Dar was pathetically grateful to close the door to her hotel room behind her and trudge across the carpet, tossing her jacket down on the chair and continuing on through the room to the bathroom.
Inside, she stripped off all the clothing she’d been wearing, and put it into the linen laundry bag hanging neatly on a hook beside the door. Then she turned the water on, waiting for it to come to a reasonable temperature before she stepped in and simply stood there, letting it rinse over her.
After a minute, she picked up her scrubbie and body wash, and scrubbed her skin all over, sneezing a few times as she soaped her face, then following that with three washes of her hair with as much shampoo as she could fit in the palm of her larger than average hand.
After a good rinse, she shut the water off and stepped out of the shower, grabbing a towel to dry herself with. She opened the door, wrapping the towel around her as she picked up the laundry bag and took it with her back to the door. She unlocked it and dropped the bag outside, then went to the phone and dialed the number for the concierge.
“Good, ah, morning.” A polite, male voice answered. “Ms. Roberts, what can I do for you?”
Nothing. Dar was convinced, nothing was better than a hotel with a 24 hour concierge. “I have a laundry bag outside my room. Can you get it picked up and taken care of?”
“Of course.” The man answered. “I’ll send someone right up.”
Dar considered. “And could you get me some warm milk and honey sent up as well?”
“Absolutely.” The concierge said. “Right away.”
“Thanks.” Dar hung up the phone and went back to toweling her now thankfully smoke free self off. It was just after one AM local time, but her body still thought it was eight PM, and she hoped the warm milk would let her get to sleep. “All I need is to be a zombie tomorrow.” She muttered under her breath, looking up as a knock came at the door.
Was it physically possible for anyone to come up that many flights that fast? Dar wrapped her towel around her again and tucked the ends in then ran her fingers through her wet hair before she went to the door and opened it.
“Ah.” Alastair’s eyes widened. “Listen, Dar…”
“Listen, Alastair.” Dar cut him off. “Let’s get this clear. The next time you drag me into a bar full of cigarette smoke and drunk assholes and force me to stay there, consider my resignation on your desk.”
Alastair’s mouth closed with a click.
“I am not bullshitting.”
“Never would have thought you’d bullshit about that.” Alastair recovered. “Sorry about that, Dar.” He said, in a more conciliatory tone. “I know the boys are just so thrilled about the opportunity here, they went a little overboard.”
“Grr.” Dar glanced at the man from housekeeping, who sidled up and took the bag as quickly as he could and ducked back out of the way again. “Thanks.” She turned and looked at Alastair. “I appreciate it’s a cultural thing, Alastair, but next time, just leave me out of it. I can’t stand being in places like that, no matter how good the beer was.”
“I forgot.. well, no, really, I never even thought to ask but you don’t smoke, do you?” Her boss mused. “Or Kerry, I suppose. I guess it’s what you get used to, and with all the new laws on our side, you don’t bump into that as often.”
“Yeah, well.” Dar glanced down the hall. “That’s true, I guess.” She conceded. “Well, let me get back inside and try and get some sleep before we have to go act like world killers tomorrow morning.”
Her boss lifted a hand and started off towards his own room. “Good idea, Dar.” He turned at the door and looked back at her. “But you know, you play a mean game of darts.”
Dar paused before she shut her door. “It could have been a lot meaner.” She said, giving Alastair a brief smile, before she ducked inside and left the hallway in stately silence again.
The knock at the door made her turn and grab the handle, yanking it open as she started to yell, only to swallow her outrage and muster a smile instead for the young woman holding a silver tray. “Oh. Sorry. Hi. Come on in.”
She backed away from the door and the server entered, placing the tray down and removing a soft, quilted cover from the pot on it. “Thanks.”
“You’re very welcome.” The woman presented the billfold to her, and Dar signed it, handing it back. “Will there be anything else you need this evening?”
Dar glanced at the clock. “I hope not.” She sighed.
“Well then, have a good night.” The server disappeared out the door, and Dar sat down next to the table holding the tray as it got blessedly quiet again. She picked up one of the nice, big stoneware cups and poured a glob of honey into it, then added steaming milk and stirred.
It smelled wonderful. Her throat, scratchy and sore from the night spent yelling over bad music and breathing in smoke was aching for the sweet taste, and she picked up the cup and took it over to the beside table, setting it down and going back to her bag to get her sleep shirt.
She picked up her PDA on the way and brought it back to bed with her, setting it down as she replaced her towel with the worn baseball shirt and shorts she seldom wore anymore. They smelled like home, though, and she sat down and picked up the PDA, flipping it open and checking for messages before she took out the stylus and scribed one of her own.
I’m alone in my hotel with a pot of hot milk and a bad attitude. – where are you?
She set the PDA down and stretched out on the bed, picking up the cup and sipping from it. The milk tasted a little different than she was used to, but not in a bad way and she at last allowed the stress and aggravation of the day to dissipate.
Just like the old days. She glanced at the PDA, waiting impatiently for the red flash to appear. Well, almost just like the old days.
“Are these some of your new staff, mother?” Kerry put her glass down, relaxing a trifle as the servers gently interrupted the silted conversation by placing salad plates in front of them.
“Hm?” Her mother glanced around, as though first noticing the hovering aides. “Oh, yes. Yes they are.” She said. “A nice bunch of young people. I will introduce you to them tomorrow.” She said. “Angela says you all have been very busy today?”
“Yes.” Kerry sliced up her salad and decorated it with appropriate amounts of dressing. “Sorting through things, packing, you know.”
“Well, I really don’t understand why you just didn’t have someone take care of that for your, Angela. Having Kerrison come here for that seems very silly to me.” Cynthia frowned. “Very silly.”
Kerry took a moment to eat a big mouthful of the salad, because it would take some time for her to chew it, and because she knew if she answered right at the moment the dinner probably would start sliding downhill faster than she’d anticipated. She swallowed, and washed down the crisp lettuce and greens with a sip of wine. “How could some hired firm decide what to keep and what to throw away?” She asked. “I don’t understand that.”
“Yes.” Angela stepped up. “Really, mother, you didn’t want me bringing a lifetime worth of old plastic cups and shopping lists back, did you?”
“Well.” Cynthia paused, and frowned. “I suppose not.” She conceded. “But really, all that hard work.”
“Definitely worth it.” Angie said. “Besides, it’s been fun spending some time with my sister just hanging out.”
“Yeah.” Mike added. “It’s hard catching up in email or on the phone. You can’t see her goofy faces.”
Kerry looked across at him, her eyes twinkling a little. “Ah, my secret’s out. Now you know why I do all those conference calls.”
“I’m sure, I’m sure.” Their mother replied. “But surely you don’t need the excuse of rummaging through all that to speak to one another. I’m positive Kerrison was glad to visit just to see you. Isn’t that so?” She looked at Kerry.
“Of course.” Kerry replied quietly.
“There, see?” Cynthia said. “So to have you endure this manual labor is just senseless, really.”
“Eh.” Kerry made a noncommittal sound. “It’s not that bad.” She went back for a second mouthful of salad, pausing when her ear caught the faint beep from her PDA. She put her fork down and unclipped the device from her belt, opening it and peering at it’s screen. “Excuse me.”
“What on earth is that?” Her mother asked. “A calculator?”
“A personal digital assistant.” Kerry replied absently, as she scanned Dar’s message. “With a note from Dar inside it.” She extracted the stylus and started answering her partner’s note, a smile tugging at her lips.
Honey, if I could click my cowboy booted heels three times and disappear from having dinner with my mother just to share your milk and your attitude I’d be there in a heartbeat.”
Kerry covered the PDA and put it on the table. “Not really.” She picked up her fork again. “We use many different types of communications in our line of work. This is just one of them.” She selected a wedge of tomatoe and ate it.
“Dar’s in London right now, isn’t she?” Angie spoke up. “It’s late there.”
Kerry nodded, and swallowed. “She is, she got there this morning. She just finished meeting with our international team there, and she has a client meeting tomorrow morning.”
“London? How lovely.” Cynthia took back the conversational ball. “I’ve always wanted to see London and Paris. So lovely and cultured.” She looked past Kerry to where Angie was seated. “Isn’t that something you’d be interested in, Angela? To see the continent?”
Angie put her glass down. “Well, sure I guess. Who wouldn’t?” She said.
“Perhaps we can plan a visit there.” Cynthia said, with a glance at Kerry. “I would invite you as well, Kerrison but I know how busy you are with your.. work.”
Mike snorted. “Too late. She’s going there next week.” He was plowing through a bowl of soup and rolls, having turned away the salad. “London, Paris, some place in Germany.. then what was it, Ker, a vacation in the Swiss Alps?”
Kerry wiped her lips. “That’s the plan, yep.” She said, mentally making a note to give her brother a hug for the quick response. “We’ve got business meetings for the first week, then I think we’re taking some time and doing some touring around, the Alps, maybe hang around for Octoberfest.”
“Well.” Cynthia said. “Isnt’ that lovely?”
“Sure is.” Mike said. “Hey, can I come work fro you, Kerry? I can carry your briefcase around and pretend I understand one word in ten you’re saying.”
The PDA beeped softly. Kerry opened it, and glanced at the screen.
Tell your mother to kiss my ass.
Kerry looked up from the screen, directly at her mother.
“Yes, Kerrison?” Cynthia peered back at her. “Did you want to say something?”
It was tempting. But Kerry knew she just couldn’t, not just like that. Not yet, anyway. “Dar says hello.” She reported. “She’s sorry the timing of our travel worked out like it did. I know she would have liked to have been here to help too.”
“Now..” Her mother smiled. “Isn’t that so gracious of her. I am certainly glad she’s enjoying her travels. Do you know where you’re staying in London? Some friends of ours just got back from there.”
Kerry looked back at the note.
I’ve just spent the night in a dive bar with twisted English karaoke going on in the middle of a smoke pit with darts added into the bargain. I told Alastair if he did that to me again I was quitting.
“I think she’s enjoying the culture.” Kerry commented mildly. “They’re at the Stafford. Dar said it was nice.”
These people are pissing me off. You better get over here fast, before I cause an international incident.
“And she’s looking forward to me joining her.” Kerry scribbled a reply and closed the lid. “The feeling’s mutual.” She wiped her lips as the waiter removed her salad plate. “So, Mike. What’s up with your new job? You started telling us about it before we left for dinner.”
Kerry welcomed the cool breeze as they stepped outside into the wide entranceway. She moved to one side to let her family emerge behind her, and stood on the top of the drive, her hands shoved casually in her front pockets.
“That really wasn’t too awful.” Angie murmured in her ear. “Was it?”
“Nah.” Kerry licked her lips. “That was great crème brulee.” She drew in a breath of air tinged with pine and waited as her mother’s aides attended to bringing her car around. Mike came up to stand next to her, and she bumped him with idle affection. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Mike responded. “I’m glad you’re here, even if you aren’t.”
“Eh.” His sister shrugged her shoulders a trifle. “Actually I don’t mind it. It’s great to see you guys.” She glanced past Mike as her mother approached them. “Being the black sheep’s not so bad.”
“Kerrison.” Cynthia was fussing with her bag. “I’m very upset with you!”
News flash. “For what?” Kerry turned to face her. “Paying for dinner?”
“Of course. So inappropriate.” Her mother frowned. “My staff had it taken care of.”
Kerry rolled her eyes a trifle. “I’m the vice president of a multinational corporation. I can afford it.” She said, in a mild tone. “I think I actually get paid more than a Senator does.” She added.
Mike made a sound like a duck being shot at. He shuffled a step away from Kerry, while Angela merely covered her eyes with one hand.
“Well, we’re a public company. It’s published in our annual report.” Kerry shrugged. “Anyway, it’s no big deal, mother. I was glad to do it. How often to I get to take my family out for dinner?”
Cynthia took a breath, then she merely pursed her lips.
“I’m glad I’m in a position where I can do that.” Kerry continued, in a quieter tone. “I’m not sure why that’s upsetting.”
“Ma’am?” One of her mother’s aides approached. “Your car is ready.”
“One moment.” Cynthia held a hand up. “Of course, I understand.” She said. “Forgive me, Kerrison. It was a generous gesture, and I do appreciate it.”
Kerry smiled at her. “No problem.” She said. “I guess we’ll see you at the house tomorrow, once we get all those boxes packed up.”
“Indeed, yes.” Her mother looked happier. “It will be so nice to have you all there. I’m very much looking forward to it.”
There was a truth there, Kerry felt. “I’m looking forward to it too.” She replied.
Satisifed, her mother lifted her hand and then followed the aide towards the limo waiting for her. She got in the car, and waved at them, and they waved back.
“It would have been funny if you offered her a ride home in the back of the truck.” Mike commented, smiling as he waved. “Or even in the front seat.”
“Mike.” Angie chuckled. “You’re a bigger troublemaker than Kerry is.”
“I gotta be better than her at something.” Mike replied, as they descended the steps and crossed the parking lot, dodging between the cars busy trying to leave. “Thanks for dinner, sis!” He put his arm around Kerry’s shoulders. “You rock.”
Kerry chuckled wryly. “Actually you guys are cheap dates.” She told her siblings. “You should see the bill when Dar and I go out for a night on the town.” Her lips twitched into a grin.
“Party city?” Angie asked. “I don’t know, Dar didn’t seem the type to me.”
“Well.. no, not really that kind of stuff.” Kerry said. “We go out for dinner, maybe a little bit of dancing. Dar doesn’t drink much, but she likes champagne.”
“Hm.” Mike mused. “I figured her for a Jack Daniels woman.”
“No way.” Kerry beeped open the doors to the trunk. “Bubbly, and the good stuff too. We’ve got a few seafood restaurants we like to hit.” She opened the driver’s side door. “It doesn’t take much stone crab and Cristal to beat what we just had in there, let me tell you.”
“Fancy fancy.” Mike got in the back and sprawled across the bench seat.
“Yeah.” Kerry closed the door and started the truck. “Then the next night we stop at Burger King. My life’s a study in eclectic.”
Her siblings laughed. “You actually eat Burger King?” Angie asked.
“Sure.” Kerry carefully pulled out of the parking lot, waiting until she saw her mother’s limo drive off in the other direction. “Wendy’s is my favorite fast food though. They have killer spicy chicken sandwiches.” She settled back into the seat and concentrated on driving, the roads not quite as familiar as they used to be.
All in all, she had to admit, it hadn’t been that bad. Her mother, after those first few jabs, had kept her conversation to superficial matters and they’d talked mostly about Mike’s new job, the weather, local news, and a light mention of the conservative rumblings at the national level.
Having her mother be a Senator was very strange, and Kerry found herself almost unable to wrap her mind around it. In a way though, it gave her some small insight on how perhaps her mother felt about her, since her life in Miami and with Dar was so outside her experience as well.
“Hey Ker?” Angle half turned in her seat to face her sister. “Do you really get paid more than mom?”
Kerry laughed. “Oh, hell yes.” She said. “Any bets she has her goons google our annual report when she gets home to find that out?”
“Well.” Angie chuckled. “At least this bunch is a lot nicer than the old ones were. They don’t give me the creeps, and they stay out of the way, mostly.”
“Yeah, they’re okay.” Mike agreed. “I think one of them is gay, but don’t tell mom.” He advised. “I caught him and one of the cleaning staff out behind the kitchen door the last time I was at the house.”
“What were you doing back behind the kitchen?” Angie asked, her brows arching. “Mr. Nosy Butt.”
“Uh oh.” Kerry could hear a very familiar argument starting. “Here we go.”
“Hey, it’s not my fault you never see the fun stuff.” Mike retorted. “If you’d get your butt out of the library once in a while you would.”
“Library this, monkey face.”
Kerry smiled, keeping her eyes on the darkened road as she let the good natured trading of insults go on around her. It felt like home used to be, back when they were all running around on the second floor of the big house, when the biggest thing they had to worry about was knocking over one of the alabaster statues near the stairs.
George Washington had toppled to his demise from a ill judged tackle on her part. She could almost see his white, startled head tumbling down the steps, thumping and cranking all the way down until he reached the bottom, and the marble floor, and shattered into dozens and dozens of pieces.
“You think that’s funny?” Mike poked her. “Hah! And I thought you were on my side!!” He poked her again. “Holy crap.” He grabbed her shoulder and squeezed it.
“Mike!” Kerry hissed. “I’m driving! What the heck’s your problem?”
“You’ve got muscles like a wrestler!” Her brother accused her.
“How would you know?” Angie jibed him, giving him a shove back against the seat. “Leave her alone, you weirdo.”
Kerry suddenly felt fifteen years younger. “Stop pawing at me and I’ll take my shirt off and show em to you back at Angie’s.” She warned her brother.
“And your tattoo.” Angie teased.
“What????” Mike squealed, crawling up from the back seat and up halfway into the front of the truck. “You got one? You did?????” He slid forward and almost landed on his head, between his sisters. “Bowah…”
“Oh for the love of..” Kerry released one hand off the wheel and grabbed him. “Mike, if I have an accident driving this damn thing I will never hear the end of it so cut that out! Sit still!” She checked her mirrors, glad to see she was almost alone on the road. “You want us to get pulled over by the cops?”
Mike twisted around and hung his legs over the seat back, his head almost hitting the console. “That would be funny as hell.” He said. “Can you see the headlines in the Sentinel? We’d be the talk in the coffee shop for a month.”
“Oh god.” Kerry heard her cell phone go off. “Now what? Shh, both of you.” She pulled it off her belt and keyed the speaker. “Kerry Stuart.”
“Hey.” Dar’s voice emerged from the speaker, a trifle tinnily.
“Hey.” Kerry glanced quickly at the display. “Why are you up? It’s three AM there, isn’t it?”
“I can’t sleep.” Dar complained. “You’re not here in bed with me.”
Oh god. Kerry felt a sudden rush of blood to her face, as her siblings burst into laughter. “Thanks, hon.” She sighed. “Things weren’t chaotic enough in the cab of this pickup with my nutcase family here.”
Dar chuckled. “Hey, it’s the truth.” She said. “How’d dinner go? Did you guys scandalize the town?”
“No, we didn’t.” Angie spoke up. “How are you Dar? How’s England?”
“Annoying the crap out of me. Thanks for asking.” Dar answered. “Other than that, I’m fine thanks, Angela. How’s the packing going?”
“Ugh. Hard work.” Mike announced, folding his hands over his stomach.
“Like you’ve done any.” Kerry gave him a withering look.
“Everything’s going fine, thanks for asking Dar.” Angie covered her brother’s mouth. “Thanks for lending me your SO for a few days to help.”
Dar chuckled again. “Well, she wouldn’t let me rent her.” She sighed. “But you better take good care of her or I’ll reroute your paychecks to feed starving wolves in Oregon.”
Mike was laughing so hard he was making the seat shake.
“You’re so romantic.” Kerry said, affectionately. “That’s one of the things I adore the most about you, Dardar.” She said. “Dinner went fine. We’re headed back to Angie’s house now.” She slowed before the turn up to her sister’s road. “You should try and get some sleep.”
“Okay.” Dar agreed. “Just wanted to find out how things went. Talk to you later, Ker. Love you.”
“Love you too.” Kerry closed the phone and put it on the seat next to her, aware of the sudden and almost awkward silence from her siblings. She let that go on for a few minutes, then she glanced at them just before she pulled into Angie’s driveway. “Least she got you two to stop fighting.”
“Yeah.” Angie sighed. “You guys sound so storybook married.”
Kerry smiled, as she parked the truck, turning off the engine and popping the door open. “That’s probably the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me, sis. Thanks.” She got out, and Angie hopped out on the other side.
They looked at each other, then they both slammed their respective doors, leaving Michael hanging upsideown in the front seat.
“Hey!” He yelled through the door. “Hey! Help me out of here!”
Kerry and Angie bolted for the house, running up the sidewalk toward the front door as the horn started honking behind them, laughing as they headed for the door.
Dar woke up as the window across from her started to glow with early light, her internal clock as oddly dependable as it was at home despite the five hour time difference. She studied the outline of the sill, content to lay there wrapped around her pillow as sleep slowly receded.
Softly, far off, she could hear the sounds of the city. Horns, and the sounds of machinery, no different than any other city she’d ever woken up in save the one where she lived. Out on the island, there was no real traffic, and if anything penetrated the soundproofed walls of the condo it was the roar of the ocean and the occasional hoot of a barge.
Or sometimes a mating peacock.
The peace there was something she’d come to appreciate. It gave her a period of space in which to live, and get ready for the day before she had to cross the water, and enter the insanity of Miami traffic and head to work.
Spending the morning with Kerry, going through their routine, the gentle banter, the morning run, or walk over to the gym in bad weather, just talking together, or being silent together – she found that with a start like that, her entire attitude at work had completely changed.
People used to absolutely avoid her. Dar realized that. She knew that she’d done a lot to foster the notion that she was likely to bite people’s head off in the morning unless she’d at least gotten a gallon or two of café con leche into her, and that if you wanted anything, you’d better wait until after lunch, to be safe.
Now? People actually approached her in the damned elevator on the way up to the fourteenth floor. Dar rolled over and stretched her body out. Sometimes some of them even smiled at her, and occasionally, when she was in a particularily mellow mood after one of their long joint showers, she smiled back.
Less coffee, less stress, less screaming, more fun. Dar smiled at the ceiling. Life was charming the hell out of her at the moment despite the fact she’d had to spend the previous night in a smoky pub. Stifling a yawn, she pulled the covers back and rolled up out of the bed and onto her feet, stretching her limbs out as she wandered over to the window and peered out.
Raining. Dar pondered the gray exterior, glad she had her long coat handy. The meeting was not that far away, perhaps ten minutes, and she reveled in the notion that she had a reasonable amount of time to order breakfast up and shower before she had to get ready.
She sat down at the sleek desk near the window and flipped the room service menu open, propping her head up on one hand as she studied it’s contents. After a minute she closed the book and touched the speakerphone keypad, dialing room service and placing her order with the amiable and cheery voice on the other end.
That done, she opened the screen to her laptop and started it up, leaning back in the chair as she waited for it to boot. Since it was in the middle of the night back at the office, she really didn’t expect there to be much mail but you never knew, and anyway, sometimes Maria forwarded her unintentionally funny jokes she’d come to enjoy.
The room was pleasantly cool, and she felt a sense of contentment as she watched some birds fly past outside the window, turning her head back only when her laptop beeped, wanting attention. She keyed in her password and let it continue, connecting to the surreptitiously hidden wifi connection and starting up her secured session to the office.
Mark had found them biometric laptops. They had a scanner attached that took fingerprints. Dar had tried one for a period of a week and ended up almost tossing it off the balcony on the 14th floor as the technology was just not ready for her prime time apparently.
Either that, or she had weird fingerprints. Mark swore it worked for him. They were going to try retinal scanners next, but she figured if the stupid things couldn’t even read her index finger, they had scant chance of being able to read her eyeball.
“Technology sucks sometimes.” She informed her laptop, as it presented her inbox to her. “It’s just never where we want it to be, is it?”
The laptop bleeped back at her.
“Shut up.” Dar leaned forward and reviewed her mail. As expected, there was nothing much urgent and she picked through them with casual interest, pausing to smile at a forwarded picture of a sunbathing cat from Kerry, and to shake her head at yet another request for people to stop cooking fish in the building from Mariana.
“Ah.’ She saw another one from the HR VP and opened it. It was the softball team lineup, listing Kerry as captain and laying out the game schedule. She reviewed it, nibbling her lip as she realized they’d only be back from Europe a few days before the opening night. “Hm.”
Mariana had told everyone that winning wasn’t as important as participating. Dar understood that intellectually, but she knew fully well that no one wanted to lose, least of all her, and really least of all her curiously competitive partner.
So. She opened a message and addressed it to Mark.
Hey. Make sure everyone shows up for those practice games since we’ll be out here. I don’t want to look like a jerk when we play the first one.
She reviewed it, then sent the mail. That left the problem of when she and Kerry were going to practice, and she frowned. Maybe getting involved in the softball thing when they were traveling wasn’t the best idea.
On one hand, she figured she could probably handle a game without much preamble, trusting what she thought of as a reasonable set of athletic skills and a cursory memory of the sport to carry her through.
Kerry, however, though she had good reflexes and could handle her body really had nothing to go by in terms of knowing what to do in the game and Dar had gone and volunteered her as captain.
“That was idiotic.” She remarked to herself.
A knock came at the door, and she left the problem to sit as she went and answered it, letting in the room service waiter complete with a little wooden cart full of her selected breakfast. She signed the check and handed it back, then sat down as the waiter left and closed the door.
In the midst of opening her cereal box, her cell phone rang. Dar cursed, launching herself over the bed to the nightstand where the device was rattling, and grabbing it. She opened it and managed to get it to one ear without falling off the bed, but without time to see who it was. “Yes?”
Dar stuck her tongue out and stifled a laugh. “Hey.”
“You okay? You sound weird.”
“I’m upside down.” Dar squirmed into a more comfortable position and relaxed. “What are you doing up? It’s late.”
“I can’t sleep.” Kerry told her. “You’re not here in bed with me.”
Dar chuckled. “Sorry about that.” She said. “I didn’t realize you had me on speaker until it was too late.”
“No problem.” Her partner assured her. “I absolutely loved having my brother and sister hear what you said to me. Angie said we sounded so married.”
“So how’s it really going?” Kerry said. “I almost threw peas at my mother here. She finally stopped with the snarky bs about halfway through dinner.”
“It’s fine.” Dar assured her. “I was pissed off about the bar, but that’s no one’s fault. I’m looking forward to the meeting at ten. You got more packing to do?”
“Yeah.” Her partner agreed mournfully. “Then we’re going over to the house and haul everything in there. I’m having fun with Ang and Mike but boy, I’m not looking forward to hanging out with my mother.”
“Want me to invent a disaster for you to fix?”
“You keep teasing me with that offer.” Kerry reminded her dryly. “Don’t jinx us, hon. We’re both out of the office and we don’t really need something to crash, y’know?”
“We’d just have to fly back to Miami and fix it.”
“Hm.” Dar’s low grunt grew far more cheerful. “We’d be in the same place then.” She offered. “That can’t be all bad, can it?”
Kerry laughed softly, for at least thirty seconds. “Let’s see.” She said. “It’s been, what… two days now? That must be a record for us before we start whining about being apart.” She said. “We’re so nuts.”
“But in a nice way.”
Kerry was silent for a brief moment. “In a very beautiful way.” She said. “Being with my mother, and my sister, and my brother who is on his fourth girlfriend this year made me realize all over again just how blessed my life is.”
Dar studied the ceiling, feeling a stupid grin stretch her lips. “You’re better than Frosted Flakes for breakfast, you know that?” She said. “Ah, Ker. Go back to sleep. You’re going to be toast tomorrow if you don’t and you’ll end up going off on everyone.”
Kerry made a small, grunted sound.
“Probably.’ Her partner sighed. “This bed’s just not comfortable, and I miss my dog, and I want some chocolate milk.” She admitted. “And you’re the only one I can say that to who wont’ look at me funny or tell me to grow the hell up.”
“I’m not sure I even know who these people are anymore.” Kerry added. “I feel like I hardly know them.”
“They hardly know you.” Dar said. “Give it a few days. You sounded pretty rambunctious with them in the car.”
A small silence. “Yeah, I guess I did. It’s all right. I think I just keep freaking them out. “
Dar’s eyes flicked over the ceiling, her sensitive ears catching the change in her partner’s tone. “Hey.”
“Just be who you are, Ker.” Dar advised gently. “They’ll get used to it. Don’t be afraid to not pretend, you know?”
Kerry sighed. “That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.” She confessed. “It’s hard to make everyone change the way they see me. It’s easier for me to pretend I’m someone else. It always was.” She paused. “But you know something, I don’t think I can do it anymore.”
“Would it help if I sent you flowers at your mom’s house?” Dar asked, with a hint of a wry chuckle. “You know I always get you the most expensive ones.”
Finally, Kerry chuckled, after a long pause. “I can do this.” She said. “I’ll be fine. I just needed a Dar time out.”
Talk about freaking out. “Anytime, sweetheart.” Dar assured her. “I’ll always be there for you.” She heard the slight inhale, and the faint sound of Kerry swallowing. “Now go to bed, and let me eat my English Frosted Flakes and weird tasting milk for breakfast.”
“I love you.” Kerry replied, simply. “Talk to you later, okay?”
“Later.” Dar hung up the phone and let it sit on her chest for a few minutes. Then she chuckled and got up, taking her box of cereal with her back to the tray. “Dar time out.” She shook her head and poured the cereal into the waiting bowl. “And she thinks HER life’s changed.”
Kerry hummed softly under her breath as she neatly flipped a set of pancakes, a plate of omelettes and bacon already waiting nearby. She had her back to her sister’s servants, aware of their nervous anxiety and she wondered briefly if they were more worried about her getting burned or if that she was auditioning for their jobs.
Not really much danger of either. She’d cooked long enough and often enough to know how to avoid getting hurt and even when she’d been younger and willing to take about any job, short order cook had never been in her personal horizon.
She didn’t mind cooking for herself, or for Dar, or for family. Cooking for strangers, however, was another story especially after a night of little sleep and a morning full of gray rain outside. Her ears pricked, as she heard footsteps in the hall, and she caught the nervous jerks from the staff as they heard them as well.
“Wh.. Kerry!” Angie entered, spotting her at the stove. “What in blazes are you doing?”
Kerry looked at the pan, then she turned her head and looked at her sister, then she looked back at the pan. “You have done this, Ang. I know you have. I used to live with you, remember? Don’t tell me you never told these guys about those banana brownies you used to make.”
Angie came over and peered over her bare shoulder. “You’re cooking.” She said, avoiding the brownie issue.
“I am.” Her older sister confirmed. “I said I was going to. You didn’t believe me?” She scooped the last of the pancakes into their dish and covered it, then she turned off the gas to the stove. “I didn’t get much sleep last night so I figured I’d better make something I liked for breakfast so I didn’t whine all day.”
Angie picked up one of the dishes, a bemused but understanding look on her face. She gave her staff a wry smile as she turned and headed after Kerry to the dining room. “Don’t worry about my sister. She’s just got a mind of her own.”
“Got that right.” Kerry set the plates she had in her hands down. “Well, good morning.” She greeted her brother, who was rubbing both eyes. “Fine state of affairs when I’m the early bird in the family.” She took a seat near one end of the big table, the warm light bathing her tanned arms very visible in her tank top.
“Pissant” Mike grumbled, sitting down across from her before he peered at Kerry, and jerked upright. “Holy shit. You did get a tattoo.” He scrambled out of his chair and came around the table, as Kerry continued to calmly butter her toast. “Wow.”
“Eat breakfast first, gawk later.” Kerry advised him. “It’s not going anywhere.” She dumped some pancakes, an omelette, and a slice of bacon on her plate.
“Did it hurt?” Mike asked, curiously. “What made you get it?”
Angie motioned the staff to bring coffee over. “I think it’s pretty.”
“Can I touch it?” Mike asked.
Kerry put her fork down and half turned to face Mike. “Sure.” She moved the strap of her tank top over to give him a better view. “Yes, it hurt.” She said, as he bent closer. “It hurt a lot, but it was worth it.”
“Wow.” He repeated, putting a finger out hesitantly and touching the design. “Oh.” He said. “It just feels like skin.”
Angie appeared on her other side, running her thumb over it. “It is.” She said, in surprise. “I thought it would be raised up, like those inoculations.”
Kerry felt herself twitch, just a little, as they touched her. “Well, when he first did it, it was kinda.” She said. “It was pretty swollen.”
“It was?” Angie looked up at her at close quarters, nearly making her eyes cross. “Is it like a burn?”
“It’s.. yeah, I guess.” Her older sister said. “I mean, they take needles and jab them into your skin over and over again, so it kind of gets all sore and puffy. But it heals pretty fast.” She went on. “It stops hurting really bad as soon as they stop sticking needles in you.”
Mike shook his head and went back to his seat. “You are totally crazy.” He announced. “But it is really nice looking, Ker. Did Dar like it? She should. It’s her name there.”
Kerry went back to sorting out her breakfast. “She did. I think one of the reasons maybe that I got it was because I knew it was something I could do that she probably wouldn’t.”
“She doesn’t like tattoos?” Angie eased away from her and went back to her place at the head of the table.
“She’s scared to death of needles.” Kerry responded, with a wry grin. “Don’t you remember in the hospital?”
Angies eyes widened, as she helped herself to the plates. “Oh my gosh, I do. That’s right!” She gave the woman at her shoulder a nod, and sat back as coffee was poured into her cup. “She almost went crazy there before everything got horrible.”
They all fell briefly silent as they started breakfast, and Kerry was left in peace to think about Mike’s first question.
Why. Why had she really gotten the tattoo? For herself? For Dar? Kerry chuckled a little under her breath and shook her head. She still really didn’t know for sure. “So anyway.” She broke the quiet. “I love the thing. Dar was in New York when I got it, and I had a day or so to let it heal before I showed it to her. I could see it was going back and forth in the back of her mind if she wanted to get one too.”
“Kerry?” Mike looked up. “Thanks for making breakfast. This rocks.”
Angie looked around, but the two servant women had retreated back to the kitchen. “Yeah.” She said. “Thanks… I know I used to make brownies but I have no idea how to tell these people to make things I like.”
Kerry waved a fork at them, busy chewing.
“Have you decided what you’re going to speak about at the banquet tonight?” Angie asked. “You know, Marga Smithton called me last night and said she saw us in the restaurant with mom and she said everyone’s been talking about it.”
Kerry rolled her eyes.
“Hey, slow news week.” Her sister held a hand up. “C’mon, Kerry. You used to live here. How many weeks did duck racing make the front page?”
Kerry swallowed and wiped her lips with her napkin. “They need to get a life.” She said. “I’ve figured out two different ways to go tonight, and it depends on how they react when I get there. Either they’re going to get my professional presentation, or they’re going to get the radical biker dyke. All up to them.”
Both her siblings blinked at her.
“Ah. Forgot to tell you I got a motorcycle too.” Kerry grinned, and took a sip of her coffee. “Actually, it was a joint purchase. Dar and I use it down by the cabin in the Keys.” She explained. “Which by the way, you both have to come down and stay at sometime.”
“I’ll take you up on that.” Mike said. “Can I ride the bike?”
“Sure.” Kerry could still sense the faint waves of shock rolling around the table. “We go down on weekends a lot and just bum around there. It’s quiet, and it’s right on the water, I love chilling out on the beach in front.”
“Sounds gorgeous.” Angie recovered and picked up the conversation again. “Is it a long drive?”
“Well.” Kerry answered. “It’s about an hour and a half, I guess, but we also take the boat down there and that’s a little longer. We don’t care though because we stop and dive on the way down.”
“Man.’ Her brother shook his head. “What a life.”
Kerry smiled and took a forkful of pancake to eat. She felt a faint buzz in her pocket and pulled out her phone, setting it on the table and opening it. “Excuse me.” She put the forkful down and pressed the answer button. “Kerry Stuart.”
“Hello, Ms. Stuart?” A male voice answered. “This is ops. We have kind of a situation here and we need someone to make a decision.”
“Called the right person.” Kerry regretfully glanced at her plate. “Go on. What’s the problem?”
“There’s a new sales account, the International Cellular group?” The tech ventured. “Do you know about them.”
“Sure.” Kerry said.
“Okay, well, they were supposed to come live next week, but it turns out their stuff came early so they want to bring up the circuits into the network, but the change control’s not ready.”
Ah. Kerry leaned back and folded her arms, considering the issue. “Does Mark have the network provisioning ready?” She asked.
“He says he can have it.”
Ah. Kerry almost laughed. That meant everyone really wanted to help out their new customer, and no one wanted to stand on procedure – but no one wanted to cross her strict insistence on documented change control either.
Only Dar would casually do that, and often did. But to be fair, if anyone else asked Dar if they could do it, Dar sent them to Kerry. She reserved the right to bypass the rules for herself and Kerry had accepted that without much qualm, not only because Dar was her boss, but because she trusted her instincts. “Okay, you have my verbal to proceed, so long as Mark files the paperwork in the system and it comes up after business hours.”
“Right oh, ma’am.” The tech sounded happier. “Mark’s on the way to do that now. Thank you!”
“Anytime.” Kerry hung up the phone and went back for her fork, glad the issue had been simple.
“So who was that?” Angie asked.
Kerry held up her finger, and managed to get a mouthful of her breakfast. She patiently chewed it and swallowed. “Our operations center in Miami.” She said. “We put some new policies and procedures in place and they’re determined to stick by them.”
“So you really do run that place, huh?” Mike said.
Kerry nodded, but kept eating.
“She does.” Angie said. “I don’t know if mom googled you last night, but I did. Holy bananas, Kerry. You’re an executive vice president.”
“Uh huh.” Her sister nodded again.
“So, I have a question. “Angie leaned forward a little. “If you make what you do, and Dar makes what she does, and you live in a gillion dollar condo on some ritzy private island, and you own a boat, and a snazzy cabin in the Keys… why the heck do you cook for yourself and drive your own car?
Kerry stopped chewing and looked up at her, head tilted slightly to one side. After a second she hastily swallowed and picked up her coffee cup, washing her mouthful down. “Huh?”
“Yeah.” Mike had no such worries. He plowed through his pancakes as he talked. “How come you don’t have a half dozen people chasing after you holding your briefcase? I could be one of them.”
How come? Kerry was honestly perplexed, never having even considered anything remotely like it. “Well.” She said, after a long pause. “I like cooking, and I like driving. Why would I let someone else do it for me?”
She looked at her siblings, and they looked back at her, and she suddenly felt the gulf between them like it was a physical void. It was strange, and upsetting, since she’d grown up in this same type of home, in this same type of environment and yet living like her sister lived, like her mother lived, was as alien to her as winter had come to be.
“Huh.” Mike grunted. “I like people doing things for me. Who likes to do laundry and stuff? I’d rather have clean clothes appear like magic.”
“Me too.” Angie agreed. “If I didn’t have someone helping me with Andrew, I’d go crazy.”
Kerry sucked on her fork tines, then she shook her head. “I don’t have time in my life for that.” She said. ‘It’s way too complicated, dealing with people doing stuff for me. It’s a lot easier just to do it myself.”
Angie looked at the plate, and then she just chuckled and shrugged. “Well, no one can argue you know what you’re doing, sis. Whatever makes you happy.”
“Right on.” Mike agreed. “You can cook for me anytime.”
“Thanks.” Kerry went back to her breakfast, more than a little bemused. “Now can we shut up and eat?” She added. “Before I have to get up and cook it all over again?”
“Oo.. she’s the boss.”
Dar took advantage of being slightly behind Alastair to take a moment to pull her cuffs straight as they stood waiting to enter the sturdy oak doors to the conference room. She then put her hands together over her leather binder, shifting her shoulder a little under the weight of her laptop case as she listened to Alastair’s cheerful chatter with their hosts.
She was the only one with a laptop, naturally. The rest of the team with them were sales executives, who had thick leather portfolios clasped under their arms, dark suits, light shirts, classy ties and appropriately confident, but reserved expressions.
Like theirs, Dar’s business suit was a conservative charcoal grey, but that’s where the resemblance stopped. She was wearing a kneel length skirt and a creamy beige silk shirt, and her lapel was impudently decorated with a jewel encrusted microchip just to drive the point home that she wasn’t one of the front of the house boys.
Nerd. Dar licked her lips and hid a smile, straightening her shoulders as she heard the doors start to open, and the chatter died down.
“Well, here we go.” Alastair turned, glancing behind him as if to make sure Dar was there. “Ready, lady?”
Dar wrinkled her nose at him, and chuckled.
“Gentlemen.. “ The polite man opening the door paused. “Ah, and lady. Please come inside. Welcome.”
“That’s twice in sixty seconds.” Dar muttered, as she followed Alastair inside, the rest of the team deferring to her. She glanced around as she crossed the thick carpet, appreciating the high ceiling and expansive proportions of the conference room.
At the head of the table sat Sir Melthon Gilberthwaite, who was such a stereotypical Forties movie style British magnate Dar half suspected there was a film crew around somewhere. Seated next to him was Hans, who solemnly winked at Dar as their group entered.
“Ah, Sir Melthon.” Alastair advanced confidently. “It’s good to see you again.”
“McLean.” The magnate barked gruffly. “Good start. You lot showed up on time. I hate slackers, like this godson of mine.”
Hans smiled benignly.
Alastair reached the table and took Sir Melthon’s extended hand in a firm grip. “We try not to slack, though I have to tell you this time difference smacks the heck out of us.” He released the man’s hand and turned. “Let me introduce my team here.”
Dar stood quietly waiting, letting Alastair’s genial introductions of the sales team roll past her as she waited her turn, fairly sure that he would introduce her last as he usually did when they were in a group. She wasn’t sure if it was something to do with her being a woman, or just her being her, but she realized the magnate at the end of the table was waiting as well as he looked right at her the whole time.
“And of course, our Chief Information Officer, Dar Roberts.” Alastair concluded, turning to give Dar a nod. “The architect of our infrastructure.”
“Sir Melthon.” Dar inclined her head in response, meeting his eyes. “It’s good to meet you.”
The magnate stood up and walked around the table to where she was standing, shooing the others out of the way. He stopped in front of her, his head nearly but not quite even with hers, and put his hands on his hips. “You the git who kicked my godson in the rear?”
“I am.” Dar replied mildly, aware of Alastair’s widening eyes behind him.
“You’re one of those smart mouthed women, aren’t you?” Sir Melthon accused. “One of them who thinks they know everything?”
“Absolutely.” Dar agreed. “I wouldn’t be here otherwise. I don’t waste my time on small potatoes and two bit thinkers.” She could hear the air being sucked out of the room around her, and wondered if the two European sales managers were going to pass out right on the conference room floor. “I don’t think you do either.”
Sir Melthon grunted. “Hah.” He turned and went back to his chair. “What’s the world coming to, hah? Foreign women in my boardroom.Scandalous!” He looked at the rest of them. “Well, you idiots! Sit down! You think I’m going to talk to you getting a crook in my neck? Especially that smart mouthed woman! Sit!”’
Everyone hastily grabbed for a chair except for Dar, who meandered around to the other side of the table and set her laptop case down first before she took a seat in one of the comfortable leather chairs. “Nice.” She commented to Hans in German.
“It will get better. He likes you.” Hans advised her, in a low mutter. ‘I think perhaps he wants to take you to bed.”
Dar nodded, steepling her fingers as the sales team prepared their presentation. “Did you tell him I was married?”
“I did so.” Hans replied, in a regretful tone.
“To another woman?”
The German half shrugged. “Not so much.”
Dar chuckled under her breath and removed her laptop from it’s case, opening it and starting it up. “This is going to be a party I can tell already. He’s going to love it when Kerry gets here.”
Hans smiled and folded his hands over his stomach, beaming contentedly at the room.
“That it?” Kerry nudged the box she’d carried and lifted into the flatbed of the pickup into place. She stood up and dusted her hands off, glad she’d decided to keep her tank top on to work in as the afternoon sun warmed her skin.
“Ugh. I hope so.” Mike sat down on the tailgate of the truck. “That was hard work.”
“You carried three boxes.” Kerry took a seat on the edge of the truck side, resting her elbows on her knees and removing the pair of leather work gloves she’d put on. “Give me a break.”
Mike looked up at her. “Hey. We’re not all athletic like you are.” He swung his legs a little, watching his sister out of the corner of his eye as they waited for Angie to join them. As he’d expected, Kerry did in fact have visible muscles, but they weren’t the kind you saw on sports shows or in those freaky infomercials.
They were just there, along her arms and shoulders, just under the skin where you could see them move when she did. They didn’t look bad, he decided, and they didn’t look like a guys, either. But with her cropped hair they presented a picture of her that just didn’t match the one he’d held in his head for a very long time.
She leaned back and crossed her ankles, resting her hands on the truck side and tipping her head back to look up at the sky, and Mike felt suddenly that this was a person he really didn’t know that much about. “Hey Ker?”
“Hm?” She rolled her head to one side and looked at him. “Just kidding, Mike. I’m glad you showed up even if you didn’t carry a box. It’s good to see you.”
He grinned. “I was gonna say pretty much the same thing.” He said. “So much craps gone on the last couple of years, it’s been a bitch, you know?”
“I know.” Kerry agreed. “It’s been tough for me, all that stuff.”
“I’m glad I have Dar’s family around.” Kerry said, gazing at her work boots. “I don’t’ think I was ready to just not have anyone but me and her. I missed having people around me and her folks are amazing. They’re at our place now, dog sitting.”
“They seem really cool.” Mike agreed. “Dar’s mom scares me.”
Kerry chuckled. “She’s hilarious.” She said. “There’s so much of her in Dar, and neither of them will admit it. Dar looks just like her dad, but really, her wit’s just like her moms.”
Mike got up and climbed into the bed of the truck with her, sitting down next to Kerry on the side. “We had some fun before, though.” He said. “It wasn’t all bad, growing up together. I didn’t think so, anyway.”
“There were good times.” His sister said. “I had fun with you and Angie. I just wish we could have stayed like.. around ten. Once I started growing up is when things got weird.” She pondered the boxes around them. “I’m just really glad I didn’t figure out I was gay until I left home.”
“That didn’t go over really well.” Her brother agreed. “Was it weird for you?”
Kerry thought about those long, confusing days, and after a moment of silence, she nodded. “It was really hard.” She said. “For a while I wasn’t sure… I knew if I had to tell the folks it would be the end of me being a part of the family.” She paused. “I thought a lot about whether it was worth it.”
“Living.” Kerry answered briefly.
Mike turned and looked at her, with a shocked expression.
Kerry looked back at him. “You have no idea what it’s like.” She said. “Being hated that much for something you can’t change.”
Mike was silent for a minute. Then he nodded. “You’re right.” He said. “I have no idea what that’s like. I think… well, I know the folks thought you were just being stubborn, or rebelling or whatever.” He frowned. “It was like, why did you have to do that?”
“For a long time I didn’t.” Kerry said. “I just lived with knowing I was going to have to say something sometime but I was too scared to take the next step, until the day I met Dar.” She studied her hands, her thumb rubbing against her ring. “Then I knew I couldn’t pretend anymore. I had to fish or cut bait, as they say in the marina.”
“Ang and I felt.. “ Mike paused. “Well, we kind of felt like you picked Dar over us.”
Kerry glanced up at him. “Actually what I did was pick me over the rest of you.” She answered. “I decided my being happy was more important than my family, and you have no idea how much it hurt to have to make that choice.”
Mike was quiet for a few minutes. They both looked up hearing the house door close, and saw Angie making her way towards them with one last box. “I’m glad you picked you, Ker.” He said, in a serious tone. “You’re one of the few people I know who honest to God is happy.”
“Hey you two.” Angie thumped the box down. She was in jeans, and a sweatshirt. “That’s it. I’m over packing. Anything else goes to charity.” She pushed the box into the truck and sat down on the tail. “Jesus, what was I thinking keeping all that stuff?”
“Eh.” Kerry leaned back again, relaxing. “I have to admit, if I had to move now with all the toys and gear and what not Dar and I have, I probably would need to hire a moving company myself.” She said. “So are we ready to get this stuff over to mom’s? I need some time to get changed for the shindig tonight.”
“You going like that?” Angie pulled one knee up and wrapped her hands around it. “I have to bring the camera for mom’s face if you do.”
Kerry considered it, then a cool draft hit her between the shoulderblades and she looked up at the sun. “Nah.” She decided. “I’ll throw a sleeved shirt on. I’m going to freeze my ass off if I don’t and it’s not worth the freak out.” She got up and went to the other side of the truck, putting her hands on the side and vaulting over it to land with some grace on the other side.
“Okay, we’ll wait out here for you.” Angie agreed.
Kerry raised her hand and waved it as she trotted off towards the house, taking her gloves off and stuffing them in her belt as she went.
Angie leaned back against the wall of the truck and reviewed her pile of stuff. “Not that mom’s not going to freak out as it is, us pulling up in a pickup in jeans.” She remarked. “But what the hell. Kerry didn’t rebel until her late twenties, maybe it’s our turn.”
Mike eyed her dubiously. “You’re not going to get a tattoo are you?”
His sister gave him a look.
Kerry dropped into the swing in the solar, glad to get off her feet after a day of hauling boxes. She looked around at the quiet, glass lined room, the air rich with the scent of carefully tended plants around the borders of it.
It was quiet here, though she could hear voices through the door coming from the direction of the hall where she’d left her sister getting her things arranged in their new surroundings, though surely this house was almost as familiar to her as her own since she knew Angie spent a lot of time here.
Ah well. Kerry let her head rest against the chain holding the swing up, savoring the peace around her. She’d always loved the solar, and now as she leaned back and gazed around her, she allowed memories of scampering around hiding behind the plants surface in her mind’s eye.
It smelled so green, and there was so much for a small child to look at. Plants with their big leaves, and the rich potting soil, and the occasional ladybug to capture and watch.
She glanced back into one corner, where there were now rose bushes but where there once had been a stand of potted pines, clustered in a clump she’d learned to worm her way into and which had provided a haven for her whose Christmas tree scent she could remember still to this day.
She stretched her arms out along the back of the wooden bench seat, and rocked back and forth a little, looking up as she heard footsteps to see her mother approaching, and inwardly she bit off a curse, not really wanting to face an interaction with her at the moment.
“Ah, there you are, Kerrison.” Cynthia Stuart said. “My goodness, what a lot of work you children did.”
“It was.” Kerry had to agree, as her mother seated herself on the bench across from her. “But we ended up with a lot of stuff that can go to charity, and I think Angie’s happy to have her things the way she likes them.”
Her mother smiled. “I think so too.” She replied. “I have to say it will be nice to have at least one of you back in the house. It’s been so quiet.”
Kerry relaxed a trifle. “You should have seen us last night.” She said. “We ended up locking Mike in the truck and having a pillow fight in the living room. Sure you want that much excitement around?”
“Did you really?” Her mother asked. “My goodness, and you’re all grown up.”
“We’re still brothers and sisters.” A smile crossed Kerry’s face. “We had fun.”
“It certainly sounds like it.” Cynthia said. “I’m very glad you have had some time to spend with Angela and Michael. I know they have both missed you.”
“I’m glad too.” Kerry answered.
Her mother cleared her throat. “So you’re speaking at the reunion tonight?”
Kerry nodded. “They asked me to.” She said. “I wasn’t going to go.”
“Why not?” Her mother asked, in a mild tone. “After all, you were going to be here this week.”
“I just didn’t want to.” She’d gotten the invitation. Dar had even encouraged her to go, and had said she’d work around the Europe schedule to be there if Kerry wanted to, and wanted her there. “I don’t much like being the celebrity freak show, I guess.”
Her mother straightened. “Oh, but surely that’s not the… “ She paused, and frowned.
That, at least, made Kerry smiled, if only a bit wryly. “Anyway, I’ll do the speech then we’re going out to the pub for dinner.” She said. “So I guess we should get back to Angie’s old place so I can change.” She stood up, stretching her body out and reaching back to free her shortened hair from her polo shirt collar.
“Ah, yes of course.” Her mother said, rising hastily. “We thought perhaps we could all have brunch here tomorrow. Would that fit in your schedule?”
Kerry’s ears twitched. “Sure.” She answered, after a moment’s hesitation. “I think we’re done with packing. What time?”
Her mother looked pleased. “Eleven, I believe.” She said. “Just the family, really. I just want to get a chance to chat with all of you alone.”
Uh oh. Kerry nodded. “Sounds like fun.” She answered, reasoning that at least if they all were there, the subject could hardly be anything relating to her, personally. “Well, let me get going.” She eased past her mother and ducked under an errant limb, heading back into the hall where she could see her brother standing.
Urg. Kerry paused and turned, giving her mother a questioning look.
“I do like that haircut on you.” Cynthia said. “It frames your face very nicely.”
Kerry ran her fingers through the layers near her eyes and produced a brief grin. “Thanks. It got so hot this summer I had to get rid of some of it.” She said. “I like it, though. I may keep it this way.” She turned and slipped out of the door and back into the lit entryway, where Angie was now also waiting for her. “Hey. Ready to go?”
Angie glanced past her to see their mother emerging, then she gave her sister a wry look. “Ready if you are.” She slid her small clasp purse under her arm. “Mom, see you tomorrow.”
Cynthia waggled her fingers at them, as they stood together for a minute before the door. “So nice to see the three of you together. We must get some pictures at brunch.”
They got out the door, and Kerry realized a second later that not bringing a jacket wasn’t the brightest thing she’d ever done. The cool air blew right through her polo shirt, and she was really glad she’d decided against wearing the tank. “Brr.” She rubbed her arms with her hands. “Where’d the damn sun go?”
Mike snorted. “Boy did your blood thin.”
Kerry didn’t deny it. “Hey, it was 93 degrees when I left.” She protested. “I’m used to walking outside in a bathing suit in September.” She scooted ahead of them and unlocked the truck door, sliding inside and shutting it after her to block the wind.
Angie got in the passengers seat, laughing, and Mike slid in the jump seat also chuckling. “It must be so bizarre not to have winter.” Angie shut the door as Kerry started the engine. “I can’t imagine it”
“We have winter.” Kerry put the truck in gear and pulled around the big stately driveway. “We have at least two days where it drops below sixty. Dar and I make hot chocolate and wear our footie pajamas.” She turned and waited for the big iron gates to open, then she eased out onto the road, looking both ways first. “I don’t miss it. I like not having to think about putting layers of clothing on and being able to go swimming at midnight outside the whole year.”
“Do you? “ Mike poked his head over the seat. “Go swimming at midnight?”
Kerry had stopped at a traffic light, and now she turned and looked at him. “Yeah.” She admitted. “When we get home from work sometimes. Or in the ocean when we’re down at the cabin. We’ve got a little cove all to ourselves.”
“You guys swim naked?”
“MIKE!” Angie slapped him. “Of course they don’t!”
“Well, actually we do.” The light changed, and Kerry moved forward. “Sometimes.” She answered, smothering a grin as she heard Angie nearly swallow her tongue while her brother chortled with glee. “Rebellion has it’s good points, y’know.”
“Oh my god.”
The sales pitch over, it was time to get down to the real business.
“We understand that there are companies here with a lot more built out infrastructure.” Dar faced the room, holding the remote for her presentation laptop in her right hand. “So your question for us likely is, how in the hell are we going to support this application until we can catch up.”
Sir Melthon grunted.
“It’s a good question.” Dar clicked the control, and her laptop obediently responded with a lively, pulsing display, projected against a silver chased, insanely expensive screen set up at the far end of the table. It displayed a reasonably scaled diagram of their global network, long lines of green and blue tracing across the planet.
“Animated, eh. At least that’s more interesting than the last idiots.” Sir Melthon interrupted. “Bloody boring the lot of them. You put me to sleep, woman, and you can go sell your slides out on the street.”
“That’s live, isn’t it, Dar?” Alastair remarked from his seat next to Sir Melthon, drawing both the magnates attention and that of the two men on the other side of him that had been introduced as his business leaders for the project. “That screen there?”
“Live?” One of the men leaned forward. “Do you mean to say that’s showing a realtime view of something?” He looked around. “What the devil are you connected to?”
“It is.” Dar responded. “This is a reflection of the main operations console at our commercial headquarters in Miami, Florida.” She went on. “I have a cellular link up to our international gateway and we’re backhauling the signal from there.”
The man studied her. “Sorry, go on.” He murmured.
She reviewed the screen. “As you can see, we are very built out in North America, but we also have a significant presence in South America, India, Africa, and the Far East.”
The man got up and walked around to get closer to the screen.
“We do have a basic set of pipes in Europe.” Dar manipulated the control and a set of green lines grew brighter, across the European continent. “But since we size the infrastructure to the business, we haven’t upgraded the port speed to provide a high capacity full mesh. Yet.”
The man looked at her. “How long will it take you to do that?” He asked, sharply.
Dar studied the screen for a moment. “Two months.” She answered.
“That’s not possible.” The other man next to Sir Melthon said. “We know it isn’t, I’m not being a fly in the ointment here.” He said, as Dar turned towards him. “We did a study to put our own network in. It would take over a year, and that’s why we’re looking to outsource.”
“Two months. “Dar repeated, unmoved. “We have a certain degree of leverage.”
The man looked at Sir Melthon, and shook his head.
“McLean, is this rot?” Melthon turned his head and peered at Alistair. “I don’t need a load of hot air. I have a wife for that.”
Alastair didn’t turn a hair. “Nah.” He said. “If Dar says two months, it’s two months, and probably earlier.” He said. “She rebuilt an entire networking center in one night, y’know. Reliable as the day is long.”
The magnate snorted. “You willing to lay a bet on that?” He asked. “You do it in time or the whole deal’s off, how’s that for a bet?”
“Sure.” The genial Texan didn’t so much as glance at Dar. “But I’ll tell you what, we do it in two months, and you toss in a contract for the rest of your network. How’s that for a bet?”
Dar stood quietly waiting, gaining an new appreciate for her bosses always surprising wheeling and dealing side she didn’t get to see very often. Usually she was pulling Alastair’s ass out of the fire, this time, they were both playing a somewhat dangerous game of poker that was making the sales reps eyes bug out.
Sir Melthon studied the gray haired man sitting next to him, his hands resting relaxed on the table.
“Sir.” The man next to him murmured. “This sounds dangerous.”
“Hah!” The magnate barked suddenly. “Damn straight it does.” He turned to Dar. “Well, smart mouthed woman, get to talking. We’ve got a bet on.” He held a hand out to Alastair. “Good enough for you, McLean?”
“Absolutely.” Alastair took his hand and gripped it firmly. “Dar? You were saying?”
Everyone turned back to Dar, and she collected her train of thought, looking back at the screen. “As I was saying, the question is, how do we support this project until I can upgrade those pipes.” She illuminated two other lines, a pulsing blue one that landed in London, and another in Germany, with a heavy tracing of smaller, green lines between them. “Here’s how.”
“Wait.” The man still standing near the screen held up a hand. “This is our premier product. We can’t rely on a single line back to the States. What if it goes down? Even for.. ah.. two months?” His voice expressed extreme doubt.
Dar walked over to her laptop and put the control down, trading it for her keyboard which she studied for a moment before she started typing in it. “Here’s the average response time across that circuit to our London hub.” She enhanced the display, showing the statistics of the two links. “Here’s what happens when it goes down.” She executed a few keystrokes, and the blue line landing in London went dark.
“B..” One of their own sales reps started to stand up.
The rest of the map fluttered, then the pulsing settled down, the link into Germany growing brighter, and the lacing of green lines expanding to take up the slack. The response time counter, in it’s small box, remained steady.
Dar let the silence go on for a moment, then she smiled. “I like to sleep at night.” She reopened the link and it surged back into place, the map giving that little flutter again. She glanced over at Sir Melthon, catching him with his jaw just slightly open. He scowled at her and shut his mouth with a click. “So our proposal is that we will support your infrastructure from our Miami offices until a local hub is in place.”
“With local staff?” The man near the screen rallied weakly.
“Of course.” Alastair said. “Do you know how much it costs to relocate people from Oklahoma?” He chuckled. “I’ve told the boys here to get ready to move fast, and bring in as many good people as they can find.”
“We’re expecting to start up a support center with at least one hundred people.” David spoke up. “And Francois here is handling the logistics and distribution facility near Nantes.”
The men looked at Francois, who merely nodded, keeping his fingers pressed against his lip.
“Hah.” Sir Melthon barked again. “What a pack of smart alecks you lot are.” He turned to Alastair. “Lunch. Then we’ll get down to pen and paper. I’ve had enough egghead chatter for the morning.” He stood up and headed for the door, clearly expecting them to follow.
Dar chuckled and went to her laptop to shut it down. “You know what this business is like sometimes Hans?”
“Pig’s tail soup.” He answered succinctly. “But he does like you, that I am sure.” He reassured her. “It is mostly an act, yes? That Lord of the British empire loudness.”
Dar closed the lid on the machine. “Wait until he sees Alastair’s contract terms. “ She advised him. “That’s mostly an act too, that Texas good old boy stuff. “
“Ah.” Hans got up and joined her as they walked to the door, the last to exit the room. “So it seems with the big shots acting, the truth of the situation then depends on you.”
Dar held the door and smiled. “We’ll soon find out.”
“That we will.”