A steady falling of snow dusted the yard and gates outside the window of the broad, three story mansion tucked near the crest of a hillside in Saugatuck, Michigan. Thick clouds clusetered overhead, and two men were steadily shoveling the snow from the circular driveway, and two more were brushing off the tops of the multitude of cars parked along the curb.
On the second floor, the lights were on along the series of bedrooms, and in the corner one on the end the occupants inside busied themselves in dressing amidst the scents of apricot body wash, silk, and lightly spicy perfume.
“They're going to regret asking the wedding party to go strapless.” Kerry regarded her reflection in the mirror with a sense of slightly wicked bemusement. “I think mom forgot about the tattoo.” She studied the snake pattern on her chest, fully revealed on the tan skin over the neckline of her pale blue, floor length, snugly fit gown. “Besides, is this the weather for this kind of thing?”
“Could be worse.” Dar eased into position behind her, putting her arms around Kerry and giving her a hug. “Besides, who cares? You look gorgeous.”
“Thank you.” Kerry bumped her gently. “I”m glad I picked this one out myself. The one the bridesmaid's are wearing remind me of my prom.”
“Mm. You have exquisite taste.” Dar kissed the top of her head.
“Well, sure. I picked you, didn't I?” Kerry chuckled as she was squeezed again and released. “I can't believe it's snowing. My sister said it's been in the sixties all month.”
“Knew I was coming and had to drive.” Her partner said, succinctly. “Anyway, isn't snow at your wedding supposed to be lucky?”
Kerry eyed her with a tolerant smile. “No.” She said, lifting a pair of sapphire earrings and starting to fasten them to her ears as she watched Dar get into her burgundy, knee length dress and settle the, on her, mid arm length sleeves. “Are those supposed to be that short?”
“No.” Dar turned the cuff of the sleeve up one turn. “But I didn't have time to get something custom done.” She looked up and met Kerry's eyes in the mirror. “Look awful?” She smiled at Kerry's rolled eyes. “We could discuss a sleeveless option. I'm sure your mother has a pair of scissors around this place somewhere.”
Kerry merely chuckled. “Now that we're doing this, I kinda wish I'd turned my sister down on being in her wedding party.” She sighed. “It would be more fun sitting with you and mom and dad in church.” She finished fastening her other earring, then adjusted the crystal necklace that settled right above her breastbone.
“Won't be long.” Dar put her hands on Kerry's neck and massaged her gently. “My mother's loaded her purse with paint gun balls, by the way.”
“What?” Kerry paused, turning and looking up at her.
“Mm.” She's got a slingshot in there too. She hears anyone making remarks about either of us she's gonna let go with it.” Dar informed her. “Hope your mother doesn't mind green paint stains.”
Kerry blinked, unsure of whether to take her partner seriously or not. Dar's expression was mild and had a hint of gentle questioning, but after a moment, she saw the twinkle appear in her very blue eyes and relaxed. “Hon, you nearly got me there.” She sighed. “I wouldn't put that past your mom.”
“Me either.” Dar said, cheerfully. “C'mon, Ker, you've got the service, then a party, then tomorrow night we'll be home in time to share a glass of champagne in our hot tub for New Years..” She picked up the brush on the dresser and moved it through Kerry's pale blond locks. “Chill out.”
Kerry felt the tickle of the brush tines on her scalp, and considered the words. Was she unchilled, really? She let her eyes flick around the green tinted walls of the suite in her mother's home, and had to admit that yes, in fact, she was a little uptight, even though their visit so far had been in fact benign.
There were just too many bad memories here. Even though her father was gone, and her mother had stopped trying to reorder her life, still, she was hyper aware of the eyes on her, and the constant judging that seemed to permeate the place no matter how many changes it had recently seen.
“Hey, at least your uncles won't be here.” Dar leaned over and blew gently in her ear.
“Yeah, that's true.” Kerry turned and put her arms around her partner. “Thanks, Dardar.”
Dar returned the hug, giving Kerry's back a little scratch. “Anyway, it's nice to have a little break, even if it's here.” She said. “Too much going on otherwise.”
True. Kerry released her, then went over to sit down and put on her shoes. They were mid height heels, and matched her dress. “You wearing hose?”
“Nope.” Dar shook her head. “They'll never tell with this tan, or yours either.”
Also true. She regarded her companion's long legs. “You have sexy knees.” She commented, after a moment of silence.
Dar rolled a droll look in her direction. “What's sexier, this scar or this one?” She pointed at both, jagged white lines that bisected the front of her joints.
Kerry chuckled. “They just give you character.” She got up and looked out the window. “The limos are here.” She said. “Must be time to go.”
A soft knock came at the door. “C'mon in.” Kerry picked up her full length leather jacket and shrugged it on, looking over as the door opened and Ceci Roberts stuck her head in. “Hey mom.”
“Ah.” Ceci entered and sauntered over. “You ready? I heard that major domo of your mother's inserting another baseball bat up his ass downstairs. I think the cars are here.” She came over to stand next to Kerry, both of them about the same height, and with Ceci's silvered blond hair, appeared more related than the older woman did to her tall, dark haired daughter.
Dar snickered and stood up, going over and removing her own jacket from the closet. “Glad I'm driving the rest of us. We're gonna stop at BK before the pate parade, want me to get you a fish sandwich?”
Kerry sighed. “Wish I was going with you.” She said. “I have to ride with my mother, and three of Angie's sorority sisters.” She fastened her jacket, and put a dark green pashmina scarf around her neck. “When's our flight tomorrow?”
Ceci patted her on the back. “Try to have fun.” She said. “Say mean things with big words they won't understand.”
Kerry pondered that. “Hm.” She grunted thoughtfully, as she followed Dar and Ceci from the room, pausing to join Dar's father, who was loitering in the hall. “Hey dad.”
was in his naval dress uniform, with an all weather parka over it.
“Dardar, you want me to drive in this here stuff?”
“No.” Ceci answered for her, taking her husbands arm and leading him to the stairs. “She has to learn to drive in snow, Andrew. She's going to be spending a lot of time in it if the government keeps pecking at her.”
Dar and Kerry strolled after them. “That remains to be seen.” Dar commented. “Far as I'm concerned, I'm still retiring in three months.”
“Me too.” Kerry said. “We've got travel plans.” She reached out and took Dar's hand, interlacing their fingers. “They're pretty persistent though.”
“Gov'mint.” Andy groused. “Always wanting you to do something.”
Dar and Kerry exchanged glances. “They still calling you, Dad?” Dar asked.
“Jackass.” Her father said. “Told them ah do not want to be no consultant for nothing for em.”
They walked down the staircase as a group of other people came in from the hall, a gust of cold air blowing in from the now open door. The entry's marble floor reflected the sconces and chandelier, and the buzz of voices started to echo.
Kerry paused as they
waited at the near the bottom of the steps for the crowd to clear,
spotting her mother standing near the grand entrance, talking ot her
staff, while the rest of the wedding party assembled. “Dar?”
“Hm?” Dar removed a pair of gloves from her jacket pocket. “Here. These are yours.”
Kerry took them. “Next time I volunteer for something like this, spank me.”
“Hang in there, hon.” Dar draped an arm over her shoulders. “It'll be over before you know it.”
She knew that. Kerry put her gloves on and sighed, content to stay in her little huddle of Roberts before she had to join the gathering of wedding party assemblnig at the door.
“Ah, Kerrison.” Her mother spotted her and headed over. “All ready?” She turned to the others. “I am so sorry we don't have room in the limos for you to join us.. would you like my driver to take you over to the church?”
“We're fine.” Ceci answered graciously. “But if there's not much room, maybe Kerry should ride with us.” She offered “After all, she knows how to get there. I'd hate for Dar to get lost and end up at Dairy Queen.”
“Ah woudln't.” Andrew muttered, under his breath.
“Oh.” Cynthia Stuart seemed taken aback. “Well... “ She half turned. “Kerrison would you mind terribly? Then Aunt Mildred can ride with us. She's quite upset.”
“No, mother. I would be glad to.” Kerry answered, in the warmest, most sincere tone possible. “I know Aunt Mildred really wanted to be with you, please. Let her take my place.” She said. “We'll meet you over there.”
Cynthia smiled. “Thank you.” She said. “Let me go let her know. See you at the church shortly.” She hurried away, leaving them to edge down the stairs and thread their way through the crowd.
“That was slick.” Dar commented, as they ducked out the front door and she blinked at the snow hitting her face. “Nice job, mom.”
Ceci chuckled as they walked past the waiting limos. Each one had at least one doorman standing by, and they had to pick their way carefully past the clouds of exhaust obscuring the snow slick driveway to the bottom of the entrance, where a dark blue SUV was parked.
Kerry glanced behind her as they got to the car, watching the swirl of activity around the limos as the rest of the wedding party got situated. She imagined herself getting into the car with them, the women and her relatives so far nothing more than a collection of disapproving eyeballs she'd had to deal with over breakfast.
Why had she thought it would be different this time? Because her mother had visited her in Miami, and liked her cabin? She got in the car and repeated the question aloud. “Thanks mom. I have no clue why I thought things would be that much better this trip.”
“Well.” Ceci got in behind Dar, while Andy folded his long legs in behind Kerry's seat. “Just think of being here for your sister, kiddo. The hell with everyone else.”
Dar put the car into drive, and eased forward, leaving the brightly lit mansion behind.
The church was already filling when they got there, parking as close to the building as they could in deference to the worsening weather. Kerry spotted the press there, and as they climbed up the steps to the front door to the stately brick church the press spotted them.
Andy got between them and the men though, and they made it to the door and inside before the cameras could catch them. “Jackass.” He shook the snow off his shoulders as they cleared the door, almost crashing into a tall, spare man with a priest's collar. “Sorry bout that.”
The man's face twitched, as he recognized Kerry. “Miss Stuart.” He said. “Your sister is in the second dressing room. She was asking for you.”
Kerry took a breath and released it. “Thanks.” She touched Dar's arm. “Go on in and sit down. I'll meet up with you after the service.”
Dar patted her on the side. “Say hi to Angie for me.”
“I will.” Kerry ducked past the pastor and slipped into the inner hallway, that led to the schoolrooms and side chambers she remembered roaming through as a child. The smell was still the same, a mixture of wax and old paper, the wooden floorboards creaking a little under her steps.
Happy memories, the earliest of them. A time when sunday school was just a time to gather with her friends, and listen to Pastor Robert, then himself just out of seminary, teach them basic, simple lessons that held no charge and didn't weigh them down morally.
She remembered learning to sing hymns, though she never stood out in that regard as some of her classmates had, and the times when they'd decorated the church for this festival, or that one.
Sunday service with her family, sitting in the first pew, not understanding then why everyone paid so close attention to them, or why her father was always the center of attention.
The place rubbed her raw now. She found the second dressing room and knocked lightly on it, loosening the belt on her coat as the door opened and swung back and she spotted her sister inside. “Hey Ang.”
“There you are!” Angie looked up from fiddling with her bouquet and waved her inside. “I thought you'd never get here.”
Kerry smiled and entered, removing her scarf and hanging it on the coat rack just inside the door. “I skipped the limo.” She said. “Or I'd still probably on our mother's doorstep.”
“Ugh.” Angie got the ribbons sorted and put the bouquet down. “I should have stuck to my idea of having it be just mom, you and mike, us, and the justice of the peace.” She turned as Kerry stripped off her coat and hung it up. “Dar outside?”
“I left her and her folks with Pastor Durham.” Kerry turned to face her sister. “I figure if he survives he'll just shut up and marry you wthout any commentary.”
Angie grinned. “I love that dress.” She complimented her sister. “You look gorgeous.”
Kerry felt her shoulders relax and she grinned back. “You too.” She said. “I really like that lace top.” She joined her sister, who was wearing a cream colored dress, simple and elegant, strapless as her own was and flattering to her somewhat angular figure. “Was the strapless bit your idea of rebellion?”
Angie chuckled. “Hey, it's my second time.” She said. “They say you're supposed to know what you're doing after the first, and none of this princess neckline stuff or veils. Besides.” She studied Kerry's chest. “I wanted everyone to see my sister's gorgeous tattoo.”
Kerry glanced down at the mark, the snake's intricate scale pattern glistening slightly, it's sinuous body wrapping in and out of Dar's name inked clearly and distinctly on her skin. “Everyone's going to freak.”
“Yeah, I know.” Angie admitted. “But I may break dance with Brian at the banquet so at least they'll all be loosened up for it.” She gently touched the tattoo. “Are you mad?”
Kerry thought about that. “No. Everyone's going to be pissed off at me on general principals. Might as well give them a solid reason.” She sighed. “Too bad you and Brian coudn't have gotten married down at our place last week.”
“I wish.” Angie patted her sister's shoulder. “But remember Mike stayed those extra two days?”
“He got his nose pierced.”
Kerry covered her eyes with one hand. “Jesus.”
“So don't worry sis.” Angie chuckled. “You really are going to turn out to be the Republican in the family.”
Pastor Durham cleared his throat. “You are friends of Kerrison, I believe?” He said, in a chilly voice.
Dar regarded him, then extended her hand. “We met in the hospital.” She said. “I”m Dar Roberts, Kerry's partner.” She waited for him to very reluctantly shake her hand. “These are my parents, Andrew and Cecilia Roberts.”
He released her. “Yes, I recall seeing you there.” He said. “I'm Charles Durham, the family pastor.” He gave them a brief nod. “Excuse me. I need to prepare for the ceremony. It will be held in there.” He pointed at the entrance to the nave. “Someone will seat you.” He turned and went through a side doorway, shutting it behind him with a distinct bang.
“Nice feller.” Andrew said, rocking up and down on his heels.
Ceci sighed. “What a wasted opportunity, really.” She started for the door to the chapel. “I had a perfectly good set of Samhain robes I could have worn to this thing.”
Dar followed them in, using the time as they stood in line to be seated to look around the place. She noticed they were noticed, people looking at them from their seats, or behind them in line and she returned the stares until they all looked elsewhere.
It was overt. Dar's face twitched as she acknowledged the sense of discomfort. The last time she'd had to interact with Kerry's family and their friends it had been at Kerry's father's funeral service, and the circumstances themselves had diverted attention from them.
But here, as invited guests, she could sense an undercurrent of outrage in this conservative community, not willing to accept the acceptance determindly shown by Cynthia Stuart to them. She had to give Kerry's mother credit, the senator had stuck to her guns and welcomed them as family, with open arms, ignoring the distaste of her social circle and displaying a surprisingly solid backbone when her political and private councillors tried to derail her.
A young page guided them down the aisle to the second pew on the right hand side, where Angie and Kerry's brother Mike was already ensconced, along with a young lady in purple leather with one half of her head shaven.
“Nice.” Ceci nodded at her in satisfaction. “Hello there.” She greeted Michael.
“Hey.” Michael grinned at them, the ring in his nose catching the light. “Welcome to the dark side.” He indicated his companion. “This is my girlfriend Tracy.” He concluded “Trace, this is my sister in law, Dar, and her parents.”
Dar felt her sense of the absurd stir. “When does the juggler and the two headed dog show up?” She asked, as she took her seat next to him. “Kerry was worried her tat would raise eyebrows.”
Mike chuckled and sat down. “Yeah, I figure the rate we're going, we'll talk mom into a leather biker vest pretty soon.”
He leaned back as Tracey put her hand on his knee and leaned towards Dar. “Hey, you're the computer genius, aren't you?” She asked. “I saw you in the paper a couple months back.”
“More or less.” Dar admitted. “We did some work on the terrorist recovery.”
The woma nodded. “I'm one of the senior copywriters at the marketing firm we work for.” She indicated Michael. “My brother got sent to New York last month as part of the rebuilding team. He sent pictures back. Puts it in perspective, you know? We're writing copy to sell Jaegemeister shots and he's there.”
“It was pretty horrific.” Dar agreed quietly. “Something I will never forget.”
“Dar and my sister were there too.” Mike piped up. “I told you what was going on at the house when it was all happening, right?”
“You told me.” Tracey gave him a tolerant look.
The chapel was filling up, and the pew they were in gathered a few more people, older women and men who were, Dar figured, aunts and uncles of some kind. None of them seemed eager to talk, and after about ten minutes, they saw the pastor move to the front and the crowd quieted down.
Brian and his best man, a red haired and freckled specimen Dar didn't know moved to the front of the altar and stood there quietly, dressed in sharply creased morning suits and bow ties.
Then an usher came down the aisle escorting a woman, who was seated in the first pew on the other side.
“Brian's mom.” Mike whispered to Dar. “Freak show in a bowl.”
Dar nodded slightly. The woman was sitting bolt upright, a hat firmly perched on her head.
An organ started to play. It had a mellow, sweet tone and Dar folded her hands in her lap, cocking her head to listen to it. After a few minutes, her peripheral vision caught motion, and she turned her head to watch the procession coming in down the center aisle.
The sorority sisters, and three men in morning suits marched down, taking up their place near the altar, then Angie's young daughter Sally came trotting down, carrying a pillow with a small box on it, focusing on keeping the surface even as she ended up almost bumping into Brian's knees.
Dar glanced around to see if, by freakish chance, Angie's ex-husband Richard were around, but a quick scan didn't turn him up. Then she forgot about looking further as she spotted Kerry walking quietly up the aisle, eyes forward, ignoring the stares of the crowd.
Dar felt a smile stretch her lips as she watched her partner make the journey up to the altar, her sculptured, muscular shoulders shifting a little as she walked up and took her place across from Brian, regarding the crowd with an wary expression.
Then her eyes met Dar's and she smiled, folding her hands in front of her as she waited for Angie to arrive. The bridesmaids next to her were dressed in similar style, but in her partner's admittedly biased eyes Kerry's poised confidence easily outshined them and her understated beauty would likely do the same to her sister once the bride was in place.
Kerry glanced back over at her, and whatever she saw in Dar's expression made her blush slightly and she looked away, as Angie came up to the alter, escorted by their mother.
Cynthia gave Brian a little nod, then she seated herself in the first pew, her solitary presence lending an unexpected dignity to the moment.
Pastor Durham cleared his throat, and stepped forward, his eyes sweeping over the party, and his face twitching as he faced the bride and groom and put his back to the crowd. As he lifted his hands, a crackling pop sounded, and then all the lights went off.
Ceci sighed. “Somewhere, PT Barnum is laughing.”
Kerry sat on one of the dressing room benches, old pews repurposed in the small room. “Shoulda done this last week down by us, Ang.” She remarked. “You coud have had it out on the little island Dar and I had our commitment ceremony on.”
Angie was sitting on another bench across from here with Brian next to her, and Sally sitting on Brian's lap. “You think they found enough candles yet?” She asked, looking wryly amused. “I know I should be upset about this but really it's just sort of funny.”
Her three bridesmaids were occupying the temporary chairs they'd brought in to do makeup from, and one of them was fluffing up the cortages with a mild, bored expression on her face.
“Very.” Brian agreed. “Especially since power's out all over town. I was listening to the local news on the radio and everyone's freaking out.”
“Well.” Kerry folded her hands on her knee, and wished she could go change into her jeans, mourning the fact they were back in her mother's house. “At least the house has a fireplace.”
“You volunteering to go chop firewood? She hasn't used it in probably ten years.” Her sister exhaled, glancing up as the door opened and Mike slipped in. “Hey. They ready?”
“The church is ready. The pastor is arguing with mom.” Mike came in and dropped down onto the bench Kerry was sitting on. “Saying all kinds of crap about how this was a sign God's pissed off with her.”
“What?” Kerry barked.
“What?” Angie echoed her.
“Jerk.” Mike shook his head. “He was telling her she's been living an immoral life and we all turned out to be scumbuckets because of it.”
Both Angie and Kerry stood up at the same time. “Fuck that.” Kerry enunciated crisply. “Let me go kick him in the ass. I don't care if he's a priest.”
“Don't worry.” Mike waved them back. “Dar and her mom and dad got into it. It was really entertaining there for a minute but then they went into his office.”
“He's been on that kick.” One of the bridesmaids spoke up. “You know it, Ang – he was preaching about that last Sunday, that all the bad things happening, like 9/11, are because we're not living right.”
“Missed it.” Angie said. “Andy wasn't feeling well so we stayed home. Now I”m glad. Does he really think God sent terrorists to fly planes into New York because we aren't being pious enough?”
Kerry reseated herself and exhaled. “Well, who knows.” She muttered. “After all, I'm gay, you're an adulterer, and he's got a tattoo on his ass and a pierced nose.” She turned her head and regarded her sister. “Maybe you all should move to Miami.”
Angie started chuckling. The bridesmaids looked a little shocked, and Brian just laughed and shook his head. “Yeah.” He said. “People are weird.”
“So.” One of the other bridesmaids spoke up. “Kerry.”
“Mm?” Kerry eyed her.
“What's it like being gay?” The woman asked, in a mild tone that had no edge to it.
Kerry pondered that then shrugged. “I don't know. What's it like being straight?” She returned the question. “I guess, it was hard for me when I figured it out because of how I was raised.” She added. “But now? It's just... it's normal. I don't feel any different just because Dar's a woman not a guy. It's kind of cool, you know? Not having to explain things like my period, or worry about that Mars versus Venus thing.”
Angie chuckled. “You've got a point there.”
The other woman nodded. “My brother's gay.” She related, surprising everyone else in the room apparently. “He just came out to my parents. Really bad scene.” She added. “They flipped. I thought they were going to throw him out, but they dind't.”
“Scott's gay?” Angie asked, with a fascinated expression. “Really, Chris?”
Chris nodded. “Yeah. He's going to college next year, so I guess he figured he'd better get the word out before he came back with a boyfriend.” She stifled a yawn. “God I hope you have coffee at the reception, Ang.”
“Hope they can figure out how to heat it up.” Angie responded. “I can just imagine all that quiche gone cold.”
Kerry felt a sudden shift in perception, at the offhand discussion. She'd known Chris, and the other two women as friends of Angies from years back, but this studied acceptance, honest or not of her relationship was an unexpected pleasure. She relaxed, extending her legs out and crossing them at the ankles.
The door opened again and one of the ushers poked his head in. “We're ready to start.” He said. “Could you take your places again, please?”
The wedding party filed out obediently and re-entered the chapel. The altar area had been lit up with candles of many sizes and shapes, and though it provided an irregular light, Kerry decided it was actually pretty charming. There was a dim glow from the narrow stained glass windows on the back wall and the illumination lent a beauty and mystery to the altar she hadn't felt before.
The pastor hadn't returned yet, but as she watched the guests file back in, she spotted Dar and her folks coming down the far aisle and sliding into place in their pew. Dar's temper was visibly bristling and as she met Kerry's eyes, she shook her head a little, sitting down and folding her arms over her chest.
Hm. Kerry folded her hands and flexed her fingers as the pastor came back in, his long face twitching in annoyance as he came to face Angie and Brian again.
For a moment, his eyes slipped past them and fell on Kerry, and the stark dislike in them chilled her. She wondered if he was going to start ranting at her, but after that brief pause, he twitched his robe straight and cleared his throat.
She saw her mother enter, but instead of going to the first pew, she went to the second, and seated herself next to Ceci, leaning close to whisper something to the shorter women.
Ceci patted her knee and then, looking pointedly at the priest's back, raised her hand and extended her middle finger at him, nearly making her daughter's pale blue eyes come out of her head.
Kerry suspected there were lots of things she was going to regret finding out just as soon as the service was over. She spotted reporters now in the back, and she straightened a little as flashbulbs started to pop, and found herself wishing very hard it was just done.
She heard the pastor going through the motions, and tried to focus on the service, willing to give respect to her sister's wish for a new life for herself, and for her kids, but also acknowledging a twinge of sadness that no matter how her own life contrasted to Angies, she could never stand in that spot, and have a pastor of her own church read those words he was saying to her sister.
No matter her commitment ceremony was held in a far more beautiful space, with lots of her friends around her, and celebrated by an ordained pastor of her faith – it was not a marriage. It didn't give her and Dar the legal rights this simple ceremony would give them, even held in the clerk of courts office.
Did that matter? Kerry listened to Angie's quiet “I do.” Did it matter that her own, internal, until death do us part was far more binding in her heart than her sister's now second set of them were?
Did it matter it had taken months of laborously drawn legal papers to give her and Dar the basic rights to each other's person, and property that this five minute exchange of words would for Angie and Brian?
“You may kiss the bride.”
And then the words tickled her sense of the absurd, because who in the hell was this old jerk to be giving permission for two people to kiss each other? Kerry regarded the candles, and stifled a smile, as the recessional started playing and she was watching Angie and Brian's back as they retreated up the aisle towards the doors, with people standing and tossing rice balls in gauze at them.
So it was over. Kerry relaxed a little, as Dar got up and headed her way, evading the milling guests as she dodged past the pastor. “Excuse me.” Her partner uttered, just missing crashing into him as he stepped back without looking.
The man turned and stiffened, recognizing her.
“Problem?” Dar straightened up to her full height, matching his.
He stared at her for a moment. “God has a problem with you. I would just prefer you out of his house.” He said, then turned and retreated towards the small door just to the left of the altar.
Kerry regarded her partner. “Sorry.” She said, with a sigh.
“Nice.” Dar shook her head. “How could God have problem with me if he gave me you?” She turned to her partner, putting a hand on her hip. “What a jackass.”
Kerry lifted her hands and handed Dar her cortage, ignoring the chatter of conversation as she only just resisted the urge to lean over and kiss her. “I really am sorry, hon. Wish we were home.”
“Peh.” Dar half shrugged. “I don't know if it's just what we went through but it's hard for me to let morons like that bother me, Ker.” She sniffed the flowers, and leaned a little against the blond woman. “He's just pissed because my mother ripped him a new one.”
Kerry let her hand rest on Dar's shoulder, glancing past her at the crowd, waiting for it to clear a little so they could escape.
Cameras were still popping, and she figured given their postion she was probably going to be at least page 2 of the daily tomorrow. “So.” She watched Dar nibble on one of the roses, the warm candlelight gilding her skin. “What happened in there? Mike said you were going at it with him.”
“Asshole.” Dar muttered back, aware of the press now moving forward to get a shot of them. “Tried to pull a guilt trip on your mother.”
“Not over you.” Her partner gave one of the nearest reporters a smile. “Matter of fact, it didn't get that far. Started on Angie having an affair and then my mother lit into him.”
“Said she was an immoral whore.”
“Your mother??” Kerry straightened.
“Yours.” Dar bumped her. “My mother started chanting some sort of pagan curse at him.”
“Fucking asshole.” Kerry said, audible enough for the front rows to hear her. “Let me get out of this dress and I'm going to go kick box him into February.” She got down off the raised platform and headed off, but had to pull up short as two reporters blocked her way.
Dar caught up with her as she stopped. “Hon.”
“Ms Stuart.” The older of the two reporters said. “Would you mind speaking to us for a moment?”
“Kerrison.” Cynthia arrived at her elbow. “We've sent the staff back to the house to prepare for the reception, with all the difficulties.” She glanced at the press. “Excuse us please, gentlemen. This is a private social affair.”
Dar was surprised when the press nodded and backed off. “Sorry about that, Senator.” The older one said. “We were just looking for a few minutes with your daughter.”
“Some other time.” Cynthia said, firmly.
They retreated. “I hear the pastor caused some problems.” Kerry said, in a quiet tone, as her mother turned back to her.
Her mother exhaled. “He was unkind.” She admitted. “But we mustn't dwell on it. This is a happy occasion, and I'm determined it will stay that way.” She said. “Now, shall we go? I have been told this power outage is quite extensive. I'm sure someone will want to talk to me about it.” She gestured them forward. “As though I could actually do something.”
Kerry's mother was, Dar considered, becoming a lot stronger minded than she had been when they'd first met. “I”m surprised someone hasn't called me to see if I could do something about it.” She remarked. “They must have forgotten I'm here.”
Cynthia regarded her. “Could you?” She asked, hesitantly. “Do something?”
“Depends on what the problem is.” Dar admitted. “If a tanker truck ran into the power station, probably not. If it's a computer glitch...” She lifted her hands, then let them drop.
“I see.” The Senator mused. “Well, never mind. You're a guest here. Let someone else who's probably being paid a lot of our budget dollars fix it.” She took the lead and the crowd parted as her aides cleared a path. “Excuse us please!”
“Hm.” Kerry tucked her hand inside Dar's elbow and suffered the resulting flash bulbs. “My mother's growing on me.” She felt the faint chuckle rippled through her partner's body. “She's getting a lot more ..uh.. “
“Ballsey.” Dar concluded, glad enough to follow down the aisle and out of the church, getting through the crowd all talking in the antechamber as Ceci and Andrew joined them. “We're heading out.”
“Good.” Ceci remarked. “The overbearing stench of orthodoxy is making me want to light a passionfruit firecracker in this place.”
“Lord.” Andrew handed them their coats. “Had me more fun at Navy training.”
Kerry covered her mouth hastily, muffling a laugh as they were hustled outside by Cynthia's aides, who kept the crowd back as they walked down the steps and headed past the waiting limos, escaping the line of the press who had stopped the Senator at the door to hers and were questioning her.
“Hon.” Kerry put her hand on Dar's back. “Better let me drive back. The lights are all out and I still probably know this place better than you do.”
Dar handed her the keys and they got inside, waiting for the doors to thump closed before being subjected to Ceci's bursting into speech. “What a son of a bitch that man is.” She said. “Kerry, if that's the church you grew up in, my hats off to you not turning out to be a wingnut.”
“Who says I'm not?” Kerry felt her guts relax as she adjusted the seat and started the car up. “But yeah, he's always been very conservative.” She got the defroster on, and flexed her hands. “I have no idea how they're going to do the reception without any power. This is a little crazy.”
“Yeap.” Andrew folded hs arms over his chest. “Just a little bit.”
Ceci made a snorting sound.
The snow was coming down harder, and there were no lights working. Kerry was grateful that she knew where she was going as she carefully navigated through thes storm. “Not all the people in that church were like that.” She found herself saying. “I remember when I was graduating from high school, there was a big thing about him, because his wife was caught embezzling money from the church and then she ran away, ended up crashing into a tree and killing herself.”
Ceci cleared her throat. “I'll try to refrain from commenting about judgements from God.”
“Mm.” Kerry turned up the street her childhood home was on and accelerated cautiously. “He certainly doesn't like me. Never did, matter of fact. Said was impertient and that my father should punish me more.” She turned in at the gate and paused, as the security guard came over, shielding his face from the snow as she opened the window. “Hey John. Just us.”
“Ms. Kerry.” The man waved them through. “What a day, huh?”
“What a day.”
It was cold inside. Dar pondered the possiblity of having to wear thermal underwear to the reception as she waited for Kerry to get off her cell phone. They'd left them in the house, and she had two voice mails on hers, but she'd felt no inclination to listen to them.
It had become hard to remain engaged with work. Dar folded her arms and regarded the window, watching the snow fall in thick, drifitng waves. She'd gotten to a place where she wanted to move on, and as hard as she was trying to tie things up, it was even harder to get people to realize she was serious, and wanted out.
They kept trying to drag her back in.
“Hm?” She turned as Kerry came over, folding her phone shut “What's up?”
“Lansing's on generator. Just wanted to let me know they're mostly online, and just monitoring stuff. Said it was pretty quiet. Some people called but they know the blackout is what it is.”
“Good.” Dar leaned her arm on Kerrys shoulder. “What's the protocol for wearing a bearskin rug to your sister's shindig?”
Kerry chuckled. “If this keeps up, we're going to have to find a way to keep warm tonight. There's no fireplace in this room.”
“I'm sure.” Dar tilted her head and gently blew in her partner's ear. “We'll think of something.”
“Maybe we should start working on ideas right now.” Kerry turned her head and their lips met. “At least this gives me an excuse to change out of my scandalous dress and into something more comfortable.” She rested her head against Dar's. “Wonder if they figured out what the power problem is yet?”
“Change.” Dar gave her another kiss. “I'll call around and see if I can find that out for ya.” She angled around behind her and unzipped the strapless gown, running a finger across the back of Kerry's neck.
“Didn't need more goosebumps, hon.” Kerry smiled, getting out of her gown while Dar picked up her phone, and opened it, her partner already dressed in a pair of casual pants and a blue knitted sweater. The chill hit her and she hurriedly changed herself, reluctantly bypassing her jeans for a pair of wool slacks and adding sweater of her own to them.
Dar waited for the phone to answer. “Wonder how long the cell sites'll be up.” She mused. “Batteries can't last that long.” She listened. “Yeah, this is Dar Roberts.” She announced. “Yeah, happy new years to you too. Listen. There's a power outage up here in Michigan. Do a search and tell me what the deal is, will ya?”
“You should put a tshirt on, Dar.”
Dar looked down at herself, then at her partner, one brow lifting. “What?” She covered the phone with one hand. “It's cold!”
“Under the sweater.” Kerry fished a cotton shirt from Dar's bag and handed it to her. “It's layers, right?”
“Oh.” Dar juggled the phone and the shirt, pulling off her sweater and laying it on the dresser as she donned the shirt, then put the heavier garment on over it. “Yeah, I”m here.” She listened to the phone. “Ah. Okay. Thanks. Bye.” She closed the phone. “Iced over high tension power lines snapped.”
“Ah” Kerry brushed her hair. “Well, that's fixable at least.”
“Not before we have to make heat I hope.” Dar put her arms around Kerry from behind and leaned against her, watching their dual reflections in the mirror. “Maybe everyone'll decide to go to bed early.”
“Mmm... maybe we'll inaugurate the green room.” Kerry snickered. “We can put our initials on the wall.”
Dar looked at her in puzzlement. “Didn't you say this is where they put the married people in your family?” She watched Kerry nod, eyes twinkling. “And married people don't have sex in the Stuart clan?”
Kerry regarded her. “We've had this whole parents and sex conversation, Dar.”
“Ah... that's right. Kerry Cabbage Patch Stuart. I forgot.”
They both chuckled. “Let's go downstairs.” Kerry said. “See if they have any crackers and cheese at least. I'm starving.” She patted her companion on the side and they sat down to put their shoes on. With the dim gray light outside, it was almost twilight in the room, and without any electricity they could hear the pops and creaks of the house around them.
“Hope mom has candles around.” Kerry stood up. “If this lasts all night it could end up getting creepy.”
They left the room and walked along the hallway towards the stairs, coming face to face with Aunt Mildred. “Hi there.” Kerry mustered up a smile. “Crazy weather, huh?”
The older woman merely stared at her, then she turned and started down the steps, leaving them behind.
Dar and Kerry sighed in unison, then followed her. “At least mom didn't invite my uncles.” Kerry uttered under her breath. “Next time, please tie me up.”
The main entry of the Stuart family house was filling with guests, but even with all the people the chill was evident. Someone had put candles in glass jars around the space, and there were two servants putting more out between taking heavy overcoats from their owners.
There was no press around this time. Dar could see a line of them outside, but they weren't getting much for their efforts, and she put her hand on Kerry's back as they reached the bottom of the stairs and paused. “There's your brother.” She indicated the far corner of the space. “Should all the black sheep gather together?”
“Baa.” Kerry was glad enough to agree. She led the way through the crowd, ignoring the veiled and not so veiled stares as they were recognized, and then she had to stop as a woman got directly in her path. “Excuse me.”
“Don't you have any shame?” The woman asked her.
Kerry stared thoughtfully at her, one had going back to put a halt on Dar's forward motion, as she sensed her beloved partner about to take severe offense. “No, actually I don't” She answered in a mild tone. “Please get out of my way, Aunt April. This isn't the place to make a scene. My mother wouldn't appreciate it.”
The woman shook her head. “Your father would be so ashamed.”
Kerry squeezed Dar's hand. “He had a lot of reasons to be ashamed. Now please excuse us.” She pushed past the woman, keeping tight hold of her growling spouse. “It's going to be one of those days isn't it?”
“I vote we go back to bed.”
“Soon, hon. Soon.”
“It was a complete screw up.” The stocky man told Dar, as they both held drinks and watched the candle lit crowd in the grand hall. “They knew those towers needed repair, but all that warm weather we had made them push it off.”
“A mess.” Dar commisserated. “They know how long it'll take to fix it?”
The Governor shook his head mournfully. “I was hoping it was some systemic mistake, because I knew I'd be seeing you today and maybe I could ask you to fix it.” He winked at her. “But no, they've got to take the grid offline, repair the cables, and power it all back up. Maybe late tonight. Probably tomorrow. I'm getting lambasted in the news.”
“As if you could do something about it.”
“Not only that, instead of sitting in my office being a martyr to public opinion I'm here, having a glass of the late Roger's good scotch and wondering how Cynthia's going to pull off hot canapes.” The governor chuckled wryly. “Ah, the life of a public servant.”
“You can have it.” Dar was happy enough to be holding up her bit of wall, the presence of the state's magnate keeping off any of Kerry's bolder relatives. “I'm looking forward to retiring.”
The Governor eyed her alertly. “Do tell?” He said. “Aren't you a little young for that?”
Dar smiled, lifting her glass of white wine in acknowledgement. “Been 15 years. I want to see the world a little without worrying about my cell phone ringing because someone's mainframe crashed.” She spotted Kerry returning, carrying a plate. “I gave them six months notice. They're working a package for me.”
“Wow.” He said. “After everything that just happened? I heard you were neck deep in the recovery effort. Someone told me they were looking to suck you into the public sector.”
“After everything that just happened.” Dar restated the words. “Life's too short.”
“Going to go out on your own?” He asked, with a shrewd glance at her. “Be your own boss?”
“Eventually. I'll have to stay out of the business for a while. Then probably get back in, do some consulting.” Dar replied. '”Or who knows? Maybe I'll open a dive shop down in the keys where our cabin is. Leave tech alone.”
“More power too you, lady.” He tipped his glass back at her. “Don't tell my wife she'll be jealous.”
“Jealous of what?” Kerry arrived, offering up her small china platter.
“Are those sliders?” Dar started laughing.
“My sister picked the menu.” Kerry confirmed, with a smile. “They're brisket sliders, matter of fact. With horseradish sauce.”
“Nice.” The Governor took one. “I was just telling Dar here my wife would be jealous of her retiring.”
“Ahhh.” Kerry waited for Dar to serve herself, then took a sandwich and put the platter down on a nearby table. “I”m looking forward to that myself. I've got such a bucket list to get through.” She took a bite of the slider. “Mm.”
“You too?” The Governor exclaimed.
“Oh yeah.” Dar licked a bit of the horseradish sauce off her fingerstips. “I think we're going to start with a visit to the Grand Canyon, then a cruise somewhere.”
“White water rafting.” Kerry clarified, with a grin. “I figure I should get the camping stuff out of the way first because I know Dar doesn't like it much.” She wiped her lips with a small napkin. “I think we're going to fly into Vegas, then rent an RV and do the tour.”
He chuckled. “Well, I can't say I don't envy you ladies.” He munched on his own sandiwch. “Wish I could look forward ot the same, but I”ve got four kids, and three of them are in college at the moment. I'm lucky I can manage Pizza Hut on Fridays.”
“One of the bright points of only having a dog.” Kerry leaned against the wall next to Dar. “Besides, after all the world saving Dar's done, she's due.”
“You havne't done bad for a newbie.” Dar's eyes twinkled a little.
One of Cynthia's aides approached them, catching Kerry's eye. “Excuse me?”
“Yes?” Kerry responded. “Did you need something?”
“The Senator asked me to come find you. She'd like to speak to you for a moment.” The man said. “Could you come with me?”
Dar and Kerry echanged looks. “Excuse us.” Dar said, putting her glass down. “Probably needs some help with logistics.” She put her hand on Kerry's back. “Lead on.” She met the aide's eyes, daring him to exclude her.
He looked like he wanted to. But Kerry motioned him on and he ducked his head, turning to lead the way across the room towards a cluster of people on the far side from where they'd been. The room was lit barely from the gray light of outside, and the candles around the edges and as they approached where Kerry's mother was, several servants appeared with more candles in their hands.
The Senator had a cluster of family around her, and Dar could see from where she was the dour faces and glaring eyes as they were spotted heading their way.
What the hell was wrong with those people anyway? Couldn't they take a damn day out to enjoy a wedding and leave off all the moralistic bull crap? Dar sighed, and felt an itch between her shoulderblades.
“Ah, Kerry.” Cynthia saw them and turned. “Thank you for coming over. Your aunt Mildred had a question and I thought perhaps you could answer it.”
“Sure, if I can.” Kerry replied with internal reluctance, regarding the short, dumpy looking woman who was watching her with a sour look. “What is it, Aunt Mildred?” She was aware of Dar behind her, and as she took a breath waiting for whatever it was, she felt the casual warmth as Dar's forearm came to rest on her shoulder.
Backing her up. Kerry had to smile. Just like when she was at work, when present or not Dar cast a very long shadow everyone was very aware of. She didn't even have to drop her lover's name anymore – it was just assumed by everyone that Kerry had her in her pocket.
Aunt Mildred was Uncle Edgar's wife. Uncle Edgar had been explicity told not to show up for the wedding, and Kerry knew that was for her benefit since their last interaction hadn't been pleasant. She suspected Aunt Mildred was about to unload her resentment over that – though she was a little surprised her mother had bought into it and called her over.
“I would like you to explain all this about log cabin Republicans.” Aunt Mildred said, in a firm tone. “Are you a part of them? You must be.”
Kerry blinked a few times, her eyes flicking back and forth as she prodded her memory. Then she turned and looked at Dar. “Do you know what that is?”
“I think.” Dar said, after a pause to consider. “It's people who are gay, who are also Republican.”
“Yes.” Mildred said. “They have been petitioning our firm about something. So you are a part of that?”
“What does being gay have to do with log cabins?” Kerry wondered.
“Tell you later.” Dar said, with a wry smile. “Let's not get into that debate here.”
“Huh?” Kerry gave her a searching look, then shrugged when Dar merely winked at her. “And no, Aunt Mildred.. I may be both gay and a Republican but I don't belong to any groups of either type so I'm not sure if I can help you with whatever it is they want from you.” She said. “I stay clear of politics unless it concerns high technology.”
“They want us to offer benefits to our employees, benefits like we offer to married people. To people like you.” Mildred said. “It's ridiculous.”
“Mildred.” Cynthia said, sharply.
“Don't Mildred me.” She turned on Kerry's mother. “It's terrible, how you promote this. We all remember how you and Roger felt about her lifestyle. Now you pretend you don't? At least I'm honest about it.”
There was, Dar recognized, a bit of truth in that. “I'd like to think there's no dishonesty, just a learning process.” She said in a mild tone.. “As in, she learned we don't have horns and tails and walk around seducing children.” She added. “There's nothing immoral about health benefits. You attract a better employee base if you treat them well.”
“Of course you'd say that.” Mildred snapped.
“Of course I'm the CIO of an international Fortune 500 company. So yes, I have an opinion about that regardless of my sexual orientation.” Dar responded, her voice taking on a sharper note. “But Mrs. Stuart also has the right to form her own opinions as well as have them change over time.”
Cynthia gave her a brief, acknowledging smile. “There is more truth to that then you perhaps believe.” She said. “Mildred, this is not the place for your bias. Kerry has answered your question, now let's all go sit down for some lunch.”
“Disgusting.” Mildred said, unrepentently. “I dont' know how she had the gall to enter that church or you had the temerity to allow it.”
“Mildred that's enough.” Cynthia said. “Either go in to lunch, or leave. I will not have you here speaking this way to my daughter.” She gestured to the aide. “John, please escort my sister in law.”
“Ma'am.” The tall security aide moved closer to Aunt Mildred, who ignored him and moved off in another direction, taking the elbow of another older woman and guiding her aside.
“Sorry about that, Kerrison.” Cynthia sighed. “I really don't know what's gotten into people these days. Goodness knows there have always been feelings like this, but in public you were expected to act polite about it.”
“Has been getting more blatant.” Dar noted. “Whole country's gotten more conservative – leadership is. So they think it's all right to say stuff like that. We're the socially acceptable to bash minority people of this age.”
Cynthia's face twisted into an expression of distaste. “Surely not.”
“Surely yes.” Dar replied. “Seen the Westboro jackasses on television?”
“Tch.” Cynthia made a sound of irritation. “Those people are insane.”
“Insane, yes. But they get air time.”
“Yeah, Dar's right.” Kerry murmured. “But you just reminded me that we've got to go out and get health insurance before we cut loose from ILS, Dar.” She motioned towards the grand hall. “Should we go sit down?”
“Yes.” Cynthia joined them as they walked. “Does your company take care of that now?” She asked, diffidently. “I mean, do you have the same issue as Mildred's firm?”
“Nah.” Dar shook her head. “We offer domestic partner benefits. Even if Kerry didn't work for us, I could put her on my health insurance. But she's right, we have to go get private policies now, and it won't work that way. We'll need to get individual ones.” She paused. “Fortunately we already had the legal work done to give us both medical authority over each other.”
“I see.” The Senator frowned. “Hm.”
“We're lucky. We can afford it.” Dar commented. “A lot of people can't.”
They entered the hall and paused, drawing to one side to find their way in the dim light.
In the rear, the fireplace had been restored, and held a brightly burning wood fire. The room had been liberally lit with candles, and there were at least four candles on each table, providing a warm, and almost medieval air. “Come sit at my table.” Cynthia pointed to the one closest to the fireplace. “They're using the gas stoves and warmers to keep everything. I hope it turns out all right.”
“I'm sure it'll be fine, mother.” Kerry murmured. “The sliders were great.”
Cynthia grimaced a bit. “They were quite a surprise for some, but you sister insisted.”
Ceci and Andrew were already seated at the table, and Mike and his girlfriend joined them as they arrived. “Hey guys.” Kerry was about to sit down, when her chair was pulled back for her, and she paused, giving Dar a brief grin before she dropped into it. “Thanks.”
“Anytime.” Dar sat down next to her and surveyed the room. Despite the lack of electricity, everyone appeared to be determined to make the best of it, and she leaned back and folded her hands, hoping they woudln't encounter any more of Aunt Mildred.
Or Aunt Alice. Or any of the rest of Kerry's relatives, all of whom seemed to have color coordinated baseball bats up their collective asses.
She looked across at her mother. “Yeees?”
“You going back into the office when you get back?”
“No.” Dar felt a sense of satisfaction in saying that. “Kerry and I are going to go down to the cabin the rest of the week and go back in next Monday.” She leaned back in her chair. “We have the time coming to us.”
“Such a lovely cabin.” Cynthia spoke up. “Really, just charming. And the view from the porch, amazing.” She smiled at both Dar and Kerry. “I completely see why you like to spend time there. So peaceful, really.”
“It is nice down there.” Ceci agreed. “I'm doing a set of paintings from that point, in different weather. “ She said. “The colors are wonderful. The water changes every minute.”
“It does.” Kerry spoke up. “We spent a few weeks out there after we got back from New York. You can really unwind there.”
Cynthia smiled. “I can imagine that.” She looked up as Angie and Brian arrived, and plopped down in seats next to her. “Oh! There you are.”
“Here we are.” Angie agreed. “Hey guys.” She gave her brother and sister a grin. “Sorry we're late, mom. We ended up dropping Brian's mom off at home, she got lost and we passed her heading here.”
“Oh my. She didn't want to come to lunch? I am sure she was invited.” Cynthia frowned.
“Um.. no.” Brian spoke up. “She's kind of... she doesn't like parties.” He said. “She's really just into church.”
“Ah.” Ceci nodded. “She didn't want to hang out with the infidels. Gotcha.” She inspected the basket of rolls that had been placed on the table. “Raisins. Mm. Lunch is looking up.”
Brian had the grace to look embarassed. “Really, she's more embarassed and disgusted by me than by anyone here.” He said, in quiet voice. 'It was just hard on her. She's worked in the church for a really long time, and it was hard for her to face all those people.”
“Why does she think she's responsible for what you did?” Angie asked.
“People who are very traditional are not comfortable with what they view as .. ah.” Cynthia paused. “Well, things that are non traditional.” She finished somewhat lamely. “Just as the pastor felt that I perhaps should have tried to regulate the morals of my family as Roger tried to, many others feel that this lack of holding to traditions has put us all at a disadvantage with God.”
“Really?” Kerry felt her back stiffening.
“I did not say I agreed with that.” Cynthia stated, somewhat more forcefully. “But I cannot ignore the fact that many do, in fact, believe this.”
“Like them people at the church last week.” Andrew spoke up. “Figured to close down that place to keep their kids from walking next to it.” He handed over a plate of butter and knife to Ceci. “Just a lot of hating for no reason.”
Angie nodded briefly. “Yeah, I got some advice warning me not to let my kids near my sister.” She stated. “I don't think the person expected me to slap them.”
“Near me?” Kerry blinked. “Aside from making them want Labrador puppies what am I supposed to do to them?”
“Give them ideas.” Angie said, straightforwardly. “What I told them was, given how bright you are, the best thing that could happen to them is for you to give them ideas.”
'Right on.” Brian agreed, giving Kerry a thumbs up.
“Terrible.” Cynthia muttered. “I must look into perhaps finding another place of worship.”
“Want to try mine?” Ceci suggested. “Bet I could find a c... I mean chapter up here.”
The waiters swirled around them putting plates down on the table. Kerry stared at hers, then she turned her head and looked at Dar, who was leaning forward with her forearms braced on the tablecloth. She could see the flare of her partner's nostrils and as Dar's eyes met hers they were in total emotional synch.
Outrage. Horror. A little revulsion with an outline of anger tinging it. Kerry could see in the set of Dar's jaw and the tension of her hands she was just on the verge of blowing up about it and knew they both had the same ball of tension in their guts for the same reason.
And that, curiously, made everything all right again. Kerry reached over and tweaked Dar's nose, coaxing a smile out of her as she dismissed the bullshit swirling around her like a cloud of gnats.
Screw it. Just wasn't worth it. “Well, I sure can't change what people think if they want to think stuff like that.” She said. “So the hell with it. Let them suffocate in their own close mindedness.”
Cynthia still looked disturbed. She shook her head and pushed her plate forward a little. “Terrible.” She glanced at Ceci. “Perhaps we can talk later about your faith?”
“Sure.” Ceci observed her plate. “Ah. Asparagus.”
“Sorry about the bacon wrapping it.” Angie leaned towards her. “I forgot you were a vegetarian.”
“No problem.” Ceci unwrapped the bacon and handed it over to her husband, who swapped it for his own asparagus. “Andy and I have this all worked out.”
Everyone chuckled, as the servants brought a round of mimosas to the table, setting them down as a hum of voices started to fill the room, while the snow kept falling thickly outside.
“Oh my god.” Kerry crawled under the covers, free at last of her clothing, her relatives, and the roomsful of intently watching eyes. She snuggled up next to Dar and put her arm around her, taking her reward for having to stand in the downdraft of a shitstorm most of the day. “That was so bogus.”
“Mm.” Dar curled her arms around her and exhaled in satisfaction. “But It's over.”
“It's over.” Her partner agreed. “Now we've just got breakfast to get through, then it's off to the airport. You think the lights'll be back on tomorrow?”
Dar shrugged. “Airport's on generator.”
“Thank goodness.” Kerry exhaled softly. “I keep saying I”ll never come back here. Wonder when that's going to actually be true? How much abuse do I have to take to stay apart of this family, Dar?”
Her partner thought about that for a bit, her fingertips making a slow, gentle pattern on Kerry's back. Then she finally sighed. “Maybe we should have them just visit us. That wasn't so bad.”
No, it hadn't been.
“Yeah?” Kerry breathed in the scent of Dar's skin, which still held a hint of the perfume she'd put on that morning. It was dark out now, and dark in the room, chilly, and a little damp from the weather outside. There was a small battery powered lamp on the bedside table, giving them just enough light to see by.
“Sorry about all the crap today.”
“Not your fault.” Kerry could hear Dar's heartbeat under her ear, with that tiny little echo thump from her oddly structured heart. “People are jerks. My family is full of them, apparently. But at least my mother's gotten better. Right?”
“And your mom offering to induct her into paganism was worth the whole day.”
Dar chuckled. “I got lucky in the parent dice roll.” She admitted.
“Oh baby did you ever.” Kerry exhaled. “And by extention me too.” She blinked a few times, thinking in silence. “You know something?” She finally said. “I think I do want to change my last name, Dar. I know I messed with that when we were in the Caribbean, but now? I want to do it.”
She tipped her head up to see Dar studying her in the dim light. “Would you mind that?”
“Would I mind that.” Dar mused. “No, I woudln't mind that, if you want to do it. You sure?”
“There's nothing here for me anymore, Dar. I love Angie and Mike, and mom's gotten better, but the rest of them? Why would I want to say I'm related to people who think I'm a godless whore?”
Dar considered that. “Your sibs are okay.” She said. “And I like your Aunt Penny.” She concluded. “But I'd love you to share my name if you want to.” She smiled. “That was kind of a kick when you did it in the islands.”
Kerry looked pleased. “Rocking.” She kissed a spot just above Dar's prominent collarbone, and then, as Dar reached over and shut the battery lamp off, she slid a little higher and found Dar's lips as she settled back on the pillow, glad to swap the chill of the room and the coldness of the crowd for the heat of passion.
Dar's hands touched her and brought a welcome warmth and in a moment she was being gently rolled onto her back and Dar's thigh was sliding between hers.
It felt wonderful.
It was fantastic to let that familiar burn start in her guts, and savor the teasing touch against sensitive skin that washed away the taint of the long day. She'd joked about inaugurating the room, but as Dar coaxed a low, guttural sound from her she focused on doing that in earnest.
If they were going to think she was an immoral whore, well then.. Kerry released a low growl. Then she'd show them how that would roll. She felt Dar's lips nibble down the centerline of her body and the pressure built, her body already craving the release as she let it chase the gloomiest of her thoughts right away.
She was looking forward to smirking over her morning coffee, even savoring the looks she knew she'd get.
Hell with all of them.
Kerry cupped her hand over her free ear and pressed her other against her cell phone. “Yes, I'm here.” She listened intently to the voice on the other end. She looked up as Dar entered the dining room, her heavy jacket already on. “So, Jake, you think it's okay to take off at eleven?”
Dar came over and stood next to her, hands in pockets, rocking back and forth on her heels. “Was worth booking the jet.” She commented. “News said the regular airport is slammed.”
“Okay, so we'll head over.” Kerry concluded. “See you in a few.” She hung up the phone and tucked it into her pocket. “We all ready?”
“Yup.” Dar agreed. “Car's waiting outside.”
Kerry felt a distinct sense of relief as she followed her partner through the grand hall towards the entrance. The lights had come on halfway through breakfast, bringing on a blare of lighting to distract the stilted conversation that had been going on.
No one had been rude, but it was also obvious that this was more because of Cynthia's wishes than anything else.
She could see the door open, and outside, the snow falling. Andy and Ceci were already out in it and the only thing between her and them was a few members of her family.
“Thanks for coming up and being my bestie, Sis.” Angie held her arms out and embraced Kerry. “Hope you have a good trip home.”
“No problem.” Kerry returned the hug. “You guys have to come visit us again soon, though, huh?” She turned to her mother as Dar stepped forward to give Angie a somewhat awkward embrace. “Mom, you too.”
Cynthia smiled. “Certainly, we should plan for it.” She agreed. “Please let us know you get home safe.”
Then they were outside and stomping through a thick coating of snow towards the SUV. Kerry already had a firm grip on the keys and she slid behind the driver's seat and slammed the door shut. “Brr.”
“No offense, Kerry. But I've never been so happy to see a place in the rearview window.” Ceci settled herself behind Dar. “I swear to the Goddess your family is a bowl of pits with no cherries.”
Kerry sighed. “Yeah, I know. Thanks for coming up here with me and keeping me company in my insanity.” She got the car into gear and started off down the hill. “I was glad to see Angie married.”
“That boy shoulda stepped up before.” Andrew grumbled. “Not be so candy assed.”
“Oh, c'mon Andy. He's not that bad.” Ceci poked him. “He's a nice kid.”
“Actually.” Kerry cleared her throat. “I agree with him. When I went up the last time to help Ang move, I was all set to kick him in the nuts for not taking responsibility for his son.”
“Damn straight.” Andy said. “Ah would not expect any child of mine to be acting like that.”
There was a little silence. Dar glanced at herself, then at Kerry, then half turned to regard her father. “Dad? I'm a girl.” She stated. “I don't think it's going to come up.”
Kerry chuckled. “It wouldn't anyway.” She reached over and patted her partner's leg. “I have total faith in your honor, sweetheart.”
Ceci snickered. “Actually, when Dar first told us she was gay, I think the one thing that relieved Andy was that he wasn't going to be spending long summer nights sitting in the driveway with a shotgun waiting for her to come back from dates.”
'Mm.. “ Kerry spoke up. “I actually thought he was doing a good job of checking me out when we met to make sure I wasn't going to take advantage of his little girl.”
Andrew blushed. “Ah did not think any such thing of you, Kerry.”
“I was never worried.” Dar circled one knee with her hands and rested her shoulder against the car door.
“Considering you started our relationship out by saving me from carjackers? I”m not surprised.” Kerry navigated down the back road, passing very few other cars on this quiet Tuesday morning.
“Mm.” Dar smiled, but remained silent.
“Kerry, why is it all those people are so nasty to you?” Ceci asked. “Is it because of you and Dar? Or what?”
Kerry sighed. “It's always been tough around those people.” She admitted. “It was always very judgemental. About everything. You're supposed to conform, but I think... even if I'd married Brian and maybe taken a job as a clerk somewhere that judging would have still been there.”
“Hm.” Ceci shifted a little in her seat. “Had that in my family too, but it had nothing to do with religion.”
“So, in this case, it's everything.” Kerry slowed down to turn into the small regional airport. “My leaving home, my getting a job in high tech, my living in Miami, my being gay, my turning over my father's records to the papers, there's nothing there they can approve of. “
“Probably cause them more heartache seeing you than it gives you.” Andrew commented.
“Absolutely true.” Kerry agreed. “Specially with you all here.” She turned and faced them, having turned the engine off. “Thank you for teaching me what family can be..” She studied her in laws, watching them smile and feeling Dar's touch on her leg, warm and real. “So now let's go home.”
The lights were bright around the Learjet crouching on the tarmac, a boarding ladder tucked up against the side of it. The pilot was waiting for them inside the small terminal, and they surrendered their overnight bags to him as they waited to board.
“I really like that plane.” Ceci commented. “My brother Charles flies around in one of those, and so do most of his friends. Didin't think it was in my plans.”
“No, me either.” Dar agreed. “We always had the option. But the first time I flew in a private jet was coming back after the attacks. I liked it.” She admitted. “That's why I didn't say no when Alastair and the board offered this one.” She saw the pilot motion and she led the rest of them across the snow dusted ground, glad to mount the steps and enter the sleek interior. “We are paying for this ride though. I told Alastair I wasn't going to get into any arguments about me using company resources for personal use.”
“It's worth it.” Kerry took off her jacket and took it, and Dar's to the small closet where Andrew was already putting Ceci's. “I can just imagine traveling today.”
They sat down and buckled in, and a moment later the flight steward came in, as the door was sealed shut and the pilot retreated into the cockpit. “Hello there.”
“Hey Jaele.” Kerry greeted the woman. “Ready to get out of this snow?”
“You know it, Ms. Stuart.” The steward brought over a tray and served them all coffee. “Jack's just doing the checklist and filing our flight plan. We should be rolling in about ten minutes.”
The inside of the plane was warm, and it wasn't too different from the private plane Kerry remembered her mother using. It had eight seats, two groups of four facing each other with tables to work on between them. The chairs were thick and comfortable, soft leather that warmed to her body as she sat in it.
Jake and Jaele were the A crew and there was a B crew that took over from them sometime. They were on call around the clock for Dar and the attention had outlined a new sense of understanding from the board over just how important Dar was to the company.
Funny, after all the time she'd worked for them and all the things she'd done, for them to now decide that. Kerry watched her partner swinging around in her chair in an almost child like motion. All the attention from the government, and the new requests for service had caught their attention like nothing else before had.
Funny. Crazy. Strange. Kerry leaned back in her chair and crossed her ankles. So much change in their lives in such a relatively short time.
“Okay folks.” The pilot stuck his head out of the cockpit. “We're de-iced and ready to go. Buckle up.”
“Thanks Jack.” Dar lifted a hand and waved at him.
Kerry felt her body relax as she heard the engines spin up and felt the gentle jolt as the plane started to back away from the terminal. She stifled a yawn. “Hope Angie has a nice honeymoon.”
“Where's she going?” Ceci asked.
“She's doing a western Mexico cruise.” Kerry smiled faintly. “You know, Acapulco, and all that? She's really excited. She's never been on one.”
“Mm.” Dar made a skeptical sound.
“Yeap.” Andrew agreed. “Won't catch me on one of them, not after that whole hoo hah you done got into.”
“She got a good deal on a suite.” Kerry informed her knowledgably. “They got a whole honeymoon package and it sounded like fun.”
“Mm.” Dar repeated the low, growly noise.
“Well, honey, we have our own boat.” Kerry reached over and patted her knee. “She doesn't.”
“Oh I don't know.” Ceci leaned her elbow on the chair arm and rested her chin on her hand. “I always thought an Atlantic crossing cruise might be fun.”
“It ain't.” Her husband informed her.
“Not on the ones you sailed on, no.” She conceded. “But on those nice fancy ones it might be.”
“Mm.” Andrew made the same noise his daughter had, only an octave lower.
Kerry chuckled as the plane swung out and headed for the top of the runway. She folded her hands on her stomach as Jaele took her seat, and they felt the increase in power as the jet turned onto the runway.
It paused, then with a solid surge of power headed off, and after a far shorter time than a larger jet, it bounded up into the air and arched up into the sky.
“Ah.” Ceci fished into her coat pocket. “You get to see the papers, Kerry?”
“Oh no.” Kerry winced. “Let me guess, I got a picture in one.”
“What are you laughing at, kid?” Ceci tossed the folded newsprint over. “Just be glad USA Today wasn't there.”
“Hey Cheebles!” Kerry sat down on the love seat to properly appreciate the greeting of their pet Labrador. “You ready to go down ot the cabin with us?”
“Car or boat?” Dar dropped down next to her, then thumped against the back of the couch as Chino leaped up onto her lap. “Oh.. hey! Chino!” She got her arms around the big dog, who proceeded to lick her face with earnest thoroughness. “Hey!”
“Heh.” Kerry chuckled. “I just imagined my sister getting slobbered on like that. She's going to have a cow.”
Dar got Chino turned around and watched as the dog regarded her owners with a look of doggy delight. “Boat? We can break out the 3 mils and dive a few reefs on the way down?”
“Sure.” Kerry played with the end of Chino's otter tail. “Let's stop at Pennekamp on the way down. That's a nice shallow dive.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Dar agreed. “We'll leave early. Let me go check the marine forecast.” She deposited Chino on the couch and stood up, angling around the couch and heading into her office.
It felt good to be home. Kerry smiled as Chino curled up on the leather surface and rested her head on her thigh. She stroked the animal's soft, silky ears and watched the tiny eyebrows over her gentle brown eyes twitch. “Did you miss us, Cheebles?” She asked. “Did I tell you my sister's getting one of your baby sisters?”
“Growf.” Chino peered up at her.
“We're going to have to have her come down here so you can visit with her.” Kerry informed her pet. “Although, y'know, it would be pretty hilarious to have you visit there, and see the two of you turn that house upside down.”
Chino wagged her tail.
Kerry chuckled, flexing her bare toes in the throw rug surface as she leaned back, very glad to have the quiet peace of their home around her. She could still smell the faint scent of new paint, the walls now a soft misty blue color and just past the sliding glass doors she could see the colorful all weather hammock they'd added to the swing chair already installed.
“Hm.” She got up and went to the door, sliding it open and taking a breath of the cool, salt tinged air. Seagulls were coasting over the surf and she sat down on the hammock, then swung herself into it, watching Chino go over to the wall and stand up to look over it.
With a contented sigh, she extended her legs and cossed them at the ankles, then folded her hands over her stomach and studied the vivid blue, cloudless sky.
So different, from the cloudy snowy skies of Michigan. She could hear the gentle rush of the waves aginst the rocks that lined the edge of the island and caught a blurp of music carried on the wind from nearby South Beach.
Damn it was good to be home.
The door slid open behind her and she heard the rasp of bare feet against the tile. “Weather good?”
“Be a little choppy, but yeah.” Dar went to the railing and looked over, putting her arm around Chino as the dog stood up again to see what she was looking at. “Picked up my voice mail. We're going to have an unepected visitor tonight.”
“Alastair.” Dar turned and leaned against the low wall. “Just said he wants to have dinner with us, but I get the feeling somthing's behind it.”
Dar half shrugged, a mildly bemused look on her face. “Guess we'll find out.” She said. “He'll be here around six. You want to make noodles for him or take him somewhere?”
Kerry put her hands behind her head and pondered the question. “Hm. I dont' feel like cooking but I also don't feel like getting dressed up.” She said. “Not after that wedding. Want to just go to the beach club? Or .. no, we had him over to the italian place that last time.”
“Let's have something from the main place delivered here.” Dar decided. “Good compromise?”
Kerry smiled at her.
“Thought so.” Dar yawned. “I'll go make some coffee.”
“I'll go check the menu online.” Kerry rolled up out of the hammock and joined her at the door. “C'mon, Chino. We'll get you a little steak too.”
Kerry poured Alastair a glass of wine, handling the bottle with casual expertise as she handed the glass over to him. “So what's the board's problem, Alastair?”
Alastair McLean, their stocky, gray haired boss, the CEO of ILS, swirled the glass and took a sip before he answered. “Well, now we come down to it.” He said. “Glad we left it till after that nice meal to talk about, ladies.” He rested his elbow on the table and regarded the two of them.
“Uh oh.” Dar leaned back and folded her hands over her stomach. “That sounds like trouble.”
“Well.” Alastair waggled his free hand. “It's like this. Y'know we've been on a talent search the past few months looking for replacments.”
“For us.” Kerry seated herself and put her napkin back on her lap.
Alastair gave her a wry grin. “Let's put the cards down. I can be replaced. You can be replaced.” He looked over at Dar. “You, on the other hand, are a big problem.”
Dar blinked mildly at him. “I've been a big problem since birth if you ask my mother.” She said. “C'mon, Alastair. Don't tell me they can't find another CIO. Give me a break.”
“Board's been interviewing potential candidates since fall.” Her boss agreed. “Not that there's a lack of people out there, but frankly, Dar, you're a tough act to follow.”
Dar rolled her eyes. “Oh please.”
“No, please.” Alastair drummed his fingers on the wooden table surface. “The last six, all told the board the same thing. It would be career suicide to have to follow you in that position. They don't want it, not even at any price.”
Kerry chuckled softly under her breath. “I only had to fill in for her for what.. one day? I totally believe that.”
“So what are they going to do?” Dar lifted a hand, a puzzled expression on her face. “Alastair, I'm not an indentured servant. I am allowed to leave, right?”
Alastair sighed. “The problem is, the logical person to move into that positoin is someone in your direct chain who you've mentored.”
Kerry cleared her throat.
“Exactly.” He tilted his head in her direction. “So my moment of turning a blind eye to your relationship is now biting us very hard in the ass.”
“The board knew.” Dar said. “We've made no attempt to hide our lives the last few years.” She said. “Anyone with a brain would have figured if I left, Kerry would too.” She frowned. “What the hell would you have done if something had happened to us? We've had a few close shaves.”
Alastair agreed. “That's why they dedicated a jet to you, Dar.” His voice went serious. “You are, like it or not, an extremely valuable corporate asset.” He took another sip of wine. “Of course you're not an indentured servant. None of us are, but we have put ourselves into a sticky situation that I'm not sure I know how to get us out of.”
Kerry watched her partner's face, as the words sunk in. She had, privately, been wondering if they could find someone or someones to replace them, since she was more aware than most of just how integral they were in the operations of the company.
So to hear Alastair say what he was saying didn't suprise her nearly as much as it seemed to surprise her other half. Dar had a weird, somewhat self blinded view of herself sometimes, and this was one of the times it showed. “So, the problem isn't that you can't get a replacment, the problem is, any replacement you want doesn't want the job, and people who want the job, you don't want.”
“Well, crap.” Dar lifted her hands and let them fall, an exasperated expression on her face.
Kerry got up and went over to her, putting her hands on her partner's shoulders and squeezing them. “Honey, I've always told you that you're one of a kind.” She gave her a kiss on the top of her head. “Let me get the ice cream.” She went into the kitchen and got a small tray out, removing the ice cream sundaes the restaurant had sent over that she'd stored in the freezer.
Chino followed her in, and sat down next to her tail sweeping the floor with anticipation.
“Oh, you think you get ice cream too, madame?”
“So, what are we going to do?” Dar asked. “Alastair, not being able to hire a replacement.. what the hell?”
Alastair smiled. “You surprised?”
“I am.” Dar said. “It's just a CIO positoin. There are at least 499 other companies in the Fortune 500 and I'm willing to bet most of them have someone like me.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“Yes.” Dar answered honestly. “I'm not unique. What I do isn't unique. It's just infrastruture operations. Are you telling me the donks they interviewed were so scared of stuff I've done they don't have the balls to come in and better me?”
“Yes.” Her boss said. “That's exactly what I'm saying.”
“Dar, it's just bad timing.” He conceded. “If we hadn't been so visible during the attacks, hadn't been on TV every other day, and then the followups, and those interviews you did for CNN... spotlight's pretty bright on us and now, the government's calling asking for more.”
“I don't want to do anything for that government.” Dar answered, flatly. “And you shoudln't either.”
Alastair lifted his hand, and let it fall. “I've got a pretty thick skin. I know where they were coming from trying to nail me, and while I don't like it, Dar, I do understand it.”
“I don't like it, and I don't want to understand it.” She responded. “I”ve had enough. I want to spend some time just living my life. The board's going to have to get over itself and just hire someone who can keep the pie plates spinning.”
“And they will, Dar.” Alastair held up a pacifying hand. “No one's saying you can't leave if you want to. What I”m saying is, it might take a little longer than we planned.”
“Grr.” Dar made a low growling sound deep in her throat.
“C'mon. You gave the company a good part of your life. Whats a month or so more?” Alastair said. “Besides, if you cooperate with the board, they'll hand you everything you want.. you can even get out of the exclusion clause if you want to. If you put them in a corner.. “
“If we put them in a corner, what?” Kerry came out with the tray and deposited the sundaes in front of them. “What would they do, Alastair? Take away Dar's stock and pension or something?”
“They might.” Alastair answered, with quiet honesty. “But the thing I don't want, is for them take advantage of the two of you, and decide to get ratty. You served the company with a lot of honor, Dar. I want you to go out that way.”
“Hm.” Dar eyed him over the sundae. “Well.” She picked up her spoon and glanced at Kerry. “We'll work something out. I don't want to get them all in an uproar now anyway.”
Kerry looked back at her. “Now?”
“The other voice mail was that adviser of the Presidents.” Dar said, selecting her cherry and biting into it. “He wants to talk.”
“Oh.” Alastair frowned.
Continued in Part 2