By Melissa Good
"Strawberry or pineapple?" Kerry inquired, sticking a toe above the bubbling water and wiggling it.
"Banana." Dar replied, from her relaxed position , eyes closed and hands folded over her bare stomach.
"Do you do that just to be contrary?" Kerry sighed, and took a bit of banana, dipping it in the melted chocolate fondue, then passing it over and placing it on Dar's impatiently waiting tongue. "Mark once told me he knew you deliberately found the hardest way to do things, just so you could say you did them that way."
A blue eye appeared, and regarded her, then winked. "Nah. I just like bananas."
Kerry chuckled, as she settled back against the sloping wall of the jacuzzi. "This was a good idea. I was really still kind of tired from yesterday… was it yesterday? I can't believe that's all it was. I can't believe I'm here, and you're here, and…" She paused, and took a breath. "God, I'm babbling. Sorry."
Dar slid closer, and patted her thigh. "It's okay. You must have been pretty strung up. Remind me to send a card to the guy who landed the plane, huh?"
"Yeah." Kerry forced a smile. "There was a moment there, right before we landed, when I was sure we weren't going to make it." She found Dar's hand under the water and lacked their fingers together. "I was so pissed off."
"Pissed off?" Dar retrieved a strawberry and coated it in chocolate, then split it in half and offered one section to Kerry. "Why?"
"I was mad at the idea we'd be separated." Kerry answered honestly. "I didn't want to leave you.. that's what I thought about the most."
Dar went very still for a few heartbeats, then her chest moved in a long inhale. "You know." She gazed at the water and spoke quietly. "I have no idea what I would have done if that had happened."
Kerry blinked, a little alarmed at the lost look on Dar's face. "Well, it didn't, so no sense in dwelling on it." She paused, but Dar's expression didn't change. "Dar?"
A momentary tensing of the muscles of her jaw, then the dark haired woman's body relaxed a little. "True." Dar produced a smile. "I’m.. sort of glad I didn't know what was going on until it was over. I…think I would have gone a little berzerk." She glanced down as Kerry rested her cheek against her shoulder. "What was that pilot's name again?"
"John." Kerry murmured. "John Jabonski."
"Let me call the airline CEO." Dar reached over her head and fished for her cell phone. "Maybe I can get him to double the guy's salary…"
"Dar." Kerry laughed softly. "He was just doing his job."
Direct, powerful blue eyes captured hers. "He held your life in his hands, and didn't drop it." Dar told her. "Do you know what that's worth to me?" She started to dial, then almost dropped the phone in the water when it buzzed in her hand. "God damn it.. I wish that woudn't do that." She opened the phone. "Yes?"
"Easy, honey." Kerry rubbed Dar's belly comfortingly.
"Oh.. hi dad." Dar's frame relaxed. "You just get in?"
"Yes, we surely did." Andrew Robert's raspy voice answered. "I do believe your mother is no longer welcome in them islands, however."
"Oh? What'd she do?" Dar's brow hiked.
"She did not appreciate some of the local customs, and damn well near started a revolution.." Her father answered. "Good thing I had them put those naval engines in this here boat. "
"Oh." Dar watched Kerry covering her mouth as she listened. "Sounds.. like you had fun." She remarked. "Listen.. I've got some bad news."
"I already spoke to that red haired little buddy of the kumquats… where are you?" Andrew asked.
"Chicago." Dar said. "Weather's pretty bad." She felt her body unwinding from the unexpected tension Kerry's words had caused. "I don't think I'm going to make it back for the holiday."
"We figgered." Her father answered placidly. "Where'd Kerry end up?"
Dar's eyes flicked to the wet, slightly flushed face next to hers. "Uh.. she's here too."
"Magine that. " The ex SEAL drawled. "You two take care, all right?"
Kerry took the phone. "Thanks, dad… sorry we're going to miss having turkey with you." She told her father in law. "You're not going to escape Christmas, though… I'm warning you."
There was a faint throat clearing. "Ah do believe it's going to be you two squirts that aren't going to escape that particular holiday, kumquat. " Andrew said. "Been a couple things I've had a mind to get for Dardar since she was in short pants, and now I've got the chance."
Kerry chuckled. "Uh oh."
"Now you hush." Andy warned. "Be careful. I got in a boat load of trouble in Chicago last time I was there."
"We will." Dar took the phone back. "See you soon, dad." She hung up and folded the phone, tapping it against her chin. "Wonder what he's up to."
"You weren't supposed to hear that." Kerry removed the phone from her lover's hands and set it down, glad of the distraction that had snapped Dar out of her funk. "I’m sure it'll be something really nice… "
"Like?" Dar amiably returned her attention to the lonely looking pineapple, which had languished far behind the more popular banana and strawberries in getting a chocolate bath. "I hope he remembers I'm not ten anymore." She offered Kerry a slice of the yellow fruit, which her blond companion accepted neatly. "I don’t' need him to buy me anything." She added. "It's enough of a.. it's nice just having him back."
"I love your parents." Kerry replied. "I already started picking things out for them for presents. " She grinned, at Dar's expression. "Cmon, don’t' tell me you haven't started shopping yet."
Blue eyes took on a guilty tint. "Um… "
"I do all my shopping on the net." Dar protested lamely. "There's plenty of time.. haven't you ever heard of Fedex?"
"Jesus." Kerry covered her eyes.
"Hey." Dar splashed her. "It's not like yours hasn't been gotten already."
Green eyes peeked through wet fingers. "Yeah?"
"Yes." Dar put a blob of chocolate squarely on Kerry's nose and went to work cleaning it off. "And boy, did I ever have fun doing that."
"Uh oh." Kerry smiled nervously. "It didn't have anything to do with that leather store, did it?"
Dar grinned, seemingly fully restored to her good humor from her previous anxiety. "Guess you'll have to wait and find out.. won'tcha?"
"Oooo… if I guess, will you tell me?" Kerry coaxed, sliding over and straddling Dar's legs, receiving some chocolate in a place that almost made her forget her question. "Hey.. that's warm."
"Not as warm as this is." Dar delicately removed the fudge. "And no, I will not tell you."
"Please?" Kerry leaned over and begged, right into Dar's ear.
"Curious, aren't you? It's just a present."
"What present?" Kerry whispered, getting a chuckle in response, as Dar turned her attention to more chocolate removal. "Oh yeah. I'll take that one…"
And then, of course, the lights went off. The jacuzzi whirred into silence. Kerry lowered her forehead to touch Dars, and let out a frustrated sigh.
"Hm." Dar regrouped. "Bet I can find your navel in the dark."
"Bet you can't." Pause. "Oooo…. I take that back."
"Is the power back on?"
"That means the heat isn't either, right?"
"Ah." Kerry closed her eyes again and put her head back down on Dar's shoulder. It was dark and warm where she was, the several blankets and quilt the room provided over them both like a cloth igloo. Warm enough for her to be completely comfortable, despite her current state of dress. Or lack thereof, actually.
"Got any ideas for today?" Dar put aside all thoughts of her worklist. "We could start burning the furniture for heat."
"Hm." Kerry brushed the tip of her nose against the short, fine hairs that covered Dar's body. "I can think of other things to do for heat."
"Anyone ever tell you that you're a hedonist?" Dar chuckled.
Kerry burrowed upward, and poked her head out from under the covers, looking very much like a dishevelled blond muskrat. "Nope." She shook her head. "Anyone ever tell you that you're way too sexy for those white socks you're wearing?" She blinked in the wan sunlight trying to lighten the room.
"No one but you ever sees my socks." Dar remarked mildly. "So I'd have to say no."
Kerry rolled over onto her side and curled up next to Dar, only her head exposed to the cold air. It was very quiet inside the room, only the sound of Dar's gentle breathing was audible, along with some faint clicks, pops, and thumps over and under them as fellow hotel captives stirred. "Trapped in a posh hotel in Chicago, with you, naked." Kerry exhaled. "Well, if I can't have turkey with all the trimmings, I suppose that'll do."
"Gee thanks." Dar arched a brow at her. "Glad to see where I rank."
Kerry poked her lower lip out a little and batted her fair lashes. "Sorry.. we did miss dinner last night, and I'm hungry." She stretched out under the covers. "Though, getting up to get dressed is going to be a bitch."
"Nah." Dar flipped the covers off both of them in a swift move, then scrambled out of bed and dove for her clothes as a yelping Kerry untangled herself and stripped a pillowcase off it's pillow, grabbing one end and snapping Dar smartly across the backside with the other.
"You half duplex nerdlette!" The blond woman whacked her again. "I'm gonna kill you for that…"
Dar grinned and ducked out of the way. "Better put some clothes on first." She tossed Kerry a shirt, and dodged the unerringly accurate linen. "Hey! You're the one who said you were hungry, remember?"
"Baaaaaaa!!!" Kerry abandoned the pillowcase and dove at her half clad target, catching Dar just as she was about to put a pair of shorts on. "Gotcha!"
Off balance, Dar hopped frantically to one side but was unable to escape the assault, which sent them both tumbling to the ground with a resounding thump. "Oof."
"Ow." Kerry winced. "Note to self. Don’t wrestle naked on polyester carpeting." She rubbed her rear end. "I think I just got rug burn."
Dar examined the spot. "Hm." She leaned over and kissed the spot, then slapped Kerry's calf. "Get dressed… we can jog downstairs and see what we can find, all right?"
"Seventeen flights? Sure." Kerry braced her hand on Dar's shoulder and stood, moving quickly to her bag and pulling on a thick sweatshirt. "I can use the workout." She tugged on the rest of her clothes. "Maybe we can find out how wid…" The lights flickered on, and the hum of the air exchangers cut in. "'spread the outage is." She finished, with a sigh. "Never mind."
Dar flicked the light switch approvingly, and watched the lamp come on, bathing the gloomy room with warm luminance. "Nice timing." She turned her head and watched the white snow falling past the window. "Wonder how long it'll last?"
Kerry stood just inside the door, and adjusted her scarf as she watched Dar leave the front desk and move towards her. Her friend was tucked into her winter coat, and as she joined Kerry, she stuck her hands in her pockets. "Are you sure this is a good idea?" Kerry asked. "It's pretty deep out there."
Dar pushed the door open, and blinked as the cold air hit her eyes. "I thought you liked snow." She waited for Kerry to move outside, then followed her. "What happened to that Northern toughness routine?"
"I do like snow." Kerry buried her nose into the scarf's soft fabric. "On television." She muttered softly. "Or in a snowglobe."
Dar forged ahead, glancing around her with interest. Despite the white cover, there was plenty to see. Chicago was a more wide open city than New York, and it was cleaner. Dar liked that. "Hey, what about having breakfast there?" She pointed.
"No.. no pizza for breakfast, honey." Kerry latched onto her arm and pulled. "But moving away from the lake is a good idea. My eyeballs are freezing solid." They turned their back on the wind, and moved down the street. "And besides, I really need some… ah."
They ducked into the coffee shop, where a sharp, rich scent greeted them. Two cups of mocha and several croissants later, they emerged back into the cold. "Now where?" Kerry asked. "How about we take a ride on the train?"
Dar stomped a hillock of snow, then turned to regard her companion. "I think you just want to get inside." She accused. "All right.. where does the train go?"
Kerry shrugged. "Let's get on one and find out." She spotted an entrance to the mass transit, and plowed determinedly towards it. "It's not that I don't like snow, Dar.. honestly.. it's great, it's just that…" She stopped, then let out a wild yell, as Dar neatly deposited a handful of the cold slush down the back of her shirt.
"It's cold." Dar finished for her, then bolted for the haven of the train station.
"Oh.. you are so dead." Kerry scrambled after her. "Paladar Katherine Roberts, when I catch you, I’m gonna… I'm gonna…. "
Kerry pressed her nose against the glass, watching the passing stations. There was a light tap on her knee, which she steadfastly ignored. Another tap. She pressed the glass harder, examining the tile walls flicking by.
A nudge. She turned her head. "I'm damp, and really pissed off." She told Dar, regretting it a moment later when she got caught in a sudden blast of wide open hurt in her partner's blue eyes, quickly masked as Dar turned her head, and settled back in her seat, folding her arms in a pose of casual disinterest.
C'mon, Kerry. She's apologized three times, What in the hell do you want, flowers fifty feet underground? Her conscience nudged her. It was a handful of snow.. get over it. Slowly she straightened in her seat, and let her hands rest on her knees. She watched Dar's profile, aware that Dar was aware she was. Small muscles in her jaw moved, and she saw her friend swallow, and she just couldn't stand it one more minute. "Sorry." A hand reached out and fit itself around Dar's knee., warm under her touch. "I’m really close to that time of the month, I guess."
Dar peeked at her uncertainly, from behind her cool facade. "Do you want my shirt? I'll take it off and give it to you."
Kerry balanced the wonderful comfort that would provide against the chaos her lover disrobing in the subway would cause, and sighed. "Thanks, Dardar… but I’m don’t want to have to bail you out of jail on Thanksgiving."
Dar relaxed a bit at the nickname, and edged closer. "For exposing my bra in public?"
"For causing a riot." Kerry found a smile tugging her lips upward. "I think I need to get some chocolate into me so I can stop being so cranky… can you put up with me until then?"
A shrug., and a smile. "Don't worry about it.. you're entitled. I didn't realize just how wet that stuff was until after I did it."
"Snow virgin." Kerry relaxed, seeing the tension ease out of Dar's face. Dar hated when they fought with each other, though as yet the longest any argument had lasted was just outside an hour.
Longest hour of my life, Kerry recalled wryly. And it was always something silly like this, too, since thank the Lord they were relatively compatible otherwise. Fighting made Dar anxious and tense, and the few times it had happened at the office had resulted in some personnel issues that Kerry had spent days smoothing out. For someone as together, and in control as Dar was, she had a curiously fragile grasp on her own emotional structure, something that Kerry had found first odd, then extremely endearing as she got to know her lover better.
Dar could yell at people all day long, completely disregarding anyone's feelings including her own, then be reduced to a puddle of goo by a chocolate kiss placed squarely on her desk. Ah. Kerry fished in a pocket, and pulled out a silver wrapped item, offering it to Dar with a smile. "Forgot I had these."
Dar accepted the kiss, and unwrapped it, neatly biting it in half and handing the other half back. Kerry took it, and enjoyed the sweet taste as she squiggled nearer and leaned against Dar's leather swaddled body. "So. Where are we heading?"
Dar snorted. "I thought you had the map. " She reached over Kerry and tugged at the paper sticking out of one pocket. "Cm'ere, let me look…"
The rapid progress of the train abruptly slowed, and the lights flickered once, twice and went out as the vehicle ground to a halt amid squeals and yells and an ominous hiss.
"Oh boy." Kerry reached out instinctively and took Dar's hand. "What is it with us this weekend? I'm starting to get a little paranoid here." The car was pitch black, not even an emergency light breaking the darkness. She blinked her eyes a few times, and was unable to tell the difference. "Wow. This is mega creepy."
"Mm." Dar just kept her eyes closed. The few other people in the car started talking, making disgusted comments about the service of the trains, and other esoteric remarks which Dar didn't understand. "How long does this happen for?"
Kerry leaned her cheek against Dar's shoulders. "Like I know? They didn't have subways in Saugatuck, Dar."
"Damn piece of shit." A low voice came out of the darkness. "Fucking figures I get stuck under the god damned river half hour before I gotta pick up my god damned fucking turkey."
Kerry felt Dar go really still next to her.
"River?" The dark haired woman's voice repeated in a hiss. "What is he talking about?"
Uh oh… Kerry folded her fingers around Dar's, and stroked her arm comfortingly. "It's okay, honey… I don't think we're really under the river right now." She murmured. "But part of the subway does go under it."
"Under?" Dar repeated.
'Yeah, you know.. they have those big hole boring machines, like we saw on the Discovery Channel the other night.. the ones that cut the Chunnel?" A pause. "You've been on the Chunnel train, haven't you?"
"No." Dar got out from between gritted teeth. "I fly over the damn English Channel, thank you very much."
"Be great if it picks now to leak again, huh?" A woman's voice asked, with a tone of weary amusement. "Hope we can all swim."
Kerry could feel Dar's heart beating against her hand, the pulse so rapid she could hardly distinguish the thumps. "Honey?"
"Yes." The word was precisely enunciated.
No answer. Kerry slid her arm around Dar's body, and hugged her. She could feel a ball of fear knotting her own guts, and had to swallow a few times before she could speak again. "One consolation."
"You’re here." Kerry felt a light pressure against the side of her head, then a warmth as Dar laid her cheek against the spot. They both sighed at the same time, then Kerry almost hit the ceiling as Dar's cell phone went off inside her pocket. "Yow!"
"Shit." Dar dug for the thing blindly. "Stupid god damned piece of … " She got the phone out and opened it, the light from the display showing her features in eerie relief. "What?"
"Uh.. hi boss." Marks answered hesitantly. "Listen, I hate to bother you on Thanksgiving, but I just got paged on a hot one, and I need some advice."
Dar's nostrils flared visibly. "Oh. Really? Sure. No problem. What can I do for you?" Her voice oozed exaggerated patience.
"Well, one of the big mainframes in Illinois went wacko, and sent a blast across everything up in Chicago. It's causing all kinds of havoc… "
"No kidding." Dar muttered.
"Yeah, anyway.. it knocked out two power grids, and they can't get the boxes reset. You got your laptop? It's one of those old DOD rigs that you used to snuggle up to."
"No, Mark. I don’t' have my laptop. I’m a little out of touch right at the moment." Dar told him.
"Oh yeah? Where are you?"
Kerry took the phone. "Hi, Mark."
"Hey, Ker. What's up?"
"We're stuck in the Chicago subway."
Long silence. "Oh man.. that sucks!" Mark squeaked. "I had, like no idea… you guys are right in the middle of that crap!"
The car creaked, and everyone murmured. Then it creaked again, and slowly, out of the darkness, came a set of footsteps. They moved, then paused, and a sharp knock was heard a few cars up. Dar took the phone back. "Listen to me. What the hell is it going to take to get these damn trains moving?"
"Uh… " Mark's voice trailed off as he typed. "Shit, you'd have to… well, I can't tell, Dar.. I really don't know much about this stuff… it looks like mech relays that are electronically controlled, or something.. I don’t'… I'm sorry, Dar.. I just can't tell."
Dar closed her eyes and rested her head against one hand, forcing her mind to focus. It was hard, between the darkness, and the knowledge of where she was, her thoughts wanted to dart all over the place, and she was conscious of Kerry's calming touch rubbing her back. "What language is it?"
Mark told her.
"Okay." Dar painfully called up routines. "One way or two way surge logic?"
Dar took a breath. "The programs are designed to protect the switches from damage - either they go one way, or both ways… which is it?"
"Oh." Typing. "Uh… I… one way, I think if I’m reading this right."
"Good." Dar murmured. "Then they can be reset… "
"Okay, folks." The door slammed open, and a rough voice intruded. "We want you all to stay put, okay? We're stuck right here just under the middle of the river, and they're workin on getting the train restarted."
"Why can't we just walk the fuck out?" The young man to Kerry's left groaned. "Fuck this.. I've got to get to the restaurant."
"We don't want to do that just yet, okay? It's real dark down here, and we don't got enough lights to make it safe. So just relax, and keep calm."
"Easy for him to say." Kerry muttered.
"What were you saying, boss?" Mark asked. "Something about a reset?"
Dar sat still, her mind raging with the knowledge of the tons of water over her head. Her throat went dry, and she started to take short, sharp breaths.
"Hang on a minute, Mark." Kerry spoke into the phone urgently then muted it. "Hey." She reached up and took hold of Dar's dimly seen jaw, and turned her head so that their eyes, merely glints in the faint illumination from the phone, met. "It's okay. I know it's scary down here, but you're our best chance of getting the hell out.. .you've got to hold it together, Dar."
Dar was utterly silent for a breath, then the muscles under Kerry's fingers moved. "I know." She took the phone back. "Mark?"
"Yeah?" Mark sounded confused, and a little worried. "What's going on down there, boss? You okay?"
Dar took a breath. "I’m a freaking mile underground in the dark with a god damned river over my head and I’m severely claustrophobic. That give you a clue?" She growled furiously in response.
"Oh." Mark sounded chastened. "Sorry, Dar. What can I do to get you out of there?"
What, indeed? Dar closed her eyes again, and threw her mind at the problem, ignoring the pounding headache from the tension that surrounded them. C'mon, Roberts. Get the damn synapses firing already. Slowly, the logic routines surfaced, dancing against her closed eyelids. "Okay. Send this down the pipe. " She rattled off a string of code. "Test it on one switch first."
"Okay." Mark murmured. "Which.. oh, wait, I see.. yeah, okay." Rattling keys. "Huh."
"Define 'huh'." Dar snapped.
"It reversed the state." Mark told her. "Cool. Hang on… let me dump it into a repeat routine."
Kerry smiled in the darkness, her hands keeping up their soothing motions. "Jesus, Dar.. some of that stuff is older than I am.. how do you remember it?"
"Urf." Dar grunted softly. "Well?"
"Okay.. okay, I got them all reversed.. now what?"
"Send this." Dar rattled off another string. "And hang onto your jockstrap."
"Ooo." Kerry had to hold back a laugh.
"Uh.. I think I'll keep all ten on the keyboard if that's okay by you, bosseroo." Mark finished his task, then made a last click. "Now what?"
Dar counted. On ten, the whole train jerked, then the lights flickered on, bringing a rush of air through the car. It took a few moments more, then the alarm sounded.
"Okay folks.. we're gonna get moving again, please siddown, and thanks for being so patient." Pause. "Happy Thanksgiving."
"Thanks, Mark." Kerry removed the phone from Dar's fingers, and cradled it, watching her lover wipe the sweat from her forehead, and lean back as the car started to move. "That did the trick… you have no idea how much we appreciate it."
"Yeah, I've got a clue." Mark chuckled. "Hey.. I’m gonna see if I can poke around and get some other stuff going.. talk to you guys later."
Kerry folded the phone and stuck it in her pocket, then exhaled, feeling weak with relief. She blinked and glanced around, realizing the few people in the car were staring at her. "Hi." She murmured.
"Yo." The young man who had been cursing pointed at her and Dar. "You fucking fixed this son of a bitch over that cell phone, didn'ja?"
Dar opened a blue eye. "Yeah. Got a problem with that?"
"No.. that's cool." He clapped and the rest of the car joined him. "Way cool.. your like a master geek, huh?"
Dar felt like her inside were going to dissolve. She didn't feel like a master anything at the moment, all she wanted was to get off the damn train and out into the fresh air again. "Yeah." She slumped against Kerry's supporting arm. "First time this thing stops, we're outta here."
"Okay." Kerry agreed instantly. "Oh, wait.. I'm not sure where that…"
"I don't care." Dar exhaled. "Wherever it is, we're off this thing."
The train pulled in, and true to her word, Dar bolted from the car, trailing an understanding, but slightly nervous Kerry with her. The station wasn't well lit, and as they moved through it towards the stairs, it took on a distinctly menacing air. Well. Kerry reflected with a sigh. In the mood she's in, anyone stupid enough to try and rob us is asking for some severe nervous energy hurt.
The stairs echoed with their steps, and they had to carefully step between several crouched forms, who eyed them from under nondescript knit caps as they passed. Kerry moved to one side of the stairs and grasped the metal rail lightly, feeling the many times painted metal nubbly under her fingertips as she climbed upwards.
Her nose wrinkled, though, and she was glad it was chilly. Heat would have made the stairway pungent beyond description, and Kerry was glad when they topped the stairs and ducked outside into a surprisingly clearer day. "Oh." Kerry glanced around. "Well, at least it stopped snowing."
Dar stuck her hands into her pockets and exhaled, her breath a white cloud in the wan sunlight. "Yeah." She regarded the snowy walk for a moment. "Listen, I'm sorry I went a little south down there."
Kerry patted her arm. "It's okay.. I can't imagine what that must be like for you." She could sense that Dar was embarrassed. "No more trains, huh? Let's just see if we can get through today without another technological disaster." She hooked her hand around Dar's elbow, and looked around, trying to figure out which way to go.
Hm. No direction really looked promising. Squat, older buildings surrounded them, most boarded over, and there was graffiti evident on many of the vertical surfaces. There were also silent, huddled forms in any available shelter. "Um."
Dar turned and started walking, drawing Kerry after her, and they headed down the sidewalk together. The snow crunched lightly under their boots, and counterpointed the hiss of tires as cars drove slowly by, and the dimly heard rattle of the underground train emerging from the vents they crossed over.
It was cold out here, but Dar found herself almost joyous at being out from under the ground. She'd managed to forget over the years how much she hated that feeling of being frightened, and out of control. In Miami, subways and tunnels didn't exist, and even her frequent airplane flights were generally taken in first class, in larger aircraft. The most confined space she had to worry about was the elevator in their office building, and every thing else was blissfully wide open to Miami's flat horizon.
Maybe Kerry had a point. Dar reluctantly admitted to herself. Maybe she needed to talk it out with someone, but the thought of going to a doctor for that…
Dar turned, to see Kerry eyeing her in concern. "Hm? Sorry.. I was just thinking."
"I know. But you were scowling, and you're making me wonder what's so awful." Kerry kidded her faintly, but she was worried, and it showed.
C'mon, Dar. Suck it up and spit it out. "Being scared pisses me off." The taller woman admitted. "I get mad at myself, and I know it's stupid to." She paused. "Maybe you were right. Maybe I need to see someone about it."
Kerry walked in silence for a bit, thinking. "Maybe you should talk to your dad." She caught Dar's startled look. "This could be PTSD, you know. My brother did a huge research project for that in one of his failed attempts at actually achieving a major in college.. it was interesting to read."
Dar blinked. "PT… c'mon, Kerry.. that's for vets, and people under situations for long periods. We were only in that building a couple hours." But the idea appealed to her. "I could ask, I guess.. Dad might know someone I could speak with."
"Dad might be someone you can speak with, Dar." Kerry reminded her gently. "He's been through an awful lot.. maybe you should start with him first."
"We don’t… " Dar carefully edged around a huddled form, who glared up at her resentfully. "Sorry." She muttered, as they moved past. "Dad and I love each other, Kerry, but we're not the best communicators in the world."
"Ah. Yeah, you're both the strong and silent type. Must be hereditary." They walked on another block, then Kerry half turned, hearing a slight scuff behind them. There was nothing there, but she could have sworn she'd seen a flicker of motion in the doorway as she looked. "Um… Dar?"
Dar had been kicking little tufts of snow out of her way. Now she turned and cocked her head. "Hm?"
Kerry edged closer and glanced around, one hand winding it's way around Dar's arm. "You're going to think I’m a paranoid son of a microchip but I thought I heard someone following us."
"Par for the day." Dar checked her inside pocket, where she'd stashed her wallet and palm pilot, then looked around. There wasn't much of a choice of directions. Buildings closed in on them from both sides, and there seemed to be more people drifting around, some glancing at them with a mixture of interest and appraisal. "You know what? I am so not in the mood for this right now."
"What are you in the mood for?" Kerry asked, more as a distraction than anything else.
"Ooo… what a surprise! And here I was going to stop and get you some granola."
"Chocolate ice cream."
"Dar, it's snowing." Kerry brushed a few flakes off her jacket.
"Okay. With hot fudge sauce." Her partner amended, with a half grin. "How about that?" She turned her head and looked at Kerry, but her eyes flicked over Kerry's shoulder, spotting two figures strolling casually after them. "Crap."
"Oh boy. Now what?" Kerry asked softly. "Dar, I'm not liking this business trip. I think we need to schedule the next one in Aruba."
"Tell Jose to sell an account there." Dar considered her options. It was possible the two stalkers weren't going to do anything, of course. It was also possible that they were, and wrapped as she was in layers of cloth, wool, and leather, she'd be about as effective in fighting an attack off as the Michelin Tire Man would be. She let her recent experiences slide into the back of her memory, and concentrated on problem solving, her mind clearing and settling into a cool, even plane.
At least she was outside now, and didn't have that whole thing to worry about. Her eyes flicked across the store fronts, and she realized that the holiday had closed most of them down tight. Those that were normally open anyway, that is.
The best course, she reasoned, was to keep walking the direction they were already going, and hope the street ended up somewhere that got them out of trouble.
Dar sighed, but kept walking, putting a hand casually on Kerry's back.
"Yo." Footsteps increased, and got louder.
"I know. Just keep calm." Dar stopped walking, and turned, drawing herself up to her full height as she did so.
Bringing her eyes slightly above the dark ones of the man facing her, his right hand pointed at her curled around the threatening form of a gun. Dar let the shock of that roll past her, and curiously, her nerves settled into an alert calm. "What?"
"Gimme your money."
Dar felt Kerry's body jerk in reaction, and she kept her hand on her lover's back, giving it a comforting pat. "No."
"What? You see this? I’m gonna shoot yo ass if you don't gimme your money." The thief insisted, his partner looking around quickly to see if anyone was coming.
"No." Dar repeated, feeling the faintest hint of a smile tugging at her lips. "Now, are you going to use that thing, or am I going to stick it so far up your ass they'll have to send a bloodhound in to find it?"
Her assailant was a thin man, with a scruffy beard and curiously thick eyebrows. Dar kept him pinned with her eyes, and allowed the smile to surface, just a little. "Well?" She dropped her voice to it's lowest register.
The smile widened. "Could be."
"Let's get outta here, Larry." The other man tugged on his sleeve. "C'mon…"
Undecided for a moment, the gun wielder finally stuffed his hand back in his pocket and started walking away, keeping his body half turned to watch Dar, a frustrated and perplexed look on his face.
Dar chuckled, her good humor restored. "Now there's an eight bit chip in a thirty two bit world." She glanced at Kerry, who was markedly pale. "You okay?"
"I think I just realized something." The blond woman remarked. "I'm gunphobic." Her knees buckled, and Dar only just caught her, grabbing her around the shoulders, and pulling her close as Kerry clutched weakly at her arms.
Kerry closed her eyes, and leaned against Dar, taking deep breaths and wishing away the dizzy spinning in her head. "Wow." Her whole body felt like she'd been shocked and she held onto Dar until she regained the solid use of her legs. "Sorry.. I don't think I ever did that before." She straightened, and glanced around. They were alone in the street, even the doorways seemed to have cleared. "That was totally amazing, Dar."
"Hm?" Dar put an arm around her, and they slowly started walking again. "What was?"
"You talking that guy down!" Kerry still felt a little shaky, and it made her voice sharper than usual. "Don't you dare just stand there and act like it was nothing. " She looked up and down the street. "Where in the hell is that ice cream store you promised me, anyway?"
Dar lifted a brow. "I think it's that way." She pointed, to where the streets seemed to lead towards taller buildings. "C'mon, before we get into any more trouble."
The day got better from there. Kerry smiled as they found themselves on a major boulevard, surrounded by tall, stately buildings, stores, restaurants, and holiday décor. "This is more like it." She said. The sun had peeked reluctantly out through the still mostly overcast sky, and the streets were quiet, as most of the residents were heading home for the holiday.
They walked along the sidewalk, glancing inside the brightly lit windows. "Oo." Kerry pressed both hands against the window of a toy store. "Mommy.. I want that."
Dar leaned next to her. "You've got two of those already." She remarked dryly.
"Not that model." A slim finger pointed. "That's the one with the internal cellular modem and decent browser." Kerry eyed the PDA. "And it comes in six colors, Dar - look at the raspberry one."
"And you call me a nerd."
"Oh, like you don't want one too." Kerry jeered.
"Nope." Dar put on a virtuous expression. "I can honestly say I don't want one."
Kerry put her hands on her hips and stared, cocking her head slowly from side to side. Finally, a finger wagged. "Cause you've already got one, doncha?"
A dazzling, if slightly sheepish smile answered her. "Early Christmas present." Dar observed the narrowed green eyes directed at her. "I got you one too."
"You did?" Kerry produced a quick grin of delight. Her eyes flicked back to the display window. "Which color?"
"It's a surprise." Dar told her loftily, continuing down the street. "C'mon.. I'm getting hungry. Spot any place we can go for dinner yet?"
Kerry tugged her jacket closer against the rising late afternoon wind. She looked around, then recalled something and tipped her head back to look up. "As a matter of fact… yeah."
Dar followed her glance. "Well. It'll be a nice view."
It was. They stepped off the elevator into a bustling restaurant, and were greeted by a slim man in a tuxedo. "Will you be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner , ladies?"
"Yes, we'd like to." Kerry smiled at him. "Is there a table near the windows available?"
The man gave her a politely regretful smile in return. "I’m very sorry, those are all reserved, but we've got some lovely booths up here." He pointed towards the side of the restaurant.
Kerry leaned on the railing next to him, and regarded the spot, then she took a menu from him in a smooth motion. " You sure you don't have a table near the front?"
The man glanced down at his hand, then his smile altered without moving a muscle from polite to truly appreciative. "For you, ma'am, I'll find one. Please come this way."
"Thank you." Kerry hooked a finger through Dar's belt and drew her along the short platform, then followed the maitre'd down the steps past crisply set tables in the half filled room. They were settled in a very comfortable spot right up against the floor to celiing glass windows, with a spectacular view of Chicago spread out below them. "This is just perfect… I really appreciate it." Kerry told the solicitous man.
"Anything else I can do for you, just ask, ma'am." He touched his forehead, then retreated, leaving them in peace.
Dar leaned forward. "What exactly did you give him?" She inquired.
"My phone number." Kerry answered, with a straight face.
Both dark eyebrows lifted.
"Just kidding, and no, I’m not going to tell you how much so forget it." Kerry said. "Because I know you're going to find a way to pay for dinner, so we're even."
"Urmf." Dar leaned back in her chair, and folded her hands over her stomach, regarding the view. "This is worth the trip up here."
"Mm." Kerry agreed, studying Dar's sharp profile. "Sure beats where I was a year ago."
Blue eyes slid over to meet hers. "Yeah." A nod. "You know, when you left last year, I was hoping your folks wouldn't convince you to stay."
"As it turned out, I shouldn't have worried, but there were a few moments where I wondered what I'd do if you did." Dar said. "Wonder how much terrorizing I'd have had to do to move the corporate HQ to Saugatuck?"
Kerry sat back. "Even if things were good with my folks, there was nothing for me in Michigan." She said. "Most of my friends had moved away or gotten married, our industry isn't exactly a hotbed up there, and there wasn't anything they could offer me that I'd have even thought twice about, to be honest " She took a breath. "Completely aside from the fact that I had no intention of letting go of you, of course."
The waiter chose that moment to come over. "Ladies, we have a our Thanksgiving dinner available tonight."
"Perfect." Dar drawled. "As long as it has mashed potatoes."
"Yes, it does." The waiter laughed. "Okay, let me bring out soup and some bread. We've got mushroom barley, or harvest chicken."
"One of each." Kerry said. "And can I get a beer?"
"We have Killian Red on draft?"
"And for you, ma'am?" The waiter turned to Dar.
"Give me the same." Dar told him, returning her attention to Kerry as the waiter left. "Now, what were you saying?"
"Where did I leave off… was it the part where I confess perpetual, undying love for you, and tell you I want to be yours for eternity?" Kerry leaned on her chair arm. "Because I do." Uh oh. She stifled a smile. A fawn framed in dark hair caught in a pair of very bright headlights was looking back at her. Might as well get it in all at once. "Thank you for the most wonderful year of my life." She paused, as the waiter returned with their beers, and they took them. "Here's to a hundred more just like it."
She had to reach over to touch her glass against Dar's, with a musical clink. Her lover was simply gazing at her over the rim, a dazed look on her face. "Dar?"
"Thanks." Dar answered faintly. "I think you just put me in to a logic loop. Hang on a minute." She took a sip of the beer, and let the cold, crisply bubbled beverage slide down her throat, leaving a faint aftertaste of wheat and hops. The sentiment hadn't surprised her, but the forthright poetry of the words had, and she paused a moment to savor them. She let her eyes drift over Kerry's face, which was lit from the dimming light outside, and the candles inside and warm with affection as she slowly took a swallow of her drink. "A thousand more just like it."
Their glasses touched again and they drank in silence, watching each other until their helpful waiter returned, bearing bowls of steaming soup, and a basket of really nice smelling rolls which he set down on the table. "There you go, ladies. Now, so I can get the kitchen ready, we've got a couple choices for dinner."
Dar paused in the act of snitching a roll. "White or dark?"
The man chuckled. "No, not exactly. We've got ham, turkey, or roast beef."
"Turkey." Kerry nodded. "Dark meat for me."
"Same here." Dar said.
"Great." Scribbling. "Mashed potatoes or whipped sweet potatoes?"
"Yes." Kerry waved her spoon at him. "Just bring both. Trust me."
"Okay." More scribbling. "Cranberry sauce and stuffing come with it, so that's all I need. Enjoy your soup."
Dar buttered a bit of her roll and dunked it in her soup, then paused, before she reached over and offered the tidbit to Kerry. Without hesitation, Kerry captured it in her teeth, and gave Dar's thumb a lick before she consumed the yeasty tasting bite. "Keep this up, and we might cause a scandal." Dar commented, with a wry smile.
"Let em stare." Kerry answered immediately. "I don't care if they start a riot."
"No?" Dar started laughing.
"No. You'll just kick their asses, and I'll take pictures." Kerry's nose wrinkled up as she grinned whole heartedly "Happy Thanksgiving, Dar."
"Same to you." Dar grinned, as the light outside faded, and the city burst into glowing prominence below them. She let the panics of the last two days slip from her conscious thoughts, and concentrated on the moment, leaving the problems for another day.
"Whooof." Kerry pushed the door to the restroom open, and entered, holding it as Dar wandered in after her. "I think that was one bite of pumpkin pie too… wow." She kept walking, and ended up at the glass wall, displaying an even better view than the one they'd eaten dinner gazing out at. "Pretty."
"Uh huh." Dar leaned her head against the cold glass, blinking amiably at the lights. "Looks like the inside of an excited Cray." She traced a bit of dust on the inside of the window. "Kerry, I drank too much."
"You did, huh?" Kerry turned and leaned against the glass. "Are you drunk?"
Dar nodded. "Yeah."
"Well, at least you know you are." Kerry patted her arm. "Sit down for a minute… then we can catch a.."
"No trains." Dar's lower lip poked out.
"A cab, I was about to say." Kerry steered her over to a low bench, and pushed her down. "How's that?"
"Okey dokey." Dar let her head rest against the wall and closed her eyes. "You're the boss."
Kerry glanced around, then kissed her lover on the forehead, before she took a moment to use the restroom. Hmm. You could leave the door open, and really get lost watching all those pretty lights out there. She found herself following a helicopter across the sky, then she shook her head and finished up. "I think I had a beer too many too, honey.. I’m drifting."
"I'll tie a string to you." Dar wandered over and started removing the belt from her jacket. "C'mere."
"That's okay." Kerry retied the leather. "Let's go, Dixiecup..time to find us a bed."
"Why?" Dar surprised her by lacing fingers along the back of her neck and kissing her with uninhibited passion. "Better view here."
Kerry could hear the sounds of people moving near the door, and her heart skipped, but her body leaned into Dar's and she let herself enjoy the jolt that hit her in the groin and move outward from there. "Dar?" She rasped, as they parted.
"Uh?" Long fingers traced Kerry's cheek. "Didn't I do that right?"
Kerry made a noise halfway between a whimper and a groan. "Turn around, and start walking, before we make the front page of the Chicago Tribune." She shooed Dar in front of her. "Movemovemovemovemove."
Dar sighed aggrievedly. "Oh, okay." She grumbled, then paused. "Hey.. did you say something about a cab?"
"Yes." Kerry opened the door and guided Dar out. "A nice fast cab."
"They got backseats, right?"
"Erf." Kerry almost giggled. "I think I’m in trouble."
The phone buzzed.
Kerry creaked open one eyelid and glared at it, attempting to melt the plastic with the very force of her displeasure.
It didn't work. The buzz repeated itself, accompanied by a flashing red light.
Slowly, a hand crawled out from under the covers, and snatched the reciever off it's cradle, drawing it back to be pressed against a pink ear. "Hello?" Kerry swallowed against a dry throat.
"Well, good morning, Kerrison, dear."
Kerry pulled the phone away from her head and peered at it, as though the equipment had grown tentacles or something. The voice was faintly familiar, but not enough for her to positively identify it. "Hi." She issued a neutral greeting.
"It's your Aunt Penny, dear. Are you there? I'm down in the lobby. I'd love to come up and see you."
"Splendid. I'll be right up."
"Buh…wait..uh.." Kerry stared at the now dead phone, then put it back in it's cradle. "Oh boy…uh, Dar?" She rolled over and burrowed under the covers, digging around until she found Dar's soundly sleeping and tightly curled up body. "Dar?" She shook her lover. "Dar!"
Both of Dar's eyes popped open, and her body surged upward, as she reacted to the alarm in Kerry's voice. "Wh..what?" Pause. "Ow." Dar fell back against the pillows and reached for her head with both hands. "Son of a god damned bitch."
"Dar, we've got a visitor coming up here." Kerry started to pull the covers back. "Oh god, I can't believe this."
"What?" Dar covered her eyes with her forearm. "Whoever it is can turn around and get lost, Kerry."
"No..no, honey, it's my Aunt Penny." Kerry stumbled into the bathroom and turned the water on, thrusting her hands into it and splashing her face with the liquid. "Jesus!" Kerry looked up into the mirror, to see a dripping wet, shocked looking face staring back at her. "That’s' cold!"
Dar sat up painfully, and swung her legs over the side of the bed, resting her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. "I knew there was a reason I didn't drink." She groaned. "Damn."
Kerry rubbed her face with a towel, then poked her head out. "Sweetie, you need to at least put on a shirt. My Aunt Penny's a very cool lady, but.."
"I know." Dar hoisted herself to her feet and trudged over to her bag, her tanned skin moving through ripples of light form the window. She first removed a bottle of Advil and opened it, shaking out four of the tablets. Then she eased into the bathroom behind Kerry's busy form and picked up one of the hotel glasses, filling it with sink water and washing down her handful of painkillers. "Ugh."
"Sorry." Kerry handed her a toothbrush, reflecting that Dar was one of the few people she knew that could be naked, hung over, and just right out of bed disheveled, and still look gorgeous.
Maybe she was biased. She snuck another look while Dar studiously scrubbed her teeth. Nope. "I'm going to throw some clothes on.. I'll try to keep her occupied while you get conscious, okay?"
"Grouf." Dar rinsed her mouth out and splashed water on her face, then patted it dry. "Toss me a… thank you." A pair of jeans and a shirt hit her in the chest, and she miraculously caught them. A knock came at the door and she fielded her hastily tossed underwear, then closed the bathroom door to dress in peace.
Kerry barely had time to run her fingers through her hair before she reached the door and opened it. On the other side was a small, but self possessed woman, with silver white hair and Kerry's green eyes. "Hi, Aunt Penny."
"Kerrison!" Aunt Penny entered, and immediately hugged her. "Goodness, it's wonderful to see you."
Kerry returned the hug and found herself smiling. "Same here… if I 'd had my brain on straight I'd have remembered you moved to Chicago.. we got stuck here yesterday."
Aunt Penny released her, and looked around with curious interest. "Ah, so you have your friend with you, then? Excellent! I'm so glad." The older woman peered at the pile of technology on the desk. "What do we have here?"
"Oh." Kerry recovered her equilibrium. "That's two laptops, two pagers, two cell phones and two palm pilots.. we're both kind of technohounds." She offered her aunt a seat. "Sit down.. I was just going to call down for some coffee… would you like some? We just woke up."
Aunt Penny seated herself. "Did you? I’m terribly sorry, Kerrison.. why didn't you say so? I could have spent time downstairs in the shops." She chided her niece. "And I would love some coffee, thank you."
"So would I." Dar's lower tones added, as she emerged from the bathroom clad in jeans and a sweatshirt.
"I figured that." Kerry gave her lover a smile. "Dar, this is my Aunt Penny. Aunt Penny, this is Paladar Roberts, my partner."
Dar walked over and took a seat, extending a hand. "Nice to meet you. Kerry's always spoken very fondly of you."
Aunt Penny studied Dar's face with a curious intensity, before she took the offered hand, and pressed it. "It's nice to meet you too, Dar. " There was a quiet, wistful note in her voice which lingered, then vanished. "I’m so glad you two were here. Did you get caught in the storm?"
Kerry finished ordering coffee and sat down next to Dar on the couch. "I did.. my flight was diverted." She told her aunt. "Dar drove in from New York, so we could spend Thanksgiving together."
"Of course she did, dear." Aunt Penny replied. "I called your office to wish you a good holiday, and they told me you were in Chicago, and where you were staying. I was so glad I'd get a chance to see you, and to meet your friend." Her eyes twinkled at Dar. "Your mother is Cecilia Roberts, isn't she? I have one of her pieces in my house."
Dar blinked. "Yes." She agreed. "She gave Kerry and I one not long ago."
Dar's cell phone rang, and she gave Kerry a dour look before she stood up and retrieved it, opening it and listening for a moment, before she walked over to the desk and sat behind it, tugging her laptop over as she did so. "Scuse me." She muttered in their direction.
"Never stops." Kerry chuckled and turned her attention back to her aunt. "Thanks for coming down.. it's great to see you. The families been.. eh.." Kerry grimaced.
"Terrible, I know." Penny clucked her tongue. "I've been working on your mother. Your father is a lost cause, I’m afraid."
Kerry lowered her gaze, and nodded. "Yeah. I know." She missed the compassionate look her aunt bestowed on her, a mirror of the one coming from the nearby desk. "Some things you just can't change."
"Well, dear, he always was a pinhead, you know." Aunt Penny patted her leg comfortingly. "I'm so glad you took after our side of the family, being so smart, and so pretty." She chuckled as Kerry blushed. "Now, you said your plane was diverted, you didn't have any trouble, did you?"
Glad of the change of subject, Kerry ordered her thoughts to answer. "We hit that storm, and the plane had a little trouble. It was pretty scary." She said. "I was really glad to see the ground, let me tell you."
"Oh dear." Her aunt murmured. "You must have been terrified! I know I would have been."
"I was." Kerry admitted. "I wasn't ready for a chat with St. Peter." She looked over, to see Dar bent over her laptop, one ear pressed to the phone, oblivious. "In fact, I think I was so scared, even Dar felt it." She chuckled.
Aunt Penny didn't twitch a hair. "Of course she did, dear." The older woman stated placidly.
Kerry stared at her for a long moment. "What?"
"It's quite natural, you know, when one is very close to someone, to sense something is wrong with them, even over quite large distances."
"It is?" Kerry felt very confused. "This isn't one of those Discovery Channel specials on psychic phenomenon kind of things, is it?" She became aware of a sudden lack of clicking near the window, and looked up past her aunt to see Dar gazing at her bemusedly.
"I prefer to think of it as a connection of the heart, dear. Don't worry yourself too much about it." Aunt Penny bestowed another pat on her knee. "I had a friend when I was younger, a very close friend, and when something was wrong, I knew immediately, even from far away. It's very natural."
"Oh." Kerry sat back. "I didn't know that. In fact, I wouldn't have ever even imagined something like that was possible."
"Wouldn't you?" Aunt Penny smiled at her. "I always thought you had quite a good imagination, Kerrison. You know I still do have some of those lovely poems you wrote in high school."
"Eek." Kerry grimaced, as a light knock came at the door. "That must be the coffee… be right back." She got up and walked across the hotel room, her mind mulling over this new information. Aunt Penny couldn't really mean she and Dar had some weird psychic bond, could she?
Kerry acknowledged the room service waiter, and signed the check absently as he put the tray on the table near the door. It closed behind him, and she fiddled with the contents while she pondered.
No. That was crazy.
Kerry cocked her head and listened to the boarding announcements, taking a better hold on the two cups of coffee she was carrying as she wove her way though the rows of seats. Near the jetway entrance, Dar was sprawled , one leg hooked over a seat arm and her laptop perched on her knee.
Outside the sunglasses settled firmly on the bridge of her nose, Dar showed little sign of their overindulgence the previous night, and Kerry found herself slightly nettled about that since she herself had a headache that would fell a moose at thirty feet. "Here you go." She took the seat next to her lover and handed over a cup. "God, I can't wait to get home."
Dar finished typing something, then took a sip of her coffee. "Just so you can turn around and leave again on Monday?"
Kerry sighed. "Dar, can I ask you something as my boss?"
The dark head turned to regard her, blue eyes invisible behind tinted lenses. "Sure."
She looked down at her sneakers, and considered her words carefully. "You know I never ask you for help." Kerry said. "I take a lot of pride in that, because I know I can always take the easy way out, but I don't."
"I know that." Dar rested her hands on her keyboard and focused her attention wholly on Kerry. "I trust your judgement implicitly, you know that."
"I know that." Kerry accepted the compliment gracefully. "Dar, is there any way to fix Redmond so I don't have to go there?"
Her boss pushed her sunglasses up, and tilted her head back, considering the question. Kerry simply waited, having reviewed the options herself numerous times without coming up with a solution.
"It needs a face to face." Dar finally said.
Kerry's shoulders slumped, but she nodded in quiet acceptance. "Okay."
Dar pulled out her cell phone and looked up a number, then dialed it. She waited for an answer. "Clarice? Dar Roberts."
"Dar.. hey, what a surprise. Happy Thanksgiving." Clarice's voice sounded startled, but pleased. "What can I do for you?" The Washington based manager asked.
"Pack." Dar replied. "I've got an operations issue down here that I need handling on, and I can't spare Kerry to fly out there and straighten your asses out. Get your team, and you, on the first flight out here on Monday, and plan to stay the week."
"Jeez, Dar, I don't know if…"
"No excuses." Dar snapped back. "Figure out a way, and just get it done."
There was an awkward silence for a minute. "Well.. a week in Miami in the winter won't be so bad, I guess." Clarice sighed. "All right, I'll get things in motion… my guys are gonna kill me."
"Too bad. If they'd done their job in the first place, we wouldn't have to bail them out." Dar kept a hard edge to her voice.
"Okay, boss. See you Monday." Clarice replied in a resigned tone.
Dar folded her phone and tucked it into her pocket, then pushed her glasses down so her eyes were visible, then raised an eyebrow at her lover in question. "How's that?'
Kerry laced her fingers together, and hooked her hands over one knee. "She didn't sound happy about it."
"She's not the love of my life." Dar said. "So frankly, I don't give a damn how she felt about it. Besides, it's the truth. They're screwing up, why the hell should we have to fly out to them?" She shrugged. "Yeah, it'd be less expensive, and probably more productive for you to go to the source, but this'll work too."
"I feel like I’m taking advantage of our relationship." Kerry said. "But thank you. It's just that they're predicting two more major storms coming out of Canada this week, and I just don't want to be traveling through that right now."
"Fair enough." Dar reached over and tweaked her nose. "You're not going to feel all guilty about this now, are you? I’m gonna have to kick your ass if you are."
"No." Kerry picked up her coffee and examined it. "Well, okay.. a little, but I'll get over it." She took a sip. "So, how'd you like Aunt Penny?"
Dar looked up and smiled. "I liked her a lot. She's quite a character.. I can see how you two are related."
A pink tongue poked out at her. "She likes you too. She said so before she left. " Kerry paused. "She's into a lot of that esoteric stuff, you know? She's got crystals and God only knows what else at home… she used to always drive my parents crazy trying to get them to try some new thing or other."
"She and my mother would get along great." Dar leaned back and regarded her thoughtfully. "I think she's right, though." She closed her laptop and rested her hands on it.
"About…us, and that connection thing?" Kerry asked, watching Dar nod. "Ah."
"You don't think so?"
Kerry chewed the inside of her lip. "It's kind of way out there, Dar." She told her lover apologetically. "I've never been much into that stuff."
"Mm." Dar nodded, then shrugged. "I was just thinking about it. It makes a few things that have happened in the last year make more sense to me."
Their flight was called, and Kerry resisted the urge to tell the gate agent to shut up. But Dar was getting up and getting her bag, and she followed suit, reasoning that they'd have plenty of time to discuss it once they got home. She still didn't think there was much to the whole thing, but what was intriguing her was: Obviously, Dar did think so. The question was, of course, why?
"Okay..okay.. Chino… take it easy." Kerry ended up on the floor, with a Labrador in her lap. "Honey.. yes, yes.. I love you too.. pah. Not right in the mouth, huh?" She hugged her creamy colored pet, who wriggled with extreme happiness at their return. "Good girl… that's right, go get mommy Dar."
Chino corkscrewed over to where Dar was putting down the bags, and thumped against her knees, coming close to sending the taller woman sprawling. "Whoa!!" Dar fell back into the leather couch, and caught the Lab as she squirmed up into her lap. "Hey.. take it easy!"
"I think she missed us." Kerry stifled a yawn, and leaned back on her hands, stretching the soft cotton of her T-shirt across her body. Getting off the plane and taking off most of her clothes had been a pleasant experience, and she'd made Dar open the sun roof in the Lexus as they drove, letting in the cool night air and the sea tang. "I think I want one of those."
Dar, her lap full of dog, peered over Chino's shoulder at her. "Want one of what, Ker? Another dog? "
"An SUV." Kerry waggled her foot, and regarded it. "I like yours, but I think I want one of the smaller ones."
"Thought you were happy with the Mustang?" Dar got up and stretched. "It's more your kind of car than my truck."
"Eh." Kerry rolled over and got to her feet. "Are you saying I’m little and sporty?"
Dar chuckled. "I think you're a little punchy, is what I think. We both need some sleep." She walked over and put her arms around Kerry, pulling her into a hug. "I’m glad we've got two more days before we go back to Hell."
"Hmm.mffm." Kerry nodded, burying her face into Dar's cotton shirt, infused with Dar smell and sunshine. "I can get caught up on everything, and prepare some kind of action plan for Clarice." She paused. "Is she nice?"
Dar didn't answer for a moment, then her chest expanded and contracted as she sighed. "I should have mentioned this before. She used to be based here."
"Eh?" Kerry snuffled against the cotton. "So?"
"She shares our lifestyle."
A pair of green eyes peeked over the curve of Dar's breasts. "And? Don't tell me you guys were an item?"
"Ah..no." Dar shook her head. "But she wanted to be."
"Ohhhhh…. I get it. She had a crush on you." Kerry said, watching Dar nod with a hint of embarrassment. "Well, so, she's got good taste. No problem."
Dar circled her shoulders with one arm and lead her towards the kitchen. "Actually… it was a really big problem for her. It's the reason she moved to Redmond. I had to sit her down and tell her a, that I wasn't interested, and b…um..b, that company rules.."
"Clearly say no relationships are allowed within the chain of command." Kerry finished, the full realization hitting her. "Oh, Jesus Christ, Dar - what are you going to tell her now?"
"She wasn't my type?" Dar suggested weakly. "I didn't think it would be an issue, but if she's coming here, I thought you'd better know."
"Erf." Kerry unwound herself and went to the refrigerator, removing a bottle of juice and shaking it. "Want some?"
Dar lifted a brow, then lowered it, getting a glass and filling it with milk. She added several squirts of chocolate syrup, and swirled the liquid around before taking a sip. Then she paused, and opened the refrigerator door again. "Ker, what are we gonna do with that thirty pound bird you got in there?"
Kerry wandered over and peered at the neatly trussed, and patiently waiting naked turkey. "Well, it's thawed. I have to cook it." She said. "Maybe for Sunday? We can have a substitute Thanksgiving."
"Okay." Dar readily agreed "I'll be in the study if you want me." She placed a milky kiss on Kerry's lips, then headed out of the kitchen towards her office.
"If I want you." Kerry leaned against the refrigerator and crossed her arms. Dar hadn't mentioned their conversation before plane had boarded since they'd left, even though she'd tried to bring it up a few times, and she wondered if Dar had thought about the whole psychic thing, and decided it was too silly to believe in.
That’s what Kerry thought, after all, wasn't it? Kerry sipped her banana strawberry juice as Chino nibbled at her toes. She'd always been very pragmatic about otherworldly phenomenon, to the extent of considering herself a skeptic. She'd assumed Dar had the same attitude, certainly her generally no nonsense partner never evidenced any interest in the occult or confessed any belief in ghosts, or UFO's or…
Kerry slowly sat down on the stool near the counter and gazed out the window at the dark sea. What things in the past year could Dar have been talking about? She asked herself silently. Well, there was the plane thing, Kerry acknowledged. That was definitely strange, but one incident could have been a coincidence. Had there been any others?
"How did you know I was in here?"
Kerry heard her question echo lightly inside her mind, exactly a year ago today, when Dar had appeared at the mental hospital she was being held in, as if by magic.
"I woke up in a cold sweat and decided to dial in to see what was going on." Dar had answered her, and neither of them had thought anything of it.
"Why aren't you sleeping Dar?" She'd asked, curled up in pain upstairs with monthly cramps.
"Something woke me up.. a dream maybe.. and you weren't there." Dar had answered that time, too.
"What are you doing here?" She'd been delighted, but very surprised when Dar had shown up in Vermont, wondering how her friend had known just how much she needed her there.
"I went to the gate, and the next one was coming here, so I just switched." The explanation had been simple, and Kerry had been far too busy being happy to care.
All coincidences? Kerry got up and walked out of the kitchen and across the tiled living room, her bare feet almost soundless against the cool surface. She paused in the doorway to the study, and leaned against the jam, studying the quiet figure behind the desk.
Dar had her feet up on the polished top, and she was holding a wooden puzzle between her fingertips. Her attention was focused on the small toy, a recent gift from Kerry, and she turned it slowly before her eyes, examining the possibilities. She felt the attention, then, and looked up, cocking her head in question at Kerry's silent regard.
"Dar, what time did you have that accident the other night?"
Both dark eyebrows knit together. "What acc…oh, that. " Dar considered. "About five thirty, I guess. Why?"
It was an eerie feeling, almost a sense of déjà vu that settled over Kerry. "I woke up about five thirty, from a dream about you getting hurt." She walked into the room and sat down on the edge of Dar's desk. "That's the kind of thing you were talking about before, wasn't it? When you said things happened that now made sense?"
Dar wiggled a sock covered toe. "Something like that, yeah."
They both remained quiet, watching each other's face. "Wow." Kerry finally said quietly. "That's very weird." There was a reflective pause. "Sorta cool, though."
Dar's lips tensed into a smile. "A lot cooler than thinking I need a shrink, yeah." She admitted. "Given a choice, I'll take Dial a Psychic over Freud any day."
Kerry draped a hand over the socked foot next to her and gently massaged the toes under the fabric. "Hm… you think we could start up a little business on the side, Madame Darina?" Her face creased into a grin, as she saw the sparkle start in Dar's eyes. "Come vith me… little sugarplum.. I vill tell you great secrets…"
Dar laughed. "Think about this, and those damn crystals May left, and we could start our own counterculture head shop."
Kerry nodded. "Be the first one with a satellite Internet head end, I bet."
"Downloadable Palm files of 60's poetry."
They both snickered. "Dad could help out behind the counter."
Dar swung her feet off the desk and stood, spreading her legs and folding her arms in an uncanny imitation of Andrew Robert's usual aggressive stance. "What you boys think ye're doing with them pipes there, huh?" She drawled. "Put that there flawer pot down fore I plant yer ass in it."
Kerry bent over double with laughter.
"Jest what do you find so funny there, kumquat?" Dar growled softly into a now bright red ear. "You makin fun of this here old salt?"
It was hard to catch her breath, so Kerry had to straighten up, tears running from her eyes. "Oh my god, Dar… you have no idea how much you sound like him."
"Sure I do." Dar returned to her normal pitch. "He's my dad."
"Yes, he is, and I’m definitely glad the apple didn't fall too far from that tree." Kerry wound her arms around Dar's body and hugged her. "C'mon. My crystal ball tells me there's a nice, warm waterbed not far from here just begging to be gotten into."
Dar didn't argue, and they walked through the condo, turning off lights as they went until they entered the large, cool tinted bedroom they shared. Chino trotted over and curled up in her bed with a little grunt and a sigh. "I know how you feel." Dar advised the dog, as they stood together, removing each other's clothes in a little ceremony of exploration.
Kerry pulled the covers back, and slid under them, feeling the waterbed surface flex under her weight. Dar turned the light out and joined her, causing her to bob up and down like a buoy until the bed settled. She turned and they snuggled up together, arms and legs finding familiar spots as bare skin touched and warmed.
"Mm." Kerry felt herself smiling as she tucked her head up against Dar's shoulder and pressed her ear to the skin underneath her to listen for Dar's heartbeat. Powerful thumps, with the faintest hint of a echo between them caused by the irregular structure of her lover's heart.
Her mind drifted for a moment, remembering the day she'd accompanied Dar to the hospital, suffering right along with her new friend as she was tested for the bad valve she'd known she inherited. She'd hardly known Dar then, but she remembered feeling as anxious about her as if she'd been close family. Certainly, she'd felt honest joy, and utter relief when the doctor had told Dar she was okay.
Hm. Kerry listened to the beats, hearing them slow as Dar's breathing slowed. She tried to consciously remember what it had felt like before they'd met. It was hard. Sometimes she felt like she'd known Dar forever, instead of just over a year.
Her eyes closed, and the heart rhythm lulled her. For a brief, surreal moment her senses shifted, and the scent of clean cotton and Dar blended with an oddly distinct smell of hay, and horses, and wood.
Kerry opened her eyes, and looked around the dimly lit room.
With a shake of her head, she snuggled back down to sleep.
Kerry leaned against the wall in the copy room, and tried to ignore just how much the machine's whining noise was annoying her. She wondered what would happen if she gave in and kicked the thing, but the presence of two of the more gossip prone marketing assistants made her cross her ankles instead.
Okay, Kerry. Take a deep breath, and pretend you don't have cramps from hell, woke up late, and have an ex admirer of Dar's to deal with in twenty minutes.
"Okay, all yours." Candy gave Kerry one of her sweeter smiles, and took her papers with her, and she and her crony sauntered out.
"Thanks." Kerry muttered, pushing off from the wall and putting her agenda on the machine before starting it up. She could have asked Mayte to do this, of course, but her assistant was busy getting the conference room ready, and pulling down network diagrams to the transparency printer. Besides, walking around usually got her cranky body to loosen up a little, something she fervently hoped happened before she had to start her meeting.
Sometimes, she reflected, being female and fertile sucked large piggy wonks. The machine finished it's work, and she removed her still warm copies from the sorter and stapled them, then tucked them under her arm as she made her way back to her office.
Mayte was still gone, so she left the collated papers on her assistant's desk before she went into her office, closing the door behind her as she entered the sunlit space. Her brows lifted as she spotted a small cluster of items she was sure she hadn't left on her desk, surrounding her favorite cup which was now gently steaming. "Oh ho.. what have we here?"
She circled the desk and sat down in her leather chair, tucking one leg up under her to try an ease the cramping. Resting on the desk were several things, each with a note. First, her cup, scented with a hint of spicy raspberry, then four wrapped chocolates, then a bottle. "Try this first… " She took a sip of the tea. "Then try these.. " She unwrapped a chocolate and popped it into her mouth. "Then this." She held up the bottle of powerful painkillers. "If all that fails, call me."
Kerry chuckled around her mouthful, and took a swallow of the tea to wash it down. "Thank you, Doctor Dar." She didn't really expect either tea or candy to work, and she'd already taken a handful of painkiller, but the thought of Dar in here, meticulously arranging her action plan, and writing her notes brought a smile to Kerry's face and allowed her to forget her misery for a short while.
A very short while. Her intercom buzzed. "Ms. Kerry? They are waiting for you in the conference." Mayte's soft voice floated into the air.
Kerry sighed, and unwrapped another chocolate. "I'll be right there, Mayte."
"Commander Albert is here to see you." Maria replied quietly.
"Send him in." Dar finished signing the last of a stack of requests, and closed the folder, tossing it in her out bin and putting the top back onto her fountain pen. Kerry had given her the elegant, teak wood instrument and she played with it for a minute, admiring the fine grain before she set it down and folded her hands.
Maria opened the door and stood back, allowing her guest to enter. A tall, muscular man in his mid thirties walked in, every crease in his uniform exact and precise. Dar had about ten or fifteen seconds as he crossed the room to decide how to play her side of the encounter, and decided, as she stood and took the offered hand, to let the Commander make the first move. "Commander. Thank you for coming down here."
"That would be up, ma'am." The man answered crisply. "I did was I was ordered to do."
Oh boy. Dar resumed her seat. "Please, sit down." She waited for her guest to comply. "I understand you're going to be the Navy's liason for this new project, and I wanted to have a word with you before we got started."
"Ma'am, I don't know what you've been told, but in my opinion, this project is a waste of both our times." Commander Albert stated flatly. "I'd just as soon it stopped right here, to save us all the hassle."
"Commander, that's not your decision to make." Dar replied mildly. "Nor is it mine, for that matter. The government, for it's own reasons, has decided to contract us to do this, and if you want it stopped, you're going to have to appeal up your chain of command to do it."
"With all due respect, ma'am, we do not need a civilian efficiency expert coming in and telling us how to run the Navy."
"With all due respect, Commander, that's not what your government hired." Dar said. "I’m a systems analyst. I could give a crap how you run the Navy. What they asked me to do is analyze your systems and controls structures, and recommend technological enhancements."
"Our systems work just fine." Albert's jaw twitched.
Dar sat back. "Then it'll be a very short project, won't it?" She felt almost a sense of amusement as she studied the sharp profile. "Listen, Commander. You're making three assumptions that are going to get you in trouble, so you might want to just reverse your course right now."
"Excuse me, ma'am?" He replied stiffly.
"One, you're assuming I don’t know an obstructionist when I meet one. Two, you're assuming I need your cooperation to do this little job, and three, you're assuming I'm a stranger to the Navy." Dar stood up. "I'll meet you out at the base tomorrow morning. I think we've wasted enough of each other's time today."
Commander Albert stood, and gave her a short nod. "Ma'am." He turned, and walked to the door, opening it and slipping through without ever looking back at her.
Dar sat back down and shook her head. "Gerry, I'm going to get you for this." She pulled out her palm pilot and scribbled a few notes on it, adding her new contact's name. She looked up as her intercom buzzed again. "Yes?"
"Dar." Kerry's voice, though calm, held a distinct edge to it. "I think we need some high level situational administration here."
Ah. My ass kicking skills are in demand. "Be right there." She told Kerry. "Take five. " She released the intercom and stood, circling her desk and heading for the door. "Definitely a Monday."
Kerry rested her weight on her elbows, and cradled the mug in her hands, sipping slowly from it. Across the table, Clarice Keown, a strikingly attractive black woman, was arguing with Mitchell Grafberg, a member of the northwest team who had been responsible for administering the account they were currently fighting over.
God. Kerry counted the seconds. She hadn't seen this much finger pointing since the last time someone had knocked over the water cooler and shorted out the Xerox machine. It wasn't that she didn't know what the problem was - she did, and in fact, all of them knew it. The account had been botched from day one, and the bandwidth designed for it was simply not enough. Adding to it would be at the company's expense, and take far too much time, and no one wanted to be responsible for making that decision.
Well, actually, Kerry had already made it. The point was, no one wanted to be the reason she'd had to. She'd been a little surprised at Clarice, who was sharp, and funny, and whom she liked, because the regional director was the main roadblock. She flatly refused to accept that her team had goofed, and was simply going around in circles with arguments, trying to justify the bill Dar was surely going to slap right onto her desk.
The outer door opened, and closed, and the room was suddenly full of Dar Roberts, who swooped down on the table and circled it like a huge hunting hawk before settling neatly at Kerry's side. Her entrance stopped the argument in it's tracks, and now everyone's attention was focused on Dar's sleek form.
Dar gave them all a level, serious glare before turning and cocking her head at Kerry. "Well?"
"There was a significant underbudget of resources for the account." Kerry stated. "That miscalculation allowed the bid to undercut the other offers, and it was awarded based on false data."
The bridge of Dar's nose wrinkled expressively.
"I've just had to order two additional T1 pipes to make up the shortfall, and six new routers." Kerry went on. "Which we won't be able to bill back for. I’m looking at additional leveraging with other accounts in the area."
Kerry correctly interpreted this to mean she'd done the right thing, but the cost was giving Dar a hive.
"So, you needed me here to do what?" Dar asked. "Seems like you've got a handle on the disaster without me sticking my nose in."
"There was a breakdown in proceses." Kerry reminded her. "And, unfortunately, I can't fix the breakdown because we can't seem to come to an agreement over where, exactly, the gap is."
"Oh." Dar nodded, then reviewed the table. "I get it. No one wants the blame, is that it?"
Clarice leaned forward. "Dar, it's not anything to do with blame, okay? I still think it was a valid bid. The customer didn't tell us enough for us to know different."
"Bullshit." Dar snapped back. "The customer doesn't know his ass from a hole in the wall - that's why they hired us. It's our job to make sure we know what their business is, Clarice, and if we don't know enough to ask the right questions, then we end up in situations like this." She slammed her hand on the table, and everyone jumped.
Except Kerry. She'd felt the shift in the body next to her, and figured it would either be a table slap, or a jump to the feet. Since Dar's thigh didn't move, she chose the slap, and was expecting it.
"Kerry's going to save your ass, and I agree with her decision, but somewhere down the line, she's got to stand up and explain why ops budget is in a deficit because we had to take on the expense of your screw up." Dar went on. "So you better figure out where your hole is and close it, or I will."
Everyone was quiet for a minute. Clarice finally exhaled. "All right. We'll take care of it."
"Good. Because if it happens again, I'm not going to worry about whose fault it was. I'll just fire all of you." Dar snapped back, her voice low and electric, then building to an impressive volume that almost made Kerry wince. "Is that clearly understood???"
In the silence that followed, Kerry could clearly hear the air conditioner cycling on and off.
"Understood." Clarice broke the stillness.
"Good." Dar's manner shifted abruptly to calm cordiality. "There's a western region sales meeting going on down on ten. You might want to stop in there. I know Jose wanted to talk to you." She cleared her throat, then absently picked up Kerry's cup and took a sip of her tea.
Kerry was careful not to react. She kept a bland, interested look on her face, and studied her pen. "I think we might even be able to push up the due date on those extra T1's. The local up there owes me a favor."
"Good." Dar said again, putting the cup down and standing up. "Ladies and Gentlemen." She gave them a nod and strode out, leaving a Dar sized awkwardness behind her.
"All right. Now that we've got that cleared up." Kerry pushed back from the table and stood. "Anything else we need to clarify?" She was met with silence. "Great. I've got a conference call I'm due on in ten minutes. I"ll keep you advised on the status of those circuits." She gathered up her papers and tucked them under an arm, then picked up her cup and made her way to the door, pushing her way through it and letting it close behind her.
Dar heard the steps catching up to her in the hallway, and she debated making a sharp right turn into operations. Then Clarice called her name, and she regretfully abandoned the thought, and stopped, turning and giving the black woman an inquiring look.
"Got a few minutes?"
Patience, Dar. Take a deep breath, and imagine Kerry teaching you to crochet. "Sure." Dar replied, then fell silent, putting the burden of the conversation back on Clarice.
"Somewhere more private than the central lobby?" There was a note of nervous amusement in Clarice's voice. "Your office maybe?"
"C'mon." Dar turned and lead the way along the hall, pulling the door to her outer office open and holding it as Clarice passed in front of her. Maria looked up as they entered, and her eyes slipped past Clarice's shoulder and met Dar's in wry bemusement. Her poor secretary had found herself in a most awkward position, having to field the love struck woman's inquires into Dar's personal tastes and preferences, and had retreated into a bland, Cuban incomprehension on many occasions.
"That is how I knew about you and Kerrisita, " Maria had told her once. "I did not have to tell her anything, Dar. When I saw her first time fixing you the coffee, the right way? I knew."
Dar considered that as she followed Clarice into her inner office, realizing that should have signaled to her the difference between Kerry and all her former interests. Kerry, alone, hadn't fenced around with her, done the dance, played the game. She'd walked in, and simply claimed Dar lock, stock and barrel, as though she had some inalienable right to do so.
Hm. "All right, what can I do for you?" Dar set her interesting revelation aside as she sat down behind her desk and crossed her arms on it.
Clarice seated herself, taking a visible breath. "Well, you remember my mom?"
"Mm." Dar nodded. Clarice's mother lived in Coral Gables, and she'd always thought the two were close.
"She's getting on, and the doctor doesn't want her living alone anymore. She wants me to come back here and live with her. So I was wondering if there was anything in the company available for me." Pause. "Here."
Oh. Something simple for a change. Dar sat back and propped a knee up against the edge of her desk, looking up at the ceiling as she brought to mind a list of openings in operations in the area. Her peripheral vision told her Clarice was watching her, with a look that mixed curiosity and something else. "There might be one or two things, but I'll have to check with Kerry." Dar replied. "It's her ballpark, unless you want to change divisions. When are you looking at making the move?"
Clarice exhaled, obviously relieved. "As soon as I can. Listen, I’m sorry about this whole mess up, Dar." She got the words out in a rush. "Paul's new, and he's young, but he really did sound like he knew what he was doing and I.."
"Don’t apologize to me." Dar cut her off. "Do yourself a favor, and don't cover up for him. Everyone takes the heat for their own mistakes, remember?"
Clarice pursed her lips and exhaled. "You sure haven't changed much."
That got an amused quirk of Dar's lips. "You expected me to? Hope you weren't holding your breath." She remarked. "There's a reason everyone would rather deal with Kerry."
A shift. "Yeah, she's pretty sharp." Clarice said. "Where'd she come from?"
Dar sensed a ruffle in the waters. "She was part of an account we consolidated down here." She said. "I'll send her a note, tell her you're looking to relocate down here."
"Thanks." Clarice stood up. "I'll go talk to her myself. I just wanted to make sure you didn't have a problem with it. Maybe she'll have a minute now."
"I'm sure she'll find time." Dar answered.
"Hm.. she's really efficient, that's true." Clarice said. "I can see I have a lot to learn from her." She turned and walked out, closing the door behind her with a distinct snick.
Dar gazed plaintively at her ceiling. She was reaching over to hit her intercom button when her inner door cracked itself open, and a blond head poked inside. "Ah. I was just about to call you."
Kerry entered and closed the door behind her, running the fingers of her right hand through her hair as she made her way across the office. "We got the overseas links to the UK straightened out." She announced. "And they were able to get permission for that new link station in India."
"Good." Dar laced her fingers together behind her head and leaned back. "Clarice was on her way to see you. She wants to move back here." Dar considered. "And I think she's heard about us."
"Sweetie, you drinking my tea in a meeting doesn’t' really help hide that." Kerry perched on the edge of Dar's desk and let her hands rest on her knee. "Not that you weren't welcome to it, though."
"Damn." Dar exhaled. "I did do that, didn't I? Oh well." She laughed softly. "Have you had lunch yet? Want to go downstairs?"
"Is that an invitation from my boss?" Kerry answered playfully. "No I haven't, and I'd love to."
"Good." Dar stood up. "I'll be down at the base the rest of the week, eating God only knows what." She slipped her jacket on and straightened it, smoothing the line of the crisply tailored skirt in the same motion. "C'mon. I think they have pot roast today."
"Is that going to be a little weird for you?" Kerry asked, as they walked out the door and through the outer office. Maria was already at lunch, and the room was, for once, quiet. "Going back there?"
"A little." Dar admitted. "I've got a lot of memories invested in that place, both good and bad."
Kerry waited until they were on the elevator before she spoke again. "Can I come down there with you one of the days, just to see it? I'm curious."
"Hgrm." Dar held the door open for her. "It wasn't exactly the nicest place in the world to grow up, Ker. Mostly sand, palmetto scrub, and mosquitoes."
They strolled across the lobby, passing several people headed in the same direction who called out greetings. "Is that a no, then?" Kerry asked. "I mean, if you'd rather I didn't, that's okay, Dar. I think you know enough of how I feel about your upbringing to know you've got nothing to be embarrassed about."
The noise in the lunchroom stalled further conversation, and they got in line after exchanging hellos with Mark and Duks, who had snuck in just ahead of them. Dar took the opportunity to capture a chocolate mousse hiding behind two pieces of fruitcake, and listen to the chatter. She'd been frequenting the lunchroom more often the last few months, not regularly as every day, but at least once a week, so her presence no longer drew outright stares and whispers anymore.
She still easily imagined the covert ones, though. But she'd been dealing with that since her first overall promotion to regional manager, and by now, it was more an amusing way to pass the minutes than anything else. Or play with their minds. Dar reached out an idle hand and arranged a lock of Kerry's blond hair, getting a bit of raised eyebrow from her lover. She tweaked the hair, and Kerry turned her head, a smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. "I'd love you to come on down to the base with me."
"Friday good?" Kerry asked, the corners of her eyes crinkling in amusement. "I've got stuff scheduled the rest of the week."
"Fine." Dar turned her attention to the cafeteria server. "Pot roast, potatoes, gravy on the side." She watched the lady assemble the plate, looking up inquiringly with her spoon over the two choices of vegetables. Dar merely raised an eyebrow at her, and received her plate naked of green invaders. "Thank you." She followed Kerry over to the large, round table where Duks, Mark, Mariana, and several others were already seated, discussing a movie that had just opened the previous week.
"You seen it, DR?" Mark asked, as they sat down. "Your kinda flick, I thought."
"Why? Did it exceed the severed bodypart quotient of Aliens??" Kerry asked, making everyone chuckle. "We were watching Braveheart on disc the other night during dinner, and boy I was glad we weren't having steak."
"Hey!" Dar objected. "It was your pick, remember? Not mine. I wanted to watch the Ancient Secrets of Rome, but no…."
Another laugh went around the table, easy and unforced. Dar dipped her roast into her gravy contentedly, enjoying the banter as Duks and Kerry started arguing over the historical accuracy of the picture. She listened to Kerry's laugh, and watched the smiles go around the table, and it occurred to her quite suddenly that she was damned happy with her life for once.
She paused in mid bite, just to savor the knowledge. Then she washed her mouthful down with a sip of milk, and pretended she didn't see Kerry stealing a spoonful of her mousse. "Hey."
Everyone turned to look at her.
"You all interested in going out on the water this weekend? We can do a cookout on the beach, that kinda thing." Dar said. She'd caught Kerry by flatfooted surprised, she knew, and she half expected her lover to reach over and check her for fever, the way Kerry's expression read.
"Sure. Sounds great." Mark accepted instantly.
"Yes…I agree." Mariana recovered. "Thanks, Dar.. what a great idea."
"Absolutely." Duks nodded solemnly. "I will bring the beer."
Dar sucked on her milk, enjoying the sensation she'd caused. It was the first time, she acknowledged, that she'd instigated a party, usually leaving Kerry to do the social arrangements for them. Well, she decided, it was about damn time.
The cool breeze blew across the patio, ruffling the soft cotton of Dar's pants leg as she pushed against the stone wall with one bare foot, rocking them gently in the net swing chair they'd recently installed. It was just big enough for two people, providing those two people really liked each other, and a comfortable way to sit and watch the moonlight travel across the water. Kerry was curled up in her arms, and they both held glasses of sweet, white wine for sipping .
"You surprised me today." Kerry murmured.
"With the party?"
Dar had her eyes closed. "Good surprise, or bad surprise?"
"That's not a serious question, is it?" Kerry said. "Of course it was a great surprise, and a great idea, by the way."
"Good." Dar rested her cheek against Kerry's head. "I sort of figured anything that involved water, boats, sun, food and beer would be okay with you." She felt Kerry's body shake as she laughed. "I'm just warning you - if you and Mark decide to have a belching competition again, I’m gonna tape it, convert it to an mpeg, and broadcast it company wide on Monday."
Kerry laughed harder, almost spilling her wine. "You wouldn't."
Dar chuckled. "You wanna stake your dignity on that?" She put her glass down on the table next to them and put both her arms around Kerry. "Feeling any better, by the way?"
Kerry let her chuckles wind down into a sigh. "Yeah.. thanks for asking." She put her now empty glass down next to Dar's and folded her hands over her lover's. She caught a hint of smoke in the air from the beach club, mixed with the salt tang of the sea and decided life just couldn't get too much better than this. "Clarice came to see me this afternoon. She definitely know about us. "
"She kept making pointed comments. I kept ignoring them. " Kerry yawned a bit. "I think I found her something in product development, though."
"If she gets too obnoxious, let me know." Dar rumbled. "I don't want her taking potshots at you."
Kerry tilted her head to observe the angular profile above her. "I can handle her, Dar. It's not her fault she picked my personal property to get a crush on."
Both of Dar's eyebrows lifted. "Hm.. maybe we'd better go back to that leather place and get me a leash and collar." She suggested, with a smile. "I could get your name on it in rhinestones… what do you think?"
"I dare you." Kerry regretted the words the instant they came out of her mouth. "Oh, no wait - forget I said that, Dar. Just erase it from your… don't you look at me like that!" Kerry reached up and tweaked Dar's nose. "Stop it! Just don't you even think about it."
Dar pouted. "You don't think I'd look good as a love slave?"
Kerry's nostrils flared. "Ooh." She blinked. "Now there's an image."
They both started laughing. "Dar, you're a lot of things, but submissive isn't one of them." Kerry told her fondly. "Putting a collar on you would be like tying a bow on the tail of a tiger." She grinned. "Pretty, but definitely not functional."
Dar gave her a little squeeze. "I'd do it for you." She said. "Because you do own me body and soul, you know that, right?"
"I do?" Kerry murmured.
"What an incredible gift that is." The words were a mere whisper. "Especially since I think you know I feel the same way." Kerry ran a delicate fingertip over Dar's lips. "I"ll take good care of you, Dar. I promise."
A faint smile appeared. "I know." Dar captured the finger with her lips, then kissed the tip of it. "You know what I realized today?"
"What a joy life can be." Dar answered softly. "And how lucky I am."
Kerry couldn't answer. She felt the tears well up and she pressed her face into Dar's shirt, unable to articulate an emotion so powerful it almost stopped her breathing. This feeling. Her mind whispered to her. This is what love is. It was like a reassuring hand stroking her head. This gift comes straight from God, and no words of any man can tell me it doesn't.
It was like being washed clean.
Kerry just started crying openly, hugging the supportive, but very bewildered Dar.
Maybe she'd find words later to explain.
Continued in Part 3