Boston, September 1904
Sophia walked wearily to the door of the house she shared with Claire. When she returned from Paris, she had looked up at the four walls of the little room in Cambridge where she had first fallen in love with Eden Smith and knew she had to leave. She told Claire she needed a new place to live and, as Sophia had guessed, the other girl offered to share a house. Now they lived together near the medical school’s main lecture hall.
Within a fortnight of the move, Sophia’s life had become a dull circle of waking early, going out to work for ten or twelve hours, coming home to eat in near silence, and retiring, exhausted to a bed in her room. There was no piano. But Sophia had no time for music now, anyway.
One evening, she was sitting by the small fire in her room, trying to read, when a knock came at her door.
“Sophie? Can I come in?” Claire asked.
Sophia didn’t say no and the door opened wider as Claire stepped across the threshold. “What is it?” Sophia asked.
“It’s nothing…but…are you all right? You have been so quiet since we moved in—” Claire bit her lip. “Is there something I’ve done to offend you?”
“Oh,” Sophia stood up, laying her book aside. She walked to her friend and took up her hands, “no, of course not. I have just been…It is only that…”
Claire looked at Sophia expectantly.
“Eden…” Sophia shifted her weight. “My friend…” but she stopped again.
“Yes. She…we…” But Sophia didn’t know what to tell Claire. Instead, tears welled in her eyes.
Claire raised a hand to lightly brush a tear away. “Oh, Sophia Abington, please don’t cry. What kind of person would do something to make you cry?”
Sophia looked up, tears freely rolling down her face, unchecked. And Claire leaned over and kissed her as innocently as a mother might kiss her child. But when Sophia did not pull away, she took the girl’s head in her hands and kissed her again, this time, with a passion Sophia had long suspected but had tried to ignore.
Sophia let Claire kiss her, feeling strangely disembodied as she did, as if she were watching herself from somewhere above. Likewise, she did not stop Claire from unfastening the buttons on her bodice, but rather, reached out to unfasten Claire’s too, crying all the while.
Soon the girls stood pressed breast to breast in their corsets and petticoats, kissing madly at the foot of Sophia’s bed. “Let me unlace you,” Claire whispered and Sophia did as she asked.
Sophia unlaced Claire in turn. It was something they had done often enough for each other, but tonight the simple act was tinged with an eroticism that Sophia had never felt any of those other times. She wondered guiltily if Claire had always felt it.
Stepping away from the pile of cotton at their feet, the girls fell into the bed together.