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Face the Music
Face the Music is a combined sequel to two of my previous but unconnected stories, Forever Autumn and Smile (although both are set in the same fictional nameless city). In Forever Autumn, Sarah Rackham’s lover died in tragic circumstances while in Smile, minor character Gudrun Nyström, a young and firmly in the closet lesbian with domineering, homophobic parents, was being pressured into a straight marriage. It’s not necessary to have read these stories but they may help you to know the characters. Some minor characters and places in Face the Music have appeared in several of my earlier stories in both major and minor roles (no matter how hard I try to ignore them, they always manage to worm their way back in). Face the Music is a love story—there is sex but it’s secondary to the plot and does not happen immediately. I hope you enjoy it.
Characters in sex scenes are eighteen years old or over. All characters and places are imaginary—any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. NB: If you’re looking for immediate sex, this might not be the story for you.
Copyright © 2020 to the author.
“There may be trouble ahead/But while there’s music and moonlight/And love and romance/Let’s face the music and dance…”
Words and music by Irving Berlin 1936
As the thousandth graduate (or at least, that’s how it felt) mounted the rostrum to receive their degree diplomas, I was finding the whole thing an awful waste of time. I had come along at my parents’ insistence to watch a distant cousin graduating. Silly thing was this cousin and I didn’t even care for each other much, having nothing in common. If my parents were that keen, why hadn’t they come along in my stead? Because of my ‘duty’ to the family was their parrot cry.
What about my ‘duty’ to me? Do I sound bitter? If I do, it’s probably because I am. My whole fucking life had been subordinated to what the Reverend and Mrs Nyström fucking well decided for me. See how it’s getting to me? I never swear and yet I’ve thought ‘fucking’ twice—three times if you count that one—in a few words. Even as a married woman of about nine or ten years, I’m their little child still at their beck and call.
That last bit ought to tell you a thing or two, I can’t even remember exactly how long I’ve been married. The marriage was signed, sealed and delivered by the Nyströms, at least by those Nyströms who had any say in the matter. That left me out of the loop and I was too scared to refuse and to tell them I’m gay. It had been decided that I was going to marry Jeremy Davenport and that was that. And now I’ve turned thirty years old and I still let them dominate me. Conditioned reflex I guess. Although Jeremy and I have never actually discussed it, I don’t think he was all that keen on the idea of our marriage either. We’d been friends as children but little more than that. His wealthy parents pushed him the way mine pushed me. We had tried hard but it never really worked for either of us. So together we—how did Thoreau put it?—we lived lives of quiet desperation.
Ah, they’d reached the final few, the nursing degree students. Once they had their diplomas and the ceremony wrapped, I could have a ‘duty’ few words with my cousin and make my escape. Then suddenly they were down to the last three and a name was read out that made me take notice.
“Ms Irene Wetherill, the degree of Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours.”
I looked up, suddenly interested, and yes, it was my Irene, I couldn’t mistake that petite figure. I say ‘my’ although that’s not strictly accurate. We’d had a brief fling when we were nineteen or so. We were volunteer carers sharing a two-person hut at a summer camp for handicapped and underprivileged children. One night there was a very nasty storm directly overhead and I dissolved into my usual quivering whimpering wreck at each flash of lightning and doom-roll of thunder. Irene crawled into my bunk to comfort me (my loving parents would have just left me to suffer) and one thing led to another… We were ostensibly lovers for a few weeks, although my parents’ control over my life limited our time together.
And then I let her down—or dropped her crashing down from a very great height. My parents were pressuring me to get engaged to Jeremy and I didn’t have the guts to tell Irene. I just cut off all contact without warning and she had to find out from a local newspaper. Not a moment I’m proud of.
Back to seeing Irene receiving her degree. There was something very different about her and not just due to ten years or so having passed. She had always been a solemn little thing when I knew her—rarely smiling except when playing with the children—this probably due to abusive treatment from her father when she was young. casino oyna I recalled reading several years previously that he’d earned a long prison sentence for a number of offences including fraud and extortion. Then I realised what had changed about her—she wasn’t solemn now. In fact, she looked radiant with a most wonderful smile.
As the ceremony finished and the graduates mingled with their friends and relatives, I had a quick word with my cousin and then wondered if I dared speak to Irene and risk being rebuffed. I located her in time to see a small group greeting her, two men and two women. One man was huge, the other trim and tough-looking. I recognised the smaller man; his name was Jack something and he had been one of the organisers of the children’s camp where I had met Irene. Of the women, one was tallish with a short, near military-looking hair-style, the other around medium height with glossy chestnut hair falling to her shoulders.
Jack Whoever kissed Irene’s forehead like the loving father-substitute he seemed to have become, the man-mountain picked her up and whirled her round, both of them laughing as he did so, and the taller woman held her shoulders and kissed each cheek. Irene then turned to the other woman and they hugged fiercely, faces filled with joy and, more importantly, what looked like love. It seemed whatever had happened in Irene’s life, it beat the devil out of what had happened in mine.
I sighed and turned away. I was almost at the door when a voice called out: “Gudrun?” It was Irene. “Gudrun!” Irene smiled, “I thought it was you—couldn’t mistake that long blond braid of yours. You weren’t going to take off without saying hello to an old friend?”
She came over to me and hugged me closely, quite unlike the all-too-rare hugs I get from my mother. Mother’s hugs are arms-length and cold as if she fears I’ll give her some nasty germ while I don’t recall my father ever hugging me; he preferred to upbraid me for sins real or imagined.
I shrugged and gave a rueful smile. “Didn’t think I’d be welcome,” I mumbled.
She took my hands in hers, giving them a reassuring squeeze. “Of course you’d be welcome,” she said, “What went wrong between us was all so long ago. We were both very young and I realised later the pressures you must have been under. Did things work out for you?”
Another embarrassed shrug. I said that I’d got married and left the question hanging. Irene nodded sympathetically. “I guess it’s been a bit tough.”
“Yes,” I told her, “Could have been worse, I suppose. At least we haven’t any kids to worry about. Doesn’t stop my parents nagging me about that. But that’s my problem. How about you, Irene? Things look okay from here.”
Again the big smile. “Things are more than okay.” She gestured to the woman with chestnut hair who smiled and gave me a little wave. “That’s Annie, my wife. Come on over and say hello.” As we walked back, Irene added: “I met her a long time after I knew you and it’s thanks to her that I’m here today. I’d always wanted to be a nurse and Annie believed in me. Made me believe in myself and gave me all the support I needed through my college courses.” She smiled fondly. “And I think… what’s that saying? I think somebody up there likes me. “
I guess that’s what we all need: that certain somebody down here to have faith in us and for somebody up there to like us.
* * * * *
For a while following that meeting with Irene I think I was more discontented than usual. Not that I envied Irene her changed fortunes, it was just that I couldn’t see any easy way out of my situation. And as I’d told Irene, my parents nagged me about grandchildren. I don’t think it was any kind of family love drove that one, it was because it was the done thing.
But there’s an old saying: good things come to he who waits. And suddenly, good things did come, from my viewpoint at least. Perhaps somebody up there did like me after all.
I’d been out for a long day’s shopping and lunch with my mother in the city, as so often a fairly joyless affair. I drove her home and then went straight to my house. I say house because I never considered it a home despite it being a desirable property in Langton Heights, one of the city’s best areas. I saw that Jeremy’s car was in the garage which was unusual. As the owner and managing director of the engineering company founded by his late father, most days he was in the office until seven or eight in the evening. We were wealthy enough but I’d sooner have been poor and happy. I think Jeremy would too. He’s an accomplished artist but had been pushed into the business the way we were both pushed into the marriage.
He didn’t seem to be around but he could have been in his studio at the far end of the rear garden. It was then that I heard some odd little noises from upstairs. I ran up to investigate and when I reached the landing realised that the noises were coming from a guest room. Furthermore, the door canlı casino was closed and that in itself was odd. Crossing my fingers that I wasn’t about to disturb a violent burglar, I opened the door and stepped in.
Jeremy was on the bed with some woman, both of them naked. My husband’s penis was semi-erect and glistening as if he’d just withdrawn from her. She lay on her back, legs splayed, whitish droplets flecking her shaven vulva, a mixture of their mingled secretions I suppose. An odd thing happened. I’ve known I’m gay from the time I was a pre-teen girl, but other than that brief interlude with Irene years before I’d had no experience and I’ve had to suppress my natural instincts. Suddenly at the sight of the woman’s attractive face and nude body with fairly large breasts, I experienced an unaccustomed rush of yearning and my genitals moistened, quite unlike when I had sex with my husband, not that that was often now. Taking a deep breath I pushed the feeling down.
Most wives would have had a screaming fit or burst into tears or some similar reaction. I stayed calm. “Hello, Jeremy,” I said. Jeremy didn’t turn a hair but the woman shrieked and tried to cover herself with her hands.
“Don’t bother,” I told her, “I’ve seen it all now.” As an afterthought I added: “You’ve got a lovely figure.” Turning to Jeremy I said: “We’ll talk downstairs. I’ll be in the sitting-room.”
I made myself comfortable on the sofa and after a few minutes the woman appeared in the sitting-room doorway, clothing obviously thrown on in a hurry. The poor girl looked shell-shocked with tear-lines streaking down her face but despite that she was very pretty and again I felt that surge of longing. She was younger than me, I think—early twenties maybe—either that or she carried her years very well.
“I… I… I’m sorry!” she managed to blurt out. There was an accent there, American or perhaps Canadian.
I put a finger to my lips to hush her. “Don’t be upset,” I said, “I’m not angry with you. Tell you what, the study is on the other side of the hall. Why don’t you go and sit down in there for a moment while I speak to Jeremy.”
Jeremy appeared a few minutes later. He had slipped on a t-shirt and jogging bottoms but his hair was uncombed giving him a slightly schoolboyish look. He wouldn’t meet my gaze which made him seem even more like a guilty refugee from the classroom. He plumped himself down in an armchair opposite me and said: “I suppose you’ll want a divorce now.”
“I think we’ve both wanted that for some time, don’t you?” I replied.
He nodded, still evading my eyes. “Now you’ve got grounds.” This wasn’t entirely right. We could have used such reasons as ‘Irreconcilable Differences’, ‘Unreasonable Behaviour’ or similar but some of these are so vague. What we had now was a solid cause.
“Look at me, Jeremy.” He did so, reluctantly. “Did you stage this deliberately to give me grounds?”
“Not exactly staged, but…”
“But you hoped I’d catch you,” I finished for him. “So you used that poor girl.”
He did look ashamed. “Well, yes and no. I’ve been seeing her for some time and I’m in love with her.” He shrugged. “I suppose I did use her although it hadn’t occurred to me it would look that way. There was never anything real about our marriage, Gudrun, and we both knew that from the start. We were young enough to let ourselves be bullied into it. Both our fathers were used to getting what they wanted and they decided our marriage would be a good thing… well, for them maybe… what we wanted didn’t count for much. I had hoped we’d grow into each other somehow but it didn’t pan out that way.”
“Right, divorce it is,” I said, feeling nothing but relief, “We’ll sort the details out as soon as possible. Then we’ll have to tell our families. It’ll be easier for you—your father’s dead. I’ve got to face mine.”
“Shall I come with you?”
“Thanks but no thanks. It’s better that I deal with it myself.”
Jeremy looked relieved to hear this and I couldn’t blame him. If I could do this without facing my father I would. “In the meantime,” I said, gesturing to the doorway, “I’ll go and tell…?”
“I’ll go and tell Emily that everything’s okay with us.”
I walked across the hall and a look of fear flashed across the girl’s face. “It’s all right, Emily,” I told her, “You can call me Gudrun if you like. Jeremy and I haven’t been good together for a very long time and we’ll be getting a divorce.” I held out a hand to shake.
She looked at my hand as if fearing it concealed a venomous spider then cautiously met it with hers. Emily’s palm was soft and warm and I felt a little thrill at its touch. “You’re really okay with this?” she said.
“Yes, really, I’m fine with it.”
Not the whole truth. I had to deal with my parents and that was not an interview I was looking forward to.
* * * * *
Arriving outside the rectory I had an urge to turn kaçak casino around and run away. This was going to be difficult and my stomach felt empty and queasy at the very thought. It had to be done though—rip the sticking plaster off in one go as they say.
I let myself into the house knowing that my parents would have finished their lunch. They were very much creatures of habit or rather my father was. Mother just went along with whatever he wanted. Time to face the music. I tapped on the dining room door and entered quietly. They were at the table, the dishes yet to be cleared away. My father frowned at the sight of me. He dislikes anything that breaks into his routine.
“What are you doing here, daughter?” he asked, no welcome in his tone. He didn’t invite me to sit and I wouldn’t dare without his say-so. My father is a fine-looking man, tall and well-built with white-blond hair—very much like mine in colour only grey-streaked—which flows to his collar. But there is an element of harshness and intolerance in his handsome features and a total lack of warmth in his personality. My mother said nothing. She is equally cold but when father is present she leaves the conversation to him unless invited to join in.
“Well? Speak out!”
I had the old familiar feeling that my throat was closing and I took a deep breath. “I have something very important to tell you both…”
He snorted. “What is it? Don’t just stand there as if you’ve lost the power of speech that the good Lord gave you.”
“I… I’m divorcing Jeremy.”
“What?” he snapped as if not believing my words. “Would you repeat that?”
“I…I’m divorcing Jeremy.”
Crimson spots appeared on my father’s cheekbones, a sure sign of imminent rage. “What? Are you crazed? You will do no such thing! I forbid it! Do you want a scandal in the church?”
That’s right, father. Don’t ask why I’m taking such a step. Just concern yourself that there might be a scandal reflecting badly on your church. “I caught Jeremy in bed with another woman!” I blurted, “They were naked and had obviously been having sex.”
“Then the fault must lie with you, daughter! If you were a proper and dutiful wife there would be no need for him to stray. You will return to your husband and pardon his lapse, at the same time asking his forgiveness for your shortcomings. I forbid you to proceed with this absurd idea of divorce!”
In the past I would have capitulated, fearful of his temper, but now I was determined not to give way. “I don’t care what you say, father, I’m going ahead with this.”
He leapt to his feet, the crimson spots deepening as he pointed an accusing finger at me. “You will obey me! Remember thou the fifth commandment, honour thy father and thy mother!”
“And you remember the seventh commandment, father. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Or were the commandments written solely for the benefit of men?”
Shock showed in his face and I could almost feel the rage radiating from him. I had never openly defied him before. “Blasphemy!” He turned to my mother. “If you need me, I will be in the church praying for the soul of this wretched creature you gave birth to. In the meantime woman, chastise your child!” He stormed out and moments later we heard the front door slam. Mother cast a fearful glance at a narrow cupboard standing in the corner of the room.
“Don’t even think about it, mother,” I warned, “I’m not thirteen any more, I’m thirty.”
“Woman, chastise your child!”
How those few words brought fright and pain in equal measures when I was a child. They usually meant three or four strokes of the thin cane kept in that narrow cupboard. And always on my bare bottom. Oh, my father never did the dirty work himself. He would issue the command then exit, leaving my mother to dole out the punishment. She was too much under his thumb to disobey.
She turned to me, pleading. “Please give up this idea, Gudrun. It will cause your father such pain.”
“Cause him pain?” I scoffed, “What do you think he’s done to me all my life in one way or another?”
For a second I thought mother was going to fall to her knees. “Please, Gudrun.”
“I might as well tell you the rest, mother,” I said, “I was never happy in this marriage and neither was Jeremy. You all forced us into it. He wants out as much as I do. In fact, he more or less contrived it so that I’d catch him with his lady friend. And there’s another good reason why I’ll not continue with this sham of a marriage. I’m a lesbian.”
“No! you can’t be!”
“I know what I am, mother. I’ve known since I was eleven or twelve, thereabouts. I like women, mother. I am not attracted to men.”
She shook her head. “You must be making this up. I would have known.”
“No you wouldn’t mother, you know nothing about me other than what suits you and father.”
“If you’re a lesbian, why haven’t you mentioned it before now?”
“Because I was terrified of what you and father might do. Can you imagine how awful it is sharing a bed and having sex with someone you aren’t attracted to? Every time he put his… his thing… into me I wanted to be sick.”
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