Kerry settled back in her seat and watched a loaded boat drift by, with two giggling girls in the front and two necking teenagers in the back. She found herself wondering if they were all related, and it reminded her somehow of her much younger years.
They’d never gone to Disney World, but they had gone to a couple of smaller thrill parks up north, usually with some of her father’s staff to keep an eye on them. Kerry remembered one such afternoon, in the fall, when the crisp air had made everything seem bright and fresh to her. She and Angie had shared a fried dough pastry covered in white powdered sugar, and she’d finally coaxed her sister to come with her on the tall roller coaster.
Angie hadn’t enjoyed it at all, she recalled ruefully. She’d ridden the coaster again by herself, but somehow it wasn’t the same and by the next year… Kerry dismissed the thought and shook her head, taking a sip of her beer instead.
Dar would go on roller coasters with her, and enjoy them, wouldn’t she? “Dar?”
“How do you feel about thrill rides?”
“Yes.” Her partner responded instantly. “They don’t have enough of them here.”
“Heh.” Kerry took another sip of her beer and smirked. “We should try Universal next time. They’ve got some killer coasters.”
“You got it.”
Just the answer she wanted to hear. Kerry exhaled in satisfaction, casting her eyes around their surroundings with an agreeable smile.
They were inside the Mexican pavilion, where the air was cool and dry, and the lighting a perpetual twilight. It was calm and peaceful, and the scent of Mexican spices filled the air. The restaurant was only half full, and they had a table in the corner with a good view of the ‘river’ all to themselves.
It was nice. Kerry crossed her denim covered ankles under the table, glad beyond words she was out of her suit and into the jeans and light t-shirt she was currently wearing.
She’d noticed a tendency in herself lately to have less and less affection for the formal business clothing they wore at the office, and at functions like this. Though she never had minded dressing up, and she was self aware enough to acknowledge the vanity of liking how she looked in the neatly tailored fabric, she’d found herself looking forward to shedding them at the end of the day in favor of the softer cottons and denim they both favored at home.
Kerry let her hand rest on her thigh, smoothing her thumb over the faded blue surface with an absent smile.
Across the table from her, similarly attired, Dar was studying the menu with half closed blue eyes. “Hey.” She interrupted her companion’s ruminations again.
“Mm?” Dar looked past the writing at her. “Are you as glad as I am that’s over?”
Kerry grinned wholeheartedly. “You bet, Dixiecup.” She lifted her beer, waited for Dar to do the same, then touched her glass to her partner’s. “Here’s to a sort of successful trade show.”
Dar took a long swallow before she set her mug down. “I think it was successful.” She tendered her opinion thoughtfully. “For the company. For us it was just one huge pain in the ass.”
“Except the dive.” Kerry reminded her. “And that first day. That was fun.”
“And tonight.” Kerry reached across the table and fit her fingers around Dar’s, giving them a gentle squeeze. “And you know, last night was pretty cool too.”
A twinkle grew in Dar’s eyes.
“So really, it was just the sixteen whatever hours we had to spend in that hall that tanked.” Kerry concluded. “And since it’s tonight, and I know tonight’s gonna be great, to hell with it.” She glanced up as their waiter arrived, giving them both a smile. “Hi.”
“Buenas Noches, Senorita.” The boy greeted her cheerfully. “What can I get for you lovely ladies this evening?”
“Two of these, two of these, and one of this.” Dar pointed at her menu. “And two more of these in a few minutes.” She indicated the beer.
“Got it, thank you.” The waiter took the menu and disappeared.
Dar stretched in her chair, then slid down, extending her long legs under the table. She cradled her mug in her hands, sipping slowly at it as she watched the restaurant fill at a very leisurely pace. Few families, she noted, more couples who seemed to be enjoying the low light, and the pavilion’s romantic atmosphere.
She tilted her head slightly and let Kerry come into her line of sight, admiring the nice gilded tinge the warm illumination brought to her skin. Her partner’s attention was still on the river, so she had a few peaceful moments to simply look at her, and enjoy the view.
Kerry must have sensed it, one hand coming up to fiddle with her hair and riffle it back over her ear on the side facing Dar. It was an endearing bit of self consciousness, and Dar responded to it by dropping her hand beneath the table and finding Kerry’s knee to give a light squeeze.
Her partner turned her head and rested her chin on her fist. “Will you ride on the boat with me after dinner?” She asked.
“If we sit in the back seat.” Dar drawled. “Sure.”
Kerry grinned. “You know, I was just thinking about the last time we were here.”
“Mm.. that food festival was a blast.”
“I had so much fun.” Kerry said. “I hadn’t had that much fun with anyone for years, Dar. Years.” She flexed the fingers of her free hand in front of her, the light catching on the ring on her finger. They’d both suddenly found themselves wearing them, after keeping them on neck chains for so long, and neither of them had really discussed why yet.
Just one morning, she’d put hers on, and later on that day, when she’d been in a meeting with Dar she’d looked up across the conference table and caught the flash as she moved her papers. Weird. Synergistic in a way she didn’t quite understand, but somehow also very comforting.
Maybe they’d find time later to talk about it.
“Years? Me either.” Dar replied. “I remember sitting at the Pub looking across the table at you halfway through dinner, and realizing I just never wanted to leave that day.”
Dar nodded. “Remember when we were talking about IPv6?”
Kerry chuckled. “Yes.”
“I think I fell in love with you right then.” Dar smiled easily, laughing when she saw the blush creep up Kerry’s neck. “No, that’s not really true.”
“No.” Dar rested her head against her fist. “I did that when I saw you the very first time, in that old office of yours.” She admitted. “There I was, standing in that doorway, just staring at you like I’d just seen my first multipartitioned disk array.”
Kerry indulged in the memory willingly. “I remember that moment.” She murmured. “I remember it being just such a lousy day… after Robert had told me what was going on, and with all those people looking at me.. depending on me to protect them.” Her lips parted as a sigh trickled out. “And it was just a lousy day for me anyway.. I’d talked to my parents the night before, and they’d put all kinds of pressure on me to get out of Miami.”
“Mm.” The blond woman nodded wryly. “Then the whole office gang went to lunch that day, and invited me to go along. I really wanted to, but I stayed there with my carrots instead.”
“And met me.”
“And met you.” Kerry agreed. “No matter how nasty that was, boy… let me tell you, I knew something happened to me the minute I picked my head up and looked into those baby blues. You were the only thing I thought about for the rest of that day.” She reached over and tangled her fingers with Dar’s again. “My heart jumped every time I saw an email from you come into my inbox.”
Dar smiled at her.
Kerry smiled back, and they both dissolved into silent laughter. “We’re a couple of mooney saps, you know that?”
“Yeah.” Dar admitted. “But I don’t give a damn.”
“Me, either.” Kerry straightened up as the waiter returned, putting down the appetizers Dar had ordered them. She handed over her now empty mug, and settled her napkin on her lap neatly as she surveyed the tasty plate of nachos and other small Mexican treats. “Mm. Looks good.”
Dar selected a morsel and nibbled it. “Couple things I forgot to tell you before we left.”
Kerry looked up from a piled high nacho, caught halfway into a bite. Her eyebrows did the talking for her, rising up sharply in question.
“Ah.” Kerry swallowed and wiped her lips with her napkin. “Is he mad?”
Dar shook her head. “No.” She toyed with the tortilla in her fingers. “Well, he was, but after I talked to him for a while he chilled out. But.. um…”
Uh oh. Kerry could see the fidgets already starting. “What’s up?”
Her partner set the chip down and leaned back, resting her hands on the chair arms. “I told him about the ship bid.” She said, pausing when the waiter returned with two frosty mugs for them. He set the glasses down and gave them both inquiring looks.
“Everything okay here, ladies?”
“Just fine, thanks.” Kerry almost sat on her hands to prevent herself from shooeing him away. She waited for him to leave, then scooted her chair closer to Dar. “And?”
“He wants me… wants us, to personally do the bid.”
Kerry blinked. She looked around at the restaurant, then focused back on her partner’s angular face. “Yeeeah… and? That’s a problem? We were going to do that anyway.”
“Right.” Dar agreed. “It’s not a problem… but he pretty much told me he expects me to deliver the contract, no matter what.”
Kerry sat back and drew one knee up, circling it with her arms as she puzzled the statement out. “Okay.” She finally said. “And this is news, either? Dar, he always expects miracles from you.” A crease formed across her brow. “You think it’s going to be an issue?”
Dar took a sip of her beer. “Not really, no.”
Her companion rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Okay, so what’s the problem, sweetheart??” She asked, in a soft voice. “If that’s not the problem, what is?”
“I got recruited.” The dark haired woman leaned closer, and lowered her voice.
“Again? Jesus! I thought we told that guy to back off, and Michelle said…” Kerry straightened indignantly.
“Not by Telegenics.”
“By the army.”
Kerry’s jaw dropped slightly. “The army?” She repeated. “As in…the U.S Army? They want us to bid for something?”
With an expression a mix of consternation and embarrassment, Dar shook her head. “No. They want me.” She poked her thumb at her own chest. “As in… enlisting.”
“In the Army?” The blond woman goggled at her. “Like.. boot camp and everything?”
Kerry covered her eyes immediately . “Oh, my god.” She peeked through her fingers at her partner. “You have got to be kidding me.” She watched Dar shake her head solemnly. “What did you tell them? When did this happen, Dar? Where was I? I was with you most of the afternoon.. what did they do, follow you into the bathroom or something?”
Dar settled back again, at last allowing a wry chuckle to emerge. After she’d gotten over the shock of the whole damn thing, it had been sort of funny. “I told them no.” She exhaled. “But he was pretty insistent. Made me take his card, and said he’d be in touch. They’ve got some kind of project they’re looking for high level engineers for.”
“You were talking to the guys.” Dar went on. “Maybe I can talk him into an outsource. He talked like it was happening right now, though.” She mused.
“Ah.” Kerry picked up a chip and examined it, then munched it thoughtfully. She swallowed, washing down her mouthful with a sip of beer as she pondered. “Right now as in the same timing as the ship deal.”
“So that’s the problem.” The blond woman picked up another chip. “Was he pissed off when you said no?”
A shrug. “Damned if I cared about that… the hell if he thought I’d even consider it.”
Kerry leaned over and offered Dar a nacho, smiling a little as her partner took it from her fingers with a delicate grace. “Of course not. Did he really expect you to just drop everything.. your job, your life.. and just join the Army? That’s insane, Dar.”
“You got that right.” Dar licked her lips. “What in the hell would I say to my *father*?? He forgave me being a rebel, forgave me being gay, and forgave me becoming a yuppy. ” She shuddered. “He’d never forgive me for *that*.”
Kerry dissolved into snickers, covering her mouth hastily.
“Chase my butt down and spank me till I sang Dixie.” Dar muttered, shaking her head. She leaned back as the waiter returned with a tray, setting down their main courses. “Never hear the end of it, for damn sure.”
She watched Kerry drop her face into her hand, her shoulders shaking in silent laughter and after a moment, she relaxed and accepted the absurdity of it all. ‘What a freaking day.”
What a day. Kerry let her laughter run down, and then she picked her mug up and extended it, clinking it against Dar’s. “Save it for tomorrow. Whatever happens, we’ll just make it work, you and I.” She let a smile emerge, looking right into Dar’s eyes as she said the last few words. “We can do anything.”
It was just what she wanted to hear. Dar felt a tension she hadn’t even really been aware of slip from her shoulders as she responded to the toast, putting the new problems away for the time being. “Tonight’s for us.” She agreed quietly.
“For us.” Kerry repeated, clinking her glass a third time. “To us.”
A strolling guitarist strolled up behind them, strumming a wordlessly romantic tune as the river took yet another set of lovers anonymously downstream.
Kerry licked the last taste of chocolate off her lips as they strolled around the lake towards the park’s entrance. The last firework had gone off overhead, and now the crowds were dispersing, the shops closing up and the park going quiet for the night.
She fit her hand into Dar’s as they walked, enjoying the warm comfort as her partner’s fingers closed around hers. “Too damn short a trip again.”
“Mm.” Dar had been humming under her breath. Now she turned her head towards Kerry. “Here, you mean?”
“Uh huh. I want a few more days to play at the water parks, and ride Space Mountain, and go to the Animal Kingdom… there’s just so much we didn’t get to do.” Kerry griped mournfully. “We spent too much time being stressed and aggravated by those jerks.”
“Well.” Dar tipped her head back, regarding the few, thick clouds drifting over the stars. “We’ve still got tomorrow. We’ve got the car, and no schedule to stick to.” She replied. “I have to get the official bid proposal from Mr. Skunk, but other than that, I’m all yours.”
Kerry grinned in pure reaction. “Hmm… that’s okay I guess.”
“You guess?” Dar laughed.
“I want more.” Her partner said. “I want to spend a week with you here just playing.”
“Ahhh.” Dar released Kerry’s hand, and draped her arm over the smaller woman’s shoulders instead. “That sounds pretty damn good to me, Kerrison. Tell you what. Let’s put that on the schedule for a couple months from now.”
“Right after Thanksgiving. We’ll come up here for two weeks, and do it right.” Dar promised. “They’ll have the Christmas lights up.. it’s gorgeous.”
“Yeah?” Kerry was willing to be persuaded.
“And not as hot.”
Despite the evening’s slight breeze, and her light clothing, Kerry was sweating like a pig, and she acknowledged that her wise, Floridian partner might have a point. “Wweeelll…”
“We can make the most of the time we have tomorrow.” Dar continued. “We’ll leave right from the park as they close… make it home by midnight or so. Okay?”
There was a note in Dar’s voice that caught Kerry’s ear. “Sure.” She curled her arm around Dar’s waist. “I was sort of kidding, y’know. I do want to spend time with you here, but I know we’ve got work to do.” Despite the night’s warmth, the contact felt good. “I was just teasing.”
Dar grunted softly, but didn’t answer.
“Christmastime will be really pretty.” Kerry fished a little. “Have you been here then before?”
They rounded the edge of the World Showcase, and started through the passage towards the park entrance before Dar spoke up again. “I’m glad you like it here.” She ventured. “I used to think I was being.. ahm….” Her shoulders hunched a little in an embarrassed shrug. “Childish for liking it as much as I do.”
Kerry leaned against her, depending on Dar’s sense of direction to keep them both from heading off into a bush. She’d had three beers, and though she wasn’t drunk, there was a layer of pleasant fuzziness between her and the ground. “Shoot.” She gestured at the thinning crowd around them. “Half the people here don’t have kids as an excuse to be here, Dar. Everyone loves this place. It’s a cultural imperative.”
“Mm. Yeah.” Her companion sighed. “I guess you’re right.”
“Hang on.” Kerry steered them both towards a still open wagon. “I need some of that.” She pulled Dar to a halt outside the coffee booth and held up two fingers to the attendant. “You want some too, right?”
“Sure.” Dar merely draped herself over Kerry, resting her chin on the top of her partner’s head. “It’s been a long day.” Her eyes lifted to study the woman getting their coffee, noting the brief grin she gave the two of them while the cups were filling. “Bet it’s a longer day for you, huh?”
“Aren’t they all?” The attendant replied wryly. “I think the ones in summer last at least 48 hours.” She sprinkled some powdered chocolate on the top of their drinks and set them down. “But, on the other hand, it’s not so busy. So..”
“Yeah.” Kerry handed over some cash. “It’s got it’s trade offs. Mine included going on Test Track twice.” She grinned impishly. “Worth the sweat.”
“Yeah, but you’re not wearing polyester.” The woman grinned back. “But it could be worse – give me cart vending any day over being a character.” She said. “My friend just got done being Goofy for the day, and he was too tired to even drive home.”
“All relative.” Dar commented.
“Yeah.” The woman agreed. “This job’s pretty cool. I get to see people all day, not like my mom. She works in accounting over at the main building. All she sees is cubicle walls.” She leaned on the counter. “My partner, on the other hand, is really into being one of the landscaping people. Snip snip.”
Partner. Kerry had always liked that term, and remembered the first time Dar had referred to her that way with great fondness.
South Beach. Kerry gazed around her in mild bemusement, watching the crowds saunter past the small table she and Dar were sitting at. They drew looks in return, casually appraising and she found herself more than a little self conscious there in the midst of all the trendies and tourists.
Even the always collected Dar seemed a little wary, her pale blue eyes hidden behind silvered shades as she hitched one denim covered knee up and rested an elbow on it, her sleeveless polo exposing her muscular arms to the sun.
Kerry dusted a bit of pigeon down off her neatly pressed cotton short sleeved shirt and sat a little straighter. “You get down here much?” She inquired, still a little shy in their new relationship. “It’s sort of fun.”
“Eh.” Dar fiddled with the spoon resting on her coffee plate. “Not really. It’s okay, I guess. I used to hang out nearby, way back when.” She gave the passing crowds a cursory glance.
Dar’s face scrunched up a bit. “In my wilder days.” She explained. “When I first figured out what side of the street I was walking on.”
Kerry rested her chin on her fist. “You mean when you figured out you were gay?”
The dark eyebrows twitched. “Ah, yeah.”
“But not now?”
A sigh. “No. I’m not much into the whole gay scene.” Dar said. “I keep a pretty low profile.”
Was Dar as ambivalent about that as she sounded? Kerry wondered. She watched several more conventional couples go by, holding hands and laughing. It made her think about home, and Brian, and the times they’d just gone out together with a group of their friends somewhere.
It was different, when you were gay, wasn’t it? In places like South Beach, you could get away with that. But not other places. Kerry felt a little pang of irrational loss, as she remembered just how normal she’d felt in a restaurant or hanging out in the mall with Brian. If he’d put his arm around her, or they’d held hands, no one looked twice.
If she took Dar’s hand, people would look twice, Kerry realized. Better they stay, as Dar had said, low profile. No sense in sticking out.
Ah well. She looked over and studied Dar’s face instead, contenting herself with the knowledge that she’d found something very special here, regardless of how the rest of the world looked at it. So what if she never got to throw a bouquet?
Kerry looked up to see a man and a woman approaching them. They were nicely dressed, and middle aged, and appeared pleased to see her companion.
“Hello, Marge; Charlie.” Dar gestured towards the two empty chairs at their table. “Have a seat.”
Kerry sat quietly as they came over and sat down, wondering briefly who they were.
“How are you, Dar? Haven’t seen you in years. You haven’t changed much.” Charlie said, with an easy grin. “Has she, Marge?”
“Not at all.” The woman agreed. “That should make you feel good, Charlie, since you taught her in high school.”
Oh. Ugh. Teachers. Kerry folded her hands on the table and imagined them meeting some of hers back home.
Yikes. She could picture them all staring at Dar with those disapproving eyes, as she introduced her.. friend?
Hm. How did you go about introducing your significant other, if you were gay? As your girlfriend? Kerry’s brow creased. Your lover, and have to die from embarrassment no matter how true it was?
“I’m doing damn fine, for a change.” Dar answered. “Kerry, this is Charlie, my high school math teacher, and his wife Marge. Guys, this is Kerry Stuart.”
“Hi.” Kerry gave them both a polite smile.
“Kerry’s my partner.” Dar went on without missing a beat. “She’s from Michigan.”
Partner?? Caught by honest surprise, Kerry could only blink for a long moment, looking into the faces of these normal, ordinary middle aged people and wondering what on earth they were thinking of her.
“Michigan, eh?” Charlie chuckled. “Boy, are you a long way from home. I’ve got a cousin in Detroit I’ve been trying to get to move here for twenty years.”
“Where in Michigan, Kerry?” Marge asked. “Have you two been together long?”
And then again, Kerry let out the breath she’d been holding, sometimes you find acceptance in the places you least expect it. “No, not very long.” She managed to get out. “And, um… Saugatuck, actually, but I..” Without really thinking, she found herself reaching out for, of all things, Dar’s hand. “I think I’m a lot more at home here than I ever was there.”
Dar’s fingers closed over hers and gave them a squeeze, punctuating the statement quite nicely.
Partner. Kerry squeezed back, feeling her doubts dissolve into the late afternoon sunshine. Yeah.
“Ker?” Dar gave her a nudge. “Sleeping already?”
Kerry wound her arm around Dar’s waist, and bumped her back. “Nope. C’mon, partner.” She picked up her coffee and saluted the attendant with it. “Thanks. Have a great night.” She added, as they turned to continue on their way. “I know I will.”
Dar’s laughter melded with the music, confirming the night’s magic and leaving tomorrow’s problems for yet another day.
It was the dawn of the day after that, as they headed off to work, once again back in Miami.
Dar whistled softly under her breath as she turned onto the causeway. The early morning sun was pouring through the tinted windows, and she was very glad she’d already put in her sunglasses. “How’s your back feeling?” She asked her companion.
“Ugh.” Kerry had her eyes closed against the glare. “I wish I didn’t have clothes on.”
Her partner made a small, snickering noise. “I could go for that.” She agreed solemnly. “Told you not to fall asleep before dinner yesterday.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Kerry waved a hand at her, wincing as the motion caused a pang from her sunburned shoulders. “It was four o-clock, Dar. Jesus, the sun should have been down by then.” She pointed at her companion. “And you could have woken me up, you little rat fink.”
“Chitter.” Dar made a face, baring her teeth. “I was out doing your shopping, remember?”
“Ermf.” Kerry rested her chin on her fist and watched the palm trees go by as Dar skillfully negotiated the morning causeway traffic. “Eh, I had fun anyway.” She conceded.
“Me, too.” Dar drummed her fingers on the steering wheel lightly. “Damn, I’m tired though.” She admitted. “Late night last night.”
“Early morning this morning.” Kerry countered. “Two hours sleep isn’t much to start the day on.” She poked Dar in the ribs. “Are we getting too old for all nighters?”
Dar turned into their office parking lot, dodging a delivery truck and scooting the Lexus into a spot near the front of the building. “Depends on what we’re doing all night.” She gave Kerry a saucy grin. “You could have slept on the way home.”
Kerry popped the door open and slid carefully out, shrugging carefully into her jacket before she took hold of her briefcase by its handle and shut the door. She pushed her sunglasses higher on her nose as she circled the front of the car and joined Dar for the short walk to the building entrance.
Yeah, she could have slept. She agreed silently, falling in step next to the taller woman. But it had been more fun to force herself to come up with games to keep them both alert for the long, dark drive home in the small hours of the morning.
They’d meant to leave after dinner, but the lure of the parks had gotten the better of them and they’d ended up closing the place and stopping for ice cream on top of it. They had left after midnight, trading their night of fun for going to work mostly without any rest.
But it had been worth it, Kerry decided. So what if she’d need six cups of Cuban coffee to make it through lunch? She’d gotten the quality play time with Dar she’d craved, enough to hold her for a little while, anyway. “Morning, John.” She greeted the security guard at the door.
“Morning, ma’am’s.” The guard replied courteously. “Have a great day.”
“Do our best.” Dar muttered, taking her sunglasses off.
The building’s air conditioning was welcome as they entered and headed for the elevators. It was early, and the lobby was still quiet as they headed up, alone in the car as they rode to the fourteenth floor. Kerry stifled a yawn as the doors opened and she stood back to let Dar out first.
They walked down the hall in companionable silence, Dar giving her a pat on the side as they reached Kerry’s office. “Take it easy today.” The dark haired woman said. “If you feel like you need a nap, lock the door and tell Mayte to forward your phones to me.”
Kerry gave her boss an affectionate look. “Only if you promise to do the same.” She answered. “You’re the one who had to drive all night.” She slipped inside the outer door to her office and winked at Dar before she disappeared.
“Mmph.” Dar regarded the polished wood with a bemused grin, before she continued down the hallway to her own office in the corner. “Morning, Maria.’ She greeted her assistant, already at work behind her desk.
Maria looked up in mild surprise. “Buenas Dias, Dar.” She responded. “I did not expect you here today!”
Dar paused on her way to her inner door. “You didn’t?” She frowned. “I did say I’d be back after the trade show, didn’t I?”
“Si, si.” Maria agreed readily. “But I have this notice here that your airplane tickets were canceled, and so I thought perhaps you and Kerrisita were staying for more time.” She held up the slip of paper. “I know Kerrisita likes very much the Disney World.”
“Oh.” Dar relaxed. “Yeah, we got… “ Her nostrils flared slightly. “I mean, we decided to drive up instead of flying. We drove back last night.” She turned and pushed her door open. “Really late last night.”
“Would you like some cafecita, Dar?” Maria called after her knowingly.
“A bucket of it.” Dar dropped into her chair and gave her trackball a roll. “Maybe if I stick my head in and gargle, I’ll last through the sales conference call at ten.” She booted the machine under her desk and leaned back waiting for it to come up.
Pleas for coffee to the contrary, she really didn’t feel that bad. Dar mused, as she removed a folder from her briefcase and laid it open on her desk. Inside was the bid proposal, which she’d taken and stuffed away the prior morning after a brief meeting with Peter Quest.
It was a relatively hefty document, and now she opened the first page, creasing it back to hold it open and reviewing the cover page.
Her PC came up and bleated for her attention. Dar pulled her keyboard over and signed in, rattling in her thirty two character password without hesitation. The machine obediently logged in, but Dar drummed her fingers on the desk, recalling the conversations she’d had at the trade show regarding security.
She punched a button on her phone. After two rings, it answered.
“Computer Center, M… oh, hi boss.” Mark’s voice came through the phone over the ever present rattling of keys. “What’s up? When’d you get back?”
“Couple hours ago.” Dar replied. “Tell me again why we don’t have biometric security yet?” She asked, opening her mail program and scanning the dark lines as they began to appear.
“It occurred to me while I was sitting here completely wasted typing in my password that if I got smashed and gave it to someone, I could blow the entire company.” Dar said. “Fix it.”
“G’bye.” Dar hung up the phone and propped her head up on her fist. Most everyone knew she’d been at the trade show, but she had a mailbox full of notes anyway and she clicked on her flagged column to sort them by urgency.
Then she selected all the urgent flagged ones and deleted them. “If you’re stupid enough to send an urgent email to someone who has an out of office notification on, you’re too stupid for me to answer you.” Dar announced to the screen. “Next?” She clicked on the first non-flagged note and opened it, then turned her attention back to the opening page in the bid form.
Scanning the first few lines, she opened her desk drawer and removed the fish food, opening it and pinching out some flakes, then sprinkling them into her fighting fish tank on the far side of the desk. “How are you guys, huh?” She spared the fish a glance as they gobbled their breakfast. “Wonder what it would be like swimming in a tank full of you?”
The red fish blew a bubble at her. Dar gave it an indulgent grin, then went back to her papers. It wasn’t the original fish, of course. She’d gone through two changes of them since that first visit to the pet store when she’d allowed herself to be coerced into giving them a home on her desk. But she’d gotten used to them and now she enjoyed having them there to give her something to look at between tasks.
She’d actually paused to look at a snake the last time they’d been in Petsmart, intrigued by it’s colors, but had suffered herself to be dragged outside swiftly by Kerry before she could consider adding it to her desktop knick knacks.
Ah well. Dar glanced up at her screen and deleted the first message, going on to the second one before she continued reading the bid. Maybe she should start small, with a gecko. She pulled her keyboard over and hit reply, glancing at her screen as she typed a response to the mail while she continued to scan the bid contract.
The terms were pretty straightforward. Dar hit send, then studied the next mail for a second, before simply deleting it. “Nitbrain.” She glanced up as the door opened, her nose twitching at the scent of fresh Cuban coffee. “Ah.”
Maria brought the small, silver tray over and set it down, then placed the tiny china cup before Dar. She also put down a saucer on the edge of the desk, and balanced a small pot on top of it. “I brought the extra, Dar. They did not have the buckets.”
“Thanks.” Dar lifted the cup and sipped it. She eyed the tray, which also had a plate full of delicate, flaky pastries on it. “Those for me too?”
“Si, of course.” Maria’s eyes twinkled. “Did you have a good time, Dar? I saw Kerrisita downstairs and I think that you did.”
Now what, Dar wondered, did she mean by that? She rocked back in her chair and sipped her coffee to give herself a moment to consider, studying Maria’s face as she did so. Her assistant’s expression was open and warm, however. “Sure.” Dar answered. “We had a decent show, and Kerry and I got to spend some time out in the parks. How bad could it have been?”
Maria slid the plate of pastries over. “Everyone here was speaking of the interviews about you.”
Dar indicated the chair across from her desk. “Were they? I know I kicked some booty that first day.” She admitted, with a grin. “But I think it all worked out… did we look okay on tv?”
Her assistant grinned, and removed an envelope from under one arm, extending it towards Dar. “This was from the television program that was on from there. I watched it with my family. We were very proud of you and Kerrisita, Dar. You were wonderful.”
Dar set her cup down and stood, reaching over and retrieving the envelope. She opened it and removed an 8 by 10 photo, setting it down on her desk to examine it. “Huh.”
It was a shot of their booth, Kerry sitting at the console giving her presentation and caught in the act of looking right at the camera with an appealingly sweet intensity. Dar had been perched behind her, and in the shot, she was also looking right at the lens, her arms folded and her attitude one of intimidating protection. “Don’t I look scary.” She mused.
“No, Dar, you look very pretty!” Maria objected.
“I was trying to be scary.” Dar glanced up from the photo. “There were a couple people there who weren’t friends.” She was a little surprised that Maria hadn’t heard. “The company who’s been moving in on us in the Southeast… Telegenics?”
“Ah.” Maria frowned. “I have heard their name, yes.”
“It’s run by Michelle Graver, and.. um..” Dar exhaled. “Shari.”
Maria blinked in honest surprise. “No, Dar, not that woman?” She gasped. “I cannot believe it. Is it true? After this long, to have her come back and bother you?” She clasped her hands together. “Never have I disliked a person so as I did that woman.”
Maria had just become her assistant, as Dar had just become a regional manager when Shari had come back into her life the first time. She had taken the brunt of Shari’s caustic comments when she’d discovered who was integrating their account. “Yeah, well.” Dar shrugged. “Kerry and I took care of them. But it got ugly a few times.”
“Yeah.” Dar studied the picture. “She got lucky. I thought Kerry was going to beat her over the head with a Pentium III.” She looked up at Maria. “In a way, it almost felt good to see her.”
Maria gazed at her. “Because you are happy now.” She murmured.
“Mhmm.” Dar nodded. “I am. Damned if it didn’t burn her.” A rakish grin appeared. “We’re competing with them on this.” She indicated the folder she was reading. “Something that came up during the show.”
“A good thing?”
Dar shrugged. “Could be. Contract’s probably worth twenty or thirty million, not a major one for us, but it’s a foot in the door someplace we’re not in right now.” She flipped through the pages. “Do me a favor? Throw this on the photocopier and send a set up to legal, and one over to Jose’s office.”
“Si.” Maria got up and accepted the folder. “It is good to have you back here, Dar. People were saying this week that things were too.. how you say it.. too much alike?” She ventured. “That you made things upside down, but that it was a good thing.” She gave Dar a smile, and left the office, closing the door behind her.
Dar poured herself another small cup of coffee and took a sip from it. One finger reached out and tapped the photo a few times, and she found herself smiling at the image it presented. “Well.” She finally sighed. “I don’t know how good a thing it was, but I guess we’ll be finding out.”
However, remembering how it felt to rise to the challenge was stirring an interest in her she hadn’t felt since she’d finished her network project. Doing the second generation of the technology was all right, but Dar hadn’t found the same interest in it she had with the original.
Now this, on the other hand, this was brand new.
Dar captured a pastry and popped it into her mouth, chewing it with piratical gusto and blowing a few crumbs onto the surface of her desk.
Kerry finished scribbling her name for the nth time, running her eyes over the purchase order before she lifted it and tossed it into her outbox. She had her head resting on one hand, and now she straightened up a little, hissing slightly as her shirt pulled over her sunburned back. “Son of a biscuit.”
Her phone rang. She checked the display, then pressed the button readily. “Hey, Col.”
“Hey girl.” Colleen replied. “You up for lunch?”
Lunch? Kerry glanced at her watch. “Sheesh.. didn’t realize it was that late. Sure.” She pushed the rest of the paper pile back into her inbox and eased herself to her feet. “Let’s go downstairs. I don’t really want to put my jacket on to go to the dining room.”
“Works for me.” Colleen agreed. “Meet you by the elevators?”
“You got it.” Kerry hung up and stretched cautiously, then circled her desk and headed for the door. She passed Mayte busy at work, and drummed her fingers on her assistant’s desk. “Going for lunch. MT. Hold the fort down.”
“That I will for sure.” Mayte answered. “Can I take what you finished?”
“Eh.” Kerry leaned on her knuckles. “There isn’t that much. I signed some of the outstanding PO’s, and reviewed that integration report. You’re welcome to whatever’s there. I’m expecting a call from the LA office about some new circuits, and keep an ear out for Dar. She’s in a conference call on steroids with the overseas groups.”
“Will she need to take hold of you, Ms. Kerry?” Mayte asked.
Kerry’s lips twitched slightly at the phrasing. “You never know.” She said. “If she needs me, she’ll probably SMS me, but she might need some of the statistics I’ve been working on for the past two weeks. They’re on my desk, in the infrastructure folder. Okay?”
Mayte nodded and smiled, giving Kerry a little wave of her fingers as she left the office.
“Hey, Col.” Kerry spotted her friend as she exited the elevator, joining her as they walked across the lobby to the cafeteria. “How’s it going?”
“Busy.” Colleen glanced at her. “You got some sunburn, eh?”
“Mm. Fell asleep in the sun yesterday like a tourist.” Kerry admitted. “We were just decompressing after the trade show.”
Colleen laughed. “Yeah, we saw the film from that, bucko… boy, did you two ever make the news. What got into Dar? She’s been so laid back lately, it was a real shocker to see her come out swinging like that.”
“Mm.” Kerry took a tray and handed one to her companion. She smiled at the attendant, and reviewed her options. “Chef salad, please, and a large ice tea.” That taken care of, she turned to Colleen while they waited for their orders. “I think Dar just took the opportunity to get the brand out there. You know.” She half shrugged. “It’s what the trade show’s for, Col.”
“Oh, I know.” Colleen took her plate and nudged Kerry forward. “And a great job of it she did. Duks was all over lauding her up and down the hallways, he was.”
They walked to a table up in the raised level of the café, which was mostly empty and by some unwritten convention generally reserved for those members of the upper floors who didn’t like to eat in the upstairs dining room. Kerry set her tray down and eased into a chair, resting her elbows on the table top with a grimace.
“You did get burned, huh?” Colleen chuckled.
“Oh, yeah.” Kerry took a sip of her ice tea, and reviewed her chef salad. It wasn’t something she usually fancied, but the hot weather made the thought of hot food unpleasant, and the salad was a nice mix of greens and protein calculated to keep her alert through the afternoon. “Between that, and not getting any sleep last night, I’m in great shape today.”
“Y’know, Kerry, there is such a thing as too much information.” Her friend poked a fork at her.
Colleen snickered at her. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
Kerry speared an egg slice and popped it into he rmouth. “No.” She shook her head. “Anyway, aside from all that, it was a good trip. We may have gotten some leads on some new business.”
“Hey, Ker? Can I ask you a question?” The redhead lowered her voice. “About something I heard?”
Yeesh. “Um.. sure.” Kerry replied. “If I can answer it, I will.”
Colleen edged a bit closer. “Someone said one of those new rival companies causing us grief is run by some old flame of Dar’s. Is that true?”
Kerry felt a set of conflicting emotions surge through her. On one hand, she’d known Colleen for a long time – longer than she’d known Dar, for that matter. The redhead had been her neighbor in Kendall, and someone she’d spent a lot of time with, time she remembered fondly.
However, she hated gossip. Everyone knew she hated gossip. She didn’t want to indulge in gossip with Colleen, but she also didn’t want her friend to think she was evading the question.
She put her fork down and leaned on her forearms, pinning Colleen with a direct stare.
“Uh oh.” Colleen made a face. “I haven’t seen that puss in a while.”
Kerry paused, one eyebrow lifting as she allowed herself to be sidetracked. “What puss?”
“That ‘I’m gonna tell you what you’re gonna die of’ puss.” Her friend replied with a frank grin. “Sorry, Ker. Did I hit a sore spot?”
“Do I have a face like that?” Kerry rested her chin on her hand. “I know Dar does.”
“You do. It’s cuter, but it’s still ‘back off.’” Colleen admitted.
The blond woman went back to decimating her salad. “Well, yeah. I guess… you know how much I hate bs talk. Especially about her.”
“I know. Everyone knows.”
“It’s true.” Kerry said. “Telegenics is run by Michelle Graver, who I told you about.” She chewed a moment, then swallowed. “And her partner is someone called Shari Englewood, who once upon a time Dar was involved with.”
“Mm.” Colleen grunted. “That kind of thing is always rough. Did you have a hard time with it?”
“Me?” Kerry sounded surprised. “Other than wanting to strangle both of them for harassing Dar? No. Why?” She picked up a carrot and munched it.
Colleen fiddled with her fork. “Well, I mean…” She glanced around, then shrugged one shoulder. “Doesn’t the fact that there was someone before you make a difference to you, Ker? I know it did for me, the last boy I sent packing. We bumped into his former girlfriend at Quiznos, and after that.. out the door, boyo!”
Kerry frowned, her eyes shifting to one side as she considered the thought.
Did it matter to her? “Um.. no, actually, it doesn’t make a difference to me at all, especially since I know Dar’s never had a steady, happy long term relationship before ours.” She replied honestly. “Why should the failures bother me any, except for feeling bad for Dar, I mean?”
Her friend leaned back and wiped her lips with her napkin, just watching Kerry in silence as she finished off her salad. There was little resemblance between the woman she shared a table with now, and the neighbor she’d first met right after Kerry had moved to Florida.
Kerry had always been fun to hang with. She was smart, and had a gently sly sense of humor, and generally had just seemed like she enjoyed living her life, despite the problems Colleen knew she was having with her family.
But meeting Dar had changed her profoundly, in Colleen’s eyes. She remembered very clearly the night Kerry had come home from Disney the first time, so obviously lost in the throes of her first real love she’d worried that her friend would drown from it.
No one, Kerry had once told her, had ever loved her for her. Never. Not until she’d met Dar, and Colleen had been really sort of scared for her at the beginning with that. She’d been in so deep. “You two are really solid. That’s cool.” She commented mildly. “Listen, sorry if I stepped into it, Ker. You know I just care about you.”
Kerry’s shoulders relaxed under their silk covering. “Yeah, I know.” She said. “Boy, we were both ticked off at them big time though. You know what we did?” Her expression turned impish.
“You’ve been to EPCOT, right?” It was Kerry’s turn to lower her voice.
“Living Seas? The big aquarium?”
“With the sea cows, sure.” Colleen agreed amiably.
“Dar and I went diving in it.”
The redhead leaned forward. “On purpose?”
Kerry chuckled, draining her ice tea glass. “Yes, on purpose.. it’s a program they have. Anyway, we went diving.. and one of the tank windows is in the restaurant.”
“Yeap.. I’ve been there. Nice view.” Colleen nodded.
“Yeah well.. Shari and Michelle were having dinner, and we scared the living poop out of them and made them spill all over themselves.” Kerry told her. “It was hilarious. We were laughing so hard we almost drowned.”
Colleen covered her eyes. “Ye gods and little fishes, Kerry. You could have been exiled for that!”
Her lunch companion grinned. “It was worth it. They were being such jackasses… you know, their company actually tried to recruit us?”
“Both of us! They had no idea who we were!” Kerry replied. “And then Michelle tried to buy us off… it was just a mess.”
“Jesus, Kerry.” Colleen’s eyes widened. “You think they targeted us deliberately? Because of Dar? Is that why they went after our accounts?”
Kerry made a vague shushing motion with her hand, as several more people joined them. “I don’t know… no, I don’t think it was that. I think it’s just how big we are, and we’re a good target. If anything…” She hesitated. “If anything, I think they’re scared of Dar.”
“Huh.” Her friend exhaled, taking a sip of her drink. “Well, after that show this week, they fair well should be! Besides that, my friend, did you see yourself on television yet? I taped it.”
“Eurf.” Kerry grimaced.
“C’mon upstairs.” Colleen invited her, with a grin. “You didn’t see what Dar was doing behind you either, I’m thinking.”
“Uh oh.” Kerry got up, carrying her tray to the back table. “Tell me she was making faces.”
Kerry groaned again, and followed her out.
“All right, Javier.” Dar was leaning back in her chair, her feet propped up on her desk. “How much is it gonna cost me?”
“Now, Dar…” The South American sales director laughed. “You know that I have never, never asked for more toys for us down here, have I?”
Dar had her eyes closed, as the very late afternoon light tinted her windows. “No.”
“Bueno. Now, if we had this capacity available here, in Buenos Aries, I could do very good things with it. I have sold very well the systems you have given me, no?”
Dar wiggled her toes, thinking in silence.
“Is it my fault that so many people saw your cable show?” Javier asked, after a pause. “I have had six enquires just today. People are very nervous about security.”
“So they want to hire hackers?” Dar asked, bemusedly. “What exactly does that say about Brazil, Javier?”
“I’ll review it, see what we have available to put in there.” Dar conceded. “We might have an installation I can divert over there, depends on the projections due next week.”
The inner door to her office opened, revealing a very tired, very bedraggled looking Kerry. Dar waggled her fingers at her, giving her a wry look when Kerry trudged across the carpet to her desk and sat down on it, draping an arm over Dar’s legs.
“Excellent! That is very good news, Dar. I will let my people know.” Javier sounded smugly pleased. “So tell me, is every hacker in the world now trying to get in our gates? That was quite a braggadocio you made – I hope it does not come back to haunt you.”
Dar leaned over and clicked her mouse, pulling up a monitoring screen and reviewing the results. She studied it briefly. “Eh.” She eventually grunted. “Hits are up, but it’s nothing overly scary.” She turned away from the screen, preferring to gaze at Kerry instead. “We only have the one big website that exposes us, and that’s strictly outside the network.”
“Really?” Javier murmured.
“Sure. Our entire class A’s masked, so the first problem hackers have is finding us. We just don’t have a lot of things hanging out there, and I’ve got four redundant pipes servicing the website with logic that detects DOS on any link and runs an automatic squelch on the inbound packets.” Dar said. “So yeah, they could probably pick at some of the smaller accounts we have, but only the ones where we don’t provide the infrastructure. The network itself’s pretty locked down.”
There was a respectful silence. Then one of the international sales managers cleared her throat. “Lovely. Can we have a side of chips with that, then, Dar?”
Dar chuckled. “I’m glad the show’s having some positive spin. I’ll try to make sure we don’t get backlash if some little nerd creep gets lucky.” She conceded. “Anything’s possible, but Mark’s been working on some new routines that incorporate some of the intelligent logic I’m using for the network upgrade, so we’ll see.”
Another bit of silence. “Have a pint of Guinness with that one.” The same manager piped up. “Never mind the chips.”
There was a round of laughter on the phone. Kerry moved her arm and started massaging her partner’s bare feet, too tired to really concentrate on what was going on. Of course, the managers on the phone didn’t understand one word in ten Dar was saying on the technology side either, but that wasn’t really unusual.
“Listen, I’m outta here, folks.” Dar said. “I got in from the show very late last night.” She reached over and laid a hand on Kerry’s thigh, stroking it lightly. “I’ve got the action items you all asked for – I’ll let you know what my decisions are tomorrow.”
She let the conference line go after a round of goodbyes, and focused her attention on the blond woman sitting on her desk. “You look toasted.”
“Get the jam and butter, Sinbad.” Kerry admitted. “I want you, a hot cup of tea, a shower, and our waterbed. Can you make that happen, boss?”
Dar removed her legs from the desk top and sat up, reaching down for her shoes. “You bet your crumbs I can, my little Yankee toast.” She said. “How about we order in something light from the beach club, and go crash?”
Kerry toddled over to where Dar was sitting and collapsed over her, draping her arms over her partner’s shoulders. “Lead me.”
Dar managed to get to her feet, and turned Kerry’s sprawl into a full body hug, careful not to squeeze the blond woman’s sunburned shoulders. “C’mon.” She picked up her briefcase and nudged Kerry towards the door. “I’m so fried I was about to agree to whatever they asked me on that damn call.”
“They’d probably never have realized it.” Kerry hooked her fingers inside the waistband of Dar’s skirt as she followed her from the office. It was quiet outside – Maria had left a short time before, and the normal sounds of evening were starting to settle over the building. “Euu…they’re shampooing the carpet tonight.”
Dar’s nose wrinkled, as the scent of wet, dirty, mildewy carpet wafted down the hallway. “Definitely time to leave.” She punched the button for the elevator. “How’d your afternoon meeting go?”
“Ick.” Kerry had her eyes closed, and she was leaning against Dar as they waited for the elevator. “I have some whacky problem going on in Vancouver we can’t isolate. Two T1’s that are supposed to be redundant, but one of them keeps tanking and the other one just sits there dumb and happy like a frog and refuses to pass traffic unless we bounce it.”
“Uh huh.” Dar mused, guiding her engaging limpet through the doors, and then punching the bottom floor button. “HSRP set right?’
Dar watched the floors count down. “Metrics checked?’
“Baaap. Try again.”
“I’m trying to be helpful here, Kerrison.”
“I know, but we’ve checked all that.” The blond woman yawned. “Three times. I even had the vendor in to verify the configs.”
The elevator reached it’s destination, and opened to release them. “Why are you involved in that anyway?” Dar asked suddenly, as they crossed the lobby. “Since when does a VP Ops troubleshoot the WAN links?”
“Since it’s been going on for four months and no one’s fixed it yet.” Kerry replied. “And because they figured if they brought it to me, I’d scratch my head over it for a while then take it to my boss the CIO who also should not be troubleshooting WAN links, and that was the best chance they had to resolve the problem.”
Kerry was glad to see the Lexus’ looming bulk with its promise of comfortable, though overheated leather seats. She put her briefcase in the back and climbed into the passenger side, easing back gingerly as she closed the door. “Ow.”
Dar glanced at her. “Aloe time for you.” She remarked.
“Yeah.” Kerry turned on her side and rested her head against the seat. Her eyes went to the console between them, however, as Dar’s cell phone rang. “Want me to get that?”
“Sure.” Dar had her hands full starting the car and getting the air conditioner running before they both melted.
“Hello?” Kerry opened the phone and listened. “Oh, yes. Hello, Mr. Quest.” She gave Dar and look and received one in response. “No, she’s here. Hang on.”
Dar took the phone and hit the speaker, then set it down on the console as she put the Lexus in reverse. “Yes?”
“Hello, is that Dar Roberts?”
“Yes.” Dar repeated, slightly louder. “You got me in transit, Peter. What can I do for you?” She asked. “I spent some time with your requirements today but I’m not done reviewing them.”
“Yeah, well, the plan’s changed.” Quest said. “We have to pull out of New Zealand early, so we’re going to do the finishing in the states.”
“Ah.” Dar felt a pang of disappointment. She’d been looking forward to visiting that part of the world. “And?”
“Port of Miami made me an offer. I’m taking two cargo piers for two months down there. I figured that would work for you, at least, if not the other two companies bidding.”
“Peh.” Kerry snorted softly. “We could practically swim there from our house.”
“Matter of fact, that’s right around the corner from our offices.” Dar replied. “Won’t those other guys think you’re giving us an advantage?”
Quest laughed. “I’m sure they will. But you can handle the heat, or so I’ve heard.” He cleared his throat. “We also moved the timetable up. The two ships’ll be at the port in two weeks. Be ready, or don’t bother.”
He hung up, leaving a distinct echo in the car.
For a few minutes, they drove on in silence. Dar flipped the phone closed and curled her fingers around it, tapping the leather cover with her thumb while Kerry chewed the inside of her lip thoughtfully. Then they both started talking at the same time.
“Something’s not ri..”
“Ahem.” Dar coughed slightly as they stopped and fell silent again.
“Hm.” Kerry agreed, pursing her lips. “Did you do any background research on these guys?” She asked. “Want me to run our standard client query?”
Dar felt slightly embarrassed. “Yeah.” She slowed down to make the turn into the ferry terminal. “I didn’t get around to that. I um..” She paused, then scowled as she pulled into a lane. “Shit.”
Kerry just circled Dar’s wrist with her fingers and rubbed the back of her hand.
“Guess my brain was fried, after all.” Her partner said. “I didn’t even think of doing that, Ker.”
“Neither did I, until right now. Don’t sweat it.” Kerry told her. “I’ll kick it off from the house while we’re waiting for dinner.” She saw the muscles in Dar’s jawline relax a little. “Bummer about the trip though.”
“Mm.” Dar gazed through the windshield. “But it does give us an advantage.” Her head turned, and she looked at Kerry. “And I’m going to take every inch of it.”
Kerry patted her hand, and smiled. “Our turf.” She agreed.
“Our turf.” Dar repeated softly, her eyes narrowing. “Yeah.”
There was a thing, Kerry discovered, as being too tired to even want to eat. She was curled up on the leather couch in the living room, Chino in a ball at her feet as she faded in and out as Dar rambled around the condo.
She wanted to just let go and zonk out. She could already feel that sense of disassociation she often got just before she fell asleep and the only thing that was keeping her from giving into it was the fact that she was listening to Dar talk to herself as they waited for their soup and half sandwiches to be delivered. “Dar.” She finally uttered a protest. “Let it go.”
The light scuff of bare feet against the marble answered her, coming closer along with the sense of Dar’s presence until a warm knee bumped up against her elbow. Instead of opening her eyes, Kerry just reached out and wrapped her arm around Dar’s leg, tucking her hand back under her arm and issuing a small, contented grunt.
Dar didn’t speak. Instead, she claimed the edge of the couch and sat down next to Kerry, pressing against her body and draping an arm over her.
Ah. Delightful. Kerry wrapped her body around her partner’s and sighed. One eye cracked open as Dar started rubbing her back with the tips of her fingers. “See? Now isn’t this much better than you bitching at yourself?” She nibbled at Dar’s thigh.
Dar made a noncommittal sound. “I wasn’t really bitching.” She protested. “I was just going over the balls I let drop in the last few weeks.”
Kerry started biting the inside of her partner’s leg, drawing a squawk of protest from her. “Bitch tomorrow.” She said. “It’s chill time.” Her bites became kisses as Dar leaned over and enfolded her in a hug. She squiggled into a more comfortable position, emitting a happy gurgle as Dar laid her head down on her shoulder.
“If I fall asleep like this, I’m toast.” Dar said, with a sigh. “I’m sorry, Ker. I get overtired and my brain goes into spin cycle.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Maybe we should have just gone for some Frosted Flakes for dinner.”
“Maybe.” Kerry admitted. “But we didn’t, and sure as Sunday drivers, the second we nod off they’ll be knocking at the door.”
Kerry peered idly at the large screen
television across the room. “Oh look.” She said. “An iguana.” Her brow creased.
“What’s it doing with it’s tongue?”
Dar shifted her chin and licked Kerry’s ear, making her sneeze in surprise. “Nothing I couldn’t do if I really worked at it.”
With another gentle sigh, Dar put her head back down and a half closed her eyes, seemingly forgetting her previous self admonishment. Kerry reached up and fit her hand inside her partner’s, pulling it close to her heart, taking the moment of quiet contemplation where she found it.
A brisk knock came at the door. Dar snorted in soft laughter, before she hauled herself to her feet and headed to answer it. Kerry remained where she was, wiggling her toes a little against Chino’s fur as she watched her partner admit the beach club’s waiter with his tray, giving him a brief grin as he passed her to set it down on the dining room table.
“Gruff.” Chino’s head popped up as she belatedly sensed an intruder.
“Shh.” Kerry admonished her. “It’s just Carlos. Be nice, or you won’t get a cookie.”
The Labrador curled up and put her muzzle down on Kerry’s ankle, keeping a brown eagle eye on Carlos as he neatly arranged their dinner on the table.
Dar signed the check and hustled the waiter out, turning and leaning against the door as she regarded Kerry’s still curled up form. “Want me to bring it over?”
“Hm.” The blond woman drummed her fingers on the leather, then she pushed herself upright with a sigh. “If it were anything but soup, I’d say yes.” She pulled the first chair on the right side of the table out and sat in it, waiting for Dar to come over and take the one at the head next to her before she started sorting out the food. “So, what do you think that whole change of schedule thing means, Dar? It sure seemed abrupt to me.”
Dar looked up from buttering a roll. “Can we talk about fishing?”
Kerry blinked in mild surprise, hesitating in the act of pouring herself a glass of juice. “Um.. okay.”
Her partner shrugged a little. “You told me to drop it, remember?”
That’s right, she had. Kerry finished pouring her drink and fell silent, opening up her container of soup and poking at its contents with her spoon. Her eyes burned and she lifted a hand to rub them, ending up resting her head on her hand as she made a half –hearted attempt at eating.
For a few minutes, it was so quiet the sound of the air conditioning cycling off and on was almost startling. Kerry could almost feel it as a physical thing between them and she wondered when it would start to become uncomfortable.
Her eyes burned again, and she rubbed them, setting down her spoon and finding little to interest her in the relatively inoffensive soup as her stomach rebelled at consuming it. “Well, crap.” She broke the silence with a small sigh. “This is going nowhere.”
The sudden feel of Dar’s fingers running through her hair was indescribable. Kerry looked up from her plate to find bloodshot blue eyes looking back at her with gentle weariness.
“To hell with the food.” Dar said, getting up and shoving the plate back. She held a hand out to Kerry invitingly. “Let’s go to bed.”
Kerry abandoned her noodle soup and stood up, taking Dar’s hand and following her to the bedroom without any further thought. The room’s soothing blue tones made her feel better almost at once, and she stood facing Dar as they set about undressing each other with the beginnings of a smile on her face.
Dar saw it. She unbuckled Kerry’s belt with one hand, and laid the palm of other one on Kerry’s cheek, rubbing her cheekbone with the edge of her thumb. The blond woman’s eyelashes flickered, then she tilted her head up and returned Dar’s gaze with one of her own.
It was amazing, that look. Dar wondered if Kerry really knew just how much of her feelings showed in it. “Sorry I’m being a cranky curmudgeon.” She apologized. “I’m expecting that time of the month tomorrow.”
The gentle upturn of Kerry’s lips became a genuine smile. “Thought you said you never had PMS.”
“You said I never have PMS.” Her partner corrected. “I said I do, but no one ever notices the difference.”
Kerry finished unbuttoning Dar’s jeans, sliding them over her hips and letting them fall to the floor. She took a step forward, out of the shirt Dar had just finished unfastening her from and put her arms around Dar’s waist. “You can be cranky, honey.” She muttered. “If you don’t mind me being completely wasted and way oversensitive to it.”
Dar tossed Kerry’s shorts into the corner and turned, easing them both down into the waterbed. She rolled over with Kerry still in her arms so they ended up in the middle, the warm surface enclosing them comfortably as she tugged the blanket up over them.
“Mm.” Kerry had her eyes closed. “This feels great.”
“Yeah, it does. Damn, I’m glad tomorrow’s Saturday.”
They lay there together for a while, this time comfortable in the quiet surrounding them. Kerry began to surrender to the lethargy rolling over her, leaving her just enough energy to rhythmically trace the centerline of Dar’s belly in time with the slow breathing under her touch.
A soft clank caused her to crack one eye open again. “Dar?”
“Did you hear that?”
“All I can hear is sheep.”
Kerry’s other eye opened. “Sheep?”
“Counting themselves to save me the trouble.”
Another soft clank sounded clearly from the living room, accompanied by a clatter. “Dar.”
Her partner selected the edge of the covers and neatly pulled them over Kerry’s ears, patting the tops of them solicitously. “Better?”
Kerry grasped the covers and pulled them down. “No, because it doesn’t keep me from wondering what the heck is going on in our living room.”
Dar pulled the covers back up. “Kerrison, use logic, wouldja?”
“We left food on the table, and a Labrador in the living room. What do you think is happening?” The dark haired woman said. “It’s a puppy buffet.”
“Ew.” Kerry’ s nose wrinkled. “Dar, she’ll get sick.” With a groan, she rolled away from the center of the bed and started to climb out, only to be captured and pulled back into a tangle of arms and legs. “Dar!”
“Shh.” Dar wrapped her up in the covers and snuggled back down. “Relax. She’ll be fine. It’s just soup.”
Kerry heard distinct sounds of slurping. “She’s going to make a mess.”
“She’s got a tongue, she’ll clean it up.”
A laugh started to work it’s way through Kerry’s chest. “Honey… c’mon.” She tried to untangle herself. “That’s fine for my soup, but yours had clams in it – she’ll be chewing them for days.”
Dar refused to let go. “Chino! What are you doing, you bad girl!” She turned her head and lifted her voice, projecting it into the next room. “Stop that!”
She was rewarded by the clatter of toenails, and shortly thereafter a Labrador jaw was resting on the edge of the waterbed, innocent brown eyes gazing at her adoringly. “Chino. What were you doing?”
Their dog’s ears cocked, and she tilted her head to one side in question.
“Very nice.” Kerry sprawled over Dar’s body and removed a noodle from their pet’s black nose. “But you are so busted.”
“Gruff.” Chino licked her fingers happily, sneezing after a moment and ejecting a piece of clam onto the blankets just under Dar’s nose.
Dar observed the particle briefly, and then sighed. “Guess we better lock up the chow, huh?”
Kerry started to climb over her. “Stay, I’ll go.”
“Nu uh.” Dar rolled out of bed, taking Kerry with her as she rolled a little too far and lost her balance, ending them both up on the floor. “Gah!”
“Oh, Jesus.” Helplessly giggling, Kerry could only lay there, stark naked, as Chino licked her face with enthusiasm. “Chino, stop.” She saw Dar grab hold of the waterbed frame and pull herself upright. “Bah.. bah, honey, stop!”
Dar sat down on the carpet and took hold of the dog’s tail, hauling her backwards. “Chino! Stop that!”
“Groowf!” The Labrador turned her attentions to her taller owner.
“Your mommy only likes my tongue licking her.” Dar instructed the dog solemnly, shaking one long finger at her. “So you keep that big pink thing inside the teeth, hear me? Or else.”
Kerry snorted and rolled over, hiding her face in the curve of her arm.
Dar raked her fingers through her hair, surveying the jumble of bare limbs spread out before her. “This is turning into the kind of story other people tell about you when you’re drunk.” She mourned. “And I haven’t even had a sip.”
“Laugh it up, Yankee.”
Kerry pushed herself up from the floor and got to her feet, brushing bits of carpet lint off her bare skin. “C’mon.” She offered Dar a hand up. “At this rate, it’ll take both of us an hour to get the soup in the refrigerator and then maybe.. maybe .. we can get some sleep.”
“Or at least go to bed.” Dar released the dog and grabbed Kerry’s hand. “Lead on, McGruff.”
“Maybe I should get you a beer.”
“How about a milkshake?”
“Settle for some chocolate syrup?”