Disclaimers - Nope… none. These are my characters, it's my hometown, it's my made up not quite real but not quite fictitious company, and it's my insanity to be writing this on Christmas Eve.


A Present Under the Tree

By Melissa Good

The boat bobbed lightly up and down in the gentle surf, the brass riggings clanking softly in the easterly wind. The sky was mostly cloudless, just a few puffy white intruders drifting across it, sending elongated shadows across the blue green water as the sun tilted down towards the west.

The deck of the boat was draped in various types of scuba gear, two regulators hung neatly to dry out, along with webbed belts, buoyancy vests, net bags, and wide, duck webbed fins nestled in the well in the center. On the front of the boat, two figures were sprawled, soaking up the late afternoon sun.

"Dar?"  Kerry kept her eyes closed, as she yawned a little.

"Mm?" Her taller companion merely grunted an answer.

"You know, there's something really off kilter about spending the day before Christmas in my bathing suit, getting a suntan on the Atlantic Ocean."

"Yeah?" Dar lifted one eyelid, exposing a crystal clear blue eye and peered at her.

"Yeah…Christmas is supposed to be about sleighs, and ice skating on the lake, and Jack Frost nipping at your nose..  sweaters…static electricity.. you know." Kerry sighed. "I don't think I can do Christmas at 85 degrees."

"Ah. Not cold enough, huh?" Dar replied, opening her other eye and sparing her blond lover a droll glance. "I think you Northerners are nuts… out there singing in below zero weather…slipping on ice, crashing on the highway, having to have your driveways plowed…suffering with dry heat…" She spread her arms out, then let them drop to the soft deck pad they both were sprawled onto.

"No.. no.. you’re missing the point.. " Kerry objected. "Christmas has to have snow… and cold weather… ice on the lake… snow draped on the roof like in the movies…your nose has to tingle..it's part of the season."

"Okay.. no problem.. here you go.'" A huge handful of shaved ice landed on Kerry's midsection. "How's that?"

"Yeeeeooowww!" The blond flipped over, brushing her stomach off and reaching for a towel. "Dar!!" She yelped indignantly. "That was cold!"

"Wasn't that the point?" The dark haired woman asked, reasonably. "You were just complaining it was too hot, weren't you?" She bit off a grin as eyes the color of the surrounding ocean suddenly were less than a foot away, narrowing calculatedly. "Uh oh."

"Uh oh is right, you.. " Kerry scrambled for the ice chest, and grabbed a double handful, managing to get a good sized portion down Dar's back as she attempted to roll out of the way. "Ah ha… gotcha."

Dar chuckled as she stood up and shook herself off, then stretched lazily. "Well.. it's time to go in anyway.. sun's going down, and I have three status reports to review."  She extended a hand down to her friend. "I've been putting that off long enough…c'mon… it's getting a little breezy out here."

"Oh yeah." Kerry accepted the hand up. "It might go down to 80 degrees if we're not careful… that'd be dangerous."  She slid up next to Dar, and ran a hand over the taller woman's body, encased in a striking white bathing suit. "I like this one." She complimented her companion. "Is it new?"

Dar padded over and stowed the cooler. "No.. actually, it's an old one I came across when I was emptying out that chest of drawers the other day." She said. "Found some other stuff I'd forgotten I'd even had.. and some of the things Aunt May left here when she passed on." 

"Mm…. Well, it's nice, and I like it." Kerry stepped carefully around the end of the bow, and made her way down to where the steps lead to the cabin. "I'm going to put some dry clothes on…I think I have seaweed in places seaweed really has no business being."

The dark haired woman chuckled. "Make sure you didn't collect any cuttlefish in there again…you scared me half to death when you screamed from that last week." She let her eyes wander over her lover's slim form. "You look pretty nice yourself, by the way."

Kerry paused on her way down the stairs, and threw a glance over her shoulder. "Thanks… but if you're trying to butter me up so I won't pull any surprises on you tomorrow, forget it." Her green eyes twinkled mischievously. "Birthday girl."

One dark brow rocketed skyward. "Oh brother." Dar muttered. "I'm in deep trouble.. how did I let myself get talked into this, anyway?"

"What.. the party, having a birthday, or putting up with me?" Kerry asked innocently, then she came back up the stairs and relented. "I won't do anything horrible, I promise."

Dar took her hand off the throttle control, as she listened for the anchor to finish retracting, and gently cupped Kerry's chin, lifting it and kissing her with sincere passion. "Do your worst." She murmured, gazing into the sea green eyes. "But remember… paybacks are a bitch."

"Ooo… what are you gonna do to me?" Kerry crooned teasingly.

"Mmm… cross dressing full body stripper in the office?" Dar offered, with a full smile.

A momentary pause, while Kerry blinked. "Uh.. you wouldn't… do that… would you?"

Dazzling smile.

"Yikes." Kerry laughed, then leaned forward and kissed her. "Don't worry… I've got nothing planned that will rate me that." She reassured her companion. "I was thinking more along the lines of making your favorite dessert for the party."

"Ah." Dar forgot about the controls, and found more interesting things to explore on the burgundy-suited body in front of her. "I don't know that I have a favorite… " She nuzzled Kerry's ear, and heard the soft sound of approval that trickled from the blond woman's throat. "Well.. not that you could serve at a party, anyway."

"You saying… " Kerry paused a moment to let her breathing catch up with her. "I'm better than Death by Chocolate?"

A low, seductive chuckle answered her,  as Dar slowly eased her left strap down her arm, and ran a delicate finger across her sun-warmed skin. Kerry smiled at the answer, as she nibbled her way up Dar's neck, taking a slow backward step towards the tiny bedroom and drawing the taller woman along with her.

Dar went willingly, already working her other strap down, her hands warm against Kerry's damp skin. She returned the attention, easing the thin fabric over Dar's broad shoulders and tugging it down her body, running her hands over the taller woman's powerful back.

The quilt's warmth surprised her, as Dar caught her around the waist and boosted her up, joining her on the soft surface in one smooth motion, never letting up her nibbling.  The windows in the cabin were open, and a rich, warm breeze came in, bringing to her the salt smell of the ocean and brushing lightly over her bare shoulders as a lone gull called overhead.

"Still think we need snow?" Dar's voice purred into her ear, as the strong hands slid over her hip and down her thigh.

"Nu uh." Kerry pushed her companion gently over on to her back, and started a slow exploration downwards, starting at her collarbone, tasting the sea's richness on her body. "Wouldn't wanna try this up north."

The sunlight painted rich golden stripes across them,  in the fading sun of a tropical winter's day.


"Well." Kerry leaned against the console, now dressed in a pair of sweatpants and an overly large polo shirt. "I always wanted to see the skyline at night from this angle."

Dar sucked wryly at steaming cup of coffee, courtesy of the boat's small galley. "Lucky I have a position locater on this thing… we drifted a lot further than I thought we would."  She aimed the boat northwest, roaring through the utter darkness of an Atlantic night. "Teach me to remember not to pull the damn anchor up and get distracted."

Kerry muffled a laugh. "I've never heard that many curse words strung together at one time, let me tell you."  She peered ahead into the darkness, spotting a colorful string of lights. "Is that downtown?"

Dar shaded her eyes. "Yeah… that's the damn Centrust tower… " She identified the tall structure, kitted out in blue lights with white bulbs interspersed to imitate ornaments. "And I can see the Metrogonowhere from here."  The people mover, which traversed a downtown that nobody actually lived in was lined with rainbow neon.  The rest of the skyline came into view, tall buildings brilliant with lights.

"Is it still the Centrust tower?" Kerry inquired, enjoying the sight. "I think they went bankrupt, didn't they?"

"Yeah, yeah.. " Dar watched for the southern buoy. "I forget what it is now.. it's changed three times since then.. but I still remember it as the Centrust tower."

"Oh.. there's Bayside… wow.. it's really lit up." Kerry pointed. "Is that a tree on top of the Hard Rock?"

"It's something." Dar replied, with a chuckle. "Hang on.. I'm going to make the turn up Government cut."

Kerry obligingly slipped her arms around the taller woman, hugging her close. "Okay.. I'm ready." She announced, feeling the chuckle go through Dar's body, and the warmth as she circled Kerry's shoulder with one long, sweatshirt covered arm. "It's nice to have a couple of days off, huh?"

It certainly was, Dar reflected, steering the boat into the channel and heading for the island her apartment was on. First time for everything, I guess.. she mused. Prior years had seen her in the office even on Christmas, toasting the holiday with the grumpy cleaning staff who were forced to work. She'd brought eggnog last year, and it had actually turned out to be a little bit fun, coaxing smiles from the immigrant workers who hadn't expected to see any of the office staff in.

Not this year. They'd left work at five yesterday, and didn't have to be back until eight Monday morning, and she'd found herself looking forward to it even with it being her birthday, and having a threatened party thrown for her.  "Yeah… I'm having a pretty good time.. you?" Dar answered, with a grin.

Kerry nodded, stifling a yawn. "Very much so….even if I have to settle for palm trees with strings of pink flamingo lights on them."

Dar cut speed as she entered the marina, and steered between the concrete docks with casual skill. "Hey.. palm trees are naturals for lights." She pointed at the long row of the bushy topped trees that lined the drive coming into the marina. Someone had painstakingly woven tiny white lights between all the fronds on all the leaves. "See??"

Kerry peered. "Hey.. that's not bad looking, really." She sighed. "I like our tree, though."

A real one. Dar had insisted that if she was being coerced into getting a tree, it was at least going to smell like a pine tree, and not like extruded plastic. So they'd gone out, and found one of the seven zillion tents scattered around selling the darn things, trucked from North Carolina packed in snow, and picked out a Douglas Fir a little taller than Dar herself was.

She docked the boat, and they made their way up the winding path towards the condo, waving to various neighbors that Dar hadn't even known she had before the genetically friendly Kerry had started spending most of her time with her.  A soft strain of Christmas carols were playing over the island wide loudspeaker system, gentle hymns that chased them from tree to tree along the path, and Dar found herself humming.

"Sorry.. I didn't catch that?" Kerry bent her head closer. "Did you say something?"

"Um.. no.. I was just.. " Dar flicked a hand at the speakers. "Humming along.. .I like that one." She put a hand on Kerry's back as they walked up the path to her door. "I think there'll be roaming carolers around tonight… you interested in listening?"

The blond woman gazed up at her. "Roaming carolers? Jesus.. I had no idea they knew what that was  down here… sure.. I love listening.. say, Dar??"

"Yes?" Dar opened the door, and stood back to let her enter.

Kerry took a breath, suddenly a little nervous, knowing she was going into choppy waters. "I know you're not a religious person.. but would you like to go to a service tonight?"

The dark haired woman paused, and studied her. "I thought you said there wasn't any of your brand around here?"

"There aren't… really.. I… but my old pastor at home gave me the names of a few he thought I'd be comfortable with.. one's over here on South Beach." She paused. "It's.. not very formal."

Dar cocked her head, and considered that. "You mean it's no big deal if we go and hold hands?" She asked with typical bluntness, holding back a grin at the blush which colored Kerry's neck and face.

"Something like that, yeah." The blond woman muttered. "Um.. never mind.. it's kind of a dumb idea." She hitched her gear back to her shoulder. "I'm going to put up a wash of this stuff.. want me to get yours, too?"

"Kerry?" Dar caught her arm, and swung her around so they were facing each other. "Your.. faith is important to you, isn't it?" She ducked her head to make eye contact with the suddenly bashful woman. "Kerry?"

Reluctantly, the green eyes tipped up to meet hers. "I guess it's kinda silly, huh? After all, the scriptures say God turns his back on people like.. me."

Dar sighed soundlessly. "Kerry, no god worth his salt would turn his back on a loving heart like yours."  She gently rubbed a thumb against her friend's cheek. "I'd be glad to go with you." A tiny smile edged her face. "You're going to have to poke me when I'm supposed to stand up or whatever, though… I don't know much about it."

Kerry gave her a crooked grin. "I think I can do that.. it's not that hard, this kind.. not like we were going to Catholic Mass, or something."

"I watched that on TV last year." Dar commented. "The Pope one. It confused the hell out of me."

Kerry laughed, more at ease. "Yeah… I watched that too, the repeat after we got home from the late service…it's quite a circus."  She let out a relieved sigh. "Okay… well, it's not until eleven, so… you up for dinner?"

"After eight hours diving?" Dar snorted. "I could eat the couch for dinner, if you put a little A1 on it." She glanced outside. "It's beautiful tonight… could I coax you into joining me on a little outside table up at the Mansion?"

"Ooo… starlight, candelight, and you…. I think I can twist my arm." Kerry laughed. "On the single condition that you let me pay."  She raised a finger at Dar's protest. "Ah ah… remember our deal."

A sigh. "Okay."  Dar grumbled. "But the champagne's on me."

"Deal." The blond woman relented cheerfully. "C'mon.. I don't think sweats and polos are the dress code up there for Christmas Eve."

"Certainly not if you're wearing my polo shirt." Dar laughed. "But if you just add a belt to it, you could call it a dress, and that'd pass." The shirt hung almost to the blond's knees.

Kerry stuck her tongue out at her friend. "I like when they fit like this, and none of mine do."

"Well…. " Dar drawled. "Now I know to buy your shirts two sizes too big, and you'll be happy."

"Not the same." Kerry replied, a little shyly.

"No?" The dark haired woman inquired.

"They don't smell like you." Kerry admitted, looking up at her through fair eyelashes.

"Oh." Dar felt the blood heating her face. She cleared her throat. "I see."  She had a sudden, inexplicable feeling of déjà vu, but was fairly certain no one had ever expressed a preference for wearing her clothing due to the smell before. "Well then."

Kerry sighed contentedly.


"So… you sure this is appropriate dress and all?" Dar deftly directed the Lexus off the ferry, and through the terminal parking lot. "I'd always thought of church as being a lot more formal.. you know, hats, floral arrangements, that kind of thing."

Kerry brushed a pine needle off her crisply pressed shirt, which was tucked neatly into a pair of dark Dockers, and surmounted by a festive, embroidered vest featuring running reindeer and holly wreathes. "Well, I called the pastor there.. and he tried to get away with the 'whatever you feel comfortable in' line. But I didn't go along, and I told him if I showed up in a bathing suit with a Santa hat on, and everyone laughed, I wasn't going to be very happy."

Dar laughed. "Oh my god.. I'd have paid to see that."

"Dar." Kerry gave her a look. "Anyway, he said most people wore jeans or chinos, and something other than t-shirts, one or two people wore dresses or suits, and there's one guy who comes in a reindeer outfit."

"With antlers or without?" The executive asked, seriously. 

"Dar." The blond woman laughed.

"Sorry.. must have been those five glasses of champagne." Dar apologized. "Not to mention that Grand Mariner cake… wow."  She exhaled a little. "I feel like I'm going to explode."

"Mm… tell me about it." Kerry rolled her head to one side, and regarded the dark water stretching away from the causeway they were on. "Should I be driving?" She gave her companion a concerned look. "You seemed okay."

"No.. it's all right." Dar shook her head. "I don't feel it.. I just tend to run off at the mouth when I've had a few glasses of anything."  She gave her friend a light shrug. "Sorry."

Kerry patted her arm. "It's okay.. I think it's really cute." She confided. "Turn left up there, and it's three blocks down on the right hand side."

"I know." Dar muttered, as she navigated through the very busy traffic. "Jesus, it's a mess down here."

Kerry regarded her lover out of the corner of her eyes, approving the deep green sweater she'd put on over a collared shirt, which was tucked into her black slacks. The sweater was plain, but had pretty embroidery around the neck and cuffs, stylized birds chasing each other around and around in bold, clear colors. "I really like that sweater." She commented, reaching over to trace the embroidery. "It looks really good on you."  Snug, but not too snug, in fact. She mused.

"Thanks.. you look pretty hot yourself." Dar commented casually. "Here we go." She pulled into a small parking lot adjacent to an old fashioned, two story concrete building. The back half of the structure seemed to have been converted into a church, based on the stained glass windows, and that part faced the sea. "Must look nice inside during sunrise."

"Mm.'" Kerry agreed, feeling a little nervous now that they were here. Was this such a good idea? She really had no idea how to act, given the open nature of the church, or what kind of beliefs or services they'd have. The pastor had mentioned music, and when she'd told him her own denomination, he'd said she'd feel comfortable, but… She exhaled.

"You okay?" Dar studied her.

"Yeah… " Kerry folded her arms across her chest. "I've just never…um… this is really stupid, but I've never been in a place where mostly everyone was gay before."

"Oh." Dar chuckled. "Relax.. just act normally… they don't stamp your forehead when you go in." She got out of the car and twitched her sweater straight, then she waited for Kerry to join her. "You're going to think everyone's looking at you, so just relax, because they are. "

"Comforting. Thank you." Kerry nodded, sighing.

"Just think of what it was like for you the first couple days at work." Her companion reassured her.

"You've been down here… to South Beach before, I take it." Kerry inquired, as they started to walk across the lot, joining a small stream of others.

"Yes." Dar answered readily. "I used to cruise some of the bars down here in my younger years." She returned the appraising glances they were getting from some of the other attendees.

"Did you take your high school ring of then, Grandma?" Kerry poked her gently. "Listen to you.. 'in my younger years… yeah, when we had to walk to school uphill, both ways.. "

"Kerry.. " Dar put an arm around her and leaned closer. "Being a Miami native means you never, ever have to walk to school uphill." She reminded her. "Unless you live under the highway overpass."

They laughed, and entered the building, nodding at the tall young man who was courteously holding the door open for them.


It was weird. Kerry found her eyes flicking here and there, her eyes absorbing the collection of assorted couples and singles assembled in the chapel. That, at least, was mildly familiar, being roughly square, with a raised platform at one end, and rows of pews stretching across the floor. The pews were donated from various building projects from other churches, she noticed, and in one case, a temple. They were a mixture of woods and sizes, but no one seemed to mind. Missing were the typical Bibles, but there were hymnbooks, and she took one, thumbing through its well-worn pages to see old favorites and some she didn't know.

She and Dar were sitting about mid way on the left hand side, and as the room filled, she watched her lover's alert and interested eyes watching everything.

Of course, half the room, the female half,  was also watching her. Kerry felt a mixture of pride and consternation at the veiled, and in some cases, not so veiled looks of lust directed at her companion, but Dar seemed oblivious.

Or maybe not. She felt a warm arm slide around her shoulders as Dar leaned closer, on the pretext of studying her hymnbook. "So. What's that?"

The pastor's arrival interrupted her somewhat meandering description of basic holiday services, and they both turned their attention to the man. He was of medium height, with sandy brown hair and pale colored eyes, about their age. He gave everyone a friendly smile, then launched into a short sermon.

It was…interesting.  Kerry got the gist of it being a plea for more tolerance in the world, and she felt it probably was better off directed outside this room, since everyone in here seemed pretty darn tolerant to her. But she appreciated the sentiment, and he made several good points about how people who are persecuted tend to turn their anger outwards, and practice the same kinds of discrimination they themselves suffer.

Then three people got up, two men and one woman, and read some original poems they'd written. Kerry liked them a lot, and also the fact that they were contributing something of themselves to the ceremony. That seemed to her to be a good idea, and something other churches would be better off adopting. Sometimes the over usage of the old traditionals without infusing new blood made a church… well…  she remembered being somewhat bored as a teenager in her own church, feeling that the people in charge really didn't have a handle on what was going on in her world.

These people had a handle - their works spoke of the lonely feeling of standing out in a crowd, of having family turn away from you, and the last, spoken by a short, owlish looking man with horn rimmed glasses and a buzz cut, was about what it felt like to be told that God hated you.

Kerry felt that one, but in a way it helped to hear it, because she understood she wasn't alone. She wondered briefly if someday maybe she'd have the guts to stand up there and mumble a piece of her own, then decided it would be a cold day in Hell first.

Dar leaned over, after the man finished. "That wasn't bad."

"Mm." Kerry agreed softly.

"Stuff you write is better." The dark haired woman confided casually.

Kerry felt like an icicle had suddenly grown in the pit of her stomach. "What?" She put a hand on Dar's arm, and gripped it. A suspicion formed and she felt her heart lurch. "How did you know?"

"Uh… " The blue eyes opened wider, in consternation. "You.. you left a couple pages on the printer, I didn't… um.. "  The crowd was rustling, as the choir arranged themselves up front, and she glanced around. "I'm sorry. .I didn't realize you… uh… " It was very obvious to her that Kerry was very, very upset. "Kerry, I'm sorry."

Very slowly, she released the death grip on Dar's arm. "No… no.. It's my stupid fault… I left them on the printer." She got out. "That stuff is so personal.. I just… " Then she stopped talking, and her brow creased. "Wait a minute…you liked it?"

Dar let out a very relieved breath. "Yeah.. that one about the wind was great." She agreed enthusiastically. "And there was kind of a long one… um.. "

Kerry ducked her head. "That was about you, yes." She peeked at her lover, who was definitely blushing. "You really liked it?"

Dar nodded, then straightened as the pastor resumed his podium. "I guess we've got something to talk about when we get home, eh?"

"Yeah." Kerry smiled. "I guess we do."  She felt a quiet happiness lighten her mood considerably, and she  turned the hymnbook over to the page he indicated. "Okay… this is simple. They sing, you sing." She instructed Dar, holding the book up. "I like this one."

They stood up, and waited for the choir to finish the first section, then joined in when the pastor indicated. Kerry started to sing, then stopped, as a crystal clear voice soared up from right next to her. She felt her jaw drop, and she turned to look at Dar, who was trying very hard not to start laughing. "Jesus!"

The chorus ended, and the choir started up again. "Something wrong?" Dar inquired, a definite smirk on her angular face.

"You can sing!" Kerry whispered incredulously. "I mean, not just sing, but like… that sounded incredible."

A light shrug. "Yeah.. well, I guess we both have hidden talents then, hmm?" Dar commented loftily, as she put her hands behind her back, and gazed around the room. Some of their neighbors were giving her interested, sideways looks, and she lifted an eyebrow at them.

The rest of the hymns went by in a blur, and before she knew it, Kerry found herself in a log jam of people all trying to get out of the small building, and into the cool night air. Hands stopped them, though, and she found herself being introduced to a rapid succession of faces, male and female, most of whom seemed friendly, and they received quite a few invitations to coffee, conversation, and in one case, a psychic reading on the beach.

Everyone seemed fascinated by Dar, who assumed her business face, all cool attention, and brisk politeness, until the pastor caught up to them, and offered a hand.

"You're new." He stated frankly. "Or is this just a convenient place to catch a service?"

"Um… actually, I called here earlier… asking about the church." Kerry answered, a little hesitantly.

"Ah.. bathing suit and Santa hat.. I recognize your voice." The man smiled, and then gave her a wink. "Honey, you could have showed up like that, and I guarantee nobody would have minded a bit." He shook her hand. "I'm David Argnot… the pastor, plumber, and all around handyman of the church."

That forced a chuckle from the mildly embarrassed Kerry. "Nice to meet you.. my name is Kerry.. and um… " She nodded her head towards Dar, who was fending off the choir mistress, a striking redhead almost the same height as the executive. "This is my friend Dar."

Hearing her name Dar turned, and regarded him, her pale blue eyes standing out with startling clarity. "Nice to meet you." She held a hand out.

He blinked. "Anyone ever tell you you've got fantastic eyes?" He took her hand and shook it gingerly. "Not to mention a killer voice."

Dar gave him a brief smile. "Thanks… that was a nice speech you made."

"Ah.. it was nothing." He grinned. "You should hear me when I don't have a major worldwide holiday to deal with… speaking of which… services are on Sundays, in the late afternoons, in case I hadn't mentioned it."

"Late afternoons?" Kerry had to laugh, used to crack of dawn ceremonies at home.

"We're hedonists, and don't pretend otherwise." He told her solemnly. "I have a standing reservation with a beach, a blanket, and a picnic basket on Sunday mornings." He rocked back and forth. "So.. how about it? You guys be back?"

Dar gave him a crooked grin. "Depends.. do you serve refreshments?" Her eyes twinkled with amusement.

His brows waggled. "What..do  we look like Catholics to you? All that wine and cheese.. whoops.. wafers… " He took some joshing from the nearby listeners. "Nah.. just kidding… we usually get together after the service for some coffee over at the café across the street… they're used to us invading, and they make a killer seven layer dip."

"You should drop on by." The choir mistress urged. "There's lots of good talk, and stuff… we have a great time." She turned as a short, chestnut haired woman came up, and rested her chin on the redhead's shoulder. "Right, Anne?"

"Sure." The woman agreed. "As long as it involves orange juice and spanking."  She gave Dar and Kerry a wicked grin. "Whoops.. I'm in church.. sorry about that."

Kerry had no idea if Dar liked, disliked, or was thoroughly freaked out by the group. "Sure. Sounds like fun." She finally said, figuring she could drop by on her own, at any rate. It was strange, and not at all like what she was used to, but…the people seemed pretty nice, and she liked the pastor, who definitely had a good sense of humor.

"Great… we'll see you guys next week, then." Pastor David smiled at them, and exhaled, loosening his collar. "Hey.. surf's up.. who's up for some midnight swimming?" 

They edged their way out, and into the emptying parking lot, under the twinkling stars of a clear tropical night.  Kerry waited until they were in the car before she cleared her throat. "Um.. that wasn't meant to agree on your behalf, by the way.. I know… I mean, it's kind of a weird place.. don't feel like you're obligated in any way to go back." She explained. "I can just go back by myself.. maybe talk to some of those people.. two of the women are from the same denomination I am, so.. "

Dar ran a hand through her dark hair, and backed the Lexus out of it's spot, then she reached over and laid an hand on Kerry's arm. "Kerry, you know I love you, right?"

"Um… well, yes." The blond woman agreed, hesitantly.

"Have you ever seen what piranha can do to a cow, in under a minute?" The taller woman inquired, turning onto the main street.

Kerry's brows knit. "What in the world does that have to do with anything?" She asked. "And.. yes, I saw that Animal Planet special, thanks." She made a face. "They almost ate Crocodile Man's parts."

Dar stopped at a red light, and turned to her. "Good.. because that's what that crowd would do to you… if you went back there alone." She grinned, and chucked Kerry's chin. 'They know an innocent when they see one."

"I am not an innocent." The blond woman protested, then she paused. "Am I? I thought they were nice… they seemed okay."

"They were very nice, and I'm sure we'll find some great friends there." Dar reassured her. "But you gotta know the ground rules first, understand?"

Kerry thought about that for a minute. "Oh." She chewed her lip. "You mean the social side of things… yeah, they've got that in our church too, but it's different." She reflected. "They tend more to quilting circles."

Dar muffled a chuckle. "Well, I'm sure some of what this group does involves a quilt, at some point." She muttered. "But it was a nice service.. I'm glad we went… did it make you feel better?"

Kerry leaned back. "Yeah.. it did… maybe it's just the going through the motions thing, I don't know…but the poetry was good, and I liked his sermon.. and that choir is not bad." She reflected. "It was really different, but I enjoyed it."

"Good." Dar gazed out the window at the now thinned out traffic.

They drove in silence for a bit, then Kerry glanced at her watch. "Hey.. it's after midnight."

"Yep.. it's Christmas." Dar commented, as she turned onto the ferry terminal road.

"It's your birthday." Kerry gently corrected her.

The Lexus stopped at the loading ramp, as the deckhands started moving the surface down to meet the just docking ferry. "So it is." Dar leaned on the steering wheel, and regarded the choppy water. "I can't believe I'm thirty years old."

"Given what you've accomplished, I can't belive it either." Kerry admitted. "I feel so inadequate."

Dar blinked at her. "What?"

"Well, Jesus, Dar… you're only two.. okay, three years older than I am.. and look what you've done already.. I mean, you're a vice president, you've got a great career, this fantastic lifestyle… you're gorgeous.. you're successful… " She threw up her hands. "It's incredible."

Her friend regarded her seriously. "I never considered it like that."

Kerry half smiled. "I know."

Dar's cell phone rang, and she sighed, then pulled it out and flipped it open. "Yeah?"

"Good morning, Dar." Mark's voice sounded annoyingly cheerful. "Merry Christmas."

"Yeah yeah.. what's wrong?" Dar growled.

"Nothing." The MIS Chief drawled. "I was just calling to wish my favorite corporate shark a happy birthday."

Dar drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, and gave her blond companion a suspicious look. "And just how did you find out it was my birthday, Mark?"

Kerry peered innocently out the window. "Gee… look at that moon, will you?"

"A bird told me." Mark replied, the grin very evident in his voice.

"Uh huh.. is this bird about five foot six, with blond hair and green eyes?" Dar inquired wryly.

"Sorry, Dar.. that's secured info." The MIS chief clucked at her. "Anyway… you have a good birthday, okay?  I'll see you tomorrow, at your.. uh… Christmas party."

Uh huh. "Thanks, Mark…. I'll remember this." Dar threatened, getting a wicked chuckle in response, before Mark hung up.

Kerry was still peering out the window, apparently fascinated by the reflections off the waves.

Dar reached over and tickled her ribs, making her jump and squeal. "Little bird, huh?"

The cell phone rang again, and Kerry muffled a laugh as Dar sighed, then answered. It. "Yeah?" A pause. "Oh, hi Duks… yeah, thanks… I appreciate that… un huh… nope… what? Oh.. sure… hi Mariana… thank you… no, well, if I have to tell you, okay.. it's thirty." A longer pause. "Stop whining.. it's not my fault… okay, yeah, I'll see you guys tomorrow."  She hit the disconnect, as the ferry docked on the island. "What did you do.. send out a message to MIAHQUSERS ALL?" She demanded.

Kerry whistled softly under her breath. The cell phone rang again.


Soft strains of Christmas music intruded itself into Dar's dozing mind, and her mind sleepily identified the song as Oh Tannenbaum as she nudged herself a little closer to consciousness. The other thing that was poking her was the smell of pancakes and biscuits. 

"Mm." Her eyes opened, noting Kerry's conspicuous absence, which pretty much coincided with the delicious scents that now had her stomach growling. She rolled over and stretched, extending her arms out and yawning, as the morning light snuck through her blinds, and laid stripes across her bare body. She spared a glance down her length, tracing her recently reemerging abdominal muscles with an idle finger. The workouts with Ken and the almost nonstop swimming, diving, and climbing she'd been doing with Kerry were having an unintended effect, but she wasn't about to complain.

She took a deep breath, detecting the positive scent of the fir tree in the living room, and she remembered the piles of presents tucked under it, all neatly wrapped. God, she'd had fun wrapping up Kerry's… she hadn't played with tinsel and ribbons in years, and she'd gone a little overboard, making little colorful curls and bows. With a grin, she hoisted herself out of the waterbed and padded to the dresser, donning a t-shirt and her flannel boxers. A trip to the bathroom to brush her teeth and splash a little water on her face, then  she poked her head into the living room, hearing a soft humming coming from nearby.

Dar followed the sound, ending up in the kitchen next to a busily flap jacking Kerry, who was dressed in her favorite Tweety bird nightshirt, with her hair twisted back off her face. "Good morning ." Dar greeted her, with a smile, finding it hard to imagine what was like, only two months before, when all she'd have walked out to was the utter quiet, and sterility of loneliness.

Kerry leaned back against her, and tilted her head back, returning her smile. "Happy birthday." She kissed Dar gently. "Merry Christmas."

Dar glanced over her shoulder at the griddle. "Is that my present? I'll have birthdays every week, in that case."

"Chocolate chip pancakes, Eggs Benedict, biscuits, and that godawaful library paste you insist on eating." Kerry agreed. "It's almost done… go on out on the porch and let me bring it out."  She'd only just been argued out of insisting on serving Dar breakfast in bed, curtailed only by the taller woman's demonstration of just how impossible it was to eat in a waterbed.

"Grits." Dar replied, nibbling her ear. "Not library paste.. you just have to add enough stuff to it so it so they taste like something." She protested. "It's kind of like potatoes.. a delivery mechanism for butter, salt, and maple syrup."

"Right." Kerry gave her a push. "Go on… here, take some coffee with you.. I just put it in the carafe." 

Dar took the pot, and two cups, and ambled out onto the porch which was drenched in sunlight, and washed with a freshening, cool breeze from the northeast. It was cool enough for the sun to feel good as it warmed her skin, and Dar took a seat, propping her bare feet up on the stone railing, and regarding the blue waters that extended to the horizon before her. Above the beach, a gull soared, banking on long narrow wings in search of a tasty meal. The breeze ruffled Dar's hair, and she smiled in pure, animal satisfaction at the beauty of the day, and how good that made her feel.

The sliding door opened, and Kerry maneuvered her way out with a large tray, setting it on the table and looking out at the water with a smile. "Wow.. nice day."

"Yeah." Her dark haired companion readily agreed. "You sure about this snow thing?"

Kerry pushed a lock of hair back behind an ear, and poured two glasses of very orange juice. "Well.. " She handed one to her lover. "I'm starting to consider alternatives."

They shared breakfast, except that Kerry refused to touch the grits, even at Dar's insistent coaxing. "Sorry… sorry… I just can't… they look too gross, Dar."  She laughingly refused, taking seconds of eggs instead. "Leave me in peace with my hollandaise sauce, please."

"You could put that on the grits." Dar replied, undaunted.

"No." Kerry waved her off with a fork.

"What about if I put chocolate on them?"

"NO…. ugh.. look, I don't force you to eat broccoli, do I?" Kerry complained.

"Yes, you do." Dar replied. "In fact, you sneaked it into the soup the other week, and thought I wouldn't notice."

The blond grinned. "Whoops." She opened her mouth. "Okay.. one tiny taste."

Dar scooped up a forkful of the breakfast cereal, and placed it on her companion's tongue, with a wry chuckle.

Kerry mouthed the substance, then paused thoughtfully. "Dar, all I taste is butter, salt, and maple syrup."

"Yes, thank you." Dar smiled. "Now, what's wrong with any of those?"

"Nothing." Kerry leaned over and took another forkful. "Share."

They wandered inside after breakfast, and settled in the living room, where the tree nestled quietly in one corner, it's twinkling white lights and bright ornaments livening up the room considerably. Kerry stretched herself out on the couch, and pillowed her head in Dar's lap, as the taller woman started up a new CD of Christmas music.

"This is very different."  The blond woman commented, rubbing a thumb against Dar's skin idly. "At my parent's house, the first thing done on Christmas morning is everyone sits in the living room, and my father presides over the gift allocation."

Dar patted her arm gently, but didn't say anything. Kerry had spoken to her family once since Thanksgiving, a several minute long, anger filled, bitter confrontation that had left the blond woman shaken, but resolute, as she acknowledged her part in her father's exposing. There would be no going back there, and she knew it, and Kerry sadly accepted the estrangement, but Dar understood that it was still hard for her lover, even after what had happened, so deep was her innate love for her family.

And it wasn't over - Kerry had been asked to testify at the investigation after the New Year, and it was something she wasn't much looking forward to. Her part in the release of the information was not known to the public, but there were questions regarding her benefit from her father's crimes.

"We.. never really had a tradition." Dar quietly said. "It was.. just whatever was going on at the time where we were… dad would always have a present for me, but we didn't do a lot in the way of decorating, or trees… " She glanced at the colorful tree, which she found appealing, in an odd way. "Too bad.. they're kinda nice."

"Yeah." Kerry smiled a little. "So.. you want to open stuff now, or later?"

Dar grinned like a little kid.

"I guess that answers that." The blond woman laughed, folding her arms over her stomach and gazing up. "Besides, we have to clear some space.. I've got a feeling a few more things might end up under there during the party." Her eyes twinkled.

"Urgh." Dar winced. "Well, if I have to… " She tickled Kerry's ribs through the soft cotton of her shirt. "C'mon.. let's go."

They settled at the foot of the tree, among little stacks of wrapped packages. "I think we went a little overboard." Dar remarked dryly, observing the piles. "Considering that there's only two of us here."

Kerry rubbed her nose. "Well.. maybe.. yeah.. but.. " She paused, and took a breath. "I didn't have too many people to shop for this year, so.. I guess I kinda made up for that with you."

Dar glanced down, and fiddle with the edge of her shirt. "So.. what's my excuse.?" She replied quietly, not thinking about the one, tiny package still tucked away in her dresser, unsure if they were ready for that. Unsure if they ever would be, and having shocked herself almost silly when she'd walked out of Mayors with it. "My usual Christmas morning up till now has been a chocolate croissant, watching videos on VH1, and a run on the beach."

"I don't know… " Kerry pushed her hair back. "Maybe we can make some new traditions…I always looked on Christmas shopping as kind of a chore, especially for my parents, but it didn't seem that way for you."

"Yeah." The dark haired woman smiled a little, regarding the tile floor she was seated on. "I walked out of the mall the other week, and couldn’t believe all the stuff I had." She looked up. "Does that make you feel uncomfortable?"  She knew Kerry felt very strongly about her own independence, and insisted on sharing all their expenses, regardless of the fact that Dar kept telling her she had more money than she knew what to do with.

"Well… " Kerry peered around at the veritable mountain of packages. "I'd probably freak out if you bought me a pony or something.. but I guess I'll survive."  She grinned engagingly at her companion. "Besides…I think I kept pace with you…but I think you know that if you'd gotten me a box of Kleenex for Christmas, I'd have been happy." She leaned over and curled her fingers around Dar's. "You're the only gift that really matters to me."

Dar smiled. "Likewise." She glanced around. "But we'd better get this stuff opened." She squeezed Kerry's hand. "Hey.. the Disney parade is on at ten.. let me put it on."

Kerry laughed, and started sorting the packages, when her cell phone rang. "Oh hell.. " She glanced around. "Can you hand me that? " She'd arranged to have her apartment phone number forwarded to the portable phone., and now she opened it as Dar gave it over. "Hello?"

"Merry Christmas, chica." Colleen's laughing voice boomed. "I knew I wasn't gonna see you around here before the party, so I thought I'd call."

Kerry smiled. "Thanks.. Merry Christmas to you, too, Col.. how did it go at your mom's last night?" Colleen's family opened their presents on Christmas Eve, before they all trooped solemnly off to Midnight Mass.

"O My God… " Colleen moaned. "I need a Uhaul to get all the stuff back here.. my mother, bless her Irish little heart, went berserk this year, and got me everything from new towels to underwear."

"Hey.. that's so sweet." The blond woman laughed. "Did all your brothers and sisters show up?"

"Oh yeah.. it was a real Irish circus, let me tell ya.. the blarney was flying like nothing doing…we had a great time, except my brothers got into the usual fistfight, and we ended up dragging Mike to the emergency room after Mass to have a stitch put in his lip."

"Ow." Kerry made a face.

"How was your night?" Colleen asked.

"Well, we spent the day diving yesterday… then we had dinner overlooking the ocean, and we went to a service down here on the beach…it was really nice." Kerry told her, watching Dar pluck at a corner of wrapping, as she waited. "We just had breakfast, and we're about to dive into some unwrapping."

"Trade ya." Colleen sighed. "I had to spend the night listening to my aunts and uncles tell me how it was in the good old days, and ask me when I was getting hitched, and tell me how chubby I am."

Interesting perspective, Kerry thought. "Funny.. that's exactly what I'd have been doing. " She commented. "No trade."  She saw a slow, almost shy smile appear on Dar's face, as she pieced together the conversation. "So, when you coming over here?"

"Weeeell… you said the party started at seven.. but I figure if I show up a little bit early, you'll give me a tour, huh?" Colleen teased. "I want to see this famous fantasy island of yours."

"You got it." Kerry laughed. "See you then." She hung up and folded the phone, chuckling a little, then glanced up at her companion. "She's a lot of fun."

Dar smiled. "Yeah.. she seems very nice.. though I'm pretty sure she has her doubts about me." She handed Kerry a package.

Kerry took it. "Is this invasion going to drive you crazy?" She carefully separated the bow from the ribbon, and set it aside, then started working on the tape that held one end closed. "And Colleen does like you, by the way.. it just took her a while to get past your reputation."

"You can just tear that." Dar observed her. "And… no, I can deal with the party. I'm a big girl."

Kerry patiently unfolded the wrapping, and set it to one side, revealing a large, golden foil box. "I never tear the wrapping." She informed her companion firmly. "Now, go on and open one of yours so I don't feel so self conscious."  She looked at Dar until the dark haired woman rolled her eyes and picked up a box, then she eased the top off her own, and peeked inside. "Ooo." A beautifully embroidered shirt peeked back at her. She had a feeling this was going to be a very interesting morning.

They'd gotten about halfway through, exposing a trade of clothing, and various computer trinkets, when her cell phone rang again. She picked it up, as she opened a box of wonderfully scented bath beads and oils, and answered it. "Hello?"

"Kerry?" The voice sounded strained.

"Angela?" She put down the box and listened. "Is that you?"

"Yeah… " Her sister sighed. "Michael's here too… we've kind of got a situation."

Kerry glanced at Dar, who had cocked her head in hearing her sister's name. "What's wrong?"

"Well… " Angela cleared her throat. "It's been…kind of bad at home this year.. I'm sure you can imagine."

"Sorry." Kerry answered quietly.

"No.. don't be.. I mean… " Her sister hesitated. "You did what you had to do, you know? But anyway…all we've been hearing for the last two days is how you've ruined our lives…and Michael and I kind of got sick of it this morning."

Kerry felt a pair of warm arms circle her, and she leaned back against Dar's comforting presence. "Angela, I'm sorry…I know I screwed things up for both of you… I… "

"No…hold on." Angela's voice muffled a bit, then came back. "Michael says don't you dare blame this on yourself… you didn't do any of that stuff, he did, and it's his fault, not yours." She cleared her throat again. "Anyway… we sort of went off this morning about that… and how if it was anyone's fault, it was his, and he lost it."

Kerry took a breath. "Lost it?"

"Yeah.. he threw us out of the house." Angela laughed weakly. "Richard's on a business trip… Sally's with his mother, because I didn't want her around all the poison for Christmas.. she's too young, and she wouldn't understand."

"Wow." Kerry felt the hold tighten, and she pursed her lips. "Well, you can go by there, anyway…right?"

"Uh.. actually… " Now Angela's voice got muffled again, and Kerry was aware of an echoing sound in the background. "Actually.. Michael had this crazy idea… and before I could stop him, he kinda acted on it… so we're..um… " A slight laugh. "We're about to get on a flight down to Miami… to spend a little time with our favorite sister instead."

She couldn’t speak for a moment. "Angela, that's insane." Kerry finally breathed.

"Eyah… I know… but we're boarding… hope you don't mind." Her sister laughed. "Honestly, we really want to see you… we've got tickets back for tomorrow.. it was easier than I thought, because practically no one's flying today."

"No.. I don't mind." Kerry reassured her. "We're having a big party here.. it'll be great to have both of you.. I'll come pick you up.. we can spend some time before that… "  She glanced at Dar helplessly.

The dark haired woman just grinned. "I love spontaneity." She drawled, privately very glad Kerry would get to see at least a part of her family. "The more the merrier."

"Great… gotta go." Angela sounded much more cheerful. "See you in a few hours."  She hung up, leaving Kerry to exhale weightily.

"Well, that was a surprise."

Dar chuckled softly. "C'mon.. we'd better get finished opening stuff." She half turned, then scowled as her own cell phone rang. "Hello?"

"Merry Christmas, Dar!" Gerald Easton's voice boomed over the line. "I hope you got that little package I sent."

Dar held the phone  a little away from her ear. "Yep.. and I hope mine got there all right."

"Sitting out under the tree even as we speak, my friend… we're about to start opening, and I thought I'd call to wish you a merry merry..oh, wait.. here.. all right, don't rip the damn thing out of my hands, you.. "

"Hey Dar!"

"Merry Christmas Jack." Dar smiled. "Got that home leave, I see."

"One frigging day, yeah.. " The pilot snorted. "How're you doing?" How's Kerry?"

"Fine and fine, thanks." The dark haired woman assured him. "And you?"

A bare hesitation. "Busy… hectic…the usual." Jack answered. "Hey.. Alabaster says hello, and wants to know if she can send you a present too?"

Kerry peered at her over one shoulder. "Alabaster?"

"Gerry's Labrador." Dar mouthed. "She has puppies."

"Oooooooo…. " Kerry squealed. "Oh, Dar.. those are SUCH cute puppies… did you get to see them?"

Dar regarded her with a solemn twinkle. "Had eleven of them crawling all over me, in fact."  She assured her lover. "Yeah." She finally replied into the phone. "Sorry, what was that, Jack?" His voice was muffled.

"Oh.. nothing." Jack replied innocently. "So.. how's the weather?"

 "Fine… why?" Dar asked suspiciously.

"Just wondering… I have to fly through Homestead on my way out tonight.. thought maybe I'd stop by and say hello." Jack replied brightly.

This party was rapidly getting to be about the size of an inaugural ball, Dar mused. "Sure.. why not.. we're having a get together over here.. I'll put your name on the list."

"Great… see you later!" Jack replied, a grin very evident in his voice, as he handed the phone back.

"Well, that's lovely." Gerald stated, sounding pleased. "You two get along so nicely."

Dar sighed inwardly. "Yeah, we sure do… listen, tell Mom I said Merry Christmas.. and I hope you like the gifts."

"Don't worry, rugrat… anything you send is always good stuff." Gerald chuckled. "Talk at you later." He hung up, and Dar let the phone drop to her knee.

"Rug rat?" Kerry grinned evilly.

"Don’t start." Dar warned jokingly. "He's been calling me that since I was twelve."

"Rug rat.. that's so cute." She leaned her head against Dar's arm. "He's nice."

"He is.. .he tries to be family to me." Dar replied quietly. "His wife's very sweet…and a great cook.. which reminds me." Now a dark brow edged up. "I hear I have a spy in my camp."

Green eyes twinkled. "Whoops… hey, you better be thanking me, because otherwise you'd have been munching on Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving."

Dar leaned over and kissed her. "Thank you." She murmured sincerely. "For coming into my life and changing it for the better."

Kerry hadn't expected that, and she had to swallow, and take a minute to get her breath back before she could answer. "I did that?" She uttered. "Funny.. here I was thinking about how you'd done that for me."

They kissed again, then Dar gently nudged the wrapping they were nestled in aside, and moved closer, pulling Kerry half into her lap so she could concentrate better. "Damn." She glanced up. "I forgot to hang mistletoe."

Kerry explored her lips. "That would be overkill, I think." She admitted softly, laying a hand along Dar's side and slipping it under the soft fabric of her shirt to the warm skin underneath. Her fingers traced familiar curves, and tickled Dar's navel, which caused the taller woman to muffled a laugh. "It's been quite a month, huh?"

Dar nodded, cradling her gently. "Is it… um.." A shrug. "Working out for you?" She kept her voice light, and casual. 

But the heartbeat under her ear picked up, and Kerry winced inwardly, as she realized it would be a long time before Dar would lose her quiet, private insecurities. "Yeah, except for one thing." Kerry replied, gazing up at her wryly.

Dark lashes blinked. "What's that?"

Kerry scratched her nose. "Um… this Tuesday and Thursday thing… I… well, I get really depressed when I wake up and realize I'm not going to see you that night."

Dar's eyes brightened. "Really?"  She produced a smile. "Well, we could fix that." She replied practically. "It would be more cost effective to car pool.. we could trade off, just to confuse people."

Kerry slowly nodded. "We could do that."

Dar reached over to the tree and plucked something off of it, examining it before handing it to her blond companion.

"What's that?" Kerry peered at it, a translucent piece of plastic.

"Your resident's decal." The executive admitted. "I was going kind of nuts when you weren't here too."

"So.. I'm not driving you crazy, then?"


"Good."  Kerry sighed in relief, letting her head rest against Dar's shoulder. "Because I'm so totally in love with you, it should be illegal." She admitted quietly. "I wonder if it's like this for everyone."

"I don't know." Dar found herself having trouble swallowing. "But it's never been like this for me before… ad I doubt it ever will be again, so I hope this lasts a long time." That was more than she had ever planned to admit, and now all she could do was wait to hear the response to a question she couldn’t bring herself to ask.

"Mm… I hate to tell you this, Dar… " Kerry's eyes gentled. "But when I was.. um… eight, I think, I decided if I ever fell in love it would be one of those forever and ever things." She took a breath, as she felt Dar stop breathing entirely. "I know that sounds really…. Um… "

"Perfect." Dar blurted. "It sounds… perfect… forever and ever sounds… just fine with me."

Forever. Something inside Kerry smiled contentedly. "I guess that's settled then." She remarked, snuggling happily down into Dar's arms.

Welcome home.

Kerry glanced up. "Did you say something?"

The blue eyes seemed to deepen a shade, and a faint hint of amusement tinged them. "Nothing you haven't heard before… just that I love you."

Kerry's brows knit. "I thought…' Then she tugged her ear. "Hearing things…I love you, too."


The sun made Kerry wince as she turned westward onto the causeway and headed towards the airport. She flipped her sunglasses out of the Mustang's glove compartment, and slipped them on, getting relief from the intense glare.  A Christmas music CD was playing merrily in her CD player, and she hummed along as she picked up I395, then made the exchange to 836 towards the airport.

Traffic was surprisingly light, and she figured she got everyone between those that did a big Christmas lunch and were now half comatose in front of football, and those who had Christmas dinner, and were making last minute preparations. Those people who eschewed the day all together, were probably at the beach, since just about everything else except Walgreens was closed.

The airport, on the other hand, was a royal mess. Kerry sighed, and dodged a number of taxis as she entered the arrival lanes, finding tempers flaring in the heat. She pulled off into short term parking, and grabbed a ticket, hoping to get lucky.

And of course, she didn't, ending up about as far away from the Northwest terminal as she could and still be in MIA, but she figured she was early, and the walk wouldn't hurt her any, not after that breakfast, at any rate.

Kerry ran a hand through her fair hair, and got out, locking the Mustang and squaring her shoulders. She was really glad they were coming, but the sense of guilt she felt for fracturing a good part of their lives was weighing heavily on her.

There was no one else to take the responsibility, after all. Dar had even been shocked she'd released the information, and only the fact that the server sent the documents out anonymously had saved her ass when the recipients received them, and the shit hit the fan.

Dar would have stood behind her, she knew. But resigning would have really been her only option - mixing the company up in business like that would have been something not even her powerful boss could have protected her from.  It was bad enough she'd been called by the judicial subcommittee investigating the matter, to testify. That had caused a wild round of whispers at work, though… now that she thought about it, there had been more looks of veiled admiration than anything else, and Eleanor Anastasia had even slinked into her office, and commented on how much she respected Kerry for coming to work for a company her father hated so much.

One thing, at least, she didn't have to worry about them finding any way she'd benefited from the nasty stuff. She'd been self supporting since college, and she'd had Mark do a trace to make sure there were no hidden bank accounts with suspicious dollars in them under her name.  But the press had been sniffing around anyway, and she'd been glad more than once that she worked in a secure building, and spent most of her time on a nice, inaccessible island in someone elses condo.

Kerry walked briskly across the parking lot, glad she'd chosen a light t-shirt tucked into faded jeans for the trip as she began to feel the heat. The concourse was invitingly cool, and she went inside with a feeling of relief, then she stopped, startled at the seemingly mindless chaos before her.

Bad weather in the rest of the country had forced hundreds, if not thousands of people to camp out in the airport, and there were bodies slumped everywhere, trying to get some rest. The restaurants were working overtime, and it looked like a multinational convention inside. "Wow." She headed off towards Terminal G, where Northwest was housed, and wandered over to a display, searching for the flight. It was one of the few on time, she was glad to note, and due in approximately ten minutes. Kerry assured herself of the gate, then she edged into a cappuccino bar, and ordered herself a double, as she sat down to wait.

She took a sip of her coffee, and enjoyed the strong taste as it entered her system, and perked her up. While she'd seen Angela at Thanksgiving, she hadn't seen her brother since the preceding holidays, and she wondered if he'd changed any. She knew she had,  her hair was shorter, and a lot more sun-streaked, and she was packing an additional fifteen pounds of what was mostly muscle on her slim frame which had broadened her shoulders, and given her a completely different way of walking and moving. 

That was all the swimming, diving, running, and climbing she'd been doing with Dar, which required an incredible amount of energy, but which had made her feel really good about the way she looked and felt.  Everyone looked at her when she walked into a room now, and she liked that she'd found, even though she thought that was incredibly egotistical and she'd never admit it to anyone but herself.

Ah. A crowd of people were heading out from the Northwest flights, carrying overcoats, mufflers, scarves, and heavy winter sweaters. Kerry sincerely hoped they'd all take them off before the walked out the front doors, so they wouldn't cause a traffic jam when they passed out from heat stroke.  She spotted her sister and brother as they headed towards the exit, and she stood up, draining her cappuccino and heading towards them, catching Angela's eye as she approached.

Her sister plucked Michael's sleeve, and pointed, and Kerry had to muffle a smile as her brother caught sight of her and his  dark eyebrows jerked up as his eyes widened. Guess I do look different, she decided, as she closed with them. "Hey… "

Michael hugged her, before he stepped back, and held her at arm's length. "Holy shit, Kerry… do I know you?"  Her brother was slightly shorter than she was, and had disheveled brown hair and hazel eyes. He was lightly built, and had a perpetual look of wonderment about him. "Check you out."

"This isn't a library." Kerry answered wryly, before she shook herself loose from his grip and hugged Angela. "Good to see you guys… even though the cause is pretty bad." She exchanged looks with them. "How was the flight?"

"Given the weather everywhere else, it really wasn't bad." Angela told her. "The change in Detroit was on time for once, and even though it was bumpy most of the way, once we'd crossed into Florida, it was beautiful." She glanced around. "This place is a zoo."

"No, that's further south." Kerry replied solemnly. "Actually, everyone's pretty much stuck here, because the weather's so bad up in the Northeast and the Midwest."  She tugged their sleeves. "C'mon.. do you guys have any baggage? Hope not."

Michael shook his head. "Nope.. just these carryons.. we figured one change of clothes would be enough to get us through tonight… we've got a noon flight back tomorrow. Angela's supposed to pick up Sally at five, and I have a flight out to school at seven. "

Kerry deftly guided them through the concourse and towards the doors. "First off, take your coats off." She warned.

"We'll be fine" Angela laughed.

"Okay." Kerry hit the floor plate to open the doors, and they went from 72 degree humidity controlled air conditioning into 88 degree 98 percent humidity.

"Whoa." Angela stopped. "Gotcha.. coats gotta come off."  She stripped out of her heavy jacket and draped it over one arm while Michael did the same, also pulling off his heavy sweater. "Good grief, it's green." She commented, glancing around. "It's so weird."

Kerry smiled. "You get used to it after a while… come on. I'm parked out in south nowhere."  She started across the parking lot, and her siblings followed, with Angela catching up to her quickly. "How much does he know?" Kerry asked softly.

"Well.. he knows about.. um.. you." Angela answered in a whisper. "And about Dar."

"Darn good thing.. since we're going over to her place. " Kerry replied wryly.

"Yeah.. but he doesn’t know about me and Brian.. and he's.. um.. he's got the idea that he's going to make sure Dar can.. um.. as he put it 'take care of my sister.'"

"Oh boy."  Kerry burst into laughter, quickly muffled. "Well, no problems there.. wait till he sees her place." She shot a glance at her brother, who was staring around with interest at the thick foliage.

"How's Dar, anyway? I forgot to ask you before." Angela asked, casually.

Kerry smiled. "She's fine…we just opened our presents to each other… Jesus, did we ever go nuts." She confided. "And it's her birthday today, too, so… "

Angela nodded, and exhaled. "She seemed really nice, just that few minutes I got to meet her.. and you never did tell me exactly how she got involved in that whole thing with you."

"Long story." Kerry muttered, as Michael trotted back over to them. "So.. how's school?"

"A pain in the ass." Michael replied sourly. "I had to tell my statistics professor off the other day."  He kicked a rock, an oddly adolescent behavior considering his age. "It didn't help.. he failed me anyway."

Kerry sighed. "Uh oh… are you in trouble?"  She gave him a knowing look. School had never been Michael's strong point. In fact, she wasn't sure what was.

"Yeah." He peered at her sheepishly. "In fact, I owe you a big one, sis… if it hadn't been for you shaking up the world, I'd have had to tell em I flunked out this semester again, and they'd have cared." He admitted, as they approached Kerry's car. "Hey.. that hotrod yours?"

"Yes.. and no, you can't drive it." Kerry hit the automatic keylock, and popped the trunk for their carryon bags. "I like my insurance low, thanks."  She waited for them to put their stuff in, then closed the hatch and opened the doors. "You'll get to meet some of my friends and coworkers tonight.. we had a party planned, so.. "

"Great." Michael gallantly got into the back seat, and allowed Angela the priveledge of riding up front. "I wanna meet this Dar person, though… you should hear dad talk about her."

Kerry started the car, and put it into gear. "Don’t' worry.. you will." She promised, pulling carefully out of the parking lot and heading for the toll booth. "And Mike.. don't try anything with her, okay? She's out of your league."

Her brother snorted. "I'm wounded… like I would make a move on my sister's sweetie… yeah, right!" He gave Kerry a rakish grin. "I can't help it if girls think I'm cute, though…and what exactly do you mean, out of my league?"

Kerry didn't answer, as she was busy paying for her parking and navigating the exit roads to catch the right highway out of the airport. They talked about inconsequential stuff on the trip back, and Kerry pointed out a few landmarks as they hit the causeway, including the Port of Miami. "The cruise ships go out of there….it's quite a sight on Sunday mornings."  She pulled into the ferry terminal. "You have to ride a boat out to Dar's place."

"Whooo.. now that's privacy." Michael stated, approvingly.

Kerry almost pulled into the guest's lane, then she remembered at the last moment, and diverted smoothing into the special row for residents, getting a smile and wave from the security guard.

Angela glanced at the sign, then at her. "Residents Lane, huh?"  She asked, one eyebrow lifting.  "Looks like they know you pretty well here."

"Hi Carlos." Kerry greeted the deckhand. "Merry Christmas."

"Feliz Navidad, Ms. Kerry." The man waved, the pointed at her new sticker and gave her a thumbs up, as he crossed the deck of the ferry and secured the ramp.

Kerry was aware of the looks she was getting from her siblings, but she waited for the ferry to undock, and start it's way across the cut before she glanced at them.

"So… you live here too?" Michael asked, curiously.

"Pretty much, yeah." Kerry replied. "Dar's got a big place.. five bedrooms.. there's plenty of breathing space there. She asked me after Thanksgiving if I wanted to move in part time.. and I said yes." She was aware of the awkward silence. "She inherited the condo from an aunt of hers.. pretty much rent free. We share expenses otherwise, though."

"Oh.. .like roommates." Angela answered, slowly. "Doesn't that mess you up at work?"

"Not really." Kerry replied, leaning back, and propping  her knee up against the steering wheel. "We don't mention it at work… and we pretty much just do our jobs there." A shrug. "Then we just go home… I was staying at my place most of the week, but that's getting pretty pointless."

Another really awkward silence. "So.. this is.. like, really serious, isn't it?" Michael finally asked slowly. "You two are like.. living together, right?"

Kerry turned her head to regard him. "Yes… this isn't one of your flings of the week, Mike." She felt her temper prickling a little. "Or did you think I was just kissing my bosses ass?" A pause. "Literally."

She shocked both of them, she could tell, and she almost laughed at the expressions on their faces. "Sorry.. that was pretty crude."

Michael scrubbed his head. "Um… it's going to take a little bit to get used to this, y'now…I mean, Jesus, Kerry… of course I didn’t think you were just playing around, or anything.. it just happened so fast."

She snorted. "I remember you going through six girlfriends in four months last year.. .give me a break." She gave him a look. "Double standards, huh?"

"Well.. no.. it’s not that.. " He protested. "I mean.. that's me, Ker…. I've always been a freaking flirt.. we all know it… I had three dates for my senior prom, for Christ's sake.." He leaned on the seat and put a hand on her shoulder. "But you always said when you fell in love, it'd be just the one time, remember?"  A smile. "So…"

Kerry gazed at him, crossing her arms over her chest. "It's the one time." She replied evenly.

They both stared at her. "Really?" Michael asked.

"Yep." Kerry answered, with a smile.

He digested this. "Well.. all I can say is, she'd better be worth it then." His lip poked out pugnaciously. "She'd better be good enough for my sister."

Kerry bit off a wry grin, and started the car up, as they docked. "You can judge for yourself in a few minutes." She directed the Mustang up the ramp, and through the courtesy spray, turning left and heading towards the condo. They were both quiet on the drive, and while she parked next to Dar's Lexus. "Okay… here we are."  She popped the hatch and got out, hearing the door on the condo open as they walked around to get the bags out.

"Hey." Dar's voice, tinged with amusement floated over them. "Clemente just called and wanted to know if you wanted dark chocolate, or milk chocolate mousse."

Kerry looked up, to see her lover leaning on the stair balcony, dressed casually in faded cutoff denim shorts with a bright red polo shirt tucked into them. "Ah." She grinned. "I'll call him back."  She noticed her siblings glances. "You know Angela.. this is my brother, Michael." She gave him a poke. "Mike, this is Dar. Say hello, and stop staring like a tourist."

"I am a tourist." Her brother protested, then he summoned up a bright smile. "Hello, Dar… it's nice to meet you."

One dark brow lifted, along with the corner of Dar's mouth on that side. "Nice to meet you too." She replied politely. "Hello, Angela.. welcome to Miami."

The chestnut haired woman returned the polite nod. "Nice to see you again, Dar." She looked around. "It's lovely here."

"Thanks.. come on up.. " Dar motioned them forward.

Kerry prodded them both up the stairs, and into the condo, exhaling as she felt Dar's hand patting her back in comfort as the dark haired woman followed them in. "Let me call Clemente.. you guys want something to drink?"

They were both glancing around the condo. "That would be great." Angela said, firmly. "Flying always makes me thirsty."

Kerry disappeared into the kitchen, leaving the three of them alone. Dar finally cleared her throat. "Would you like to sit down?" She asked, politely, indicating the couch. Families, she reflected, were tough. "Nice flight?"

Angela put her bag down and seated herself, glaring at Michael until he did the same, with an abashed look. He'd been studying the painting over the couch in fascination. "Um… it was a good flight, yes…" The woman stated. "The weather's causing a lot of congestion at the airports, but we didn't have any problem."

Dar was about to answer, when she heard the sound of glasses being fumbled in the kitchen. "Excuse me a minute." She produced a brief smile, then escaped to where Kerry was retrieving an errant tumbler. "Hi."

"Hi." The blond woman set the glass down on the counter, and got a pitcher of peach flavored ice tea from the refrigerator.

"You okay?" Dar asked, mildly, as she came up behind her lover, and rubbed her shoulders, feeling the tension in them.

Kerry poured two glasses, then set the pitcher down, and sighed. "They're being weird." She turned and looked up at Dar. "It's just so strange… I feel like I should be apologizing to them half the time, and the other half I'm mad because I feel like they're passing judgment on me."

"Well." Dar nibbled her lower lip. "I don't have any experience in the sibling scene, but I think they're actually passing judgment on me, not on you."  She fondly ran her hands through Kerry's hair. "Give em time… they'll loosen up, and if they don't, I'll take em on a tour and shake em up a little."

That got a laugh from her companion. "Jesus.. they're just my brother and sister… I feel like a first time debater at the nationals." She picked up the glasses. "Come on… let's go face the inquisition."


"I'll get that." Dar eased up from her seat and ambled towards the door, glad of the distraction after two hours of desperately clever conversation with her lover's family.  She pulled the door open, giving Colleen an amiable grin. "Hello, Colleen."

The redhead nodded back. "Merry Christmas, Dar… this is some island you've got here."

The taller woman chuckled. "Thanks… c'mon in.. Kerry's brother and sister came down.. we're just getting to know each other." She'd gotten a touch friendlier with Colleen the last week or so, at the classes she taught at the gym.

"Oo… " Colleen hid a grimace. "Families.. gotta love em… be glad it's not mine." She stepped inside and moved past Dar, who kept the door open, spotting the catering crew headed her way. "Hello, Clemente… Merry Christmas."

"Feliz Navidad, Ms. Roberts." The sweating hospitality manager wiped his brow. "My people will bring in the tables, and do the setup now, if that is okay with you."

"Great… go ahead." Dar cocked an ear inside, where Colleen's rich tones had been added to the conversation, and things seemed to be loosening up a bit. It was curiously exhausting, dealing with people on this kind of emotional level, she mused, seating herself on the railing and watching as the uniformed busboys and porters brought folding tables, linen, and chafing dishes inside.  It was much easier to stand in a boardroom among business adversaries, because that never touched you, not on the inside, where it counted.

Jesus. She was having a damn birthday party. Dar suddenly realized. And people were coming to it. Dar watched as a waiter walked by, carrying a beautiful centerpiece, bathing her with a sweet, floral scent. She reached out and plucked a small, tightly budded rose from the arrangment, and twirled it between her fingers, sniffing it idly, before she girded her loins, as it were, and returned to the living room.

Kerry was seated on the love seat, facing the couch where her brother and sister were perched. Colleen had captured the chair next to her. Dar stepped around the end of the love seat and settled into place next to her lover, catching her eye and handing her the rose.

It threw Kerry off her balance, and she gave Dar a near breathless, startled look as she took the bloom, bringing it to her nose in pure reflex as the taller woman relaxed and extended her long legs, crossing them at the ankles.  "Thanks." Kerry smiled, forgetting their guests for a long moment.

Dar winked at her, then turned her attention to the raptly watching trio. "Is there a problem?" She asked, in her best boardroom no nonsense voice, one eyebrow lifting up in question.

"Uh… " Colleen fished for a conversation starter.

"You know." Michael folded his arms across his chest, and grabbed the bull by the horns. "Outside the movies, I've never actually seen one human being give another human being a rose before." He cocked his head at Dar. "That is obnoxiously romantic."

Everyone kind of froze, waiting for Dar's reaction. She let them wait a beat, then smiled lazily. "My father taught me to do that." She replied simply.

"What.. to give people flowers?" Colleen asked, curiously.

"To let my actions speak louder than words." Dar answered wryly, feeling the ice breaking a little, as grins went around the room. Kerry moved closer, and leaned against her shoulder, tucking her legs up under her and relaxing. "Now.. someone explain to me the candles in the little paper bags I saw everywhere last time I was up north?"

"Well… " Michael rubbed his hands together. "There's this tradition…. "

Kerry regarded her lover's profile, feeling a warm wash of affection as she reflected on Dar's quiet sacrifice, her giving up of a tiny bit of her cool reserve to smooth the way for Kerry's own comfort. She exhaled a little, thinking about the one gift she'd held back, tucked away upstairs, waiting for her to pull together enough courage to give it.

Maybe tonight.



Dar leaned back against the sliding glass door, sipping on a glass of very spiked eggnog and listening to Duks relate a story of his last vacation in Germany.  The party was in full swing, and after the initial shock of having so many people in her usually peaceful condo, she'd actually started having an acceptably good time.

Kerry was seated on the couch, with her brother and sister on the loveseat, and Mariana and Mark next to her, and all five people were arguing about the appropriateness of sports salaries. Dar chuckled, as Mark predictably supported the 'pay em anything as long as they score' view, and Mariana insisted the money could be better used to feed orphans in third world countries.

Everyone had brought presents, and Dar had, using verbal and almost physical strong arm tactics insisted on their being put under the tree and opened at an unspecified 'later'. "I haven't opened presents at a birthday party since I was five years old, damn it.. " She'd told Kerry. "I'm not starting up again at 30."

Colleen was sitting with Duks, Ray and Barbara, and an interested, but mostly very quiet Maria. Dar had been surprised Kerry had invited her, and more surprised that her secretary had attended, but she was glad, and she's spent a few minutes giving the woman a tour around the apartment, mostly to convince her she really, truly, didn't live in her Lexus.


"Hmm?" She glanced down, startled, as her name was called. "Sorry… just thinking."

"You've been to the Netherlands, haven't you?" Duks asked. "Tell them.. is it not true things are so much more relaxed in Europe?"

"Well… " Dar slipped into the armchair she'd been leaning against and considered. "Yes and no… they're different cultures, and they all have things that they're very strict about.. the French about language, for instance. They hate Americanisms creeping into their speech.. and we get into trouble with that a lot because it's so damn hard to translate a lot of the technology terms."

"Si.. " Maria interrupted shyly. "When I'm having to order things for you, it's hard." She stated. "It is me speaking Spanish, and our salesman speaking Spanish, and we are every third word going to English for 'buses' and 'gigapets."

"Gigabytes." Ray and Duks corrected simultaneously.

Dar nodded. "Right…and you have to be careful of the cultural bias… especially in the Pac Rim countries if you're a woman….I would say that in Europe they're certainly a whole lot more relaxed about sex."

The all laughed, and Maria blushed. "Um.. " Dar laughed herself." That came out wrong… what I mean is, like the Clinton scandal. The French look at us and say  "You must be kidding.. you're spending how much on WHAT?.." She waited for the laughter to die down. "Because there, of course, mistresses are paid for as a matter of course in the government.. no one cares about that. They do care if the person does their job, so they think we're very hung up on sex, and frankly, it doesn't make much sense to them."

"Right.. that's true." Duks agreed. "And Americans can be the biggest as…." His eyes flicked to Maria. "Ah.. the most obnoxious people overseas… we do ourselves no favors a lot of times, and that makes the people view the entire country in a certain way."

Dar smiled, and sipped her eggnog. "There are places overseas I refuse to speak English in, when I'm out and about casually."

Duks rattled off a question in German, and she answered it, with a tolerant smile. "Not bad." He chuckled. "You've even got the accent right."

They all laughed.

Kerry peeked over, and smiled as she saw Dar lean back and take a casual swallow of her drink. The party was working out better than she'd planned, and she was even having a good time, catching up with her brother and sister, and trading techie horror stories with Mark.  The caterers had brought in eight chafing dishes full of things she knew Dar liked, along with a polite bartender who was behind a well stocked mini bar they'd rolled in for the party.  Everyone had done the buffet justice, and now they just had to get through the cake, and she could claim a success.

A soft knock came at the door, and she looked up, to see it open, and Jack poke his crew cutted head in, spotting her. He grinned, and stuck a hand inside, curling a finger at her then putting it to his lips.

Kerry darted a glance towards Dar, who hadn't noticed, and she stood, brushing her slacks off and stepping around the coffee table. "Excuse me a minute." She trotted across the apartment and reached the door. "Hi Jack.. c'mon in."

"Shh… c'mere.. " He tugged her outside. "I've got a present… but if I give it to her, she's gonna say no." He whispered. "But if you're holding it, I bet she says yes."

Kerry's brows knit. "What??" She muffled a laugh. "Aw, come on, Jack..I know she'll love what…" She stopped speaking, as he produced the present, a cream colored puppy wearing a tiny navy sweatshirt. "Oh… my….god…."

"Isn't she cute?" Jack whispered. "She rode all the way in my back seat, and she was such a good girl…" He held the puppy out. "Say hello.."

Kerry took the animal, who squirmed, and sniffed her hair, making a small whining sound. "Jack.. she's going to go bananas.. you know that."  She stroked the puppy's soft fur, and felt it's silky ears. "I don't know if she'll go for this."

"Listen… I got a maybe out of her when she was up by us… and she really likes Alabaster." He paused. "That's the puppy's mother… they're great dogs."

"Oh.. I know.. I know.. " Kerry scratched the puppy's chest, and it licked her,  finding some errant sauce on her chin and searching enthusiastically for me. "But it's a lot of responsibility, and she's not home most of the day.. I don't know if that's fair."

Jacks' shoulders sagged. "You should have seen her face when she was playing with them… I know she really wants one… they're great companions.. you know, she could go running  with Dar in the morning and all… " He looked at Kerry's face. "No, huh?"

Kerry sighed, gazing at the warm brown eyes that seemed to radiate love. "It's not my decision."  She remembered Susie, who had looked at her  with that same trusting gaze.  "Hey sweetie…" She whispered, reliving the memory of that last morning, when she'd said goodbye to her friend, and felt the hurt all over again. She'd never gotten attached to a pet since, for what she thought was good reason. "I don’t'… "

The door opened, spilling light out onto the porch, and a pair of sharp, blue eyes captured them. "What on earth is going on out here?"  Dar asked,  glancing at Jack as Kerry turned to face her. "What are you two…. " A pause. "Oh. I see." Her eyes went from the puppy to her lover, then back to the puppy. "What have we here?"

Jack put on his most innocent expression. "You said I could bring her."

"I what?" Dar's brows shot up. "When was this?"

"When I talk to you today.. I asked if I could bring a special present, and you said "Yeah." " Jack put his hands behind his back and rocked on his heels. "So I did."

"Um.." Kerry shifted the puppy, and tried to keep it from chewing on her earlobe. "I … he called me out here.. and I um… oo.. stop that…" She lifted her eyes to Dar's in appeal. "I told him it'd be kinda tough."

"Ah." Dar eyed them both. "I get it.. he called you out here, trying to get you on his side, because he knew.. if you asked me if we could keep the puppy, I'd probably say yes." She paused. "Right?"

Jack studied his flight boots, then glanced up through blond eyelashes. "It was a plan."

"Uh huh.. and what do you think of this plan, Kerry?" Dar inquired, a gentle twinkle in her eyes.

"Oh.. well… I um.. " Kerry watched as the puppy yawned, and put her head down on the blond woman's shoulder. "I mean, I told him I didn't think you'd go for it.. I mean, you're not here a lot, and a dog's a lot of responsibility, and all that."  She stroked the animal's fur. "She's really cute though, huh?"  The puppy nuzzled her. "Maybe I could…um.. " She let the thought trail off. "Find someplace…or …maybe I could…um… " A small tongue licked her cheek. "Aww.. uh.. "

The puppy turned it's head and gazed at her. Kerry gazed at her. Jack gazed at her.

Dar burst out laughing. "Well, to be honest, you just beat me to it, Jack." She informed her pilot friend. "I was actually working on getting a puppy… " Her eyes dropped to Kerry's surprised ones. "A cocker spaniel…as a matter of fact.. but I suppose a Labrador will do."  She glanced at Jack and winked.

He winked back.

Kerry's jaw dropped as she saw the mischevious grin on Dar's face. "Wait.. you mean it's for me? I've been suckered, haven't I?" She asked faintly. "Son of a… "  She turned to look at Jack. "You… "

He chuckled. "Merry Christmas, Kerry." His face crinkled into a smile. "When Alabaster heard what happened to you when you were a kid.. she insisted on personally sending a little gift down for you."

Kerry had to stop, and think a minute. Her heart was beating so fast she could hardly distinguish the beats. This was more than a puppy. It was a commitment, on Dar's part, to her. To them. Kerry took a deep breath, and looked up at her lover. "I guess… with two people.. maybe it won't be so bad." She hugged the puppy a little, and it licked her neck. "Oh.. that tickles.. " Her eyes lifted to Dar's. "Thank you."

Dar looked exceedingly pleased with herself. "Your welcome." She turned her head. "Jack.. you hungry? We've got enough food in here to feed half of Miami." She opened the door, and stood aside to let him enter. "Go on… there's a bar in the back.. you can stay over until tomorrow, right?"

Jack hugged her. "Yep… otherwise I'd have to stick to club soda, and what a waste of your birthday party that would be."  He moved past her, leaving them alone on the porch.

Dar let the door close behind him, and then she leaned on the railing, taking a breath of the cool air and letting it out. "Picked a name yet?"

Kerry walked over and perched next to her. "My brain hasn't stopped spinning yet.. are you kidding? Dar… "  She stroked the puppy. "I don't know what to say… I never thought you'd.. even consider something so much trouble as this into your day to day life."

Dar scratched the puppy's chin, then crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back. "I've wanted a dog for a long time." She answered quietly. "My mother was badly allergic to fur, and we never had one when I was growing up..  but when I went to college, I found this mutt and I adopted him. Damn thing followed me everywhere…waited for me outside my classrooms.. I was his whole world."

Kerry just waited.

"Day after I graduated, he got hit by a car." Dar's voice was steady, and almost resigned. "I spent the whole day at the vet's office, but in the end, there was nothing they could do… I just held him while they put him down."  She shook her head. "It's incredible how much you can become attached to an animal… it felt like it was a brother or sister that was dying."

"Dar… " Kerry's voice ached.

"My father said its because animals give you something humans never do…unconditional love." The dark haired woman concluded quietly. "They don't care how rich you are, or who your parents are, or what you do…it doesn't matter to them."   She looked up at Kerry. "It's no trouble, Kerry… we'll find a way to work it out.. the worst problem is going to be getting someone in to suck up all the little bitty Labrador hairs… or we're going to end up wearing a lot of tweed to work."

"Hm." Kerry regarded the puppy, who yawned, and licked her face again. "I like tweed."

"I hate it." Dar replied cheerfully. "C'mon.. let's go introduce our new friend to the crowd." She reached for the door, and circled Kerry's shoulders with her other arm. "What are we going to call her?"

"You're going to have to give me a little while to think about that, Dar." The blond woman advised her, as they entered the condo. "Wait…she's so creamy colored… how about Cappuccino?"

Dar laughed. "Cappuccino it is…. Hey… " She raised her voice. "C'mere and meet Kerry's Christmas present… Cappuccino."

"Oh… Calinde… " Maria quickly came over, cooing at the puppy, who woke up and looked around in bewildered alarm at the sudden sea of faces.

Dar stepped back, capturing a miniature shish kebab from one of the chafing dishes and nibbling on it as she watched everyone fuss over her lover and the puppy. Kerry was steadily becoming more animated, and she quickly sat down on the tile and let the puppy run around, laughing at it's antics. The animal decided her shoelace was appropriate prey, and tugged it, growling and scrabbling on the slick surface.

"I think I can report back to Alabaster that her daughter has a good home." Jack commented, balancing his full plate on one hand and attacking forkfuls of it's contents with the other. "She'll be happy as hell."

"Yeah." Dar snagged a coconut shrimp and bit it in half. "Thanks, Jack… I owe you another one." She looked at her friend in quiet gratitude.

"No problem." The aviator grinned. "I got me a good plate of chow,  a way comfortable looking couch for the night, the company of two lovely ladies, and a damn fine home for one of  Alabaster's puppies. Can't ask for better than that."

Dar watched the puppy rush Duks fist, which was thumping across the tile. "How are things working out with you otherwise?"

He hitched one shoulder up in a shrug. "I could use some advice tomorrow, if you have a few minutes."

"You got it." Dar patted his arm, then went back to watching the best of her birthday presents.


"Close the door." 

Kerry took one more quick look around the now quiet, and mostly dark condo. Jack was snugged down on the couch, and she'd settled Angela and Michael upstairs, her sister in her room, and her brother in the spare room on the other side of her newly converted office. She shut the door to Dar's bedroom firmly, then turned and regarded her lover, who was sprawled on the waterbed, eyes closed.

"Whew." Kerry yawned, rubbing her eyes. "I can't belive it's 3am…I haven't talked that much since the debating finals in college."

"Mm." Dar nodded. "It was nice, though… good party."

Kerry perched on the edge of the waterbed. "Yeah? You had fun?"

One blue eye eased open. "Yes, I did." Dar sounded faintly surprised. "I think everyone did…and the picture you got of Duks falling asleep on the chair with that puppy is some of the best blackmail material I've seen in years." She remarked, lifting her arms over her head and stretching. "Killer dessert."

The blond woman's eyes lit up . She'd personally constructed it, a cake with one layer of dark chocolate mousse, and a second of chocolate chip cheescake, separated by a layer of crushed Oreo cookies, and covered in a crispy, hard milk chocolate shell. "You should know.. you had four pieces." She teased. "And I saved you some in the refrigerator."

Dar's eyes brightened. "Really?" She started to get up, only to have Kerry catch her shoulder and stop her.

"You're going to be sick to your stomach, Dar.. come on now." She laughed. "And you'll wake up Jack and the puppy."

The dark haired woman settled back  down. "Yeah.. you're right." She agreed reluctantly. "There's always breakfast."

"Augh." Kerry covered her eyes and winced.

"What… I'll have orange juice with it if it makes you happier." Dar teased, then patted her leg. "Just kidding…we'll have it tomorrow night, after everyone leaves." She relented. "Did you type up the recipe for everyone? I think Maria wants to put it on the company bulletin board." Dar paused. "I hope she calls it something other than my birthday cake, though."

Kerry laughed,  then let herself slide into the waterbed, resting her head on Dar's stomach as she gazed up at the ceiling. "I think my brother has a crush on you."

"Ah.. is that why he was babbling." The executive mused. "Is he prone to those?"

"OH yeah." The blond woman snorted. "No offense to you, or anything.. but he goes gaga over just about every pretty woman he sees… " Her head turned, and she glanced up at Dar. "And you definitely qualify."

The blue eyes warmed as Dar smiled back at her. "He's sort of sweet.. and your sister and I managed to have a nice conversation about the Miami area… she's funny."

"Mm.. she likes you." Kerry found herself a little surprised by that. "I wasn't sure if… Angie tends to be a little on the conservative side."

Dar rolled her head to one side. "But you said she knew about you… right?"

"I said conservative, not blind or stupid." The smaller woman replied wryly. "A lot of people make that mistake… just because someone doesn’t want to see something, doesn't mean they can't."

"Ah." Dar lowered a hand, and gently rubbed Kerry's belly, eliciting a contented murmur from her. 'Thanks for the party."

A green eye rotated up and gazed at her. "Does that mean I can do it again?" Kerry inquired.

"As many times as you like." The dark haired woman assured her.

Kerry rolled over so she could look up at Dar. "That's a lot of birthday parties."

That got a contented smile from her lover.

They gazed at each other in peaceful silence for a moment or two. "I think Maria knows about us." Kerry finally commented, surprised when Dar started laughing.

"Maria knew about us before I did." The taller woman admitted. "I should have realized when she asked me if I wanted one set of tickets or two for Thanksgiving, and whether to put us in separate rooms at Disney."

"Really?" Kerry almost sat up in amazement. "She did that? No wonder she went along with me on….uh… "

A low, sensual chuckle. "On getting us to stay in the park?" Dar's eyes sparkled wickedly. "C'mon, Kerry.. I'd figured that one out at least." She gave the smaller woman a gentle poke.

Kerry blushed. "I was trying to get you to relax." She complained feebly. "If you'd figured it out, why'd you go along with it? " She glanced up at Dar. "You could have stopped it."

Gentle blue eyes regarded her. "I know. But I didn't want to."

"Oh." Kerry murmured. "Well, I'm glad you didn't." She smiled up at Dar. "Because I really like where it's taken us."

"You do, huh?" The dark haired woman idly traced a finger across Kerry's face. "You know you're the best thing that ever happened to me, right?"

Kerry slowly drew a breath in, and let it out, feeling the sudden, almost vibrant intensity between them. "Likewise." She let the word trickle out. "I've only known you for two months… but if it was legal, I'd ask you to marry me."

Dar stopped breathing for a long moment, a look of muted delight crossing her face. "Would you?"

"Yeah." Kerry put her head down on the warm surface and exhaled. "I sure would."

"I'd say yes."  A frank grin appeared, as Dar tangled her fingers in the blond hair spilling across her chest.

"Would you?" Kerry felt happy jolt.

"Yeah..I sure would."  The dark haired woman reassured her. "It'll be legal someday, you know." She felt an idea germinate, and she set it aside for further development a little later.

"I know.. it's just a matter of time." Her lover replied softly. "And we've got all the time in the world." She wrapped her fingers around Dar's, and lifted her hand up, pressing her lips against the back of it, then tucking it against her heart.

I never expected to be living inside a fairy tale. Dar blinked slowly. That's just what this feels like.. no one says things like that in real life, do they? But she could feel the beating of Kerry's heart under her hand, solid and real enough. She lifted her other arm and stroked the smaller woman's face, watching Kerry's eyes flutter shut at the pressure in concert with the perceptible jump in her heartbeat. Just the lightest of touches.. Dar marveled. It's like we're a part of each other. She found that to be a very appealing thought, and a warm, speculative smile took over her face. "Do you believe in..destiny?"

Sea green eyes slid open, and regarded her. "How do you mean?"

Dar hesitated. "Like.. that some things are just meant to happen.. that some people are meant to meet, that kind of thing?"

Kerry worked her jaw a little, thinking. "I don't know." She replied softly. "I'd hate to think we don't have a choice in life.. that things just happen and we have no control over any of it." She paused for a long moment. "But I'm pretty old fashioned.. I guess… and I'd like to believe that God intended each of us to…somewhere out there, have a…um… an other half, I guess.. someone who completes us, and makes us whole." She considered her words carefully. "I think most people never find that person.. but sometimes.. if you're lucky, or.. well, maybe if it's meant to be, now that I think about it, then you do."

"That's an interesting theory." Dar mused. "It sounds like something my father used to say… when he tried to explain to anyone how he and my mother ended up together."


"Yeah…really." Dar replied in a thoughtful voice.

"You think he was right?" Kerry squirmed up towards Dar's head and rested on her elbows, the soft surface of the waterbed shifting under her.

They looked at each other. "I'm beginning to think just that." The dark haired woman answered evenly. "What do you think?"

Kerry felt a gentle wash of utter relief go through her, and she dropped her head, breathing in the clean linen scent from the comforter. "I think I'm one of the lucky few." She looked up, and found smiling blue eyes looking back at her. "I guess I was just in the right place at the right time."

Dar ruffled her hair affectionately. "Even if it didn't seem that way at the moment." She remarked wryly.

"Yeah." Kerry inched forward and kissed her. "Guess we'd better get undressed."

"Oh… sure." Dar replied agreeably, sliding her hands up over Kerry's hips and unbuckling the thin leather belt around her waist. "No problem."

"Well… that wasn't what I had in mind but… " Kerry unbuttoned the top button on Dar's cotton shirt with her teeth. "But I guess it'll serve the right purpose." She felt the cool of the air conditioning on her skin as her pants were eased off and Dar's familiar touch circled her thighs then traveled up to start unbuttoning her shirt.

"Mm.."  Sheehad Dar's blouse open now, and the taller woman lifted her body up a little, letting her slip the fabric off over her tanned shoulders.  Kerry let her hands go flat against the tensed abdominal muscles, leaning lightly against them as she nuzzled Dar's bare neck, then lowering herself down as the taller woman did, letting their bodies touch and slide against each other.

The cool air now hit her back and she shrugged out of her shirt and a trail of warmth followed Dar's hands across her skin, sliding across her shoulderblades, and down her sides, then gently gripping her hips as the shifted, rolling over and tangling their limbs as she forgot the long day, and the fatigue that faded before the insistent nibbling along her neck that dipped to her collarbone, and beyond.

It was, Kerry decided, the perfect end, to a darn near perfect day.


The problem with waking up before the sun on the weekdays was, Dar mused. That you very often couldn't sleep any later on the weekends. She found herself easing into wakefulness just as dawn colored the window in her room, spilling soft pearly gray light across the bed and bringing out the shades of blue in the comforter tucked around them both.

Kerry was sound asleep, her back snuggled against Dar's chest, with the taller woman's arms wrapped around her, and Dar knew the blond woman would, if allowed, sleep much later than she herself could. She didn't suspect any of her other guests would be up with the sun either, so she was left to ponder a course of action.

She could just close her eyes and  try to fall back asleep, of course. Or she could get up and slip into her office and catch up on her email. But Dar knew the chances of actually dozing off was pretty small, and she really didn't feel like reviewing her endless inbox.  However, she glanced at the window, a run wasn't a bad idea… it looked like a nice morning, and her usual morning ritual usually allowed her to settle her thoughts.  Dar slipped carefully out of bed, tucking the covers back around Kerry's warm body, and padded to the set of drawers, pulling a pair of running shorts and a cutoff shirt out and slipping into them. Then she went into the bathroom and pushed the door closed, running a light stream of water into the sink as she brushed her teeth and ran a comb through her hair, glancing briefly at her reflection in the mirror.

Her image gazed back, and she cocked her head, noting that the shadows under her eyes and the lines of tension that had characterized her face for the longest time seemed to have mysteriously disappeared. She found herself smiling and almost didn't recognize the person looking back at her.

Well.  She finished her wash and turned the light out before she slipped out the door and padded across the dimly lit bedroom, easing out into the darkened main portion of the condo, and pausing to put on her running shoes. She managed to get out the front door without waking anyone, and she paused on the porch, taking a deep breath of the dewy morning air.

It was a nice morning, with only a very few clouds in the sky, wispy and low to the horizon, making the breaking dawn a smear of pinks and corals across the shifting gray of the water. The temperature was a refreshing sixty eight degrees, and Dar found herself smiling in pure animal contentment as she headed off down the path, and headed for the water.

Her steps against the rough concrete rose lightly over the soft hiss of the waves, and the soft, lonely cry of seagulls circling overhead, and she slowly increased her pace, as she gave her muscles a chance to warm up. As she passed the marina, she waved at the dockhands, who waved back as they went about their morning tasks of washing down the boats, and cleaning the dock area.

Damn. Dar settled into an easy rhythm, feeling a springiness in her step she hadn't had for a while. This feels great. She wasn't sure if it was just the recent changes in her life, or the renewed interest she'd found in her sessions with Ken, but it was almost like she'd shed a few years lately.

Six circuits and she didn't even feel it, which caused a pleased grin to crease her face, and she continued on for several more rounds, only stopping when the sun was brightly warming the air and a healthy layer of sweat covered her skin.

She stopped on the seawall, and gazed out over the Atlantic, the morning light melding the gray waves into a ripple of greens and blues as the northwest wind blew against her back, drying the sweat and cooling her skin. With a satisfied sigh, she sat down, drumming her heels against the concrete, and feeling the erratic spray of the waves as they struck against the wall. The soft hiss of tires behind her made her turn, and she smiled as Carlos tooled up in the Beach Club's cart and hopped out. "Morning." She greeted the server.

"Good morning, Ms. Roberts… haven't seen you out here too regularly lately." He smiled pleasantly. "Would you like your regular?"

Dar considered. "Yeah.. " She paused. "And a glass of orange juice, if you don't mind." A wry grin shaped her lips.

"Valencia or Navel?" Carlos asked, without missing a beat.

"Valencia, please… with pulp if you have it." Dar replied, finding herself developing a liking for the stuff under Kerry's not very subtle prodding. She'd also managed to nudge Dar into trying some healthier snacks, and she'd found herself actually liking the dried fruits and nuts a lot more than she'd expected. Apples seemed to be making an appearance around the condo as well. "And I'll probably be bringing four or five people down for breakfast in about an hour or so."

"Very good." Carlos resumed his cart, and released the brake. "Be right back."

Dar returned her eyes to the horizon and leaned back, extending her legs out and tensing her thigh muscles as she yawned, then turning her head as she heard footsteps approaching. "Hey.. morning Jack."

The pilot jogged up and joined her on the seawall, dressed in a pair of dark blue sweatpants and a tank top with Navy on it in bold gold letters. "And a good morning to you, too." He rubbed his hand over his crewcut and looked out over the sea. "I gave Cappuccino a little kibble.. I will warn you that morning is puppy play time."

Dar grinned. "Thanks… I was going to check  in on her when I got back.. didn't figure I'd be out here this long." She looked over as Carlos returned, bearing her orange juice and café, along with a thermos and a basket, which he set down. "I brought a cup for the gentleman." The server explained courteously. "And a basket of our fresh pastries, which just came out."

Dar chuckled. "Thanks, on both counts." She signed the tab and watched him leave, then investigated the basket. "Here… try one of these.. they're good."

Jack did so, biting into the honey and nut covered pastry. "Mm… that is good." He chewed, then poured himself  a cup of coffee. "It's nice out here."

The dark haired woman nodded. "I had a little trouble adjusting to it." She admitted. "I was so used to the Spartan life… you know what my place in the grove looked like" She gave Jack a wry grin. One chair, one table, and futon to sleep on. The ultimate in no fuss householding.

"Oh yeah.. " Jack laughed. "This sure is different.. frankly, I had a tough time picturing you living out here."

A shrug. "It was hard, at first.. but I've gotten used to it." Dar replied. "Now I think I've developed a distinct addiction to the soft, easy life." She informed him, with a touch of regret. "And this place has it's advantages… privacy, safety.. a nice jogging path… you know."

"That's for sure." He bit into another pastry, as she sucked on her orange juice, chewing the pulp thoughtfully. "If I'm not being a butt in, you seem like your pretty happy, Dar.. a lot more than you have been in a while."

The pale blue eyes gazed out at the water for a long moment, then turned to look at him. "That's a pretty accurate statement." She allowed, slowly.

"Kerry's a real sweetheart." Jack continued. "How's she doing, after all that stuff?"

Dar exhaled, and let her hands rest on her knees. "It's tough." She admitted. "But she's dealing with it…I was glad her brother and sister came down, because I think she was feeling not seeing her family for the holidays a lot."

"Mmm." Jack acknowledged. "That is tough."

"Yeah." Dar stated, quietly, glancing down. "So, what's up with you?" She politely changed the subject. "You said you wanted some advice?"

Jack remained quiet for a moment, drawing a knee up and wrapping his arms around it. "Robbie… his hitch is up after this tour." The pilot paused. "He's decided to get out… his uncle's a project manager at Grumman, and he's been offered a job there."

Dar just listened.

"He's gotten them to give me an offer too.. he wants me to get out, and… " Jack hesitated. "He wants me to move out there with him."

The dark haired woman considered the issue. "I thought you were career Navy."

He looked down at his hands. "I thought I was too… you know I love the service, Dar… goofy as it is, I love the regimentation, the camaraderie…I love walking out to the hanger and seeing my plane waiting… I even love the scary parts, the night landings, and the flights into fire… "


"But." Jack sighed. "No matter how good a pilot I am, no matter how good a soldier I am… no matter how many ribbons I wear, or how gilded my wings are… if I tell them how I feel about Robbie, I'll be thrown out like yesterday's garbage."  He regarded the horizon. "They're forcing me to choose."

Dar took a sip of her coffee. "You don't have to tell them." She offered quietly. "A lot of people don't."

He nodded slowly. "I know… but Tony wants to leave, and I… "

"Jack.. this.. is going to sound damn cold of me." Dar inhaled quietly. "But you have to look inside your own heart, and decide what's best for you, not what's best for him." She thought a minute. "He's a RIO… is he going into research and development?"

Jack nodded.

"And your offer.. the same?"

Another nod.

"Would you be happy doing that?" The executive asked softly.

Jack gazed at his knees. "I'm a pilot." It was a quiet, sad admission. "I could do R and D, but… " He looked up into Dar's eyes. "I'd be giving up something I really love." A pause. "What would you do, Dar? Would you give up your job for Kerry? Go off and do something else.. something that you really didn't care about.. if she asked you to?"

Dar thought about that for a while, watching a gull dip and swoop towards the waves, searching for a meal. Finally, she exhaled and turned her head towards him. "Yes." She replied, briefly. "But.. Jack, she's the first person that I've been involved with that I can say that about… usually, my answer would have been no." She cleared her throat. "I would think it really depends on whether you love Tony with that kind of intensity.. enough to give up something you really put your heart into." She gazed at him. "Do you?"

Jack's turn to gaze off into the distance for a protracted period, as Dar sipped her coffee, and munched on a warm pecan roll.  At last the blond head dropped. "No." He admitted heavily. "I like him, we have fun together, he's my best friend.. but…no."

Dar put an arm around his muscular shoulders. "You asked for advice… for what it's worth, I think you should stay where you are, until you meet someone you love more than flying."

He looked curiously relieved. "How will I know?"

Dar smiled quietly. "You'll know." She gave him a rueful look. "Believe me, you'll know." She sat there for a moment, then she glanced up at the sky. "Everyone should be up by now… let's go get em and go down for some breakfast."  She got to her feet, and offered him a hand up, which he took.

"Sounds good." He dusted his sweatpants off, and put his hands on his hips, studying her. "Can I make a non PC, totally sexist, very chauvinistic statement?"

Dar's brows knit. "Sure.. I'm not your petty officer."

"For someone who lives in all this soft luxury, you sure look hot." Jack shook his head and clucked his tongue. "Damn, Dar… where do you find the time to stay so damn buff?"

Startled, she glanced down at herself, then blinked. "Um… just a habit, I guess.." She answered. "Hard to break.. you know how it is."  She motioned him to start walking.


The quiet afternoon sunlight drifted gently into the apartment, as quiet finally decended. Dar hitched one leg over the arm of the chair she was sprawled on, and leaned back as Kerry walked in, carrying their new puppy. "Everyone's safely headed home… finally." She remarked, as the blond woman perched on the chair arm, letting Cappucino chew on her fingers.

"Finally." Kerry agreed. "I thought I'd never get my brother to shut up… did you have to come sauntering in this morning practially in your underwear?"

Dar gave her a look. "It's not underwear.. it's what I run in." She objected. "This is Miami, remember? Running in a sweatsuit is an invitation to heatstroke." She let her head rest against the back of the chair. "Damn… I have sixteen pages of email I have to go through before tomorrow morning."

"Don't remind me." Kerry sighed. "I have a position status report on two different accounts due tomorrow at the 9am staff meeting, and I haven't even started it yet." She cuddled the puppy closer to her. "Guess we'd better get started….we have a ton of leftovers for dinner, unless that really bugs you."

"Nah.. that's fine." Dar lifted a hand and stroked the backs of her knuckles against Kerry's bare thigh. The blond woman was wearing a pair of cutoff denim shorts and a tshirt, and Dar could smell the remnants of sun tan lotion clinging to her skin. "I really don’t feel like looking at that goddamned mail." She finally admitted.

"Mm.. well, I don't feel like doing those reports, so I guess we're even. " Kerry told her. "We could be like everyone else, and do our work when we're actually supposed to be working." She reasoned. "As a matter of fact, I can't believe we haven't had a major problem this weekend…that's a first."

"Shhh… " Dar implored her. "Please.. I don't feel like having to scream at people tonight." She tickled the sleepy puppy. "Hey, there girl." A smile crossed her . "She's really a cutie, huh?"

"Yeah… " Kerry smiled. "She was fiercely defending the kitchen from the broom earlier." She chuckled. "Tell you what… let's play with her for a little while, then eat dinner, then maybe we'll be in the mood for work."

"Okay." Dar agreed quickly, moving over. "Here.. squish in here." She removed a cushion from the chair, and tugged Kerry down, grinning when the blond woman ended up half in the seat, and half sprawled over Dar, and the puppy tumbled into her lap. Cappuccino shook her had, her tiny ears flapping and yawned, showing a u shaped, very pink tongue. She climbed up Dar's chest, and put her paws on the dark haired woman's shoulders, chewing on her chin enthusiastically.

"Here… " Kerry offered her a sock, which she mouthed, tugging it and making tiny puppy growls. "That's it… good girl… we'll train you to bring mommy Dar's socks to her in the morning."

Mommy Dar? It was an absurdity jolt to the brain. "Uh… that will probably train her to pull them OFF, Kerry." Dar objected.

"Well, that's okay too." The blond woman grinned at her, then giggled as Cappuccino industriously transferred her teeth to Dar's shirt, tugging open a button. "Hey… that's my girl!!!" She kissed the puppy on the head. "Welcome to the family, honey."

The family.  Dar settled back, and curled one arm around Kerry, and the other around Cappuccino. Her family. She liked that thought. She watched Kerry play with the puppy's paws, exposing the tiny webbed feet.

To hell with her email. "Hey… let's take her for a ride around the island." She suggested. "We could introduce her to everyone.. hmm?"

Kerry dismissed her reports without regret. "Okay… I'd like that.. and we could use a thing or two from the market." She decided. "If I can drag you in there."

"Absolutely. " Dar answered complacently. "Let 's go."

Kerry eyed her. "You don't mind going to the market?" She inquired, mildly surprised, knowing Dar's dislike for grocery shopping.

A grin. "It's right next door to the ice cream parlor." Dar stood up, unthinkingly carrying Kerry with her, and set her on her feet, as she headed for the door.

Kerry blinked at her departing back then she tucked the puppy under her arm, and followed her out into the golden sunset, reflecting that of all the presents she could have received, surely this was the best one possible.


Okay, this is really the end… for now.