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I’m told that in Spanish, saying that a man is “like a cheese” means you think he’s sexy. Maybe that explains why the Belles describe a hot-looking man as a “cheesesteak.” They’re from Philadelphia after all. The cheesesteak is an institution there, together with what I like to think of as its feminine counterpart, the tomato pie. It’s a thick crust pie slathered with slightly sweet tomato “gravy” redolent of herbs, and no cheese other than perhaps a sprinkle of Romano.


Santucci’s tomato pie, photographed by Michael Bryant. Click for source.

11. Belles Are Ringing

Lunch or a drink with the other women of the group was becoming a bi-weekly habit, and Ellen had suggested Susie Xing, a vegetarian Chinese place that served such unusual delicacies as Braised Seaweed Roll and faux “shark fin” soup, as well as familiar standbys like panfried noodles. Still adhering to her newly vegetarian diet, Emily enthusiastically seconded the choice for their Wednesday lunch date.

Although Susie Xing didn’t serve alcohol, the women seemed slightly boisterous, and less formal with Ellen than they were before. She wondered if it had to do with the perception that she was now a “real” member of their group, having slept with one of the men. Everyone had seen her leaving Brasília with Hector on Saturday night. According to Kim, there was no assumption that couples who “hooked up” were headed for bed, but Ellen supposed that sex was the usual outcome.

“I think we really are a club,” Emily was saying, “and we should have a name that has to do with Philadelphia.”

“How about the Philly Cheesesteak Appreciation Society?” volunteered Tina. ‘Cheesesteak,’ Ellen gathered, was one of their code words for a sexy man.

“The Tomato Pies?” suggested Val, referring to the local variety of topsy-turvy pizza.

Emily smiled. “I know. How about The Libertine Belles?” Everyone praised the name except Kim, who insisted that the group was not a club and didn’t need a name, but Ellen could see she was amused.

“We can be like the Oscars,” said Tina, “and bestow accolades on the most talented belle-ringers.”

Kim actually snickered. “And the award for the best Live Action Short goes to…?”

“Charlie!” came a chorus of voices. “Too bad there’s no category for Live Action Extra Long,” said Emily. “He could win both at the same time.”

“Angus should get Best Song, for the way he yodels in bed and sings you Celtic lullabies,” put in Tina.

Kim laughed. “Are you kidding? What about Jaime’s famous bull moose call?”

“Gerry the Drummer gets Best Visual Design,” said Val.

“Instead of Best Screenplay, we should have an award for Best Foreplay,” decided Kim. There was disagreement on the winner here. Some felt that Hector was the most deserving. “Haven’t you noticed the way he lets you lie back while he does all the work?” said Tina. “He’s such a gentleman.” But Kim thought that Jaime and Owen were both strong contenders, and Emily preferred Angus.

“I just hope nobody’s getting an award for cinematography,” said Ellen dryly.

“Oh Ellen, stop worrying about the sexting thing. None of our guys would do that,” Emily told her.

“We’re neglecting Best Supporting Actor,” noted Kim. “Have any of you ladies been lucky enough to have two leading men?”

“If we have, we’re not telling,” said Val. “But Angus likes to do it against a wall. I think he could win Supporting.”

“Or Stunt Coordination,” put in Emily.

“Nobody’s mentioned Hugh,” said Ellen cautiously. She was curious to know their verdict.

“Hugh’s not playing on enough screens,” replied Kim. “He’s in limited release. A shame, really.”

There was a pause, and then Tina said, “I hooked up with Hugh once. Back when I first joined the group.”

“And?” replied Kim. “Don’t tell me he’s a contender for Best Actor?” They all looked at Tina. Her eyes dropped to her empty plate, and she smiled, as though remembering something delicious.


After the others left, Emily and Ellen stayed behind at Susie Xing for another pot of green tea.

“That was fun,” said Ellen. “I feel as though I’m really part of the Belles now. But I’m still learning the rules. Now, let me see. You don’t ask anyone else whether they’ve hooked up, but you sometimes volunteer information?”

“Yesss,” said Emily. “Though I’m not sure I believe everything I hear. Angus and I never did it against a wall. And I wonder if Tina’s telling the truth about sleeping with Hugh.”

“Oh.” Wheels within wheels, thought Ellen. “Does any of you ever get jealous?”

“I suppose we go through little phases,” answered Emily. “But the men are there because they know they don’t belong to any of us, and they like it that way, so there’s no use being possessive.” After a few moments of further cogitation over her tea, she mused, “I suppose if one of us truly fell in love, she’d have to leave the group. It would be too painful to see the man you loved hooking up with other people.”

“Yes,” said Ellen. “I agree.”

“Ellen,” said Emily suddenly. “May I share something personal?” She sounded oddly formal.

“Yes.” Ellen waited calmly for her to speak. Emily’s face underwent an almost comical struggle as she tried to bring forth whatever it was she had to say. Then she looked up at Ellen, her eyes intent, and said, “I really want to be spanked.”

Ellen felt a moment of confusion. “Right now?”

“No, no,” said Emily, giggling nervously. “By a man, when I hook up with him. But you have to understand, it’s such an emotional thing for me even to say it. The other Belles know, but I’ve sworn them to secrecy.”

Ellen thought for a moment. “If you’ve never said it to a man, does that mean no man has done it?”

“One man did, once. It was thrilling. But he was a total dud in every other way, incredibly boring, and not particularly good in bed… after the spanking part, if that makes any sense. He wasn’t one of ours. I tried to tell Angus, but I couldn’t manage it. And I’m afraid he might tell the other men, and they would think differently about me, and laugh.”

This brought a new thought to Ellen’s mind. “Do the men talk about us? The way we were discussing them?” It would only be fair if they do, she thought. But she wasn’t keen on the idea.

“I don’t know,” confessed Emily. “Probably it depends on the man. They don’t seem to socialize together the way we Belles do.”

“Emily, I think you’re lucky,” said Ellen. “At least you know what you want. I don’t have the faintest idea what would thrill me. But if I had a thrilling possibility ahead of me, I would be very glad about it, and not ashamed.”

Emily’s face shone. “Oh Ellen, thank you so much. Is it okay if I talk to you once in a while about this? I’d like you to see my paintings too.” Ellen must have looked a little apprehensive, because Emily laughed again. “Don’t worry. All they show is men’s hands. But I’m thinking of moving on to belts.”

Copyright 2013 by Linnet Moss

Notes: Jaime Moreno’s famous bull moose call in bed is borrowed from a certain scene in a certain legendarily hard-to-obtain TV movie featuring a certain Actor. Jaime’s not based on this Actor, even though he follows the same profession.