Disclaimers - Nope, none. My characters, my hometown, my pseudo company. Dar and Kerry are (amazingly) copyrighted people belonging to themselves, who are renting their lives to me for reasons beyond my understanding. This is the sequel to Hurricane Watch.
By Melissa Good
Kerry had almost, twice now, asked Dar to simply keep on riding instead of going into the large, buff colored building she could see looming just ahead. Riding a motorcycle was way more fun than she'd anticipated, especially when it became apparent that Dar did, indeed, know how to operate one of them. She was tucked in back of her taller friend, with both arms around Dar's middle, and just having a grand old time.
"You know.. " She murmured into the fairly close by ear. "It would be really cool to go up A1A on the beach, all the way to West Palm on this thing." Dar's head turned slightly. "I could cope with that."
"Hm." Dar kept one eye on the road, and peeked at her. "Am I getting the message that we need to invest in a bike?" She grinned . "How about a ride down to Key West?"
"Ooo." Kerry squeezed her. "Now you're talking."
Dar chuckled, and faced back around, leaning the cycle a little to turn into the parking lot of the school. There was a crowd outside the door, and more people entering, and she was relieved to see most of them had entered into the spirit of the occasion and were wearing relics from bygone years. Though. She tilted her head. Wearing football pants three sizes too small and a full set of spikes was of at best, dubious intelligence. She squinted a little. That would be Barandon Pitts, she decided, the school quarterback her senior year. The homecoming king, boy voted most likely to do just about whatever he wanted, and senior class president had ended up going into the Navy, she remembered reading in the local press, and came out several years later to take over his father's local chain of coin laundromats.
Against the odds, she'd liked Barry. He shared her dry sense of humor, and refused to take any of the high school hoopla over him seriously, getting in and winning his share of games and getting out with a comfortable slate of memories and not much else. He was smarter than they gave him credit for, and wiser than an 18 year old boy typicallly was in the way of life, and Dar smiled now to see him amiably stuffing himself back into his old togs and talking to what appeared to be some cheerleaders who were reliving memories.
Kerry was peering around with interest as they parked, her chin resting on Dar's shoulder, and she exhaled. "This is soooo different than my school was."
"Yeah?" Dar put both booted feet on the ground.
"Private, girls only, Christian."
"Oh." The dark haired woman made a face. "Sorry."
"No.. it wasn't bad, actually. It was kind of good, in a way." Kerry disagreed. "Everyone competed a lot, but it was never mixed up in that pseudo chivalry stuff, and no one told you to be good, or bad, in anything because you were a girl. Everyone was considered equal."
"Mm." Dar thought about that, as she swung her leg over the bike's engine and stood, dusting her jeans off. "Interesting." She offered a hand to Kerry with a hint of self conciousness. "Shall we?" After some serious debating, she and Kerry had finally decided that the blond woman's outfit was just a little too.. well just a little too, that was all, and Kerry had switched the extremely skimpy skirt for a pair of her oldest, most faded jeans, which were very snugly fitted and tucked into the tan leather boots that she'd gotten at the store. She'd kept the leather tooled belt, though. "You okay?"
"Mm." Kerry plucked a the soft leather jacket she'd worn while riding. "Hope it's air conditioned in there."
Dar chuckled. "It is." She straightened the silver chain around her partner's neck, holding the old fashioned, age darkened setting they'd found in Aunt May's trunk. "Matches your eyes." She flicked the ear cuffs dangling from Kerry's ears. "You look very..um "
"Post apocolyptic retro." Kerry decided. "But I like it. And I like that outfit on you, so let's go get stared at." She peered at some of the other people making their way towards the school. "At least ours fits." She squinted. "That's not a tube top, is it?"
Dar tilted her head, then tilted it the other way, then removed her sunglasses and rubbed her eyes. "I dont want to know." She muttered, resuming the lenses and leading the way across the heat softened tarmac. Getting stared at wasn't going to be a problem, she soon realized, as she used her darkened lenses to peer around unseen at the gawking faces. Well, that certainly wasn't any different than when she'd attended the place, that's for sure. She kept her head faced forward and mounted the low stairs up to the door. It opened, and a waft of public school scent wafted out, making her nose wrinkle in memory as she passed through into the building.
The main hallway was filled with clumps of people, some in business clothes, some casual, some in outfits more appropriate to the teenagers they had once been. Dar took a breath of the air conditioned air and released it. "Looks the same. " She commented peering around. Same oatmeal colored walls, same institutional tile floor with curves of oatmeal colored carpet liberally stained with toner, same rows, off to the left and down, of buff colored, paint chipped lockers.
Across the walls near the ceiling tiles were painted banners, welcoming the old students home, and to the right hand side, the folding walls had been pulled back, exposing the round tables of the cafeteria.
"Haey, Dar!" Barry's voice suddenly boomed at her elbow, and she turned, to see the tall, heavyset man beside her. "Can't believe ya showed up."
"Hello, Barry." Dar removed her sunglasses and extended a hand. "Nice to see you again." She half turned. "This is my friend Kerry."
"Hey there, Kerry." Barry released Dar's hand and took Kerry's. "Well, ain't this a pile of pretentious preppies." His eyes turned to Dar. "Glad to see you ain't changed any.. still the rebel, huh?" His pale hazel eyes twinkled. "At least after business hours, anyway.. saw your picture in the paper couple months back, that was a kick, lemme tell ya."
"Mm.. I can bet there's a few folks here that never expected me to grace Business Monday, that's true." Dar chuckled. "Thanks.. things are pretty good, yeah. What about you? Still running that chain?"
"Branching out." He scratched his shoulder under the pads. "Business is good. I got married, got two kids, you know." Barry looked around. "Damn, things dont change much, do they? Same groups. There's the jocks, there's the brains, and the geeks."
Dar followed his finger. "Yeah, and the outcasts." She nodded towards a group off by itself, in clothing a bit like hers, most of the men long haired, and the women with body piercing. "Is that Cathy Singer?"
"Yeah. Guess she didn't join a cult and go postal after all. I always figured her for that." The very tall, muscular woman across the floor laughed, and hooked thumbs in her belt loops, exposing luridly tattooed arms that somehow matched her bright orange crew cut. Barry scratched his ear. "Unless she's out on parole again."
Dar's brow lifted. "What did they get her for?"
"Assault. When she got out the last time, she came over looking for a part time with me. I.. " Barry looked a little embarrassed. "I felt bad for her, y'know? But she was scaring the customers."
"Ah." Dar folded her arms. "Figures. We had a few run ins back when."
"Why?" Kerry spoke for the first time, having been busy absorbing the scene with interest. "I thought you were part of that kind of group?"
"Naw." Barry laughed. "Dar weren't part of any group, that's the trouble - she qualified for all of em, and it drove em all nuts."
"I was pretty cocky, and not very tactful in those days." Dar advised her lover.
"I'm sure I would have hardly recognized you." Kerry murmured, returning the polite smiles of a group of letter sweatered women in cheerleaders skirts and sneakers nearby. "Are those drinks I see in there? All this leather is making me thirsty."
Dar's nostrils flared and she bit the inside of her lip to keep from laughing. "Right. See you later, Barry." She nudged Kerry in the direction of the cafeteria, returning the wary nods of recognition from several people as they worked their way through the crowd. Dar stopped to read the brightly colored schedule on the outer cafeteria wall and exhaled.
"They're calling this the Get to Re-Know You Reception." She commented. "Then we have the Old Times Cafeteria Spaghetti Dinner and the Squeaky Shoe Gym Dance." She put a hand over her stomach. "I think my stomach flu's re-occurring."
"Dar." Kerry pushed her gently towards the makeshift bar, where a sweating bartender was dispensing cheap beer and jug wine. "Would you give me a tour around the place? I'd like to see where your classes were." She could sense how uncomfortable Dar was, and was beginning to regret coaxing her into coming. "Barry seemed nice."
"He is." Dar ducked past two men in leisure suits, one of which she seemed to remember as a math whiz in eleventh grade. "He and I used to hang out to just to make everyone wonder."
Dar physically flinched. Oh shit. She forced a smile on her face and turned. "Hello, Patricia."
A tall, very well endowed blond woman was bearing down on them, a delighted look on her tanned face. She had short, feathered hair and was wearing an old, wool band uniform. "How are you? My god, I didn't think you'd show up for this if I'd know I would have told Sally and Carol to come too, though I think they'll be here later how've you been?" She grasped Dar's arm and squealed. "You look wonderful!"
Kerry judged angles and distances, and calculated that Dar would effectively toss the woman right into the next concrete pilon, quite possibly within the next ten seconds if she didn't do something. "What a nice uniform." She smiled brightly. "Is that a cummerbund?"
"Oh." Patricia stepped back, and tugged at it, necessarily releasing Dar's arm. "Why, yes.. I had it dry cleaned twice, and I think I got all the mildew out of it." She beamed at Kerry. "Do I know you?"
"No.. sorry. My name's Kerry. " She stuck out a hand. "I'm a friend of Dar's."
"How nice!" She dismissed Kerry, and returned her attention to the tall, dark haired woman standing next to her. "I can hardly believe it."
Fortunately, the interlude had given Dar a chance to regain her composure. "Been a long time, that's for sure." She nodded gravely. "Im doing well, thanks. And you?"
"OH! I have a thousand things to tell you.. just wait until the gang hears you're here, don't move, Dar, I'll be right back." Patricia bounced off, heading towards a table full of uniforms in various states of repair.
Dar and Kerry eyed each other, then Kerry firmly took her elbow and headed for the door, not stopping until they were down the left hand side hallway, in a quieter spot. "Oh, my god." Kerry took a breath. "Don't tell me that's a friend of yours."
"Ahem." Dar tugged her earlobe. "Actually, she's my cousin." She almost smiled at Kerry's dropped jaw. "On my father's side."
Green eyes peered at her, then Kerry turned around and looked at the entrance to the cafeteria. She swiveled slowly back. "Does he know?"
"Ah am gonna kick her butt."
Cecilia prowled around the huge cottage, all three bedrooms, and two bathrooms of it, with kitchen. "Well it's um.." She put a finger out and traced the marble countertop. "Not a Motel Six, that's for sure."
"Ah am gonna take that child up over mah knee, and spank her till she yelps the Pledge of Allegiance in six tongues."
His wife opened a closed door, and found a huge, turbidly swirling hot tub tucked behind it, raised, with ledges comfortably niched for drinks. "Hm." She left the door open and wandered into the kitchen, peeking inside the refrigerator and finding champagne, and a tray of assorted chocolates and cookies. She picked up a square of dark truffle and returned to the recalcitrant figure standing in the hallway, legs braced, and arms folded.
"Ah swear, I'm fmf." Andy bit down on the unexpected object in his mouth. His brows lifted as he chewed. "Mm.. what the hell is that?"
"Chocolate." Ceci advised him knowingly, patting him on the stomach. "C'mon, relax. It's only for one night." She looked around and shrugged a bit. "It's like being in a miniature castle." She took his hand. "With my very own prince."
"Mmph." His eyes dropped.
"Besides, you never could stand to lay a finger on that kid, and you know it. All she had to do was look at you with those big blue eyes, and you folded." Ceci reminded him with a gentle poke.
Andy sighed. "Well, all right.. I guess one night in here won't kill me what is that noise?"
"Hot tub." Ceci told him succinctly. "Dar has one, outside."
"Huh." He ambled over and stuck his head in. "Jesus H. Christ.. I seen swimming pools on Navy ships smaller than that." He peered over his shoulder at her. "You ever tried one?"
"Mmhmm." She wandered over to one of the closed doors and opened it, revealing a bedroom with an old fashioned four poster bed with a canopy. The room was painted in eggshell and coral, and a multi bladed fan over head passed lazily thorough the cool air. Two very fluffy, beige bathrobes lay folded on the dresser.
It was overwhelmingly luxurious, almost to the point where she had to laugh at it. But you know, every life deserved a little bit of ridiculous pampering, didn't? A day or two here and there when you could lose yourself in a marble lined fantasy, surrounded by chocolate, champagne and down mattresses.
A tiny bubble of time to spend reveling in a restored love, a second honeymoon as it were. Of course, she and Andy had never had a first, since he'd been shipped out the day after they'd gotten married.
It was time. Ceci turned and leaned in the doorway. "Have you ever tried one?"
Andy looked up from where he was seated, with his hand stuck curiously in the warm water. "Closest I ever come to this was going out the top hatch of a hunter sub into a riptide."
Ceci walked over and sat down next to him. "That doesn't count."
"Sure was a lot colder." He agreed.
"Would you join some chocolate, champagne, and me in this one?" A hand curled over his. "We might as well take advantage of the place."
"Uh.. Ah dont think that green eyed gal threw no swimsuit in that bag." Andy drawled slowly, watching her face.
His wife smiled. "That's good.. because I haven't got one either. I guess we'll just have to make do with what we don't have." She reached down and flicked a bit of warm water at him. "You up for some impromptu improvisation?"
One grizzled brow lifted. "What you mean by them three dollar words is, you and me are gonna get naked in this here bathtub, ain't it?" His tone dropped, and took on a faint growl.
Ceci nodded. "Mmhm.. that is indeed what I had in mind, sailor boy." She lifted a hand to his cheek and stroked it, feeling the unevenness of the scars and the light stubble of his beard. "What do you say?"
His skin tensed under her fingers as he released a partial smile. "What I say is that you are one wanton woman, Mrs. Roberts." He rasped. "But I guess we're gonna get wet." He flicked back a handful of water at her. "You got more of them chocolates?'
She stood, and held a hand out. "C'mon."
They walked hand in hand into the small kitchen, and collected the goodies, then brought them back to the tub room, setting them on the marble surround. Ceci fiddled with the wall mounted sound system, achieving sound in a sudden jolt of volume. "Whoops."
"Yow." Andy blinked, and ambled over. "They got anything that ain't the macarena?"
"I'm working on it." Ceci worked a moment more, then the speaker produced a much softer, lighter sound. "Better?"
"Mmph." He slipped his arms around her tentatively, and she turned, laying her hands against his chest. "It'll do." He paused, and she smiled a touch, then closed her fingers and started tugging the dark cotton shirt he had tucked into his jeans out.
He slid his hands around her neck and down under her collar, stopping at the top button on her white, lacy shirt, then with a small, precise motion, undid it. A touch slid down beneath the fabric and separated it. "You smell nice."
Ceci trailed fingers over his ribs and leaned close. "So do you." She whispered, getting her hands under his waistband and unbuttoning it.
"Only cause you made me use that pink soap this mornin." Andy teased. "Making me smell all like coconuts.. good Lord." He felt the jeans drop loosely around him, and undid the rest of her buttons, slipping the pale fabric down her shoulders as she tugged at his undershorts.
"Mm " Ceci felt the soft fabric. "I think I like you in silk."
"Dont you start." Andy ducked his head and kissed her, as their bodies slid together. They worked the rest of their clothes off, and spent a moment reacquainting themselves to each other. His hands closed around her and lifted. "Need to feed you, woman."
"Look who's talking." Ceci retorted, as she was lowered into the tub, followed by a mass of ex SEAL. The water was warm, but not hot, and pleasantly bubbly. "Here this is a start." She picked up a piece of chocolate and offered it to him. "So. How do you like the tub?"
Andy chewed very thoughtfully, as he glanced around. "I do believe I like this." He approved, with a nod. "Stock some fish in it, it'd be perfect."
Ceci laughed. "Andy!"
"Heh." He stretched long legs out across the bottom of the tub and relaxed, turning to find gray eyes inches from his. "This here tub getting smaller?" His breathing caught as her hands explored below the surface, and he half turned, kissing her as he started his own touch.
Well. It certainly was one of the few things he'd never tried underwater before.
But it was as good a time as any.
It was much quieter down the hallway. Kerry glanced around as they strolled, peering at the bulletin boards which featured announcements and posters about current school events. "It's different."
"I bet." Dar pointed. "That's the PE area. Everyone had to take it, and I think the locker room was one of the true character building moments for any high school girl." She poked her head inside the alcove, and tried the door. "Ah."
Kerry followed her amiably inside. The lockers were painted in virulent shades of red, white and blue, and there were encouraging paper banners plastered on the walls for various team sports. The floor was tile over concrete, and the whole place smelled rather like
Hm. Rather like an old gym sock. "Nice atmosphere." She commented. "What teams were you on?"
"None well, that's not true. I ran track, and did field events like high jump. But I wasn't in any team sports." Dar strolled over to a plaque and viewed it with a mixture of nostalgia and regret.
Kerry stepped up next to her and tilted her head back, reading the records hammered into the insets, made to be changed if the school records were. Her eyebrows lifted at a familiar name, in several places. She looked at Dar. "I always envied people who could actually do the broad jump." A hand traveled over and patted Dar's thigh. "My one shining moment in high school sports was during an archery competition."
"Really?" Dar turned and cocked her head. "Didn't know you were into bows."
"I wasn't. " Kerry assumed a wry look. "I shot our head mistress in the butt." She laughed at the expression on her lover's face. "I was grounded for six months, but let me tell you, was I ever famous in school." She followed the laughing Dar back out of the locker room, in the mustier scent of the hallway. "I played on all the teams, though. It was sort of expected." They walked down a long ramp, towards another section. Other guests were also roaming, and occasionally, one gave Dar a nod, or waved. "Softball, field hockey, the usual."
"No field hockey here." Dar climbed up a set of steps. "Soccer, sure. Softball, Football, swimming.. I did a little swimming and diving too." They exited into a long hallway, with classrooms on either side, which opened up into a center, almost lab like area set up for larger groups, with audio visual screens. "This was my AP English classroom."
Kerry regarded the small chairs, and old, wooden desk at the front, and tried to imagine a teenage version of her tall lover there.
It was tough. "Did you like school?"
Dar shrugged, and led her down the hall, towards a set of stairs that would lead back to the cafeteria. "I didn't hate it, but it didn't really challenge me." She admitted. "I left here, and went to work, or went home and hung around with the other brats. What was going on at the base always seemed more real to me." They ambled down the steps, moving to one side as a group of people started up them.
"Well, well." The tall redhead in their midst spoke, looking directly at Dar. "Look who showed up."
Some people, Kerry decided, really did just have "Hi. I'm a bad attitude" tattooed on their foreheads. Following some primal instinct, she hesitated, falling a step behind Dar as her lover turned, tilting her head slightly to peer out over her sunglasses.
"Hello, Cathy." Dar's voice was neutral, and brief. "Have a nice tour." She continued on down the stairs.
"Whoa, whoa.. what's your rush." The taller woman edged over, blocking their path. "Been a long time." Her friends watched in silence. Cathy let her eyes roam over Dar's body, starting at the boots. "Don't you look butch."
Dar let her glasses slip down a little, so the redhead's eyes met her own icy ones when she reached that level. "Yeah, but I can take these clothes off. What's your excuse?"
A snicker came from the watching crowd, and Kerry suddenly felt like she was back in school herself, as the attitudes around her devolved into an adolescent tenor. She put a subtle hand on Dar's back, feeling the tension beneath her fingers, and scratched the bare skin gently.
"Yep." Dar circled around her and continued down the stairs. "Always was."
Kerry felt the eyes on her, and she kept her attention on her friend's back as she followed her, closing her ears to the sarcastic comments on her body. "That was pleasant." She muttered, as they exited the stairwell and gained the relatively cheery safety of the cafeteria. "I take it you and here weren't buddies?"
Dar ducked around a pilon and edged up to the now crowded bar. "Actually, we were." She ordered a soda. "You want a beer?"
Dar paid for the drinks and handed Kerry hers, then pointed towards a table near the rear of the steadily filling room. "C"mon I'm sure I'll have to suffer more of Patricia. We might as well sit down."
They took a seat and Dar tossed her glasses on the table, riffling her dark hair back and taking a sip of her soda. "Cathy and I hung out together for a couple of years. She was all right not too many brain cells, but she was into partying, and having a good time."
"And?" Kerry was secretly delighted at worming out a little more of her sometimes enigmatic lover's early years. She eyed the glass she'd been given, then wiped her beer bottle neck off and swigged directly from it.
"She got drunk, and tried to kiss me, and I beat the crap out of her."
Kerry spit a mouthful of beer halfway across the table, and started coughing. "Jesus, Dar." She received a pentitant slap on the back. "You're kidding, right?"
"No." Dar tossed her napkin and Kerrys on the table, and wiped the beer up. "I was not a nice person in high school, I was very full of myself, and I had the skills, and the brawn to back it all up. Not a good combination."
"Mm." Kerry set her bottle down and cleared her throat. "Did you fight a lot?"
Dar's eyes were flicking over the room, in an oddly tense movement. "I did my share." Her hands flexed.
"Dar?" Kerry deliberately closed her fingers around one of her partner's, and waited for the blue eyes to flick in her direction. "You're not in high school anymore, remember? You're the chief information officer of the largest IS company in the world,."
Dar paused and blinked, then exhaled, and leaned back. "Yeah, I know." She gently withdrew her hand and folded both arms over her chest. "Just reliving some not so nice memories."
A sigh. "Next time, we just go rent a movie, huh?" Kerry was now definitely sorry she'd coaxed Dar into this. "Wonder what your'e folks are up to?"
That nudged Dar off her dark train of thought. "Oh walking on the beach, maybe." She released the old memories. "Exploring the island, maybe trying out that hot tub." She spotted her cousin across the room and sighed as she was identified.
"You think so? I didn't think they'd mess with that I guess your dad could get a suit at the market, but "
Blue eyes blinked at her. "It's indoors, Ker, they don't need suits." Dar chuckled a little. "I bet they enjoy that big bed , too."
Kerry's brows creased. "Um.. yeah, it looks comfortable."
"Bouncy." Dar smiled. "Hope they don't bounce off and end up on the carpet." She stopped, and took in the look of wide eyed incomprehension coming from her lover. "Kerry?"
"What do you mean, bounce?"
"What do you think I mean?" Dar started laughing. "They're not going to sleep in it, Ker, they're.mmfph." A slim hand covered her mouth.
"Dar, let me explain something to you." Kerry told her seriously. "Parents dont' have sex." She took her hand away. "Okay?"
Dar wasn't sure if she should giggle, or what. She rubbed her jaw and took a breath. "And you explain your presence how? Oh right.. I forgot private school. Let me guess.. Easter Bunny brought you?"
The blond woman glanced around, and noticed the band party moving towards them. She lowered her voice. "Of course I know how I got here. I figure that gave my parents a total of three times." She made a face. "And even that's stretching my imagination to its limits.. I wondered about cabbage patches more than once."
Her lover buried her face in one hand and bit off a semi hysterical giggle, her thoughts of school now completely vanished. "Kerrison Stuart, you better get used to the idea that my daddy did not limit his experience to one time." She peeked out over her fingers. 'We had that little father daughter chat real, real early."
Kerry regarded her doubtfully. "Like, how early?"
"When he figured out my treehouse on the base looked right inside his bedroom window." A flash of white teeth in a mischevious grin as Kerry covered her eyes, and blushed a deep crimson, very, very evident in her outfit.
At that moment, she was rescued, relatively, as Patricia came up on one side, and Cathy came up on the other, chairs scraping as they and their respective friends sat down at the round table. The two groups regarded each other. "Just like old times." Cathy smiled.
"Hope your table manners have improved." Patricia smiled back.
"Why? Your ugly face hasn't."
Dar sighed. It was going to be a very long night.
Kerry regarded the tray that had been delivered to her by helpful, aproned servers seriously. It was divided into five sections, with a sixth ostensibly for silverware. The sections contained some spaghetti, with sort of meat, a slice of garlic bread, a 'salad', some 'green beans' and a square of carrot cake.
She had sudden insight into why Dar hated vegetables, if this was any indication of what she'd had to subsist on for twelve years, and she found herself with an insidious craving for Chinese stir fry as a result.
Or an apple.
Anything. She glanced at Dar, who was carefully separating her strands of spaghetti from the meatlike substance, and eating them individually, alternating with bites of the carrot cake.
A sigh. Well, at least there was a carton of milk, which was sealed. She tried not to remember she'd been drinking beer, and opened the red and white box, drinking down the cold milk with a feeling of relief.
"Mm?" She looked up, slightly startled at the lull in the conversation, which had been going on around her for thirty minutes.
"You all right?"
"Uh.. yeah, sure." Kerry nibbled a bit of the carrot cake. She'd let the string of reminisces go past her, glad at least that Dar was at least unbending enough to trade stories with the rest of the table. It was interesting, sort of. Dar's cousin kept up an neverending stream of questions, and she and Cathy constantly traded insults. Kerry realized that the insults weren't really serious, but more of a game, and the intimidating Cathy wasn't nearly as scary as she'd like to make herself out to be.
She did, however, have her eyes all over Dar, a fact that earned her very little appreciation from Kerry, harmless though she knew it was. She turned her head and found the redhead staring at her, and she lifted her chin a little, returning the stare steadily.
"So. What do you do?"
"I work with computers, like Dar does." Kerry answered evenly.
"Any money in that?"
"We do all right." She rested her chin on her fist. "It's a very fast growing industry."
"Sounds boring as shit."
"Dar, are you still working for that company.. whatever it was?" Patricia interrupted, gesturing with a fork. "You know the one."
"Yes, I am." Dar admitted. "ILS."
Cathy laughed. "Still? Man.. have they let you out of the mailroom yet?"
Kerry's eyes narrowed, but Dar merely sucked on her fork prongs reflectively. "Where is our mailroom?" She turned her head and asked her lover. "I've had mine delivered for so long, I don't know where they put it last time."
"On the first floor, near security." The blond woman supplied. "I had to drop a package off there last week."
"What are you doing now, Dar? Still in programming?" Patricia asked. "I remember when you made the report cards all print out in French our last year.. I dont' think Mr. McGrudber ever forgave you for that, even though you did use proper grammar." She laughed, and the three girls with her laughed too. "I bet he finds you tonight."
Dar rested her forearms on the table. "Actually, he and I had a laugh about that at our last stockholder's meeting." She remarked offhandedly. "He came over to congratulate me on being promoted to CIO, and just had to tell Alastair about the whole thing." She played with her paper napkin. "Alastair told him he was lucky it was only French." A pause, as Dar absorbed the looks of surprise from around the table. "In answer to your question, Pat, I've gone a little beyond programming." She basked in the sweetness of their very visible envy. "Despite many predictions to the contrary."
"Wow." Patricia seemed at a loss for words. "That's really great.. that's incredible, in fact."
"You son of a bitch." Cathy snorted. "After all that big talk about being so out there, you go and sell out and be a corporate asshole." She stood up and shoved her tray to the middle of the table, then stalked off, muttering disgustedly.
Dar and Kerry exchanged glances. "Oh yes" Kerry murmured. "You turned out so stuffy and traditional." She brushed a bit of dust off Dar's bare shoulder, since the taller woman had removed her jacket and slung it over the chair.
There was an uncomfortable silence, then Pat cleared her throat. "Here I thought I was doing okay being a law clerk." She laughed a little defensively. "Who knew?"
"Tell you what." Dar murmured into her ear as they climbed the flight of steep stairs towards the metal doors of the gym. "You share one dance with me in this place, and then "
"Mm???" The pink ear twitched with interest.
"Sushi and the beach?"
"Oo." Kerry warbled in delight. "You're definitely on." She laid a hand on Dar's arm. "Listen.. sorry if this has been a bust for you."
Dar dodged a thickset man who was swaying slightly as he climbed. "It hasn't been." She shrugged, and looked around. "It's been sort of not fun, but I think it's been interesting for me to see how..um.."
"Far you've come?" Green eyes twinkled at her in the dim light. "I know how I'd feel if I was at home, walking the halls of my school." A memory stirred. "I had this one teacher, Ms. Van Schuver, who taught creative writing. She told me, after giving me a barely passing grade in her class, that I'd never go outside my nice, safe box so she considered me very Republican, and very boring."
Dar put a hand on her bare back and guided her into the gym. "And when is your high school reunion?"
"Hmm." A wash of air hit her, mixing the scents of a lot of people, alcohol, rubber and old wood. She paused inside the door to look around, as a babble of voices in several languages and loud music added to the atmosphere.
The gym had, of course, a large clear space in the center, and a stage on one side which had a DJ complete with an assortment of chaser lights. On the other side, the seats had been pushed back mechanically against the wall, exposing only the lower two or three tiers for people to sit on. Tables were lined up near the back with various nibbly snacks on it, and two large freestanding bars were quickly gathering customers. Kerry followed Dar to the side of the room, and they stood watching quietly as a few groups broke up into twos and threes and drifted to the center of the room.
"Thirsty?" Dar finally asked.
"A little. Punch, though, please. That beer's deadly." Kerry put a hand on her stomach, and watched as Dar slipped through the crowd and headed towards the bar. She leaned back against the collapsed, wooden tiers and exhaled.
It was a mixed crowd, of course. Hispanics were prevalent, with a liberal spattering of Anglos and African Americans among them. She could hear English, Spanish, Creole, and some Jamaican accents just in her vicinity, and smiled as the music changed to a Latin beat and the sports jackets started to come off.
"Hey it's the little blond kid." Cathy appeared at her side suddenly, making Kerry jump a little. Her voice was slightly slurred, and she smelt of something stronger than beer. "You're pretty cute, you know that?"
Kerry folded her arms over her chest self consciously. "Hi." She smiled briefly. "Thanks for the compliment." She was aware of the taller woman's imposing presence, and that Cathy was standing within inches of her, well within her comfort zone. She eased back.
"Where's your big shot friend?" Cathy moved closer, reaching out to finger Kerry's soft leather jacket. "Must be nice to have all that money, huh?"
"Dar's just getting a drink." Kerry felt her heartbeat pick up. "And I have what I work for, just like everyone else does." True.
"Oh yeah?" Cathy pulled a flat bottle from her overalls back pocket and took a sip from it. It's sharp scent made Kerry's nostrils twitch. "Bet you never been poor, though, have you ? Not a little wasp like you." Her voice became bitter.
"No, I never have." Kerry admitted.
'Want some of this?" Cathy pushed the bottle at her. "Or are you too good to share a little drink with a poor old cracker like me?"
Kerry realized, suddenly, that she was surrounded, by leatherclad, shadowy figures and a jolt of panic hit her in the gut. She forced herself not to shake as she took the bottle, and sniffed it cautiously. Well. She felt a tinge of wry amusement. I never thought this skill would come in handy ever again, but She took a long sip of the alchol and swallowed it, then licked her lips and shrugged, handing it back. "Mescal's better."
Cathy took the bottle back and glanced at it, then at her. "Son of a bitch."
"Ever suck a worm?" Kerry persisted. "They're not bad with a little lime on them."
The tall woman took a swallow of her own, then licked the bottle rim, watching Kerry's reaction. "Mm.. I like that taste." She moved in closer and ducked her head, her intent obvious.
Uh oh. Kerry lifted a hand and intercepted her, pushing back slightly as she looked up, and over Cathy's shoulder, utterly relieved to meet icy blue ones coming towards her. "Stop." She raised her voice and put an edge in it. "You don't want to do that."
"Sure I do." Cathy disagreed, reaching for the hand holding her. "C'mere, cute pie you look good enough to eat."
"I said, stop." Kerry straightened her back.
"Little tease.. " Cathy grabbed for her, then yelped as her hand was caught and wrenched back, and her arm twisted behind her back painfully. "Let me the fuck go!"
"Or?" A low, lazy, almost purr answered her, half an octave lower than Kerry's.
"I'm gonna kick your ass!"
"No, you're not." Dar answered placidly. "Because we're not a couple of stupid kids."
"Let me go!" Cathy twisted savagely, but Dar's hold bested her, and the dark haired woman merely went with the motion, then slammed her into the wall with a clatter of wood.
"Cathy, if I have to call the cops, you're going to regret it." Dar told her. "So knock it off." She swung her around and got between her and Kerry, then released her, giving her a relatively gentle shove in the opposite direction.
Kerry put a hand on her lover's back, glad of Dar's calm, reasoned attitude. Her throat still stung from the harsh tequila, and she took a deep breath, willing her heart to settle down.
Cathy stumbled forward, then turned, and half fell against the tiers, staring back at Dar with sullen anger. "You think you're so hot."
Dar sighed. "I'll give you some free advice. Grow up As far as I can tell, you haven't learned a god damned thing since we left this place the last time." She turned her head as Barry came up, edging his big body between Cathy's friends and her.
"Hey hey hey nifty party, huh?"
The leather clad group faded away, and after a long, hostile stare, Cathy followed them. Dar waited for them to leave, then let out a held breath. "You okay?"
"Outside of having a graphic reminder of just why I really, really hate bad tequila, yes." Kerry responded dryly. "I'm fine." She exhaled. "Dar, does everyone in your past have a bad attitude, or is it just me?" She complained, getting a brief, guilty look from her lover.
Barry chuckled. "Girl's got a bug up her butt, always has." He tilted his head. "Sides, Dar had herself quite a 'tude in the bad old days." He nudged Dar's arm. "C'mon over by us old, balding, fat ex jocks, and make us feel macho, huh?"
Dar inclined her head, and they walked across the floor towards a group of men and women who were laughing around one of the bars. They waved hello, as the music changed again and took on an earthier beat.
Next time, Kerry . She accepted a cup of the frothy beer, glad of anything to get the taste of tequila out of her mouth. Next time, rent a movie.
Everyone loosened up, and after about thirty minutes, the music took a little break, slowing down and allowing the sweating participants to relax. The lights dimmed as well, and Kerry felt a hand touch her shoulder.
"Join me?" Dar's eyes were almost violet in the dimness.
"Sure." Kerry lead the way through the crowd, until they found a small clear space, then turned and let her hands rest on Dar's hips as the taller woman's arms circled her neck. She was briefly aware of a few startled looks in their immediate vicinity, and the unmistakable motion as distance was put between them and their nearest neighbors.
Relax. She mentally informed the crowd. If this was contagious, we'd have elected Liberace president.. In another forum, she might have felt self conscious, but here, in this smelly gym, in the dark, all that really mattered was the body now closing gently with hers, leather and skin brushing against her and making everything else fade into insignificance.
She moved with the music, and felt Dar move with her in synch as they took small steps in a lazy circle. Idle light beams from the ceiling drifted over them, dusting Dar's shoulders in rust and ochre and catching the occasional glint off her eyes, which were fastened on Kerry's face.
They could have been completely alone, for all the impact the crowd was making on her, and Kerry felt herself relaxing into a smile as her thumbs traced the gaps in Dar's vest, feeling skin and movement and just a little sweat from the heat. She moved a little closer as Dar's thigh brushed hers put her head down on Dar's shoulder, listening to the music of her heartbeat.
Dar felt content, something that had escaped her totally in the years she'd spent here, though the experience hadn't been bad. She knew she was being stared at, but it really didn't matter, because she had what she wanted, found what she'd searched for, and the only thing that mattered to her was the look of love in Kerry's eyes, as she gazed upward.
If the rest of them didn't like it.. they could just kiss her ass. She half closed her eyes, and hummed along with the music, hardly conscious of what the tune even was.
The moon was rising as they left, and Kerry had to pause a moment and collect her balance as they walked down the front stairs. Her head was buzzing a little, and she was glad of the warm arm that slipped around her, steadying her steps. "Thanks." She returned the grip, tucking an arm snugly around Dar's waist.
"Thanks for the dance." Dar replied, with a smile. "Didn't know you could move like that."
"Ungh. Give me enough beer, and I can do all sorts of things you'd never imagine I could." Kerry admitted. "I did warn you about that." She swallowed against a mildly queasy stomach.
"Mm." Dar glanced around the parking lot, which was still quite full. The rest of the evening had been reasonably pleasant, and she'd even gotten a few dances in with Barry and some of the others, ending the reunion on a nice note she hadn't really expected. "I had fun."
Kerry smiled, and gave her a squeeze.
They walked around the corner of a large Lincoln, and right into the harsh glare of a flashbulb. "Hey." Dar stopped and threw an arm up, blinking the spots out of her eyes. "What in the hell was that for?"
"Nail on your coffin." David Ankow got up of the car hood he was seated on, and advanced his film, then shot a few more. "Photographic evidence, not that I needed any more, but I like to be thorough."
Dar felt the shock fade, and she sifted through her available options, which weren't extensive. He'd nailed her, and she was smart enough to realize it.
Question was, did she care? Kerry had fallen mute, and was keeping her mouth prudently shut, but didn't release her hold on Dar.
"Did you get my good side?" Blue eyes widened, and Dar lifted a hand, glancing down at herself. "Though what pictures of me at my high school reunion prove I can't imagine."
"It's against company rules for supervisors to be in relationships with subordinates." Ankow commented mildly. "Such a tawdry little thing to nail you on." He cocked his head at Kerry. "So sweet of you to go home and take care of your bedmate, Ms. Stuart. I got excellent shots of you driving that nice little car onto that fancy ferry." He put the cap on his lens. "And now, I can leave this rancid hell hole, and go home, where I have three lawyers drawing up two different suits, with three different counts of negligence, misrepresentation, and dereliction of duty against both of you." He gave them a satisfied nod. "Damn good day's work." A smile. "Have a great day, you pair of disgusting perverts. It's going to be great pleasure for me to see the last of you when this is all over." He turned.
"Mr. Ankow." Kerry spoke for the first time. She disengaged her arm from her stunned partner and walked over to him. He put a hand on his hip and waited, a look of smug pleasure on his face.
Kerry stopped, concentrated, then threw up all over him before he was able to move out of the way. She wiped her mouth, then backed off. "Have a nice flight."
"Godless bitch." He left, stripping his jacket off.
They were both quiet for a moment, then Dar let out a low, whistling breath. "Did that make you feel better?" She asked her lover wryly.
"Mmhm." Kerry sighed. "We're seriously screwed, aren't we?"
Dar made a faint noise.
"They're going to fire us, and sue us for a ton of money, right?"
"Probably." Dar acknowledged. "Well, me, anyway. You didn't do anything. The corporate responsibility for the rule falls on the supervisor." She gazed at Kerry. "And I certainly did know what I was doing."
"Can they put us in jail?"
"No." Dar shook her head. "We're not criminals, just lovers." Her lips twitched faintly.
Kerry smiled, then leaned against the Lincoln. She felt curiously free, in a strange way. "You know something, Dar?"
"I dont care."
"No." She answered very softly. "If all I have in the world is you, no matter what we do, or where we end up, that's okay with me." She rubbed her arm. "Worst comes to worst, we can go the road and I'll sell my poems for food, how about that?"
Dar chuckled. "C'mon." She held a hand out. "You still in the mood for sushi?"
Kerry went willingly, allowing Dar to lead her over to the bike, and settling behind her. "It's a little late for that, but boy.. could I ever use some ice cream." She mumbled into the leather covered back. "A nice big double scoop Sunday with lots of fudge."
"Your wish.. .is my command." Dar started the engine, and revved it. "Hang on."
"Dont' worry." Kerry tightened her grip. "I'm never letting go of you."
They pulled out into the street, under a crisply starred sky with a peaceful full moon to light the way.
Dar parked the bike near the condo, and carefully put the cover they'd been provided with on top of it. Kerry helped her and they both stepped back and regarded the machine. "You think?"
"Oh yeah." Kerry stifled a yawn, and leaned against her. "C"mon Chino heard us."
They walked up the stairs and Kerry keyed the lock, pulling the door open and releasing the excited Labrador. "Easy, Chino easy.." She knelt and hugged the puppy, then picked her up and followed Dar as she walked into the living room.
"Hm?" The taller woman had dropped her jacket over the back of the loveseat, and was unlacing her vest.
"I know you sort of just came into this, but if you had a choice, where would you live?"
Interesting question. Dar loosened the laces and wandered into her room, tugging the leather off and replacing it with a worn, heavy cotton tshirt. She rubbed her arms as she regarded her reflection, then glanced over at the blond in the doorway. "Honestly? A place that doesnt' exist." She chuckled a little. "A nice, rustic cabin on the beach, not too close to everyone else, with a little dock."
Kerry considered that. "I'm sure there're places like that."
"Umm . with ISDN fast access lines, and a shopping mall next door?" The blue eyes twinkled with wry self deprecation. "Not to mention cable tv?"
"Hm.. I get it. Microsoft rustic."
"Something like that." Dar shrugged. "A way to mix my preferences with my vocation I think you have to trade off one for the other." She looked around. "I don't need the marble and silk, but I do love the technology. It's always intrigued me."
Kerry nodded slowly. "Yeah, me too." She paused reflectively. "It would be kind of fun to pick a new place out with you, though.. I mean " An awkward hesitation. "I dont' know what I mean." She wandered forward and pulled a faded blue tshirt from Dar's drawer. "Mind if I borrow this?"
"Since when do you ask?" Dar kidded her, then was quiet for a minute. "I wouldn't mind picking a place out with you either." They both regarded each other. "Let's see what happens with this whole thing. Maybe we won't have a choice. " She circled her finger in the air, then unfastened Kerry's top as the blond woman turned around.
"Are you worried about it?"
Dar eased past her and headed for the back door, with Chino dancing beside her. "Worried?" She opened the door for the puppy, and watched her scamper out into the dark garden. "No.. I know I'm employable, Kerry, and that's the bottom line." She glanced up. "Even if I end up getting a quarter of my salary, it's still livable, but.. " A shrug. "I feel like I've put so much into the company, after all this time, it hurts a little to have to face this."
Kerry rubbed her arms, warming them in the chill of the air conditioning, and glad of Dar's shirt. "It doesn't make sense, though, Dar." She mused. "Why now? You've never had a problem with the board before, and you've got a solid history with the company What's Ankow's agenda, I wonder?"
Puzzled, Dar waited for Chino to come back in and shut the door, then walked into the kitchen and started fiddling with the coffee maker. "I thought we knew it. He wants to take control, to oust Alastair. This is going to be damn embarrassing for him, since any disclosure of records will show he processed the overrides on our personnel records."
"No." Kerry shook her head, and retrieved the coffee container, handing it to her. "He knew something was up between us before he started all this. There's something more going on Dar, and I can't help but notice the timing on this is awfully convenient." She moved closer, and leaned on the counter, watching Dar's thoughtful face. "Something he said tonight, about us. I know he has a bad attitude about immigrants, because he made snide comments in the lunchroom."
"So he's prejeduced" A shrug. "He's in the majority, Ker.. you saw the looks we were getting tonight. We're just lucky, in that most of the people close to us have accepted our relationship."
"I just have a feeling there's something more to it." Kerry objected stubbornly. "Because you know as well as I do, that lawsuit of his is bullshit, Dar. In the entire time you've been at an executive level at ILS, they've shown a healthy profit. The only thing proving we're involved with each other gets him is grounds for termination."
"And it makes everyone who supported us, Alastair, Duks, Mari look bad."
"So, it gives him the leverage to put his own people in, if it all goes his way."
"Yes, it does." Dar poured two cups of coffee and added cream and sugar, then handed one to Kerry and guided her out into the living room.
"Why?" Kerry sat down on the couch, and put her feet up on the table, crossing them at the ankles. "Why this company? Why does he give a damn? I don't get it."
Dar settled back and took a sip of her coffee, thinking. Chino scrambled up on the couch and curled up next to her, putting her muzzle on Dar's thigh. "His scan came up pretty clean." She mused. "He was in the Army for eight years, discharged as a captain, nothing out of the ordinary in his records. Family lives in Oregon, father's a lumber magnate, pretty well off. He went to school in Washington, got a degree, went to law school.. came out and worked for the father as a corporate lawyer."
"Yeah. No criminal background, good credit, Mark couldnt find a thing on him, except that he'd been an Eagle Scout, something Mark found really funny, for some reason."
"Hm." Kerry exhaled. "That doesn't help. What does he want from us? Or from ILS?"
Dar sat absolutely still for a long moment, then she put her cup down and turned towards Kerry. "Data."
"Data. It's what we do, Kerry. We carry more data for more companies and governments than any other company in the world."
"Well, sure, I know but.. "
"Eighty percent of the interbank transfers. Military signal processing. The corporate network." Dar rubbed her temple. "I never thought of it this way, but if you wanted to get information on anyone and anything, we're the kind of company that could do it, easily."
"But that data doesn't belong to us, Dar."
"I know.. but what would stop someone from passing all that through a filter in one of the big backbones, and siphoning it off into a data storage for sifting?" The blue eyes glinted. "Someone inside the company, I mean. Someone like Mark."
Kerry thought, then she shook her head slowly. 'Nothing." She tried to grasp the enormity of it. "Do you really think that's what he's after, Dar? It sounds so so melodramatic." She gave her lover a wry look. "Like we're in a spy novel."
"I dont know." Dar settled back and picked her cup up again. "You're the one who think's there's more going on.. I just came up with a possibility." She got up and strolled to the sliding glass doors, opening one and stepping through it into the warm breeze.
Kerry got up and joined her, leaning on the railing as they both looked out over the Atlantic. The moon lit a path through the water, and turned the landscape to a silver and dark monochrome that outlined things on the shore in stark detail. "What should we do?"
The dark head shook back and forth. "I don't know I mean, you're right, it's pretty outlandish. Maybe I can talk to Mark, see if he can dig in places we haven't looked yet." She rested her elbows on the balcony, then straightened a little, and nudged Kerry.
"Hmm? What's t oh." Kerry smiled, spotting the two figures coming down the beach hand in hand. "They're so cute." She fitted her hand around Dar's biceps. "I'm so glad things are working out for them."
"Me too." Dar answered softly.
As though sensing their eyes, the two walkers angled their steps up from the water towards the condo, and Dar reached over to key the electronic lock on the garden door for them to enter.
"Hey." Kerry greeted them. "It's pretty out, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is." Cecilia agreed. "How was your party?"
"Interesting." Dar and Kerry spoke at once, then laughed. "There's some coffee inside, if you're interested." Dar added. "Did you have a nice night?"
"Very nice. Right, Andy?" Ceci nudged the tall, dark haired man next to her, who was sucking on something.
"Yeap." He agreed. "Ah found out something I would never have knowed otherwise tonight. I surely did."
"Really? What?" Kerry asked, as they walked inside, and she slid the door shut.
"Knocking a bottle of that there soap into one of them hot tubs makes one hell of a lotta bubbles." Andrew drawled. "I ain't been this clean since I was in diapers."
Dar started laughing in pure reflex.
"Oh my god." Kerry clapped a hand over her mouth.
"It was spectacular." Ceci agreed ruefully. "But not nearly as spectacular as watching your father bolt outside to save a mating peacock in nothing but courage and bubbles." She gave Dar a wry look. "I hope we didn't get you in trouble."
Dar slowly slid down the wall, holding her sides from laughing, as Kerry tried not to snort up her coffee.
"Ah do not consider this that funny." Andrew remarked gruffly. "It is not my fault that bird was yellin help."
Kerry lost it, and ended up on the tile, trying to fend off a busily licking Chino.
"Try to do a good deed, and lookit what happens."
Even Ceci started laughing.
It was the smell of bacon that woke her up. That and coffee, and the soft sounds from the kitchen that indicated activity of a cooking nature. Mm. Kerry sniffed appreciatively, then she frowned, as she recognized the warm hold around her as Dar's. Both eyes opened, and she glanced around. Sure enough, Dar was snuggled up behind her, one arm tucked around her stomach, peacefully asleep. "Dar?"
A blue eyeball appeared partially. "Huh?"
"You haven't taught Chino to turn on the range, have you?"
That woke her up. "No ." Dar lifted her head a little, then let it drop. "Must be dad."
"Oh." Kerry yawned. "That's a relief." She stretched, then disengaged herself from Dar's hold and rolled out of bed. "Better go give him a hand we wanted to get out early on the boat today."
She stopped midway to the door and turned. "Yeah?"
"Might want to put a shirt on." Dar had her eyes closed again, but she was smiling.
Kerry looked down. "Oh." She trudged to Dar's dresser and removed a T-shirt. "Right." She tugged it on over her head and disappeared into the bathroom for a minute, then came back out with a damp face and made her way into the living room. "Dad?" She peered around the doorway and spotted him. "Morning." Chino was fastened to his kneecap, waiting hopefully.
"Yeap." Andrew was standing in front of the stove, with a pair of shorts on and one of his sleeveless sweatshirts. "Been that way for a hell of a long time, young lady." He glanced at her. "You might want to be putting that thing on right side up."
Kerry peeked at herself. "Um I like it this way." She wandered over and peered at the frying pan. "That smells great.. but you didn't have to do that." She paused. "We usually do muffins or something for breakfast." She bumped him gently and got a sideways look back. "Mr. Bubbles."
"Do not start, young lady." Andy pointed a spatula at her.
Kerry grinned, then impulsively put her arms around him and gave him a hug. "Okay." She released her hold and went to the cupboard, taking out some plates. "Where's Mrs. Roberts?" She had her back turned, and missed the look she was getting.
"Scribbling." Andy replied. "Out by the seawall.. be back in shortly." He studiously pushed a mass of scrambled eggs around.
"Sketching, you mean? Oh, how cool." Kerry put the plates down on the dining room table, then came back in for cups. "I love watching Dar draw."
Andrew paused, and half turned, giving her a surprised and quizzical look. "Scuse me?"
Kerry took the pan he had and scooped it's contents into a bowl. "I sit next to her in meetings.. she draws these amazing little animals and things all over her pad. Bears, horses, boats, you name it. They're so cute." She cocked her head. "You didn't know?"
Dar's father looked very thoughtful. "Nawp I sure did not." He turned his attention back to the stove and flipped some bacon and sausages which were sizzling there. "I sure did not .hey, where is my kid anyhow?"
"Present and accounted for." Dar replied, entering as she pulled her hair back and knotted it. "You showing off your cooking?"
"Ah do not cook." Her father corrected her sternly. "This is yer basic chow."
"You know, there's nothing wrong with guys cooking." Kerry teased him. "I watch the cooking channel all the time, and most of those chefs are guys."
"You listen here, kumquat "
"No, really.. they are. Not just little wimpy guys either, okay? They're nice, big burly guys, with deep voices, and beards and..mmffp." Kerry chewed and swallowed the piece of sausage that had been stuffed into her mouth. "Mm. Spicy. I like that." She winked at him, then trotted towards the door. "I'll go do breakfast call.. c'mon, Chino."
It was very quiet after she, and the Lab left. Father and daughter eyed each other, then Dar chuckled softly. "She's something else, isn't she?"
Andy went back to removing the meat from the skillet. "Yeap." He put a cover over the plate and turned, leaning against the counter to peer at her. . "And you're stuck like glue on her ain't ya?"
Dar exhaled lightly. "Looks like it." She picked up the dish and moved into the living room with it. "We're going to have good weather, I think." She walked over and leaned against the glass windows, watching Kerry make her way down to the beach. "We could go out to the island.. picnic there." Her eyes lifted, to see identical ones reflected back to her in the window's glare. "Do some fishing?"
"Sure." Her father agreed amiably. "I'll drive the boat."
Dar looked at him.
"Hey, I got my license." Andy protested. "I aint' never crashed nothing into no dock, unlike someone else I could name but will not."
A scowl. "I did not hit that dock."
"All right. Pulled it over. Knocked it over. Same damn thing." Her father teased.
"Give me a break.. I was ten." Dar reminded him. "And I wasn't supposed to be driving those double diesels.. I could barely see over the console."
"Yeah..yeah a likely story."
Kerry felt the sand crunch between her toes as she left the path, and headed towards the water. She could see Cecilia's slight figure down on the jetty, and she angled her steps towards the rocks where Dar liked to sit as well. The wash of the waves masked her approach until she was almost there, then she smiled a little hesitantly as the silver blond woman looked up from her work. "Morning."
"Morning." Cecilia responded cordially.
Kerry sat down on the rocks, turning her face towards the light spray and the early morning sky. "It's pretty out here."
The older woman appeared to consider the statement seriously. "Yes, it is." She finally agreed, after some moments of quiet. "I missed it."
"It grows on you." A smile. "When I first moved here, I hardly ever went to the beach. It was so busy.. and you don't think it of down in Kendall." Kerry inhaled a lungful of salty air. "Then I found a few places where it was quiet, and I used to go there when I needed to think." She paused. "Or when things were bothering me. Sometimes looking out at all that vastness helped, because you realize you're such a small part of what the world is, and you have so much less to worry about than surviving like the crabs."
A slow nod. "That's true." Ceci cocked her head slightly "So you're a deep thinker, hmm?"
Kerry smiled. "Kind of." She waggled her hand. "Sometimes." Her eyes went to the sketch pad. "Oo that's nice." It was the end of the rock jetty, with a seagull in closeup, it's feathers ruffled in the wind. "I feed them crackers when I come by here in the morning."
"Thanks." Ceci smiled back, resting her hands on the top of the pad. She watched Kerry close her eyes, and absorb the sunlight for a moment, then cleared her throat. "Did you come down to dabble your toes in the pond, or.."
"Oh. Sorry." Green eyes appeared, a little sheepish. "Breakfast's ready." She stood up and tugged her oversized shirt down. "It's just such a nice morning."
"Mmhm." Ceci gathered her things and hopped off the rocks, then followed Kerry back up the beach. "It'll be nice to get back in the water." She ventured as they walked. "Especially on a nice, sunny day like this. The colors are very vivid if you stay close to the surface."
"Oh.. yes!" Kerry turned, her eyes lighting up. "I was on a really shallow reef just across from here not long ago, and an entire school of yellow and purple fish rolled right over me. I felt like I was inside a rainbow." She held her hands out. "Just beams of light coming down through the water and hitting everything.. and then these clown fish swam by it was incredible."
"Have you seen lobsters?"
"They're green.. I was surprised." Kerry laughed. "And they're strong, too. Dar handed me a puffer fish the last time we were down. Scared the heck out of me for a minute."
"Did you learn to dive here?" The silver gray eyes watched her curiously. "I guess you did.. not much to see up in the Great Lakes."
"Dar taught me, yes." A nod. "They do have diving up in Michigan, but for one thing, you have to wear dry suits, and for another, I'd be kind of nervous to see what's at the bottom of Lake Michigan." They both laughed. "I spent a lot of time sailing on top of it, though." They entered the back garden and headed up the stairs.
"Me too." Ceci reached for the door. "We spent summers up there." She pulled the door open. "We'll have to compare notes."
Kerry smiled. "All right.. let's do that." She entered, almost crashing into Dar who was standing right there. "Whoa!" Chino scrambled past her and crouched at Dar's feet, depositing a piece of driftwood. "Oh look.. she brought you a present."
"Thanks, Chino." Dar bent down and picked the wood up, juggling it as they all walked into the dining room where Andrew was sprawled, examining a bit of machinery. Chairs scraped as they took their seats, then the soft clinking of dishes as they served themselves.
Then an awkward little silence fell. Kerry could see the discomfort on Dar's face, and she sighed, having spent her share of meals across a less than cordial table. It wasn't she was glad to realize, her problem this time. "Dar.. do you think we can dive the shallow reef off the island? I want to try out my new camera."
"Sure." Dar gave her a pathetically grateful look as she buttered her toast. "Did you get film? I have a light you can use."
"With the sun, I hope I won't need it." Kerry replied, busying herself with her eggs.
"Should always carry a light.. you kin get lost real easy down there. "Andrew commented around a mouthful. "Get people thinking you're a fish."
Dar almost snorted her coffee. "Nah long as I've been diving, I've yet to see a phosphorescent pink and yellow fish with blue gear and a bright red tank."
Andrew looked over at Kerry in agahst shock, then at his daughter. "Ye're joking."
The dark head shook back and forth. "Nope wait till you see the flippers.. trust me. I can spot her at forty fathoms."
"I was going to get those neat neon tracer lights around my BC.. but Dar convinced me the weight of the power pack wasn't worth it." Kerry added, with a straight face.
Andrew covered his eyes, getting a chuckle from his wife. "Oh mah god." He peeked at Kerry. "Pink?"
"Hey. " Kerry waved a fork at him. "I'm a girl. I'm allowed to wear pink if I want to." She glanced at Dar. "At least it's better than my karate gi that got pink because accidentally washed Chino's collar with it."
Ceci covered her mouth, as her shoulders shook.
Dar cleared her throat, then took a sip of coffee, feeling the atmosphere relax considerably. Okay. She let her thought settle. Maybe this was doable after all. They were okay. Kerry was doing fine, and mom's She got caught looking across the table, meeting gray eyes that locked with hers for a split second, then dropped.
I can do this. She felt a hand reach for hers under the table, and met it, tangling her fingers with Kerry.
We can do this.
They made their way down to the marina in Dar's golf cart, which she only barely wreasted from her father's clutches. Their gear was already stowed on board, so they had only the fresh food from the market, and their beach bags to bring over the gangplank, as the sturdy boat rocked gently in the morning air.
Andrew picked up the bags and edged down into the cabin with them, as Ceci gazed around curiously at the well appointed Bertram. "Nice." Her eyes flicked briefly to Dar, who was checking the various things on the console.
"It's a little much." Dar commented absently. "We fit the back there with a fold down ladder, and a hook for diving." She peered down. "You untieing us?"
"Got it." Kerry had loosened the front rope and was climbing around to the second, unlashing it and jumping on board. "Go for it, Dar."
Dar started the engines and trimmed them, cocking her head to listen as she adjusted the throttles. She liked the big boat, actually. It had power to spare, and enough luxury that she could appreciate the on board shower, and the refrigerator after a long day of diving. She and Kerry often took advantage of the compact bed, then brought out a few candles, and ate a cold dinner by their light, under the blanket of stars overhead.
She backed slowly out, then swung the bow around and edged her way through the marina, which was starting to stir as other boat owners got the same idea from the beautiful, almost cloudless weather. A light breeze picked up and pushed her hair back, and she exhaled, determined to enjoy the day as much as possible.
Ceci finished her tour around the upper deck, and descended into the cabin, breathing in a rich scent of polished wood and salt. She paused just inside, and let her eyes roam the small, but neatly arranged space, and found herself nodding. "I like this."
"Whole lotta extra doo dads and whatnot." Andrew replied, from where he'd set down the bags and stowed them. "Half expected t'find a damn computer set up in here last time."
Ceci chuckled, and wandered past him, examining the compact kitchen with interest, then poking her head in the tiny bedroom, and it's functional, if cramped bathroom. "This is adorable, Andy.. I can't picture May paddling around in it, but it's nice."
"Huh." Andrew put the basket down on the counter and opened a cabinet, finding a tape player inside. "Figgers go out to the best natural entertainment on God's earth, and y'gotta drag along one of these." He turned. "And you tell me what need there is for a damn refrigerator?"
Ceci opened it, then peeked inside the small freezer.
"Cooler's good enough for sandwichs damnthing's a waste of power.. I surely don't know what the devil that woman was thinking of."
"There's chocolate ice cream in here." His wife mentioned. "Does that qualify as a good reason?"
Andy leaned over the counter and looked. "Huh." He gave her a squinty eyed glare. "Ah think that is a loaded question, Mrs. Roberts." They both smiled, then Andy fiddled with a piece of tie down and chewed his lower lip. "This all right with you?" His eyes encompassed the boat, and it's other occupants.
Cecilia paused, then nodded. "It's hard." She lowered her voice. "I know Dar's uncomfortable.. I think I am too, but we have to start somewhere." She looked around. "Besides we all love doing this - we'll get through it all right, Andy."
"You know, I really like Kerry." Ceci offered, a touch hesitantly. "She's a nice person."
"Yeap. Me too." Andy seemed uncomfortable for a moment. "Reminds me um don't get shocked or nothing, but she calls me dad." He glanced up at his wife, who blinked in surprise. "Family means a lot to her.. didn't see no harm in it."
"No, no of course not. " Ceci murmured. "I'm sure that whole issue with her parents bothers her." She felt a curious sympathy for Kerry, almost a kinship, having gone through more or less the same gauntlet when she'd married Andrew.
Though her family had never disowned her. Not that it would have mattered, not then, and not now - she'd refused all their overtures, all their proffered help, all their mock sympathy during the struggles they'd gone through over the years, preferring to work through the rough spots on her own.
A matter of pride, really.
Only after Andrew was gone, and nothing mattered anymore, had she taken what was offered, letting their smug sympathy wash past her. "It's so strange, Andy even after what I did to Dar, I can still stand here and wonder how they could just turn their backs on her simply for being in love with the wrong person."
"Wrong person?" Andy's eyebrows rose.
"You know what I mean." A faint smile. "I don't think it's the wrong person, but from their viewpoint, it must seem like that."
"No excuse." The square jaw moved. "Yer folks didn't take a cotton to me cause I'm a Southern Baptist hick from the swamp with less education than the family dog." He pointed up the small set of stairs. "Dar ain't none of that."
"I know, Andy." Ceci put a hand on his arm. "But not everyone's as accepting as you are."
"Damnfool idiots." He muttered. "Ain't got the sense God gave a gopher, or they'd realize if'n they were lucky enough to find someone t'care about them like those two do for each other.. " He paused. "Or like I do fer you what the hell difference does them body parts make?" He was upset, and it showed. "I'd like to.. " A pause, and a sigh. "It ain't right."
Ceci chafed his fingers. "My crusader." She lifted his hand and brushed her lips against it. "I'm glad Kerry decided to call you dad."
"You're such a good one."
The scowl deepened.
"C'mon let's go up on deck " Ceci moved out from behind the counter and tugged his hand. 'Where are we going, anyway?"
"Dar's island." Andy straightened and followed her. "Nice little place.. .sand, few trees, bout it." He put a hand on her back. "Had their little joiny thing out there."
Ceci stopped in mid step. "Their what?"
Her husband paused uncertainly. "Got together, few friends of theirs, and some pastor guy Kerry knew back home.. he said a few things.. you know, like a wedding, sort of, but not um.. " He faltered, as he saw her expression. "I got pictures.. if you'd like t'see them?"
The slim woman's shoulders dropped a little, but she resumed her climb. "Sure. I'd like that." She felt an irrational pang of loss, at missing an event it never in her wildest dreams occurred to her would happen. "Sounds like it was nice."
They emerged into the sun, then glanced up, to see Kerry standing on the flying bridge next to Dar, one arm draped casually over her, and her head resting on a tanned shoulder. The wind whipped dark and pale hair back, tangling it as the boat raced out of the cut, and headed into the Atlantic.
"Yeah." Andy replied softly. "It was.. Kerry said this real nice poem she had.. then Dardar sang something I liked it."
"Is she a poet?"
"Yeap but she don't talk much about it." Andy cleared his throat a little. "Hey.. don't you two fall asleep up thar."
Two heads turned. "We're not." Kerry smiled, detaching herself from her taller companion. "We'll be out by the reef in about ten minutes time to check gear, I guess." She clambered down to join them, and went to the equipment lockers on either side of the stern. "We keep our stuff on board mostly."
"It ain't really pink?" Andy ambled over and looked down. "Oh mah god." He clapped a hand over his eyes. "You will scare every living thing for a nautical mile with that stuff on."
"Tch.. I do not." Kerry pulled her BC and regulator out, and the thin half wetsuit she used. "Fish love me.. I can't get rid of them, in fact." She gave Ceci a shy look. "Did you get everything you needed? We've got some extra stuff if you didn't."
"Ah no." Cecilia opened the next locker and tugged at the handles of a new, fairly well stuffed dive bag. "I think Andy covered just about everything.. in fact, I'm pretty sure I've got enough equipment here to dive the Antarctic."
"Ah did not." Andy took the bag from her and swung it over to the deck. " You are surely exaggerating." He unfastened the grips and unzipped it, exposing a new set of diving gear. "Nothin extra there."
Kerry knelt beside him. "What's this?"
"Multi range depth gauge."
"Um.. we're diving a twenty foot deep reef, dad."
"That is not the point, young lady."
"Uh huh." Kerry poked around." What's this?"
"In case of dangerous clown fish?"
"You can not be too prepared in the sea." Andy stated firmly.
"Uh huh Mrs. Roberts?" Kerry looked up. "Please.. try not to point it at anything pink, okay?"
Ceci chuckled. "Oh no.. I'm not taking that thing the last time I had my hands on a spear gun.."
"You shot a Kodiak out from under Dad." Dar's voice drifted down, a note of amusement in her tone. "Glad the hull's fiberglass on this one."
The atmosphere tangibly relaxed, as the sun rose and the ocean's spray doused them. "That's right." Ceci admitted. "And I'm really glad I was far enough away to only puncture the bottom lining, and not anything more.. um.. " She saw Andy's eyes widen, and his grizzled brows rise. "More sensitive."
Kerry laughed at the look on Andy's face. "Okay so.. we've got a gauge, we've got a spear gun.. what else?" She pulled out a large yellow object. "Wh.. "
"That is a light." Andy growled. "And before you go telling me it's daytime out, young lady, Ah am going to use it to hunt out some spiny critters."
"Right.. " Kerry agreed, with an impish smile.
"Do you not have your own stuff to check out?"
She took the hint. "Okay I have to put the batteries in my flippers anyway."
Andy sighed. "Lord.. ah will never live this down." He grumbled. "If any of the guys saw me down there with that glow in the dark getup.."
"I'd distract them for you, honey." Ceci planted a kiss on the top of his head. "I'll tell them about your silk undies." She whispered in his ear.
A deep, aggrieved, sigh. "Might as well get me one of them pink wetsuits."
The boat rocked very gently on the surface as Dar leaped over the railing, and landed in the shallow water with a splash. She waded through the hip deep sea and tied the boat off securely to the wooden pylon she'd brought out there so many years before.
A seagull watched her from the sandy shore and she flipped a bit of wood at him before she turned and started back, stretching her arms out into the warm sun. On board the boat, Kerry was standing in her phosphorescent glory, pale head cocked to one side as she watched Dar's parents suit up. She turned as Dar approached, and went to move the ladder over the side, but Dar waved her back, reaching up and grabbing the railing and pulling herself aboard. "Nice day."
"Boy, is it." Kerry smiled with enthusiasm. "Nice and calm, no clouds.. it's going to be gorgeous down there." She hefted her newest toy, an underwater camera, then set it on the bench. "Help me get this on?"
Dar lifted her tank and BC as she got into it, then adjusted the hoses as Kerry wrapped the waist strap around her, and buckled the front stays. "Whoops.. forgot the weight belt."
"I"ve got it." Dar picked up the web belt studded with pink weights and circled Kerry with her arms, handing her the ends in front. "There you go."
"Thanks." Kerry buckled the belt and hopped up and down a bit, shifting her shoulders to settle the weight of the tank. It was heavy, of course. Fully charged with compressed air the tank weighed close to thirty pounds, and added to the seven or eight pounds of her BC and regulator, and the twelve pounds on her weight belt, it felt like she was an argonaut of old, in their metal shoes, waiting to descend into the depths.
Dar slipped on her own belt and tightened it, then crouched and got her arms into her BC and buckled it, then stood, leaning forward a little until she had all the straps fastened. Then she straightened and watched her father fussing over her mother's new gear. "Dad, this isn't a Cousteau expedition."
"Aw, put yer head in the water, Dardar." Andrew adjusted a gauge for the fourth time.
Cecilia patted her side and gave him a faintly amused look. "Andy, I really do remember how to do this." She edged away from his tinkering and sat down on the back bench and looked down. "Oh look, a barracuda!"
"Wh.. " Andrew moved his wetsuited body over and searched the water. "Lemme check that out. " He vaulted over the end of the boat and disappeared under the water with a remarkably small splash.
Dar regarded the ripples, then picked up her father's gear and set it on the wooden platform she'd had built on to the back of the boat, making it easier to enter and exit the water. She flipped the diving ladders down into the surf and gave her mother a look. "Barracuda, huh?"
Cecilia was pushing her silver blond hair back. "Mmhmm."
"C'mon, Ker. " Dar held back a chuckle, as she fit her mask on and picked up her fins. "Let's get wet."
Kerry joined her at the back of the boat. "Don't you think we'd better wait for your father to check out that barracuda?" She watched Dar go to the platform and slip her fins on, then put a hand over her mask and step off into the water. "I guess not."
"There wasn't really one." Ceci volunteered, with a wry smile. "I just wanted a few minutes to put my mask on."
Kerry blinked. "Oh." She held her camera and put a hand over her own mask. "Overprotective huh?"
"Just a little." Dar's mother smiled. "In a nice kind of way."
"I know." Kerry nodded. "It's hereditary." She took a step off the boat and entered the water, the pleasantly cool shock quickly fading to a familiar, comfortable weather.
Another reason not to dive in Michigan. Even in summer it didn't come close to the 85 degrees she was now descending in.
Kerry released her mask and looked around, adjusting to the always odd sensation of being completely underwater quickly. The sun cut through the waves, and the visibility was very good, providing her with an excellent view all around her at greens and blues, and ochres, cut through by fish and the irregular surface of the sea bottom under her. She spotted Dar floating nearby, reclining in the water with her knees half bent and her hands folded on her stomach. Periodically, a small stream of bubbles emerged from her regulator, and behind the silvered glass of her mask, Kerry could see the blue eyes roving with interest around her.
Getting used to the regulator was the hardest part. It was a soft rubber mouthpiece that fit between her teeth, providing air on demand when she inhaled through her mouth. The air was dry, and the biggest problem Kerry had with the entire affair was getting very thirsty.
Ironic. Here she was, totally immersed in water, and her biggest worry was where to get a drink.
Dar motioned her over, and pointed, to a dark form that was moving through the water back towards the boat. Kerry adjusted her gear again, loosened in the different stress of the water, and swam towards her lover, turning her head to watch Andrew approach, take one last look around then head for the surface with liquid, undulating motions.
Wow. Kerry ended up next to Dar, and unfastened her writing slate and underwater crayon. She scribbled on the surface quickly. "He's like a fish."
Dar nodded, tendrils of escaped hair bobbing. She cupped her hand and made a swimming motion, then pointed as her father reentered the water with her mother right behind him. He had his gear on now, a minimalist rig that was mostly padded straps and pockets, with a streamlined tank. It was all black, of course, as were his fins and mask, and he moved thorugh the water in a totally natural way.
Surprisingly, Cecilia looked also very much at home, despite the fact that it must have been years since she'd done this. She adjusted her gear much the way Kerry had, then started off, peering around with interest and obvious enjoyment.
"You mom is having fun."
Dar couldn't really smile, with the regulator in place. She took the slate. "It was the one part of his world she could share fully."
Ah. Kerry nodded in understanding. Then she felt Dar move closer and she took the slate back, tucking it into it's velcro fastening at her hip. She turned to find a tiny mouthpiece behind held out to her. Attached to it was a tube, which went to a slim pack she'd thought was extra padding around the back of Dar's tank. Curiously, she spit out her regulator and fitted the soft rubber inside her mouth, then cautiously sucked on it, her courage rewarded with cool, sweet water. "Rgle!" She looked at Dar in delight.
Dar looked smugly pleased with herself, and her new toy. She waited for Kerry to finish her drink, then she rolled over in the water and started swimming over the reef, towards a thick cluster of the colorful rocks where schools of fish were swarming.
Kerry exhaled in wonder, as the sun's rays cut through the sea and lit up the reef like something out of a dream. She lifted her camera up and took a few lazy shots, then let a bit of air out of her BC to sink closer to the living coral.
Never touch it. Dar had drilled that into her, and as she swam along a foot over the reef, she caught the motion of her lover tucking her trailing gear up so it wouldn't strike the fragile surface. She slowed her pace and watched the rock with interest, spotting a tiny bit of motion and peering closer, to see the almost clear, tiny shrimp skittering over the surface. A silver shape came into view, and she turned her head, to see a clown fish chasing a tiny purple and orange fellow by, as a flat, omipototent grouper observed, swimming slowly past Kerry with a wary eye on her.
Ooo.. A school of silver fish, tiny and nervous came right at her, and she went still, letting them split around her, their tiny bodies brushing with the lightest of touches over her skin. A touch on her arm distracted her, and she followed Dar's tug towards one side of the reef, looking where the taller woman was pointing.
A ray. Not just a little one either, six feet wide at the least, and settled into the silt, depending on camoflauge to prevent it's being eaten. Dar pulled her closer, and she put a hand out very tentatively when her companion did, touching the surface of the ray with nervous fingers. It was soft, almost velvety, and she could feel the flinch as the ray felt the contact.
Dar floated closer, running her hands along the animal's back, and over the rounded edge of the front of it's fins, surprised when the ray decided to vacate it's nest for quieter waters. It lifted off the sand and moved away powerfully, taking the human that was annoying it along with it.
Kerry focused quickly, and snapped off a few shots of the ray towing Dar, until it settled to the ground again and Dar released her hold, floating up and turning around with both thumbs up. A motion caught her attention again, and she turned in the water, to watch Dar's parents exploring the other end of the reef, with Ceci floating delicately over the rocks, and Andrew circling around her with his supple, relaxed movements. Kerry noticed they'd left the spear gun behind.
They drifted closer together, then Dar suddenly ducked towards the rock, grabbing something, then heading for her father. Andrew looked up, and spotted what she was holding, then backfinned, shaking a finger at her in mock warning. Kerry swam closer, then realized it was a lobster in Dar's hand. One with tiny, grasping claws she was aiming right towards Andy.
He tumbled in the water, then flipped over and tried to get behind his daughter, who rolled right with him, plopping the lobster right against his chest.
The lobster, strangely, resented this, and started grabbing and flapping, making the ex seal squirm in mid water, batting at the creature with his hands until it swam off, glaring daggers at Dar with it's beady little stalked eyes.
Dar had exactly ten seconds to laugh, then she had to make a hole in the water, because she had a tall, dangerous looking creature coming after her, aiming to do scurrilous things to her unprotected kneecaps. Dar took off, racing ahead of her pursuer with powerful strokes in a curving path around the reef.
Kerry stayed in the middle of the curve, resting on her back in the water and snapping shots of the action as it progressed. Andrew was faster, due to his longer length and powerful kick, but Dar was more flexible, and she turned and whirled in mid stroke so quickly he kept missing her when he lunged. Ceci found an empty spot of sea bottom to perch on, and watched, shaking her head slowly as her husband and child tumbled around like a pair of demented manatees.
Kerry took a few shots of her, then swam over, settling to the silt and tucking her hands around her knees. Ceci turned her head, then lifted a hand and opened it, revealing a beautiful cone shaped shell, covered in what looked like hieroglyphs.
Kerry took a picture of it, then glanced up to see gray eyes watching her with reserved interest. She pulled out her slate. "It's nice today."
Ceci nodded in agreement, then took the slate. "The only thing it lacks is ice tea."
Kerry grinned, and held up a finger, then handed the older woman her camera and dove into the chase above her.
Nobody was really sure whose idea the campfire was. But the island provided enough dry, fragrant wood to make one, and the sandy ground seemed safe enough to light it on. They'd taken hunks of dead coral, though, just in case and made a circle around the flames.
It was an almost surreal scene, Ceci decided, a tiny island in the middle of the coastal Atlantic, with a view on one side of nothing but black sea broken only by the faint buoy lights. On the other side, the skyline of the city spread to either side, the lights of the beach hotels going north, and the outlines of the city buildings to her south.
Above her, the stars floated, obscured by clouds drifting by, and far off against the horizon a storm was brewing, where intermittent lightning burst into view.
It was gorgeous. She leaned against an amiable palm tree and felt the warm sand between her toes, as the breeze brought a whiff of the spicy, boiling mixture in the pot they'd jury rigged over the fire, filled with fresh things captured from the nearby water.
Dar sloshed up out of the water, adding one last thing to the pot with a piratical grin. "Got one." She pulled her mask off and continued on, dropping her snorkle and mesh bag on a towel and hesitating, then taking a seat relatively near her mother. Kerry was on the boat, fixing up something or other, and Andrew was still hunting under the waves.
Ceci eyed the smooth, tanned back an arm's length or so away and considered her options. The day had been pleasant, really - though they were both uncomfortable with each other, Andy and Kerry were doing their respective darndest to smooth things out. The older woman paused, then reached behind her and picked up a folded towel, glancing at it a moment before she cleared her throat gently. "Dar?"
The dark head turned, firelight glinting off pale, wary eyes which met hers, then focused on the towel she was holding out. "Thanks." Dar took the fabric and leaned back, opening up her posture a little. They eyed each other. "You.. um " Dar shifted. "Might want to think about some aloe."
"Ah.. yes." Cecilia nodded ruefully. "I feel as red as those lobsters are going to be in there."
"Mm I think I got a little burned too." Dar admitted, stretching her long legs out in the sand and wiping them dry.
Wet, disheveled, and covered in sand, Ceci found this version of her daughter far more familiar than the one she'd been dealing with previously. Dar's hair was longer now, beyond shoulder length, and her body lengthened and grown into a woman's proportions that still held a distinct note of her tough, combative youth.
A gulf of time was between them. Ceci studied the strong profile, sadly at a loss for words.
Dar looked up at her suddenly. "Something wrong?"
A gust of cool wind made her shiver, and the words escaped without much thought behind them. "I keep waiting for the alarm to ring and wake me up." She murmured, regretting the statement almost as it came out of her mouth. She looked away.
Dar's own eyes dropped to the sand. Damn, this was so hard. She sucked in a breath. "Yeah " Her fingers found a tiny, perfect scallop in the sand. "It's a lot to adjust to."
Ceci leaned her forearms on her knees, and rested her chin on them. "This.. must be complicating your life." She remarked wryly, rewarded with the faintest hint of a smile, that wrinkled the skin at the corner of her daughter's mouth and eyes.
A tilt of the head in acknowledgement. "It's.. not an unwelcome complication." Dar replied, shifting so they almost faced each other. "I'm glad things worked out."
Worked out. What an outstandingly understated way to consider a life changing event so vast, she couldn't even begin to encompass it. "Well thank you for making that phone call." She cleared her throat. "Though I know you didn't do it for my benefit."
Pale eyes peered at her from under dark brows. "Don't assume that." The already low voice deepened. "At least credit me the ability to do the right thing when I know what it is." But the tone wasn't angry, merely wistful.
Cecilia felt off balance, yet again. She sighed. "I didn't mean you wouldn't, Dar. It just occurred to me, that, given what happened between us, I don't expect any favors from you." She sensed the restless motion, and half expected Dar to get up and leave, something her daughter had always done when in a confrontation she didn't want to deal with.
But instead, surprisingly, Dar turned further around, and moved closer, her gaze now intent, and strangely compelling. "Well." A faintly warm note crept in. "I've made a reputation out of doing the unexpected."
Ceci merely blinked, unsure of what to say.
"I can't change the past." Her daughter stated flatly, then hesitated. "Though I would change parts of it, if I could."
The fire crackled softly, and a splash was heard off the beach. "I would too." Ceci murmured.
They looked at each other quietly.
Another splash, and they both turned to see Andrew emerging from the water, the fire outlining his burly, wetsuit covered form. He shook himself, then trudged up the beach. "Smells damn nice round here."
"I'll second that." Kerry stepped carefully down the floating bridge Dar had built, carrying an armful of stuff and a basket. The blond woman had a white cotton overshirt on, her sun darkened skin showing vividly against it, and her hair pulled back into a knot. "Dar, can you grab this?"
"Sure." Dar scrambled to her feet and hopped onto the wooden surface, taking the basket from her lover and opening the top. "Ah. Plates."
"Well, yeah." Kerry stepped past her, with a chuckle. "Did you think we were going to just stick our hands in that pot and start chewing on whatever we pulled out?"
Dar and her father exchanged glances.
Ceci laughed softly, and pushed herself to her feet, walking over to join them around the fire. They'd set mats down a safe distance from the flames, and now Kerry put her burdens on top of them and poked at the pot's contents.
"Ooo." A very spicy, very intense scent emerged. "I think I'm in love."
"Coulda tolja that oh, ya mean with that stuff." Andrew drawled, tousling his grizzled hair dry and snapping Kerry in the butt with the fabric as he ambled past.
"Yeoow hey!" Kerry hopped around the fire, getting off balance and stumbling right into Dar's arms. "Whoa.. thanks." She caught herself. "Hey..you're all wet." Her voice caught a little, at the odd sensation of the cool dampness warming as their bodies joined.
A dark brow lifted slightly.
"Tch." Kerry blushed, invisible in the dark but not to Dar's light touch on her. "Give me a hand with this stuff can we put the bits right in a bowl? I brought some."
"Now dont' get nervous." Dar's whisper tickled her ear, and her breathing quickened a bit.
"I'm not." Kerry knelt and pulled the round, wooden bowls out. "What makes you think I am? I don't think I am.. I just want you to give me a hand divvying this stuff up, what makes you think ffmfmf."
"You're babbling." The whisper returned. "Relax. It's just my parents, not yours."
"Oh." Kerry clamped her jaw shut, and handed Dar a set of long chef's tongs. "Right.. well, if I had to imagine my parents sitting in the sand on an island, Dar, my brain would explode. So.." She cleared her throat and raised her voice. "I have some Spanish rice in that pot." She looked up to where Ceci was settling. "Yeah there, and in that other one is some steamed brocolli." She stuck a tongue out at the face Dar was making. "It's not for you, don't worry." She looked over Dar's shoulder. "Or you either.. I know better." She pointed a long handled fork at Andrew.
They sat down with their bowls of steaming saffron colored rice, covered with spicy seafood bits ranging from grouper to shrimp, with chunks of the lobsters Dar and Andy had tickled out sitting on top.
"Mm." Ceci poured a mug of the cold, iced cider and handed it to her husband, then took one for herself. "Good stuff." The rice was fluffy, and perfect, and the brocolli crisp and fresh, and a nice counterpoint to fish, her exception to a usually vegetarian diet.
Or maybe it was just the fresh air, and an entire day of activity that made everything taste so wonderful.
It really was like a dream, but the longer it went on, the more she'd started to realize it was one she was stuck with, the good like this lobster along with the bad, which would be the sand sticking to parts of her sand didn't belong, and her prickly offspring.
Too much color. Too much emotion and sensations, making chaos of her formerly orderly existence, and filling it with complications and issues. Ceci sighed in wry contentment. It felt very much like home.
Andy removed a very pink shrimp and offered it to her, and she bit down, feeling the crisp flesh give way and release a burst of spice into her mouth.
Nope. Nothing bland here.
Dar leaned back against a big piece of driftwood and settled her bowl in the crook of her arm, then reached out and gave Kerry's shirt back a light tug. They'd been running around so much all day, she'd hardly had a chance to spend any time near her lover, and her body missed that.
"Mm?" Kerry turned her head, then saw the invititation in Dar's eyes. "Um " Eeek. Getting all cuddly in front of the older generation was still making her a bit squeamish, but She scooted back and settled in the curve of her lover's arm, relaxing as it curled around her and gave her a squeeze. Shyly, she glanced over at Ceci and Andrew, glad to see only a look of amused indulgence on their faces.
Not that she really expected any different, but you never knew. People said things, and thought they meant them, but when they were hit in the face with reality that sometimes flew out the window. She speared a piece of broccoli and bit into it, feeling the tender skin tense around her face and shoulders. Her body was a little sore from all the diving and swimming, and she suspected she was going to pay for her fun tomorrow, but it had been a great day. She'd gotten some really fantastic pictures, everyone had mostly seemed to have fun, and she'd seen signs that Dar and her mother were cautiously approaching each other.
Kerry sighed, and wiggled her toes, enjoying the warmth of the fire against the breeze coming off the water. She felt overheadted, and grubby, and was sure she had seaweed in some highly unlikely places, but she couldn't think of a place she'd rather be.
Dar was curled up on the cabin's small couch, studying some small, encrusted metal bits she'd recovered from the bottom. The drone of the engines was almost soothing, and if she really tried, she could put out of her mind entirely the fact that her father was driving the big boat, after giving her a taste of what it was like to try and say no to those big, blue eyes.
A soft sound made her look up, to see her mother coming into the cabin, her hair so completely in disarray it appeared she'd stuck a finger into one of the twenty amp sockets in the sidewalls. "I think your father just swamped a Sunfish."
Ceci flexed her bare toes and continued across the floor. "This is a lovely setup." Her hands found a place in the pockets of the soft white cotton pants. "Very functional."
Dar spread her arms out and looked around the small cabin. "Yeah the first time I saw it, it seemed just far too rich, but after I checked it out, most of the trimmings are there for a purpose." She stroked the wood. "This weathers well, the fabrics are designed for humidity and sealed, the kitchen gear is nothing fancy.. it's a good working rig."
Her mother perched on the edge of the counter, which lifted up and doubled as storage. She folded her arms and looked around, nodding. "You could live on this thing, really."
"The thought's occurred to me." Dar admitted. "Except using a sat hook up to download mail's a bitch." Her name being called made her look up. "Yeah?"
"D oh, there you are." Kerry came scrambling down into the space. "Would you p oh, sorry, hi am I interrupting?" She paused, giving Cecilia an apologetic look.
"No no.. we were just discussing the boat." A slim hand lifted "Go on."
"I'm trying to describe that weird fish we saw, and your father keeps trying to tell me it was a parrot fish. I keep telling him it wasn't do me a favor, would you? Draw it so I can show him?"
"Didn't you get a picture of it?" Dar queried, sitting up and putting her forearms on table.
"Yes, but that's got to wait for developing." Kerry sat down next to her with a pad and pencil. "Please?"
"Oh all right." The dark haired woman gave her an indulgent look and accepted the pencil, propping her head up with her other hand as she moved the pad into a more comfortable position. "This was the one with the red and blue stripes, and the pig nose, right?"
"Well, I always heard Romans were pigs." Dar smiled. "Okay.. I remember that one.. you flipped upside down to take it's picture."
"That's the one." Kerry eased away and slipped into the kitchen area, giving Ceci a smile as she poured herself a cup of coffee from the thermos clamped on the counter. "Would you like some?"
"Sure thank you." Ceci answered absently, her entire peripheral attention focused on the powerful hand moving the pencil across the paper with sure, confident scratches.
An eye formed.
A round body, tapered in back, and properly three dimensional.
A wide, sturdy tail.
Feathery fins caught in mid motion by a knowledgable hand.
Cecilia's eyes followed the dark lines flowing easily from Dar's imagination, feeling like she'd just walked into a room, and been greeted by a little gray man from Mars. Wearing a bow tie.
For thirty years she'd been convinced the only thing she and her offspring shared was a mutual antagonism, and a grudging simlilarity in musical tastes.
And now here she sat, watching a bit of herself come alive and emerge from those long, tapered fingertips.
A wisp of steam warmed her hand, and she started, then looked over at a pair of warm green eyes over a cup of coffee. "Oh. " Ceci murmured, .taking the cup. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Kerry's voice had deepened slightly. She circled the table and settled next to Dar, sipping her coffee and watching her fish emerge. "That's exactly the one."
"Uh huh thought so no way was it a parrot." Dar muttered, sketching in the curious markings on the fish, in a light posphorescence. "Did you see that little gold triangle, just above the gills?" She made a few last additions, then pushed the pad over. "Okay?"
Kerry regarded the pretty fish with a smile, then lifted her eyes and met Ceci's. "What do you think?"
Dar felt a hot flush tingle her skin, as she realized she'd forgotten that her mother had been standing there watching. A half dozen defensive words filled her mouth clamoring for her tongues attention as she tensed, and half turned, her tired mind scrambling to deal with the unexpected embarassment.
Ceci pulled the pad over and studied it. "Well.. I'm no expert.. but I think you're right. It's not a parrotfish." She remarked softly. "It is a really nice sketch, though." Her eyes slipped up to meet Dar's, finding her daughter with such a deer in the headlights expression she almost started laughing.
Instead, she looked back over at Kerry, whose mossy green eyes held a definite twinkle in them. Why, that little stinker. Ceci felt a sudden jolt of surprise. She did that on purpose.
"Thanks, Dar." Kerry captured the pad and stood, leaning over and brushing the top of her lover's head with her lips. "Be right back." She escaped quickly, bolting out the cabin door and leaping for the ladder, scaling it and hopping up onto the flying bridge with a chortle. "Bingo!"
Andrew looked up from his instruments, and grinned rakishly at her. "Very smooth, kumquat.. fell for it, did she?"
"Hhhhook , line and ssssinker." Kerry did a little gopher dance, then showed him the pad. "See?"
Andrew glanced at the picture. "Wall .. spin my tail and call me spooky wouldja look at that." He tilted the small instrument light towards the pad and examined the fish. His eyebrows jerked, then knit. "Cec say anything?"
"She said it was a good sketch." Kerry replied. "And that it wasn't a parrotfish." She poked Andy in the ribs. "Did I do good?"
He ruffled her hair affectionately. "Hell, yes.. c'mere, since you like this so damn much." He gave her an awkward hug, and a pat on the back. "Wanna help me steer this thing?"
"Sure." Kerry peered into the pitch darkness. "Is that the bouy? Yeah hey, I always wanted to do something "
"This." Kerry shoved both the boat's throttles forward, and felt the bow lift as the wind suddenly screamed past her. "Oh yeah."
"Son of a ."
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