Kerry slowly opened her eyes, aware of the warmth of sun coming in the window on the bare skin of her back. She was curled up in the waterbed, the condo around her quiet save for some muffled sounds in the living room.
She looked at the clock, then she yawned, and rolled over, reveling in the comfort, and the pretty sunlight and working hard to ignore the fact she’d have to get up soon and drive to the airport. “Peh.” She reviewed her schedule, glad she’d packed the night before.
A morning flight had been an option. However, Dar had an afternoon flight out, and so she’d decided to match her partner’s itinerary so they could go to the airport together. Silly, really. They were on separate airlines and different terminals but Hell, she wasn’t looking to spend more time in Michigan than she had to.
So, a Saturday afternoon flight. Kerry smiled. They’d pack Angie up on Sunday and Monday and probably Tuesday, she’d do her speech on Monday night, so one more day of messing with her family, then Thursday she’d head out to Europe to meet Dar as part of the integration team for their new agreement there.
Not so bad, really. Just a couple of days.
Kerry turned her head to see Dar standing in the doorway of the bedroom. “Hey.”
“Sure you don’t want to change flights?”
Kerry rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. “Dar! Cut that out!” She pulled the covers back and got out of bed. “You’re such a punk!”
Dar entered and intercepted her, putting her arms around Kerry’s naked body and pulling her close in a hug. “Sorry.’ She kneaded her partner’s neck. “I just hate the thought of you being in that state and me being across an ocean.” She said. “Last couple rounds with your family weren’t much fun.”
Kerry returned the hug, squeezing Dar so hard she could hear her bones creak. “Thanks.” She murmured. “Don’t think that hasn’t crossed my mind. I’m glad I’m going to help Ang, and I want to spend a little time with her, but my hometown hasn’t been a happy place for me for a very very long time.”
“I know.” Dar rubbed her back. “So don’t kill me for wanting to kidnap you from that.”
Kerry smiled. “I don’t’.” She said. “I’ll be okay, Dar. I’m a big girl.”
Dar peered down at her. “No you’re not.”
“Sometimes.” The dark haired woman agreed. “But you’re my one and only. I’m allowed.”
The casual confidence in Dar’s tone almost took Kerry’s breath away. For all the chaos of their recent past, it had brought Dar a closure that was wholly unexpected and totally delightful. Kerry had always felt a sense of confidence in their relationship but there had always been that shadow of uncertainty in her partner before.
Not anymore. The change had taken her a little by surprise, but in a good way “Yes, I am, and yes, you are.” Kerry agreed. “Thanks, hon.”
They released each other, and Kerry continued on her path to the bathroom, removing a tshirt from the hook behind the door and sliding it over her head. As she brushed her teeth, she glanced at her disheveled reflection, noting the slightly overlong bangs and the image of Yosemite Sam flipping everyone off plastered over her chest. “Maybe I can wear this to dinner with mom. You think?” She watched her eyebrows hike. “Yeah. Maybe not.”
She finished up and wiped her lips with a tissue, the bathroom still feeling a little damp and scented with apricot scrub from Dar’s shower. Then she headed for the kitchen, pausing to greet Chino along the way. “Hey, puppy. What’s up?”
Chino presented her with a stuffed lamb and a hopeful expression. Obligingly, Kerry tossed it across the living room, escaping into the kitchen as their pet retrieved the toy. “What are you doing?” She asked Dar, who was standing next to the counter.
“Me?” Dar turned her head. “Making breakfast.” She moved aside to display the fruits of her labor, which had fruits, but little else in the way of solid nutrition.
Kerry observed the platter, and sighed. “Cheesecake.” She said. “Well, it has cheese in it. That’s protein.”
“And strawberries.” Dar pointed.
“Yep.” Kerry selected a strawberry half and popped it into her mouth. “Yum.” She slid around Dar’s tall form and poured coffee into her cup, already resting on the counter. “Actually, that’s a perfect thing for breakfast considering where I’m going.”
“Me too.” Dar licked a bit of strawberry sauce off her fingers. “It’s already almost dinnertime there.” She added. “But I figured having a beer with it would be pushing things.”
Kerry paused in mid sip and looked at her. She put the cup down. “How long are you going to be in Europe before I get there?” She inquired, in a wry tone. “Angie’s going to wonder why I’m duct taping her boxes and throwing everything into the back of that pickup.”
“What pickup?” Dar inquired, getting her own cup of coffee. “Your sister has a pickup truck?” Her voice rose in disbelief.
“No. I rented a pickup truck.” Kerry’s eyes twinkled. “I figure I can pick my mother up for dinner in it an start the trip off right.” She picked up the plate of cheesecake and settled it onto the nearby breakfast counter. “Sit.”
Dar took the stool next to her and they shared their breakfast in silence for a few minutes. Then Dar sucked on her fork tines, and gave Kerry a look. “What color pickup truck?”
“Nice.” Dar chuckled. “Now I really wish I was going just to see that.” She rested her head on her hand, waiting for Kerry to finish her cheesecake, content to merely watch the morning light bring out the golden highlights in her partner’s hair.
“Well..” Kerry neatly cut a bit of cake and ate it, pausing to swallow before she continued. “I figured it would be useful to move things, and it’s what they had. Either than or a sedan and you know, I just wasn’t in to a sedan.”
“Uh huh.” Dar murmured in sympathy. “Kind of like when I rented the motorcycle to drive to HQ in Houston.”
Kerry looked up and grinned. “Exactly.” She said. “I know it’s really silly and a little juvenile.” She admitted. “And I know my mother was really pretty cool about us the last time we were there, it’s just that this time you won’t be there and I don’t want any crap from her. “
“Maybe she caught a clue from the last time.” Dar suggested. “After you told her off.”
“Mm.” Kerry sipped her coffee. “Maybe.” She conceded. “She’s been all right on the phone, it’s just that she gets these family idea things and just doesn’t understand where I’m coming from.” She went back to finishing her breakfast, leaving Dar to study her in silence.
“Y’know.” Dar said, after a long enough pause to be awkward.
Kerry put her fork down and wiped her lips neatly with a napkin. “I know.” Her lips twitched into a reluctant smile. “I know that I was the one who was all over you to reconcile with your mother, and did my damndest to aid and abet that by any means I could think of.”
Dar’s eyes warmed.
“But your mother didn’t stand by while your father threw you in the looney bin, Dar.” Kerry went on, in a more serious tone. “And even though you had issues, they weren’t those kind of issues, were they?”
Dar didn’t immediately answer. She sat quietly for a few minutes, sipping the remainder of her coffee, a thoughtful expression on her face while Kerry finished up. “At the time.” She finally said, as Kerry stood to take the plates back over to the sink. “They felt like a lot worse issues.”
She got up and took Kerry’s cup, following her partner over to the counter. “But I was young, and clueless, and looking back, yeah.” She set the cups in the sink and gave Kerry a kiss on the back of her neck. “I didn’t have those kind of problems.”
Kerry waited. “But?” She asked, after a pause.
“But nothing.” Dar reached around her to wash off the dishes, trapping her neatly. “Gonna show her your tattoo?”
Kerry chuckled, a low throaty sound as she wiped off the dishes as Dar washed them. “Pick her up for dinner in my red pickup truck in a leather no strap bustier. How’s that?” She smiled, her good humor restored. “Actually, I’ll show it to my sister. She’ll tell my mother because she can’t keep her mouth shut about stuff like that.”
“Here we go with that sibling thing again.” Dar put the plates up and they walked back through the living room, Chino trotting behind them. “You want to grab a shower? I threw the bags in the car already.”
“Sure.” Kerry stifled a yawn. “When are your folks due by?”
“Six.” Dar said. “Assuming dad doesn’t cause chaos in Government Cut again.”
Airports generally sucked. Kerry shouldered her carry on and eased her way through the crowded terminal, assaulted on all sides by a loud volume of voices in many languages echoing off the terrazzo floor. The Miami airport was large, sprawling, disorganized, and difficult to navigate at times around the groups of travelers standing with what seemed like months worth of luggage.
She’d just left Dar by the International gates, their extended hug completely unnoticed by the surging crowd as they parted and she’d continued on to her domestic gate further down the concourse. Announcements echoed overhead, but she let them bypass her as she got in line for the security check and tried to pretend she wasn’t bummed.
She put her backpack on the belt, pulling her laptop out and placing it in a tray along with her cellphone and her PDA. Then she watched it disappear into the Xray before she walked through the portal as a bored looking guard waved her on. “Thanks.” She picked her things up and restored the laptop to it’s place, then she shouldered the bag and headed down a long, badly carpeted slope towards the waiting area.
Her gate was crowded, apparently the flight before hers was late getting out. So Kerry bypassed it and went to the small brewpub at the end of the terminal and claimed a seat, letting out a long breath as she eased her pack to the floor.
“Can I get you something?” The bartender stopped by, glancing around the mostly empty space.
“Amber, and a plate of wings.” Kerry answered, after reviewing her options. “Thanks.”
The bartender moved on, and she turned sideways in her high bar chair, resting her elbows on the back and the bar top and hooking her feet on the rungs.
She was bummed. Kerry flexed her hand, rubbing the edge of her thumb against the ring on her finger. She wasn’t really sure why, since she and Dar traveled independently on frequent occasion and anyway, she’d be flying to join her in a week.
It was just that she really wanted to get on Dar’s airplane and not her own, and that was sort of pissing her off. “Thanks.” She accepted the cold glass of beer from the bartender, and took a sip. Her PDA alert light stuttered red, and she put the beer down and picked it up.
Hey. Why the hell would they put a Budweiser Brew House in the international terminal?
Kerry chuckled in reflex and typed out an answer. Are you in there? She was glad of the distraction, her unease calmed by this disassociated communication that had become their way of staying in each other’s pockets when they were separated.
It was either that, Burger King, or a heath food place. What do you think?
Kerry thought that the fact they’d both ended up in the same bar in two different terminals was pretty funny and also predictable, but she only chuckled and sent back a J Enjoy your wings.
You too. J
“Now, why can’t we both be having wings together?” Kerry sighed. “Ah well. Stop being a jerk.” She reminded herself, taking another sip of her beer, and forcibly putting aside her gloom. The bartender came back and deposited her plate of wings, and she nibbled on one, leaning back and watching as her gate cleared itself of it’s crowd, and things around her started to settle down.
After a moment, she put her wing down, divested of it’s flesh, and licked her lips. “Should have packed that damn bustier.”
“Ma’am?” The bartender looked up from cleaning his glasses.
“Just talking to myself.” Kerry said. “You know us crazy travelers.”
“Yeah.” The bartender eyed her, moving a little ways away to continue his cleaning. “Have a great trip.”
A loud sound made them both turn, looking out into the concourse to see a woman racing across the carpet, her arms outstretched, her voice panicked as she chased a white chicken across the hall. Kerry watched the crowd dodge out of the way of the women and bird, then she turned and looked at the bartender.
He shrugged. “It’s Miami.”
Kerry picked up her beer and took a healthy swig, then she toasted the terminal. “It’s Miami.”
Dar climbed the spiral stairs up to the first class section of the big 747, giving the flight attendant a brief smile as she went down the aisle and put her briefcase in the overhead, settling into her seat and leaning back to observe the space around her.
It was quiet. Two other travelers had taken seats, on the other side of the plane from her but it didn’t look like the section was going to be very full. Dar was glad for that, even though she certainly had a decent amount of space and a seat that reclined into a bed, still, she didn’t like people crowding in all around her.
Well, except for Kerry.
“Can I bring you a water?” The flight attendant stopped by her. “Or perhaps a glass of wine?”
Dar considered, glancing up at the woman. “Got any milk?”
The woman’s eyelashes blinked. “Yes of course.” She rallied. “Just one moment.”
“Thanks.” Dar watched her move off in search of her requested beverage. After a moment, she got up and opened the overhead, rooting in her back for two magazines, then sitting back down and tucking them into the pocket on the side of her seat.
Flying bored her. Dar folded her hands in her lap and studied the tops of her thumbs, wishing she could just fall asleep and wake up on the other side of the world. No matter how comfortable her seat, it still meant she had to stay relatively still for eight or nine hours and suffer the dry air and incessant drone of the engines for all that time.
“Here you go.” The flight attendant returned with a goblet of milk and a cocktail napkin, depositing both in the tray next to Dar’s right hand. “Enjoy.”
“Thanks.” Dar picked up the glass and sipped from it. Her tongue was still tingling a little from the extremely spicy chicken wings, and the cool, rich milk both tasted and felt good in her mouth. She got halfway through it before her ears popped slightly, and the flight attendant came over the PA system announcing the door had been closed and everyone should get ready to leave.
Dar put her milk down and fastened her seat belt, noticing her PDA flashing as she did so. With a glance to see where the flight attendant was, she opened it and peeked at the screen.
AC in the plane’s not working. Can I take my shirt off?
Dar spent a pleasurable moment imaging her partner scandalizing the first class cabin in her short haul jetliner, then she sighed. Only if you give me a chance to pop the door on this one and come over to watch. She paused, then she sent it, closing the cover on the PDA and folding her hands over it as the flight attendant walked by checking that her seatbelt was fastened.
“Nice and quiet tonight.” The woman said, gazing at her three passengers. “It will be good flight.”
Dar had to admit being pretty much alone in the upper cabin with no one next to her and a lack of noise and people would be very nice. “Easy for you.” She said, with a smile for the flight attendant.
The woman inclined her head in agreement, then she went to the service area, and busied herself getting ready for takeoff.
Dar went back to her PDA, which was, in fact, flashing again. She opened it up. Waaa!! There’s a bigmouthed salesman with more gold rings than a carnival yelling on his cell phone in here!
Dar winced, having been there, and done that. Put in your earplugs. She advised See? Toldja you should have come with me. It’s almost empty on my flight.
Punk!!!!!!! Kerry answered back immediately. Just wait till I catch up to you in Europe you’re toast!
The plane started to move, pushing back from the gate, and the bright lights in the cabin dimmed as the late afternoon sunlight poured in the windows. Dar scribbled an answer for several minutes, long enough for them to taxi out to the runway, and pause, waiting for permission to take off.
As the engines spooled up, Dar finished and sent the message, tucking the stylus away and putting the PDA in her pocked as the sound rose around her and gravity shoved her back into her seat. She laced her fingers together and closed her eyes, willing the plane into the air and the trip to begin.
She hoped Kerry’s flight would end on a better note than it had started on.
Kerry folded her hands together with her PDA between them, exchanging a brief smile with the harried looking flight attendant at the front of the plane. The clammy, hot air wafted over her, over ripe with perfume, sweat, and aviation kerosene. “Hell isn’t fire and brimstone.” She mused. “It’s a perpetual 757 on a hot tropical afternoon.”
“Ma’am?” The flight attendant bent over her. “Can I get you something?”
“Ice cream. I’ll share with you.” Kerry suggested. “Or how about a pina colada.”
“Oh honey.” The woman sighed, giving Kerry a pat on the shoulder. “Don’t I wish. Give me a few minutes and I’ll see if we have anything cold in the back, okay?”
“Thanks.” Kerry took a deep breath, and exhaled, hoping they got the air conditioning issue fixed before they started flying to Michigan. She could hear screaming children behind her, and far from resenting them, she found herself in sympathy with their frustration and almost let out a squawk of her own before she recalled her upbringing and merely sighed instead.
Her PDA flashed. She eagerly flipped the lid up and tilted her head to read the message, her eyes slowly traveling across the words and then down to the next line in what was for Dar a very long note.
I got stuck on an airplane like that once. I had just started traveling for the company and I was on this late night flight to Pittsburgh with a load of high school girls going to a cheerleading convention.
At this point, Kerry had to stop, and put her hand up to cover her mouth, stifling a giggle. “Oh my gosh there are so many things going through my imagination right now.”
She knew her beloved partner hadn’t been the most patient person in her younger years. She could picture Dar slumped in her seat, scowling at the girls with that dour glare and those narrowed blue eyes.
They would not shut up the whole damn flight. By the time we were close to landing the crew, the rest of the passengers, me, and even the co pilot were ready to open the door at altitude and let the little nitwads get sucked right out of the damn airplane.
Kerry tried to imagine the scene. Then she grimaced a little, as a brief memory of being a high school student on the way to Washington for a class trip made her blush.
I finally stood up and yelled there was a rat between the seats. They all took off for the back of the plane and the damn flight attendant nearly kissed me.
Kerry blinked. “Was it a guy or a girl?” She muttered.
After that, I figured out how to hack into the airline database and find out who else was on the flight before I booked it.
“You little hacker.” The blond woman chuckled, shaking her head.
We’re outta here. Talk to you in eight hours or so. ILY. DD.
Kerry extended her denim covered legs and crossed her ankles, resting her elbows on the arms of her seat as the crew struggled to get the last of the unwilling passengers onboard and deal with the environmental annoyances.
“Are we going to have to suffer like this the whole flight!!??” A woman standing in the aisle asked, loudly. “This is unacceptable!!! I paid good money for this damn ticket!”
What, Kerry wondered, constituted bad money? Did the woman think anyone on the plane had just walked on for free? She rested her head on her hand and tried to block the noise out, flinching as the woman slammed the back of her seat in the middle of her tirade.
“Ma’am, please sit down. They’re working on the problem. Yelling about it doesn’t help.” The flight attendant came forward and force the woman to take a step back. “And please stop banging the seats. People are sitting in them.”
Kerry looked up at her with a grateful smile.
“Horrible airline!” The woman said, but she retreated to the back part of the plane, grumbling loudly all the way. “I’ll sue!”
The flight attendant sighed. “Boy it’s going to be a long flight.” She turned and looked at the people in the small first class section at the front of the plane. “We’re about to close the door, ladies and gentlemen. Once we get up at altitude, we can adjust the temperature so it’s more comfortable.” She went on down the aisle, looking right and left as one of her co workers accepted a sheaf of paperwork and helped the airport workers close the front door.
On one hand, that meant they were leaving. On the other, without even the little air that was getting in from the jetway, the heat started building and Kerry felt herself start to sweat under her light cotton shirt.
“Here you go.” The flight attendant reappeared suddenly, handing Kerry a glass. “I didn’t forget about you.”
“Thanks.” Kerry said, glancing at her name tag. “Ann.” She met the woman’s eyes. “I really appreciate it, and I appreciate you getting that woman to stop whacking my seat.”
The woman smiled at her. “No problem, Ms. Stuart. Just be patient, we’ll try to get going as soon as we can.”
She was about to move on, but Kerry held her hand up. “How did you know my name?” She asked, curiously. “Have we met?”
Ann chuckled. “No, ma’am, your boss called and gave us a few special requests for you, Like that. “She indicated the glass. “It must be nice to have your company value you like that, I have to say.”
Kerry glanced at the glass, which she realized was full of chocolate milk. “Ah.” She murmured. “My boss.” She looked up at the woman. “You know, I love my boss.”
“Wish I did.” The flight attendant chuckled, and patted her on the shoulder. She moved off down the aisle leaving Kerry to ponder her unexpected gift.
She sipped the milk, finding it cold, and very chocolatey. The annoyance of the heat faded a little, as she focused her thought on Dar, the little bit of thoughtfulness making her feel just a tiny bit giddy inside. It wasn’t at all unusual, they both tended to do soppy little things for each other, but for Dar to do it in such a public way was somewhat new.
She wondered what else she had in store, suspecting perhaps she’d even be spared either chicken Florentine or three cheese vegetable lasagna for dinner.
Hot planes, screaming women, and her mother notwithstanding, life was good. Kerry smiled. Life was very good indeed.
Kerry flicked the high beams on for a brief moment, before she returned the lights to their usual position and settled back in her seat. The Ford Ranger pickup truck handled better than she’d anticipated, not really that much different from her Lexus to cause her any anxiety as she traveled down a reluctantly remembered road.
It was in the mid fifties, cool enough for her to have dug her sweatshirt out of her bag, but comfortable as she walked to the car rental lot and picked up her buggy.
Ahead of her lay the bland drive to Angie’s house. She turned on the radio, punching the buttons and finding a station she could listen to, then turning the sound down a little as her cell phone rang. She checked the caller id, then she keyed the speakerphone. “Hey Ang.”
“Hey.” Her sister’s voice emerged from the speaker. “Where are you?”
“About twenty minutes out.” Kerry responded. “Need anything?”
“Nah, we’re good.” Angie said. “Andrew’s sleeping tight. I’m looking forward to hanging out with my sister.”
Kerry smiled. “Yeah, it’s been a while.” She admitted. “Glad I made it up here.”
“Me too.” Angie said, her voice warm. “So much has gone on the last year it’s hard to take in sometimes. Anyway, let me let you off the line, sis. See ya in 20.”
“See ya.” Kerry hung up the phone and turned up the radio. Now that she was here, she was glad to be getting a chance to spend a little time with Angie, and her brother Michael said he’d be over to ‘help’ too.
Not that Kerry had any illusions that Michael would do so much as pick up a book to put in a box, but she was looking forward to seeing him anyway. There were parts of him that she understood so much better now.
There were parts of herself she was starting to understand a lot better now. Kerry smiled, and shifted her hands on the wheel, her eye catching the faint reflection of the streetlights on her ring. The visit might turn out to be interesting after all.
She let the miles slip by until it was time to turn off the main road, and onto the sloping one that led up a gentle hill to the house her sister had until recently shared with her ex husband Richard who had sued her for divorce upon finding out her second child wasn’t his.
Finding out her sister was an adulterer was almost as surprising to Kerry as finding out her sister was sleeping with the man Kerry had been supposed to marry. While finding out Kerry was gay had apparently been no surprise at all to Angie, who had seemingly known it all along.
Life was funny, that way. Kerry chuckled under her breath as she pulled into the stately, curved driveway of the house her sister lived in, seeing Angie’s Mercedes parked along the front curb. With a grin, she parked her little red pickup right behind it, shutting the engine off and opening the door.
She drew in a breath of air, then paused, aware of the scent of pine and honeysuckle so completely different from her adopted southern home. It tasted strange on the back of her tongue, and she had to shake her head as she closed the driver’s side door and opened the extended cab door to retrieve her bag.
One of her bags, anyway. She shouldered the overnighter, leaving her suit bag inside and circled the truck as the door to the house opened and she spotted her sister’s outline in the light streaming out of it. “Hey.”
Angie emerged from the house and stood on the porch as Kerry walked up the sloping path. “Hey stranger.” She held her arms out and greeted Kerry with a hug, which her older sister returned promptly. “C’mon inside.”
Angie was taller than Kerry was, and she had dark hair and their mother’s hazel eyes. Even though Kerry was the elder of them, Angie’s conservatively coiffed hair and clothing made the opposite seem true.
They entered the house, the hallway brightly lit and smelling of wood wax and chocolate. Angie shut the door behind them, and joined Kerry as they walked across the marble tile. “Elana, can you take this, please?” Angie addressed a middle aged woman in a neat uniform standing nearby. “You remember my sister Kerrison, don’t you?”
“Yes ma’am, I sure do.” Elana took Kerry’s bag. “Welcome back, Miss Kerry.” Her face was mild and there was no hint of either approval or disapproval at this invasion by their families blond haired black sheep.
Kerry felt her nostrils flare, but she smiled anyway. “Thanks Elana. Nice to see you again.” She watched the woman leave, then she turned to her sister. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Angie responded agreeably, stepping back and looking her over head to toe. “You look great.” She said. “And it’s really good to see you.” She added, with a grin. “Feels like it’s been way too long.”
Kerry grinned. “Right back at you.” She said. “Got a cup of something hot around? It’s been a long day.”
“Absolutely, c’mon.” Angie led the way back into the large kitchen. She was dressed in a pair of slacks and a red pullover, casually elegant and a definite contrast to Kerry’s worn jeans and sweatshirt. “Did you have a decent flight at least?”
“Eh.” Kerry took one of the seats around the kitchen table, everything around her clean and spotless, but in some disarray due to the impending move. “No AC on the way up.”
“Ugh.” Angie brought an already prepared tray over. It had two cups on it, and a plate of chocolate cookies. She set it down and sat down across from her sister. “How’s Dar?” She watched Kerry’s face, seeing her expression shift into a grin as warmth erupted into her eyes at the question.
“Great.” Kerry responded. “We both had flights out today. She’s on her way to England.” She picked up her cup and sipped from it. “Mm.”
“Did I get it right?” Angie’s eyes twinkled. “You haven’t stopped being a chocolate addict, have you?”
“Nope.” Kerry relaxed, leaning back in the chair and resting her elbows on the arms as she cradled the cup in her hands. “Dar and I both are. It’s hopeless.” She admitted. “I’ve given up worrying about it I figure if I’m going go to Hell, might as well enjoy it.”
Angie laughed. “Kerry, you’re not going to Hell.” She said. “You look fantastic. Last time I saw you it was such a stress fest I was worried about you but looks like you bounced back just fine.”
Stress fest. Mild way of putting it. “Yeah.” Kerry remembered how she’d felt coming back from Michigan the last time, and long it had taken her to throw off the effects. “I felt like crap when I got home. They almost had to put me in the hospital for my blood pressure.”
Angie’s eyes opened wide. “What?” She leaned forward. “Are you kidding me?”
Her sister shook her head.
“Ker, that’s awful. Are you taking anything for that?” Angie looked concerned. “That’s not anything to joke about, you know?”
“I know.” Kerry said. “But no, I’ve got it under control. I cut down on my salt, and we went out on the boat for a week to chill out. Did wonders.” She sidestepped the issue. “We went down to the Caribbean and got involved with pirates. It was crazy.”
“Well, we can’t just have normal vacations, you know? Dar and I could walk to the grocery store and we’d end up causing a riot without meaning to.” Kerry chuckled. “We have the damnedest stuff happen to us. Anyway, so what’s up with you?” She regarded her sister. “Glad you’re moving?”
Angie gazed shrewdly at her for a moment, then allowed herself to be sidetracked. “I am.” She admitted. “I don’t really feel bad about what happened with Richard, you know? It was my choice and I knew what could happen. At least we ended up with split custody of Sally.”
“Mm.” Kerry selected a cookie from the plate and nibbled on it.
“That’s a lot of why I decided to move in with mom.” Angie studied her cup. “It’s just easier.”
Kerry understood that. She remembered being both elated, and scared when she’d moved out – after so many years of having everything in her life taken care of for her and provided without question. “Yeah, I know what you mean.” She agreed.
“No you don’t.” Angie burst into laughter. “You never did anything the easy way the entire time I’ve known you.”
Kerry had to grin at that and raise her cup in her sister’s direction in acknowledgement of the truth. “Touche.” She admitted. “The only easy thing I’ve ever really done was fall in love with Dar. That was fast and painless. Everything else… eh.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t think I’d change anything though.”
“I bet you wouldn’t.” Angie agreed. “Anyway, thanks for coming up to give me a hand packing all this stuff up. I really need help deciding what to get rid of. I didn’t think I was a packrat until I started looking in the closets here.”
Kerry finished her hot chocolate and dusted the cookie crumbs off her fingers. “I got off sort of lucky.’ She said. “When I moved in with Dar, it was over a couple months so I moved stuff a little at a time. I still think I’ve got like three times the junk she does though.”
“Not a keeper?”
The green eyes twinkled. “She’s definitely a keeper, she just doesn’t collect friviously.”
“Ahh.” Angie stood up. “C’mon, let’s get you settled in.” She waited for Kerry to join her and they walked through the hall, their footsteps echoing against the marble as they got to the wide, wood tread stairs and climbed upward. “I won’t miss these stairs.”
Kerry felt the slight strain as she climbed. “They’re steeper than mom’s.” She noted. “I think you’ve got higher ceilings.”
“Yes. Richard’s point of pride.” Angie’s voice took on a sharper note. “He made a point of mentioning that whenever he could.”
Kerry rolled her eyes. “Sorry Ang, he’s an ass.” She said. “The only thing he had going for him was our father liked him, and that should have told you something right there.” She looked around as they got to the 2nd floor, trying to remember if she’d ever really paid attention to the inside of her sister’s house before.
“Well.” Angie sighed. “I was just glad to get past that whole approval thing. I’m not a renegade like you are.”
Renegade. Kerry pondered that title as Angie led her over to an open door, and they entered a nicely proportioned, robin’s egg blue room with a canopied bed and a bay window. “I don’t think I ever thought of myself like that.”
“We did.” Angie went over to a rocking chair in the room and sat down on it’s padded surface. “Mike and me, anyway. Especially when we got older.”
Kerry went to her bag, which was resting on a low bench near the window. She unzipped the top of the leather case and removed her sundry kit and a long tshirt, setting it down on the bench before she pulled her sweatshirt off and folded it. “I don’t think I felt like a renegade until I told our father about Dar.” She turned and faced Angie. “That night is when I crossed the line between being a passive aggressive milktoast and being my own person.”
Angie slowly nodded.
“Until then, I was trying to have it both ways.” Kerry put her hands on her hips. “You can’t, you know?”
“I know.” Her sister sighed. “But that’s why you’re different than we are, Ker. I was just grateful he was already dead before Richard filed for divorce. I can’t take that. I can’t handle being that strong.”
Kerry came over to sit on the edge of the bed. “How’s Brian doing?”
Angie’s expression grew wry. “Scared spitless to see you.” She confessed. “Ker, he’s just not ready to settle down. I’m not sure I’m even mad at him, or.. “ Her lips pursed. “That I even want to be in a relationship right now.”
It was Kerry’s turn to shrewdly study her sister’s face. She half suspected Angie really just wanted to keep the peace over the days she was there, but after all, it was her relationship wasn’t it? Maybe Angie really wasn’t ready to rush into anything, much less force Brian to.
Kerry could respect that. Even if it was a farce for her benefit. “Whatever makes you happy, sis.” She said. “I’m the last person on earth to preach conformity, remember?” She straightened and reached down to grab the hem of her tshirt and pull it up and over her head. “Speaking of which, let me get this out of the way.”
“What are you..oh my god!” Angie bolted upright in her chair. “Are you kidding me? Is that really a tattoo?”
Kerry let the shirt rest on her denim covered knees and glanced at her chest. She drew her bra strap aside a little to give a better view of her artwork. “Yep.”
“How could you do that?” Her sister got up and came closer to see. “Oh my god, Kerry.”
Kerry studied her face with some interest, not expecting her sister to be as shocked as she obviously was. “Are you freaked out?”
Angie looked up from examining the design on Kerry’s chest, the colors standing out in muted brilliance against her tan. “I can’t believe you did this.” She said. “Kerry, what were you thinking!”
What was I thinking? Kerry looked at the tattoo, then back up at her sister. “I was thinking that I wanted something I felt so strongly about to be visible on the outside of me like it was on the inside.” She said. “Talk’s cheap. Tattoos are expensive and painful.”
Angie sat down next to her on the bed, still studying Kerry’s skin. “Wow.” She finally murmured. “Well, it’s beautiful, at any rate. What did Dar say?”
“Nothing?” Angie’s brows shot up.
Kerry shook her head. “She just started crying. She didn’t have to say anything.” She rested her elbows on her thighs. “It was worth the pain.”
Her sister sighed. “Wow.” She repeated. “I really didn’t think you’d do something like that.”
Kerry felt obscurely satisfied, at shocking her sister. Angie seemed to take anything and everything she did in stride, so it was oddly nice to provide her with a truly radical change she hadn’t anticipated. “Well, I love it. A couple of days after I got it I wore a strapless gown to Radio City in New York and it felt great!”
Angie covered her eyes. “Oh my god.”
“Maybe I can talk you into one. “
Angie got up and retreated to the door. “Go to sleep.” She suggested, as she escaped from her surprisingly dangerous sibling. “You obviously need the rest if you think I’d get anywhere near some guy with a bunch of needles.”
“Night.” Kerry chuckled, as she disappeared, leaving her in splendid isolation in her pretty room with her colorful tattoo. She got up and took her jeans off, tossing them over her bag as she put her sleep shirt on. “I knew I should have brought that damn bustier.”
Hearing her name, Dar turned from signing her registration card and spotted a familiar figure moving towards her. “Morning, Alastair.” She turned and met his outstretched hand with her own. “Good flight?”
“Not bad.” The CEO of ILS, Dar’s boss, was dressed in what was for him an astonishingly casual pair of courderoys and a chain knit pullover sweater. “Yours?”
“Decent.” Dar put her corporate credit card back in her wallet and returned that to her jeans pocket. “A little rough leaving, but I got some sleep.” She looked around at the stately confines of the hotel, it’s tall ceilings and antique furniture giving an air of a well kept castle to the lobby she was sure was quite intentional. “This is fun.”
“Have you had breakfast?” Alastair asked. “They’ve got a nice joint in here for that, or so I’m told by the locals.”
Dar handed over her bag to a quietly waiting bellman. “Lead on.” She told Alastair. “Last thing I had was cookies on the plane.” She followed her boss through the lobby and into a mahogany trimmed dining room, giving the host a brief smile as he picked up two menus and motioned for them to move on.
It was just nine AM, and the room was reasonably full of well dressed men and women enjoying their breakfasts amidst the soft tinkle of china and the hum of quite conversation.
“If it’s any consolation, the trip from Houston wasn’t any better, just a couple hours longer.” Alaistair commiserated with her. “I gotta tell you, even in first class these days it’s like being back in the school cafeteria sometimes. What in the hell are we paying all that damn money for?”
“Legroom.” Dar answered succinctly. “For me it’s worth it even if it was on my dime.”
Her boss turned and regarded her length, Dar’s head topping his by a few inches, and lifted one hand in concession. “Point taken.” He smiled. “And even if you were two feet shorter it’d be worth it to lose the aggravation. We get enough of that as it is.”
The host led them to their table, and gestured for them to sit, giving them both a quite smile as they eased past. “Enjoy your breakfasts.”
Dar settled into a comfortable chair at a table for four across from Alastair, and leaned on one arm of it as she studied the menu. “Funny how this all worked out, huh?”
“Funny?” Alastair glanced around, and lowered his voice. “Lady, I’ve seen a lot of pulling furry woodland animals out of one’s ass before, but this has to be the best one ever.” He removed his reading glasses as a waiter came by and stood next to the table diffidently. “Could I get a couple of poached eggs and toast with some coffee, please?”
“Sir, of course.” The man said, turning to Dar. “Madame?”
Alastair winced in reflex as Dar looked up, but his often tempestuous employee merely folded her menu shut and put it down on the table.
“Eggs over easy, sausage, and potatoes.” Dar said. “And coffee.”
The waiter nodded and left.
Dar turned her attention back to her boss. “Anyone else joining us for this?”
“David and Francois.” Alastair responded. “They’re due in tonight, said they’d join us for dinner. Meetings at ten tomorrow morning?”
“Ten.” Dar confirmed, as the waiter returned with a pair of cups, a sugar caddy, and a silver pot of coffee. She waited for the man to pour out the beverage and leave, before she continued. “Hans said he’d join us tonight too, so we can touch base.”
“Lucky meeting the two of you, eh?” Alastair sipped his coffee. “Sometimes I think the gods of commerce have a crush on you, Dar. Things happen around you that are damned unpredictable.” He smiled at Dar. “And always to our advantage.”
Dar shrugged. “This was a tough one.” She admitted. “I didn’t think we were going to get a damn thing other than a black eye out of it, to be honest. “It really was just dumb luck this time.”
“I’ll take it.” Alastair leaned back and folded his hands on the table. “But it wasn’t dumb luck for you to come up with a pitch and an end around using that new contact, Dar. That was good thinking, no matter how it worked out.”
“Seat of my pants.” His CIO disagreed. “I just couldn’t let it go. Couldn’t let them win after all that crap. Bastards. They’re lucky I wasn’t here when those ships got in or I’d have found that jackass and smacked him.”
Alastair regarded his companion with a look of healthy respect. Dar had a sharp intellect, a lot of business sense, and an iron will but behind it all he knew was a potent temper and though she was a woman, and a nerd, and not crazy there was a danger about her he recognized.
Not entirely safe. But he knew it was a tradeoff he’d decided to pay when he chose to take advantage of that intelligence and take the risk on the rest. So far, it had paid off in spades. “Hell, Dar. If I’d have seen the little creep I’d have probably kicked him.” He said. “Gave me indigestion for weeks.”
They made small talk until the waiter returned with two steaming plates, which he put down in front of them. “Is there anything else I can get for you?”
“Nothing for me.” Dar picked up her fork. “Thanks.”
“More coffee here.” Alastair said. “Hey, Dar, did I hear right that you were going to hire that gal from Synergenics? What’s her name, Graver?”
“Thinking about it.” Dar neatly cut her sausage patty into squares and ate them.
Alastair fiddled with his eggs for a moment. “Isn’t she the one who sent me those pictures?”
ILS’s CEO paused to study his dining companion. Dar was munching on a mouthful of sausage, gazing back at him with those big blue eyes so full of completely fake innocence. Though his CIO had a mercurial temperament, he’d discovered she also had an unexpected Puckish side that had emerged in the last year or so. “Ah huh.”
“Can’t beat em, buy em?” Dar finished her sausage and started on her potatoes. “Nah, Michelle’s pretty sharp, and we banged heads enough over the ship disaster to get her viewpoint changed.” She chased her mouthful down with a sip of coffee. “We’ll see if she bites.”
Alastair wisely decided to simply nod in response and change the subject. “That’s a nice ring.” He commented, stifling a smile as Dar’s hand stopped in midmotion, and her already sun darkened skin darkened just a shade further. “Don’t think I noticed it before.”
“I’ve had it for a while.” Dar recovered her composure from the unexpected question. “Remember that damn disaster up in Charlotte? When we lost the network?”
Her boss made a whining, groaning sound.
“Yeah, well, we took a few days off after that up in the mountains and got engaged.” Dar paused and thought about that, then she chuckled and shook her head. “Ever been in London before, Alastair?”
Bemused, he cleared his throat before answering. “Sure, once or twice. We had a few international board meetings here. Just a day up and back. You know.” He dipped his toast into his eggs and took a bite of it. “Why?”
“Want to go do one of those double decker bus tours?” Dar asked. “I’ve never been here but I don’t feel like walking around all day.”
Alastair blinked at her. “Wh.. ah, you mean us? You and I?”
Dar looked around. “Was there someone else here you think I was talking to? How often do I get to hang out with you?”
Her boss stared at her for a long moment. “Well, absolutely, Dar.” He finally said. “I’d love to. The missus always dings me for not seeing a damn thing when I travel. Last thing I brought her back was a bottle of jalapeno jelly from Tijuana and let me tell you she didn’t much appreciate it.”
“Great.” Dar returned her concentration to her eggs. “Keep me from falling asleep and screwing up my body clock too.”
“Isn’t that the truth. “Alastair agreed. “Isn’t that just the absolute truth.”
Kerry brushed her teeth, leaning on the marble sink as she regarded her reflection in the mirror. It was early. The sun was just rising outside, and she was glad that she hadn’t overslept since they had a lot to do and she really had no desire to get kidded about sleeping in.
She finished up in the bathroom and walked back into the bedroom, rolling up the sleeves on her tshirt as she crossed to the window and looked outside. The slope Angie lived on gave her a view of Lake Michigan in the distance and it brought back memories to her of her childhood.
Not altogether bad ones, really. Kerry had to admit as she watched a flock of birds wing towards the huge body of water. She decided to take time out for a walk down to the lake before she left, wanting to recover a few of those better times from the place she’d spent most of her life.
Her PDA beeped softly, and she turned and picked it up, flipping the top open to find a message from Dar waiting for her. “Hey honey!” She tapped the message, bending her head to read it.
Damn, I miss you.
Kerry’s eyes closed briefly, and she smiled.
I just had a decent breakfast with Alastair and talked him into going sightseeing with me. I think I freaked him out asking.
So we’re going to grab one of those buses and go see the sights. Want anything?
“You.” Kerry answered. She pulled out her stylus and scribbled an answer, checking the time of the message and seeing a few hours had passed.
Hey sweetie! How’s the sightseeing going? I just got up and found your message waiting. Tell Alastair I said hello, and don’t do any shopping until I get there! Have fun. It’s going pretty good here except I think I freaked Angie out with my tat.
She tapped the stylus against her chin.
Maybe you could come up here with me sometime and we can stay by the lake and go sailing. Aside from my family it’s not really so bad.
A soft knock came at the door, and she turned. “Yeah?” She closed the PDA cover and stuck the device in the mid leg pocket of her carpenter’s pants
The door opened, and Angie’s head poked inside. “Hey, you up?”
“Believe it or not.” Kerry turned and walked towards the door. “I am.” She smiled at her sister. “Ready for breakfast?”
“Let’s go.” Angie opened the door all the way to let Kerry out. “Those are cute pants.” She studied her sister’s clothing. “They look comfortable.”
“They are.” Kerry agreed, as she followed Angie down the hallway. “How’s Andrew? He up?”
“Downstairs waiting on us. You don’t catch him missing a meal.” Angie chuckled as they walked down the stairs together. Today she herself was dressed more casually in deference to their impending packing, a pair of sweatpants and a cotton shirt and she had her hair pulled back into a tail as well.
“Ah, we must be related.” Kerry smiled easily as they reached the bottom of the steps and headed into the kitchen. “Looks like it’s going to be a rainy one outside, perfect day for packing.” She looked around as the entered and spotted her nephew in his highchair, and diverted immediately to head in his direction. “Hey cutie!”
Andrew looked up from his tray, his eyes opening wide at this new distraction. He pointed at Kerry with his spoon and gurgled, his head tipping back to follow her as she approached. “Gah!”
Kerry crouched down next to the high chair and offered him a finger to squeeze, his dark cap of hair and blue eyes making her smile. “What are you up to, little man?” She inquired. “Is that good stuff there?”
Angie motioned for the quietly waiting cook to put their food down, and she took a seat on one side of the table, watching her sister with a indulgent smile. “You’re a natural with kids.” She observed, as her son giggled in delight, dropping his spoon and slapping at his aunt’s wiggling fingers.
Kerry looked up from playing patty cake with the baby. “He’s adorable.” She said, then turned back to the chair as the cook came back with two plates. “Tell you what, Tiger, let’s both eat, then we can play some more, okay?”
She got to her feet and ruffled Andrew’s hair, then she joined her sister at the table, taking a seat and putting the crisply pressed linen napkin over her lap. “I love kids.” She said, as she picked up her fork. “Long as they aren’t mine.”
Angie cut off a bit of her egg white omelette and put it on her toast. “Really?”
“Yup.” Kerry tasted a bit of the egg, finding it as bland as she’d feared. “Tell you what.” She said. “I’ll do all the heavy lifting today but you have to let me cook breakfast tomorrow.”
Her sister chuckled. “I forgot to warn them we had a chow hound descending on us.” She said. “You still do the cooking down in Miami?”
“Sure.” Kerry got up and went to the sideboard, evading the cooks belated attempt to intercept her and using the container of milk meant for the coffee to provide her with a glassful instead. “Dar doesn’t mind cooking, but when she does, we either get something scientifically bizarre or like breakfast the other morning. She sat down with her milk. “Strawberry cheesecake.”
“Yikes.” Angie watched her sister tear into her breakfast with some bemusement. “So you don’t want kids? Have you talked to Dar about it?”
Kerry looked across the table, for a moment, her eyes narrowing slightly.
“Oo.” Angie waved a fork at her. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to piss you off. I was just asking.”
After a moment, Kerry relaxed, and she gave her sister an apologetic look. “Sorry.” She said. “Usually people who ask me invasive personal questions don’t have any good reason to.” She admitted. “Dar and I have talked about it, sure.”
“Dar thinks she doesn’t have the patience for it.” Kerry said, after a pause. “I, on the other hand, know damn well I don’t have the patience for it, and I just don’t want to be a parent.” She went back to her plate. ‘It may sound selfish, but I like my life the way it is, and I like the freedom of being able to go and do what I want to do when we want to do it.”
“I don’t blame you.” Angie interjected mildly. “I was just curious Ker, because you really seem to like kids, that’s all. You always said you never wanted to end up a soccer mom.”
Which was true. “We have a dog.” Kerry said. “That’s enough for us, though I do have to admit I once told Dar she had to have kids so the gene pool wouldn’t lose out on hers.” She paused as she heard a beep from her pocket. “Speaking of.” She pulled the PDA out and opened it. “I have no desire to perpetuate mine.”
Angie motioned for more coffee, prudently letting the subject drop. Her sister had, without a doubt, certainly grown up a lot in the last couple of years and taken on more than a hint of the steely will Angie remembered all too well from their father.
Definitely not the time to bring that up either.
“You know, Dar.” Alastair politely held the door open for his CIO as they re-entered the hotel. “I have to say, going to mediaval torture show in the Tower of London with you has to be one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had.”
“Glad you enjoyed it.” Dar strolled into the lobby, a bag slung over her shoulder and a relaxed grin on her face. “Gonna hang that flail up in your office?”
“Tell everyone I gave it to you.” Dar cheerfully suggested. “That’ll stop people in their tracks.”
Alastair looked at her sideways for a long moment, then he burst out laughing. “Do you have any idea what my wife would say?”
“Where’s mine?” Dar bantered right back. “Hey, it beats a jar of jalapeno jelly.”
Her boss clucked his tongue and shook his head. “I can see this trip is going to get me in a world of trouble.” He sighed, as they walked through the lobby to the elevators, entering one of the narrow, woodlined cars and pressing the old fashioned round button for the top floor.
Dar leaned against the back wall of the lift and folded her arms over her chest, watching the floor indicator rise slowly. “What time are we doing dinner?” She asked. “Are they late or early here, I forget.”
Alastair folded his hands in front of him, his back against the side wall. “Early, I think.” He said. “I think we’re set to meet at seven. They’ve got a car arranged to take us somewhere or other.” He glanced sideways at Dar. “Anything you don’t care to eat? I’m not sure what they have in mind.”
“Vegetables.” Dar said, succinctly. “Anything else I’m all right with. I want to check in with the office, and get a shower, so seven sounds fine.” She stifled a yawn with one hand, as the doors opened. For a moment, neither of them moved, then Dar gave her boss a wry look and exited the lift. “Sorry.”
“Not into the old courtesies, Dar?” Alastair chuckled.
“I’m usually the one holding the door.” His CIO admitted. “Learned it from my dad.”
“Me too.” The older man agreed cheerfully. “He was a proper Southern gentleman who brought his sons up to be courteous to ladies, and respectful to men even if you didn’t like em.”
Dar grinned. “My father’s Southern also, but he played by a little different rules.” She admitted, as they bot left the elevator and emerged into the hall. The space had sedate carpet, and surprisingly striped wall paper but the lighting was dim, and it made the hall a little dingy.
“So I remember.” Alastair murmured. “I think we finally just did all the mildew out of the carpet up in the kitchen near my office. “He really did mix it up with Ankow, didn’t he?”
“Oh yeah.” Dar said. “Bastard was lucky he got out of there in one piece. What ever happened to him, anyway?”
“Went to work for his father.” Alastair replied succinctly. “Bad egg. Good riddance.” He added. “Though, worlds gotten more conservative lately. “
“Mm.” Dar grunted.
“Well, meet you in the lobby at seven, Dar. Get yourself some rest.” He paused at the door to his room, as Dar went down two doors past him. “Thanks for the entertaining afternoon.”
“Anytime.” Dar opened her door and pushed it inward, giving Alastair a wave as she entered and let the portal shut behind her. Inside, her bag was sitting quietly on a luggage rack, and the room was dim and peaceful, the sounds of the city below muted by the thick glass of the window.
She checked her watch, then she went over to her bag, unzipping it and removing the inset that held her dress suits. Tomorrow she’d have to slip into her corporate persona, but she was glad enough to put the suit bag in the closet, giving it a shake to loosen the wrinkles, and remain casual for the night.
She took her sundry kit from her suitcase and went into the bathroom, setting the leather case on the marble counter and opening it. She removed her various toiletries and set them up neatly, feeling the jet lag starting to catch up with her.
Dar exhaled, and glanced at her reflection, then she turned the water on and splashed some of the cold liquid on her face. It had a rich, mineral tang very different from the water at home, and she experimentally licked a few droplets, finding it as brassy tasting as it smelled. “Peh.”
She wiped her face with one of the thick hand towels and retreated back into the bedroom, bypassing the danger of the bed and going to the small desk near the window instead, pulling her laptop out of her backpack and sitting down to open it.
Her cell phone rang. She glanced at the caller ID, then she keyed the answer button and set the speakerphone on. “Hey cute stuff.”
“Hey hon.” Kerry’s voice echoed slightly from the speaker. “Whatcha up to?”
Dar was very glad of the distraction. “Just about to check mail in the office.” She replied. “You?”
“Lugging boxes.” Her partner supplied promptly. “Did you go sightsee?”
“Sure.” Dar booted her laptop, resting her head on one hand. “Took Alastair to a torture exhibit and then shopping in a whip and chain shop.”
“Honey, we do actually work for him, you know?”
Dar chuckled. “He enjoyed it. He bought a flail.”
Kerry’s flaring nostrils and blinking eyes were clearly audible through the phone. “For w… no, never mind. Forget I asked that.” She muttered. “Flush cache. Flush cache. Flush cache.” She paused. “Okay, better now. Please don’t reload.”
“Okay.” Dar agreed. “How’s the packing going?” She could hear birds in the background, and guessed her partner was taking a break from the work and possibly her family. “Everyone there being nice to you or do I have to have a case of live gerbils delivered there to distract people?”
Kerry laughed. “Nerd.” She said. “Everyone’s being fine. I’m having fun playing with my nephew, and Mike’s on his way over now so I’m sure whatever progress we’re making will grind to a complete halt.” She said. “And hon, if I ever become as big a packrat as my sister you need to kick me to the curb.”
Dar gazed at the phone. “Over my dead body.”
“You get kicked to the curb over my dead body no matter what junk you collect.” Her partner informed her. “I don’t care if you pile crap up to the ceiling as long as theres a couple of square feet open in the bed for us to sleep in.”
Kerry sighed. “I love you.” She said.
Dar chuckled as her laptop booted up and she plugged in the internet port in the room. “So did your sister really freak out about your tat?”
“Yeah.” Her partner said. “She was like, how could you do that? Which is sort of what I asked myself the morning after I did it but I love it now.”
Kerry sighed. “Well, back to digging through boxes.” She said, with a touch of reluctance. “You going out to dinner tonight?” She asked. “I think we are.”
“With your mom?”
Dar could read the several levels of commentary in the single grunt without much effort. She could also picture Kerry’s face. “Send me a text if you want me to invent a tech nightmare for you to come save the day on, huh?”
Kerry chuckled. “I’ll just make them go to a barbeque joint. I’m in the mood for ribs and a nice loaded baked potato.”
“Takes one to love one.” Kerry’s voice sounded a lot more cheerful. “Okay, hon, talk to you later. Have fun at dinner, and watch out for the haggis.”
Dar closed the phone and went back to her laptop, smiling as she reviewed the mail careening wildly into her inbox and whistling softly under her breath.
Kerry clipped her phone back onto her belt and took a last long breath of cool air before she turned and re-entered Angie’s house, to be greeted by her brother coming in the other door. “Hey Mike.”
“Kerry!” Michael rambled across the tile floor and flung his arms around her. “Good to see ya!”
“Oof.” Kerry returned the hug. “Glad you see you too.” She released him. “Nice haircut.”
Mike ran his hand through what was almost a mohawk, the sides shorn close to his skull and the top longer. “Like it?” He looked at her. “Hey, you got short cut too!”
“Not that short.” Kerry shook her finger at him. “I thought you were working for some big shot company. They let you look like that?”
Her brother put his hands on his hips. “Oh now look who’s talking.” He said. “I’m working for a marketing company, sis. They like outrageous. Hey.. want a job?”
“I have a job.” Kerry replied. “And besides, your company probably couldn’t afford me.”
“Ooo…” Mike stuck his tongue out at her. “Listen to the big shot.” He turned as Angie entered, carrying a tray. “I can’t believe you dragged her all the way up here just to carry boxes for you!”
Angie put the tray down and put her hands on her hips, giving her brother a withering look. “She volunteered.” She said. “Just like you did. It’s not my fault she didn’t come up to help you move the last six times this year.”
“Now now.” Kerry maneuvered her way through the lines of boxes on the floor of the living room, most partially filled with various things. “No fighting, children.” She accepted a glass from the tray and took a sip of it, agreeably surprised to find it lemonade. “So now that there’s three of us here, I’m sure we’ll get even less done.”
Angie took a seat on one of the stools. “Probably.” She admitted, scrubbing her hair out of her eyes. “Boy, this is a lot of crap.” She glanced at her sister, who was leaning against the bar. “Maybe I should have just hired someone to pack it all up and take it.”
Kerry studied the living room floor. They’d been working since breakfast to sort out a lifetime of memories, trinkets, and items that even Angie had some trouble identifying. There were fifteen boxes on the ground, and thirty or forty plastic bags piled haphazardly around full of trash and things her sister could bear to give up. “You’d have just ended up having to sort it out over at the house.” She predicted. “You know that place. It’s got no closets and this stuff won’t fit in the attic.”
Mike surveyed their work. “Holy cow.” He said, after a moment. “What is all this stuff?”
Angie sighed. “Stuff.” She admitted. “Stuff from us when we were kids. Stuff from my kids.” She gazed quietly at the boxes. “Letters.”
Kerry rested her chin on her fist. “We’ll get through it.” She said. “Now that we’re started, and Mike’ll help. Right?”
“Um…” Mike looked at his older sister, seeing her brow arch. “Yep! I sure will.” He hastily agreed. “Besides, I hear we get dinner out of all this.”
Kerry rolled her eyes.
Angie snorted. “Oh, yeah.” She addressed Kerry. “Mom called.” She said. “She’s got reservations at the Clearbrook. Are you going to freak?”
The Clearbrook Golf Club. Kerry remembered so many Sunday dinners at the Clearbrook, a stuffy and conservative bastion of very decent food she had been unable to fully enjoy. It had been her father’s favorite ‘neighborhood’ place to show off his family and hold a very informal court. “Hm.”
“Foods not bad.” Mike said. “If you get past all the frilly crap on the plate.”
“Ker?” Angie moved closer to her. “I didn’t say yes or no. You worked your ass off all day, if you want to go get pizza, I’m there.”
Kerry gazed quietly past the boxes for a moment. “Nah.” She finally said. “Let’s get it over with.” She straightened up. “Like Mike said, they’ve got decent food and I can shock three quarters of the town if I start a belching competition with him in the middle of dinner.”
“Ker.” Angie covered her eyes, while her brother snickered. “Please don’t make me have to listen to her bitch for six months.”
Kerry chuckled and patted her sister on the shoulder. “I’ll be good.” She promised. “Now c’mon. Let’s get through this side of the room at least, before dinner.” She circled the counter and pushed Mike ahead of her. “Grab that box.”
“Uh.. shouldn’t I watch for a while to get clued in on your system, sister?”
“Clue this, you lazy punk.” Kerry lazily turned and roundhouse kicked him in the ass, sending him nearly head over heels across the room. “C’mon, the faster we do this, the faster it’s done.”
“Ow!” Mike yelped. “Bet you wouldn’t talk like that to Dar!”
“Bet she’d kick you a lot harder.”
Dar leaned back in her chair, the soft murmur of conversation around her as she watched Alastair order a bottle of wine from a very deferential waiter.
Hans was seated next to her, looking pleased. Across the table, David McMichael and Francois Aubron were in obvious high spirits, bestowing happy looks in her direction as they waited for the server to leave and conversation to resume.
“Dar, I’m very glad you chose to join us for this meeting.” David said. “It’s so nice to finally meet you after all these years.”
“Nice?” Dar’s eyebrows lifted, but she smiled to take the edge off. “Wouldn’t have missed it.”
“I am thinking we would not be having this meeting if not for you in any case.” Hans chimed in. “Or for me either, in fact.” He added, after a pause.
“Without a doubt, without a doubt.” David said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to gain brilliant new partners, and investigate new business avenues.”
“Do you talk to these people regularly?” Hans asked Dar, in German.
Dar nodded. “On the phone.” She clarified.
“Do you make faces at them?”
“Gut.” Hans smiled benignly at his new colleagues.
Dar steepled her fingers and tapped the edges against her lips, hiding a smile. “What do you recommend her, David?”
“Everything.” The European Sales executive answered without hesitation. “If you eat the napkin you’ll be fine.” He advised. “I’m for the ox tongue, myself.”
Dar eyed the menu, and wondered if she could get away with having a rabbit appetizer without having to admit that to Kerry. After a brief wrestle with her conscience, she folded her arms and looked up to see the waiter patiently waiting for her.
Huh? Dar started to frown, then realized it was because she was the only woman at the table. Heroically managing not to roll her eyes, she gave the bunny a last regretful thought and glanced at the menu one last time. “I’ll take the scallops and the lamb roast, please.”
“Excellent.” The waiter responded immediately. “Sir?” He turned next to Alastair.
Women, then older men? Dar wondered if it was a courtesy method or the way they planned to evacuate the restaurant in case of fire. She picked up her glass of white wine and sipped cautiously, finding it mild and a little sweet. “Nice.” She lifted the glass towards David.
He beamed at her.
“So.” Alastair put his reading glasses into his pocket. “Are we all ready for tomorrow? Hans, I understand you have a well established relationship with our new partner in this venture.”
“I do.” Hans agreed. “He is uncompromising, but he is fair.”
“You brushed up on your English since the last time we met.” Dar remarked dryly, in German, chuckling under her breath when he blinked innocently at her. “Prussian fraud.”
“Ah, we all have our secrets.” Hans acknowledged. “And speaking of this, how is your charming wife?
“Doing just fine, thanks.” Dar smiled. “Alastair, lets make sure we put together a comprehensive package for this one. No ala carte.”
The two sales executives looked at their boss, who pursed his lips for a moment before he answered.
“I don’t want to be hasty.” Alastair said. “If that’s the plan, and I think it’s a good one, Dar, then we need to take enough time to make sure we get all the wants and needs crossed and tied up.” He picked up his wine glass and swirled it, then took a sip. “This is a big deal, and I want to be sure we can deliver what we promise.”
Hans grunted and nodded, but didn’t say anything.
“There’s a lot riding on this. Lots of people watching.” David spoke up. “You know, we’ve always been reasonably successful here, but that whole American company thing is tough to get past in a lot of places.”
Dar lifted her hand, and let it drop. “We can’t change that.” She said. “And besides, we’re high technology. It’s not like America doesn’t have a history of that.”
“True.” David said. “And that’s why we’ve been as successful as we have, because that’s exactly where a lot of this starts, and a lot of it generates from. “
“It also helps.” Francois spoke up. “That the offices here are all local people.”
Alastair sniffed, and sipped his wine. “Well, just because I grew up on a farm outside Houston doesn’t mean I’m dumb.” He said. “Of course people want to deal with folks they can talk to, who understand their culture and share the same views and values.” He said.
“You grew up on a farm?” Dar interrupted. “Alastair I can’t imagine you in overalls.”
Everyone around the table laughed, as the ILS CEO gazed drolly across at Dar. “Thanks, Dar.” He sighed. “Remind me to swap donkey tales with you later on.”
They paused, as the waiter returned with a busboy and a tray, and their first courses were delivered. Dar studied the three dimensional food artwork in front of her and picked up her fork, not entirely sure where she was supposed to stick it in.
Oh well. There was always room service if she couldn’t figure it out.
Kerry got out of the truck, closing the door and brushing a bit of cardboard scrap off the sleeve of her blue sweater as she waited for Angie and Mike to join her.
It was soft, and cashmere, and had a casual elegance about it that she liked, especially when paired as it was with her jeans and leather boots.
“Mom’s gonna croak.” Angie indicated her sister’s denims.
“Not my fault.” Kerry said. “I came up here to move boxes. She picked the pretentious place to eat at.” She adjusted the three quarter sleeves and ran her fingers through her hair. “Let’s go get this over with.”
“Y’know.” Mike spoke up. “I don’t think she wants to piss you off again, Ker.” He walked next to his older sister as they crossed the parking lot and approached the entrance of the club, where valets were busy handling a parade of well dressed diners. “It didn’t sound that way to me.”
“Me either.” Angie chimed in. “Honestly Ker, he’s right. I think she wants to just make peace.”
“Well.” Kerry grunted as they reached the sidewalk and headed for the double doors. “That’s up to her. I hope you’re both right.” She politely edged around a group of three older women standing on the stairs, ignoring the looks she got as she pinned the doorman with her eyes and dared him to say anything. “Good evening, Charles.”
Caught by surprise, the elderly man gaped at her for a second, then he collected himself and reached for the door handle. “Good evening, Miss Kerry. It’s been such a long time.”
Kerry gave him several points. One for recognizing her, and two for smiling, with a bonus added on for treating her as though she was a very welcome guest. She returned his smile and gave him a pat on the arm as they entered. “Is my mother here yet?”
“Yes ma’am, inside.” The doorman answered briskly. “Have a great evening.”
“Thanks.” Angie said, as she followed Kerry and her brother inside. “I’m sure we will.”
Kerry paused for a moment as she cleared the door, sweeping her eyes over the interior and finding it not much changed since the time she’d been gone from her hometown. A fresh coat of white paint, and some new pieces of furniture appeared to be the only difference, and she continued on towards the dining room confidently.
The hall was moderately crowded. Kerry caught a few familiar faces in her peripheral vision, not usual for as small a town as this was. She kept her focus forward though, and spotted a man in a suite hovering near the maitre d’ station who had the air of a political aide.
Accordingly, she changed her path slightly, and addressed the man in the suit as he watched them approach. “Are you waiting for us?”
The man blinked. “Ah… “ He spotted Angie and Mike behind her, and his face relaxed in relief. “Yes, absolutely. We have a table waiting, won’t you come with me?” He waited for her to nod, then turned and started into the large dining room.
Angie poked her. “Stop scaring people!”
“Me?” Kerry looked over her shoulder innocently. “I haven’t done anything. Yet.”
“I should have brought my camera.” Mike lamented. “This is probably going to be the first and only time I have a good time in this dusty old place.” He caught up with Kerry as they turned a corner and entered a more or less secluded cul de sac, where a beautifully set table was waiting, their mother standing at the head of it.
There were three aides milling behind her, and Mike realized everyone was more than a little freaked out. He saw the guy who had met them scurry out of the way, and then Kerry just took control of everything with a manner that made him cover his mouth not to laugh.
“Mother.” Kerry went to the head of the table and extended her hands, giving the aides a brief nod of greeting. “Good to see you.”
Cynthia Stuart was caught faintly aback, but she rallied. “Kerrison, it’s lovely to see you as well.” She took Kerry’s hands and clasped them. “I am so glad you were all able to come tonight.” Her eyes flicked over Kerry’s outfit, but to her credit, she sailed right past it. “Wont you sit down? Let’s have some wine and celebrate being together.”
Kerry allowed a real smile to emerge, seating herself just to her mother’s right hand side as Angie and Mike took seats next to her and the serving staff replaced the hovering aides. “That sounds wonderful.” She took her napkin and flicked it open expertly, settling it over her lap as her crystal goblet was filled. “They haven’t started serving chili dogs here, have they?”
“Too bad. I wonder if they’ll make me one. “