Ruth couched the roses, dark as bloodstains, in the great glass vase that filled out the center of her dark cherry-wood dining table. She’d received the vase, tinted to a shade of midnight blue, as a present at her second wedding. Her second of three, so far.
Ruth wore black every day, out of deference to her husbands, all deceased. It set off her honey-blonde hair, her lips rouged to match the roses perfectly.
Her current live-in lover, Lina, came out of the kitchen carrying two fine china plates. She smiled when she saw Ruth arranging the blossoms with her white-gloved fingers.
Lina was broad-shouldered, toffee-colored, with thick black hair she kept pulled back and slicked down. Her heavy black brows always looked like they were halfway to a scowl, but her generous mouth and her eyes, always alert, offset that impression. She had stripped off her shirt, leaving exposed her ribbed white undershirt, but had stayed in her uniform pants, the ones with the stripe down the leg and the belt with its leather holster.
“Another admirer?” Lina asked, nodding at the bouquet on the table. “Isn’t it a little soon?”
“The proper mourning period for a dead husband is a year,” Ruth said, soft as silk.
“Not that that’s stopped you before.” Lina smirked. Ruth smiled and shook her head, but didn’t reply further.
Ruth had met Lina at the funeral of her last husband; Lina had been working as a security guard at the cemetery. It had been a whirlwind affair; soon enough, they were making love every night in Ruth’s marriage bed, and within three months, Lina was moving into the tasteful but richly appointed house Ruth had inherited in the will.
They never discussed Ruth’s former spouses, or the circumstances of their deaths. The centerpiece of Ruth’s dresser was a small display stand that held three diamond wedding rings, each stacked above the other. Her closet held nothing but the most tasteful of mourning clothes.
But Lina seemed no more than amused by the attentions that other men had attempted to pay Ruth since they’d met. The small gifts, the awkward, respectful gestures of flirting and wooing. The cool reception Ruth always responded with. Lina had never bought Ruth a ring, or any other jewel; her dresser was already strewn with tokens from her former husbands, and Lina’s small salary could never approach the riches they’d endowed her with. But Ruth was anything but cool to the ministrations of Lina’s strong, bold hands.
“There wasn’t a card,” Ruth confessed over dinner. “I don’t know who sent them.”
Lina nodded, her mouth full of garlicky pasta.
“But they’re just lovely, aren’t they?” Ruth continued, reaching up to stroke the petals with her fingertips. “Love’s blood and baby’s breath. It doesn’t matter who sent them, I don’t care.”
“Your food’s getting cold,” Lina said. Ruth obediently lifted a forkful of the pasta and its fragrant tomato sauce to her mouth.
“This is delicious,” she said.
“I made your favorite,” Lina said with a wicked smile. “Pasta Puttanesca. Whore’s delight.” Both women chuckled.
“I’m no whore,” Ruth said.
“There’s no such thing, though, as Coquette’s pasta,” Lina replied, and Ruth giggled, hand demurely placed over her mouth.
A moment later, Ruth said, “You know, our anniversary is coming up.”
Lina raised an eyebrow.
“Our half-year anniversary.” Ruth dabbed at the corner of her mouth with her napkin. “It’s been almost six months since you moved in.”
Lina smiled. “How could I forget?” she said.
“I don’t know,” Ruth said, setting her lips in a mock-pout. “Maybe I should be concerned.” She cocked her head and failed to suppress a small smile.
“About what?” Lina asked.
Ruth shrugged with a slow, fluid roll of her shoulders. “I don’t know. Maybe you’re having an affair.”
“You’re the one who’s getting flowers,” Lina said.
Ruth smirked. “Touché,” she said. “So what are we going to do for our anniversary?”
“Whatever you like, baby,” Lina said.
“Anything?” Ruth asked, coy.
Lina nodded. “Name it.”
Ruth put a finger to her cheek, thinking. “So many choices. I’ll have to get back to you on that. But remember,” she said, aiming a finger at her lover, “you owe me.”
“You’re not eating,” Lina said.
“It’s delicious,” Ruth assured her. “I’m not hungry. Not for food, anyway.” And she stood to clear her plate, hips swaying in her black crepe dress as she stepped into the kitchen.
Lina left her plate on the table and followed Ruth upstairs to the bed.
Ruth arranged herself on the bed, still dressed. Lina sat on the edge of the bed, one arm braced between Ruth’s parted thighs. She kissed Ruth once on the lips, then at the juncture of her neck and shoulder.
Ruth lifted her fine-boned hands to Lina’s belt. Quickly, she pulled it free, taking the leather holster that Lina wore with it. She cupped this to her chest.
“What are you doing?” Lina asked.
Ruth smiled like a child with candy and unsnapped the holster. “I’ve never touched your gun before,” she said. “Yet you wear it to bed every night.” She hefted Lina’s gun in her hand. Its barrel was narrower than she’d expected, the body heavier.
Lina had stopped undressing. “Put that down,” she said quietly.
Ruth glanced up at her lover, wrapped her hand around the grip, and rubbed the black barrel along her own thigh. She rubbed the dark metal suggestively, wiggling her ass on the bed’s comforter.