course. In other words: let's do it. I know I can be happy with JJ without children. I think, I can't be completely sure of course, I can be happy with JJ with children. But then again, I couldn't be completely sure either if I was living with only one wife. Ultimately it's JJ' s choice, not mine. Maybe I have to be the first one to say 'yes'. I know, and JJ know, that I won't hold it against them if they say 'Sorry, Jeff, our answer is no'. Anyway, we've given ourselves the time until JJ's thirty first birthday to think about it."
"What if one J says 'yes' and the other J says 'no'? That's two against one?"
"No, I think a decision to say 'yes' should be made unanimously and wholeheartedly. It's not like buying a new car or moving to the other side of the country. I know that in a matter like this Jennifer and Jessica can't keep anything secret from one another, even if they wanted to. Am I right, JJ?"
JJ couldn't agree more. Later that night they discussed the possibility of one member of the extended couple getting involved with someone else, like one partner of a married couple having an affair. Jessica said there were times, when she was away from Jeffrey and Jennifer for several days or weeks, she could feel really lonely at night. Being in bed alone, she could imagine Jennifer and Jeffrey being together, making love. She might be tempted one day to seek solace with someone.
"Could that someone be a woman?" Anita asked.
"I don't think that would be impossible, but it might be a man as well. One thing's sure, though. I would tell Jennifer and Jeff about it the minute I came home."
"There you go, Jeff," Cathy said. "One of your wives is telling you she might be unfaithful. Could you forgive her?"
"She is not telling us she might be unfaithful. She's telling me, and Jennifer, she'll be honest. She won't keep secrets from us. She'd only be unfaithful if she didn't tell us. I'm not the one to tell her what she may or may not do with her life, with her body. There would be nothing to forgive. We've never made the deal to never look at, or touch, another man or woman."
Barbara raised her eyebrows. "If one of you got involved with someone else, the other two wouldn't mind?"
"What do you mean exactly with 'involved with'? Having a one night stand? Having dinner with someone? Going for a walk? Having a good rap with someone? What's the difference, basically?"
"Having sex with someone is so much more ...well ...intimate."
"Having sex can also be very casual. A good conversation, you telling someone what you really think, what you really feel, can be very intimate, don't you think? Now, tell me: why is the first considered to be bad an the latter to be good? Coupling of bodies is bad, coupling of minds is good? Why? I was deeply involved with Jessica before we made love."
"So you might have an affair as well?" Barbara asked.
"Let me answer that question," Jennifer said, smiling. "We know he won't have an affair. Not because of his high moral standards, but he would consider the matter first. When he'd finally made up his mind, the woman would be long gone. I took him a six hour's walk to realize he loved Jessica as well as me."
"Three hours," Jeffrey said. "I had to walk back."
"We'll keep in touch," Jessica said, before they left in her car.
"You've made up your mind already, Jeff?" Jennifer asked. "I mean, about having kids?"
"More or less, but if you or Jes have new arguments, I'll reconsider."
"Suppose only one of us has a child or children. Would it make a difference to you ?"
"As soon as you think it does, slap my face, kick my ass, whatever."
"Only two months to go, JJ," Jeffrey said. "Then you'll be thirty years old. Do you think it's something special or will it be just another birthday?"
"He's racking his brains already about a nice present, Jen," Jessica said. ";What will it be this time, Jeff? Hawaii?"
"The Maldives are pretty, too," Jennifer suggested.
"Be serious for a while, JJ. Got any plans already?"
"Yes," Jennifer said. "Trying to stay under thirty. I read once what those hippies said, way back in the ninety seventies: Never trust any one over thirty."
"To be honest," Jessica said, "we have been giving it some thought, Jeff. We're not so sure you'll like it. It involves the P-word."
"P as in party," Jennifer added. "M as in mingle. T as in talk. N as in nowhere to hide, because of H as in host, and, last but not least, DBOJ, as in dearly beloved of JJ."
JJ had already made their plans. They entertained sometimes, but they'd never invited more then four people. They went to a party sometimes, but they'd never thrown one themselves. Going to be thirty years of age seemed like a good occasion. They succeeded in putting Jeffrey's mind at rest. They would invite hardly anybody he didn't know and they wouldn't invite that many people. Emily of course, Mary and Charles, Paul and Chloe, Hank and Helen, two colleagues of Jennifer's and two of Jessica's and Anita, Barbara and Cathy. JJ had several times visited the three women over the last months, together or separately. They had become friends. The felt especially attached to Cathy. Two weeks ago they'd spent an evening with her. Anita and Barbara had gone to a concert.
"You know what, Jeff," Jessica had said, when they came home, "we almost made love with her. It didn't happen because Terry started crying and she's really devoted to the kids. We don't want to live with her and she doesn't want to live with us. It was Cathy who convinced us, by the way she takes care of their kids, that we could take care of each other's kids. We're really good friends. Why shouldn't friendship be expressed in a physical way? People can make love, why not make friendship as well? You're not afraid we're going lesbian, Jeff, are you?"
"I'm not afraid, JJ. I'm not worried, either. If, God forbid, something changes in our relationship, I'm sure it won't be because of Cathy, it will be because of us, or one of us. When one of these day you're going to tell me you've made love our friendship with Cathy, you'll have my blessings. I really mean that."
They decided that Jeffrey's present for JJ would be the catering of the party. He would start well in advance and would prepare a real Swedish smörgåsbord. After all, JJ's ancestors had toiled in the iron mines of Kiruna. But Italian dishes would be represented in the smörgåsbord, Jeffrey insisted. For Jeffrey black tie was out of the question. As far as he was concerned the dress code should be: come as you are.
"He's cheating us out of new dresses, Jes," Jennifer said.
"No, I don't. There's only one condition: I choose, I pay, you wear."
A week before the party they went shopping. Jeffrey choose denim mini skirts and halter tops. There was some space between the hemline of the tops and the skirts.
"It's almost winter time, Jeff," Jessica pointed out. "These clothes you wear in the middle of the summer. Don't tell us you haven't noticed."
"In my opinion, mini skirts combine perfectly with Swedish meatballs. You just tell everyone I forced those clothes on you and that I don't know a damned thing about women's fashion. Nobody will blame you. You're the victims of a male chauvinist pig. By the way, this time wearing of underwear will not, I repeat: not, be optional."
Emily had come the day before the party, to assist in getting things ready. When JJ had dressed an hour before the party started, she said: "JJ, you've really changed my boy. He hardly ever looked at girls when he was in his teens. Now he's changing two decent, hard working women into sex symbols. He should be ashamed of himself." She smiled. "But then again, if he'd really had his way, you wouldn't wear anything at all. Oh well, who can blame him? I won't."
It was one of the few parties where Jeffrey really felt relaxed, most of all because he saw JJ enjoying themselves. Besides that, all of the guests enjoyed his smörgåsbord.
"You've got Hank worried, Jeff," Helen had said. "He's afraid you stop publishing and start your own Swedish-Italian restaurant. With JJ as waitresses you can't go wrong. You'd be the talk of the town."
He talked some time with Anita. "For a man, Jeff, you're not bad at all. You're not waiting for your wives to put dinner in front of you, you make it most of the times. But that's not the most important thing. Barb and I really appreciate that you don't interfere in what's going on between JJ and Cathy."
"You and Barb don't interfere, do you? Why would I?"
"Most men would."
"I'm not most men. I'm only one of them. Besides, most women, even most lesbian women, I think, will not regard you and Barb as a the perfect example of how to behave. Most people think it can't be right that their partner gets involved with someone else. You're supposed to be jealous. Let me tell you: jealousy's got nothing to do with love, it's got a lot to do with egoism."
Around nine o'clock Jeffrey realized he'd not seen his mother for some time. "Jen, is something wrong with mom?"
"Don't worry, Jeff, she's in your study, talking with Charles. Let them be."
Mary told him the same thing. "Jeff", she said, "to you Emily is a mother, to other men she's a woman. She isn't sixty yet. She isn't bad looking, either. I've talked with her. You can rest assured, she hasn't forgotten your father. She won't. She isn't looking for a replacement, believe me. She is doing very well on her own. You know that. And I know Charles long enough to know he isn't looking for a woman to do the cooking for him."
At ten pm only Cathy, Barbara and Anita hadn't left and of course Emily was still there. She would go back to Baltimore the next day.
"Look at me," Emily said. "Here's the old lady from Baltimore, sitting with the New York polygamist society, one member being my son. If someone had told me a year ago this would happen to me, I would've said he or she was crazy. A woman ought to marry a man, I would have said, not share a man, let alone share two women. How come I don't feel uncomfortable at all?"
"You haven't heard everything yet, Emily," Cathy said.
"Oh no," Emily said. "Jeff, don't tell me you're going to live with five women."
Anita laughed. "Don't you worry, Emily. For a man, Jeff isn't so bad, really. He can come along any time he wants, with or without JJ. We talk, but that's all."
"Go on," Emily said. "I've got this feeling you haven't told me all, yet."
Jeffrey told her that recently only Terry's crying had prevented Cathy and JJ making love.
"We don't call it making love, mom," Jennifer said, "we call it making friendship. Anita and Barbara are good friends, but Cathy is ...uh ..." She looked at Jessica. "We have to invent another new expression here."
"I'm sure you'll find one," Barbara said. "Once you've made friendship for the first time."
Emily looked thoughtful. "Wait a second. Why isn't anybody jealous?"
"What's to be jealous about, mom?" Jeffrey asked. "Anita, Barb and I won't loose anything, will we? Cathy and JJ will have something extra. Nothing wrong with that."
"When JJ are with Cathy, they are not with you," Emily said.
"You're right. When they go to a movie together, they're not with me either. Should I try to prevent them going to a movie without me?"
"Jes and I are not going to meet with Cathy for sex, mom. Oops!"
Jessica laughed. "It's alright, Jen. Jeff and mom don't mind. It's our prerogative, anyway."
Cathy, Barbara and Anita didn't understand what was going on. "Join the club, girls," Jeffrey said. "Within this very limited circle only, Jennifer and Jessica may be called Jen and Jes. You'll be expelled from the club when you call them that when anybody else is around. So watch your tongue."
Soon after that the three women went home. Jeff poured some more wine. JJ and he looked at Emily.
"What?" she said. Then she smiled. "Oh, I see, what was the old lady from Baltimore doing in Jeff's study with the old man from New York all the time? We just talked, you know. Charles talks a lot. Most of the time he makes sense. He's a good listener, too. He's a charming fellow. Did you know he is retiring by January first? From his banking business? We have a date, next Sunday."
"You're flushing, mom," Jennifer said. "It suits you, really."
"Get off my back, kids. You're turning me into a loose woman. I'm going to bed now. Sleep tight."
"You know what I think?" Jeffrey said, when Emily was gone. "Eventually mom's going to show Charles that picture of yours. Come on, let's go to bed. I want to see the originals."
Just in time before the start of the Christmas shopping season the first book in the new thriller series was published. Paul and Jeffrey had thought long and hard about a name for the series. It should be something eye-catching, but not too fancy. They didn't come up with anything good, until Paul said, after three pints of beer: "Why not call it what it is: literary-thriller?" They settled on that. Hank agreed. A few months ago Paul had been introduced to a young woman, twenty six, who had just about finished her first novel, called 'The man next door'. A medical student, still living with his parents, gets acquainted with their neighbor, an old man living alone. When he visits the men some time, he sees that the man has many medical books. The man tells him he is a retired physician, having practiced medicine in a hospital in a small town in Kansas. The student visits the man more often, because the man knows how to tell interesting stories about the medical profession. After some time the student discovers some inconsistencies in the stories. He later learns the man's license has been revoked after some serious medical mistakes, resulting in the patient's death. No criminal charges have been made, but the student goes on with his search, until he finds the shocking truth: the man hasn't made mistakes, he has killed. Kirkus Review, Publisher's Weekly and the New York Review of Books were enthusiastic. The major papers followed suit. Before Christmas the third printing rolled off the presses. It was already number six on the New York Times books top ten. The day before Christmas Eve Hank invited Paul and Jeffrey with their wives for dinner in one of the finest and most expensive restaurants in New York. Mary and Charles were invited too. The celebration started with a bottle of champagne and ended with a glass of fine Armagnac VSOP.
Jeffrey and JJ spent Christmas day with Emily. They knew she needed some support on this first Christmas without Peter. There were some tears of course, but Emily smiled again when she asked if she could stay with them during the night after New Year's Eve.
"I'm sorry, mom," Jeffrey said. "We promised Cathy and the other girls we would spend New Year's Eve with them. Well, we can ask them of course if you can come too."
"You're not listening very well, Jeff," Jessica said. "Mom didn't ask if she could spend New Year's Eve with us," Jennifer continued. "She asked if she could stay with us the night after New Year's Eve. I think I know with whom she'll spend the Eve."
"Mary will be there, too," Emily said. "Just some old folks, remembering the gold old times, when people still got properly married and didn't fool around in all kinds of weird combinations. Just kidding, you know."
"We know, mom," Jeff said. "And of course you can stay with us."
"Well," Anita asked at eleven pm, "all of you have made a good New Year's Eve resolution?"
Jeffrey once again would stop smoking altogether. Barbara promised she would clean up more after cooking. Cathy said she would spoil the kids as little as she could. "Hey," she said, "We haven't heard them yet. How come?"
"Must be the sleeping pill I mixed through their food," Barbara said.
"You didn't!" Cathy looked really worried.
"Of course not, sweetie. We have very well behaved children. That's what. They must have made their resolutions already."
Anita would once more try to arrive at work in time every day.
";OK, JJ," Jeff said. "Let's hear it."
"You've seen this coming, Jeff", Jennifer said.
"We know you agree," Jessica said. They both opened their purse and took out a strip with pills. "Where's the dustbin?"
"Cathy," Barbara said, "get your dirty cotton picking hands off JJ. Give Jeff some room to embrace his wives. I want to see some real passionate hetero kissing for once."
Jeffrey and JJ gave their show gladly.
"That wasn't too bad," Barbara said. "Was it, girls? Now, what are we waiting for? I like kissing girls with long blond hair."
JJ were kissed three more times. Then Jeffrey was kissed.
"Maybe you'll have twins," Cathy said. "Wouldn't you like that?"
"Yes, we'd like that," Jessica said. "I hope they will be boys. We'll indoctrinate them heavily. Tell them it's perfectly natural for twin brothers to share one wife."
"Forget it," Jeffrey said. "I will be their role model. Two sons means four daughters in law."
There was more kissing at midnight. They left half an hour later. They took a taxi first to Charles's house to pick up Emily. Charles asked them in for one more drink. After kisses and well wishing, JJ couldn't wait to tell Emily what they'd done that night with their pills. As might be expected, Emily was overjoyed. Charles was happy too.
"Don't you forget to make me a honorary grandfather."
Mary smiled. "If you really want to spoil the kids, you need at least two grandmothers. So count me in. If you need a babysitter, just give me a call."
On the first Saturday of April, they had just had breakfast, Jeffrey started to prepare, as usual, a shopping list.
"We'll do that later, Jeff," Jennifer said, "We want to do a test first."
"What kind of test?" JJ looked at each other.
"He's not really paying attention, Jen."
"He never checks the calendar."
"What does he know about moon cycles?"
"Or any cycle. Men! They're interested in one thing only."
"Us poor women bearing the consequences."
"Bearing them for nine months."
"Hold it right there, JJ," Jeffrey said.
"Our love is beginning to see the light, Jess, I believe."
"Let's make some pee." They took two whiskey glasses to the bathroom. They put the filled glasses on the table, got sticks out of their packaging and put them in the glasses. After ten seconds they took them out and looked.
"Yes!" they both said at the same time. They jumped up and held each other tightly. Jeffrey watched them first, then joined them and led them to the bedroom. He lay between them.
"I don't know what to say, JJ. Yes, I know of course. I love you. But that's all, for the time being."
"You don't have to say anything, Jeff," Jessica said.
"We don't want to prevent your doing something of course," Jennifer said. "Just make believe we're not a tiny little bit pregnant yet."
"Think you have try a little harder."
He tried and succeeded quite well. A few days later the lab tests confirmed their own. Eight weeks later, all was going well, they went to Baltimore to tell Emily. Emily looked very cheerful, if not downright happy, when she opened the door, as if she already knew what they were going to tell her.
"Come in, kids. I've a visitor, but you won't mind." The visitor was Charles.
"Charles, why didn't you tell us you were coming here too?" Jeffrey said. "You could have come with us."
"Charles was here yesterday already, Jeff," Emily said.
JJ were quicker to realize what Emily had really said, than Jeffrey.
"Mom, that's great," Jennifer exclaimed. "Come on, JJ, let's give mom a great big hug."
It dawned on Jeffrey too and he joined in the hugging. After that Charles was hugged as well.
"You don't think it's too soon, Jeff," Emily asked, "you know, too soon after your father passed away?"
"I don't, mom. I know that you won't forget dad. I know you were not desperately seeking another man. Sometimes life plays nice tricks. This is one of them. I'm happy for you. For you too, Charles. Take good care of my mom."
"You better believe it, Jeff. JJ, your birthday party was the best party I ever went to."
"Jes, do you remember Charles being at our birthday party?" Jennifer asked.
"Not really. I vaguely remember Emily saying something like talking with someone called Charles in Jeff's study. She was carrying two drinks at that moment. But that's about all. Haven't talked with him."
"Yeah. I remember saying 'Hello, Charles' and 'See you later, Charles'. That was it."
"And we had been looking forward to his usual wit."
"His brilliant insights."
"Watch it, Charles," Jeffrey said. "Let JJ go on like this and soon you'll be begging for mercy."
"Well, I can take it from two stepdaughters in law. Yes, we're not as modern as you are. Emily and I will marry in the old-fashioned way."
Charles and Emily told them that after New Years Eve Charles had gone to Baltimore a lot of times. If Jeffrey had inherited something of his mother, it certainly was that, regarding important things, he wanted to be really sure.
"But yesterday," Charles said, "Emily finally asked me to stay. In the bedroom she showed me a picture and said I deserved two beautiful daughters in law."
"Mom, can you stand some more good news?" Jeffrey asked. "You tell them JJ."
JJ didn't have to tell. Emily understood. "Charles, you are not going to be only a honorary grandfather now. Which one of you, JJ?"
"Doesn't it show, mom?" Jeffrey asked.
"They both look so happy."
"Why do you think that is?"
"Oh my god! It can't be true. Both of you? Charles, is that what they're saying?"
"If you don't kiss them first, Emily, I'll do it."
JJ made Charles the eighth member of the club that was permitted to call them by their short names. Jeffrey supposed that no more new members would be admitted. He couldn't think of anyone. Charles could.
"Emily and I are going to live here, you know. I hope you'll keep visiting us every second Sunday. There will be another frequent visitor: Mary. You understand, she has known all along what was going on between Emily and me. For us she's part of the family."
"But of course you're right," Jennifer said. "Her being a member is long overdue. We should have thought of it. Next time we see her, we tell her."
Back home that night Jessica called ABC, Anita, Barbara and Cathy, to invite them for dinner next Saturday. She convinced Cathy she wasn't a bad mother at all, if she let a babysitter take care of the children for the second time within six months. Next morning Jeffrey didn't have to tell Mary about Emily and Charles. She'd been way ahead of him there. Jeffrey invited her for dinner that same night.
"What's the occasion?" Mary wanted to know.
";JJ want to tell you about this club of theirs. They want you to join."
Before dinner Mary became a full-fledged member of the club. After dinner she asked: "Why do I have this feeling you didn't invite me only for making me member of the club?"
"Go ahead, JJ", Jeffrey said. "Don't keep her guessing."
"You wanted to be a honorary grandmother, Mary," Jessica said. "Guess what you'll be about seven months from now," Jennifer said.
Mary was of course very happy for them. She promised she'd take a full course in changing diapers.
ABC, Cathy most of them, were, as was to be expected, delighted. During dinner, Cathy left all the talking to Barbara and Anita.
"You're not saying much, Cathy," Anita said. "What's on your mind? You're not worrying about the kids, are you?"
"I was thinking. JJ, I suppose you're not giving up your jobs when the babies are here, are you?"
Jennifer said they were not. At least on day a week, maybe two, she could work at home. They were already checking out day-care centers.
"That's what I was thinking about. You know I love taking care of kids. I work in the bookshop less than Barb and Anita. Why shouldn't I be your day-care centre? I'll be far less expensive than your average centre and I'd love taking care of your kids. They'll have three mothers, just like ours."
"That lovely little slut is only seeking excuses to see more of you," Barbara said, "but I think it's a good idea. It's up to you, of course."
Jennifer said the idea was appealing. They'd think about. With her fingers she counted to ten.
"You're on, Cathy," Jessica said. "If the father to be agrees as well. Or is this a majority decision?"
"Don't fret, Jess. It's unanimous," Jeffrey said. "I'm sure Cathy will be as good a mother as you and Jen will be."
In august they went to Wyoming for the third time. This time Jeffrey had not needed to ask his colleague if they could rent it once more. His colleague had told him he was going to sell the place. Jeffrey and JJ didn't have to think twice. They bought it. Emily and Charles had been there for the whole month of July.
"Of course," Emily said, "we were not running around naked all the time. We're a decent couple."
JJ were now visibly pregnant. Jeffrey made many pictures of them. He planned to take pictures of them at least once a week from then on. He wanted to be able to show the children later how they were growing even before they were born.
This time JJ didn't try to get a tan all over. During most of the day they were not lying in direct sunlight. They'd taken shades with them. They didn't know if UV on their bodies was harmful to the unborn babies, but no UV certainly wasn't harmful. Why take chances? The checkups they'd had so far all showed that the babies and they were in perfect shape. They wanted to keep it that way. Jeffrey had said he would join them in not drinking anything alcoholic during their pregnancy. JJ had said he didn't have to show that much solidarity. He had already given up smoking and his drinking some beer and wine could hardly be harmful, unless he got stone drunk and started to harm them. They didn't expect him to do that.
For the first time they met other people there. They'd just finished lunch when they heard voices. "Do we dress?" Jennifer asked. Before they could a young couple appeared from behind the cabin. They were carrying backpacks.
"Hi," said the young man. "We're not intruding, I hope."
"No, you're not." Jessica said. "You're the first people we've ever seen here, so we tend to be rather informal, as you may have noticed. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, just say so."
"No, no problem. We're just passing through."
"You must be tired carrying those packs," Jennifer said. "Have you had lunch, already? Jeff, why don't you make them some lunch? Jessica and I will listen to some travel stories."
"Well, if you insist," the young woman said. "How could we resist such an offer? I'm Karen, he is Frank."
"They are Jennifer, that's the one on the left side, and Jessica. I'm Jeffrey. I'll make your lunch now."
They put off their backpacks. Karen began unbuttoning her blouse. "Come on, Frank, when in Rome do like the Romans." To JJ she said: "We're not unused to this. Why bother with clothing if there's no on else around?"
Karen and Frank had a tan all over. Frank told them they were on a walking trip in the mountains. They hadn't met anyone during the last nine days. There wasn't much to tell. They loved walking in the mountains and that was just what they did. This was the last day of their trip. The next day they would walk down to the village and take a bus there.
"What about food?" Jennifer asked. Karen said they had cereal for breakfast and these freeze dried dinners. While walking they ate some nuts and raisins. These walks were a great way of loosing some superfluous fat.
"I'm sure Jeffrey doesn't mind to make dinner for five," Jessica said. "You'll taste some real food again. Jeff is a great cook. What do you say?"
Frank and Karen looked at each other.
"No, you're not intruding," Jennifer said. "That's settled then. Jeff," she called, "we're having guests for dinner."
"Am I right?" Karen asked. "Are both of you pregnant?"
"You're right," Jessica said. "Just over four months now. You don't have to start wondering where the other husband might be. There isn't any other husband. Jeff is the father of both. He's our husband. Not officially of course, but in fact." She stopped for a few moments. "That's good. You're not shocked, you're just surprised. We're used to that. We've stopped explaining. It sounded too much like justifying. We don't think we have to justify loving the same man or Jeffrey loving two women. We just love. That should be enough."
"For us it is," Karen said. "I was surprised, indeed. You don't meet threesomes, or whatever you should be called, every day."
"We call ourselves an extended couple," Jessica said. "We're not the only one. We've got these three friends, they're lesbians. We call them ABC, Anita, Barbara and Cathy. Jeff's mother once called the six of us together the New York polygamist society. The youngest one of them, Cathy, takes most care of their two children, though she isn't a birthmother herself. The other two are. Cathy is also going to take care of our children when we start working again. She's as much expecting as we and Jeff are. Jennifer and I have this special kind of relationship with Cathy, you know."
"What kind is that?" Frank asked.
"We haven't found a name for it, yet," Jennifer said. "We love her, but it's not the same as loving Jeff. People might say, if we told them, that is, we're making love with Cathy. We call it making friendship."
"If I may make a suggestion," Karen said. "Why don't you call Cathy your mate?
"Hey, that's a good one, Jessica. Let's talk it over with Cathy when we're home. Thanks for passing by, Karen."
Jeff brought the lunch, which Frank and Karen liked very much.
"Wait till you've had dinner," Jennifer said. "What will it be, Jeff."
"The usual: a salad, pasta, sauce al la Jeff."
"That means spicy," Jessica explained. "Real spicy. You'll think of dialing 911 for the fire department."
Frank and Karen put up their tent and put their sleeping bags in it. They were going to the lake. They hadn't had a real bath in four days. Jeffrey suggested they all go. Frank got his trousers.
"Don't bother," Jeffrey said. "We never do."
Frank and Karen stayed in the water for almost twenty minutes. They swam first and then washed their hairs. Jeffrey and JJ left the water as usual after about five minutes. "You should do it more often," Frank said. "We've done it many times. One gets used to it after some time."
"I don't want my baby to think it's growing up in an igloo," Jennifer said.
"Do you know already if it's going to be boy or girls, ore one of each?" Karen asked.
"We don't want to know. We want to be surprised when they are born. We only know we're not having twins."
"They'll be twins in a way, I think," Jeffrey said. "They'll have the same father and almost identical mothers. Now you two have only to make sure they're born on the same day."
"We'll sleep belly to belly from now on," Jessica said. "So the babies can communicate and make an appointment for coming into this cruel world together. And if they don't communicate, we'll just order them out. Jeff would like them to be born on our birthday. It might just happen. They're expected in the beginning of December and the eleventh is our birthday. Makes it easier on Jeff. One party for four birthdays. Jeff hates parties, you know."
Back by the cabin Jeffrey asked Frank and Karen if they'd care for a beer or a glass of wine.
"If you go on like that, we'll never leave," Frank said. "I haven't had a drink since we started walking. So, yes please, I'd like a beer very much. Karen never drinks alcohol. There's no principle involved. She just doesn't like it."
After nine freeze dried dinners they were almost lyric about the dinner Jeff had made. "You're spoiling us, Jeff," Karen said. "We tried our best to be spartan, this is epicurean. But I love it. No need to dial 991."
Frank and Karen went to their tent around nine o'clock. Clouds were gathering. In the distance there was lightning.
"If the weather gets really bad," Jeffrey said, "don't hesitate to get your sleeping bags over here. The door isn't locked. Take these plastic bags to put your sleeping bags in, if need be."
Soon after it started raining. At ten o'clock a real thunderstorm was raging. At ten fifteen, Jeffrey and JJ were still reading, Frank and Karen opened the door.
"Well guys, seems like you can spoil us some more," Frank said. "That thunderstorm is right above us."
"Why didn't you bring your sleeping bags?" Jennifer asked. "Here's some towels. Dry yourself."
"The thunderstorm will blow over," Frank said. "We don't mind the rain, but lightning just above my head always makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. I saw this cabin has a lightning conductor. Makes me feel safer."
Half an hour later the thunderstorm had indeed blown over and the rain was only a drizzle. Frank and Karen went back to their tent. Before they left, Jeffrey said: "We have breakfast at seven thirty. Rye bread, scrambled eggs, orange juice, fresh coffee. Thought I'd mention it. Sleep tight. Don't forget to say your prayers."
Jeff got up by six thirty. The clouds were gone. The grass was still wet. He sat on the porch. He was thinking of extending the porch, which was hardly a yard deep, into a terrace, where they could put a table and chairs on. His mother and Charles would be more comfortable that way. They had always eaten inside, his mother had said. They were going to the village that morning to buy food and drinks. Maybe there was a builder, or carpenter who could do the job.
"Hi, Jeff." He hadn't heard Jessica coming out of bed. He took her hand. "Sit beside me, Jes. I like to fondle breasts in the morning. Have they really been growing?"
"Of course they have. You still like them, don't you?"
"I still love them. You know, I like this time of day. All is still really quiet, another sort of quiet than the rest of the day. It's a nice time to spend with a woman you love."
"It's nicer still with two women you love," Jennifer said, sitting on his other side. "Imagine, next year there will be two babies crawling around in the grass." They sat on the porch for half an hour, not speaking, just enjoying. Then they heard the zipper of the tent. Karen came out. She stood looking at them for a few moments.
"Good morning, guys. Don't move. Frank, get your ass out of that sleeping bag. You want to see this."
Frank came out and stood beside Karen. "You're right, Karen."
"What did you see?" Jeffrey asked.
"Three people who are clearly very much enjoying life and each other," Karen said. "I wish I could paint. I'd ask you to sit there for a day."
"Thank you, Karen,"; Jessica said. "You've just earned yourselves a breakfast. Hop to it, Jeff. They still have ten miles to walk. Unless they want to go with us. We're going to the village this morning."
"That would be cheating," Frank said. "We'll walk all the way to the end."
After breakfast Frank and Karen went to the lake for a last swim.
"We'll be gone," Jeffrey said, "when you come back. When you're in New York, call us." He scribbled his name and phone number on a piece of paper. "I'll make the best Italian dinner you've ever had."
On their way to the village Jeffrey told JJ about his idea for having a terrace made. JJ thought it was a terrific idea. The shopkeeper told them where they could find a builder. The builder was glad they'd come to him. "You know who built that cabin? My grandfather did, that's who. My father inherited the business and so did I. With any luck I can find the original drawings. What do you want me to do?" Jeffrey told him. "Piece of cake. Shall I make it before the winter or next spring?"
"Do it before the winter. Maybe we want to go there as soon as we can. Or some of our relatives."
The builder made some quick calculations and they agreed on the price. On the way back to the cabin they met Frank and Karen. Frank gave them their names, address in Pittsburgh and phone number.
"Let us know when the babies are there," Karen said.
On the tenth of December they went to bed at ten thirty. JJ were looking tired. They'd agreed some time before that being pregnant was not about joyful days only. The bright side was that there hadn't been any real problems.
"So look at the bright side," Jeffrey had said.
"You tell us what the bright side of an ever growing belly is and maybe we believe you," Jennifer said.
"We love what's inside, but the outside is gross," Jessica said.
"Come on, JJ. You're the two most beautiful pregnant woman I've ever seen."
"You've never seen a pregnant woman before," Jennifer said. "Not without clothes, anyway."
It was about eleven thirty when Jeffrey was pushed awake. "Call an ambulance now, Jeff," Jennifer said.
Jeffrey jumped out of the bed. Before he reached the door, Jessica said: "Make that two ambulances, Jeff."
It was one of the few times Jeffrey had to make a choice: with whom would he be in the ambulance, Jes or Jen? The choice was made by one of the paramedics. "Get in, sir. We don't want to be late." It was the ambulance Jennifer was already in.
In the hospital JJ went to separate delivery rooms. They were on opposite sides of a corridor. The doctors conferred. "OK, Mr. Pontiero, we see this is a special occasion, we'll bend a few rules here. Pass the corridor as quickly as possible."
Jeffrey was walking back and forth every two minutes. Holding hands here, holding hands there. At five minutes past one Jessica gave birth to his first daughter, Stephanie. She was called after JJ's mother. Ten minutes later Jennifer gave birth to the second one, Emily. Later he sat between two beds. He wanted to hold hands, but JJ were holding their babies, looking at them, not at him. A nurse came in. "You better get some sleep, ladies. Let me take the babies to their cribs."
"Give us a few more minutes," Jennifer said. "Let their father hold them, before he goes home. Here, Jeff, hold little Emily." Three minutes later he held Stephanie. JJ were almost sleeping when the nurse took the babies with her and Jeffrey went home. He kissed JJ. "I love all of you."
Jeffrey didn't sleep much. He was out of bed at eight. He called his mother. She would probably still be in bed, but she wouldn't mind being woken up by the news he was going to tell her. It was Charles who took the call.
"Hi, Charles. Let me speak to mom."
"You woke her up."
"She won't mind."
"I see. Here she is."
"Hi, Jeff. Everything OK with JJ?"
"Perfectly OK, mom. Congratulations. You're the grandmother of little Emily and Stephanie. They're beautiful, they're sound and so are the mothers."
His mother said nothing. Charles came on the phone. "She's crying, Jeff. But she's very happy. So am I. We'll call you later. Bye."
The next one to call was Mary. "I won't come today, Mary. Since a few minutes past one am last night you're a honorary grandmother of two girls. Congratulations."
"Jeff, that's great. When can I see them?"
"I'll leave that to JJ, OK? I don't think you'll have to wait long. Tell the rest of the staff that I'm the proud father of two beautiful daughters, Emily and Stephanie. Bye."
Next he called the firms where JJ worked. ABC were the last. He hoped, for her, Cathy would come to the phone. She did.
"Hi, Cathy, it's Jeff."
"Hi, Jeff. You're calling early. JJ alright?"
"They couldn't be more alright, Cathy." He could almost see her making a jump.
"Jeff, tell me, what are they? Boys, girls, are they alright?"
"You're the mother of two boys and two girls now, Cathy."
"When can I see them?"
";JJ are coming home some time in the afternoon. I'll ask them to call you, alright?"
"Sure. I'll tell Anita and Barb. They will be happy too. I can't wait, Jeff. Now, you go to your loves. Bye."
Jeffrey was back in the hospital by noon. JJ were still in bed, with their babies. He stood by the end of the beds.
"He doesn't know what to say, Jes."
"He doesn't know where to look, either, Jen."
"I'm holding Stephanie now, Jeff."
"Guess who this is, Jeff."
"Maybe he wants to kiss one of us."
"Maybe all four of us."
"He doesn't kiss girls he has just met."
"He might make an exception this time."
"He might recognize something familiar."
";Go one, JJ. I love you very much. I love our daughters very much. May I hold them both?"
They gave them his daughters. He kissed them gently. JJ watched him. Loving him. A nurse came in. "Congratulations, Mr. Anderson." Jeffrey didn't correct her. "Your ladies may leave the hospital at four pm. Until then, I suggest you let them rest some more. We'll take care of the babies in the mean time."
Jeffrey didn't go home. He made a walk in Central Park, then went to the Guggenheim museum. When he came in the hospital at three forty five, he couldn't remember what he'd seen in the museum. He didn't care. What he saw in the hospital was much more beautiful than any museum had on show. They came home at four thirty. JJ put the babies in their cribs in what was formerly the spare bedroom, but now the baby room. Jeffrey made the first pictures. JJ put on bathrobes. Two months ago they'd started wearing bras. "For the time being, Jeffrey," Jennifer had said. "We want to keep them in good shape," Jessica said. "As soon as we can, we'll stop wearing them, so you can fondle at will again."
"OK, Jeff," Jennifer said. "As long as we're breastfeeding, we'll not drink alcohol, but we'll have one glass of wine now. Let's celebrate four birthdays, for the first time. Let there be many happy returns."
"We've got the most perfect presents ever," Jessica said.
Jeffrey told them about the calls he'd made. "They all want to see you and our girls right now. I told them you would decide who and when."
JJ exchanged looks. Jennifer went to the phone and dialed. She forgot to push the hands free button. "Hi Barb. … Thanks, Barb, Yes, I'm fine, a bit tired. So is Jess. … Yes please. … Hi, Cathy. … You can come right now. … Hi, Anita. Oh, she's left already? … What do you think? They're beautiful. … Of course. We'll call. See you."
Jessica called Emily. She pushed the hands free button. Emily was sitting close to the phone. "Yes?"
"Hi, mom. This is Jes. Jen is here too. We're home, with Emily and Stephanie."
"When can I see them? Charles wants to see them, too."
"Come tomorrow, mom. You'll love them."
"Of course we will. Is Jeff there?"
"I'm here, mom."
"It's been too long ago I said so, Jeff, I think. I love you. I'll see you tomorrow. Bye."
Jennifer made the last call. "Hi, Mary. This is Jennifer. Feeling proud already?"
"I'll reserve judgment till I've seen my honorary granddaughters with my own eyes. Now, tell me this minute when I can see them?"
"Emily and Charles will be here tomorrow afternoon. I think we can handle three visitors. Why don't you join them? Your boss here wouldn't mind if you leave a bit sooner than usual."
"I'll be there, JJJ. Count on it. Bye."
Ten minutes later the doorbell rang. JJ went to the door together. Cathy looked very happy. She embraced JJ almost fiercely. They went to the baby room straight away. JJ told Cathy which one was Emily, and which was Stephanie. Cathy could hardly restrain herself from picking them up. She said so. Jessica looked at her watch. "You may pick them up in about half an hour, Cathy. They'll drink then. Come on, have a drink yourself. You haven't forgotten it's our birthday, have you?"
"Of course I have. Many happy returns, JJ. Oh hi, Jeff, I almost forgot those babies have a father too." She kissed Jeffrey. "Barb, Anita and I are not used to visible fathers, you know."
Jeffrey gave Cathy a glass of wine. "I understand, Cathy. I know Emily and Stephanie are very important to you too. I'm sure they're going to love their third mother as well. From January 2nd they will be with you several days a week. Till then you can come and see them as much as you like."
JJ had decided to take unpaid leave during the whole month of December. Jeffrey had taken leave for the rest of the week. He'd work some at home, if the babies let him. JJ told Cathy they had decided that they'd both breastfeed both babies, if the babies let them. They didn't know yet if they would feel or notice any difference. JJ felt that it was the best way to start being real mothers to both of them.
"How can they notice any difference if you're really identical twins, I mean, genetically identical," Jeffrey said. "You can only be sure if you have your DNA checked, I think."
"I believe someone is crying," Cathy said.
"OK, Cathy," Jessica said. "Get them."
Cathy brought Stephanie first, holding her close to her breast.
Jennifer said: "I'll feed Stephanie this time, Cathy. Get Emily for Jes."
The babies suckled happily, apparently not caring whose the nipple was. Jeffrey took more pictures. When Stephanie had finished drinking, Cathy held her. She'd unbuttoned her blouse and unhooked her bra. "I want to feel them really close. Make a picture, Jeff." She held Emily the same way. Soon after she left. JJ said she could come again the day after next day, with Barbara and Anita.
"Are you alright, JJ?" Jeffrey asked after dinner.
"We're fine, Jeff," Jennifer said. "Just a bit tired. We'll get used to that. Waking up in the middle of the night and all that, you know. You'll have to get used to that too. Will you be a proud and happy father at three am, trying to get two crying little daughters back to sleep again?"
"I'm sure I won't we happy at all times they wake me up. But as soon as you suspect me of trying to shirk my fatherly duties, tell me at once. Promise me that, JJ."
"You can rest assured, Jeff," Jessica said. "You know what our parents told us? As soon as one of us started crying, the other followed suit immediately. There's one big advantage we have over our parents: there's always one of us who can get some extra rest, if need be. Come on, Jen. Let's take a nap."
They didn't take a nap. Jeffrey could hear them talking in the bedroom. He watched a movie on TV, but didn't pay much attention. During a commercial break he checked the babies. They were sound asleep. During another break he checked on JJ. They lay close together, still talking. At eleven he brought them the babies and stayed with them. After the babies finished drinking he held them, waiting for them to burp. Later he brought them back to their cribs and went to bed himself.
"Better get some sleep now, JJ. The alarm goes off at four."
"Maybe the little two alarms go off sooner than that," Jessica said. The little alarms behaved perfectly during their first night home. Jeffrey knew for sure this behavior wasn't exemplary. He got them out of their cribs and brought them back again.
JJ were still holding the babies after feeding when the grandmothers, the real one and the honorary one, and the granddad arrived together. They were properly impressed with the beauty of the two little girls. Emily was a bit confused first. She went to Jennifer to hold her namesake.
"This is Stephanie, mom," Jennifer said. "Little Emily is with Jes."
"We both have two daughters, mom," Jes explained. "That's the way we feel it and that's the way we hope they will feel, when they're old enough to understand what a mother is. And Cathy will be their third mother. She was here already yesterday. She was as happy as we are."
"Whatever you feel is right, kids, is alright with me," Emily said. "I won't play favorites just because one of them is my namesake. I love them both. They have beautiful eyes. They're just like yours, Jeff."
Jeffrey took pictures of the two grandmothers, each of them holding a baby, both of them looking very proud. They didn't stay for more than an hour. They understood that JJ wanted to take a nap. The next day ABC came, bringing their children with them. Cathy said she wanted to introduce Terry to his sisters. Terry kissed his sisters dutifully and then started to build something with his Lego.
"Well, your babies have about all the family they need now," Anita said, "A father, three mothers, two brothers, grandparents and two aunts. That is, I think Barb and I qualify as such."
"I'm sure they will love their aunts too," Jeffrey said.
"They will only lack an uncle," Barbara observed. "But then again: who needs men?"
"We do," Jennifer said. "One at least."
"Of course you do. I was just kidding. Your man just doesn't want to take the bait."
"Us men were already a minority in the New York polygamist society," Jeffrey said. "Since two days ago, this minority is even smaller, relatively. We've shrunk from, let me see, 37,5 to 30,0 percent. I'll think about staking out some claims. Next thing you know might be Terry turns out to be lesbian and starts chasing girls. You can't let that happen, can you?"
"You be his role model," Anita said. "He'll chase twins only. It will lower his chances considerably."
ABC were also considerate enough to leave after being with them for not more than an hour.
"You want to know what Jen and I talked about last night, Jeff?"
"Of course. Tell me."
Jennifer told them they'd talked about having more children. For them Emily and Stephanie were enough. Maybe Jeff wanted more. Maybe he wanted a son.
"Don't you worry, JJ. I'm perfectly happy with our daughters. I don't think more daughters or a son can make me much more happier. We'll make love again as soon as both of you feel like it, but we don't make children anymore."
"We don't like to start taking the pill again," Jennifer said.
"Then it's up to me, right? I think I can stand a vasectomy. I'll have it done first thing in the morning."
"You are serious about this, aren't you, Jeff?"
"Yes Jen, I am. I was joking, you know. I'll have it done in the course of next month. It will be my New Years Eve resolution: no more kids. I'll give all my love to Stephanie and Emily. Now, you two take a nap."
The rest of December they spent as quietly as they could. The only regular visitor was Cathy. There was one day when Mary had to wake Jeff up when he had fallen asleep behind his desk. The babies had been crying a lot the night before, without any apparent cause. In the morning they were as sweet as ever a child could be. Jennifer had gone one day to her boss to talk about working schedules. They came to an agreement: Jennifer would be in the office three days a week, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The other two days she'd work at home. She took one day's pay less per week. Jessica wasn't sure yet about what to do. She loved her job, but she loved her children more. She didn't want to be away from them for longer periods of time. She'd had enough experience in being without her loved ones. Missing two was bad enough, missing four could only be worse. She also wanted to take as much care of the children as Jennifer. Christmas day and New Years Eve they spent all by themselves. On the first Tuesday of January they brought Emily and Stephanie to Cathy. Because it was the first time JJ and Jeffrey went there together. After that Jessica would do it, because she went to work by car. Cathy was elated. "At last," she exclaimed, "my babies. Mommy will take very good care of you, just like your other mommies. Ok, JJ, you may cry a little. It's the first time you're without them for half a day."
JJ indeed showed a few tears.
"OK, JJ, let's be brave about it," Jeffrey said. "Let's kiss our daughters and let's be off. Cathy is a good mother." They kissed and went away.
In February Jessica decided to stop directing. There was an opening for a film editor and she would do more research for other directors. She would also work a day less per week. After she had told Jessica and Jeffrey about it, JJ looked at Jeffrey. He knew what they meant. "I'll talk about it with Hank, JJ. He'll not be happy about it, but you know, and I know, that I'd like to spend some more quality time with our daughters."
The loss of money wouldn't be a big problem. In January Jeff had gotten a rather huge raise. The literary-thriller series was an enormous success. Up till then five books had been published as part of the series and all of them had had several printings. 'The man next door', the first book, was going to be a movie. The same author had almost finished her second book. Paul and Jeffrey both thought it was even better than her first one. A TV network already had bought the rights to make it into a mini series. Charles had told Jeffrey the shareholders were very pleased.
In January Jeffrey had brought the female editors and all the other women that worked for the firm together. "Tell me," he said, "who's reading chick lit?"
More than half of them did. "Are we going to do chick lit, Jeffrey?" Joan asked. She was one of the most experienced editors and in Jeffrey's opinion one of the most likely candidates for the post of editor of the new series.
"We might," Jeffrey said, "if you think it will make our share holders happy. In other words: will it sell?"
"Good books sell well," one of the editors said, "regardless of the genre."
"Jeff, I have this terrific idea for the first book in the series," Joan said, smiling mischievously.
"You make me curious, Joan. Run it up the flagpole and let's see if anybody salutes."
"How about a biography of your wives? They're the perfect protagonists: they're in their early thirties and live in an urban setting. One of them works in publishing. And the readers must find their love lives interesting, don't you think?"
"Sorry, Joan. I'm afraid JJ are not archetypical for the genre. They're not fighting for better positions, they're not jumping from one boyfriend to another. They're two respectable mothers. Seriously now, folks, give me some input."
Most discussion was about the question: emphasis on chick, or emphasis on lit? The latter got the most votes, being more in tune with the firm's tradition. It didn't take much trouble to get Hank behind the idea. Jeffrey had no trouble to persuade Joan to be the editor of the new series. In fact, she accepted at once. The first two weeks of July they spent in their cabin in Wyoming. In May Jeffrey had called the builder who had made the terrace and asked him if he could provide a table and four chairs. The first two weeks of June ABC and their children had been there. Emily and Charles were there for the next two weeks. They all thought the terrace was a big improvement. ABC now boasted a perfect tan. That was what JJ wanted to have too again. The first thing they did after leaving the car was to undress. After that they got Emily and Stephanie from their cribs and undressed them as well, holding them close to their bodies. They did that often at home too. They'd had a large bathtub installed in their bathroom, large enough for JJ and the girls, or one of them and Jeffrey. In February they'd stopped breath feeding. For one reason or another they never had enough to give to the girls. In March they'd put off their bras for the last time.
One morning in April Jennifer asked: "Jeff, you know what we did exactly one year ago?"
"Sure," he said. "You two took some test. They were the first proof of the existence of the future coming of two new members of this household."
"Don't be prosaic, Jeff," Jessica said. "We did something else."
"Yes, I remember. We made a shopping list and we shopped. I believe we went to a movie that night."
"Oh my god, Jen, he's lost it."
"You know, this drive."
"Well, the kids are sleeping. We might get out of this bathrobes."
"Not so fast. Let's show some leg first."
"I'm thinking of something more feminine. Something we have a pair of."
"You mean our beautiful blue eyes?"
"No, I mean these rounded things, he used to like to fondle."
";JJ, if you want to make love, why don't you just say so?" Jeffrey smiled. "I'd be happy to oblige. Come with me to the bedroom, my loves. It's been a long time, but I haven't forgotten."He had shown indeed he had a good memory.
Jeffrey unloaded the car. Got the table and the chairs out of the cabin and put the shades up. He put the cribs under the shades. "Get those kids out of the sun, JJ. There's much more UV here than there is in New York City."
"Last year we imagined them crawling in the grass," Jessica said. "Won't we see that happening?"
"We will, Jes," Jeffrey said. "Early in the morning, or late in the afternoon. If they like the grass against their bodies of course."
"Cathy said that Terry liked it," Jennifer said. "He even liked to be in the lake."
"Do you miss Cathy?"
"We do and we don't. We do because she is a very dear friend, because she's also a mother of Emily and Stephanie. We can see that our girls are perfectly at ease with her. We don't because she isn't our lover, although other people might say that what we do is make love with her. We'd miss you and the girls after one day. We can live with it, but we'd miss you. We can live without Cathy for fourteen days and we'll be really happy to see her, to feel her again. You understand?"
"I understand because I know you. I understand the way you live and love. Even if I didn't understand I would know you two love me. What more could I want?"
"Two lovely little girls. They are badly in need of clean diapers, by the way, if my smelling senses are correct. Jes and I are very tired. We need some extra sleep in the sun. Be a good father."
Their stay in the cabin was completely different from the times before. The three of them couldn't make walks or go to the lake together. They took turns staying with the girls, while the other two went away for a few hours. There were also days that he went for a walk alone, or that all of them stayed by the cabin and the girls. What they still liked best was the sense of freedom. Being naked most of the time was an expression of that. Jeffrey had once suggested to put a sign above the front door: 'Paradise Regained'. The bad things that went on in the rest of the world had not touched this place. Once again they felt here that nature wasn't something to look at, or to look up to, or to fear. They were part of that nature. It was there choice to destruct other parts or to respect them, use only that parts which they needed. They could be destructed by thunderstorms or hurricanes. They could also use parts of nature to defend themselves. The girls, of course, were a constant topic in their conversations. One day, when Jeffrey came back from a walk alone, Jennifer was holding Stephanie. Emily was with Jessica. Once again he noticed that, like their mothers, they looked like identical twins.
"We've been talking," Jennifer said.
"You did? How come, all of a sudden? I didn't know you were on speaking terms."
"He not only thinks, when he walks," Jessica said. "He makes up funny jokes."
"We're serious now, Jeff," Jennifer said. "We were talking about our daughters."
"I'm sorry, JJ. Go on."
"You know that from the beginning of our pregnancy we've said that we would be both mother to the two children," Jessica said. "That's what we wanted. But of course we could never be sure if that was what was going to happen. A new life growing inside your belly is very personal. For you it was different. Both girls were your daughters. No problem."
"The first months were hectic. We fed them, we washed them, we put them in their cribs, we got them out of their cribs, we brought them to Cathy and we brought them back home. We never looked twice, actually, who was who."
"Well, that's what we wanted, wasn't it? No differences. No, it wasn't. We were taking them for granted. They were our children and we loved them, of course. And that was it."
"What we really did was taking care of, loving, a couple. What we really wanted was me being the mother of two separate little individuals, Emily and Stephanie and Jes being the mother of two separate little individuals, Stephanie and Emily. We know something about being treated as a couple. Even as kids, as close as we were, we didn't want to be treated like parts of a couple."
"We don't think you have noticed, but since we're here I've taken most care of Emily and Jen has taken most care of Stephanie. Like we're doing now. You know what? Emily really is my baby as well as Stephanie."
"And Stephanie really is my baby as well as Emily."
"You remember you said once I shouldn't think on my own?" Jeffrey said. "I'm a kind of expert on loving two people, who so much look like a couple. You should have consulted the expert. I don't love a couple. I love Jennifer and I love Jessica. There are times when I say 'I love you, JJ' but I always know there are two J's. I don't have a couple of wives, I have two wives. I could have told you, you don't have a couple of daughters, you have two daughters. Now put those lovely little girls in their cribs and I'll put a blanket on the grass. Put the cribs beside the blanket. Maybe when Emily and Stephanie are old enough, they will remember vaguely that they witnessed once their mothers and father making love."
Afterwards Jeffrey took the girls out of their cribs, undressed them and lay them between their mothers. He made several pictures.
On the afternoon of the day a few days before they left, they had just finished lunch, they heard a car coming up the road. "That's the second time in two years," Jeffrey said. "It's getting busy around here. Who could that possibly be?" It was another sunny day. The girls were sound asleep in their cribs under the shade. They didn't bother to dress. If the somebody or somebodies that were coming choose to be offended they could turn their car around. The somebodies weren't offended in the least. They found exactly what they'd expected, or rather had hoped to find. The somebodies were Karen and Frank. They were on their way to Pittsburg from Cheyenne, where they'd attended the marriage of friends. Frank had been the groom's best man. They'd decided to make a little detour, on the off chance that Jeffrey, JJ and the girls might be there. They were staying in a hotel in the village down the road.
"They look like twins," Karen said, when she and Frank saw the girls. "They're lovely."
Jeffrey went in to make more coffee. "You're staying for dinner, of course. Dress informal." Two minutes later Frank and Karen were as informal as they could be.
"So how's life these days in Pittsburg?" Jessica asked.
Frank said that life was good in Pittsburgh. There had been some change though. In some way this change had been made possible by their accidental visit last year. "Your way of living, you're relationship with ABC, most of all with Cathy, made us rethink all the traditionally held beliefs about marriage and other relationships between people. You made your way of life and love look so natural. It made this change look so natural for us."
Now, come on, Frank, don't let the suspense kill us," Jennifer said. "Tell us what this change is all about."
"Let Karen tell you."
"It went like this," Karen said. "I had to go to this three day conference in Washington."
"Oh boy," Jennifer said. "I went to a conference in Washington once. Now I'm a mother. Sorry Karen, go on."
"Well, I don't think motherhood will be the final consequence of this conference. But I met this man the second night. He's about forty years old. A charming man, really. He wasn't coming on to me. He offered me a drink, so I took another coke. He was having red wine. We talked till about midnight. He brought me to my room. He went inside with me and we made love. No, your term for it is better: we made friendship. It was nice and it was just the logical, natural ending of a very pleasant night. We both knew we didn't want to live together, but we'd like to see each other from time to time, talk with each other and maybe make some more friendship."
"Karen told me all about it, when she came home," Frank said. "And the only thing I could thinks was: Why not? This is what she wants to do. This is how she wants to live. Should I play God and tell her what she is allowed to do or not allowed to do? I knew Karen didn't want to leave me, that she did not love me less all of sudden. She only wanted to see this other guy once in a while. She does. About every three or four weeks she's with him for a weekend. He lives not far from Pittsburgh."
"Have you met him?" Jeffrey asked. "Or do you want to meet him?"
"I wouldn't mind to meet him, if that happened by chance. But I don't have to meet him. He's not a part of my life. He's part of Karen's life."
"I like it," Jessica said. "Let's spread the word. Why change love from something beautiful into a problem? Why make up and live by all this silly rules? Emily and Stephanie have three loving mothers instead of only on. Jennifer and I have two daughters instead of only one. We have a loving husband and a loving mate. Now Karen has a husband and a mate. Are we causing anybody any harm? I know the kind of man who condemns us for the way we're living. The next day he'll cheat on his wife by fucking his neighbor's wife, probably making a bad job of it, too. We'll be condemned by god-fearing, churchgoing child molesters and wife beaters. If there really is a God, I'm sure he or she couldn't stand this intolerance towards love. He'd be sick of the whole sanctimonious lot. Do we live in sin? Fine, we'll live it up!"
"You can do something about it," Karen said. "You are in the spreading business: books and movies."
Jessica told them about her documentary movie about polygamy in the United States. She'd wanted to include an interview with ABC and with Jennifer, Jeffrey and herself. But the producer wanted to have none of it. The public at large was not ready for it in his opinion.
"Rubbish," Jennifer said. "Jeff's parents were ready for it within a week and they were not your typical radical liberals. Maybe Jessica and I should start now with our autobiography and publish it on our eightieth birthday. The Chilean author Pablo Neruda wrote a book called 'I confess I have lived'. Jessica, the title for our autobiography will be 'We confess we have loved'. Guilty as charged." She smiled at Frank and Karen. "We're not preaching too much, are we?"
"Don't worry," Karen said. "We know you feel strongly about it. Do you really encounter problems, people objecting?"
Jeffrey said that it had become less than it used to be since the girls were born. He now went to most business parties or dinners with only Jennifer or Jessica, the other one staying with the girls. I had happened once that the host of a dinner refused to meet with both Jennifer and Jessica. They went home for dinner. There were still some colleagues, of Jennifer's, of Jessica's and of his, that didn't want to acknowledge their way of life. Some neighbors would rather drop dead than say as much as 'Good morning'. One of the girls began to cry. Ten seconds later they both cried.
"I was just going to ask Karen and Frank if they wanted to go for a swim," Jeffrey said.
"Go ahead," Jessica said. "You'll be on duty from the moment you come back till tomorrow noon."
Jeffrey did his best to stay in the water as long as Karen and Frank, but after five minutes he thought it was enough.
"You don't have to wait for us," Frank called. "We'll swim some more. I'll be back in time for a beer."
"Where's Frank and Karen," Jennifer asked, when he came back alone. "They wanted to swim some more."
"Is that what they call it these days," Jessica asked. "Swimming?"
"Must have been some time since they made love in the sun. They're not used to someone watching, you know."
"I must say, Jeff, you can be a considerate man sometimes. Have I told you lately that I love you?" She pressed herself against him and kissed him. He caressed her back and butt. "Let's not start what we can't finish, Jes. They're not used to watch other people, either."
"They don't know what they're missing. Shall I get you a beer?"
"I'll wait for Frank."
Frank and Karen came back half an hour later. Frank gladly accepted a beer. Karen took a coke.
"Did some heavy swimming, Frank?" Jessica asked.
"Knock it off, Jessica," Jeffrey admonished. "Give the man a break."
Karen laughed. "You don't have to protect Frank, Jeff. We know you could guess we haven't been swimming all the time. We didn't keep you from your beer too long, did we?"
"Jessica offered to get him one ages ago, but he refused," Jennifer said.
"There's more he refused," Jessica said. She ruffled his hair. "I won't hold it against you."
"No, no, no," Jennifer said, "I won't quote a song."
"Thank you, Jennifer. I'll start making dinner. Spaghetti al la carbonnara this time. Lots of calories."
While he was making dinner the girls started crying again. JJ said he was excused.
Frank and Karen left after coffee. They promised to come to New York soon. Karen would like to see the girls again. She was almost convinced she wanted children like that of her own.
"The New York Polygamist Society has a Pittsburgh chapter now," Jeffrey observed.
Jeffrey woke with a start. He'd heard someone screaming. Emily and Stephanie were crying. He got out of bed and lighted an oil lamp. It was just past two am. Jennifer got out of bed too. She took Emily out of her crib. Jeffrey took Stephanie. Jessica stayed in bed. She was lying on her belly, crying uncontrollably. Jennifer took Stephanie too. Jeffrey lay beside Jessica, putting an arm around her.
"Jes, what's the matter? Everything's alright. Jen and I are here. The girls are here."
Jes got up to sit against the cabin's wall. Jeffrey put a cushion between her back and the wall. Jessica motioned to Jennifer to give her one of the girls. Jennifer gave her Stephanie. She held her close to her breast, kissing her.
"Thank God! I was so terrified."
It had been a nightmare. They'd been strolling in Central Park. It was the early afternoon of a beautiful, sunny day, so there were many people there, walking, cycling, riding horses. Everywhere children were playing. JJ were each pushing a pram with one of the girls in it. All of a sudden there was a very loud voice. It was unclear where it was coming from. The voice told people to stay calm. There was an emergency. No one could leave the park. Police were guarding the exits. People were bewildered. No one knew what to do or what to expect. After some time the voice had come back. All people with children under five years of age should go to the North Meadow Recreation Center. No reason or explanation was given. Jeffrey had said they'd better not go there, but hide somewhere. JJ had argued that it was impossible to hide. More and more policeman had come into the park, urging people with small children to go on to the Recreation Center. People who resisted were pushed, not in a friendly way. They had walked as slowly as possible, but at last they came to the Center. Many people were there already, many children were crying.
"And then there was this ...thing. Something like what you see in 'Alien', you know. It was horrible. It wanted to have all the children, pulling them out of their parents's arms, throwing them behind it. And all the time people were pushing in our backs, pushing us forward, until we stood in the front, facing that thing, that beast. Then these claws came to our babies. I screamed. Jen screamed too."
"Everything's alright, Jes. I'll make some tea." Jennifer sat beside Jessica.
"They're very safe and sound, Jes. Here's Emily, give me Stephanie." They exchanged girls. When the tea was ready, Jeffrey put the girls back in their cribs. They were already sleeping again. JJ and Jeffrey sipped their tea. At three am they went back to sleep, Jessica between Jeffrey and Jennifer.
"Please fondle some, Jeff," was the last thing Jessica said.
The morning that followed was not sunny. There was a slight drizzle, but the temperature was already in the seventies. Jeffrey opened the door and windows and performed the usual chores: changing diapers, bathing the girls and feeding them. He gave them to JJ to hold them while he was preparing breakfast. That morning he'd go down to the village, with Jessica, to get provisions for the last two days of their stay in the cabin. Jessica wanted to phone Cathy to tell her the girls were in perfect shape. The shopkeeper told Jeffrey: "You'd want to be careful this afternoon. Don't go too far from your cabin. Just now I saw this tornado warning on TV."
"Thanks, man," Jeffrey said. "We don't take coffee this time, Jessica. Make that call quickly."
Jessica did, explaining why she couldn't stay on the phone too long.
"I shouldn't have told Cathy," Jessica said on the way back. "Now she'll be worried all day about something she can't do a damned thing about. Should we be worried, Jeff? Is the cabin strong enough?"
"People built good things in the old times, Jes. How much chance is there anyway we'd be in the path of that tornado? If it comes at all."
The tornado came around one pm, but it passed at a safe enough distance. They saw the funnel-shaped cloud touching down about two miles away. Two hours later there was sun enough again to sit outside on the terrace. Jessica went down to the village once more to tell Cathy that they were alright.
"Next time we go here," Jennifer said, "we should rent a satellite phone. Mom and ABC can call us if something's wrong. Suppose something happens to one of the girls. We'd want to be able to call 911."
Jeffrey actually didn't like the idea. Satellite phones didn't belong in paradise. They came here to be far from the madding crowds. How long ago was it, that everyone left home without a cell phone, without being able to communicate twenty four hours a day? Yet, he saw Jennifer had a point. They could surround the girls with all the care they had to give, but accidents could happen. One of them could break a leg for that matter.
"OK, Jen. I don't like it, but we'll do it. I think I hear Jes coming."
The center of the tornado hadn't touched the village. There had been a storm, but there was hardly any damage. Cathy had been greatly relieved. "Mom and Charles are OK. Mary is OK too." She looked in the cribs. "Girls are OK. All the J's are OK. We'd better take care to not become complacent, JJ. This can't go on for fifty years."
"Now, don't get defeatist on us, Jes," Jennifer said. "We know perfectly well life isn't all peaches and roses and happiness all around. We're happy today. Let the devil take tomorrow. Come one, look at our hair. We're going to the lake and we'll do something about it." She kissed the girls. "Jeff, the girls want clean diapers."
When JJ came back, Jeffrey heard them talking and giggling before he saw them.
"What was all the giggling about, JJ? What kind of mischief are you up to now?"
"Nothing, really," Jessica said.
"Just girls talk," Jennifer said. "You don't have to know everything."
"Not in advance, that is."
"We'll tell you later, possibly."
"Or you'll see for yourself, probably. We don't mind your having a beer now."
"Meaning: give us a glass of wine now." He stood up. "I'm too good for you."
"We'll have you cloned," Jessica said. "Then you can share your duties."
"You think our bed is wide enough for four?" Jennifer asked. "Oops, I hadn't thought of that. Maybe cloning is not such a good idea after all."
"You know how men are. They always want to compete, show who is best. We wouldn't sleep a wink anymore."
Jeffrey gave them their wine. "You can stop it, JJ. There are times when even two seductresses can't get me from my chair. I want to finish this book today."
"Must be high quality pornography," Jessica said. "With these explicit illustrations, showing enticing women."
"Art seldom surpasses reality."
"Nature is the teacher of the arts."
Jeffrey looked up from his book. "Are you trying to tell me something, JJ?"
JJ did their very best to look exasperated.
"Tell you what," Jeffrey said. "I'll finish the book after dinner. I had planned a simple dinner, so we've got some spare time for whatever you have mind."
JJ made explicitly clear what they had in mind.
On their way home to New York they had time to visit Emily and Charles. "There's something I got to tell you, Jeff," Charles had said. "It's about Mary. Last Monday she didn't feel quite well. She went to the doctor. She's got heart problems. It isn't that serious, I mean, not life threatening yet, but the doctor said she'd better take it real easy from now on. So she's decided to quit her job. She doesn't like it at all, but she wants to be a honorary grandmother for as long as she can. Well, who can blame her?"
Jeffrey certainly didn't. He said he would visit Mary that same night. He did. Jessica went with him. Mary told them they didn't need to worry. The doctor had prescribed some pills. If she'd live a quiet, unstressful life, she could be eighty. She wouldn't quit her job right away. She'd wait till there was a successor and she had taught her or him the ropes. "There won't be any financial problems?" Jeffrey asked. "No. Some years ago Charles taught me a few things about investing. I believe that up till now I played the stock market quite well. There maybe something left over from time to time to spoil my grandchildren with. How are they?"
"They're doing very fine, Mary," Jessica said. "Why don't you have dinner with us tomorrow night? You can see for yourself."
"I'll join my boss when he goes home."
When Jessica and Jeffrey were about to leave, about nine thirty pm, Mary said: "Wait a second. I know a possible successor, my neighbor. She's forty five. She's been a secretary before she stopped working. Her daughter, she's the youngest, has started living with her boyfriend about a month ago. The other day she told me about getting a job again. She's a nice woman. I'll have a look if she's home, alright?"
"Fine with me," Jeffrey said.
Five minutes later Mary came back with a woman who looked pleasant enough. Mary said she was Patricia Sanders. "Pat, meet Jeffrey Pontiero, my boss and Jessica Anderson, his wife. Shall I tell Pat about the whole set up, Jeff."
"By all means."
"Pat, you should know Jeff has not one, but two wives. The other one is Jessica's twin sister. It takes some time before you can tell them apart, but I've learned, so anybody can."
"My sister, who never stopped working," Pat said, "once said to me, that a happy boss is a good boss. So as long as Mr. Pontiero is happy with two wives, I'll have a good boss, if you want to have me of course."
"Call me Jeff, Pat. I think we'll get along. What do you say you start tomorrow, for a trial month? We'll discuss salary and other things tomorrow morning, alright?"
"Suits me fine, Jeff. See you tomorrow. Hope to see you again too, Jessica."
Two weeks later Jeff called Pat into his office. Mary was already there. "Sit down, Pat. Trial is over."
Pat looked disappointed.
"Hey, cheer up, Pat. What did you think I was going to say? You're hired. You're my new secretary."
Pat cheered up immediately. "Thanks, Jeff. I really like it here."
"Don't forget to thank mother here. It will take a few more years before you have succeeded her in that department. Now here is your first very important task: organize a farewell party for Mary in two weeks. Mary hates parties and so do I. Keep that in mind. Jessica and Jennifer like parties, you can check with them. Check with Hank for the budget. Tell him from me he shouldn't be his usual stingy self. And of course: check with Mary. She'll tell you what she really doesn't like."
When he told JJ about the party, they talked new dresses again.
"Hold it right there, JJ," Jeffrey said. "I once more or less forced you to wear mini skirts in the middle of the winter. It's still summer now and I want to see some legs at this party and don't tell me you don't want to show of. You'll love all the attention."
"He isn't even honest about it, Jes," Jennifer said. "He wants to show of our beautiful legs."
"Oh well," Jessica said, "as longs as he thinks our legs are beautiful enough to show, why shouldn't we oblige, this once?"
Pat proved to be a good party organizer. The only guests that were no colleagues or their partners were Charles and Emily. There was a cold buffet, parts of which were dishes Mary liked particularly. There was a string quartet that played light classical music. Dress was casual. There was only one speech, a very short one, by Jeff. "Mother," he said, "I speak for all of us here and I'll make it very brief: We hate your leaving us." There was a standing applause, while he hugged her. There was a loud "Speech! Speech!" Mary motioned for silence. "What can I say? I hate to leave you all, kids. Be nice to my daughter Pat. Take care."
The string quartet played 'Auld lang syne' and everybody sang. Most of them saw tears in Mary's eyes for the first time. Soon after that Mary left the party with Charles and Emily. They didn't have to say goodbye to Jeffrey and JJ. The next day they would come to them to see Stephanie and little Emily. Charles and Emily were staying overnight in a hotel. The party went on for almost two hours after Mary left. The string quartet changed tunes. The music they now played was meant to dance to. Most people did, Jeffrey didn't. He didn't like dancing. He liked watching JJ very much. They liked dancing and it seemed that none of the men wanted to leave the party before he'd had a chance to dance with at least one of them. Until that day Pat had only met Jessica, on the day Mary had introduced her to Jeffrey. She now saw JJ together.
"I've been watching you for some time, Jeff," she said. "When we met I said something about a happy boss. I can see now why you are a happy boss. And you're clearly showing that you are. Is that why you're not dancing with them? You like watching them more?"
"No, I really never liked dancing, not even with them. But watching is a very good substitute. They know I'm watching them. By the way, you did a good job, Pat, organizing this party. Mary liked it too. We'll see her tomorrow. She'll tell us more. I'll let you know on Monday."
Cathy was waiting for them when they came home. She told them the girls had behaved very well. Ten minutes after she'd left the doorbell rang. It was Cathy, her car wouldn't start.
"You can do one of two things: take a taxi or sleep here," Jeffrey said.
"Well, if it's all the same to you, I'd rather sleep here. I'll call Anita and Barb."
While she was calling, Jeff went to the bedroom. "There's a choice to be made, JJ. Whom would you like to sleep with tonight: Cathy or me?"
JJ didn't have to think long. "It's been a long time since you've slept on the couch, Jeff. This is a good opportunity," Jessica said. "We'll take care of Cathy."
He kissed them and took a blanket form the closet. In the living room Cathy wanted to take the blanket from him.
"I'll sleep here, Cathy. You go to the bedroom. Don't keep JJ waiting."
Jeffrey woke up when the girls were crying. He got up to take care of them, but Cathy beat him to it.
"It's my first chance to be with them when they wake up, Jeffrey. Now you don't keep JJ waiting. See you at breakfast."
She hadn't stopped to dress before she went to the girls. Neither had Jeffrey. They didn't even notice.
Emily, Charles and Mary arrived an hour before lunch. Before that Jeffrey had found what the trouble was with Cathy's car.
"As far as parties go, Jeff, I really enjoyed the party last night," Mary said. "Tell Pat she did a very good job. Inviting the string quartet was a very nice touch. I'm sure she's a good successor."
Later Mary told she would move to Baltimore. She'd found an apartment within walking distance from the place where Emily and Charles lived. "So I won't do much babysitting, but I'm sure ABC will take care of that. I'll see the girls when you visit Emily and Charles."
A week before the birthday of JJ and the girls Jeffrey had dinner with a man he knew to be a headhunter. JJ were eagerly waiting for his story when he came home at ten thirty pm.
"I'll start with a question, JJ. Can you live missing: A. the United States, B. New York and C. our cabin in Wyoming?"
"A is definitely yes," Jennifer said.
"B is yes," Jessica said. "C is maybe. Depends on what the offer was."
One of the largest and most prestigious publishers in the United States were looking for a new representative in the European Union. Someone had told the headhunter Jeffrey might be a likely candidate. After the dinner the headhunter thought so too. If Jeffrey himself wanted to be a candidate, the headhunter would arrange a meeting with the publisher's management. He expected an answer in seven days.
"There are some more questions that should be answered," Jennifer said, "like: can we miss Cathy?"
"Can Cathy miss her daughters?" Jessica said.
"Can the grandparents miss their granddaughters?"
"Can we miss ABC?"
"Can we do without our jobs?"
Jeffrey conceded those were good questions. He hadn't had much time yet to think it al over. What, in JJ's opinion, was the most important one?
"Can Cathy miss her daughters? Cathy would be devastated," Jennifer said. "I am quit certain about that."
"Jen and I won't even think about loosing our girls, not even about not seeing them for a long time. Can we do that to Cathy? She is not like a mother to them. She is their mother."
"I really don't care if they are with Jen or Cathy, if they are not with me," Jessica said.
"Same here," Jennifer agreed.
'Well, we've settled that quickly, haven't we?" Jeffrey said.
"Are you disappointed, Jeff?" Jennifer asked. "Would it have been a big move, career wise?"
"It certainly would have been. But I'm not disappointed. I've hardly had the time to think about it, nor about all the consequences. I agree completely with you about Cathy. We couldn't possibly do it to her. We can't rob our daughters of a mother, either, can we? It wouldn't be a nice birthday present."
"Speaking about birthday presents," Jessica said.
Since he went living on his own, Jeffrey had never celebrated his birthday, May 15th. He just didn't care about it. This tradition hadn't changed since he lived with JJ. This time JJ had a surprise for him. Two consecutive years he had given them beautiful birthday presents: first a week in Amsterdam, then Emily and Stephanie. Now they had a present for him. Jennifer took an envelope from her purse and gave him an airline ticket for Amsterdam. He would fly on December 9th.
"You don't want me to go to Amsterdam alone, do you?"
"What do you think, stupid?" Jennifer said. "That we bought just one ticket?"
"Are we going to leave the girls with Cathy?"
"He's really stupid, Jen," Jessica said. "Cathy has proven she can be without the girls for two weeks. Remember Wyoming? "
He didn't have to ask Hank if he could go away for a week. JJ had called Pat and Pat had talked with Hank. Everything was A OK. JJ had also rented the same apartment.
Temperature in Amsterdam was rather high for the time of year, when they arrived: 10° Celsius. The sky was overcast, but there was no rain. They didn't go to Amsterdam by train this time from the airport. They took a taxi. An other woman was waiting for them with the keys and the bill.
"Such lovely little twins," she said. "Which of you is the mother?"
"We are," Jessica said.
"How lovely," the woman said. "Let me show you around."
Jeffrey told her she needn't bother, because they'd been there before.
"How nice. Then I'll leave you, now. Have a pleasant time in Amsterdam."
They did the same as the first time they'd been in Amsterdam. They went to the 'Eetcafé‚' on Overtoom. The bartender couldn't help but remember them.
"So you really liked Amsterdam, didn't you? And now there's another pair of twins, I see. Who's the mother?"
"We are," Jennifer said this time.
"And tomorrow we celebrate four birthdays. I'm not kidding, believe me," Jeffrey said. "They were really born on their mothers's birthday."
"First drinks are on the house then. Let me think: one beer, a bourbon and a red wine. Am I right?"
"Score one for the bartender, JJ."
"I'll have red wine, too, this time," Jennifer said.
Jeffrey asked the bartender if anything had changed in Amsterdam over the last two years. The man said that Amsterdam was changing constantly and always stayed the same. Once again they ate and enjoyed the sateh. The quality of the salad was much improved. The girls ate in the apartment. They hadn't complained about jetlag yet. They did around midnight. JJ took care of them. They soon discovered that visiting Amsterdam with two one year old girls was entirely different from visiting the city with just the three of them. They didn't see as many places as they would have liked to see. They had dinner every day in the apartment. Jeffrey didn't cook. A waiter in a coffee shop, where they had coffee, told him about a website where he could order dinners. Nevertheless, they had a wonderful time again.
"Next time," Jeffrey said, "we'll ask Cathy to take care of the girls."
"Next time," Jennifer said, "the girls will be fifteen. We'll go here in the summertime. For one time we'll not go to Wyoming. We'll be here for two, maybe three weeks. See more of this country."
When they were home again, Jessica called Cathy first, to tell her that her girls were fine. Jeffrey then called his mother. He told her all of them were fine.
"We didn't want to call you, Jeff, when you were in Amsterdam, but something terrible has happened."
"OK, mom, tell me now. Something's wrong with Charles?"
"No Jeff, not with Charles, he's right beside me. He'll tell you."
"It's Mary, Jeff," Charles said. "She's had this massive coronary, three days ago. She's in the hospital now, intensive care. Things don't look good."
"Can we visit her?"
"No, you can't. Emily and I can't visit, either. We'll keep you informed."
Mary died the day before Christmas Eve. Charles called and told Jennifer, who took the call. "I'll miss her very much, Jen. Emily, too. They were good friends as well."
"Jeff will miss her, too, Charles. The girls will never know, but we will tell them later that they had this very lovely grandmother when they were still too young to know her."
Christmas Eve they were with ABC. They'd promised long ago they'd be there. It was supposed to be a festive night, but of course it wasn't. It was a gloomy night. Cathy sat on the couch between JJ.
"Jeff," she said, "I know you maybe need more comfort than JJ, you knew Mary longer than they did. But, you know, you'll understand, I hope, I want to comfort them."
"I understand, Cathy. You and JJ do just what you want to do." They went to the bedroom.
"Come on, Jeff," Anita said. "We don't hate men. You know we don't. The couch is free now. Sit between Barb and me for a while. Cry as much as you like. Rest your head on some ample bosoms for a change."
On New Years Eve ABC were with Jeffrey and JJ. Again it wasn't a festive night. Mary was buried in Baltimore the day before. Only Charles and Emily, JJ and Jeffrey and little Emily and Stephanie were there.
"You know," Charles had said, "that Mary hated those big gatherings."
Later that day Charles told JJ and Jeffrey that Mary had left a will. "She wasn't very rich, she hasn't left a fortune, but what she had will go, after seventeen years from now, to Stephanie and Emily. It will pay their way through college, she hoped, and it probably will."
Just after midnight Jeff said: "Let's take a cup of kindness." He poured five glasses of wine. "To Mary. May she rest in peace."
After ABC had left and Jeffrey and JJ had looked at the girls in their cribs, they had one more glass of wine in bed, before they went to sleep.
"How come," Jeffrey said, "people you like or love, who are close to you one way or another, always die sooner than people you don't give a damn about?"
"They don't, Jeff," Jennifer said. "You don't notice when other people die."
"Don't think about dying," Jessica said. "Let the dead bury their dead. Think about living. We've just looked at Emily and Stephanie in their cribs. There's a good chance they'll wake you up some time this night. They will be crying. You'll have to give them clean diapers. You'll hate that, but you'll love them, because they're very much alive and they're very much your and our little daughters. You'll come back to bed and you'll lie with the mothers of your daughters. You'll take some time to fondle small breasts, caress buts, kiss backs and you'll sleep again."
"We don't tell you everything, Jeff," Jennifer said. "We're not always sleeping when you come back to bed after taking care of Emily and Stephanie in the middle of the night. We know you're standing in the doorway sometimes, just looking at us. Those are the times we know best you love us. You don't have to tell us every day. We don't tell you every day, either. You show it in the way you make dinner for us, among other things."
"We show it," Jessica said, "in the way we make breakfast for you after another sleepless night. We take care your socks match your tie. We accompany you to dinners with stuffy people, so there's at least some cleavage for you to enjoy. We're already looking forward again to going to our Paradise Regained this summer. We don't know, yet, if it's right or wrong, but we would like our daughters to see one day their father make love with their mothers, when they're old enough to know what love means."
"They know already," Jeffrey said. "They're young enough to feel what love is. It's our job to take care they don't unlearn it."
It had been a very cold February day when Jeffrey came home. "Anybody home?" he called, after closing the door. "We're here," Jessica or Jennifer called from Jennifer's study. When Jeffrey came in, Jennifer was just closing her laptop, in a surreptitious manner, he thought.
"You're not hiding anything from me, are you, JJ?"
"Hi, JJ, how nice to see you again after such a long, cold day," Jessica said. "That's what a normal loving husband would say after coming home."
"Then he would kiss his wives" Jennifer said, "go the baby room and kiss his daughters."
"Would you like some wine, JJ, he would ask."
Jeffrey did what he was told to do. "Out with it, JJ. What are you hiding?"
"We would have told you one of these days," Jessica said. "We wanted to be a little bit more sure ourselves first, if we could really do it."
"Do what, JJ?";
"Write," Jennifer said.
"Is that spelled w-r-i-t-e or r-i-g-h-t?"
"Write as in writing a story," Jessica said.
They'd started a few days after new year's day. They'd started thinking and talking about it from time to time after their meeting with Frank and Karen in Wyoming, when Jennifer had jokingly said they'd maybe write their autobiography once. They were not writing their autobiography of course. They were really trying to write a novel, Jessica supplying most of the ideas, Jennifer doing most of the writing.
"That's great, JJ. What kind of a novel? What is it going to be about?"
JJ thought it was better not to tell him what the story was. He'd want to talk about it, would give his opinion. They'd like to hear his opinion, of course, but not before they thought it was time to write 'The End'. The novel was to be their project and theirs alone. They didn't want anybody else to know they were writing, not even Cathy.
"I understand what you mean, JJ," Jeffrey said. "I would be too professional about it, but you can rest assured I am damned curious."
"Don't forget that changing diapers might interfere with this creative process," Jessica said. "Crying little girls too. You have a contribution to make."
That spring and early summer Jeffrey saw a lot of TV all by himself, JJ sitting in Jennifer's study all night. Sometimes they went to bed frustrated, at other times they were elated. Jennifer took her laptop with her, when they went to Wyoming in the first week of July. There was only an epilogue to write, not much more than for or five pages. The sixth day of their stay Jeffrey was ordered out early in the morning.
"Go take a long walk, Jeff," Jennifer said. "Take lunch with you. When you come home, you'll be the first one to read JJ's masterpiece. When you're finished, you may make one tiny little contribution: we don't have a good title yet."
When Jeffrey came back at three pm, JJ were sitting on the terrace, holding Emily and Stephanie, looking very happy.
"Laptop's inside, Jeff," Jennifer said. "Start reading. We'll make dinner today. We're not going to sleep before you've given your opinion, as a husband and as an editor.";
It was after two am, when Jeffrey closed the laptop. JJ looked at him expectantly.
";JJ, as a husband I'm damned proud, as an editor I say: you've written a damned good novel. Now make room for me on that bed and let's make something we're really good at together: love."