Eden 27:5

The sun stole through the curtains of the room and crept across the bed. Eleanor rolled into Bette’s naked arms and sighed.

“Beth.” She savored the name on her tongue.

Bette just stroked Eleanor’s hair sleepily.

“Why have we been hiding from each other all this time?” Eleanor said.

“It’s hardly simple…For one thing I have had the distinct impression you felt I would steal Eden away from you.”

“More the fool, I,” Eleanor said pulling away a bit and propping herself on an elbow. “She’s stolen herself away from us both quite capably on her own.”

Bette watched Eleanor’s face a moment. “What is she to you?”

Eleanor rose, pulled her dressing gown from a chair beside the bed and threw it over her shoulders. She walked to the window and pulled back the curtains. With her back still to Bette, she said at last, “She’s my heir.”

Bette sat up. “Your heir?”

“I’m leaving it all to her—the entire Stephens estate.” Eleanor still did not face Bette.

“That must put a strain on your relations with her.”

Eleanor turned now and walked to the mantel where she took a cigarette from a box and lit it.

“She doesn’t know,” she confessed, glancing at Bette.

Bette sat in stunned silence.

“For the very reason that I don’t want our relations strained in that way…” Eleanor went on, the smallest trace of defensiveness in her tone.

“But why Eden?” Bette asked.

“For a start, it will allow her to be a real artist—free her from crass careerism.” Eleanor gave a small wave of her cigarette. “If it were not for my money, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to write what I have written.”

Bette raised her eyebrows. “Am I a crass careerist, then?” she asked.

“You know that’s not what I meant at all,” Eleanor began, but Bette stopped her short.

“Not everyone needs an immorally vast fortune to have a satisfying life.” Bette reached to the bedside and found a cigarette of her own. “In fact, I’m not certain anyone does. You underestimate yourself.” She lit the cigarette. “You would have written what you needed to write—damn the critics, damn the censors—with or without your family’s money.”

Eleanor slumped moodily into a chair by the hearth.

“But Eden should know that you have done this. It isn’t fair not to tell her.”

“You don’t know her like I do. She would fight me like a bulldog over it.”

“Maybe not. But if you think she wouldn’t want it, why insist?”

“To whom else should I leave it? My cousins hardly need it and there isn’t anyone else.”

“Found a library,” Bette suggested.

“You’re joking, Beth. I could found a hundred libraries,” Eleanor said.

“So found a hundred libraries,” Bette countered.

“Let Eden found them. Let Sophia put a hundred girls through medical school…”

“Sophia?” Bette said.

“Damn.” Eleanor tossed her cigarette into the grate. “I forgot.”

Eleanor walked back to the bed. She sat beside Bette and pulled a hand softly across her collarbone and down to the swell of her breast.

“Last night was lovely—wasn’t it?” she asked quietly.

“It was,” Bette conceded. “But that has always been the easy part for us—for you—hasn’t it?”

“Perhaps,” Eleanor allowed. “That is no reason we shouldn’t do this again sometime, is it?”

“Mmm…” Bette was noncommittal. But she picked up Eleanor’s hand and kissed it before rising to dress.

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