A New Year in Miami
Kerry set the emergency brake on her SUV and sat back, letting her hands rest on the steering wheel as she regarded her destination through the windshield.
The Biltmore Hotel rose before her, it's stone exterior lit up by floodlights that ringed the old building, lending it grace and grandeur under the dark sky. A long line of cars waited for the valet parker's attention, and Kerry reckoned it would take them about ten minutes to get through it. "Pretty place." She remarked, turning her head to address her companion.
"Rock pile that costs a million bucks a month to maintain." Dar replied, her arms folded over her chest and her eyes closed. "But yeah, it's nice." She opened a pale blue eye and peered at Kerry. "Have I told you how nice that dress looks on you?" She jerked her chin towards the light blue and silver mid-length outfit nuzzling up to Kerry's trim curves.
"Mmhm." Kerry grinned. "But you can keep telling me. I don't mind." She glanced down her partner's long length, currently covered in plum colored silk. "God, I love you in that." She clucked her tongue several times.
"Uh huh." Dar gave her an unsubtle nudge. "Move up before whoever's in back of us tries to drive over the top of this thing."
Kerry released the brake and eased the Lexus forward. "You think we need to put our jackets on to go in?"
"Dunno." Dar shifted and pressed down on the window control with a fingertip. She was rewarded with a sudden infusion of noise and a gust of the 38 degree air outside. "That would be a yes." She hastily reversed the window, then directed one of the air ducts currently providing heat towards her.
"Southerner." Kerry teased.
"Ah ah.. I see those goosebumps." Dar poked her in the upper arm. "Don't give me that tough Northern bs, Kerrison. You people use heat."
"Uh huh." Kerry directed another nozzle towards her. "Keep talking, Dixiecup."
Dar stuck her tongue out.
"Don't tempt me." Kerry laughed, as she pulled forward another couple of feet. "Boy, what a difference from last year, huh?"
"Mmm." Dar resumed her relaxed pose, twiddling her thumbs as she watched the cars move in front of them. "Oh yeah. We even show up in the same car this time." She reached behind them to the back seat and retrieved two lined, leather jackets, setting Kerry's down on the divider between the seats while she shrugged into her own. "Damn, it feels good."
Kerry skillfully steered into the valet station, giving the young man approaching them a pleasant smile as she put the car in park. She picked up her coat, giving Dar's hand a squeeze along the way. "Let's go party."
They got out, and Kerry hastily shrugged into her coat, pulling the zipper up and tying the belt before she stepped back from the car and let the valet have it. Despite her cocky words, the cold air made her shiver and there was no sense in asking for a teasing if Dar heard her teeth chatter.
She tilted her head back, seeing the stars crisply sparkling as they so seldom did in Miami and exhaled a long stream of breath into the night. They had just gotten back from their weeks' vacation, and the contrast from the warm Caribbean to this startlingly cold weather had been significant.
Kerry hoped they both didn't catch cold.
Dar put a hand on her back and they walked in front of the car, heading up the walk towards the broad stairs in front of the classic old building. She started whistling under her breath as they approached the entrance, already full of people.
The outside courtyard was being used to serve drinks and hors deouvres despite the weather, and the sight of most of their fellow employees braving the cold in thin dresses and dinner jackets tickled Dar's sense of the ridiculous. "How long do you figure before they start freezing in place?"
Kerry muffled a laugh as they walked up the last steps to the patio, and they crossed from the relative obscurity of the shadows into the warm golden light of the floods.
They were recognized immediately. "Hey!" Mark Polenti headed towards them,along with Mari and Duks, and several others. "When did you guys get back?"
"Yesterday." Kerry gave him a hug. "We didn't want to miss the party."
Dar rolled her eyes. "Sure we did." She disagreed. "I'd trade this popsicle stand for a night dive down south in a heartbeat."
"I hear you two had quite an adventure." Mari said.
Mark ducked around them. "Want me to get your coats?" He asked courteously.
"No way." Kerry grabbed her belt and tugged it tighter. "Are you nuts?"
"Ahem." Dar draped her arm over Kerry's shoulders. "Pardon the polar bear, here. She left her fur coat back in Michigan."
Kerry bumped her partner with her hip, and poked her tongue out at her.
A waiter came by with a tray full of champagne, followed by another with assorted tidbits. Kerry took a filled flute and handed Dar one, then eyed the food tray and decided to wait for the second round. "No thanks. I"ve had enough chicken liver pate to last me the rest of my life."
"Ew." Dar reviewed her choices, then shooed the waiter away. "Mousse is a terrible thing to do to an innocent salmon."
"So, other than that, how was the vacation Mrs. Lincoln?" Mari asked Kerry. "You got sun at least."
Kerry sipped her champagne, returning a casual wave from Eleanor. "Yeah, the trip back was quiet." She said. "We did some diving, but mostly we just laid around on deck and relaxed."
"Sounds like heaven." The Personnel VP sighed. "Though I find it so hard to imagine Dar relaxing."
Kerry indulged herself in a moment's memory of a few long afternoons spent snoozing in the sun. "Oh, you know, when she puts her mind to it, Dar can do just about anything, even that." She replied. "I hear it was quiet at work?"
"That is true." Duks agreed solemnly. "And now everyone can please stop of the holding of their breaths since you are both back and there is no disaster occurring."
The small circle of people around them chuckled. Dar lifted her glass and acknowledged the somewhat backhanded compliment, then she pointed towards the open doors to the hotel's grand ballroom. "I vote for going inside before this turns to white grape sherbet."
They walked together across the stone patio, filtering through groups of fellow employees and gathering up a following as they headed for the warmth. Kerry felt Dar's hand come to rest on her back again as they neared the door, and as she looked around them, the nicest thing she could imagine happened.
No one noticed. Or if they did, it didn't matter.
What a difference. Kerry grinned, reaching for her jacket belt as they crossed the threshold and a gust of warm air hit her. She untied and unzipped the front, then was surprised as the weight of it was lifted off her shoulders and removed. She turned to find Dar laying the coat over her arm, along with her own. Her tall partner winked at her, then she pointed in the direction of the bar as she turned to find some place to store their coats.
"Thanks!" Kerry called after her, twitching her dress a little straighter and moving out of the doorway so everyone else could come in.
"I long suspected our friend of chivalry." Duks commented wryly, turning as Eleanor and Jose arrived.
"Oh yes, Dar.. the original knight in shining armor." Eleanor cracked. "Kerry, that's a killer dress. Where do you shop?"
"Wal-mart." Kerry responded readily. "You?"
Everyone laughed. Eleanor rolled her eyes. "Jesus, you've been spending too much time around Dar. You're catching her sick sense of humor."
They walked through the ballroom, passing the round tables set with gold and silver decorations that surrounded a wooden dance floor. On one side of the floor was the requisite band, which seemed to have enough instruments in enough varieties to possibly satisfy the age range the party represented.
"What's the seating this year, Mari?" Dar caught them up. "Nice decorations. We actually paid for this?"
The HR VP chuckled. "Sales paid for it." She said. "You made their lives wonderful this year, and this is what we get for it."
"Ah." Dar paused at a table and lifted a party favor. It was a gold frog, whose tongue extended when blown. Dar blew it experimentally. Not only did it extend a lurid red appendage, it croaked. "Killer." The CIO approved. "I like it."
"You would." Eleanor covered her eyes. "The guy we had ordering didn't speak Spanish. They're actually leftovers from a Budweiser convention."
Kerry clapped her hand over her mouth and nearly convulsed in laughter, along with everyone else. Even Dar cracked up, tucking her frog through the low slung leather belt around her waist and giving Eleanor a nudge. "Have him order every year. They sure beat the ones last year that spit glitter over everyone."
"Hey, my cousin made those!" Jose objected.
"Figures." Dar rolled her eyes. "I'm surprised arroz con pollo didn't come spitting out."
They got drinks at the bar, then wandered around to find their tables. Dar located hers without difficulty, and sat down at her place, noting Kerry's placemarker right next to her. "No buffet this year?"
"No!" Jose had followed them, sitting down at his table right next to theirs. "We do things right in Sales. We sit down, and let them come to us."
Dar rolled her head and gave him a look. " You're paying, Mr. Pastalito."
"You give me a year again next year like this, and I will have them bring it to your hacienda with white gloves on." Jose told her. "I have so much sales coming in the pipe Mercedes had to have a new order of contracts delivered."
Dar accepted the compliment with a grin. She extended a hand palm up, and after a brief pause, Jose slapped it with his own. "Gracias, Senor."
Jose nodded. "We fight like animals, but in the end, it is good."
"Hey." Kerry caught Dar's attention. "I found something you like."
Something turned out to be a pig in a blanket. Kerry offered it to her, and Dar took it neatly from her fingers, chewing it with frank enjoyment. "Thegrandmother of all hors deouvres."
The dark haired woman licked her lips. "Mm. more where that came from?"
Kerry produced a small plate, and set it down on the table along with two frosty mugs of beer. She sat down next to Dar and tucked her heels under her, looking around the room as it started to fill with people. "This is nice."
"Delicious." Dar agreed, popping another tidbit into her mouth.
The band began to play. Kerry listened to the music for a moment, letting the memories of the past year run through her mind. Then she grinned. "Hey Dar?"
Dar leaned on the arm of her chair and gave Kerry a completely inappropriate look. "Yeeess?" She purred. "What can I do for you, Kerrison?"
Kerry held her hand out. "Dance with me?"
Dar's eyes twinkled. "I thought I told you I was a lousy dancer."
"You lied." Kerry wiggled her fingers. "C'mon."
In a single graceful move, Dar rose and took her partner's hand, stepping neatly around the chair as Kerry joined her. "This is going to be front page of the employee newsletter, y'know." The dark haired woman remarked, as they walked together towards the dance floor.
"Hope they take a good picture." Kerry replied.
There were already a few couples on the floor, but they had plenty of space as they joined them. Dar put her arms around Kerry as the music slowed, and they picked up the rhythm together. "Been an amazing year."
"They say the first year's the toughest." Kerry replied, with a grin. "Boy, we've got it made now."
Dar rested her forehead against Kerry's and looked into her eyes. "Know what?"
Kerry glanced around, accepting the tingling thrill as she realized despite the friendly atmosphere, they'd become the center of attention. "What?"
"Life rocks." Dar kissed her.
Right there, on the dance floor, in front of every single person in the company whose eyeballs, Kerry was positive, were now rolling on the carpet and probably halfway out the door. She kissed Dar back. "Love you too." She whispered. "Happy new year."
"Hon?" Kerry idly watched Dar's profile as she turned to face her. Dinner was over, and much dancing and drinking had been accomplished. "Think you better drive home."
Dar's face creased into a grin. "Little too much champagne?" She guessed, watching Kerry's eyes half close.
"Little too much beer." Kerry shook her head, but grinned back. "I'm drunk."
"You can't be." Her partner objected. "You're not hanging from the chandeliers singing Dixie."
No, she probably really wasn't drunk, because she was lucid enough to think she was. Kerry decided to just stay where she was, her chair pushed up close to Dar's and her aching feet shed of their shoes and tucked underneath it.
The roast beef had been excellent, she'd enjoyed the baked potato, and she and Dar had exchanged spoonfuls of chocolate mousse. It was one of the few times she'd had a 'convention' dinner and thoroughly liked it. They'd danced several times together, and all in all, they'd so far had a very good time.
At a company party. Who'd have thunk it?
Dar was talking to Duks about some of the upcoming projects for next year, but Kerry found she'd rather study her partner's tanned, muscular shoulder than join in. Dar had nice skin, smooth, with just a few scattered freckles distributed over it's surface.
She was still in vacation mode, she decided. Though a lot had happened to them in a week, it hadn't seemed nearly long enough to her now that it was over. The last day in on the boat she'd found herself wishing it was only the first day out, no matter how much trouble they'd gotten into.
Maybe it was the candelight dinner Dar had treated her to, there on deck, with fresh caught lobster and a bottle of wine, just them and the stars and the music of the sea.
Kerry propped her fist against the chair arm and rested her chin on it. "Hm?"
"Feel like going home?" Dar asked, in a low voice. "I've had about enough socializing."
"Have you been reading my mind again?"
Dar chuckled. "C'mon. Let's say our goodbyes." She turned to the table and straightened. "Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's been fun."
"Yes, it has." Mari agreed, with a smile. "It's time for me to get going as well. Early start tomorrow."
A groan went around the group. "That is true." Duks said. "Tomorrow we start the filing torture."
Dar stood up, and the rest of the table did as well, pushing chairs back and saying farewells as they edged through the still partying crowd heading for the door. As she walked across the room, her eyes caught the looks of people she passed, recognizing that for one of the first times ever since she'd started working for the company, there were more friendly expressions
She felt Kerry reach for her hand and clasp it, a glance showing that the blond woman had done it unconsciously. Dar folded her fingers around her partner's, rubbing her thumb against Kerry's knuckles. She was aware of just how precious it was, here she was the notorious Ice Bitch strolling through the ballroom holding hands after all, but she'd gone past caring what other people thought about her and Kerry.
What she cared about was what Kerry and she thought about each other. She gave Kerry's hand a squeeze, and felt her ease closer and return the gesture with a shoulder to shoulder bump. They stopped by the cleaning closet pressed into emergency service as a coat room and reclaimed their leather, then strolled outside and across the now empty courtyard.
"Brr." Kerry exhaled, watching her breath fog. "Need more antifreeze, I guess."
Dar blinked her eyes in the dry air, scowling a bit as she turned the collar up on her jacket. "Yeah. This is ridiculous." She watched Kerry puff more little clouds as they waited their turn at the valet stand. "You want to stop for a.. um.."
Green eyes peeked at her from under long, blond lashes. "Nightcap? Dixiecup, the last thing I need is more alcohol."
"Cup of coffee." Dar amended, with a smile. "That stuff they had in there wasn't worth drinking."
Kerry considered. "Yeah." She decided. "Pick someplace nice."
"Got your ticket?"
The blond woman offered her pocket to Dar, stifling a yawn as the taller woman slipped a hand inside and retrieved the valet stub. Then she leaned against Dar's conveniently warm, sturdy form as they waited for the car.
Her cell phone rang as they got in. She waited for the valet to shut her door before she answered it, glancing at the caller id as she opened the flip. "Hey, Angie."
"Happy new year, sis." Angela replied, with a chuckle. "Where are you?"
"In the car." Kerry leaned back as Dar adjusted the driver's seat all the way back before she put the car into drive. "We're just leaving our company party. What about you?"
"Family's all here at the house.' Angie said. "The usual, you know."
"Mmhm. How's mom doing?"
"Better." Her sister replied. "She's going to take dad's seat."
Kerry's eyebrows shot up. "Really?"
"Yes, really. It's been pretty wild around here. But I think it'll be okay." Angie said. "Hold on."
"My mother's taking my father's senate seat." Kerry informed Dar, as she listened to muffled sounds on the phone.
"Hm." Dar turned out of the hotel parking area and started east.
"Hey, sis!" A different voice came on the line.
"Hey, Mike." Kerry smiled in reflex. "How are you?"
"I've got a girlfriend!"
"Another one?" His sister laughed. "That was fast." She kicked off her shoes again, and wiggled her toes, glad of the heat in the Lexus. "Hope this one lasts longer than the rest of them."
"Well, I'm not the monogamist you are." Her brother admitted. "But we'll see. Anyway, happy new year, sis. have fun!"
"Thanks, you too. Tell everyone I say hi." Kerry responded.
"Will do. Bye!"
Kerry folded the phone and tucked it away. "That's so weird." She said,after a moment of silence.
"About your mother?"
They both were quiet for a little while, as Dar navigated the traffic filled streets. Then, as they were about to turn onto Biscayne Boulevard, Kerry turned suddenly to her partner. "You know, Dar, now that I.."
At the same time, Dar started speaking. "Maybe we should just go."
They both looked at each other. "Couch, pj's, hot chocolate, us." Kerry supplied succinctly.
"Watching the ball drop on the big screen." Dar concluded. "Yeah." She neatly turned the car in a big U, and headed for the causeway. "Much better plan."
Kerry wiggled her toes again in contentment.
Half an hour later they were undressed and lying together on the couch in a comfortable snuggle of flannel covered bodies. "Jesus." Kerry examined her sleeve. "I haven't worn these since I was in college back home."
"You look adorable in them." Dar assured her. "Doesn't she, Chino?"
The Labrador lifted her head and perked her ears up. "Growf."
"See?" Dar chuckled.
"I look like a dorky prep in them." The blond woman corrected her. "Look.. they're even plaid."
"Better that than an overgrown elf." Dar lifted the hem of her Christmas green flannel nightshirt. "Shoulda come with a tassel hat."
Kerry put her head down on the padded couch arm, relaxing into its comfortable surface as Dar wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her closer. Times Square was being displayed in all its frenetic, crowded glory, and the thought foremost in Kerry's mind was one of utter relief that she wasn't there.
"You ever do that?" Dar asked, idly riffling her fingers through Kerry's hair.
"Be in Times Square?" Kerry asked. "Yeah." She watched the screen. "Year before I went to college. Whole family was in New York for some political thing or other. I ducked out of a function and went down there."
Kerry was silent for a moment. "And it was incredible how completely alone you could feel in a crowd like that." She laid her hand on Dar's thigh. "I' ll take this view anytime."
Dar kissed her on the curve of her neck, then repeated the act on her lips when Kerry turned her head. "How about this view."
Kerry gazed up into those blue eyes. "Bite me, Big Apple." She turned her back on the television and indulged in a festivity much more to her liking.
The ball dropped, the fireworks crackled, and Dick Clark cheered, all in vain, paling before a celebration as old as time itself.
Happy New Year, Ya’ll!