cocktail dresses for tall women

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO DON'T KNOW ME...HERE IS AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SHORT STORY.

The Muse

Rebecca Branch

The Event

Every year there’s an event at the United Nations in which we honor one individual and one international corporation for their outstanding contribution to the human condition. In the past, we raised money for war widows, water conservation, removal of minefields, withdrawing children from military units, and the stewardship of our planet. These events are usually held in the second-floor dining room of the UN Secretariat, but the entire building has been under construction for the past few years and our event tonight was to take place at the Essex House on Central Park South.
My husband and I have attended for a dozen years and it was always fun to dress in a favorite gown and see Chris in the tails I bought him at Giorgio Armani years ago when we’d met. A tall man in white tie is an image to behold and both of us being highly conversational, we were often placed at tables with diplomats, ambassadors and even the Secretary General of the UN. It also didn’t hurt that I speak Italian and some French. Chris…well, Chris was always welcome as a handsome younger man lost in a sea of rich men’s wives seeking entertainment and engagement outside their busy husbands.
Tonight, though, I was alone. Things had been going from bad to worse in our marriage and Chris was home, packing for a move to Florida and would be gone the next day. I had mixed emotions about separation. I still loved him, but the stress of constant arguments was killing me and I was willing to let him find his way. If being apart was awful for the both of us, then perhaps we could work things out, but we had to try living life apart to see what would come of it and what we might miss about one another.
I wore all black (was I subconsciously in mourning?); an off the shoulder dress covered in sequins which dragged the ground behind me on the carpeted floor, a single slit to my right hip which permitted one leg to peek through but also allowing me the dexterity and freedom of movement to step wide without tripping. The front curved over my bust, which had the added responsibility of holding the whole thing up! Only a thong resided below the gown. I wore black heels and towered over most everyone at six-feet, three-inches, the height of my missing husband.
I would typically arrive early to help set up the flowers, organize the young interns, and prepare the silent auction, but there was a huge commotion both outside the lobby and just within. It seems, that for the second time in its history the giant sign at the rooftop which read ESSEX HOUSE had lost electricity in the first two letters. And so, the entire northern part of Manhattan was looking at a huge sign which read SEX HOUSE and hundreds of people were showing up for the perceived party. The amount of latex and leather in immediate evidence was something only New York could provide on such short notice. This assemblage of crazies then, through serendipity alone, had created a party which was quickly swept away from the distinguished property to wend its way elsewhere and eventually wind up in the Meatpacking district downtown.
The UN event always started with cocktails where the attendees had a chance to mix and meet. There was a jazz quartet and I had two cosmopolitans while circulating and making sure the interns, kids aged from fifteen to twenty-two, were efficiently checking-in the guests and handing out the appropriate badges. I’m a lightweight and two cocktails had its effect. I never get messy though, only more friendly and sometimes a little demonstrative and passionate in my discussions. I hung out with two beautiful women from Morocco, speaking French, while their husbands casually circled me for a better look from all sides. At forty-nine, I can still turn heads, but this is New York and the international crowd was resplendent in their finery and the conversations were hardly chit-chat. We spoke of a variety of meaningful things and many who were present knew one another from past events. This was great, except for the fact that I had to explain a million times why Chris was not here tonight.
Cocktail hour at an end, I was seated with the owner of the Cirque de Soleil, his partner, the CEO of a Dutch corporation and his wife, the French ambassador and his wife, a famous architect and his wife, and an empty seat beside me with a card which read Ms. Jessica Rossi. The host and MC this evening was a CNN anchor who was very good up on stage. He spoke his words of welcome as the salad was placed before the guests. There were perhaps three hundred of us in the room.
I turned to the French ambassador’s wife seated beside me. Sylvie was lovely; a sixty-year-old Comtesse from Avignon married to an industrialist. I asked what industry her husband was in before being appointed ambassador and she responded “wine”. Damn…that’s not an industry. That’s a glorious hobby. I could just imagine the sort of life they led and the chateau they called home.

Something brushed me on my right and I turned to find out if Ms. Rossi had finally arrived to fill her vacant seat. My eyes opened wide as I immediately recognized the famous swimsuit model beside me, whose name was definitely not Ms. Rossi. I smiled at this work of art, whose DNA had given her the good fortune of near-perfection in human form.
“Hey, you’re…”
“Shhh, I’m here incognito,” she responded quickly and I laughed. Did she really think she could fly under the radar?
“What? You think no one here knows who you are?”
“Certainly not by name, and unlikely considering this demographic. Some might guess they’ve seen me somewhere, but no one knows my name.”
I looked at her askance. “Oh, come on…surely some of the men here know who you are.”
She answered, humbly, “Perhaps a few might know Alessandra Ambrosio or Adriana Lima, but this isn’t a fashion crowd and no one will recognize me.”
“Well, they all know you by face and by who your husband is.” I smiled some more.
“Yeah, well, those of us who are married are often Mrs. Sports Star or Mrs. Actor, so that is likely, but we’ve just split, so right now, I’m the girl everyone thinks they know from somewhere but can’t quite place.” She reached for her white wine and took a sip.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “Did this just happen? Your separation, I mean?”
“Just happened.”
“Me too. He walks away from me, after twenty-two years, tomorrow.”
She looked into my eyes again and put down her wine, crossing her legs in my direction and regrouping. “I’m sorry. Twenty-two years is a long time. You must have married young.”
“I’m older than you think, sweetie.”
She looked me over carefully, only her eyes in motion. “You are…thirty-nine…no you can’t be if you’ve been married so long. Wow, you look young. How old are you then?”
I’ve never had trouble with my age and usually held it up with a degree of pride. “I turned forty-nine last month, on September twenty-fifth and have two daughters.”
“No shit! You’re gorgeous. You should be modeling too.”
“I was a model when I was your age. Are you about thirty?”
She smiled and touched my arm. “Bingo. On the button.”
I took a bite of my salad and she did the same, but we kept looking at one another. She was slender and spun of gold, delicate but toned, with light emanating from her as if illuminated from within; I was dark and statuesque, holding my black magic tightly-coiled within. We were an interesting contrast.
“What are you doing here? How are you connected to the UN?” I asked.
“I’m not. The guy you just heard speaking is my date tonight.”
“Really?”
“Well, I’m on his arm tonight, not in his bed.”
I laughed and she did too. Actually, she giggled, as if revealing something to a fellow conspirator. We quickly recognized we were both survivors, admitting a degree of pain in our lives with regards to men.
“But why aren’t you at his table with the Secretary General and this year’s inductees?”
She rolled her eyes and put down her fork. Skinny little thing probably thought two bites of salad were her limit. I smiled at the thought that sometimes, in the past, I’d considered a cube of cheese to be a satisfactory lunch.
“I’m a bit uncomfortable in a crowd,” she admitted. “I’m not that smart or worldly and never know what to say to accomplished people.”
“Oh bullshit!” I blurted out, then placed my hand over my lips and apologized. “Sorry, that’s two cocktails speaking.” She laughed.
“I’ve seen your photos in Sports Illustrated. They send you all over the world. No way you’re some sort of wallflower.” She looked down and I just wanted to hug her, she was so sweet and self-conscious. Had her ex made her feel small and inadequate for years?
“So, what do you do if you’re not modeling anymore?” She asked.
“I gave up modeling when I had my first child over twenty years ago. Now, I’m an interior architect and a lecturer on the classical Roman world.”
“You’re a professor?” She looked at me in wonder. She was priceless with that look. Thirty years old and yet a child. But she moved slowly and with grace. She showed no evidence of youth except in that exquisite expression she offered me.
“I’m sorry, but history professors don’t look like you.” We laughed some more. “And I’d call you out as a liar on your age if you didn’t have children who must now be nearing twenty…right?”
“Yes, I’m a mom, and also a teacher, but my classes are anything but a snore.”
“I’ll just bet they aren’t. You’re fascinating. Now, why are you here?” She asked.
“I’m your hostess. I sit on the Board.”
“What? Are you rich?” She turned completely away from the table and faced me straight on. She was wearing white, to my black. Smaller than me by a couple inches, slender as hell but with a good bust. She wore Valentino, her dress as long as my own and also slit up the side. Blonde, perhaps, but she’d just returned from the tropics and had a deep tan to compete with my own naturally darker skin tone.
“No, I’m not rich at all. I’m actually quite poor. Everything I earned over the years was poured into my house or my daughters. I live hand to mouth. But that’s okay. Money has never meant much to me except that now that my kids are gone, I’d like to travel more often. I do go to Rome twice a year to lecture to architects and their clients. I keep an apartment there.”
She was very expressive and I loved watching her eyebrows do their dance. I knew that mine did the same.
“I love Rome,” Jess said, “I love Tuscany too. I love Italy. Beauty goes unnoticed there. No one makes a big deal over it. I feel more normal and can live my life under the radar,” she admitted. “I’m also an army brat and we moved from station to station as my father got reassigned, so I have traveled a bit even before doing it for work.
“I know just what you mean,” I responded. “My father was an archaeologist and my mom, a socialite. I grew up in Florence, Rome, Paris and London before ever coming to the States. When I worked for the Ferragamos and again for Armani, I travelled everywhere. But that was also a bit contained. I was always in the company of the rich and famous and they tend to build a wall around themselves. When I was a young woman, growing up in Italy, the wolves came out from every crack and crevasse to howl at me. I was so uncomfortable with it until I reached twenty. Then everything changed.”
“How so?” She asked. “What effected the change?”
“I had a girlfriend in college who helped me gain confidence and taught me how to keep men in line. She had a real power over guys and yet, wasn’t really interested in them.” I left the rest unsaid, but I watched her register my statement and think about it for a moment. Then, our partially eaten salads were taken away.
Jessica stood for a moment and adjusted her dress and I stood as well to do the same. She laughed, looking up at me. I was easily four inches taller.
“My God…you’re tall and slim…and bodacious.”
I laughed as she looked more closely at my boobs. She looked up and blushed.
“I hope you’re not offended that I checked you out?” She said in a whisper.
“Nonsense. You know as well as I that models always check each other out.” Her smile returned in a naughty sort of way.
“So…what do you think of me?”
“Are you crazy! You’re stunning.”
“Good,” she said, “I’m glad you like me. I’m glad you’re my date tonight.”
“What about Mr. CNN over there?”
“Ha! He never stood a chance.”
“And I do?” I laughed.
“Oh yeah,” she said slowly, and with emphasis. Oh, yes you do. We are leaving together.” She reached over and stroked my arm and we both sat back down.
“Really?” I raised my brow and she refused to break eye contact. “And I thought you said you were shy and uncommunicative?”
“Not with you. You’re a goldmine. This is my best date in a long time. What are you doing tomorrow?”
I smiled and placed my hand on hers in her lap. “I’ll be staying as far from my house as possible while hubby walks out of my life.”
She turned her hands over in her lap and stroked mine. I was surprised. The move changed the dynamic immediately. Was this bombshell of a woman hitting on me? We were having a great time and speaking on personal topics, but she was coming close very fast. I guessed that we were both needy, had lots in common and were probably both lonely as well. How nice. How nice to make a new friend. How out of the blue!
“I tell you what,” I said. Let’s meet at the Metropolitan Museum for lunch and a tour. How’s that?”
“It’s a date! Noon…at the rotunda?”

The party went on and we hardly noticed anyone else and just kept on talking. When it was finally over, she remained by my side as I said my goodbyes to guests and dismissed the interns. I took two of the centerpiece bouquets from the tables and wrapped them for her to take with her.
At the revolving door, she took my arm and we walked a few steps to the porter who flagged down a cab. Turning on her heels, she hugged me tight, planted her lips on my cheek and whispered in my ear, “You are fuckin’ hot, Molly. I’ve had the best time tonight. See you tomorrow.” And she was gone. As she pulled away, I could see her turn and look out the rear window. Damn, I missed her already. She had the effect of shedding years and troubles off my life in an instant. At my age, everyone was married or just plain old and set in their ways. She was a tonic. I cheered to the wind…Woo hoo!

My car was parked in a lot around the corner but I walked down to the Plaza Hotel and around the streets for a while. It had been a magical evening and I didn’t want it to end as yet. I was also dreading going home and was hoping that Chris would be fast asleep by the time I arrived after one.
My city was all aglow and even though it was October, we were experiencing a warm spell and I hardly needed my wrap, but strolling the streets in formal attire felt wonderful and as I passed a homeless man on the street, he looked up and said, “Good evening, my Lady.” How sweet. I walked on a few steps, then turned and handed him a five-dollar bill, which he tried to refuse. What a gentleman.
I looked in the windows at Bergdorf’s at things I couldn’t possibly afford and moved on, thinking of my new friend. Although she put herself down constantly until I told her to stop, she was well known in the industry and beyond. The kind of model every young boy kept pictures of in his bedside table beside a box of tissues and a tube of lube. I’d been there. Years ago, I’d been there, too. But I never took it seriously and walked away to have a career which was satisfying but never money-making. I worked a job, presently, which was ill-fit but paid the bills. I wondered about my future without Chris for a while and found myself back at my car.

I got home and immediately looked her up on the internet. Must have been a thousand pictures on display and I looked at each in wonder. Her body was superb, but her eyes and brows were a wonder. Being a model is not simple work. A good model knows how to emote. A great model draws you into the picture and conveys emotion, desire, introspection…whatever they want. Jess was a great model. I immediately downloaded all my favorites and kept them in a file as I did for other projects which required fashion photography. Then I blanched. She’d told me she was thirty but her bio said twenty-seven. Why would she lie about such a thing?

It was now December and I’d seen Jess every time she was in town, back from her busy travel schedule. We always met at public places and had dinner at fancy restaurants or cheaper neighborhood eateries. She dressed down and loved flying under the radar with me, telling me constantly that in my company, no one looked at her, only at me. This wasn’t at all true, but was good for my ego none the less. I found myself dressing up when with her, always wanting to make a good impression while she would wear no makeup in order to be unrecognizable. How funny.
Tonight, I’d invited her home for dinner. This would be her first time in my home and I was a bit nervous. At the last moment, I invited my daughter Francesca to join us with her new boyfriend. I’d hardly told her anything about my new friend and I thought it would be fun to show her off. Couldn’t believe I was already seeing her as a bit of a possession, but I was. She was “my” friend.
I told Jess I’d pick her up in the city but she said she’d take the bus. I laughed to myself and told her that Chessy would be on the 5:30 bus out of the Port Authority terminal and sent her a photo so she could spot her. Chessy’s boyfriend would be driving down from upstate and would join us just in time for an eight o’clock dinner.

Jessica

Molly had sent a photo and I knew who to look for. Chessy was so Italian-looking and a true beauty, just like her mom. She was right in front of me as we boarded the bus and I sat beside her. She glanced at me and smiled, then looked straight ahead for a second, frozen like a statue. She’d recognized me even though she’d only had a brief look. Like mother, like daughter, I thought; sharp eyes and conscious of her surroundings. She turned and looked at me again and I smiled at her.
“Hi Francesca.”
“What? This is crazy. You’re Jessica? I think I’ve seen you in ads. You’re a famous model, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I’m your mom’s friend and we’re having dinner together tonight.”
“What the heck! No way!”
“Way.” I responded. I could die at her expression.
“How does Mom know you?”
“We met at the UN dinner.”
“No kidding. I used to intern at those.”
Chessy was all wonder and brightness, a shining star illuminating the seat beside me.
“You’re the woman she wanted to introduce me to? Wow! Have you been to my house before?”
I crossed my legs and turned a bit towards her. “No, I’ve never been to your home. I’m a little nervous.”
“Why? Why would you be nervous?”
“Because your mom is so smart and beautiful and probably has a gorgeous home and I live in a studio on Eighty-Sixth Street and the only things I own are a bed and a TV.”
She smiled. “You find Mom intimidating? You’ll love our house.”
“I think I find you intimidating too, or at least I thought I would.”
“Why?”
“Because you’re your mother’s daughter. You’re an Ivy League graduate who’s won a fellowship. You are, at twenty-two, on the road to greatness while I’m just a mannequin. That’s pretty intimidating.”
Chessy smiled and nodded an acknowledgement. She was proud of her accomplishments and rightly so. Her mom had told me that she had graduated with honors and had won a Fulbright even though she had a minor learning disability and required extra time during standardized testing.
“But you’re an internationally famous fashion model, acknowledged as one of the most beautiful women on the planet. I think you can relax around Mom and certainly around me. Jeez!”
I laughed. Chessy was just like her mom, even using the same euphemisms.

Mom

The doorbell didn’t ring, Chessy had her own key, even though she’d not lived here for four years. They walked in arm in arm.
“Mom. Do you know who this is?” She swept her hands at Jess.
“Yeah sweetie. She’s the chick who’s gonna make the salad. You’ve met?”
“Mom…you’re a creep. You set this up. Jess said you’ve known each other since October. What the heck!”
“Surprise!”
“Yeah, right. This is gonna kill Rick.” Chessy was already enjoying the idea that her man would be sitting opposite this crazy-beautiful woman that millions of men lusted over.
Jess looked around and was overwhelmed just standing in the doorway. The symphony of interior design and the objects before her blew her away. And she was prepared, but still stunned. I could see the gears turning in her head. And she claimed to be stupid at the party. Was she predisposed to think that because she was beautiful, and paid to be so, that she couldn’t also be smart? That sucked.
I had inherited collections from my archaeologist father and aristocratic mother. There were three generations of collectibles, furniture, paintings and sculpture in this house. Still, a visitor had to have the eyes to see them or else they were just so much noise. I was in the kitchen cooking, so I passed the tour over to Chessy. She, too, was proud of her heritage and knew everything in the house like the back of her hand.
Twenty minutes later, Jess sidled up behind me at the sink, putting her arms around my waist and giving me a kiss on the cheek. She’d never approached me in such a familiar way before, resting her head on my shoulder and clasping her arms around my waist. I choked a bit, wondering if Chessy would see and then felt badly about it. This was my friend, my good friend. Nothing was going on here. She just likes me and wants to say hello. Stupid me! But she didn’t let me go for quite some time and she was breathing-me-in at the back of my neck. Damn.
I turned off the water and dried my hands, turning around to face her.
“Hey girlfriend.”
“Molly, your place is like a couple of rooms in the Met. I came prepared, but not for this. This beautiful but modest little home is gorgeous.”
I smiled. “I’m so glad you like it.”
“No…I mean, Jeez, I know so many rich people who have nothing on their walls. They have ten-thousand-foot homes and penthouse apartments and yachts and sportscars, but this is real. This is home. I love your place. It’s a nest. And, oh my God…your daughter!”
“You like her?”
“What’s not to like? She’s eight years younger than I am and look at her accomplishments. She’s unbelievable and sweet as all hell. I love her!”
My heart soared. It always did with compliments about my daughters, but I was extra pleased that Jessica could recognize what was so special about Francesca. The comment just served to bring us even closer together. Rather than disengage, I circled my arms around her and gave a kiss on the cheek.
“Well, welcome to my home. Where’s Chessy?”
“Upstairs changing.”
“Okay, while she’s out of earshot, I must ask…why did you lie to me about your age? Did you think I wouldn’t look you up?” I’d been letting this slide for a long time and had to bring it up. She was silent for some time and just searched my eyes.
“I didn’t want you think I was so much younger than you, that’s all.”
“So, you carved away a few years? Why? What possible difference would that make to me?” I replied.
“I just don’t want you thinking you’re too old for me. When I’m with you I feel like I’m with someone my own age, but I’m sure you feel that a generation separates us and I don’t want that.”
I squeezed her back and held her closer, then pulled apart to look her in the eyes again. “Jess, that’s the kind of thing women worry about when sizing a man up for marriage. We’re not dating. I’m your friend. Why be concerned about an age difference?”
She could not look at me while she spoke her answer. She just buried her face in the hair on my shoulder and spoke softly.
“Molly…I know we’re not dating; not in any formal sense. But you’re all I can think of when I’m away and I really want to be here for you, especially now. Life’s gonna get tough for you. I love this little house and can’t imagine losing it to foreclosure, but I really doubt the courts will find in your favor, no matter how underhanded or fraudulent you expect the new owner of your note to be. Business and profits always trump the home owner. You must prepare yourself and I’m gonna be here for you through it all. You’re not facing this alone and you’re not facing it with a kid. I have my own means and can help, even if you have your stupid rules about me paying for anything.”

Francesca

While Rick and Mom worked at the barbecue, I took Jess upstairs to my room to continue the tour. I still couldn’t believe we had a celebrity in the house, but as I thought about it, I realized that my mom attracted famous people all the time, just never a top fashion model. What intrigued me was why Jess was so fond of her. She didn’t just look at Mom in friendship. She looked at her with a deep connection, respect and a kind of worship. I wondered if she was attracted to her physically. Mom’s pretty good looking, but to me, she’s Mom. Somehow, even though I had no problem with alternative lifestyle and supported the LBGT community, I wondered if I’d feel as awkward if Jess had hit on my father instead of my mom. Obviously, I had to revisit my beliefs and confirm that I really felt the way I felt.
“This was my dad’s office, then the playroom, and is now our recording studio. Julia and I both set down tracks here on the Mac.”
“Look at all these wonderful children’s books!” Jess picked up one with pictures of Gnomes and mushrooms in Swedish.
“Mom’s youth was spent in Italy, elsewhere in Europe and in Scandinavia. I’ve always loved that book and several others like it. Where did you grow up, Jess?”
“All over Europe…on military bases, then we moved to Texas and then I moved here to New York. I’ve been independent for a while and making lots of money. Some of the girls make millions each year but I’m a step below that. Still, if I can keep it up for a while, I’ll be able to pick and choose what’s to come next.”
I decided to take the plunge. “Jess…is my mom a part of your future plans?”
We sat on the floor beside the bookcase and although she was far closer to my age than my mom’s, I felt her life’s experience definitely set her apart from my own.
“I hope she’s part of what’s to come. I love her to death.”
“Love her like a friend, or like a lover? Sorry to be so nosy, but are you gay or bi?”
She smiled at me with such warmth and a bit of awe, I thought.
“Well, Chessy, you certainly don’t beat around the bush!” We both exploded in laughter. “Haha…didn’t mean that to be a pun.”
“Well, it’s as appropriate a pun as anyone could come up with. What are you feeling?”
“Chessy, I’ve been around some of the most beautiful women in the world for years now. I’ve never felt attraction in that way. I suppose I’m not gay. At least I don’t think of myself as gay. But I just want to wrap myself around your mom and never let go. We’ll see what comes of this. It’s already the best relationship in my life, hands down. What are you feeling?”
I took a moment to think about my answer. I was really confused. “I have no idea what I’m thinking. I know I like you a lot. I know you’re good for my mom. I hope each of you finds whatever you’re looking for. Mom has always been extremely feminine. But during this stressful time, she’s shown no evidence of frailty. She’s been strong as hell. She’s been inspiring. Everyone thinks so.”
She put the book back on the shelf and sat back on her hands. “I like your man, Chessy. Rick’s a great guy. He’s a bit older than you, isn’t he? But he’s young at heart and seems a great match.”
“He is older. He’s thirteen years older. I had the hardest time at first, coming to terms with that. I was so worried about what my parents would think.”
“And were they upset?”
“Not at all. They love him. Look, I’m in a totally different place from those my own age. Everyone’s going to bars and looking to hook-up. Rick levels me. He keeps things real. He’s hoboed his way around the world. He doesn’t need money or material comfort and he’s a giver. He trekked his way across India and Southeast Asia with nothing but a backpack.”
“What about you, Chessy? What do you want to do?”
I stood and pulled out a file from a nearby lateral. “Here’s my agenda for my Fulbright year away. I’ll be going to Morocco, Cambodia and Madagascar. I want to study how western medicine is perceived in third world countries. I’ve also made friends with the Dalai Lama’s physician in Dharmsala. I’ve been invited to stop there as well.”
“And what will you do with all that experience once you have it?” Jess asked.
“I think I’d like to join the World Health Organization or the CDC and perhaps help immigrants get acclimated when they come here to the States. I’d like to do something which can affect large groups of people.”
Jess lay back on the carpeted floor. “God, I wish I was doing something meaningful. I’m in such a trivial business. You’re amazing and only twenty-two. Perhaps when I make enough money, I can start a foundation. I’ve often thought I’d like to do something for children overseas. I’ve seen some awful stuff…conditions which would curl your toes. Your mom’s organization at the UN helps in big ways. I’d like to do something like that.”
I lay down beside her and looked up at the mobile on the ceiling of origami birds. It had been in this room for decades and would soon be gone soon, along with so many other things of my youth.
“Jess?”
“Yeah.”
“Are you off men? You must be approached by millions, you’re so gorgeous. What’s up with that?”
“Men are alright. I have friends I like but most of those who’ve tried to come close are all about material things and possessions and many would like to make me one of them. That’s one of the things which makes your mom so special to me. She gives and takes in equal measure and makes due with what she’s got, which isn’t much. Except for this house. This house is amazing. Once she downsizes, what’s she gonna do with all this stuff?”
I turned to look at her. “That’s the reason I’ve delayed my Fulbright for a year…to help her out and get her into a new place. Rick and I postponed our plans to get her situated. I’m sure you could be a big help too, but she won’t take your money. She’s got a thing about accepting financial support. She’s always made it on her own. She always made more money than my dad. But she’s having a hard time now, getting re-employed, and it’s killing her.”

Molly

Chessy and Rick left at eleven-thirty to catch the next bus back to the city. He left his car parked in our driveway where it would spend the week. Jess and I cleaned up the last of the dinner and I handed her a glass of Sauterne. I’d not been sure at first, but asked her to stay the night and spend the weekend here. Her expression told me she was overjoyed to do so.
My dog, Boris, was wiped out after all the attention he’d received and remained in the kitchen as we ascended the staircase to the third floor.
“Wow, your place is amazing. This floor is completely different from downstairs. It’s totally modern.” This had been Chris’ man-cave. I’d designed it and he’d built it ten years ago. There was a gorgeous golden cherry art deco desk, a huge Italian leather sofa, massage chair and hundreds of leather-bound books. All my father’s documents and manuscripts were framed on the walls and I spent some time showing them to Jess.
“Do you have a spare tee-shirt?”
“Sure thing. Men’s up here and lady’s downstairs.”
“Just give me what you’ve got handy. That’ll be fine,” she said.
“I walked twenty feet to a dresser on the far wall, filled with the clothes Chris had decided not to take and pulled out a tee with the American Red Cross logo and the words Give Blood. I turned to hand it over and Jess was stepping out of her dress, then standing in heels and thong. God, what a body!
She laughed at me right away. My expression said volumes, I guess, and I laughed too.
Stepping up to me and taking the tee, she said, “Don’t be shocked. I am a bit shy, but not around you. Are you going to be okay?”
We both smiled ear to ear as she thread her way into the shirt and kicked off her heels. It was obvious that I could not remain dressed while she was in a tee so I started to reach behind to unzip, but Jess turned me around and did it for me, pulling my dress down my back, over my hips, down my legs very slowly, pressing her hands into me as I was disrobed. I held her shoulder as I lifted first one foot, and then the other out of my dress. Now I was in thong and bra. She hadn’t worn one. Standing up, she reached around me and unsnapped that too. It was incredibly intimate, but somehow, totally innocent and all in friendship. My heartbeat was racing, but only because of the situation I found myself in, and it slowed of its own accord once my tee was on and my shoes were resting beside hers.
Jess took a step to the TV cabinet and pulled out a blue-ray. “Wanna watch Poldark? Aidan Turner’s so hot.”
“You like Poldark?” I asked.
She continued to look at the DVDs on the mantle and said, “I like everything you have. Wow, we watch the same stuff and I don’t know many others who do. I love costume dramas and musicals and all these history series.”
“Jess, why have you put yourself down in the past? You’re cultured and bright. What’s up? You have exceptional interests. I was so worried you’d be bored but I think I was more confident you’d enjoy my place than you were.”
She turned down her eyes and sat on the sofa and I sat beside her. The instant my butt hit the couch, she pivoted and lay down with her head in my lap, closing her eyes and wrapping her arms around my waist.
“Molly…I went to a stupid college and learned nothing other than how to drink and act superior. I hated it and left in my Junior year to model full-time. I never had a boyfriend, then married you-know-who and had to perform at a level which equaled my looks. Marriage sucked. I was a piece of furniture and was not expected to have an opinion. It was all about being an accessory to his life.”
I reached down and stroked her hair and she hugged me tight.
“I refused to acknowledge that anything was wrong until I dumped his sorry ass. He was already wandering and I didn’t resist it. I wanted him gone.” She opened her eyes and there were tears trickling down my legs.
“I felt like such a failure. I felt stupid and useless except for the most superficial of things. I had no purpose. None at all.” She wiped her face and I continued to stroke her hair.
“Then we met. I’ve never met a strong woman like you. You’re nearly my mom’s age but might as well be my own. You’ve been a model, so you understand what my life can be like. You’ve raised children, and God how fantastic a mom you are. You’ve been in business, doing what you enjoy doing. Money doesn’t matter to you. You are surviving a marital break-up and the loss of your house to foreclosure. You are female power and perseverance personified. You are everything I’d like to be.”
My own eyes welled up at the description of self she delivered. I didn’t feel so accomplished.
“And I’m sure you’ve suffered and are fragile and hurting, but no one would ever know it. You don’t permit pain an audience. You move on and have helped me move on. Finding this friendship is the best thing to ever happen to me. I’m so grateful.” And with that, she burst into tears and hugged me hard as I pet her and swept my hands over her, holding her tight, bending down and cooing in her ear as I’d done so many times for my daughters.

We spoke for an hour until almost one in the morning and promised to watch Poldark the next night. I led Jess to Chessy’s room and helped her into the single bed. It was a marvelous space, all antique in the Gustavian Swedish style of white painted furniture and cabinetry, mostly two hundred years old. I kissed her cheek and then her forehead and rose to make my exit.
“Molly?”
“Yes Jess.”
“Would you sing me a bedtime song? Chessy told me you always would sing her to sleep.”
We smiled at one another, then I laughed. “Are you trying to be my daughter?”
She sat up quickly and the smile left her lips. “Oh no. Not at all. If anything, you’re my lover.”
“What?” I tried to look confused, but there was a lot going on here. We were already deep in a relationship and the only thing missing was physical intimacy.
“No pressure…no pressure. And I hardly know what I’m saying. But, Molly, I love you. You’re my best friend. To me, you are peace and comfort and guidance and beauty and poise and so many many things. You level me and make everything in my life so real and meaningful. Since meeting you, I rarely go out. I stay in hotels and read books like crazy. All I can think of when I’m away on a shoot is coming back to see you.” Her face twisted in fear. “Oh God, I hope I’ve not frightened you with all of this. Please tell me you’re okay with what I’m saying.”
I had to act quickly to prevent the damn from bursting. She was already near enough, so I leaned in and touched my lips to hers and cradled her head in my hands. How tender the moment. How sweet her lips. How small and defenseless she was. I disengaged and she had a dreamy smile on her lips, her eyes closed, her cheeks all wet. I pushed her down into the pillows, pulled up the sheet and duvet, and hummed a few bars.

“Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you
Tomorrow I’ll miss you
Remember I’ll always be true
And then while you’re away
You’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my lovin’ to you.

I’ll pretend that I’m kissing
The lips I’ve been missing
And hope that my dreams will come true
And then while you’re away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my lovin’ to you.”

I went into my room and climbed into my king-size-four-poster bed. Had to climb, even with my long legs for it was almost four feet off the ground. I pulled the fragrant bedding up to my chin and lay there thinking how wonderful I felt.
My assumption had been that I’d be crying tonight; crying over the loss of husband, memories of the man he was, not what he’d become. Crying over the approaching holidays and over being alone and the remorse of an unfulfilled life. But I was smiling and warm and happy. I had the first girlfriend in my life since my college days. Oh, I had plenty of lady friends, but even those my age and younger seemed so old and set in their ways.
What was I feeling? In the past hour, I’d felt the pangs of motherhood, the joy of friendship and the heat of attraction. She was in the next room. It was Friday night and she’d be here again when I woke up…be here tomorrow and through the night…be here Sunday and through the night. What would tomorrow be like? Wow. This was unexpected. But upon reflection, it was all clicking in a linear way; all to be expected. I fell asleep, filled with joy and knowing that when I woke I’d be writing a story. I felt inspired. She had become my muse.

Becca

Up before six, I made a pot of coffee, let Boris out, lit a fire in the fireplace and rushed to set up my laptop in the dining room. The firewood was seasoned and gave off heat almost instantly. I started to write a new book, The Resurrection of Griffin Ballard. I renamed Jessica as Bethany Lambert and made her the star of my book. The writing came fast and just spilled onto the page. Bethany was young and distressed but met an older man who was more broken than she. Bethany brought meaning to his life. Bethany was a force of nature and nurture. Good stuff.
“Good morning,” Jess said, leaning over me and kissing me on the cheek, her fragrant hair spilling over my face, hands on my shoulders. “What are you writing?”
“I’m writing about you,” I answered.
“Really? In a journal or a diary?”
I turned to her, shutting my laptop, and answered. “No, I’m writing a short story and you’re the heroine.”
“No way. Do you often write? Let me see.”
I had not intended to show her; certainly not until there was more meat on the bones, but I had over five thousand words already and opened my laptop again. I could see she was happy and also a bit intrigued that I was writing about her. She definitely wanted to know what was on the page.
“The Resurrection of Griffin Ballard by Rebecca Branch.” She read the title page out loud. “Who’s Rebecca Branch?”
“I am.”
“What? Please explain. But wait a sec. Is there coffee in the kitchen?”
“Yes, but it’s cold by now. I’ll make some more.”
“No need. I’ll just zap it in the microwave.” She strolled out of the dining room and my eyes followed the cadence of her steps and that little strip of thong between her cheeks. Oh dear. I swallowed hard. So young…just six years older than Chessy. Gahhh!
She returned and I pulled up my Amazon Author Page.
“Holy shit, Molly. This is incredible. You’ve written three books? Are you famous? I mean, is Rebecca famous?”
“Not yet. I have a small following.”
I read to her all I’d written and she smiled and smiled. She said she could see herself in the character and she approved.
“Now, I don’t want to disturb you. You’re feeling inspired so I will go upstairs and take a long bath, then pull out a book to read in bed. How’s that?”
I was stunned. How considerate and intuitive. She turned again and stepped to the staircase then said over her shoulder, “If you want to wash my back, you can.” I swallowed hard and watched that perfect bottom ascend the stairs.

The day was spent writing and eating and talking. I put down thirteen thousand words that day; the most I’d ever done in one go. I felt quite accomplished. As I read the entire first three chapters to her, I realized I would not have to edit what I’d written. It was all perfect; grammar, punctuation, flow…all of it.

We had a lovely weekend together visiting the local museum, going out for Thai food, shopping for groceries together. Everything flowed like magic. She was so easy, demanded nothing…not even my time. She read the book she’d chosen, a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and left me to write. She napped and made cocktails and cleaned up. She didn’t need to be taken care of. She was happily making my place her own and settled at one thing or another and entertained herself. The two of us were in a groove.
I tucked her into bed again and this time read her a story. It was so reminiscent of what I did for my kids that the mere act made my heart grow in size. She never escalated anything but was always holding me close. I loved the feeling. I loved these moments together.

She left me to travel to some tropical paradise and work. She’d be gone for almost a month. I completed my book in three weeks. I’d never written so well and so fast. I fell in love with my character, Bethany, and ended up putting myself in the book so I could make love to her. It felt fantastic…but it was print and Jess was gone.

She didn’t even visit her apartment in the city when she returned. I picked her up at the airport and she stayed the week with me. She was now reading all my previous books and commenting and I was making changes as fast as I could write. She continued to sleep in Chessy’s room and yet we lay beside each other watching movies; Mr. Darcy infatuated with Elizabeth Bennet, Gwyneth Paltrow pretending to be a man in Shakespeare in Love, or having a Downton Abbey marathon.

The Rescue

In mid-January, my youngest, Julia, gave me a call from her dorm at Harvard. She was in the midst of a panic attack and was questioning her entire life and purpose. I felt so incapable of helping her. She was beautiful, intelligent and acing her way to the Dean’s list every term since starting at this prestigious school. Now, she was speaking of abandoning her education and coming home in the last term of her Sophomore year.
Jessica sat beside me through the two-hour long conversation and could see my distress. After the call, she admitted to having suffered similarly in the past and that she was still taking a pill each day to level the playing field. She had many insights into the problem and we spoke at length about it. I knew I could help Julia better when next we spoke. I called the next morning and later in the day at five in the afternoon and Julia did not answer. I called again at seven and, thank God, she picked up. Like most moms, I was panicking too at this point, her desperation so evident the day before.
“Hi Mommy.”
“Hey…finally, how are you? You sound better.”
“I’m feeling great. My friends and I spent the day with Jessica. She just left. Wow, Mom, she’s really cool. I can’t believe you know her.”
“What! Jess was there? When did this happen?” I was beside myself. Jess had left me the night before, saying she needed to tend to her apartment and city commitments.
“She showed up this morning and woke me up. I freaked out when she came up to my room. You know who she is, right?”
“Yes, I know who she is. Didn’t your sister tell you about her? They met here for dinner a month ago.”
“Yeah, she told me…but not until a half hour ago, the bitch. She said Jess has been practically living with you since Papa left. Is that true?”
“I suppose it is. But although we’ve known each other since October, she keeps a busy travel schedule and…”
I regrouped again. “Peep…what was she doing there?”
“What do you mean? I thought you sent her.”
Silence.
“Mom, you mean she came on her own? Wow, that was thoughtful. She’s amazing, Mom. She takes the same meds I’m on and has suffered for years. She says that you level her and she might try going off the pills. That’s terrific. I hope that someday soon, I could do the same.”
“What did you do? You said she arrived in the morning? That’s the entire day.”
“We had breakfast and lunch together. She sat through my English class with me. People were going wild when they figured out who she was. She’s wonderful, Mom. She’s totally in love with you. She says you’ve turned her entire life around. You know who she was married to, don’t you?”
“Yes,” I answered. I stood up and started to pace the room, unable to believe what I was hearing.
“Well, we went shopping together in Boston. She had a limo outside the entire time. She’s rich, Mom. She makes a fortune, you know.”
“Yeah, I guess. I can imagine she does.”
“Are you in love with her too? I can’t imagine you wouldn’t be. It’s alright with me if you are, Mommy. Don’t feel you have to hide any of this.”
“Honey, we’re friends. The best of friends. She’s been wonderful in a stressful time. I only wish she was around more often.”
“Don’t tell me you don’t trust her when she’s gone? She’s totally infatuated with you.” There was a pause. “Mommy, you’ve had a hard time since Pop left. You’re gonna lose your house. Jess is perfect. She couldn’t have shown up at a better time. I’m so happy she’s your best friend. Really I am.”
I stood there, stunned. Julia was back to her normal self. What had Jess done?
“Mommy, I have to go now. My friends are waiting to go to dinner. Thank her again for coming to see me. This was a great day.”

The Snowstorm

Two months after her first visit to my house, she was back in the middle of a fifteen-inch snowstorm. We would be trapped together for a couple of days but beyond that, many participants in her next photo shoot were similarly in lock-down mode and the shoot was postponed. The entire Northeast was blanketed in snow. We would have two weeks together.
I was teaching Jess to cook and she was helping to improve my computer skills, all the while, a blanket of white was building outside. We were watching films late into the night but also speaking at length about politics and subjects untouched upon thus far. I was in heaven. I was intellectually challenged and while I took the more experienced role in conversation, she made me rethink so many things that I can’t even list them. Although I was the talker and she, the listener, her comments redirected the conversations and opened me up to things I’d never thought about.

I was in my bed, the lights out, thinking about our conversations on Chinese and Russian investment in places where the US had withdrawn its funding and influence, something she was seeing up close and in person in her travels to Africa and Asia. It was remarkable to me how little this was in the news. In places where all the sacks of rice had been labeled Gift of the United States of America, now they read Gift of the People’s Republic of China. It made me happy that Jess gave a damn about such a thing.
Suddenly, I heard footsteps and the covers were pulled back. She was in my bed and spooned up against my backside.
“I’m cold,” she said in a pout, while edging into me as close as possible.
I smiled and touched her leg as she reached around me and cuddled in close. The heat of her body was wonderful. I hadn’t slept with my husband in several years and missed sleeping with someone so close. Her physical touch sent a shiver through me and it was accompanied by her fragrance and breath on my neck which set off all kinds of sensory reports going through my mind. She made no further moves and I lay there, unable to move and spoil this closeness she’d brought to my life. We fell asleep in the same position in which we woke.

I opened my eyes. It was early and I was always the first to wake. The outdoors, beyond my window, were blue and a silvery white, the tree limbs all covered in snow. I turned slowly and looked at the angel beside me. She had a perfect nose, lips, skin, brows, lashes. I studied her face for the longest time. I’d wondered for months what it would be like to be lovers, going to sleep each night…touching myself and thinking only of her. I wondered over and over what people would think if Chris was gone one day, and I turned out to be a lesbian, the next. Am I a lesbian? And what the fuck does that really mean? In this day and age, it means nothing. You love people, not a gender. I love this girl with all my heart but I’ve resisted her physically. Why? I certainly find her attractive. Well, shit, you fool, she’s one of the most beautiful women on the planet. Of course, you find her attractive. Your own kids are asking you if we’re lovers? They have no problem with this.
Her eyes opened and she stretched, then turned to find me looking at her. Her smile was deep and filled with self-satisfaction.
“Hey girlfriend. Thanks for letting me cuddle-up last night. I was cold. You were warm.”
I could stand it no longer. I could not be the impediment in whatever was to follow and I reached my hand behind her head, grabbed a shank of hair and pulled her to my lips.
She was the best kisser ever and I knew in a flash that this was perfect. This was right. We made love for hours…in the bed, the shower, the kitchen. I had to mark the date on my calendar for it was a holy day. I’d often wondered if my libido was lost to me; a disinterested husband, no lovers or affairs, just me, alone and untended.
I’d never been the aggressor in love making. I’d always been the submissive, but Jess took on that role and was so tiny in my eyes that I simply placed her where I wanted, lifting her and holding her hard and tight. The Molly Moncrieff character in my books was the woman I’d always dreamed of being and I set myself to take on that role. Jess made me feel so feminine, so womanly and for the first time in years I set myself to being the character in my books. All the lingerie and outfits came out of the closets, the blinds in all the first-floor windows were drawn and we simply found ourselves making love wherever and whenever the inclination surfaced, and surfaced, it did. I was making up for years of being alone and ignored and this lovely woman was the target of all my love and lust. I’d made her my possession and had to have her at every whim. Those two weeks were heaven and a true awakening for me, but as her schedule resurrected itself, she was gone once again in the blink of an eye. cocktail dresses for tall women

The spring brought new worries and a modicum of relief. Chris had fallen in love with a woman in St. Augustine, Florida, where he was doing his contractual work. She was a nurse and could care for him and love him and I was so relieved. The girls had told me of his happiness and we started speaking on the phone in a civil manner for the first time in ages.
Jess returned from Asia, only to leave again three days later for Europe. I wrapped up a consultancy and was again without work. The foreclosure on my house moved into the courts and I had two months to sell or vacate. Some girlfriends came over to reduce the clutter and stage the house for sale and I put it on the market. I was invaded by interested parties but all knew it was a foreclosure sale and all would wait until they could get it at a better price. My home was lost.
I had thirty days to vacate when Jess returned. I was so sad. Both my girls had been born here. I’d never lived anywhere as long as I’d been in this house. My garden started to bloom with spring growth and my dog lived outside amongst the plantings and blossoms. Unemployed, poor as shit, where was I to go and what was I to do? At fifty-one, no one was hiring. I was being interviewed constantly and my network was working hard to place me but money was running out and the clock was ticking.
Jess had sat me down to discuss my future. She would take care of me. She would sell her apartment and we could live together in a new larger one. Why I constantly declined, I’ll never know. I felt the need for independence. I felt, at the bottom of my soul, that I could not accept hand-outs or become another’s responsibility. I’d been raised to take care of myself. How could I become what amounted to her spouse? Oh, she was plenty rich and had the resources to make all my troubles go away, but I was determined that if I was to lose my house, then so be it. I would not let her save me from this.
Jess spoke at length with each of my daughters and they agreed that saving our little house was not the thing to do. Mom would have a problem with that for the rest of her life. But living together somewhere else was the answer. The two of them started working on me to acquiesce.

The packing started in June. Over twenty years in one house. We’d moved in and could barely fit and had twenty years to accumulate much more. Boxes, boxes, boxes. I could scream. I sold some things at Christies and hated myself for giving up Civil War documents handed down by my father. These belonged to my girls, I thought. These things were for the next generation and the next, but money had run out. Luckily, the judge in the final meeting of the court had suggested that the bank pay a portion of my moving costs.
Jess and I had had a terrible fight over my not wanting to be a kept woman. In retrospect, I now know what a fool I was being. But at the time, it was important to me to suffer…to pay a price. It never occurred to me how much I was hurting others in my stupid desire to be punished for something out of my control. Our family treasure, savings and finances had been swept away ten years earlier when Chris had suffered a traumatic brain injury in an auto accident. Twenty years of earnings gone in three months. Saving my house had never been realistic. Only the ridiculously overwhelmed court system in New Jersey had permitted me to hold on. And I did so at the expense of the equity which was left. Burned it up to remain in a home I could not afford.
Last month, Chessy took me to dinner and beat me up over my stupidity. She left me in such a state that I cried for hours…for days. I did not know how to apologize to Jess. But there was no apology necessary. She would set things right.

Moving out and Moving on

Jess put her studio apartment up for sale and simply bought a one bedroom on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, across the street from Central Park and near to where I had placed the characters in my books. Boris loved this area and he would thrive here, taking walks to the Bethesda fountain and through the Ramble…his favorite places. Then she rented a place in Hudson, New York, in the Catskill Mountains. This would take the overflow of things which could not fit in the pre-war high-rise in the city. She did all this over a weekend and then disappeared overseas again to work.
All my neighbors came to help me move. Some offered money, others set to work with boxes and tape and cars and u-hauls. Chessy and Rick took ten days off their own busy schedules and moved me out. We were so busy and overwhelmed with tasks that the trauma passed, mostly unnoticed. Many friends made the roundtrip drive to Hudson to help set up the country house. The city place was handled by a mover who could park on the street and move the heavy things.
I have painted every room in two houses. I’ve placed books, lamps, art objects and furniture, mostly on my own. Somehow, most everything I’d accumulated over the years has been saved, either on display or in storage. I can’t wait for Jess to see what I’ve accomplished.
I am writing this from my country home. Jess returns next weekend and I will drive two hours to JFK and pick her up. She asked me to write about us and to make our commitment public. But with me hiding behind my pen name and she, unwilling to reveal her true identity, this is more novel than documentary. I love her and that’s all that matters. She has made it possible for me to live and awaken from a nightmare. I love her. This is for you, Jess and I hope you approve.