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Reflected Passion by Erica Lawson

Chapter 1

 

“Dale, try the basement. Some new stock came in the other day.”

“Thanks, Mr. O’Brien,” I told the shop owner.

The day started like any other. As usual, I was scouring the local secondhand shops in Boston for furniture. After all, that was my job. So being surrounded by dusty old tables, cupboards, and armoires was nothing new to me.

I knew this particular shop intimately, having nearly lived in it for the past two years. I spent most of my spare time searching the flea markets, waterfront antique shops, and furniture stores like Mr. O’Brien’s. Somewhere out there was the piece that would make my career. Don’t get me wrong. I loved restoring old furniture, but one day I knew my break would come.

I had worked in one of those larger antique clearinghouses when I graduated, reinforcing my love for all things old. But like any large organization, the clearinghouse was more interested in the politics rather than the preservation of beautiful furniture. It broke my heart to see such callous disregard of history for money.

Now I worked alone but, as they say, I had to “pay my dues.” I certainly didn’t have the reputation or the finances to play with the big boys. I had to resort to freelancing, like restoring old furniture for those families on fixed incomes who were searching for a piece of “old world” for their new homes. It was my bread and butter, and it paid my bills. Come on Dale, it’s what you chose to do.

I fumbled around in the dark until I reached the light switch to the basement. The light blinded my eyes for a moment as it cast an eerie glow across the room packed with everything from bookcases, bed headboards, and cupboards, to some things that defied description. I walked gingerly down the stairs and felt the wood creak under my slight weight.

The newest stock was, of course, closest to me. The older pieces had slowly gathered dust and spiders from their long hibernation in the back of the basement. None of these moved unless Mr. O’Brien sold something upstairs.

I was on the hunt for an armoire for a client. Its age wasn’t important, but I needed something that didn’t look like the modern stuff. Not that I blamed my clients. Today’s furniture was all steel and chrome, with nothing like the smell of real wood and old leather that could permeate the room with memories of a long-forgotten age. Maybe to some it smelled like grandma’s house, but to me it was history.

This shop was my last port of call before returning to my loft. I’d been wandering around most of the morning without success. I spotted a couple of new armoires in stock and quickly shuffled down the narrow passageway in an attempt to get to them.

One of the armoires was a little too modern, but the other one had possibilities. I quickly checked its condition and tried to look inside through the narrow crack of the open door. There wasn’t a ticket on it. I only hoped it was within my price range. While I considered this, I sifted through what was left. I just couldn’t help myself. I still hoped that somewhere in this jumble of wood was my future.

I looked through an assortment of old paintings leaning against the wall. I usually steered clear of art, but I used the exercise to think. Could I afford the cupboard? I knew I wouldn’t get paid for it until I delivered the restored piece, so the cost would have to come out of my meager savings. I looked through the half dozen frames and didn’t like what I saw. My love was furniture, not art.

But tucked away behind the artwork was a mirror… well, its frame anyway. The paint was thick, pock-marked, and a revolting pale blue color—hideous enough to make me cringe. I suspected there were many layers of similarly abusive paint underneath it. I didn’t know what attracted me to it, but suddenly I found the frame in my hands. I put it back and tried to walk away, but I couldn’t—as if it had some sort of magnetic pull on me. I circled it like a hungry wolf. I quickly formulated what it would take to secure it from Mr. O’Brien.

I climbed the stairs and held on for my life as the wood under my feet bent under my weight once more. How on earth did they get this stuff down here in the first place? Perhaps I didn’t want to know.

The portly owner was at his desk, perusing the morning paper with coffee mug in hand, just as I always found him whenever I visited. He watched me over the glasses perched on his nose. “See anything you like?”

“Maybe. You have an armoire down there. Not the pink one. I’m talking about the other one with the small carved panel in the top corner.”

“Yeah. That only came in yesterday.”

“How much do you want for it?”

“For you, young lady, how about two hundred dollars? You’re my best customer.”

Two hundred! I reviewed my current bank balance in my head. I wouldn’t get much more than that in profit on the piece if I bought it. Still, it would fit the bill, and he usually didn’t charge for delivery. Did I want to spend any more time looking? Not really. I was way behind on my work already.

I hesitated before agreeing to the amount. I didn’t want to seem too eager about what I really wanted to ask him. “I see you also have an old mirror frame down there. What do you want for it?”

“Old mirror frame? I don’t remember it.”

“It’s sitting behind the paintings against the wall. Big ugly thing painted a repulsive pale blue.”

“Oh, that. It came in a lot sale. Why? Are you interested?”

“I’m looking for something for my home.” I tried not to sound too eager.

“Yeah?” Unfortunately, he picked up on my interest.

“If the price is right…”

He studied me for a small hint that would give away how much I wanted it. He had me mentally jumping around on hot coals waiting for his answer. This guy should have been a cop. I would have signed any confession he shoved under my nose.

A huge grin split his chubby face as he leaned over and ruffled my hair. “Just razzing you, Dale. You’re so easy.”

I couldn’t help myself. I let out a huge sigh at the relief. “So…”

“I tell you what. You take the armoire, and I’ll throw in the mirror for free, okay?”

“Okay, you old rascal.”

“Can I deliver on Monday?”

“Sure, no problem.”

I handed over my credit card and felt the agony of the money slipping through my fingers like I was giving blood.

Mr. O’Brien laughed. “The look on your face…”

I sighed. “Yeah, I know. Spending the money is positively painful.” I left the shop to the echoes of his laughter.

 

 

I had a lot of work to do, but the weekend still dragged by. For some reason, I was eager to see that mirror frame again. The truck arrived mid-morning, and the men deposited my purchases in the middle of my work area. The loft was formerly a dance studio located on the top floor of a small office block, so I had plenty of room to spread out to work, while the bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom occupied the far end of the floor space. I checked the armoire and realized it would be fine for my client. Now it was just a matter of stripping it back to bare wood and applying some oil into its surface.

I turned my attention to what I’d been eagerly waiting on for the past two days. I carried the frame to the large window and examined it in the daylight. The piece was massive and quite heavy for a mirror, and it would cost a pretty penny for the replacement glass. The color was truly horrific—that sickly baby blue, which probably meant it had hung in a child’s room at some point.

I tried to look past the paint color and concentrated hard to take in the lines of the wood. The simple frame was ridged around three sides and decorated with a huge scrollwork panel across the top. It would’ve been quite elegant in its day and would be again if I had anything to do with it. I was eager to start restoring it, but my paying work came first. I put it aside for later and turned my attention to the armoire.

My cell rang. “Wincott Restoration.”

“Why do you have to keep up with this silly obsession of yours?”

My mother. Many times I’d had this conversation with her, and all we’d agreed upon was to disagree. “Hello, Mother,” I said flatly, already knowing this conversation would cut into my work.

“Don’t sound like that, dear. We haven’t heard from you in quite a while.”

“I’ve been busy.” But she already knew that. “I’m way behind on my work.”

“I don’t see why you have to work, Dale. Your trust fund—”

“My trust fund can stay untouched. I’m doing fine by myself.” My definition of “fine” was that I was just paying the bills. No way would I admit that to my mother, though.

“But you don’t need to work.”

“I suppose I don’t, but I love it and don’t see it as a job.” I tried to end the conversation. “What do you want?”

“Can’t I call my only daughter because I want to hear her voice?”

I remained silent.

“Fine. There’s a society ball coming up. Young Robert Claridge has asked me for your number. Please don’t embarrass the family by saying no.”

“If I say no, it’s not to embarrass the family.”

“Moving to Boston hasn’t improved your disposition, I see.”

This conversation was going nowhere. I knew very well what she wanted, and I wasn’t about to give up where and how I lived just because she said so. “I’ll wait for Robert’s call then. It’s good to hear from you, Mother. Bye.”

“But—”

I disconnected the call before she could get another word in. I would probably pay for that at some later date.

Finally, I got some peace and quiet. Inhaling deeply, I let my irritation bleed away as I put on my mask and picked up the stripping gel. For the next few hours, I could immerse myself in the feel of carved wood under my gloved fingertips.

 

 

It had been six weeks since I stripped back the mirror frame to its grain. I was pleased to find that the wood was still sound and would come up to a nice mahogany color when I finished with it. I had treated the dried wood with tung oil, and now I was ready for waxing before ordering the mirror. I took special care with this piece, taking my time to ensure it was done right.

Over the intervening weeks, I’d done a little research to try to find the history of the mirror, but there was nothing definitive about it to pin it down. It might have been eighteenth century, but I couldn’t be sure, or maybe someone had made a good replica of one. At that point, its lineage wasn’t of primary concern. Even if it was a fake, it would look beautiful in my bedroom.

This particular night was especially dark. The low moonlight from the first-quarter moon infused my loft in a gentle glow through the skylight. I ran my fingers over the soft, clean lines of the wood, my fingertips learning every contour and dip on this beautiful creation.

 

Closing my eyes, I gently caressed the frame and let the history in it sweep over me. I inhaled deeply and could nearly smell a faint scent—not turpentine, tung oil, or beeswax, but a woman’s scent. I continued to daydream as my hand swept over the swirls and valleys in the wood, the surface soft as a woman’s skin. Now why did I think of a woman? I’d never touched a woman’s skin this way except my own. Had the scent influenced my conclusion?

It had been a while, a long while, since I’d had any sort of physical relationship. Why? I was a normal twenty-seven-year-old female. Why didn’t I have a boyfriend? I had to admit my experience had been limited and rather unsatisfying, which was probably why I hadn’t actively found a boyfriend. I shook it off by telling myself I was too busy with work. The other possibility scared me.

My attention turned back to the wood as I slid my hands over the frame. Images flashed into my mind of a raven-haired woman. Her piercing dark eyes looked into my very soul to extract each and every secret I had hidden, even from myself. “Viens à moi, ma chérie…”

Now I really started to worry. Not only was I having delusions, but she was beckoning to me in French. I couldn’t even hallucinate in my native tongue. Maybe it was all that turpentine. I was lucky my hair hadn’t fallen out yet from the stuff.

Despite this feeling of detachment, I could sense a tickling in the pit of my stomach, something I hadn’t felt in a long time. Would it hurt? It’d been a while since I’d satisfied myself.

The sound and smell left me once I took my hands off the frame. I lay on my bed and searched for a fantasy to arouse me. Where were those images that used to sate me? I struggled because each time I found those fantasy images, they were overridden by a face with deep brown eyes and flying dark hair. Defeated, I turned to the face that refused to leave me.

Behind closed eyelids, I searched for her and listened for that deep, dark voice that, in a few words, flowed over me like molten honey. It shook me to the core. Despite my denial, I was taken with a woman who, for all intents and purposes, came from my fertile imagination. The harder I tried to fantasize, the more I subconsciously blocked her image. I was a heterosexual woman. That’s what I’d been brought up to believe, so why should I believe anything else?

My fantasy evaded me, and I struggled on without it to reach for that elusive completion. My fingers went through the motions mechanically, but I knew it wouldn’t happen. The harder I tried, the more frustrated I became, and the farther away I got from what I so desperately wanted. I lay there panting, knowing that there was only one way I was going to reach my goal, but was I ready for that revelation?

I pounded the bed in defeat. I couldn’t even get satisfaction by my own hand. I had to do something about this before it became a real problem. My gaze wandered over to the frame leaning against the far wall. These new feelings that bombarded me had all started with the mirror…

 

 

The mirror was now on the wall, and it had turned out exceptionally well. It had taken another week before it was complete. Handing over the mirror to get the glass fitted felt like I had given away my child. Earlier in the afternoon, the glaziers delivered the final piece, and because of its heaviness, they were nice enough to hang it for me.

I had difficulty deciding where to put it. The loft had an open-plan living space, so I placed it where I could take advantage of some reflected light. It wasn’t quite in my bedroom, but it was close enough for me to see it.

I worked through to early evening, but I couldn’t stop looking at the mirror. In desperation, I threw a blanket over it so I could finally concentrate on the job at hand. This time I was restoring an old kitchen cabinet. Maybe I was distracted because the work was laborious, or maybe it was the mirror.

I cleaned up around nine o’clock, and my appetite had waned. This would be my first night alone with the newly completed mirror, and I felt a swelling of pride. Finally, here was something of great beauty that I’d brought back to life. I tugged on the blanket, and it fell away. The muted light of the bedside lamp flowed over the frame, filling the hills and valleys with light and dark. I lay in bed watching it and slowly drifted off to contented sleep.

Later that night, something woke me and I was on instant alert. I grabbed the baseball bat near my bed and went in search of the sound. It was soft at first, like whispering. I moved around the loft to check the doors and windows. Everything was as I’d left it, but I still heard the sound. The low moaning then changed to a soft guttural sound that seemed vaguely familiar to me. I moved around the room to track the noise, but it seemed to be coming from my bedroom… no, from the mirror.

Feeling the coolness of the wooden floor on the soles of my feet, I moved closer, and the moaning became more animated. A low voice spoke softly in French. My phantom woman had returned. I would know that voice anywhere.

I gazed at the mirror and all I saw was what I saw every morning. My image. Looking back at me was a young woman with mousy brown hair and eye color of indeterminate shade. My mother said my eyes were a steel blue, like my temperament, but I always thought the color looked washed out. It wasn’t a vibrant blue like I’d wanted as a kid, but more of a blend of blue and gray.

As I stared at my reflection, an image emerged underneath it. Seated on a large bed was a nude woman. I closed my eyes to try and clear my mind of any thought and reopened them. The image was still there. My raven-haired woman perched on the edge of her bed while another woman knelt between her spread legs.

I couldn’t help myself. I gasped. Rather loudly, it seemed, because the woman opened her eyes and stared directly at me. Embarrassed, I backed away and out of sight. This couldn’t be happening. Was it my mind telling me something I didn’t want to know? Why was it happening now? I would see a doctor tomorrow… or visit a lesbian bar tomorrow night.

The sounds continued to emanate from the glass, and I again found myself drawn to them. Hallucination or no, I was curious, as a previously unknown voyeuristic tendency showed itself. I felt like I was on a balcony, looking down onto a stage as the play unfolded. The woman’s eyes were closed and a beguiling smile graced her full lips as the woman kneeling in front of her pleasured her. I couldn’t see exactly what was going on because her tiny body blocked my view, but my mind filled in the visual gaps. I might not be gay, but I knew enough to know what was happening.

I felt that tingling in my stomach again. It gnawed at me as I watched them together. Those dark eyes opened and met mine, her excitement rising with every second. She didn’t acknowledge her companion because her eyes were solely on me. I felt a light sweat break out on my skin, flushed with a rush of adrenaline, as she drew me in to feel her pleasure as my own. I wasn’t aware that my own hands had wandered to imitate her stimulation, until I was slowly climbing along with her.

Her passion-filled eyes moved from me to the kneeling woman. She demanded more in a deep, smoky voice that touched something very basic in me. “Oui, Madeleine… comme ça…” I didn’t need to translate her French to know she was enjoying what the woman was doing to her. She looked back up at me for a moment before a strong pulse of excitement caused her head to roll back to draw an anguished cry and expose her swan-like neck to me. Her pale skin was slick with perspiration, which trickled down her drenched body. I watched a bead roll down to her breast and hang for a moment on a perfect nipple before it dripped to her thigh.

My eyes were now riveted on the rest of her body. I had ignored it before because I could not see past the intensity in her eyes. Perfect. Absolutely perfect. Each part of her was like finely crafted porcelain, pale but combined in perfect harmony to present a very enticing picture.

I couldn’t deny what I felt right then. It wasn’t the act that excited me, but the woman in the throes of that act. It was to her that I was drawn. Her eyes captured mine once more, and I smiled. She smiled back as we shared the moment.

I suppose I’d always known who I was inside, but family and society had demanded my compliance. The only reason I ever had boyfriends was to please my family. Now, I finally understood that.

My mind mulled over this new revelation as I watched her. She was still babbling in French, but I knew what she said. Her excitement was my own, and I couldn’t help it as a whimper escaped me. My fingers found those places that stimulated me as I watched her hips move in that ancient rhythm that would bring her completion. She watched me as I watched her. We reached for that pinnacle and simultaneously slid over the edge into oblivion as it took us both. We cried out in unison as pure sensation rushed through us, joined together in mutual pleasure.

I stood there stunned and panting. Did I see it or was it all in my imagination? My fantasy female took a moment before standing, walking over on unsteady legs toward the mirror. I saw her body in full view for the first time.

My eyes scanned the room, noting the antiques liberally scattered around. I spotted the discarded clothing, and it looked old, perhaps a century or two ago. Looking back at my phantom woman, she was in surprisingly good health for a woman of leisure. Drawing my eyes over her from her feet, I took in the shapely legs, the flat, well-toned stomach, full rounded breasts, and a beautiful aristocratic face. She still had on makeup—heavy pancake with dark outlined eyes and ruby-red lips—as if she had come from a ball or other function. Her cheekbones were long and even, her forehead high. But most of all, those eyes, now closer to me, were dark as the night, glistening in the muted light. Exquisite.

We stood there looking at each other, possibly wondering if we were imagining what had just happened. She turned away and walked to her companion on the bed. She cast one final glance over her shoulder before turning her attention back to reciprocating the pleasure. I waited a moment longer to grace her with a smile and turned away. My brain had taken in enough for the night. Maybe after a good night’s sleep, it would seem clearer in the light of day. Perhaps I’d find it had only been a dream…

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