Authors: Alice K. Cross
A nocturne filled the air of the music room as Elena sat playing for Jane.
How long she had been listening and watching, Jane didn’t know. She had lost track of the time and was feeling soft and light, a snifter of br
andy in her hand, as she lounged in a wing-backed chair.
It had not been difficult to persuade her Wellesley classmate to spend the first week of the winter holidays in her family’s otherwise empty home. Her uncle, aunt and young cousin, Gertie, had all g
one to London to stay in the home of Gertie’s fiance. They would be there well into spring when her cousin would be treated to a Parisian shopping trip for her trousseau before returning on an early summer steamer for a June wedding.
Jane was glad to have
college as an excuse not to join her family in London. Much as she liked to travel, she disliked always being in debt to her aunt and uncle, who were not even as close relatives as their designations implied. In fact her “aunt” had really been her mother
s cousin, before her parents had died of smallpox in the desert of New Mexico where Jane had grown up on her family’s ranch.
Jane had been fifteen when she became dependent on her distant kin. They made it quickly clear that t
hey had never approved of her mother’s marriage and did not intend to let her marry so frivolously herself. Of this she was glad, and it made it easier to persuade them to let her attend the new college for women. Though the expense of this was not small,
it cost them less in clothes and travel and balls than had her cousin’s engagement, though it had only taken her a season to find a match.
Jane would never marry. Her aunt and uncle probably knew this, but kept it politely to themselves. Jane didn’t care.
She had no desire to marry.
What she desired was the girl at the piano before her tonight.
Elena Whitman was a sweet Quaker girl whose own mother had been critical to the foundation of the women’s college. Elena’s plan was to study the law and spend her
life fighting battles in the courts for women who had been wronged in some way by the legal and social structure so pitted against them.
But this was only of passing interest to Jane.
Now her glance moved from Elena’s hands, skipping over the keys, to h
er feet pressing and lifting the pedals, to the back of her neck, where a tiny strip of flesh peeped between her collar and her low-gathered hair. Jane was overtaken suddenly with a desire to kiss that strip of flesh, and she rose quietly from her chair,
utting her drink on the table beside it and stepping lightly to the piano.
Elena played on as Jane stepped behind her, reached out and drew an index finger gently from her ear to the lace of her collar, then bent and kissed her neck. She kept playing sti
ll, as Jane began to draw out the pins that held the girl’s hair in place, slowly combing it through her fingers. At last, Elena sighed, stopped playing and leaned back against Jane, asking, “don’t you like the music?”
“I love the music,” Jane said with
a smile, “but the musician is irresistible.” And she turned the piano stool until Elena sat, facing her.
Jane fell to her knees and placed Elena’s hands on her shoulders as she reached to the bottom of the girl’s skirt and then beneath it. Elena leaned
down and kissed Jane for a moment, then pulled away with a grin as Jane’s hand moved up her thigh slowly.
“Shouldn’t we go up to bed?” Elena whispered.
“But it’s so far,” Jane pretended to complain.
Elena smiled and stood, shook her skirt and reached ou
t to pull Jane from her knees. Jane tried to kiss Elena again, but the girl smiled and grabbed her hand as she ran lightly through the big room, down the hall and up the broad staircase.
A fire burning high in the hearth was the only light in the room as
Jane half kissed, half pushed Elena to the bed where she reached under her skirt again and whispered, “did you hope to evade me?”
“Never,” Elena whispered back, and put her arms around Jane’s neck, pulling her face closer even as Jane’s hand crept higher
up her leg, slipped through her drawers and found a hot, wet place between her legs.
She pushed those legs open and moved four of her fingers inside Elena as the girl drew a long, ragged breath.
“More?” Jane whispered into Elena’s ear.
“Oh…yes…” Elena whispered back and soon Jane’s entire hand was inside of Elena, moving in time to the rhythm of her hips.
Elena did not flinch but pushed her hips up harder until, only a moment later, she cried out Jane’s name and fell back against th
e bed, breathing hard.
“Do you think me a beast for wanting you so much?” Jane asked Elena, as they lay in each other’s arms moments later, watching the fire.
Elena smiled and considered a moment before answering her. “You are not a beast, Jane Spa
rrow, you’re a pretty yearling colt, tossing your head and prancing about; making everyone smile at your brightness and promise.” And she ran her fingers through Jane’s hair and kissed the top of her head.
Jane rolled over, propped herself on an elbow an
d asked, “Can’t you stay one more night?”
“I’ve worn my mother’s patience thin. I’ve got to go home,” Elena said. “I don’t want to, you know.”
Jane stood now, and walked to the wardrobe in the corner of the room and opened a little drawer, reaching in
and pulling out a small velvet bag. “If you’re really leaving me, have your Christmas present now?”
She walked back to the bed. “Hold out your hand and close your eyes.”
Elena smiled and did as she was told.
Jane shook the bag and let its contents fal
l into the girl’s palm.
Elena opened her eyes and saw a flat band of yellow gold, carved with a star, in which sat a winking garnet. “Oh! It’s so pretty,” she said.
Jane sat beside Elena, took the ring from her pa
lm and placed it on the third finger of Elena’s left hand. “You’ll wear it always, won’t you?” she asked.
“Of course I will,” the girl answered, holding out her hand and admiring the ring.
Jane took Elena’s hand again and grew serious. “See the little
red stone?” she asked, “When I saw it, I thought of the little glowing coal inside of Ellie, that she tries to hide. She thinks no one sees it. But her boy can see it, however practical she pretends to be.”
“What nonsense,” Elena said, but pulled Jane’s
face toward hers for a kiss.
“And it means you belong to me always,” whispered Jane near Elena’s ear. “If you agree to have it, you must agree to that.”
“I would belong to you, ring or no ring,” Elena told her. “But if that’s what it means, you must w
ear one for me too.”
And Elena removed the simple monogrammed band that never left her right hand, closed Jane’s palm around it, and whispered, “I am yours, Jane Sparrow. Don’t ever let me go.”
Jane found a finger that fit the ring and put it on. “I ne
ver will,” she swore.
Elena was almost finished with her dinner before her mother mentioned the ring. Her father had excused himself to mark student examinations and mother and daughter sat alone at the table.
“What a lovely new ring, Elena. Where
did it come from?” Mrs. Whitman asked.
Elena looked at her hand instead of her mother. “Jane Sparrow gave it to me for a Christmas present,” she answered simply.
“And you gave her yours in return? Or have you stopped wearing it?” her mother said.
Elena bit her lower lip. This, she had not thought of. But of course her mother noticed the missing ring. She had given it to Elena at her graduation from Miss Ireland’s school. Elena had not taken it off since that day.
“I gave it to Jane, yes, mothe
r,” she said finally.
Her mother’s brow knit with worry. “Elena, you have always been such a sensible girl. You know that your father and I don’t mind if you do not marry right away—even if you should never feel led to marry, we accept that—so long as
you remain a sensible girl.”
“I hope I am sensible, mother,” Elena returned. “I am still the top student in my class. Professor Kent says that I am the best student he has ever seen—man or woman. What has a ring to do with any of that?”
frowned a little. But Elena recognized worry, uppermost in her expression. “You are too old to be infatuated with a girl,” she told her daughter. “You never gave in to such nonsense in school. I can’t see you doing so now, with such worthy ambitions a
“Jane does nothing to thwart my ambitions, mother. Jane is very—”
But her mother cut her off, “The girl’s attitude is not my concern, child. Do you really think the law is a profession for a girl silly enough to exchange rings with another
girl? And this Jane Sparrow—she is somewhat eccentric, as I understand from Polly Kent.”
Elena’s eyes clouded. But she took a deep breath. “I hardly think my legal colleagues will need to know my personal affairs in so much depth as to ask the origin
s of my jewelry,” she told her mother.
Mrs. Whitman sighed. “I don’t want to argue with you, Elena. But if you are going to insist on this friendship, you need to be aware of the reaction people will have. Things are not like they were when I was your
age and women could keep house together without raising respectable eyebrows. The world is not so innocent now—” she paused a bit and softened her tone to finish, “—even if you are, child.”
“Well, I’m not.” Elena found herself filled with an almost al
ien courage. “I’m not innocent, Mother. I love Jane Sparrow and I intend to wear her ring for the rest of my life—and she mine. If I can win the highest honors in college, I can be a lawyer and love Jane too.”
Mrs. Whitman said nothing, but looked at
her daughter for a long moment. At last, she rose from the table and said, “It grieves me to see you adding this burden to the challenge you already face. But tell Miss Sparrow to come for dinner on Saturday. You owe your father and me at least the op
ortunity to meet her.” And she left the room.
Elena put her face in her hands and took a long, trembling breath.
Jane took Elena’s letter from her breakfast tray and broke the seal. She leaned against the mantel and let her tea grow cold as she read an
Mother asks that I invite you for dinner on Christmas Day. You know, my love, how happy this makes me. And yet I must confess it came after a scene that has shaken my nerves.
When Mother saw your ring, she disapproved of me both for having accepted it and for giving you mine. But I told her I love you and I want to be with you for the rest of my life! Where do you think your Ellie found the courage to say these things to her
mother? It was your ring working its magic on me already. I looked at it and felt you were right beside me, holding my hand.
Jane, I know that at times, the world looks upon you with unkind curiosity. I believe that Mother fears that your friendship wi
ll draw that same curiosity to me. But I promise to stand beside you and use whatever weak power I have to deflect the slings and arrows that come your way, dear, dear girl. Your love makes me strong to do it. I felt somehow, more than my mere self whe
I spoke to my mother this evening. I felt magnified with Jane’s love.