A Lady’s Fable
Lottie Sutherland first met the satyr at the little Super Valu down the road from her apartment building. She was in the breakfast aisle picking out a cereal when the noisy clip-clop of cloven hooves sounded nearby. Her mouth hung slightly open as she looked up to take in the features of the tall goatlike deity approaching her.
"Hello, my little nymph," said the satyr, with a hungry grin.
Lottie's reluctant mouth worked to find coherent syllables with which to reply. "H-have you mistaken me for someone else?" she asked in a voice barely above a whisper.
The horned head shook back and forth. "Most assuredly not. Why are you so surprised?"
Licking her lips, Lottie clutched a box of Cheerios in front of her as a shield while she considered a response. "Well... for one, aren't you supposed to be... male?" Her eyes flicked up and down.
The satyr laughed, a musical sound composed of rich alto notes. It looked down at itself, and lifted both hands to weigh its heavy breasts like ripe fruits. The nipples were flushed a deep raspberry colour, and contracted to excited little peaks. Next, it slid its hands down its toned belly, and combed its fingers into the thicket of auburn curls that began below its navel and continued all the way down to those cloven hooves. At the apex of the thighs, gentle folds of flesh were just visible beneath the fur. Not a phallus to be found.
"What I am supposed to be," said the satyr, "is exactly what I want to be. Or, perhaps more accurately, what you want me to be."
"Me?" Lottie whispered. She held the Cheerios box in one hand now while her other hovered before her mouth in a demure posture. "I'm sure you must be mistaken. I'm just here for groceries."
That rich, smoky laugh sounded once more. The satyr stepped closer to her, close enough that they could smell one another. The satyr smelled of earth, wine, and sweet clover. Dumbstruck, Lottie adjusted her glasses and studied the strikingly upturned eyes. The pupils were ever so slightly elongated in a horizontal direction, and the colour around them was rich amber transitioning into green around the outer edge of the irises.
"Sweet thing," the satyr purred, reaching out to tuck Lottie's hair back behind her left ear with one delicate middle finger. "You have so much to learn."
Lottie held her breath at the touch, which left behind tiny tingles that danced and crawled around and into her ear, triggering a shiver.
"Think of me later," the creature whispered next to her tingling ear.
Lottie squeezed her eyes shut, and when she opened them again, she was alone in the breakfast aisle. By the time she'd dropped the sunny yellow cereal box into her cart, she'd already forgotten the encounter.
While she waited in line at the checkout, she thought she heard a faint clip-clop somewhere nearby, triggering an elusive moment of déjà vu. She felt a tickle just behind her left ear that made her gasp and shiver. The fifty-something man ahead of her in line turned to give her a curious look.
"Goose walk over your grave?" he asked, smirking.
"That must be it," Lottie replied with a nervous chuckle.
* * *
Lottie's cheek was mashed against a pillow she was sure hadn't been washed in months as she submitted to the vigorous pounding, her round behind stuck up in the air the way Tony liked it. The sex wasn't super horrible, she supposed. At least it didn't hurt anymore. Although it was probably a bad sign that she was thinking more about his pillow than his dick. In fact, she was thinking of pretty much everything but his dick. Was she bored? Had she simply had enough of sex? Did Tony just really suck at it, or did she?
"Ughhh, take it, whore, take it!" Tony grunted as he hammered a last few strokes and then pulled out to finish all over her backside before flopping out beside her to catch his breath.
She sighed--was it relief?--and rolled over, her back to him. She waited silently for him to say something to her, something boyfriend-y. Something that showed he cared the slightest bit about her enjoyment. She'd never climaxed during intercourse, and she'd given up hope that she ever would. Lottie did enough reading to know that it wasn't so uncommon for women not to orgasm from penetration, but was it also uncommon for guys not to have much interest in pleasuring their women? Didn't she deserve to get as much out of sex as he did? Every time she tried to talk to him about it, somehow he ended up making her feel like she was silly to even bring it up, or like any problem was her problem, so she hadn't even tried in months. Lately she was feeling consumed by ennui. Something had to change. Maybe she needed to break it off with Tony. Or maybe she could at least try to improve things a little.
"I've asked you before not to call me a whore," she whispered.
He patted her back clumsily. "Sorry, Char. You know I forget shit sometimes in the heat of the moment."
She released another sigh. Did he really not notice how unhappy she was? Or did he just not care? "Tony... I sort of wish you'd give me a little more attention," she ventured in a small, meek voice.
"Attention?" he repeated dumbly. "How is sex not attention? I could be alone fucking my Fleshlight. Instead I'm with you."
Was that supposed to be a compliment? Lottie took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts and her courage. She'd never been good at talking about her needs, about her wants. But the longer things went on like this, the less she wanted to care about upsetting others. Didn't she deserve the same things happy, sexually satisfied people had? Whenever her friends got together and gossiped about their sex lives, she always chimed in, but mostly she ended up pretending.
"Tony," she tried again, curling up into a fetal ball, "maybe you could help me finish...? No offense, but you don't seem to put in much effort."
Tony was silent for a few moments. "I don't know how to even process that," he finally replied, an edge creeping into his voice. "No offense to you either, but when you're just lying there looking bored and taking it, I don't get how you think I'm the one failing to put in effort."
Well, maybe he had a point. Lottie chewed the inside of her cheek and debated with herself. Usually this would be the point that she'd just give up. Tonight, she decided it was time to stand up for herself: "I'm kind of thinking more like, caring about me getting more out of it," she continued. "I want to get off too."
"You know best how to take care of yourself, Char," he sighed. "I mean, you gotta understand where I'm coming from here--honestly, most of the time it seems like getting you off is like trying to crack a safe. I have no fucking clue how to go about it, and every time I think I'm close, you lose it, or my hand gets tired, or whatever."
"Um... well, do you want to lick me a little maybe?"
Tony made a disgusted noise. "Maybe if you had a shower first. I just jizzed all over you. Maybe that's some guys' thing, but I don't really want to be sucking up my own load."
"Oh, forget it!" Lottie snapped, suddenly beyond frustrated. She sat up, kicking blankets aside and grabbing her glasses from the bedside table. She wanted to be done with Tony, and his dick, and his gross bed. She wanted to be done with all of this. "Forget it, Tony. I'm done. I'm really, really done." She grabbed an undershirt from his floor and used it to clean herself up before flinging it down again.
"God, fine!" he muttered. "Maybe get yourself a little vibe or something for next time."
She let her forehead drop into her hand. "No, you don't get it. I'm done done. With all of this. With you."
He sat up and glared at her, baffled and clearly pissed off. "You fucking kidding me, Char? You're gonna dump me because you're impossible to sexually satisfy?"
"I'm impossible?" she burst out, glaring back at him as she wrestled herself into her bra. "Maybe it's you who's the problem!"
"Oh, I guarantee you I'm not the problem," he shot back, sneering. "I can give you the names of at least half a dozen chicks who've screamed my name while riding this," he grabbed his penis by the base of the shaft and wagged it back and forth, "and I didn't need to jump through hoops for them!"
"Oh, that's classy," she replied acidly, working her limbs brusquely back into the rest of her clothes. "Well, feel free to go find one of your fake shrieking sluts then if you just want to feed your ego. I'm getting out of your life right now, and good riddance!"
"Yeah, back at you!" Tony snapped. "And just FYI, you're a cow. Good luck."
Lottie paused a moment, staring back at him as her eyes began to blur with tears. Tony was hot, and built, and he'd actually been really sweet at times. But there were some moments in life one really learned a person's true colours. She couldn't believe she'd wasted nearly a year on this asshole. With a huff, she ran her fingers roughly through her hair and turned to leave his bedroom.
"Try not to stomp so loudly, fatass!" he shouted after her. "My downstairs neighbours are gonna complain about the floor shaking!"
She took a deep breath to yell something horrible back at him, but it would have been pure immaturity. Moreover, he'd hit too close to home and she didn't trust her voice not to waver. There was a time when Tony would boisterously sing "Baby Got Back" at her while gyrating his hips, and as obnoxious as it was, it made her laugh and feel desirable. It made her feel like her curves might be something sexy that turned him on, rather than a drawback. Now she wasn't a girl with "great assets" anymore--she was just a "fatass".
Lottie left his apartment building for the last time and boarded a bus for home, taking a seat well apart from any other passengers, in case she couldn't hold in her tears.
At the next stop, an elderly lady wearing a plastic rain bonnet slowly boarded, and behind her, a tall, goat-legged deity. The lady sat just behind the driver, while the satyr clip-clopped down the centre aisle until it had reached Lottie, and took the seat directly next to her. Lottie hadn't given the satyr a moment's thought since the cereal aisle at the Super Valu this morning, but now, as she stared down at the furry knee bumping against hers, she found it very familiar. She inhaled the scent of earth, wine, and clover, and shivered.
"You smell of sex," the satyr remarked. Its nostrils twitched.
Lottie's cheeks burned. "I need a shower ASAP."
The satyr leaned closer to her and inhaled deeply. "Smells like he had sex on you instead of with you."
By this time, she imagined her cheeks were the colour of overripe strawberries. It was true enough, but she could make no reply.
"Why do you not take your pleasure as you will, my little nymph?"
Lottie's nervous eyes flicked up and down the bus. No one else seemed to be noticing the naked and incongruously feminine horned deity sitting next to her. "Once again, I'm sure you're mistaken. I'm not a nymph."
"I am never mistaken when it comes to beautiful maidens," said the satyr, smiling wide enough to show teeth that no natural human had.
Lottie released a short, sharp noise, the distant cousin of a laugh.
"You doubt your beauty," the satyr noticed. "Is that why you allowed that man to take his pleasure and leave you unsatisfied?"
With a little gasp, Lottie looked up, meeting those dramatic amber-and-green eyes. Her first instinct was to protest. Despite how she'd ended things with Tony, she didn't want to believe the situation was as grim as the satyr had bluntly stated. Maybe it was that word "allowed" that was digging at her. Nearly a year with Tony, and the physical side had always been unbalanced. She could blame Tony, but for all those months, she had allowed it, and that truth was difficult to face. It shone the light of responsibility on her. Certainly she had made her feeble attempts to speak up for herself now and then, but too quickly she'd given up and told herself that she was lucky just to have someone who wanted her body. You fold like origami, her friend Melanie had quipped on occasion. How mortifying to find out how true that was, now that she could look at her relationship with Tony through the clear lens of retrospect.
"I guess I really didn't think I could do any better," she whispered.
"My dear, sweet nymph," the satyr purred. "You can have the world if you only accept that you are worthy of it."
"But I don't want the world," Lottie protested. "I want... I just...." She broke off, even now hesitating to speak her desires aloud.
"What do you want?" the satyr urged. Its smile widened, once more showing too many teeth. "Say it!"
"I want... to be happy. I want to... enjoy..."
Lottie's tongue was frozen for a few tense moments. "Sex," she finally whispered. "My body!"
"Yesss," the satyr exhaled next to her ear, spurring a shiver. "It is an exquisite body, worthy of worship."
Lottie leaned away from the deity and looked down at her lap, making a skeptical noise. "I think you're in the wrong era," she mumbled. "It's been a few hundred years since a body like mine has been idealized."
The satyr responded with its characteristic smoky chuckle. "I speak of worthiness, nymph, not of a culture's fleeting aesthetic whims. You have fallen for a classic fallacy if you believe the two are the same."
Worthiness. Lottie sighed and looked up to gaze out the window. Billboards swept by, advertising clothing stores and beauty products, each of them featuring tall, willowy models with cheekbones and hipbones that stuck out. Who decided what worthy was? How could she be convinced of her own worth in a society that told her each day in a hundred subtle ways that she didn't fit?
"It starts in you, nymph," the satyr said, as if she had uttered her question aloud. "Not in the eyes of others."
Rolling her eyes, Lottie heaved another sigh. She'd been hearing confidence is attractive all her life, and of course, that old you-have-to-love-yourself-first chestnut. She was going to say something about it being easier said than done, but once more, the satyr spoke first:
"Think of me later."
The whispered words filled her ear with familiar tingles. When she turned, the seat next to her was empty, or almost so. There was a postcard-sized flyer lying there, advertising a temporary exhibit at the local art museum: Rubenesque. Lottie picked it up and gazed at the central image, a small print of Peter Paul Rubens' Leda and the Swan. The titular Leda was depicted as soft, pale, and curvaceous. She was thick around the hips and thighs, with dainty hands, feet, and breasts. Her round bottom almost seemed to be the focal point of the painting, somehow even more attention-grabbing than the large swan that seemed to be forcing itself on her.
"Baby got back," she whispered to herself, and smirked, slipping the flyer into her purse. She had no memory of anyone sitting next to her.
* * *
In the hopes of shoring up her damaged ego, Lottie contacted two of her closest friends and arranged to spend some time with them. Melanie and Chloe were sweet and treated her like a princess in her time of need, bringing her ice cream, brushing her hair, and taking her shopping. Still, she felt a sense of overall disconnect, and couldn't seem to place it. She could find no fault with how her friends doted on her, but she continued to feel the same sense of underlying ennui that had plagued her during her relationship with Tony. Sexual frustration might have been part of it, though late at night in her bedroom alone, she had a fairly decent time with her own fingers for company. She pleasured herself with almost spiteful enthusiasm, as if to disprove Tony's claim that she was "impossible". She was, in fact, extremely possible. It wasn't rocket science.
She told her friends only in the vaguest sense her reasons for walking out on Tony. She didn't discuss the sex issue in detail. As bad as she felt for never being open and honest with them about her problems, she still didn't feel quite comfortable telling them how little she'd been enjoying her sex life.
The shopping trips with her friends were bittersweet. She appreciated the attention as they handed her outfit after outfit to try on, and exclaimed over how pretty she looked, but she couldn't help but feel as if no matter how well-meaning Mel and Chloe were, she still didn't fit in. They were the sort of girls who were thin and pretty and had always gotten lots of attention from boys, the sort of girls you kind of wanted to hate but they were so nice you felt bad for even thinking so. Lottie worried at times she was just faking being one of them, and that she didn't belong in the sorts of stores they took her to. Sometimes she would put on a cute top or a dress and when she faced her reflection in the mirror, an outfit that looked adorable even hanging on a drab hanger managed to devolve into a mere brightly-coloured sack on her frame. They just didn't make clothes to suit short, curvy bodies, and she felt disillusioned even as her friends sighed and gushed and told her she looked so gorgeous.
In the back of her mind she was still hearing cow and fatass.
* * *
She found the Rubenesque flyer in her purse a few days later, and made the decision to attend the exhibit by herself. Her own bodily resemblance to Rubens' Leda had stuck in her mind. It was possible she might find it empowering to immerse herself in an era when bodies like hers had been celebrated in nude paintings. She considered taking Mel and Chloe along, but she felt embarrassed at the thought of them knowing how much she craved this sort of empowerment.
Lottie went early on a Saturday morning, and tried not to pay attention to the fact that she seemed to be the only lone visitor, while the other attendees were mainly couples, or groups of friends. The paintings were a feast of flesh, all voluptuous curves inadequately swathed in barely-there scraps of drapery. Wide-hipped goddesses and other mythical ladies cavorted, lounged beneath trees, struggled in the grips of creatures or muscular men. Some were lovely, some amusing, some baffling.
One painting in particular seized her attention for reasons she could not understand. Hypnotized, she stood staring at it for at least ten minutes, unaware of the world around her. The painting, entitled Pan and Syrinx, featured one of Rubens' typical soft, full-figured ladies, accompanied by gravity-defying drapery, with which she was attempting to cover her loins in a demurely protective posture. The figure apparently attempting to access those loins was the horned, goat-legged deity known as Pan.
Lottie nearly jumped at the softly spoken syllable near her left ear. Tingling and breathless, she turned, mouth open, to see a tall, androgynous woman standing next to her, staring at her. The woman sported a lazy, unstyled mohawk, and the wavy brown hair tumbling across her forehead stopped just short of covering her green eyes.
"Sorry to startle you," the woman whispered, smirking. "You were standing so still, I was beginning to wonder if you were an exhibit."
Warmth spread across Lottie's face and neck. "Oh," she exhaled. Her eyes flicked over the woman, taking in her long, slender limbs, comfortably clad in what looked like men's clothing. Feeling obligated to make some response, she groped for something clever to say. "Well... I may be on the Rubenesque side, but... I don't think he ever painted glasses or jeans."
The woman chuckled. It was a rich alto sound. Still standing next to Lottie, she turned to face the painting. "It is a particularly fascinating one, isn't it?"
"It is," Lottie agreed, "but I can't put my finger on why."
"Did you know it's a collaborative work?" She waited until Lottie shook her head, and then elaborated: "Rubens painted the figures, and the background was done by Jan Brueghel the Elder. They were the two major painters around Antwerp in their time, both getting commissions from nobles and royalty. Instead of being in competition, they ended up being buddies, and collaborated on a number of occasions. Rubens also painted with Brueghel the Younger when the Elder passed away. In fact, I think they painted the exact same subject several years after this one."
Lottie raised her eyebrows and looked from the painting, to the woman, and then back to the painting. "Wow. I had no idea. Are you an art history professor or something?"
"Only voluntarily, to annoy my friends," the woman quipped. "I'm actually a software engineer. Art's just a side interest."
"Cool," Lottie breathed. She chewed on her plump lower lip and tried to coax up a more extensive response from the depths of her suddenly warm and fluttering insides. "Um... I'm a 'barista'." She released a cynical huff and rolled her eyes.
"Yeah? Where at?"
Lottie glanced up at the woman, who seemed genuinely interested. Dare she answer? If so, she'd be giving a stranger the means to track her down. Did she want that? Her gaze shifted back to the painting, to Pan's hand reaching past the tall reeds to grasp at the nymph's diaphanous garment.
"Sorry," the woman whispered before Lottie could respond, "I'm being nosy. Don't worry about answering that."
Smiling faintly, deep in thought and still contemplating Pan and Syrinx, Lottie said nothing.
"Pan's such a creeper," the tall woman remarked after another minute's silence. "Most of the time he seems to go after everything he can't have. Syrinx, yunno... she was known for her chastity. A legendary, stalwart virgin."
Lottie let a little more silence pass before replying, with another tiny smile, "What a boring life."
The woman stifled a snicker.
They moved onward as a twosome, unconsciously having paired up as the only two apparent loners visiting the exhibit. Morning drifted toward afternoon as they discussed each painting they paused to appreciate, and eventually they ended up at Leda and the Swan.
"This story cracks me up," Lottie's new companion whispered to her. "Do you know who the swan is?"
Lottie shook her head.
"It's Zeus. Fucking Zeus. Like, for whatever reason, the king of the gods thought the best way to seduce a beautiful woman was to dive at her as a huge bird."
Both women covered their mouths to hold back laughter in the quiet museum.
"Who knows why stories like this became so celebrated in art?" the woman mused once they'd calmed. "There are so many depictions of this one alone. Sometimes Leda's obviously being attacked by the swan, and in others she seems to be, like... snuggling it. What really gets me is, look at how many examples of this weirdness show up in paintings of this era, in comparison to actual human couples. It's like it was somehow more socially acceptable to depict a woman being fucked by a bird or some supernatural creature than by a man."
"That is super weird," Lottie whispered, smirking. The other woman's liberal tongue amused her yet made her blush, and she glanced around to ensure there were no innocent youngsters or disapproving staff present to witness it before letting her mind drift back to the art. After a minute's consideration of the many female figures in the paintings she'd been gazing at, her smile faded. "These poor women. They always seem to be either love goddesses, or some dude is trying to chase them down and force them to be his own personal love goddess."
"Hm, yes. Women as either objects of worship, or objects for consumption. Is our culture much different?"
Lottie arched an eyebrow, remembering the beauty industry ads she often saw sweeping past her while she rode the bus. "Good point."
These poor women. Realizing she'd looked upon the Aphrodites with the same compassion with which she'd regarded the Ledas and the Syrinxes made Lottie feel a vague sense of shame over how resentfully she always looked upon the willowy models in the ads.
"Really good point," Lottie reiterated once she'd given the matter some more thought. They silently moved onto the next painting, which was Venus at a Mirror. A plump blonde Venus gazed almost smugly out at the viewer through the reflection of her small mirror, held up by a young Cupid.
Lottie took a deep breath, feeling somehow more able to speak certain private, shameful thoughts to a stranger than to her friends. "I've always sort of... felt this vague bitterness toward women who look 'perfect', according to modern standards. Or maybe 'envy' is a better word. I've often thought, 'They must have things so easy. They're so lucky.' But... maybe that's not true."
The woman glanced down at her with a little smile. "No, I don't think they have things easy at all."
"I guess women on both sides of the spectrum deserve compassion for the way they're, you know, pigeonholed by society. Or would it be condescending to feel sorry for them?" Lottie cocked her head, studying the Roman goddess who, with her gaze, tacitly invited the world to appreciate her beauty. "If a woman wants to be a love goddess, more power to her. But the idea that any of us should feel railroaded either up onto a pedestal or down to consumable status is just not okay, either in the seventeenth century or the twenty-first."
The woman's smile widened. "Well, now who's the professor? Very well put."
Lottie blushed, and uttered a nervous laugh. "I thought I was just rambling. You're very kind." Her throat was starting to feel dry. She swallowed with effort as she worked up the courage to ask a question she ought to have asked at least an hour ago: "Um, may I ask...? What's your name?"
The woman stood up a little taller, her broad smile growing brighter. "Sure. It's Lo."
Lottie's eyebrows went up. She wondered if she'd heard right. "As in... low rider? Or like... lo-and-behold?"
"More the second one," Lo chuckled. "But more specifically, short for Dolores. I know, it's a craptacular name, and the nickname options are equally unthinkable. I would never be a Dolly or a Lola, and certainly not a Lolita. Ugh!"
Lottie nearly burst into giggles at Lo's dramatic cringe. "Sorry! It's just... you make amazing faces. But I totally get it. I hate my name too. It's Charlotte, but I go by Lottie."
"I don't think there's anything wrong with 'Charlotte', but Lottie works. It's cute. It's you. I can't pull off 'cute', but you..."
They shared a lingering smile.
It was well into the afternoon by the time the two women were ready to leave the museum. They lingered near the parking lot, finding any excuse to keep talking and avoid parting ways. Inevitably, a lull settled, and it was then that Lottie knew her time with the fascinating Lo had come to a close.
"So, are you parked nearby?" Lo asked after a few moments' silence had passed. She was shifting her weight from foot to foot, seeming restless, perhaps nervous. She pulled out her keys, letting them dangle from one hand.
"I take the bus," Lottie said, her tone almost apologetic for reasons that escaped her. "Being a yuppie coffee slave hasn't yet made me quite wealthy enough for a vehicle."
Lo nodded and pushed back her untidy fringe of hair with the hand that wasn't jingling her keys. "Okay. Well... listen. This has been a lot of fun, and... I'd actually... really like to take you to lunch. How about it?" Her eyebrows went up expectantly.
Lottie bit down on her bottom lip. It had been fun, and she didn't want to call it a day. Still, she hesitated. Was this a date? Was she being hit on? Maybe it ought to have been obvious, but she wasn't used to being a recipient of flirtation, especially from a woman, and was more inclined to believe she had misunderstood the situation.
"I should clarify," Lo said quickly, before Lottie could come to any conclusions, "I think you're amazing, and super adorable, and yes, I'm asking you out. But if you're not into that, I totally get it, and I'd at least like to be friends. I promise I won't be a creeper like Pan and try to chase you into a marsh or anything."
The reference brought a giggle from Lottie, though it was partially nervousness. She looked down at her shoes, a simple, comfortable pair of flats, and then at Lo's clunky, square-toed boots. "I should really head home," she concluded. "Sorry. I just... yeah." She swallowed, feeling ashamed of herself, but the situation now seemed like something she needed to hastily remove herself from.
"Okay, that's cool," Lo said, peacefully accepting even her incoherent non-explanation. "Well... I said I wouldn't be a creeper, so I won't insist on inserting myself into your life. But I could at least offer you a ride home...? I promise I'm not an axe murderer, but I suppose that's what they all say."
Lottie looked up and laughed again, enjoying the woman's charming personality, yet still feeling the need to flee. It was as if she had a bright red ABORT, ABORT, ABORT signal flashing inside her brain. "That's very kind, but I couldn't possibly. It was nice to meet you." She took a step back, hesitated, looked toward the bus stop, and then back at Lo.
"Likewise," said Lo, offering a smile that seemed to bravely carry a burden of disappointment.
Lottie turned to leave, but had to stop, and turn back again. "Dark Horse!" she blurted out. "That's the coffee house I work at. Dark Horse on Third."
Lo's smile brightened. "I know of it."
Mirroring her smile, Lottie gave a single nod. "I'm there... most weekday afternoons."
"Okay then. Maybe I'll see you around, Lottie."
* * *
When the satyr showed up next, Lottie shrieked. She was in the bathtub, and had just surfaced after dunking her head beneath the water to wet her long hair. She wiped her eyes, and there was the deity, sitting on the lid of her toilet, watching her. Lottie scrambled to cover herself feebly with a washcloth, though the satyr was just as naked as she was. The water, churning from her frantic movements, splashed over the edge of the tub, causing a couple of the candles she'd lit to fizzle out.
"I've startled you," the satyr remarked with a twitch of amusement.
"No shit!" Lottie huffed, barely able to find a voice after the shock. Her heart was hammering against her ribs.
"Profanity, from my little nymph?" chuckled the goat-legged creature. "Perhaps you are finally beginning to free yourself."
Lottie shot the satyr a baleful glare. "Why are you stalking me?" she exclaimed. She narrowed her eyes and curled up tighter in the bathtub, remembering the predatory creature reaching through the reeds to grab hold of Syrinx. "Are you Pan?"
The satyr cocked its horned head. "It is a complicated question that would require a complicated answer, but it's not important. You're curious about me when you ought to be curious about yourself."
"Why, pray tell?"
"Because you still deny yourself."
Lottie stared back at the creature, her mouth hanging open in a paralysis of confusion, frustration, and shame.
"You know of what I speak," the satyr added.
"Do you mean... Lo?" Lottie whispered. "I'm denying myself... her?"
The satyr grinned.
Lottie released a sharp huff. "Look, I just got out of a relationship. More importantly... I'm straight!"
The satyr stood abruptly and took one large step over to her, its heavy cloven hoof landing with a clop! Lottie nearly shrieked again as the creature leaned down over her, hooking a hand around the back of her neck, exhaling earth, wine, and clover into her shocked face.
"Think of me later," it breathed against her trembling lips, and pressed its mouth to hers with almost bruising pressure.
* * *
She was rushing into the school bathroom, holding back tears. Before reaching a stall, she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror. She was dressed in a Halloween costume that she'd been so proud of this morning, but now it embarrassed her.
A late bloomer, Charlotte was only now, at fifteen, starting to feel more like a lady than a little girl. At the onset of puberty she'd initially tried to hide her body as much as possible, embarrassed by the changes and wanting to deny them. These days, she was finding the confidence to want to be pretty, grown up, even a little bit sexy. Other girls wore things that hugged their bodies, causing boys to stare. She wasn't sure she'd want to dress that way, at least not all the time. This year, though, she'd been preoccupied with the musical "Chicago", and decided to dress as a Jazz Age flapper. She didn't wear a lot of dresses, but this one was short, showy, and emphasized her curves. She even wore makeup, pantyhose, and borrowed high heels, all of which were a little weird for her, but she liked what she saw in the mirror.
At school, her friends gave her compliments, telling her she looked amazing, and that she should wear makeup more. Then, during the party at lunchtime, a boy told her loudly that her dress was too small and that her butt looked like a pair of beach balls. Several other boys had laughed, and even a few girls.
So she was here, hiding in the bathroom to avoid crying in front of her classmates. Someone, however, had followed her, and was pushing into the stall behind her. At first she thought it was a boy, and she nearly screamed, but it was a girl.
Francine Glasser, better known as Frank, had dressed as a boy as long as anyone had known her, and was so openly lesbian that she was downright obnoxious about it. Frank had been a troublemaker with severe behavioural problems, was in a few "special classes", and had been suspended a few times for destructive and defiant behaviour. She flirted with girls aggressively, making obscene gestures and comments. Hardly anyone actually liked her, and Charlotte found her particularly annoying.
Today, Frank actually looked pretty good dressed as a classic gangster, complete with pinstriped zoot suit and fedora. Her plastic machine gun and cigar had been confiscated, but she'd stayed in character all day. Even now, Gangster Frank followed her into the bathroom stall with a determined swagger.
"C'mere, dollface!" Frank said in a dramatically deepened voice, grabbing her by her long string of plastic pearls. "Don't listen to them saps. Yer a real swell dame."
Charlotte hadn't seen it coming, but suddenly their mouths were mashed together. She wasn't sure if it was because of the compliment, her vulnerable emotional state, the fact that their costumes matched eras, or everything together, but that moment in the bathroom stall with Frank had felt absolutely perfect. The kiss had lasted at least a minute or two before they broke apart, breathless, hearing voices approaching.
"I'd better scram, doll," Frank said, backing out of the stall and wiping away the lipstick that had smudged from Charlotte's mouth onto hers.
"Will I ever see you again?" Charlotte had panted, immersed in the role.
"Not likely, sweetcakes. But hey... we'll always have the bathroom stall!" Frank tipped her hat and fled the bathroom just as some other girls were coming in.
* * *
Lottie bolted upright with a huge gasp, splashing enough of her bathwater to extinguish the rest of her candles.
What had just happened? She must have fallen asleep, she figured, and dreamed of a memory several years buried. She put a hand to her lips, which felt warm and tingly, as if that kiss she'd been dreaming of had just happened moments ago.
Lottie got out of the tub and dried off. As she went about her nighttime routine, she couldn't stop thinking about that kiss. It had been her first kiss, though she'd never told anyone her first had been a girl. After the incident, she recalled worrying that Frank would tell everybody, or that she'd suddenly have to be a lesbian, but instead things had gone back to normal. Frank barely gave her a second look, and wasn't even nice to her when they'd been forced to interact in class. Still, that one kiss in the bathroom stall while wearing Halloween costumes had been the most romantic and sexy experience of her entire adolescence.
At a naive fifteen, she'd found it hard to wrap her head around Frank's behaviour. Now she knew there had to have been reasons for it, sad reasons. Frank had probably had a rough home life, and been discriminated against enough that she'd felt the need to live out her sexuality as loudly and obstinately as she could. In retrospect, Frank had perhaps contributed as much to her early exploration of her sexuality as she had to her reluctance to explore it further. On some level, young Charlotte had made the assumption that if she was going to be into girls, she'd have to be like Frank, and she didn't want to be like Frank.
Lottie fell asleep that night pondering what her life would have been like had she never denied a certain part of herself because of the personality of one individual. She dreamed of Gangster Frank, of Lo, and of something with horns.
* * *
Monday afternoon at Dark Horse dragged on for Lottie. It was one of those nightmare work days that seemed as if it would never end. Sometimes Lottie just about had her fill of coffee snobs, and her "customer service smile" was beginning to wane by the time she'd finished with a shrill soccer mom's bafflingly complex, inexplicable beverage order. As she took a deep breath and prepared to push herself back into the fray, she came face-to-face with someone familiar who instantly inspired a genuine smile.
"So you've tracked me down," Lottie remarked, glancing over Lo's white Oxford button-down paired with a tie covered in tiny ones and zeroes.
"In my defence, you made it easy," Lo replied, grinning back at her as she leaned on the counter, making firm eye contact.
"Granted." Lottie couldn't stop staring. Her heart was pounding. "Cute tie, by the way. Impressively nerdy. It's binary, isn't it?"
Lo, nodded. "Everyone at my office thinks it's hilarious, but outside of work only one person in thousands gets it. It just says 'fuck' over and over."
Lottie snorted loudly as she tried and failed to keep her laugh inside, and glanced aside to see her supervisor giving her the stinkeye. "Um, okay, that's hysterical. But I should probably appear to be a professional now. What can I get for you?"
Lo just kept grinning, charmed by her snort. "I'd be happy with whatever you might recommend. What's your finest cup of coffee?"
"The Kenyan medium roast is the absolute best," Lottie said. "We do the roasting right here in house."
"Sounds good to me. I'll take a large. Bestow upon me the dark nectar of life, coffee goddess!"
Lottie held back more giggles as she completed the transaction. Feeling cheeky, she wrote "NERDY LESBIAN" on the cup. Lo received it with a delighted laugh and snapped a picture.
"Already this is my favourite cup of coffee of all time," Lo said, winking. "The place is a bit out of my way, but I like the quality as well as the service. You may have just won a new regular customer."
"Well, I'll let you get back to work. I might just stay a while, though. I'm liking the, uh... ambiance."
The "ambiance" had likewise improved for Lottie, with Lo tucked into a comfortable chair nearby, alternately watching her work, or playing with her phone as she sipped her coffee. Lottie's mood was soaring until her supervisor confronted her about what she'd written on the cup. She silently cursed whichever of her co-workers had observed her and decided to tattle. Her cheeks were aflame with embarrassment as she feebly embellished a tale of the customer being a personal acquaintance, and something about an inside joke. Though her explanation did not fully placate her supervisor, she escaped with nothing more severe than a scolding and an imperative to apologize to the customer for the inappropriate cup label. Lottie decided to wait until the end of her shift, which was, fortunately, only about fifteen minutes away.
At last, she was able to hang up her apron, wash up, and escape. Lo was still hanging out, and offered a broad smile at her approach.
"You were right--best cup of coffee in town," she reported, holding up her empty cup. "And I may just have to keep this."
"Well, about that... I'm supposed to apologize," Lottie sighed, rolling her eyes.
"For what?" Lo wondered. "Didn't I say I loved the service?"
"Yes, well... apparently what I wrote wasn't considered appropriate." She felt the blush return to her cheeks, although she could not keep back a tiny smile.
"Well, I am a nerdy lesbian, so I find it entirely appropriate. And now I want to keep this cup even more. Your job's not in any danger, is it?" She quirked an eyebrow.
"Oh, goodness, no," Lottie assured her. "My shift is over, though." She bit her lip and gazed up at the tall woman who now stood up to face her. "There's something I genuinely do want to apologize for, though. The way I sort of freaked out and ran off on Saturday."
Lo shook her head. "Really, don't be sorry. I was pretty sure you were straight, and I took a shot. You weren't unfair, and you weren't cruel. Honestly, if you call that 'freaking out', you should see how some other straight chicks react."
Lottie shrugged, and looked down at their shoes. She wore comfortable sneakers, while Lo sported suede wingtips below a pair of simple navy slacks. "Well... I was thinking. You could ask me again...?" Her eyes flicked back up.
Lo grinned and shuffled a little closer to her. "Lottie," she said in a near whisper, "may I take you to dinner tonight?"
"Yes," Lottie replied, "you may."
* * *
By the time Lo was pulling up to her apartment building to drop her off that night, Lottie was feeling unburdened, and more alive than she had in years. At first she'd felt ashamed at how easy it was to tell Lo everything about her life, but Lo made her feel she didn't have to be ashamed of a single thing. She gave a thorough account of her life, her friendships, and her dating history, up to and including the sordid details of Tony and his unwashed pillow. She even talked about her first kiss, and how Frank's off-putting personality had likely been the primary reason for her hesitance to pursue other same-sex relationships for years afterward.
Lo had soaked up everything she had to say with seeming thirst, empathizing with her without laying on the sort of excessive coddling she'd gotten from her friends after her breakup. In turn, Lo shared plenty of her own history, from early explorations to her liberal college years and a brief experiment with bisexuality that was so ill-advised and so awkward that they both giggled over it, to recent years, her desire for fulfillment and stability, and her struggle to find someone she connected with who didn't just bring a heap of unwanted drama into her life.
It seemed backwards, but they had started with serious, intimate subjects and, toward the end of the night, worked their way back to lighter matters.
"...she orders a half-caff, half-sweet, extra-hot, one-third nonfat, two-thirds soy vanilla latte with--brace yourself--two percent foam. Talk about your special snowflakes! I genuinely suspect she derives sadistic pleasure from being an utter nuisance to anyone obligated to serve her."
Lo gaped at her account of the coffee order for a few moments before forming her hand into shape of a pistol and miming shooting herself in the head, complete with sound effects.
"Basically," Lottie agreed, giggling.
"You must have the patience of a saint," Lo remarked. "Or maybe I'm just not built for customer-service-oriented work. If it'd been me, she'd have gotten two percent spit."
"Gross!" Lottie laughed, giving her a light shove.
Lo pushed back, joining her in her laughter. "What, you have a problem with my spit?"
"Oh, I don't know. I suppose it comes down to context."
The two stared at each other, suddenly calm and silent, though both still smirking. Abruptly, they both burst out laughing again. Lottie felt heat flood her cheeks and neck. This stage of a first date was always nerve-wracking, though she didn't feel nearly as vulnerable as she normally would. In one evening she'd shown more of herself to Lo than she had to any boyfriend or even her closest friends. Instinctively, she knew Lo would never be one to throw any of her insecurities back in her face the way Tony had. Whatever happened from here, she felt ready for it.
"So, coffee goddess," Lo said softly, placing one arm across the back of the bench seat, "do you kiss on a first date?"
Lottie's heart raced. "I don't have any formal rules about these things," she said, grinning. "Once upon a time I would have been quite straight-laced, but these days I like to open myself to possibilities, and take things on a case-by-case basis."
"Oh, and how's my case looking?" Lo asked, reflecting back her smile and shifting closer to her.
"I'm very optimistic, in fact," Lottie said, her smile growing wide enough to cause her cheeks to ache. "So, if you wanted to kiss me...."
"Oh, I've been wanting to since I first saw you standing there in a daze, staring at Pan & Syrinx."
Lottie covered her face with both hands, a muffled squeal emerging from behind them. Lo reached out to coax her hands away, and kissed each of her palms. She brushed back Lottie's hair, and lips met lips. Lottie leaned into the kiss, a series of tiny shivers travelling all the way through her body. Lo's mouth was so soft, exquisitely soft. Lottie had gotten accustomed to a man's rough, devouring kiss and the abrasive scrape of his stubble against her sensitive skin. Lo was not only soft, but intuitive, deepening the kiss at just the right moment, and brushing gentle fingertips against the nape of her neck in a way that made her break out in a warm cascade of goosebumps. A kiss from Lo was something given rather than taken, and Lottie was breathless with gratitude as well as hunger for more.
"Good?" Lo whispered against her lips.
"Mmm... so good," Lottie sighed, placing a hand one of Lo's thighs and squeezing. "Come up?"
"Are you sure?"
They kissed with furious intensity all the way up in the elevator. The way Lo held her and touched her was like nothing Lottie had experienced before. When Lo's thumb drew up her spine, she went weak in the knees, and felt the other woman smile against her mouth. Lo wanted her to feel good. Lo derived pleasure from making her feel good. This was what Lottie had been missing.
In Lottie's bedroom, illuminated by the soft, warm glow of her bedside lamp, they undressed each other, piece by piece. Lottie marvelled at Lo's lean, athletic build. She didn't have many curves to her, but to Lottie, this was no drawback. She was magnificent, and Lottie felt privileged simply to be in her presence. Lo was likewise in awe of her, eyes raking over every soft line of her form, and warm, exploratory hands followed. Lottie felt like a goddess.
"You're so beautiful," Lo whispered, coaxing her down onto the bed and arching over her. "You're a masterpiece. You're just right. God, I want to taste every inch of you."
She leaned down and attached her lips to Lottie's neck, sucking gently, kissing, now and then darting her tongue out to sample the subtle salt tang of her flesh. Lottie melted, moaning, helpless beneath her as her mouth made its gradual way down her body until Lo was settled between her legs.
"Lottie," Lo panted, blazing eyes flicking up to meet hers, "I want to make you feel good. I know this is new to you, and I don't want you to feel any pressure to reciprocate. Tonight, I just want to please you, and get the taste of Tony and everyone else out of your mouth. Will you let me?"
Lottie blinked rapidly against the blur of threatening tears. "Yes," she gasped, "yes please!"
Under normal circumstances, Lottie preferred to stay discreetly quiet during sex, but in moments Lo's nimble tongue, laving, flicking, and plunging deep, had her yelling unbridled nonsense. Her legs wrapped around Lo as if to keep her in place, and one trembling hand reached down to massage the other woman's scalp. As Lo made a feast of her, answering each of her cries with growls of affirmation, Lottie's eyes rolled heavenward.
It may have been her distracted imagination, but Lottie could have sworn that, in the soft shadows dancing across her bedroom ceiling, she could make out the curious shape of a pair of horns as she inhaled a scent of sweet clover.