Reticulating Lives

Part 1

by Lexibard

Disclaimer: The following characters are of my own creation and may not be used without my explicit consent. Any similarity to people living or fictitious is pure coincidence and no copyright infringement is intended.

A note from the author: "NC-17" The following story is of a mature theme and meant for an adult audience. The material contains explicit sex scenes between adults, both male and female. Obscene, profane, or scurrilous language is used through out this story and nudity is implied. Anyone, who takes offense, should stop reading now. There are plenty of G-rated stories around to keep you happy! With that said, please enjoy! Constructive comments and suggestions are welcomed.

Dedication: To Tina, Happy Birthday Baby!


(Tell Tale Signs)


February 1999

The sounds of laughter and music filled the shaft as Jean and Sonny stepped into the elevator. It was originally built to haul freight but now served as a stylish entrance to the elaborate studios of Gentry -- an upper Eastside photography studio housed in what used to be a garment factory. Jean reached up and pulled the horizontal gates closed. She then reached across Sonny, and pressed the button. Stepping back, she gave a light smile, then watched the numbers flash by, as they ascended.

The space was severely modern with mauve leather, stainless steel, gray and white tweed wall-to-wall, and a hint of onyx here and there. Sonny went wide-eyed as she emerged, blindly, from the elevator. Once her eyes adjusted, she gazed along the silky stone-white walls where black and whites of well known celebrities from the different arts, stared out at her. Shyly, she stared into a seductive glance from Michelle Pfeiffer. She let her mouth gape as her eyes came upon the nude torso of the beautiful Tamara.

"Yes, she's shot some of the most beautiful faces in the world..." said Jean, from behind. Pointing she said, "That's..."

"Tamara!" Sonny interrupted, in a whisper. "...I think she's gorgeous."

"...Wait 'till you see the one she has of me." Jean kidded. "You would think I was gorgeous too."

Sonny eyed Jean and smiled. Then looking back at the picture of Tamara, she asked, "What's she like?"


"No, Tamara. Do you know her?"

"Yeah I know her. Well, about as much as she lets you know her. She's an extremely private person...But, Carrie managed to get through."

Sonny was about to comment when a small plump man, with horn rimmed glasses and receding black hair, backed into them as he treaded a measure. Without missing a beat, he smiled, handed Jean his glass, then danced away, disappearing with his blonde partner into the pool of people before them. Sonny and Jean grinned at each other, then burst into laughter.

"Friend of yours? Sonny said jokingly, as she covered her mouth to stop laughing."

"I don't think so." said Jean. She stood on the tip of her toes to see over the dancing bodies, while she surveyed the room. She spotted a recognizable group of people standing around the receptionist's desk on the far left side of the room. Frantically, she waved her hand before her to clear the thick mixture of cigarette smoke, marijuana smoke and alcohol vapors, from her immediate air. She spotted a more desirable group of friends on the other side of the room, and decided to head there. However, before she could take a step, someone had her by the arm.

"You're here!" a tall thin woman with red, waist length hair said. She grabbed Jean, wrapping long pale arms around her back and waist.

Jean hugged her back, and greeted her with a smile. "Congrads, girl! I knew you had a best seller in you all the time. You were just waiting for the right time, right?"

"Yeah, poverty!" the woman said laughing. She looked over at Sonny, then looked down at Jean's hands. "Oh, damn! You forgot your copy." she said, stomping her foot to the floor "I'm autographing them for everyone."

"Yeah, I know. I guess this just means I'm going to have to make a special trip to your apartment to get it signed." Jean said, first giving Sonny a knowing wink.

"You had better make it soon 'cause I'm leaving for Italy next Tuesday. Some Great Aunt is turning a hundred or something, and Daddy insists everyone be there."

"Let me introduce you. This is Sonny. Sonny, Anna Bell Scorcini..." The ladies shook hands. "... New York's latest literary giant."

"Congratulations." said Sonny, shyly. She was hoping Anna Bell didn't ask her if she had read it. With her work schedule she had little time to read anything, let alone a novel.

"Let me take your coats. The bar is over there, and ...I see you already have a drink." Anna Bell said pointing to the glass in Jean's hand.

"Some guy just put this in my hand... " She put it down on a shelf behind them, and glanced around the room. "By the way, where's our hostess?"

"Oh, Carrie's around here somewhere. Isn't she a darling for giving me this party?" she said, handing their coats to a waiter that was passing by. "...There's Gerald. Excuse me but I've got to catch up to him before he leaves me stranded here. Get some drinks! There's champagne floating around everywhere!"

Jean turned to Sonny, who now looked stunning in her strapless short black cocktail dress that effectively brought out the rich brown tone of her skin. Around her neck laid a single diamond pendant that sparkled and winked at Jean. Well at least Jean thought so. "Wow!" was all she could get out.

"Am I over dressed?" Sonny asked, looking down at her self in embarrassment.

"No! Not at all...It's just that WONDERFUL! I thought red was your color but now I'd say it is definitely black."

Sonny smiled shyly and giggled lightly under her breath. Cocking her head to the side, she said "Are you always so subtle?"

"Only when I'm at a lost for words." Jean laid a tender hand on Sonny's arm. "Let's try to make our way towards the couch."

"Where's the couch?"

Jean smiled again, and grabbed her hand. "Just follow me."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sonny was to seductively lie across the hood of a black luxury sedan, in a red satin gown, showing off its extras, while the camera showed off Sonny. Jean was "walking the set", as she called it, by demand of her boss. He was a stickler for perfection and felt that someone of authority should be on set at all times. This way if any problems arose it could be handled immediately; thereby, causing no delay and wasting no money. This was a task he usually took upon himself. But, lately he had found it increasingly harder to come to terms with his hangovers from the nights before and could no longer make early morning shoots. So, being his assistant, Jean found herself trying to stay out of the way as the busy crew bustled around her.

She busied herself by trying to make what little she knew about making commercials seem like a volume of knowledge to Horner, the Cadillac Company representative in charge of the project. However, Sonny's entrance had taken her breath away, and she stared like everyone else. Sonny sauntered in, tall and bronze, with the most beautiful green eyes Jean had ever seen. She was wearing a brown flight jacket, white tee shirt, jeans, and high top sneakers. She had on no make-up, with her hair pulled back into a juvenile attempt at a ponytail, and carried a huge garment bag over her shoulder. Every head in the studio turned as Marsha, the stage manager, lead her and her make-up person to the dressing room. Cal Korbitt, the director, had to shout "back to work!" to get the crew moving again.

When Sonny returned, she was wearing the red gown. Quickly, Jean led Horner over to her. She felt nervous as she and Horner stood next to Sonny, while Cal explained the moves he wanted for the shoot. Every time Sonny smiled at Jean, Jean's heart would flutter. It was an odd experience to her because she had been in the company of models before but never had she encountered one she was so physically attracted to before. The few relationships she had had with models in the pass were usually with people who found her desirable and pursued her. But now she was feeling the "love at first sight" jitters, and it scared her. Instead of the commercial, she was now trying to think up ways to dump Horner and get Sonny alone.

When the morning ended and Sonny had changed back into her street clothes, Jean cornered Sonny alone. "I think the shoot went really well today" Jean began. She was standing only a few inches away from her and she found her eyes to be even more enchanting close up. "If you're not doing anything tonight...There's a party... um, nothing know her ...Carrie ...Carrie Lewis, the photographer?"

"Yes, I've heard of her." Sonny replied, taking a pack of cigarettes from Jean's top jacket pocket. She lit one, took a deep breath, then returned them to the pocket. "Sorry I can't. I'm having dinner with my agent tonight." She took another deep breath, looked deep into Jean's eyes and said, "But, how about drinks afterward?.." and without waiting for a reply she added, "Pick me up outside Dino's at 10:00. I should be through around that time."

Shocked at her bluntness Jean went for her cigarettes and turned back to the others in the room to see if anyone else caught wind of their conversation. They hadn't. In spite of the many years she had been living in New York, Jean was still surprised by the amount of gay and lesbian people she encountered. At times it seemed like everyone she met was family, and if they weren't they were eager for the experience. Of course it made life easier and allowed her to be herself, but she still hadn't been able to feel comfortable with it. Still looking around the room, she managed to say "10:00, in front of Dino's. I'll be there..." to the retreating back of Sonny.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jean and Sonny maneuvered their way through the crowd, pass the buffet, and pass the bored looking D.J., with Jean holding Sonny's hand firmly. She nodded knowingly to faces that they passed, giving polite "Hellos" sparingly. When they reached the couch, She introduced Sonny around the circle. Mike, the television producer, made room for Sonny to sit down. He was a thin man who looked to be, well into his fifties, although he was only forty-one. He wore cream colored pants with a matching shirt that was unbuttoned down to his midriff, exposing his gray and black chest hairs. Around his neck he had a scarf that sported all the colors of the rainbow in a neat floral arrangement.

"You are lovely!... he exclaimed, staring at Sonny's skin. Sonny noticed his immaculate nails. "...Are you in television?"

"I've done a few commercials" She answered.

"No sitcom work?"

Jean interrupted. "Mike produces 'Without Love'..." Sonny looked at her in confusion. "...It's a comedy on channel nine."

"Oh..." Sonny said, looking embarrassed, "...I don't get to watch television too often."

Mike patted her on the knee. "That's all right, darling. I think you should be on it, not necessarily watching it." He threw his head back in laughter, then looked up at Jean, who was still nervously scanning the room.

"Looking for our hostess, are you...Well, don't bother. She disappeared eons ago...Bored I guess!" He looked back at Sonny, who was now studying the intense look of concern on Jean's face. "Ohhh!..I know" Mike continued, "You're here to get your picture taken!...How fabulous!" He exclaimed. "Carrie's going to have fun working with that face!..."

"Yeah, she'll make you a star overnight." grumbled Sasha, as she turned to exit the group. She had been one of Carrie's favorites for years. However, now that she was pushing 28, and looking every bit of it -- the assignments were coming in less and less, and Carrie was calling less and less. Anyone who was younger than she, was now a threat to her very existence. It was her usual reaction to put distance between herself and the young pretty ones.

Mike continued, "...Just remember come see me, Mike Russell, When you want your big break in television. I'll treat you right. "

Sonny was about to thank him when he excused himself to dance with a male friend, who now had him by the hand.

"He's such a fairy." said Steven Gould, as he sat down next to Sonny.

Sonny recognized him right away. He was the sports commentator from Eye-On News, although he appeared to be much taller on television. Steven was young, handsome and known to be a ladies man. His chiseled features, like that of Richard Gere's, had taken him a long way from Casper, Oklahoma, where he was born and raised. And now he was hoping it would take him even further. He had a secret desire to someday sit along side Al and Dan and co-anchor Monday Night Football.

Sitting his glass down in front of him, he clasped his hands behind his head, and with a big grin said to Jean, "Speaking of fairies, where's your playmate tonight? He pass out early?"

"Contrary to popular belief, Lars and I are not joined at the hip. If you want to know where he is Steven, why don't you ask him? You know the number..." Without waiting for a reply, she looked over to Sonny.

"You want something to drink?"

"You think you could find me a white wine?"

"I'll try...I was looking for Carrie but, I don't see her anywhere."
She looked around the room again. Malcolm Webb, an employee at Gentry, came over to them.

"Looking for Carrie?" he asked, gazing at Sonny sitting on the couch.

"Yeah...Have you seen her?"

He was still staring and smiling at Sonny. "She's in there..." Without taking his eyes off Sonny, he pointed to the double doors behind Jean. "...Hello." he said taking Sonny's hand into his. "...And who might you be? I know you're not with this Guy!" He made a sour face and gestured towards Steven.

Jean took hold of his arm to bring his attention to her. "Calm down friend, she's with me...Is Carrie with someone?"


"Carrie!...Is she with someone in there."

"Oh...I don't know. She went in by herself, a little while ago." He turned his attention back to Sonny, who was looking at the deep concern on Jean's face. "Well, aren't you going to introduce me?"

"Sonny, this is Malcom. He works here at the agency. He's going to get you that white wine, while I try to find Carrie... Watch him. He has a reputation as a real cock-hound." She playfully patted his cheek, as he turned towards the bar. Sonny smiled and watched Jean as she disappeared behind the doors.

"Here you are! I've been looking all over for you. Why are you in here?" Jean sat down in the soft black leather chair facing the huge desk, before her. It was a two-inch-thick sheet of glass, resting on four gray marble pillars. A 1930's replica, made of nickel and brass, halogen desk lamp provided the only light in the room. Carrie was sitting in the shadows, behind her desk.

"Trying to pull myself together." She said in a low husky voice. "Give me a cigarette. Mine are out there..." she shrugged loosely, "...probably in someone else's pockets by now."

Jean lit a cigarette for her and passed it as she leaned in to get a better look at her friend. "What's the matter? You sounded so cheerful earlier today. What happened between then and now?"

"I got a call from Vancouver this afternoon."

"Vancouver?..." she repeated, as if the word left a bad taste in her mouth. "...Who the hell is in Vancouver?"

"Tina." Carrie replied, almost inaudible."

"Oh?... Is that where they live now?"

"I guess so. I didn't ask... She wants to come see me, Jean."

"Why?... Did you ask her why?"

"Well,...of course she misses me and she knows she made a mistake, and...."

"Oh! After all this time...all this pain...and all her bull shit!...She knows she made a mistake!...I hope you told her TO KISS YOUR ASS!!!"

Carrie laughed lightly and turned the dimmer on the lamp to intensify the lighting in the room. She stood up from the desk. Jean could see the red and dark circles around her blue eyes. Eyes that always mesmerized her when ever Carrie looked her way.

"Sorry girlfriend. I don't have your gift for saying the right thing at the right moment..." She walked over to the mirror in her bathroom and looked closely at her face. "But I did tell her that I thought our getting back together again was a bad idea."

"...And what she say to that?"

Carrie began to comb her hair. "She begged a little. Cried a little. Then begged some more...Then I told her I would think about it."

"You did what!?! Why Carrie? Why would you let her back into your life after what she did to you?"

Carrie didn't answer. She continued to comb her hair, absentmindedly now. She didn't understand why either. She knew she was still in love with Tina, but she also knew there could never be anything between them again. Not like it was before, when everything she did was to keep Tina happy.

"...You know what kind of trouble she is!" Jean went on. She was now standing next to Carrie. Watching her through the mirror. "Why would you want to start that up again?"

She quieted as she watched a tiny tear trickle down Carrie's cheek. She pulled her in close and Carrie turned and buried her face in the curve of her neck. Big tears began to roll and Jean tightened her hold as she felt Carrie's body go limp. A minute later Carrie lifted her head and stepped away from Jean. Just enough so that their faces didn't touch.

"I'm still in love with her Jean. I can't get her out of my heart!"

Jean whispered in a low voice, "Do you want to?"

"Of course I do! But, I...I don't know how" She leaned back into Jean as she began to cry again.

"I hate that bitch." said Jean. "I hate what she's done to you."

"I sometimes hate her too."

The two stood there in the quiet for what seemed like hours to Jean. She could her the faint beat of the music outside the door, and the laughter of the guests. The sounds were painful in comparison with the atmosphere of this room. Her friend was suffering and she was determined to alleviate it, if only for the moment. "So where's Tamara? I didn't see her out there."

"She went back to L.A. with Sergio...Some shit about needing sun in her life."

"And how are you feeling about that?"

"Oh, hell. Let her go. I don't give a shit...She was too weird for me anyway. I just feel sorry for Sergio. He doesn't know it, but his little sister has an aversion to work. She hasn't accepted an assignment since November. He just took home another mouth to feed."

"And how many children does he have now?"


"Oh shit, his wife is going to piss a bitch!"

For the first time tonight Jean saw Carrie's face light up with laughter, and this warmed her heart. She took pride in knowing that she was what Carrie needed to come alive again. She only wished that Carrie would realize it. "Well, come on and dry your eyes. Forget about her, forget about what's in Vancouver. I have someone I want you to meet. I'm in love again."

Carrie wiped her face and blew her nose, lightly. "Oh,yes! I must meet this model friend of yours. You know they're trouble." she said, trying to smile, again.

"Please, don't say that. You know the last thing I need in my life right now is trouble. She's really something, Carrie. Wait 'till you meet her. She's a photographer's dream."

Carrie leaned into the mirror and looked at her face again. "Speaking of trouble, have you talked to Lars about our plans yet?"

"No...I have to do it carefully, Carrie. You know how Lars is. He'll think I'm abandoning him...I've only briefly discussed with him my desires to own my own restaurant or that I wanted to go into business for myself. He thinks I'm content working for him.

"...But you're not." Carrie put a thin layer of gloss on her lips.

"I know...But, it will come out of left field to him...He can be such a baby about these things...No, I've got to pick the time and place to tell him, carefully."

Carrie turned to face her friend. "Well, the time and place had better hurry and come. As soon as Paula finds us a location, we'll be in business and Lars is going to have to look for a replacement for you...And you know, surrogate mothers don't grow on trees.

Jean smiled. "I'm going to tell him Carrie. Just give me time."

Carrie looked at her friend ruefully. What was it about Lars that kept Jean attached to him? She was aware of all his bad traits, she knew he couldn't be trusted, and she'd had experienced first hand how irrational his behavior could be; but still she remained loyal and protective. She sighed and turned down the lights again. "I guess we better get back out there. Dee Dee's here. She was hinting earlier, that she wants to stay after everyone leaves."

Jean's eyebrows lifted. "Mmmm, Denise Thorton. Very nice!"

Slipping an arm around Jean's, they started towards the door. "Yeah, that she is."

"You going to take her offer?"

"Maybe. She's okay...and I probably could use some company."

Jean looked at her friend and smiled, as she motioned for her to proceed through the door she was holding. As soon as Carrie passed, her smile dropped and she looked at her friend thoughtfully.

Sonny was up dancing with a guy Jean didn't know. She pointed her out to Carrie, who arched her brow and shook her head approvingly. She then grabbed Carrie by the waist and said, "Dance with me." Carrie smiled and began dancing. While they danced, Carrie watched Jean, who watched Sonny, who looked to have had more than one drink. She was dancing seductively, moving her hips rhythmically to the music, as if she knew, she more than had her share of attention from the others in the room. Sonny turned around and saw Jean dancing with Carrie and winked at her, then smiled. When the music switched to another song Sonny dismissed her partner and made her way over to Jean and Carrie.

"I see you found your friend." she said. She put out a limp hand to Carrie. "Hi...I'm Sonny."

Carrie took her hand. "Hi Sonny. I'm Carrie...So, Jean tells me you're a model. What kind of work do you do?"

"Mostly advertisement but, I've done some runway work."

"She's doing the Caddy commercials." Jean said, putting her hand on Sonny's back. "The car is quite common, but it looks classy as hell with her next to it."

Carrie smiled. "I can believe it. You have a great look,! You think you would like to do a sit with me?"

Sonny's eyes lit up like flares. "Of course!...I mean...Thank You. I didn't expect this!"

Carrie laughed lightly glancing at Jean. "They never do...Do they?"

At that moment, a women wearing a black full-length sheared mink coat, sauntered over to them. She was short and overweight. Her face, a pasty-white with ruby red lips drawn on to give the illusion of fullness. Her eyes were heavily transfixed on Sonny. Without ending her stare, she said "Carrie darling, you must have the biggest heart in New York, giving a bash like this for that no-talent. Word has it that her Mafia daddy put the squeeze on. But you always come up with the most interesting guest. Who is this brown beauty?...Wait a minute. Don't I know you?" Her stare was now accusing.

"I don't think so." Sonny said, in a low mummer, feeling very uncomfortable. The color was draining from her face.

The woman was now pointing her black cigarette holder at Sonny, and squinting her eyes. "Yes I do! Now let me think...hummm"

"Well, while your thinking..." Carrie interrupted. She put an arm around Sonny and Jean each, then escorted them to the other side of the room. Leaving the women standing alone in the middle of the room. "Don't let Lydia scare you." She could feel Sonny trembling. "She always comes on like that. No one knows where she comes from. She just pops up out of nowhere. Whenever there's a party, she's there. She's actually a nice eccentric old lady..."

"Don't forget rich!" Jean interjected.

"...Ah, yes. Rich, eccentric old lady, with nothing else to do but spread gossip about us young folk."

"And wear that dead animal everywhere!" Jean added.

The three of them broke into a loud laughter that brought the color back to Sonny's face. Sonny and Jean's eyes met. They stood there for a moment, as if they saw each other for the first time, just staring at one another.

"Well, I think I know when three becomes a crowd. You two enjoy yourselves. I have to see to my other guests. Don't leave without saying good-bye." With that, Carrie turned to the others.

Jean moved Sonny through the door to the balcony.

"She's very pretty..." Sonny said, looking over the railing, into the east river. "...and tall. Looks more like a model than a photographer."

"She's my best friend...Should I get you another drink?"

"No. I've had plenty." She turned her back to the railing and looked in at the party. "And those eyes, they're dazzling! You two have always just been friends?"


"What did she mean by 'They never do, do they?'"

"Oh, don't pay any attention to that. She didn't mean it in a negative sense...It's just that she has people asking her to photograph them all the time."

"But I didn't ask."

"She probably felt you wanted to and just tried to spare you the awkwardness of it. You do want to sit for her don't you?"

"Sure, but it's not like I came here just for that." She turned to look Jean in the eye. "I hope you don't think...I mean, I really didn't realize the significance of your invitation until my agent explained it to me tonight. I accepted because I wanted to be with you."

Jean smiled brightly, noticing the chill bumps on Sonny's bare arm and began to trace them with her index finger. Sonny turned back, looking into the party.

"That guy, Mike, is he someone to know?"

"Don't take Mike too seriously. Tomorrow he won't remember a thing." Noticing the disappointment on Sonny's face, Jean added, "But if you're really interested, I could introduce you to him again...when he's sober...You're cold. Want to go back inside?"

"No. The night air is doing me good. There's a lot of important people here."

"There's always a lot of important people at one of Carrie's parties. I sometimes think that she knows everyone in New York. She's one of those people who has the world at their feet but, just doesn't know it."
Sonny noticed the look on Jean's face as she said this. It was the same look that she had earlier, when she couldn't find Carrie. It disturbed her and she tried to push her jealousy away.

"You want to go back inside?" Jean's words broke her thoughts. "No...What I really would like to do is be alone with you." She looked sideways at Jean and smiled, letting her hair fall off her shoulder.
Jean put her hand on top of Sonny's, holding the railing. "Your place or mine?"


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Chapter One
Two Months Later

Catherine Michelle Lewis flicked the ashes into the ashtray, lying in the crease of her legs, which were stretched out along the windowsill. She had been sitting there for the past hour looking down at the busy tugboats, pulling the huge tankers in and out of port, along the East River. Carrie as she preferred to be called, glanced over at her overnight bag, sitting on the couch in her office -- packed and ready to go. It was already after three o'clock and she had one last shoot to finish out a hectic week. If only she hadn't promised her mother that she would help out with the club that weekend. She let out a deep sigh, took another puff from the cigarette, then absentmindedly waved the smoke away. Usually she enjoyed going home and working in the nightclub, but today her intuition told her to spend the weekend in the city.

Home was a four story mansion, set atop the fifth hill in the exclusive private district of Seven Hills in Mercer County, New Jersey -- just Forty minutes from downtown Manhattan. The thirty-seven room Colonial mansion was set in the center of the 180-acre, fan shaped property that Carrie's mother acquired after the death of her father in the summer of 1984. In the rear, stretching back from the central structure, were two wings divided by a narrow but long patio and central garden, which sported a two foot pond with huge Japanese fighter fish.

Melinda, Carrie's mother, was one of the first to take advantage of New Jersey's new gambling laws. She converted the left wing of the mansion into a four-story adult entertainment center, making it one of the most successful nightspots on the East Coast. The first floor was a nightclub that featured a combination of pop music and progressive jazz. The second floor held a fashionable restaurant that became known for its Cajun cuisine and romantic atmosphere. And the third and fourth floors housed the casino, which had six spiral staircases that led you from the gaming tables to the slot machines. Melinda's was the place to be if you wanted to be part of the in crowd.

Carrie had enjoyed being a part of the glitter and dazzle that occurred there every weekend. She took pleasure in watching the customers, making small conversation, and occasionally playing a few hands of blackjack in the casino. She even enjoyed playing hostess and rubbing elbows with many of the well-known entertainers, that frequented "Melinda's".

At times she would bring her camera and take candid pictures of her famous friends, who reveled in the opportunity to be photographed by her; for she, Carrie Lewis, was one of the most sought after free lance photographers in the business. Carrie often attributed this success to the fact that she rarely sold her candid photos, making the attainment of one to be priceless. She considered her talent to be a gift, having never stepped foot inside a photography class. All though, she learned most of what she knew about the camera, it's lenses, and development, from books that she bought when she was a teenager, Carrie felt, one had to be born with "The Eye" in order to be truly talented - And that is what she had. She was known in the business, to have the gift of capturing the true essence of any object.

Perhaps, her greatest achievement had been a one-woman show, she presented at her sister, Val's, art gallery, in SoHo. It had been a huge success, putting Carrie, at the tender age of nineteen, right up there with the best of them. The critics raved about her, bringing the art world out to the village to peruse its' newest asset. Among her many portraits, she had a photo of Tina Thomas, Broadway's latest stage sensation. She had taken it in Central Park one morning, during one of the actress's rest between jogs, without her noticing. Carrie blew it up to a thirty-two by twenty-four and hung it on the north wall of the gallery, with a cascade of philodendrons surrounding it, giving it a realism that her work became known for. It was her favorite, having taken it down from her living room wall to display it in the show.

Tina looked exquisitely soft and sensual, yet determined and strong. The critics caused such a stir over it, that the actress had to come out to see it for herself. She was instantly in love with it and insisted that the gallery sell it to her. Val tried to explain that none of the photos were for sell. However, Tina Thomas was use to getting what she wanted, and she wanted the picture. The actress offered Carrie to set her own price and was humiliated when she rejected the offer. The newspapers and tabloids caught wind of the rift between the two women, and created a celebrity out of Carrie over night. Two months later she sent the portrait to Tina with a card, that read, "Some things are just priceless." The generous gesture had knocked the actress off her feet, and she sent a reply asking her to dinner that evening. Dinner turned into a four year relationship that had ended badly for Carrie and caused her to even now, five years later, wish she had never taken the photo off her wall.

Still seated on the windowsill, Carrie looked up, across the room at the spot were Tina's picture once hung. There was another picture there now, but she could see a faint negative of Tina. She closed one eye and spied through the el shape of her thumb and forefinger, as if to be focusing through her camera, and tried to zero in on Tina's image. Suddenly, there was a knock at her door, startling her and causing the ashtray to fall to the floor.

"Shit...Come in !?!" Carrie called, bending down to pick up the cigarette butts.

Janet, her secretary came in holding a manila envelope. Looking down at Carrie kneeling on the floor she said, "A messenger from People magazine brought these contracts over to be signed. Your Mother called and asked me to remind you about tonight. Kim left at 2:00 - a dentist appointment and Malcolm called. He said the shoot went well and he's going to stay on the coast 'till Tuesday. I told him he should tell you himself, but he insisted on leaving the message. I have the number to his hotel room if you want to call him."

"No." She answered dusting her knees as she stood up to her full 5' 11" frame. "I'm just getting used to the quiet around here while he's away - no use in spoiling it all just yet." She reached for the envelope, then sat behind her desk.

Janet was about to leave when she turned back and said, "Oh, yeah...Your three o'clock is here. Should I take her into your studio or no?"

"Yes, show her in. Tell her I'll be with her in a second."

Janet turned and closed the door behind her. The tall bronze model she left sitting on the couch was now standing and looking at the photos on the wall. She turned briskly, like a child caught doing something bad, when Janet cleared her throat, and asked her to follow.

Janet was an impish woman in her forties. She had been with Carrie from the start, having been sent by an agency when Carrie was just realizing her success. Her experience and knowledge proved helpful to the young photographer and Carrie grew to depend on her more and more. When Carrie decided to expand into a full-fledged agency, Janet was there to assist with all the intricate details and paper work. She introduced her to Mort Feinstein, a lawyer from up town that handled all the big agencies and proved to be an asset to any agency that wanted to be the best. She offered insight to the hiring of Malcolm Webb and Kim Larabee, Gentry's staff photographers. She even was responsible for the agency's name, admitting that she didn't know what it meant but she liked the way it sounded.

She also respected the way that Carrie kept their relationship on a business level. They had been together for eleven years, but Carrie had not once asked her about her personal life nor had she offered insight into hers. Even when the scandal about her and Tina Thomas hit every major newspaper in the country, Carrie never confided in her. Janet watched her go through it alone and admired the way she didn't let the news of her sexual preference touch the business. Instead she opted to remove herself from the business, until everything blew over. The only real contact she had with Carrie's private life was through her conversations with her Mother. It never failed, every time Melinda called, she would make light conversation with Janet before asking to speak to her daughter. Janet liked Melinda a lot and felt she must have been the perfect mother to raise such and fine daughter.

When Carrie entered the studio Sonny was seated on the stool that was in the middle of the room. Huge boards, loosely covered with white material, surrounded her. She was wearing a silk turquoise blouse with a black skirt and pumps. Her hair was pulled back by a hair band, and hung loosely around her shoulders. Carrie thought she looked exquisite. She lifted the Nikon, that was about her neck, focused, and let her index finger do its work. Quickly the hissing sound of her profession began to fill the room as she took Sonny's picture, moving in, out and around her.

Sonny threw up her hands in protest. "Wait!... I'm not ready yet!" she said, with a big grin.

"You look ready to me." Carrie continued to shoot. Quickly Sonny found her composure and began to pose. More serious looks possessed her face. "Take off the hair band!"

Sonny obeyed, flinging it to the floor, as she threw her head back and ran both of her hands through her hair wildly.

"Great!" Carrie shouted as she continued to take pictures.

Suddenly the hissing sound stopped and Carrie lowered the camera back to her chest. "Out of film." she said softly, staring into Sonny's eyes. She felt drained, yet excited, much like she did right after having sex. At that thought she quickly looked away from Sonny and walked to the utility table across the vast room. This was why she ended up so often in bed with models. No matter how many times she promised herself that she wasn't going to mix business with pleasure, it always ended up the same way. There wasn't a spot of that particular studio that hadn't been christened by her sexual prowess.

She quickly shook her head. Sonny was Jean's lover. 'No way am I bedding my best friends squeeze, no way!' With her back to her, Carrie asked, "Would you like something to drink?, tea, water...I don't keep alcohol in the work area."

"Coffee would be fine."

Carrie picked up the receiver and waited for Janet to answer. "Janet could you bring us a pot of coffee?" She replaced it in its cradle then proceeded to change the film in her camera.

Sonny began to feel uncomfortable as she stood in the middle of the floor. She new something had just happened between them but didn't know what. Carrie was very attractive and sensual. Sonny let her eyes flow over the outline of her body. She was tall, lean and shapely, with just the right amount here and there. Through her white shirt and tight jeans, you could tell she was very athletic. Sonny figured she must workout at least three times a week. 'And the eyes...those eyes,' Sonny thought. As blue as the Hope Diamond, the largest deep blue diamond in the world. She wondered if Carrie was aware of her beauty and sensuality. It wasn't until she was well into her teens before she began to take compliments about her own beauty seriously. Even now she sometimes had doubts, especially when she saw women like Carrie with all their natural beauty. Jean had told her about the affair Carrie had with Tina Thomas, and how it was a huge scandal that almost ruined her emotionally. She stood there now wondering how someone could let anything get between them and loving this beautiful women.

Janet walked in with a wood tray carrying a white urn of coffee, two white mugs that had "Gentry" written in blue across them, and assorted finger sandwiches. She set the tray down on the utility table, next to where Carrie was working.

"It's almost four. Do you want me to hang around for anything else?"

Carrie slapped the camera closed and said, "No, Janet. This is fine. You have a nice weekend and I'll see you Monday." She patted her lightly on the shoulder and said good night. Sonny echoed "Good Night".

Carrie took her time through the rest of the shoot. She picked an array of angles to shoot from, using three different cameras interchangeably. Periodically she would ask Sonny questions about herself and her large family in Puerto Rico. This seemed to relax her and Carrie knew these less formal shots would be the better ones.

After five rolls of film, two cups of coffee and most of the finger sandwiches, the two women called it a night. Sonny left the studio, walking on air. Carrie had made her feel comfortable and interesting. When she talked to her she looked her in the eye, as if she was truly interested in everything she had to say. She had asked about her likes and dislikes, and had said she was looking forward to seeing her tonight with Jean. Yes, she had been accepted by Jean's best friend, she had half the battle beat. There was only one instance in which she felt uneasy. When she mentioned that she and Jean were now living together, she thought she saw a look of anger flash across Carrie's face. But, as fast as it had come, it had vanished, and it had not come up again. She was impressed by Carrie and felt she had a genuine nature about her. She could see why Jean liked her so much and now as she sat in the back of the cab, she fantasized about the three of them being good friends.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Chapter Two

Lars arrived at the tiny, Brownstone apartment a half-hour earlier than he was supposed to. Jean was fully clad in her red leather dress that stopped just above the knee and left her arms unseasonably bare. When she opened the door, her annoyance was as evident on her face as it was in her voice.

"What the hell you doing here so early!?!" She looked pass his shoulder and caught a glance of the chauffeur sitting on the hood of a white limousine. She was about to praise his good taste when she suddenly got a whiff of Lars' breath as he opened his mouth in his defense. "And you're fucked up already!... Jesus Christ, Lars!!...You're worst than a child!" She shook her head as she closed the door behind him, and laughed quietly to herself. Lars staggered pass her and made his way to the couch. He eyed the small room and frowned.

"When are you moving..." he mumbled, "This place is entirely too small. You need something larger."

"The bedroom is large enough, and darling, that's what counts!" She winked at him. "... I would offer you a drink but, you've had enough." Then added, sarcastically "You should make a good first impression tonight!" Shaking her head again she spoke more softly, "I want tonight to go smoothly, Lars." She then sat down on the sofa next to him and gently began to massage the back of his neck. "Perhaps it's better that you are early. This way you can take a little nap before we leave...sleep off some of that gin."

Lars looked at her with a boyish grin, his eyes glassy and squinted.

"You look beautiful tonight." He said softly, trying not to slur his every word. "You look beautiful every night...Where's your little friend?"

"Sonny's still getting dressed. You're early, remember?!?"

She reached behind her, grabbed the little round pillow, and playfully hit him with it. Lars sank further down into the sofa laughing, letting his long legs stretch out across the floor.

"I'll go see if she needs any help." Rising, Jean bent down and put the pillow behind his head. "...And you, my friend..." she continued, "you stay away from the liquor!!!"

With a clumsy salute off his forehead, Lars replied "Aye-aye, captain."

Jean closed the bedroom door quietly behind her. She heard the shower stop as she went to the closet. She pulled out a black strapless, Michael B., evening dress that plunged deeply to the navel. Turning around to greet Sonny, emerging from the bathroom, she held it out.

"Wear this one. You always look stunning in this."

"I beg your pardon! I always look stunning in anything." Sonny did a half pirouette, letting her towel fall to the floor. At the sight of her nakedness Jean rushed to her, pulling her close and placing a long passionate kiss on her lips.

"You're right about that, baby."

"Hold up Romeo!" Sonny said, pulling away from her grasp. "Wasn't that your boyfriend at the door."

"Yeah, but you don't have to rush. He's in no hurry, believe me! ...And besides, he's not my boyfriend. Lars is a nice guy and a good friend. You'll like him...I know you will."

Sitting on the side of the bed, lotioning her legs, Sonny sighed, "If you say so my dear. Light me a cigarette and pick me out a pair of underwear to go with that awful dress."

Jean obeyed, doing the latter first. She liked watching Sonny dress. She liked the way she put on each piece with the speed and accuracy that her profession obviously demanded. Pantyhose were pulled on with record speed, as she was doing now. Jean found this amazing since she usually went through three pairs in the morning, tearing runs in them, trying not to be late for work. A big smile came over Jean's face when Sonny blew her a kiss over her shoulder, letting her know she was aware of her seductive stare. Jean felt the familiar tingle that began in her stomach and spread through out her body, when her thoughts went back to Lars in the living room sprawled out on the couch, and a certain blue eyed best friend.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When Jean McKinney first arrived in New York, she found that most of the advertising agencies weren't too eager to hire a young black female marketing major from Philadelphia. She had just graduated from Drexel University, had no experience, and had the attitude that she could right all the wrong in the world. After two weeks of filling out applications, only to be told "no", she was about to give up. It was a Cabby who took a liking to her and passed on the tip about the Whittaker Agency. 'What the hell', she thought. After all, she had nothing to lose.

As she stepped off the elevator on the ninth floor of the Langstrom building in Manhattan, Jean was greeted by a large neon sign, that read "Whittaker Advertising". She straightened her skirt, took a deep breath and thought to herself, 'What the hell. All they can say is no' and walked through the glass double doors. A mousy figure of a woman rose from behind a desk.

"You're here to apply for the position?" she asked, peering over her glasses at Jean. Jean nodded and the women turned sternly on her heels and said, "Have a seat. Mr. Whittier interviews all potential staff himself. Were you sent by an agency...never mind it doesn't matter. If so, you'll have to pay the fee yourself. Mr. Whittier can't be bothered by that sort of thing. Of course you'll work primarily with me" She shoved a paper in Jean's hand. "I'm Emma Peters, Mr. Whittaker's secretary. Of course I'll expect you to be on time every morning. How many words do you type?"

"Pardon me?" Jean asked.

Emma stared at Jean in disbelief. "How many words?...You do type, don't you!?!"

Jean was confused. She looked back at Emma. Her mind began to race back through her conversation with the Cabby. "There must be some mistake." She managed a smile. "I was a friend," she quickly added. "That there was an assistant producer's position open here."

"Oh!?! You're applying for that job!"

Jean began to shift from foot to foot. "Well, yes!"

"Oh..." Emma repeated herself. She eyed Jean from head to toe. Have a seat...I'll let him know you're here".

Jean sat, in disbelief. At first she thought she had been the victim of the Cabby's twisted sense of humor. However, once she realized she was actually the victim of a secretary's short vision, she was stunned.

Emma Peters went back to her desk. She picked up her headphones and was about to push a button, when a line rang. "Whittaker Ad Agency!?!" she said, into the mouth piece. "May I say who's calling? ...Just one minute, Mr. Neville. ...Mr Neville is on line one. And there's a...a young woman here to see you about the, um , the assistant job.....that's riiight.....Okay. She looked up at Jean. "Mr. Whittaker will be with you shortly." then turned to the typewriter and began to type.

Shortly turned out to be two and a half-hours. Jean had almost forgotten why she was there. She was truly annoyed, tired, and downright pissed off when she was finally escorted in for her interview. Lars was nothing like she expected. He was tall, lean and exceptionally good-looking, much younger than other men in his position. His suit was tailored to perfection and reeked of money. She was instantly attracted to his eyes, when he smiled. He reminded her of Paul Newman, only his eyes were gray. He looked genuinely happy to see her, as he stood and took her hand across his desk, apologizing for the long wait. Jean felt her tension ease, as she began to relax, and felt a wave of optimism sweep over her.

He took his time as he went over her portfolio. Lingering and smiling at most of what he saw; asking, what Jean thought to be intelligent questions. The ones she was disappointedly never asked at any of her other interviews. When he finished he looked up at her with a big smile.

"Nice. Very good work here." he said, running his hand through his thick blond hair. "You have talent,
...originality, and style. However, ...I see from your resume that you haven't really had any professional experience."

"Well, no....That is..."

He put up his hand in protest. "That's all right. Don't worry about it. I prefer my people learn from me. Also, we'll have to get you involved with video...You know, that's the way of the future."

"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to be successful in my..."

At that moment, a tall women dressed entirely in black, abruptly entered the office. She was wearing black denim pants, a black shirt and a black leather cowboy jacket, which dripped fringes from the sleeves. She carried a camera across one shoulder and a black leather knapsack over the other. She casually slid down onto the sofa, crossed her booted legs, and stared at them from behind mirrored aviator glasses.

"Don't mind me" she said exhaustedly. "I can wait 'till you're finished." Jean thought her to be a model and was instantly intrigued.

Lars rose from behind his desk to walk over to her then turned to Jean.

"Jean, meet our prized photographer, Carrie Lewis." Carrie grunted something at her. Lars squatted at her feet, and looked at her squarely. "What's the matter? It must be urgent to bring you all the way up here."

"Lars you can't keep sending me these children and expecting me to photograph them like adults." She removed her glasses and revealed blue sensuous eyes that caused Jean's insides to stir.

"It doesn't work. Cereal? Yes! But, not cars, your market won't buy it. Ford isn't going to buy it!

"Carrie, Belinda isn't a child. She's been on the cover of...I don't know how many magazines"

"What covers? Sixteen? Teen Life? ...C'mon Lars you've got to do better."

Lars stood up. He dug his hands deep into his pockets and walked casually over to an old fashioned Tiffany pushcart, displaying an array of liquors and wines. "Can I offer you ladies anything?"

"No." Jean said catching the attention of Carrie, who was now looking at her as if she was just seeing her for the first time. Self-consciously she quickly slipped her glasses back on. "It's too early for me, Lars."
Lars made himself a drink and sat on the edge of his desk, between the two women. He took a big swallow.

"This is Jean McKinney my new right arm."

Jean looked at him with raised eyebrows. She could hardly contain herself. She had a job. And that was all she wanted. Now she could stay in New York.' No going back to Philly a failure'. Now when she goes home it will only be to visit.

Carrie leaned forward and gave Jean a warm smile. Jean smiled back. She felt that Carrie was assessing her from behind the mirrored glasses and wished she'd take them off again. She wanted to jump up and through her arms around the two of them, but decided against it. She was a professional now, and she had to act like it.

Lars continued, "Did you take any shots?"

Reaching into her breast pocket, she revealed two rolls of film and held it up to him.

"Yeah, I got a few rolls of kiddy porn here. But, you show this to your clients...they're going to think you're out to lunch."

"Develop it Carrie. Ford asked for Belinda Davis by name. That's how we got the account... Because I promised to deliver."

Carrie slowly withdrew from the couch, stretching like she'd been sitting there for ages. "Fine. You know what you want. I'll send them back by messenger. It was nice meeting you Jean." She put her hand out, and Jean shook it firmly. "Good luck!" Carrie said softly, then left the office. Never saying another word to Lars.

The "Good luck" sounded like a warning to Jean, but she quickly dismissed it. She was riding high now and didn't want to spoil it. Lars went back to the pushcart.

"She can be difficult at times, but she's the best in the business. Knowing her, if that model is too young, she'll find a way to make it work. She's the best! ...You sure I can't interest you in a drink?"

"No thank you Mr. Whittaker." Jean thought maybe she should but, she wasn't a drinker and she didn't know what to ask for.

"Please, me Lars. You and I will be working very closely together. It's best if we cut out the formalities right off the bat..."

Standing now. Jean stuck out her hand and said, "I want to thank you, Mr. Whit...Lars, (she smiled shyly) for giving me this opportunity. You won't regret it. I assure you!

"I think we'll work well together. Of course you'll have to start right away. I'm planning to expand, and while, we're not backlogged yet, I'm anticipating it. If you can, get here around eight, tomorrow. You and Emma can work out the details of your employment. I'm usually in around ten. We'll get started then."

Jean left the Whittaker Agency that day walking on air. A cab was at the corner. She ran to it, threw her suitcase in and hopped in it, not seeing the person who had just held it.

"Excuse me but I think this is my cab!"

Jean looked up and saw Carrie standing there, holding the door open.

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "I didn't see you standing there."

Carrie lifted her sunglasses to get a better look.

"You're the girl that was just in Lars' office, aren't you?...Slide over. We'll share."
Jean pushed her suitcase up against the other door and moved over as far as she could. Carrie slid in casually, then slammed the door shut.

"Okay Ladies, where to." The cabby was peering at them through the rearview mirror.

Carrie looked at Jean for an answer. "Where are you on your way to?"

Jean looked bewildered. She was so stunned by Carrie's presence, she forgot what she had in mind. "Well,...I don't know. I guess I had better look for a place to stay."

"Have you eaten yet?"

"No, I really haven't thought about it"

"I ain't got all day ladies! C'mon ! Where yous wan'na go!" The cabby was turned around now, looking back and forth between them.

Carrie looked at him and frowned. "Sardies!" Then she looked back at Jean. "We'll celebrate your new job. Then I'll help you find a place. It's not an easy task."

The ride to Sardies wasn't long. It just felt that way to Jean with the cabby shouting obscenities out the window and Carrie sitting so close to her. She could feel her thigh up against hers and Jean began to wonder if Carrie could feel her nerves getting the best of her.

When they exited the cab Carrie paid the driver. She tried to split it with her but Carrie insisted. Jean started towards the door when Carrie caught her by the arm and said, "You don't really want to go in there. At this time of day it will be hard as hell to get a table without a reservation. We're going there." She pointed to a tiny bistro across the street and led her across Fifth Avenue. Inside, Carrie took her suitcase and asked the Maitre D' to keep an eye on it. He then led them to their table and placed a menu before them.

"Order anything you want. This is on me." Carrie said sliding out of her jacket. She placed it next to her and put her glasses gingerly on top. Jean tried to study the menu but couldn't concentrate. Every move Carrie made caught her attention and made her uneasy. She looked down at her hands and saw a silver band. She's married..., Jean thought. ...And probably happy. Jean didn't know why this bothered her so much. All she knew about this person was that she was very nice, she was a photographer and not a model like she first thought, and that she worked for her boss. 'MY BOSS'. Jean said it again in her head. 'MY BOSS!' The excitement began to take hold of her again. She smiled to herself and Carrie asked, "What are you thinking about?"

"Oh, I was just thinking about my job."

"Happy, huh?"

"Ecstatic." She said with a big grin. "What did you mean when you said 'Good-Luck' to me, back there in the office.

Carrie shrugged "Aw, don't pay any attention to me. Lars isn't so bad. I was just a little angry with him. He's a nice guy."


"Well...Don't let that boyish manner of his fool you. He can be a real bastard at times. He drinks too much, his mouth is foul, and he has the scruples of a junkyard dog...But, don't get me wrong, he's a good business man. One day he's going to be on top. It's just that he can get a little weird sometimes...But, I think that's why he brought you on board. Somebody to control things - tie up loose ends. He's been needing someone for a long time. God how his agency has grown...Yeah, Lars has a good head for business. Maybe that's why his personal life is so fucked up...He's too busy climbing that ladder of success."

They both fell silent. Jean began to worry. What was she getting herself into. He had hired her so easily. She should have known that nothing comes this easy with out its drawbacks. As if she was reading her mind, Carrie said, "Look don't let what I say get you down. It will be fine. You couldn't have a better person to learn from... This is your first time in New York?"

"On my own. My mother brought me here a few years ago to see Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway."

"That was a good play."

"Yeah. It was my first stage play, my first time in New York, and the first time my mom and I really got to know each other. It was the kind of day you never forget...I fell in love with New York that day."

"Where are you from?"


Carrie's eyes lit up and she smiled broadly. "I'm from Philly! I grew up there." She pulled out a new pack of cigarettes and offered one to Jean. "We moved to New Jersey when my father died, but I still have some friends there I stay in contact with. What part of Philly are you from?"

"The Mount Airy section...not far from Stenton Avenue."

"Yeah, I know it. I didn't live far from there. I lived in Chestnut Hill, practically next door. It's a small world, isn't it."

The waiter came and took their orders. Through the salads, Jean chatted on about her childhood and family members. By the time they started on their entrée they were comparing notes on places they've been and what they both liked and disliked. They had a lot in common, and the two women became more and more relaxed as they talked. When their meal ended Jean brought up the subject of her finding a place to stay.

"Well, it's not going to be easy finding something both nice and reasonable..." Carrie stubbed her cigarette out and looked at Jean squarely. "...But, I tell you what. You can stay with us for a few weeks. We have an extra room, and this will give you a chance to take your time looking and save some money at the same time. You're going to need it."

Jean glanced down at Carrie's silver band again and said, "Us?...Who's us?"

Carrie hesitated a few seconds. "I live with my friend...Tina. I mean we..." She stopped and picked up her coffee cup. "We're lesbians. We're a couple. But, if you prefer not to stay it's okay."

Jean began to smile, then she giggled, and then that turned into a hysterical laugh.

Carrie began to laugh too and asked, "What's so funny?"

"I'm sorry." She tried to pull herself together, wiping her eyes with her napkin. "I saw that ring on your finger and I just thought you were married to some guy." She began to laugh again. "You see I'm gay too." They both began to laugh hysterically. Between giggles Jean managed to say, "This is a small world, isn't it.

That day had begun an exciting and lucrative life for Jean, and began an invaluable friendship, to not only Carrie, but to Lars as well. Lars had been her savior when she had given up all hope, and Carrie had given her friendship when she needed it most. The Whittaker advertising agency was in its infant stage, and Lars had let her be creative while she learned from him. He had let her play an important part in the development of the agency. Together they built an agency that was ranked among the best of them, and Lars made sure that she shared the limelight with him. For some reason, which Jean never really understood, Lars worked hard at being a good friend to her.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

At seven o'clock Sonny and Jean emerged from the bedroom, arm in arm, and fully dressed. Lars was asleep on the couch in a very awkward position. Jean reached down and lifted his head back. He awoke wiping his eyes and said sleepily, "You ladies look like angels. Definitely my lucky night." He stood up slowly and steadied himself. "Nice to finally meet you Sonny. I've been meaning for the three of us to get together earlier than this but, my schedule just wouldn't permit it." He gave Sonny one of his boyish grins as he pushed his hands deeper in his pockets. His gray eyes now had a little twinkle in them and all the red was gone. His sandy blond hair was pushed to one side, showing where he had slept, and a loch of it hung lazily down and across his forehead. Jean instinctively reached out and pushed it back into place. He then helped each lady into her coat and escorted them out to the limousine, that waited.

As soon as they pulled away from the curb, Lars removed a bottle of champagne from the portable bar. He removed three glasses from the tiny refrigerator, and poured them each a glass. "Let's make a toast." he said, holding his glass high. He looked over to Jean. "Here's to good friends...and their friends..." His eyes shifted over to Sonny, then back to Jean. "...Hopefully to become my friend, too." He then threw his head back and emptied his glass. "Hold this." he said to Jean. "You ladies can drink it. I can't drink that girly shit all night." He pulled a bottle of Beefeater's out. "I need a man's drink...Of course you can join me if you like." Just then the car hit a bump. Lars' drink spilled on his pants leg. "Watch the goddamn road, you bastard!"

"Sorry Mr. Whittaker." the driver shouted back from the front..."where to, Sir"

"I don't give a shit! Just watch where the fuck you're going!

Jean looked at Sonny disapprovingly. Lars seemed to be as drunk as he was when he first arrived. She put the champagne bottle back in its holder and said, "We should get something to eat first Lars."

Lars was wiping his leg with his handkerchief. "That's where we're going now."

"You didn't tell him that."

Lars looked at her in confusion then broke out in a big grin. "Oh?... Then what did I tell him?" He began to laugh uncontrollably. Sonny began to laugh too, Jean shook her head and smiled.

The driver looked through his rear view, watching them laughing. "We're coming to the bridge, Sir." he called back. Jean caught her composure. "Go on across." She said, sitting up. She leaned in towards the little window dividing them from the driver. "Take I-95 south. We're going to Seven Hills. It's a little south of Princeton. You ever heard of Melinda's over in Mercer County?"

"Sure have, mam! I take folks there all the time."

"Well, that's where we're going."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Melinda Dickerson Lewis, was a strong, auspicious, and resourceful woman for her 18 years of age -- qualities that proved essential to living on the mainline, among Philadelphia's most prominent citizens. She had married Owen Michael Lewis in the summer of 1967, when his law practice was propelling to celebrated heights. He had successfully litigated a slew of civil rights cases that sent his career soaring, and was named "Man Of The Year" by the NAACP. Yes, 1967 would have been the perfect year had it not been for his denouncement, by his father. His father, a prominent lawyer in his own right, was totally devastated upon hearing about the marriage of his only child to a black woman, who was 17 years, his junior. He had refused to accompany his pleading wife to the wedding ceremony and vowed to never lay eyes upon his son again. He carried out his promise all the way to his deathbed, never laying his eyes on his two granddaughters either, who were three and five at the time.

The Lewises moved to a mansion, on the mainline, in the summer of 1971; eight months after the birth of their first daughter, Valerie Ann, and while expecting their second daughter, Catherine Michelle. Their ascent to the mainline caused quite a stir among the aristocracy of Chestnut Hill. At first they were met with coldness and covert hostility. However, with Owen's ever-growing financial and political power, by late 1975, a few of the attitudes began to change. And while "the old money" stood steadfast to their convictions, many from the newer and younger set began to welcome them into their community. Owen's friends from Temple University, where he had studied law, began to emerge from the woodwork, extending a hand of familiarity. Eventually even the more prominent wives invited Melinda and her "interracial" children to social functions, at the demands of their husbands, who wanted to do business with Owen.

The fact that Melinda was an exceptionally beautiful woman only magnified their popularity. Melinda was of French and Nigerian descent, inheriting her mother's European hair and features along with her father's height and eyes. Her skin was of amber color, smooth and flawless. She often marveled at the fact that she needed no facial make-up, not even rouge, because her cheeks were naturally rosy. Her wide eyes were of a sensuous black that seemed to peek out from behind long black lashes. When she smiled, which was often, she shined pearl white teeth that were naturally straight. Her curly black hair hung loosely, barely touching her shoulders, in a kind of bobbed hair cut. She had often tried to wear it in an Afro, which was the style of the times; however, her hair was far too soft and thin. Every time she teased it up, it would only fall limp again, causing her to curse the European branch of her family tree. In compensation, she often took to wearing African head wraps and scarves to illustrate what part of her heritage she most closely identified with. The word went around that Owen possessed an exotic beauty and the curious wanted to see her, first-hand.

Because she loved Owen without restriction, she often stifled her true feelings about the world he had brought her into. She never complained to him about the condescending remarks that were thrown her way. She never told him about the incident when the salesman at the lamp shop, on City Line Avenue, questioned her about where she had acquired the amount of money she had in her possession and threatened to call the police if she didn't tell him. It wasn't until Mrs Weisburg, who lived on the estate next to theirs, intervened and explained whom Melinda was married to, that he stopped his inquisition. He never apologized, and she never bought the three hundred-dollar lamp. Melinda dreaded to think what would of happened if Mrs. Weisburg had not been there that day. She never told Owen about the incident because she knew how comfortable he was among his friends, and how unhappy he was when they first moved there.

Instead, much to the surprise of her community, Melinda became the uncontested winner of the wives race. She gave lavish dinner parties and cocktail sips for Owen's business partners that became the talk of the town. She charmed the pants off every male that walked through the door and won the confidence of every female. She redecorated her home her self, and found it featured in every home magazine on the East Coast. With her eye for the most exquisite, as well as the most expensive, Melinda filled it with the most priceless and coveted African and Middle Eastern art pieces known. She staffed her home with servants from the area and from Europe, including a Black English nanny from Ottawa, Canada. She began charity work and sat on the board of all the major Women's clubs while, founding one of the largest annual charity banquets, for under privileged children, in the city's history. Melinda no longer had to be linked with Owen in order to be known, and this she took deep pride in. She dedicated so much time to becoming the ideal hostess and the perfect wife that she almost missed her daughters growing up.

Inasmuch as Melinda's social responsibilities kept her away from her home and her two daughters, Owen was there to fill in the gaps. While he treated both girls equally and what he considered to be fairly, it was clear to everyone, including Carrie, that Valerie was his favorite. He succumbed to her every whim, regardless of how frivolous it was. When she was six, he bought her the pony she fell in love with at the Devon Horse Show, only to sell it at a lost three months later, because she was no longer interested in it. At the age of eight she insisted on having her own maid, because her best friend Misty, who lived across the way, had her own and said anyone who is anyone has their own. Owen also provided this, with many objections from Melinda.

Valerie was fair like her father. She had his blonde hair and gray eyes. However, she was petite like her mother and had her temperament. She loved her father tremendously. Every Friday they had lunch together at bookbinders -- just the two of them. They would talk about Valerie's future; and it was at these lunches that Valerie would present her demands to her father. When she asked to spend the summer of '84 in the south of France with Misty, Owen had already said yes, and given permission to shop for the trip, two weeks before Melinda knew anything about it. It had caused a big split between Owen and Melinda that never really was resolved.

On the other hand, although Carrie had her mothers smile and complexion, everything else she inherited directly from Owen's side. Not only did she have his physique, she also had his disposition and concern for humanity. She often brought home stray animals or homeless canters that she found wandering in the streets. She once brought home a hobo she found panhandling on the avenue. Tootie, their house cook, fed him and sent him on his way after Carrie went to bed. The next morning she explained to Carrie that it was his way of life to wander, and that she didn't have the right to try and change him. She understood this and respected it. From that time until they moved away, she would periodically get Tootie to make large pots of stew and accompany her to the railroad tracks, where she would feed all who was hungry. Silently Owen admired this but never expressed it to Carrie. However, Carrie never needed his approval. Unlike her sister, Carrie was an introvert, and depended solely upon herself for amusement. She spent much of her time alone, inventing games in her head that included imaginary lovers, or she would be beside Tootie, helping with meals or cleaning. Even though she did not spend much time with her mother, Carrie has always felt a close bond with her.

In 1980, Owen brought a Cannon 35mm camera for Valerie. The girls had admired it earlier that week in a store window while shopping with Melinda in Germantown. Carrie had told Valerie she was going to save her allowance and buy it. That Friday while lunching with her father Valerie told him she just had to have it. Since she was showing an interest in art, Owen thought it would be useful and brought it the next day. Carrie was infuriated and ran crying to her mother. Two weeks later Carrie caught Valerie and Misty coming out of the neighborhood movies with two Puerto Rican boys when they had told their parents they were going to the library. In order to keep her mouth shut Carrie demanded the camera. From that day on she carried the camera everywhere she went. She would take it with her when she went to feed the hoboes. While they were eating, she would sneak candid shots of them. She became increasingly interested in their facial expressions. She often told Tootie she could see their past in their eyes and with the right lighting and timing she could capture this on film.

Dr. Peter Liebner, Owen's friend, and president of the Elks club, caught sight of one of Carrie's photos. It was six hoboes lined up against an abandoned railroad car. They were holding plates and eating, but their expressions looked like their thoughts were miles away. He fell in love with it and thought it had the quality and realism of any photograph in life magazine. He couldn't believe Carrie was the one who took it. With Owen's permission he submitted it along with some of her other pictures to The Philadelphia College Of Arts. Just as he had predicted they too marveled at her work and offered her a scholarship to study with their students that summer. However, Carrie wasn't interested in spending her summer in school. Besides, her picture taking was for her. It was just a hobby. She felt her photography magazines told her everything she needed to know. The rest of it couldn't be learned. It had to come from inside. Dr. Liebner was very disappointed but he said he understood. Whenever he came to the house he would ask to see her latest pictures and was genuinely grateful when Carrie gave him and his wife a photo of their three children for Christmas.

The Lewis' household was a happy one on the surface. Owen and Melinda seemed to be the perfect couple. It wasn't until Melinda confided to her best friend, Joan that she realized they weren't as happy as they had been. Joan was the daughter of Felix and Sylvia Weisburg, her next door neighbors. Joan had moved back home in 1978, after her three-year marriage to the eldest son of the community's oldest and richest family, had ended. Melinda had taken a German apple cake to their house to thank Mrs. Weisburg for coming to her aid in the lamp store and to ask her not to tell Owen about the incident. Mrs. Weisburg agreed the matter was best left between them. The last thing the neighborhood needed was a boycotting. She had introduce Melinda to Joan saying that they both could use a friend, since Joan's old friends were giving her the cold shoulder, siding with her ex-husband. The two women hit it off right from the start. Joan was heavily into astrology and would make charts for Melinda, highlighting the best days for her to give dinner parties or to run for office of the women's clubs. Rather coincident or not, Melinda grew increasingly dependent upon Joan's revelations. It became unusual to see one woman without the other. Whenever Owen and Melinda went out, Joan would go too, turning the twosome into a threesome. At first Owen objected to her presence, but later objected less and less as he and Melinda grew increasingly more distant.

One evening while playing two handed Pinochle, Melinda confided in Joan about Owen's inability to make-love. She told her about how he had been periodically impotent from the start of their marriage, citing that she had no idea how she ever got pregnant one time let alone twice. She often thought that was why Owen loved Valerie with such fervor. She was his miracle, his proof of his manhood. Her birth had given him the courage and confidence to continue as a husband. However, as time went on his problem got worst. They sought counseling at first, thinking the problem was psychological. But when he had consulted his family's doctor he learned that he suffered from the same disease that had plagued his father and eventually took his life. It was congenital, striking only the males in the family. That was why Owen's parents had never had more children. When he married, his father had forbid his mother to tell Owen and Melinda. He wanted it to be their curse for marrying in the first place. Needless to say, his mother was relieved when she had heard that both of the grandchildren were girls.

Joan and Melinda's relationship took on a new meaning the summer of '84. Owen and Melinda had been arguing bitterly over his giving Valerie permission to vacation in France. The evening her plane took off, Owen sent Melinda home in the limousine alone saying he was going to spend the night at the Men's club. He had ended with telling her he had no reason to return home since Valerie wasn't there. Instead of going home, Melinda took a room at the Bellevue Stratford. A week earlier Tootie had taken Carrie with her to New Orleans to meet her family, so there wasn't any reason for her to return home either. When she couldn't sleep she had decided to call Joan. Joan insisted on coming to the hotel to keep her company. They could shop at Wanamaker's in the morning and lunch at Stouffer's before returning home.

Joan arrived just before eleven at night. When she entered the room she could tell that Melinda had been crying. Her eyes were swollen and red. She tried to put up a good front but couldn't contain it. She burst into tears, telling Joan how unhappy she was. Owen seemed to be changing into a different person, and she didn't know what to do about it. The girls were growing further apart and he seemed to be encouraging it. Joan took her into her arms to comfort her. Neither of them knew that this gesture of comfort would lead to a night of unabashed love making that continued through out the weekend.

Melinda and Joan continued to see each other. Instead of meeting at hotels in the city and risk being seen by someone they knew, they went to little out of the way places in New Jersey and New York. They often lay in bed together making plans for the day that Melinda would leave Owen.

"Of course I have to wait until Carrie's in college." Melinda would say. "...Five years seem so far from now. Will our love last that long?"

"I know mine will. It has already lasted for eight years. I've been in love with you ever since that first day when mother introduced us."

As if on cue they both said, "Bless her!" at the same time and laughed uncontrollably.

In early August, when Melinda returned from spending the day with Joan, a frantic Tootie met her at the door.

"Miss. Melinda!" Tootie shouted as she ran towards the front door. "Miss. Melinda!"

"What is it Tootie?...Tootie, please."

Tootie managed to pull herself together. "Miss. Melinda there wasn't nothing I could do! He just went mad, like a frothin' dog! There wasn't nothin' I could do, but call the police!"

"Tootie you're not making sense!" She was beginning to get excited too. "Who went mad! ...And where's Carrie?"

"She's alright now Mrs. Lewis. I sent her up stairs to her room to lie down. You know I ain't goin' to let nothin' happen to that girl.... And that's what I told Mr. Owen."

"Tootie. Please. Start from the beginning. What happened here today?"

"Well, this afternoon Mr. Owen comes home early from the office. I hear him in the study making all kinds of a ruckus in there. But I don't say nothin' cause you know me, I minds my business. So, I goes back into the kitchen. Then all of a sudden there's this loud bang. So, I goes running into the study and there he is! He's standing there with a gun in his hands and looking at me with these wild eyes! So, I shouts 'Mr. Owen what you doin' He just stares at me. Like he don't know who I am. That's when Carrie comes flying down the stairs and into the room. He takes one look at her and starts screaming at the top of his lungs! He starts saying somethin' about 'she has it too!' and he points the gun at the child. Miss Melinda I didn't know what to do so, I just jumps in front of her and tell her to run up the back stairs but he just pushes me out the way and runs after her screamin and shoutin like a mad man! Chasin that poor child all around the table and in and out of rooms...So, I goes to the telephone and call the police. But I know they take their own time. So, I see the Weisburg's gardener out there and call him in here. He caught Mr. Owen on the steps and took the gun from him. He had to sit on him, just to keep him down 'til the police got here!"

"Where's Carrie?" Melinda asked.

"Poor child is upstairs in her bedroom."

"...And Mr. Owen?"

"The police hauled him off. They said that they were taking him to the hospital. One of the officers gave me this for you." she handed Melinda a white card. "He said for you to call that number and ask for the captain...But, you should have seen him Miss Melinda. He wasn't Mr. Owen... Not your Mr. Owen... And that poor child...she was scared to death."

Melinda stood slowly. "Thank you, Tootie. Mr. Owen is very ill. You did the right thing." She turned slowly, but increased her pace as she grew closer to Carrie's room.

Owen's illness had taken a turn for the worst. He didn't tell Melinda everything the doctor had told him. His father had gone mad six months before he died, spending the rest of his time in a mental institute. Melinda blamed herself for not being there for Carrie. She had noticed the changes in him but hadn't paid it any mind. She was too busy being in love with Joan, and this angered her. She told Joan she couldn't see her anymore, and stopped taking her phone calls. She sent for Valerie to come home, and paid a visit for the very first time to Owen's mother. They talked of the illness and Owen's mother told her what to expect. Melinda extended her an invitation to visit with the girls but she knew Mrs. Lewis wasn't going to come. By the time she left the house that Owen grew up in, she had known that her visit was too late. Owen was already too far-gone.

Like clockwork she and the girls went to visit him in the sanitarium. Some days he was himself and they had hope that he would get better, but the next visit would always bring them back to reality. Joan was devastated by the turn of events, but she didn't give up on Melinda. Since Melinda wouldn't see her she built an alliance with Carrie. She would sit under an apple tree in the back yard that the two houses shared and wait for Carrie to come. She would question Carrie about her mother's state of mind and Owen's progress, if there was any. One day, when Carrie questioned her motives, she explained how she cared for her mother and wanted to be there for her. Carrie seemed to understand this, and held Joan's hand in comfort, promising to let her know the moment her mother needed her. Years later, when Joan asked her why she did it, Carrie told her that she saw the desperation in her eyes.

The moment came late December. Two days after Christmas the sanitarium called Melinda to tell her that Owen had died. A huge weight was lifted from Melinda. She collapsed in the hall, partly from grief and partly from relief. Owen would no longer suffer and she and her two daughters could get on with their lives. Tootie and the girls helped her to her bed. Once she was settled, Carrie ran out the front door, forgetting her coat, and dashed across the lawns to Joan's house.

"Miss Joan," she said out of breath. "Come mom, needs you."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Erin Patricia Grey knocked hesitantly on the apartment door of her neighbors, Danny, and Lucille Greenway. It was Friday night and Lucille had insisted that Erin accompany them on another, night out on the town, with one of Danny's nice friends from the job. The Greenways had been her neighbors for a whole year, just saying "hello" and "Good-bye", before she and Lucille realized, that they worked for the same insurance company; just cubicles away from each other. That was four years ago, and since that time they had become close friends. Lucille was the motherly type, and had become obsessed with finding a husband for Erin, pushing Danny to set up blind dates with his friends. However, after the last time, Erin had sworn never to go on a date that they had set up again. It was awful, to say the least. But, when Lucille cornered her as they walked to the subway that morning, she couldn't refuse.

"Oh, come on, Erin!" Lucille had insisted. "I've met Derek. He's really a nice guy. And talk about gorgeous, this guy is right up there with Kevin Costner. Besides, it's not like you'll have to stick with him. You're going out with us. If he's not your type...well, leave him like you did John last week!"

"And go home by myself, again." Erin retorted.

"You know you didn't have to. You should have told us you where ready to leave. We would have left with you."

"I didn't want to spoil everyone's fun."

"Well, you sure spoiled John's fun! ...You should have seen the poor guy. He was looking all over for you." Lucille broke out into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. "He wanted to call the police and report you kidnapped. He even accused the headwaiter, when he told him he got you a cab. He wanted to search the kitchen to see if the waiter had stashed you there!...Erin, the guy was pathetic!"

Erin joined Lucille in her laughter. "I don't know Lucille...I just think that maybe I should give it a little time."

"Time!...Forgive my bluntness, but time is one thing you don't have, precious. You're going on twenty-eight, you're not married, and never been married. If you don't hurry up and do it soon, you'll be too old to have kids. Then where will you be? Old and all alone! When I was your age, which was not so long ago, I already had my family. And I'm secure in knowing that I won't be alone in my old age. I know Joe wants grandchildren. I heard him telling Danny the other night while they were watching football."

"Joe has nine grandchildren, Lucille."

"Yeah, but none from his only daughter!...those were his exact words, '...None from my only daughter!"

"Joe needs to stop discussing his only daughter's life with other people!"

"He's just worried about you, Erin. I think he thinks it's his entire fault. I think he thinks he should have married after your mother died so you could have had a mother's up bringing. He always talks about how maybe he let you down somewhere along the line."

Erin stopped dead in her tracks, and looked sternly at Lucille. "Look you tell my father the next time he wants to discuss me, he comes to me!" She picked up her pace again. "Besides Lucille, if I could find someone, someone like your Danny, I would snatch him up in an instant. But I haven't!"

"That's why you got to keep trying! Danny says he doesn't understand it. He thinks you're really pretty. He can't understand why some guy hasn't put a ring on that finger yet...Come on with us tonight. We're going to this classy night club over in Jersey and, I think this Derek is just what you're looking for."

Erin, against her better judgment, had finally agreed and now she found herself back at the Greenway's door, for the third time this month. She had chose to wear an emarald green slip dress that she had bought on a whim a month ago. It was a simple a-line, with spaghetti straps and made of a material that clung sensually to her hips. The pearl necklace and earrings she chose to wear with it gave her a neat look of elegance and Erin was now praying that Derek was worth it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Derek pulled the car to the right shoulder of the dark road. He turned the interior light on and looked back at Danny and Lucille.

"Now this is a real swanky club. Only the best go here, man."

Danny leaned forward. "How much is the cover charge?"

"No cover charge for us, man. You're with the 'D-Man'! I got these passes off of ol' man Cromwell's desk. Can you imagine the boss giving that old geezer passes to a place like this! When he turned his head I swiped them..."

"You mean you stole 'em from Bill's desk!?!" Danny tried to sit up but his knees were locked.

"Don't sweat it Danny boy. I'm the supervisor, ain't I? ...Cromwell won't miss them. He probably forgot he even had 'em by now...But, if it makes you feel any better, I'll take him out for a beer if I hit it big at the tables tonight." he grinned and turned back around. Pulling his visor down to reveal a mirror, and began to comb his hair. "Now if the prices are too high for you, man...I can spare you a little. Just don't embarrass me, Danny boy." Now gazing at himself he said, "There's one on your side too, baby."

Erin looked at him coolly. "Why? ...Do I need it?"

"No! ...I mean if you want to. This place is really nice. I just thought you would want to look your best... anyway, I read about this place in the New Yorker. Three floors of non- stop entertainment. The first floor, a bar and disco, the second dining and dancing, and the third floor has this casino, with a balcony where you can look down on all the poor slobs losing their shirts at the tables. It's supposed to be one of those places where only the best people get in."

Danny groaned from the back seat. "Well, then why the hell are we going."

A not too subtle nudge of the elbow came from Lucille. He had wanted an evening of bowling and pizza. But, Derek had said he really wanted to make an impression on Erin, and insisted they go out to a nightclub. Danny didn't really consider Derek a friend of his. But, Lucille was "hell bent" on making sure Erin had a date for tonight, and she had already been out with every other single guy he knew. When Lucille insisted he ask Derek, he didn't have any other alternatives. Now here he was sitting in the back of a tiny sports car that should have been sold as a two-seater, watching him comb his hair. Danny shifted to try and stretch his leg. He should never have let Derek talk him out of driving his '87 station wagon. So what if the back window didn't go all the way up, and it needed a paint job. It's not going to rain, and it would have at least got them there in comfort.

Lucille nudged him again and whispered, "How much money did you bring?"

"I'll put it to you this way." Danny replied. "When I go like this..." He made a discreet motion with his hand. "that means stop ordering."

Lucille tightened her jaw and dramatically rolled her eyes.

When Derek reached the front door, after spending moments in the valet line he reached over and touched Erin's arm.

"Don't get out, honey. That guy's going to open the door for you"

"No kidding!" Erin said derisively. She exited the car with the help of the valet and waited to the side as he pried Lucille out of the back seat.

"This guy is a joke, right?" Erin whispered to Lucille, as they walked under the red canopy that lead to the entrance of Melinda's, with the men close behind. Lucille gave her a look of confusion that told her she didn't understand his behavior either. They followed the crowd in front of them and checked their coats, then followed everyone down the hall to the disco club. Derek caught hold of Erin's arm and wrapped it around his.

"This is the way a lady does it." He said, with a big grin. "Did I mention how sexy you look in that dress, It's just screamin' sexy! Um, you wearin' underwear?" Erin didn't answer. They followed the Hostess to a table and Derek held the chair out for Erin while, Danny left Lucille to fend for her self. She gave him a sideways glance that caused him to jump up from his chair and hold hers' out, as she sat down in discuss.

Erin looked across the table at Lucille and rolled her eyes. She wished she wasn't there. She knew she should have turned Lucille's invitation down and stayed home. She could be washing her hair or watching a sitcom, or even watching an old movie on cable. Anything but sitting in this club, with this guy. She looked at him in conversation with Danny. Lucille was right about one thing, Derek was truly good-looking. He had strong male features, looking more like Patrick Swayze than Kevin Costner. He looked to have a good body too, unlike many of Danny's other beer drinking friends. His black suit was set off with a purple tie that brought out the purple specks in his gray eyes. He was very handsome Erin thought, only if he weren't so obnoxious.

"What would you like?" Erin looked up to the waitress that was standing next to her. She was wearing a tuxedo jacket with black stockings instead of the pants, and stacked heels.

"Go ahead. Order anything you like." Derek said grinning from ear to ear, and eyeing the waitress's legs.

"I'll have a rum and coke." Erin said softly.

"Order something expensive, like one of those big mixed drinks, you girls like."

Erin looked up at the waitress again. "I'll have a rum and coke".

The waitress smiled at her knowingly, repeated each of their drinks, and then disappeared into the crowd.

Derek leaned across the table to Danny. "Man, I hear you can have any one of these waitresses for the right price."

"Don't be such a jerk, Derek." Danny snorted back at him. "There are ladies at the table."

Derek laughed nervously, then turned to Erin. "So, Erin. Like it here?... Bet you've never been anywhere as swanky as this place? Bet I'm the first guy to take you somewhere decent."

"Lucille, walk me to the ladies room, please?" Before Lucille could answer, Erin had her by the arm and was pulling her towards the rest rooms. Inside, Erin pulled Lucille to the side, up against the wall. "Lucille! ...How could you!" Her green eyes were dark and squinting with anger.

"Erin I didn't know he was like this. I only met him in the parking lot the other day when I was picking up Danny. He seemed so mannerly ...I didn't know he was"

"Obnoxious, conceited, egotistic, arrogant, condescending, stop me when I've got the right word!"

"Erin, he's all those and more."

The women stood there for a moment, staring at each other. Finally, Erin spoke. "I'm sorry, Lucille...I guess I'm just tired. I really should have stayed in tonight."

"I guess it's all my fault. Sticking my nose where it doesn't belong."

Erin managed to smile at her friend. "I know you're just trying to help. The thing I don't understand is how he could be a friend of Danny's. All his other friends were nice guys. Boring, but nice guys"

"Well, I have to confess. Derek's not really a friend of Danny's."

"What!?!" Erin said, glaring at Lucille.

"He works with him but, they're not really friends." Lucille pulled her lipstick from her handbag. "Actually, Danny told me he can't stand him."

"Well, why in hell did you pick him for me to go out with!?!" Erin felt herself growing enraged.

Lucille stopped doing her lips and peered at Erin through the mirror. "Erin, it's not like I had a choice. I mean, I've set you up with all of Danny's other friends and none of them were good enough for you! Danny was out of friends. Danny introduced him to me the other day. He had a nice car, and you have to admit he is good-looking! So, I told Danny to ask him if he wanted to take my little sister out." Lucille, now working on her eyelashes, gave a sneaky smile and giggled. "He thought since you were my little sister that you were going to look like me...He must think I'm good-looking too."

Erin sighed and leaned back against the wall. "Oh, Lucille...What am I going to do. Am I destined to go out with jerks for the rest of my life?"

"Look, baby...all isn't lost." Her voice became conciliatory. "He brought you to this nice place. Take a look around. The guys in this place got money. I'm sure there's some nice single guys out there waiting to meet some nice girl like you... Tell you what, when we get back to the table, I'll ask that big ass-whole to dance, and you make your way to the bar. You'll never meet anyone sitting at that table with us."

"I don't know. I wouldn't be very good company for anyone right now."

"Suit yourself..." Lucille said, placing her cosmetics back into her purse. "...but, if I were you, I would take advantage of this opportunity and milk it for all it's worth."

Erin simply smiled and turned to use one of the stalls.

The trip from the ladies room back to their table was far more demanding than when they left. Many more people had assembled in the vast disco room while they were in the ladies room. The dance floor was packed with bodies swaying to the fast paced music. Lucille grabbed Erin's hand and instructed her to follow and stay close. But, she found that hard to do with a white light blinking off and on in her eyes. They squeezed their way through the crowds of people, dodging hands holding glasses and lit cigarettes. Erin stumbled and lost Lucille's hand, and as she tried to get around a waitress holding a tray of drinks high above her head, she dropped her purse. When she bent to pick it up, a woman, standing in front of her was already picking it up. Blue met green as their eyes locked for what seemed like an eternity to Erin. The women then gave her a wide smile, handed Erin the purse, and quickly disappeared over Erin's shoulder. Erin stared after her. She watched as the sea of people swallowed the woman up. Erin turned back, and saw Lucille motioning to her to come that way.

"It's pretty crowded in here now." Derek said, as he held the chair for Erin. "I almost thought you ladies weren't coming back, for a minute there. Old Danny boy and I were going to go after some of this young stuff if ya' didn't get back soon! What took you so long?"

Danny stared at him, like he was about to kill him.

Lucille rolled her eyes.

Erin didn't answer. She picked up the glass in front of her and sipped at it slowly.

"You didn't have to order the big drink." Derek said, in her ear. "That drink cost enough. $8 bucks a pop! I took the liberty of ordering you another one...I don't think old Danny boy is going to last too long here."

Erin stared at the dancers in front of her, and continued to sip her drink. Her mind was still on the woman she had just encountered. She was remembering the eyes, the eyes in which she had just drowned in the pools of. She had never encountered anything so enchanting and mysterious. The rich blueness had engulfed her. And she shuttered, even now, as she recalled the emotion she had just experienced. 'How could one person be so beautiful?' She thought. She wished she possessed some kind of enchanting physical feature that lured people to her. She looked out on the dance floor at the dancers. Most of the women there looked beautiful. They all seemed to have some character that was worth admiring. Erin began to think of herself and compare. She thought about her pixie nose, her green eyes, and her thin lips. She had been told she was pretty before. But, that had been from family members and Danny's dejected friends. She thought about her pale skin, her limp red-blond hair, and her too average breast. Her legs had become more muscular since she'd been working out at the gym, but she thought them to be too short to be beautiful. Erin lifted her glass again and took a deep swallow, draining the glass.

In the distance she could hear Lucille trying to persuade Derek to dance. He turned to her. "I want to dance with your pretty little sister," he said, taking Erin's hand. He stood up and made a suggestive motion with his hips, and said loudly, "I'm as good on the dance floor as I am in bed!"

Erin jerked her hand away. "No, I...I don't want to dance...Dance with Lucille." She picked up the other drink and swallowed a mouthful.

Derek sat down and looked closely at her. "You want to get something to eat, now?"

"No!" she snapped.

"Well,...You want to go up to the casino?"

Erin closed her eyes and drained the remainder in her glass. She placed it back in front of her, then looked at him sternly. "I don't want to dance with you. I don't want to eat with you. I don't even want to gamble with you. I just want leave me alone."

"What!?!..." Derek hollered, looking bewildered. "What's the matter with you!" He looked at Danny and Lucille. "What's the matter with her!?!" With everyone mute, he quickly got up and left the table.

"Don't you think you were a little hard on him?" Lucille sighed, lighting a cigarette.

"Sorry." Erin said. "I just couldn't take any more of him."

Lucille shrugged. "Well, you sure got rid of him...C'mon Danny let's dance." She stood up putting out her cigarette. Danny stood reluctantly, and followed her out onto the dance floor.

Erin sat a moment alone with her thoughts. How could she cause a scene like that! Was Derek that bad? Did she really have to be so rude? She closed her eyes trying to dismiss the hurt look he had on his face. Upon opening them again, she let her eyes survey the room of dancing bodies when her attention became affixed upon a figure standing next to a table, half way across the room. It was the woman who picked up her purse. She had been stunned by the reappearance of this woman, but Erin took advantage of not being noticed, and let her eyes gaze freely. Clad in a white linen tapered oxford shirt, with cuffs neatly folded back, and a pair of black Armanni aviator's pants. The woman was standing over another woman, talking intently. Erin smiled subconsciously as the woman took her hand and brushed back strands of hair falling into her face. The woman whispered something in the other woman's ear that caused them to break out into laughter. Erin felt a tinge of jealousy jolt through her body. There was also another woman and man sitting at the table, who looked like they too felt that tinge. The table was filled with bottles and glasses, as if they had been here for a while. She felt left out and longed to be on the other side of the room with them.

Erin let her eyes flow back over to the women. She started at her feet, slowly following the outline of her form, her curved hips, her small waist, her firm breast, her broad shoulders, her sleek neck, until she saw that the blue eyes were looking directly at her. Erin quickly shifted her eyes to the other side of the room. She was shuddering with embarrassment as she tried to keep herself from looking back at the table. She picked up her purse and headed for the bar.

"What are you staring at?" hollered Jean, trying to be heard over the music. She was looking up at Carrie, who was looking sharply across the room. She didn't hear her so, Jean tapped her on the pant's leg. "What are you looking at?"

Carrie turned staring blankly at Jean. "Huh?...Oh! I was just looking at someone...Anyway, you guys have a good time I'll be around. Let me know if you need anything. She bent and gave Jean a peck on the cheek and squeezed Sonny's hand, then turned and walked away.

"Boy, she seems preoccupied tonight. I wonder what's up with her." Jean said, turning her attention back to Sonny and Lars.

"You worry about her to much." Lars slurred. "C'mon and drink with us. Try to catch up."

"Yeah!" said Sonny joining in with laughter. She poured Jean a drink from the bottle of champagne on the table.

Jean grasped it and chugged it down.

"How's that for starters." she said slamming the glass back to the table. They all laughed again, and Lars filled her glass again. Putting thoughts of Carrie out of her mind, she began to feel the liquor, and Jean pointed her finger at Sonny. "You are getting wasted." she said, laughing.

"I am not!" Sonny protested. "How do you know!?!"

"Because of that silly ass grin on your face!" Jean leaned closer to Lars, and asked, "Doesn't she look silly?"

"Well,...yeah! The way her lips are going up at the corners." They both began to laugh hysterically.

"Oh stop it, you guys!" Sonny pouted.

Lars and Jean began to laugh harder. Sonny pouted even more, and crossed her arms over her chest.

"Oh, sweetheart." Jean said putting her arm around her shoulders. "You look so cute when you do that. Silly, but cute!" She began to laugh again. This time Sonny joined in. Lars waved down a waitress and ordered another round of gin & tonics.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When she finally reached the bar, Erin exhaustedly ordered a Rum and Coke. The bartender shook his head in the affirmative and said "give me a second. I'll be right back with you.", then vanished between the black double doors behind him. Erin casually found her way onto the stool beside her. Her head was beginning to swim. She didn't know if it was the drinks, the trek through the crowd, or her encounter with the blue-eyed woman in black. With that thought, she took a deep breath. 'Whoa! ...Since when have I been attracted to women!' she silently relayed a wake-up call to herself.

The crowded floor vibrated with the intensity of the dancers. Arms and hair were flinging in the air to the rhythms of the sound that was pulsating from the speakers. Erin eyed Lucille and Danny trying to stay in time with everyone else. Actually, Lucille wasn't doing so badly, Erin thought to herself. She was shining a big smile across her face while, hurling her course blonde hair from side to side. Erin's lips parted into a smile of her own as she mused at the sight of how young and lively her best friend appeared. Nothing like the tired mother and wife she's known for all these years. Erin's head began to nod to the rhythm. Danny was now looking very cross and intent as he tried to keep in time with his ever so vibrant wife, who was getting younger with every beat. He made a motion to get her off the dance floor but she spun away from him and began dancing with the couple next to them. Danny continued to dance too, as he caught sight of the young pulsating hips that made their way over to him.

"What are you having?" a voice asked in her ear from behind. She twisted around on her stool only to look directly into the eyes of the woman she had faced earlier. The piercing blue eyes set in caramel colored skin, made for a dazzling effect, and she found that she could not speak. Her mouth seemed to have dried. She tried to swallow but she couldn't. Her breathing was shallow now and she dropped her eyes to the counter to gain her composure.

"Are you okay?" The voice asked from above.

"I'm fine." she said with great effort. "It must, the heat in here." She slowly looked up to meet the eyes that were now engulfing her, caressing every feature of her face. Erin wanted to turn away but she couldn't. She felt like the child who was just caught with his hand in the cookie jar. She was in a trance.

"I've got a drink for you" the woman said, smiling broadly at her. "It will cool you off and clear your head at the same time."

Erin managed a smile.

The woman reached above her head and pulled a wine glass down from the rack above, still staring at Erin the whole time, and placed it on the counter. Just then the bartender returned from behind the double doors in somewhat of a tizzy. He began to explain about something not being able to be found in it's usual place, drawing her attention away from Erin -- giving Erin the seconds she needed to collect herself. Erin studied the outline of her profile. She noticed how long her eyelashes were, how smooth her skin was, and how perfectly shaped her jawbone was. This woman was truly beautiful and, once again Erin felt her composure slip.

Once the bartender finished explaining the woman dismissed the conversation with a wave of her hand and murmured something in his ear that seemed to relieve his aggravation. He then looked at Erin and smiled, took the glass off the counter, and went down the other end of the bar. Turning her attention back to Erin she asked, "Are you enjoying yourself tonight?" Erin smiled and shook her head turning her attention to the bartender who was returning with her drink and placed it in front of her. He smiled at her again, then turned away to attend to another customer.

"So, what's your name?"

"Erin, ...Erin Grey." Erin slowly picked up her glass, still staring into her eyes, took a sip and put the glass back down.

Carrie leaned in across the bar, looking more intensely into Erin's eyes and said, "Hi, Erin. I'm Carrie...You look as if you could do with some fresh air. Think you might want to step out back?" This time there was no smile but a very serious and definite look.

Erin met her gaze directly, then said, "You're probably right...Sure."

Carrie motioned Erin around the side of the bar, then escorted her through the black doors. The lights in the corridor caused them to squint as their eyes adjusted. Carrie led her down the hall and out a side door marked "exit". Erin could feel Carrie's hand resting on the small of her back, as it guided her in the direction they were going. Her 5'4" frame only came up to Carrie's armpits and she silently cursed the vertically challenged side of her family tree. They walked across a grass square, and she gave a sigh of relief when she saw the old-fashioned park bench. Now she wouldn't have to look up to talk to her.

Erin took in a deep breath as she tried to take in her surroundings. "I bet this garden is beautiful in the day light."

Carrie smiled and raised herself up so that she was sitting on the back of the bench and her feet was in the seat. "Are you feeling any better?"

'Oh, boy.' She thought to herself. 'Does she always have to be taller?!' "Yes, I am. I shouldn't have drank so much with out eating first..." She held her glass up to the moonlight. "This is really good. What is it.

Carrie smiled, laughing to her self. "Ginger-ale and cherry juice...We call it a Shirley Temple."
Erin looked at her in surprise. Then began to laugh too. "You're kidding! I guess you can always tell when someone's had enough."

"Why do you say that?"

"Well...I mean your profession. I figure you're trained to spot things like that."

Carrie smiled broadly. "Yeah, I guess you can say that...

Smoothly, Carrie went to the side pocket at her thigh and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. She offered one to Erin, who turned it down, and lit one for herself. Erin watched as her face beamed from the light of the fire. At that moment she thought Carrie had the most beautiful complexion she had ever seen. Carrie was now staring at her while she held her lighter aflame. Shyly, Erin looked away in embarrassment.

"I know you won't believe this..." Erin said, breaking the silence "but I only had two drinks."

"I believe it. It happens to the best of us...especially if you're not use to it.

"I think I drank them too fast. I should ha..." At that moment a burst of laughter came from high above them. The door on the casino floor was opened and a couple had stumbled out on to the fire escape. They began kissing, oblivious to Carrie and Erin below.

"Have you been to the Casino yet?" Carrie said gesturing towards them.

"No." said Erin, looking up. "I'm not much of a gambler."

The couple giggled again, as they became more passionate in their kissing. Carrie and Erin fell silent as they watched the couple. Finally Carrie spoke. "How far do you think they're going to go?"

"I don't know...But something tells me we don't want to be sitting here when they get there."

"I think you're right. Head clear?"

"Yeah, it is. Thanks for bringing me out here" Erin stood and stretched. "It's about time I got back, anyway. I came with some friends, who are probably searching frantically for me right now.

Carrie stepped down from the bench. "You had better get something in your stomach before you try to drink again...You'll feel a lot better.

"I will." said Erin as she followed Carrie across the patio, down the corridor, and back to the bar. Erin eyed the dance floor but Lucille and Danny were nowhere to be found. She turned back to Carrie who was now resting on her elbows watching her from behind the bar. They were eye level.

"Thanks again Carrie, but I've gotta go find my friends...I don't want them to leave without me."

Carrie smiled as she stared. She looked, as if she was contemplating rather she should let her go or not. Finally she said, "Well, if they have left, you come back to me...I'll make sure you get home."

As Erin turned away, for the first time tonight, she thought Carrie was flirting with her. She smiled to herself as she pushed pass people. It was now wall to wall partying people. Twice the amount that was their when she left. She couldn't see anything that looked familiar. She was so turned around that she didn't know her way back to the bar either. She pushed and pushed until finally she saw a red glowing sign that said, "Exit". She pushed her way towards it hoping it was the right exit. As she got closer she saw another sign below it that said, "Dining" and "Casino" with an arrow pointing up. Relieved she walked faster and pushed harder saying, "excuse me" repeatedly. As she reached the exit and rounded the corner, there sat Lucille with her head on Danny's shoulder and his jacket around hers. Across from them stood a dejected looking Danny staring at the floor. A cigarette with a long gray ash was hanging from the corner of his lips. His hair was disheveled and his purple tie was draped unevenly around his neck.

Derrick spotted Erin first. He rolled his eyes and mumbled, "I'll go get the car."

"Where were you? I was looking all over this joint for you." Lucille said, getting up from her seat.

"I had to go outside for some air" Erin didn't know why but she thought it best not to mention Carrie. The three of them started towards the door. "Are we leaving already? I thought we were going to have dinner?"

Lucille leaned in close to her "You missed it. Derrick got into a fight."

"A fight!" Erin said loudly.

"Shhh...It really wasn't much of a fight. He was coming on to this girl in there...I don't know what he said but, she went and got her brother. He punched him in the chest and knocked him down. You should have been punch and he went sliding across the floor on his ass." Lucille looked as though she was about to explode with laughter. "The bouncers had to help him out. He looked like he was going to cry."

"Alright you two." Danny whispered. "Don't let the guy hear you."

The valet brought the car up and they all piled in. Danny sat up in the front this time. His legs were still cramped he thought, as he cracked his window for air. The ride home was in silence but periodically Derek would glance back at Erin through the rearview mirror. She didn't see him however, she was too busy thinking about the events of the evening, and a pair of cerulean eyes.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lars wrapped each of them in an arm and said, "Come ladies we're off to get married!" A loud whoop of laughter burst through the midnight air as Lars staggered them up the slanted wooden porch of gray. "Ring the bell!" he commanded, now resting heavily on both their shoulders. Jean, who was the closer, quickly pushed the rectangular light, lingering longer than she really had to. She brushed her hair back off her face to catch a glimpse of Sonny, who now had her face against his shoulder and her eyes closed. She looked as though she were asleep. However, that silly smile was still upon her face, and Jean longed to hold it in her hands.

The driver stepped slowly out of the limousine, taking his cigarettes out of his jacket pocket. He pushed his hat off his forehead and leaned back against the hood. "Rich people!" he said. "Fucking idiots!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Three

It was six a.m. the next morning and Erin found herself wide-awake. She could hear the sound of the garbage trucks in the alley below her bedroom window, along with the usual banter of bad jokes and foul language from the workman. She could hear Lorcan, her six year old German Shepherd, outside of her door breathing heavily and awaiting his first meal of the day.

Stretching one arm behind her head and laying the other across her belly, Erin stared at her ceiling. She imagined her name, in pink neon lights, written across it and flashing rhythmically on and off. She smiled to herself as she realized it was the same as the sign that adorned the top of the canopy outside the doors of Melinda's. Her smile deepened as she began to relive the events of the night before.

'Derrick', she said to herself, 'What a character'. He had to be the punch line to every blind date joke she'd ever heard. Now as an afterthought, Derrick's pomposity was actually funny. He made an ass of himself, and she now felt bad for him. She hoped she didn't hurt his feelings too much. She should call him and thank him for the wonderful evening, even though he wasn't the reason it went so well.

Rolling over to her side, she let images of Carrie flash through her mind. She closed her eyes and conjured up Carrie's face, the way it looked in the light of the fire from her lighter. She sighed loudly as she sank deeper into the comfort of her bed. Concentrating on every detail of her face, Erin marveled at the flawless beauty before her. Unconsciously her hand began to massage her pubic area, and she squirmed from the touch. She imagined Carrie staring into her eyes, with their deep dark blue sensuousness, holding and caressing her. Without hesitation, her fingers found their way to the top of her mound and she slipped two fingers between her lips. Slowly she began to massage her clitoris. In her mind it was Carrie's hand and she groaned loudly at the thought. She kissed Carrie's lips, slipping her tongue into her mouth and tasting the sweetness. Her other hand massaged her breast and pinched at her nipples as she now lied flat on her back. Carrie was now holding her in her arms, whispering affectionate words in her ear, as she drove a hard erect penis into her. "Mmmm" Erin moaned softly as the two fingers were now rhythmically sliding in and out of her. Over and over again she repeated Carrie's name in her mind, until she finally said it out loud. "Carrie!" she breathed, as her hips raced wildly in time with the movement of her hand. "Carrie!" she cried again, as she felt her climax climb up her spine. Time stopped and the earth stood still, as she jerked and moaned and came crashing to a halt.

Aching, she lay still in the middle of her bed. She was afraid to make a move, she was afraid to open her eyes. She lied still as the world around her came back into awareness. Lorcan was now whimpering and scratching lightly at the door. She held herself as she rocked back into a sleep, sobbing from the shame she felt at the thought of loving another woman. "Hail Mary." she murmured, just as she drifted away.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Never again will we go out with that lush!" Jean said, pouncing down onto the sofa, next to Sonny. It was 11:00 a.m., she and Sonny had just managed to drag themselves out of bed. Her head felt like it was in a vice and, as the memories of last night slowly crept back to her consciousness, the screws were tightening. "Man - o - man, why does he have to drink so damn much? He's a bad influence! And I tell you this, if he thinks..."

"Oh, stop it!" Sonny interrupted. She was sipping on a hot cup of coffee, having already nursed her hang over with two aspirins. "He's just a lonely guy looking for some fun. You know you care about him...If you didn't, you wouldn't get so mad at him." She swung her legs around, laid them across Jean's lap, and handed her the cup she was holding. "Besides, I had fun last night. Riding around in that limousine...drinking all that champagne...and the way he was throwing money around, oooh-la-la! I could live like that every night! Couldn't you?"

Jean shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't thought about it."

"I like him too." Sonny continued, as though she didn't hear her. "He's cute and funny...Even though he definitely has a thing for you."

"Why do you say that? Carrie is always saying the same thing. I told you what I think is happening with him."

"Because it's obvious. The man hangs on your every word. He stares at you when you're not looking. His eyes get all misty, like a sick puppy. He loves you, baby. It's obvious. Besides it wouldn't be the first time a gay guy fell for a woman. I'm sure it happens all the time."

Jean looked at her for a moment, handed the cup back to her, then closed her eyes and laid her head back and said, "I don't see it."

"You wouldn't." Sonny replied, reaching out to touch the nap of Jean's neck. "I can't wait to see his face when you tell him you're quitting. That man is going to have a major heart attack!"

"I tried to tell him last night. But every time I came close I just couldn't get it out."

"Perhaps it's better that you didn't.

Jean opened her eyes and looked at her with concern. "What do you mean?"

"Jean, have you really thought this thing through? I mean your getting ready to sink everything you have into this restaurant thing. Sure it's fine for Carrie. She has money, and lots of it. She can afford to take a risk, but you?! You can't..."

"Sonny, I've thought about it. This is something I've dreamed about all my life. I know what I'm doing." Closing her eyes, Jean leaned back again and added, "...And the fact that I'm doing it with Carrie only makes it that much more pleasurable."

Sonny continued to massage Jean's neck as silence began to hover over the room. Shortly there after she became aware of Jean's light rhythmic breathing, and stopped her motions. She then slowly removed her legs and placed her head where the legs had been and closed her eyes too. Just as she was about to drift off to sleep, she felt Jean's hand find its way underneath her sweatshirt. She turned to face Jean, who was looking down at her with wide serious eyes. "Do you know how much I love you?" Jean asked, in a low sultry voice. Raising herself up, Sonny put her arms around Jean's neck and replied "yes, but tell me again."

"How about if I show you?"

With arched eyebrows, Sonny smiled broadly. She quickly lifted her sweatshirt over her head and threw it across the room. She then unzipped her jeans and said, "I'm all yours!" Cradling her in her arms, Jean leaned and kissed her forehead, and then her eyes, her nose, her checks and down the side of her neck. She took hold of her bare breast as she planted her lips heavily upon Sonny's. "Mmmm.." Sonny moaned, as her nipples hardened under Jean's eager fingers.

"I love you, baby." Jean said, breathing heavily in her ear.

"I know...I know." Sonny replied, softly.


"Rise and shine, ol' man!" Steven shouted, as he quickly drew back the drapes in Lars' bedroom. The drapes were made of soft velour and the lighting in the room went from pitch black to piercing white. Lars growled at the sight of the sun, and quickly pulled the sheets over his head.

"Fuck!" he cried. "How the hell you get in here! And what time is it anyway?"

"I used my key...And it's half past eleven. We were to be on the courts at nine, you bastard."

Lars pulled the sheets slowly down off his face and squinted as he tried to look up at Steven towering over him. "Sorry." he said swinging his body out of bed. He stumbled past him, going into the bathroom. After relieving himself, he bent over the sink and ran cold water over the back of his head and neck. Steven stood in the doorway shaking his head.

"Tied another one on last night, huh? Who with...Jean?"

"And her little Spic cunt." he said, rising from the sink. He slid back the glass panel and took out the aspirins. Popping four in his mouth, he put the bottle back and slid it closed. "Jean must be awfully horny to shack up with that dumb bitch."

"I met her awhile back at Carrie's. She didn't seem so dumb to me. In fact, I think she's gorgeous. I can see why Jean's with her."

"You would! Tits and ass is all you know. There's something you and Jean have in common, tits and ass...She wants to grab them while, you want to grow them!" As Lars began to laugh, he broke into a nasty cough, which sent him back reeling into the bathroom. Gagging and coughing he hung his head over the toilet bowl until he was sure he was finished. Steven handed him a damp wash cloth as he stood. Sweat poured from his forehead as he leaned back against the wall, to steady himself.

"You really ought to begin taking better care of yourself. Your not getting any younger, you know." Lars peered coolly over the cloth that he held to his face. His eyes were blood red as he stared into Steven's.

"I thought that was why you were take care of me."

Passionately, Steven cupped Lars' face with his hands. "I want to, man. But you won't let..."

"Oh, yeah..." Lars said with a sinister grin. "I forgot to tell you. I got married last night."

Steven stepped back. "Married!?!...To who?"

"Jean...and that Puerto Rican bitch of hers." he mumbled, as an after thought. Walking back into the bedroom he continued, "Yeah, we found this little back woods justice of the peace over in Jersey. Woke his ass up and made him marry us...That little greedy ass bastard even used a real Bible. What people will do for still amazes me."

"Jean must have been just as intoxicated as you to go along with that."

"Well, we all were feeling no pain. That's for sure."

"So, Jean's in love again...You had better try and get along with this one. She might be the real thing."

"I know better. I know the kind of woman that really interests Jean. And she ain't it!" Lars made his way back to the bed and sat on the edge. "None of the others have lasted, and she won't either."

"And you'll see to that...right?"

Lars looked at him coolly. His gray eyes took on a sinister look, as his eyebrows furrowed and his jaw clinched. "Are you trying to say I had something to do with that mess about Rita?" Before Steven could get a word out, he added, "I didn't think so! And don't ever think along those lines again. You could be talking to the wrong person one day and they may not understand things the way we do, right?" Steven dropped his eyes and shook his head. He saw that Lars was getting upset, and this was the last thing he wanted to happen today. Lars raised his legs up on the bed, puffed his pillows up, punching them hard in the center, and laid his head back.

"Why don't you make yourself useful and make me a cup of coffee...And make it strong."

Obediently, Steven sprang from the bedroom and into the kitchen. He took off his cashmere jacket and hung it gently on the back of one of the chairs. Methodically, he folded his shirt cuffs back, first the right arm then the left, and loosened his tie. He knew exactly where everything was since he was the only one who ever used the kitchen. There were times when he knew Jean was there to cook a dinner for Lars. He could tell, by the way things weren't put back exactly like he likes them, with the labels to the front, so they could be easily read. But, this was rare, and other than that no one else used the kitchen. Lars didn't like to cook and when Steven wasn't around he would go out to eat or order in. He measured out the coffee, trying to get it precisely right, and measured out the water too. He was glad that Lars didn't like to cook. This was the one thing he could do for him that Lars really appreciated. He had a hearty appetite and loved good food. He could count on Lars calling him at least three times a week, if for nothing else, for a good home cooked meal.

He poured the coffee into Lars' favorite mug, grabbed the Smirnoff bottle and measured out two ounces. With the expertise of a bartender, he poured it into the coffee. Stirring it gently, he smiled as the aroma reached his nostrils. Perfect, he said to himself and took it into the bedroom. Lars was staring at the television when Steven entered the room. He looked up, said, "Steven, sit here." and patted a spot next to him on the bed. "There is an old Howard Duff movie on. I love to watch this guy...a real man's man. I wonder if Jean is watching. She likes Howard Duff too."

Steven handed him the coffee, took off his Italian made shoes, and leaned back next to Lars. "I have to leave early tonight. Jim is covering the Yanks' game. So, I have to cover for him in the studio for the Five O'clock News."

Without looking at him, Lars patted his thigh and said, "Coffee's good."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lying on her back, staring up at their ceiling, Jean wearily sighed. "You know he went too far last night, don't you?"

Sonny raised herself up on both elbows and looked grimily at her cigarettes sticking out of the back pocket of her jeans, which were thrown across the room along with every other piece of clothing, they were wearing an hour ago. "Why do you let what Lars do bother you so much?" she asked, disgustedly.

"I don't know... I just... Well, I know him. I know what he's like. He's a good guy and all, but Lars enjoys chaos. And when you let him get a hand on your life he brings that chaos with him. I just don't want him ruining what we have together."

" How can he do that?"

"I don't know. But, things like what happened last night can cause problems."

Sonny looked down at her in amazement. "That bullshit marriage! Jean, that wasn't real! It wasn't even legal. We were all just horsing around."

"If we keep playing games like that with him, someone is going to get hurt."

"Get hurt!?...How!?... Jean, last night was harmless. We had a little fun, the old man made some decent money, and everybody was happy. I don't see any harm in that..."

"I just think it's going to come back to haunt us. Without warning, Lars can get weird on you."

"As much as he drank, I don't think he'll remember a damn thing from last night...I thought he was supposed to be a friend. If you think he's that crazy, why the hell do you hang with him?"

"I didn't say he was crazy! ...I just said he took things too far. Besides, in reality, he's like a little kid. He needs me...or someone to keep him on the right track."

"Oh yeah? Well...speaking of need, Momma called me yesterday."

"...And how much does she need this time?"

"She say's Marta needs uniforms for school, Pocco needs new tennis shoes and Juan was caught stealing from the grocery store. She has to pay for the food or they'll send him to reform school."

"Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing...teach the little bastard to stay out of trouble"

"Jean, you know I wouldn't ask you if I didn't have to...It's just that Momma sounded so worried... and tired, ...not herself. I didn't have the heart to tell her I haven't found another job yet..."

Jean put her finger over Sonny's lips. "Shh...I told you before, whatever I have is yours too. You can come to me anytime, for anything. How much did you tell her you would send?"


"Okay, I'll get it first thing Monday..."

Sonny took her hand and kissed it lightly. "You're so good to me." she murmured. Then she placed the hand between her thighs.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

By two o'clock Erin's housework for the day was completed. The clothes were washed and dried, the bathroom and kitchen were cleaned, the living room and bedroom floors were vacuumed, and Lorcan had been fed and walked. Erin stood erect in the center of the floor as she smiled to herself, proud of her accomplishments. Lorcan looked up at her, panting heavily. The ringing of the phone startled them both. For a second the image of Carrie crept into her thoughts. That had been happening all day, and each time, much like now, goose bumps appeared upon her arms. Quickly she reached for the phone.

"You want something from the store?" said the voice from the other end. "Danny and Junior's going to the market. I thought if you needed something, they could save you a trip." It was Lucille being her usual thoughtful self.

"No, I don't need anything."

"She don't need nothing!" Lucille hollered into the background. "You better hurry it up before the game comes on! ...So, what'cha doing? Did I catch'ya at a bad time?" Lucille was jubilant, full of life and gaiety.

"No, not really. I just came in from walking Lorcan, and I'm worn out as usual."

"Sorry about last night...I guess you've sworn off dating forever now?" Her voice became somber, and Erin knew she had called because she thought Erin was angry with her.

"It wasn't that bad, Lucille. In fact, I'm happy we went."

"Really!? I thought Derek got on your nerves?"

"He first, but...I liked the club."

"Wasn't it heaven?" Lucille's voice changed to a tone of disbelief. "And all those rich people...Honey, that place was truly an experience. Too bad we couldn't stay longer."

"I know. I wanted to see the rest of the place."

"Me too. Too bad Derek had to let everyone know he was such an ass hole so early. I think even Danny was beginning to enjoy himself. Where did you disappear to?"

"Oh, I just stepped out back for a while to clear my head. I drank too much on an empty stomach."

"Ah, huh...and did you meet anyone while you were out there?"


"Did you meet anyone? When you came back, you had changed...You were in a much better mood. In fact, you were smiling."

Erin began to blush and was happy that they were talking over the phone and not face to face. "I think my smile was a result of the news about Danny", she lied.

"You missed it, Erin. It was so funny..."

Lucille went on to tell Erin about the fight, again. This time she gave it to her in detail. Erin was moaning "um hum's" and laughing on cue, but she was half listening. Her thoughts were on Carrie, and how she wanted to see her again. When Lucille sounded like she was finish, Erin said, "What have you and Danny got planned for tonight?"

"Tonight?...The usual. We'll probably stay in and watch T.V. with the kids...Why?"

"I was thinking maybe we could go back to Melinda's."

"Oh. I don't know Erin. That club was a little too steep for us. Did you see the prices of the drinks? It was a good thing that Derek had those passes."

"Aw c'mon, Lucille. I can pay yours and Danny's way." The thought of seeing Carrie again was swelling up inside her. "I'll even pay for a sitter."

"No, Erin...Danny ain't gonna want to go out tonight. Besides the kids expect us to be home with them tonight."

What began as whim had suddenly evolved into a mission. She had to see Carrie tonight. "Well, why don't just you and I go?"

"Now Erin, you know Danny ain't hardly gonna let me go back to that club without him. Plus, I don't want to go. One night out a week is enough for me. I would say call Derek and see if he would take you back but, after what happened to him, I doubt if he'll ever go back to that club."

After a long pause Erin said, "You sure you don't want to go Lucille?"

"I'm sure."

Hearing that, Erin made a lame excuse and quickly hung up the phone. She wasn't angry with Lucille but, she had to figure out a way to get back to the club, and she didn't have time to chitchat with Lucille.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A scary thought shot through Erin's mind as she edged her way past the crowd to the bar. Suppose tonight was Carrie's night off. Then the sixty-three dollars she just paid the cabby would be a waste. Getting to Melinda's had been a monumental task. She had to take two different buses to Pennsylvania Station, then catch the train to Princeton, and then take a taxi to the club. It would only be worth it if she got to see Carrie tonight. Otherwise she had spent a portion of her savings for nothing

She quickly slid onto the stool before anyone else sat down, and breathed a sigh of relief. Looking down the broad bar she spotted four guys dressed in white shirts and red bow ties, working hard at serving the customers, but no Carrie.

She felt dumb, stupid, and even a little angry at Carrie's not being there. She had come all this way and spent all that money just to be disappointed. One of the guys looked like the one who served her the night before but she couldn't be sure, and dismissed the idea of asking him about Carrie. Instead she positioned herself to see the dance floor. Perhaps Carrie was somewhere in the crowd or at a table talking to friends like she was last night. But as she peered through the crowd, her hopes of seeing Carrie were slowly diminishing.

"What are you having?" the bartender asked. He looked to be in a hurry.

"White wine."

"Eight dollars." he shouted over his shoulder as he turned to make the drink.

Erin thought again about asking the bartender if Carrie was working tonight, but before she could get up the nerve he had made her drink, had taken her money, and was down the other end of the bar, serving another patron. Slowly she sipped her drink surveying the dance floor again. 'Well,' she thought. 'Maybe It's better that she's not here. What was I going to say to her, anyway?'

After a while she grew tired of watching the dancing. She picked up her second glass of white wine, the little napkin beneath it and headed towards the exit. Carrie might be working the bar in another room. Following the signs for the casino, Erin ascended the stairs. As she neared, she could her the ringing of the machines. Excitement began to fill her as she began to anticipate seeing Carrie.

As she entered the Casino, Erin blinked a few times to let her eyes adjust to the bright lights. She had never been in a Casino before, and she marveled at all the lights and ringing of the machines. Dazed, she walked around glancing over shoulders as people slipped coins into slot machines. Walking deeper into the room she spotted the tables and her heart began to pound. Carrie was here, she could tell, she could feel it. 'Now where's the bar?'

High above her head, leaning across the railing, and unknowing to her, blue eyes followed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Faint static crackled over the receiver, as Tina Thomas sat on the edge of the rickety bed that belonged to the Cactus Motel, in Las Vegas. The heavy scent of mildew permeated the air and as she waited for her party to pick up the phone, she thought she was about to pass out.

"Tina? Where the fuck are you?!" The voice startled her.

"I'm in Vegas..." she choked out. After a coughing spell, she finished "I got a little side tracked."

"Side tracked! Fuck! I'm not paying your ass to get sidetracked!...You should have been in New York a week ago!" Tina started to answer but fell into another coughing spell. "What the hell is wrong with you anyway?! You are not getting sick on me, are you?"

"No. No. It's just all this desert air...It's getting to me...I'm booked to leave out on a flight tonight. But,..I..I.."

"You need money, Tina?"

"Yeah...If you could? The tables kinda got to me. I guess I'm just not lucky anymore." She coughed up a ball of phlegm and curiously looked around. When she couldn't find the waste basket, she picked up a half empty beer can that laid on the table beside her, and let it drip into the little whole.

"Tina?" sang the voice on the other end.


"You look like shit, don't you?"

"" absent-mindedly she started to push her, already matted, hair back. "No, I don't. I may need to go to a salon when I get there...and some new clothes."

There was silence from the other end.

Then the voice spoke again, "I'll wire $1500.00 to you. Pay off your hotel tab and buy a one-way ticket to New York. I know your lying about that booked flight. But you had better be here tomorrow and you had better look like something. Remember, Carrie's used to dating models and actresses now. She won't look at you twice if you look like a bag of shit!"

"Oh don't you worry about that. I told you, when I talked to her a while ago...I could tell...she still loves me."

"Well she had better or you can kiss your stage come back goodbye."

"Don't worry." Tina sighed into the phone, as she heard the click on the other end.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Carrie walked into the pantry, trying not to be noticed by the chattering crowd of onlookers seated around the table. There was Val, Tootie, Joan, and Melinda. All were in conversation but watching Carrie as she walked into the kitchen. Tootie spoke to her first.

"The dead has risen!" she began, rising from the table. "There's plenty of coffee. Have a seat. I saved you some sausage and biscuits. The eggs won't take but a minute."

"Don't bother." Carrie protested. "I'll just make myself a tray."

Tootie insisted, "Nonsense, girl! You sit yourself down. You need to eat... your getting to thin as it is."

"Tootie really, I don't want any eggs. I'll just take the rest of these biscuits..."

"Come on Carrie, sit with us." ensued Melinda, who was now staring lovingly at Carrie over her coffee cup. "We haven't seen you in weeks. Yesterday you barely stuck your head out of that room. Come darling, sit with us."

Carrie turned to meet her mother's gaze. She put the tray she was holding down, then went to her. She clasped her arms around her shoulders from behind and kissed her softly on the cheek. "Okay. I'll sit, but just for a minute, I have someone up stairs." Just as she stopped talking, Val made a face of disgust.

Having not caught wind of this, Melinda asked, "Oh, really...Is she someone special?"

"Special!" retorted Val. "She's probably someone she just met last night...." Carrie stood up glaring at her sister in silence, as Val continued. "We all know what those relationships are like...Not to mention Aids!"

"Valerie!" Melinda gasped in shock.

"You really have a filthy mouth." Carrie said, now moving slowly towards her sister. "What makes you so god damned bitchy all the time?

"Look Carrie, If you want to wallow in your perversion that's on you. I just think you should use a little discretion and watch who you jump into bed with."

"You're right it's on me. So mind your goddamned business! Anyway, with that faggot husband of yours, I'm sure you'll get it before I do!"

"Enough, you two!" said Melinda. "You're out of line Valerie."

"That's right! Take her side. She calls my husband, the father of your two grandchildren, a faggot, and you take her side!"

Melinda reached over and put her hand on top of Val's and looked at her sternly. "I said enough, Valerie." Turning her attention back to Carrie, she said, "So, will I get to meet her?"

Carrie stood glaring at her sister. Her blues eyes bored into her sister as she consciously warred with the idea to slap her silly. "Sure mom, maybe later today."

Melinda looked at Joan, who had buried her head into her newspaper, and said, "Joan, we can meet them later this afternoon for lunch, can't we?"

"Sure." said Joan, peeping up from her paper and giving Carrie a wink and a sneaky smile.

"Well, I'll see mom. I'm not sure what I'm going to do today."

Grabbing the tray Carrie tried to hurry out of the kitchen but Melinda's words followed her. "Meet us on the verandah at two o'clock, Carrie!"

"I'll try!" she hollered back.

Erin's mouth dropped open as she took in her surroundings. Last night she knew Carrie's apartment was very nice, but now seeing it in the daylight, it was fascinating. The floor length drapes, that were closed last night, where now drawn back, exposing a ceiling to floor plate of glass that extended the complete length of the wall, and giving an illusion of no barrier at all. It looked as if she could just reach out and touch the trees. Far off in the distance was what looked to be a mountain. She sat up, wiped her eyes of sleep then looked again. It was real! It was breath taking! She was so entranced that she didn't hear Carrie when she came in with the tray.

"Good morning." Carrie said standing next to the bed. "I thought you might be hungry, so I took the liberty of getting your breakfast...You do eat breakfast, don't you?"

Erin didn't answer; at the sight of Carrie, the events of the night before began drifting into her head. Instead, she shyly pulled the sheet up around her bare breast and gave a weak smile without looking directly at her. With a feeling of uneasiness, Carrie put the tray down on the counter that divided the kitchen from the living room, went to the bathroom, and took her silk white robe off the hook. She placed it at the bottom of the bed, then went into the kitchen, and turned her back to Erin.

Erin didn't know what to do. She felt ashamed and embarrassed. She thought about the way she reacted to Carrie's touch, the night before, and how she had hollered in ecstasy. The thoughts brought an anxious tingle to her insides. Quickly she closed her eyes and shook her head trying to get rid of the scenes from her night of passion.

It all seemed like a dream. It wasn't her. It was someone else. It wasn't at all like the time when she went to bed with Larry, Danny's friend from the Laundromat. She hadn't even really wanted to have sex with him. She only did it because he had begged, so much. She hadn't asked him for more, like she had asked last night. All she could remember was her wanting him to hurry and finish. And now here she was in some strange bed. How could she have let something like this happen? 'Oh God!' she thought. 'What she must be thinking about me!' She looked at Carrie from behind. Her broad shoulders, her tapered waist, she truly was a vision of beauty and right now Erin wanted her back in bed. She closed her eyes to this thought too, grabbing the robe, and fleeing into the bathroom.

Erin emerged minutes later, wearing the white robe. Carrie was sitting on the couch with the tray in front of her. "I didn't want to start without you...Come sit down," she said tenderly, patting the cushion next to her. Erin gave a half smile still avoiding Carrie's eyes, and sat in the chair across from her. She nervously pulled the robe tighter and covered the leg that had been exposed.

"Coffee?" Carrie asked, holding the urn out to her. Erin shook her head and stared at the tray. Carrie poured them each a cup. She placed it back on the tray, glancing at Erin, who was staring into space.

'Oh, boy!' Carrie thought to herself. 'What's her problem? Didn't she want to!' She watched Erin nervously looking around the room. Last night Carrie could tell that Erin was not the usual fair that frequented Melinda's. Her innocence was apparent, but she had given signals. 'Could I have read her wrong?' Carrie sat perplexed by the situation until a light went off in her head. 'She's straight! First time with a woman. Damn Carrie, you sure can pick 'em.'

Trying to make conversation, out loud Carrie said "I got these from the kitchen." and handed out the biscuits. "Our cook, Tootie, is from New Orleans. Everything she touches turns into a delicacy. Try the jam, she made it herself...I grew up on her cooking. I don't know ...I..."

"So, what is it! ..." Erin interrupted. "You own this place or something?"

"No, I don't...My mother owns it...She's Melinda."

"Why did you say you were the bartender?"

"I didn't say that..."

"You led me to believe that!"

"You chose to believe that!"

Erin placed her biscuit back onto the saucer and stood up. "Well it's been nice but I've got to get out of here."

"Oh! ... You spend the night in my bed, and now you can't even have a cup of coffee with me?" Carrie didn't know why, but for some reason she didn't want to let the small-stature woman go.

"Look, I don't want you to get me wrong..." Erin began to pace the floor. "But, I'm not use to this sort of thing. I mean, it's not every night that I meet someone and go straight to bed with them... especially not a women." She began to wring her hands as she paced.

"Well, if it makes you feel any better, neither am I. I don't make a habit of meeting women in bars and bringing them to my bed. Especially straight women!"

Erin stopped pacing. She spun around throwing her hands into the air and said, "I let you make love to me last night!"

"And I let you make love to me!" Carrie retorted, grinning.

"And you find all this to be funny?"

"No!" Carrie said putting her hands up in defense. "It's just that you look cute when you're angry." She said this last bit in a low tone as she stared directly into green eyes.

Erin looked at her for what seemed like the first time today. The sunlight was bouncing off her eyes, and they appeared to be colorless, translucent, and hypnotic. She dropped her head, as she became plagued with flashbacks, once again. She laughed silently at herself. Shaking her head, she said, "I'm not handling this very well, am I?"

Carrie smiled and patted the cushion next to her again, "Come here. Have a seat."
Erin reluctantly sat next to her, pulling the robe even tighter, and pushing a stray strand of red-blonde hair back behind her ear. Now at eye level, Carrie looked at her distraught companion and said quietly with strong conviction in her voice.

"You've never slept with a woman before, have you..." It was a statement, not a question. But, Erin started to shake her head in the negative. "And, right now you're confused and scared because you have all kinds of questions floating around in your, 'What am I doing here?' 'What's happening to me?' ...and the biggie...'Am I a Lesbian?'" Carrie paused as she watched a stream of expressed emotions surf across Erin's face. Her heart went out to her and suddenly all she wanted to do was help her with her pain. "Erin, I don't have the answers to those questions...I wish I did, but I don't. All I know is from the first time I saw you...I was attracted to you. Friday night, in that green dress, you were the hottest woman in the place and when you looked at me... I thought my heart was going to pound right out of my chest! ...And then, when you showed up in the casino last night... well, lets just say, I now believe there really is a God."

Carrie stopped as she saw the simultaneous large grin and trickle of tears emerge. She grasped Erin's small hands between her own and smiled back at her. "Erin I'm so sorry for this. If I had known you were straight, I would have never let things get this far. But last night I thought you were flirting with me. I thought you wanted this as much as I did. I thought that was why you showed up at the club."

Erin was staring down at their hands as she listened. Guilt took hold of her as Carrie's words wove a reality. She was flirting with her, she did want something to happen between them, and she had come here just to be with Carrie again. Yes, she was confused, but more than this, she was embarrassed at her current adolescent behavior. She reached down deep inside herself and found the courage she needed and looked up into Carrie's eyes. The brilliance of blue only spoke of tenderness and honesty. Softly she said, "You're right, I did come here last night to be with you." Carrie started to say something but she stopped her. "No, let me. I...I've been attracted to you from the very first time I saw you, too. I spent all day yesterday trying to find a way to get back out here and see you. I wanted to be with you. Why? I...I don't know. I've never been attracted to another woman...never in my life."

Big tears began to roll and she sniffed to keep her nose from running. She wiped her face with the sleeve of the robe, as Carrie gently put an arm around Erin's shoulders. With her other hand she reached and lifted her chin, looking directly into her eyes. "Tell me what frightens you so much. " Erin closed her eyes and buried her head into Carrie's chest. Whispering, she said, "I'm so embarrassed...sniff...sniff...You must think I'm some kind of a slut!"

At this, Carrie drew back to look into what was now swollen red eyes and asked, "Why would I think that!"

"Because...sniff...sniff...because I went to bed with you easily."

Pulling Erin back into her, Carrie chuckled. "If that was true then I'm a slut too...And I take offense to that. I like to think of myself as picky about who I sleep with." She reached for an errant strand of blonde her and gently tucked it back behind Erin's ear. She then cupped Erin's cheek and forced her to look into passion filled eyes. "Erin I really like you."

Erin had a rush of emotion that rivaled what she had felt for Carrie the night before. Placing her arms around Carrie's neck, leaving just inches between them, she said, "I really like you too, Carrie... I...I don't understand all this...I don't no if I'm ready. It's all so new to me, but..."

Before she could finish her sentence, Carrie pressed her lips to hers and the fire that it ignited shot clear down to their toes. Erin couldn't explain or understand why, but she felt safe, secure, and wanted to remain in this place forever. When they finally broke for air, Carrie held her close and whispered, "Then we'll take it slow...okay? ...I mean I'm not going to take it any further than you want it to go."

"Okay." Erin answered, as she closed her eyes, laid her head against Carrie's shoulder, and took in the warmth that flowed between them.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

One of Erin Grey's earliest memories is of her father standing in the corridor of ST. Luke hospital, crying his eyes out with his head buried deep in the chest of his partner, Uncle Sal. Her oldest brother Tommy was squeezing her hand as he held it tightly against his pants leg. Her father and Uncle Sal were wearing their police officer's uniform, and the gleam from her father's handcuffs, which was tucked neatly into his belt, caught her attention, as it always did.

Erin was only three years old, but she remembered the scene vividly. It was often the subject of her dreams, just as it was now, while she lay snugly in the crease of Carrie's armpit. One arm thrown across Carrie's waist and one leg tucked between her legs, straddling her right hip. After their sensitive conversation that morning they had forgotten about breakfast and gave into their mutual need to become one again.

Carrie was now wide-awake, staring at the ceiling fan, watching how the blades blurred into each other. Long thin fingers dug absent-mindedly into Erin's red-blonde hair, pulling strands apart. 'So much for taking it slow.' She thought to herself wearily, while making small circles with her other hand on Erin's back. She felt good, relaxed, as she let her mind wonder. She thought about last night when she first saw the green eyed blonde standing in the middle of the Casino floor.

She was wandering, holding a glass of wine with both hands. Her purse was clasped tightly under her arm against her blue-green silk shirt, which was open down to the top of her bra, and tucked neatly into the waist of her black pleated dress-pants. Carrie thought she looked exquisite. She made her way down to the casino floor, all the time keeping an eye on her. Effortlessly she slipped in and out of the crowd, coming up right behind Erin.

"Hello." She said in a low whisper, behind her ear. She had caught her unaware and she spun around in surprise, spilling drops of wine onto the both of them. Carrie looked on in amusement as Erin tried to wipe the drops away. Trying to alleviate her obvious embarrassment, Carrie slipped a friendly arm around her shoulder. "Let's see how lucky you are tonight." Making their way to a table, Carrie offered Erin the unoccupied seat and stood behind her. Taking a cue from Carrie, the dealer placed a stack of chips in front of Erin without missing a beat in her dealing. Carrie whispered in her ear, "You know how to play?" Getting a positive nod from Erin, Carrie placed a chip in the little circle in front of them.

They played together for awhile, winning and losing at the same rate. When the seat next to Erin became available Carrie sat down and another stack of chips went up in front of her. Carrie could feel Erin relaxing as the game went on. Erin was captivating. She was animated and open. Her smile was blinding and Carrie was mesmerized. Every time Erin looked at her or inadvertently touched her hand or arm, it sent chills through her. There was no doubt that she was physically attracted to Erin but there was something else, something that went beyond the physical. She felt so much at ease with the woman, as if she had known her for a lifetime. The camaraderie between them felt natural, with Erin doing all the talking and Carrie simply smiling and nodding at her antics. For the first time in a long time, Carrie was feeling emotions that, she was now realizing, had been lying dormant for too long. At one point, Carrie was laughing so hard that tears of joy sprang to her eyes and she almost instinctively reached out and embraced the girl.

Around 2:00 a.m. after a very satisfying meal that Erin had insisted on paying for with her winnings, they found themselves in Carrie's suite of rooms. They had walked across the open garden arm in arm, where Carrie led her up the wrought iron stairs. Leaving her standing by the door, Carrie quickly turned on a soft glowing lamp and hit the stereo button on the remote. The low tones of Billy Holiday wafted through out the room. Erin, who looked a little nervous, was casually taking in the environment. A small kitchen sat to the right with a counter surrounding it. Straight-ahead was the living area. To the right, in front of the kitchen, Erin could see two chairs and a small glass table. Against the wall stood an entertainment center, complete with stereo, television, tapes, and books. To the left stood the largest bed Erin had ever laid eyes on. Carrie watched as she swallowed hard at this site. Quickly green eyes shot to blue eyes and as time stood still they stared at each other, wondering what the other was thinking.

It happened so fast Carrie couldn't remember who made the first move but some how they found them selves on top of the bed, kissing frantically, hands grabbing at clothing. Once they were both completely unburdened, their bodies slowed and came together in a searing kiss that sent fire to Carrie's center. Tongues gently lashed out at each other, inter-twining, mating as if they were old friends. Carrie sat up, gently pulling the smaller woman into her lap so that Erin straddled her waist. She placed her hands into her hair and gently kissed her lips, her eyes, her cheeks, and slowly let her tongue caress the line of her jaw as she made her way to her neck. Erin groaned and whispered "Is this real?" as her hips took on a mind of their own and began to grind sensuously into Carrie's lap. Carrie didn't answer as she made her way to firm mounds of flesh, which reacted, instantly to her tongue. Now she herself was moaning as she sucked and bit at the swelling morsel she had captured. Her hands were roaming everywhere as she committed each touch of skin to memory. A desire to taste this green-eyed goddess was building in her gut and insisted on being fulfilled.

"You're awake?" The small blonde was looking up at her with questioning eyes, bringing Carrie out of her reverie and back to the present.

"You're awake!" Carrie answered, grinning. "I thought you were going to sleep the entire day away. What were you dreaming about?"

Erin rolled onto her back and stretched languidly, letting out a sigh, then rolled back into Carrie's arms, as if she belonged there. "I was dreaming about the day my mother died..."

Carrie's thoughts automatically went back to the day her father died. "How old were you"

"Three...but, I remember it, as if it only happened yesterday." she paused, then continued, "I don't know why, but a memory that should probably be ...upsetting, ...isn't. That day is the only real memory I have of her. And instead of being sad, it comforts me." She turned to look up at Carrie again, "I feel so loved and at peace when I think about it. Does that make any sense to you?"

Carrie furrowed her brow, as if to give the question careful thought, "I guess so. I probably were getting a lot of attention at the time. That probably made you feel loved. I know I did when my father died...Yeah, it makes a lot of sense."

They laid in silence for a while, each in their own thoughts. It was Erin who broke the silence. "How old were you? ...You know, when your father died?"


"How did he die?"

Carrie winced slightly as she heard the question. She tried to keep her voice light but failed completely. "Well now, that's a long story...I'll tell it to you some other time." She said, with an abruptness.

It wasn't really a long story - short and simple actually. She barely knew him and he barely knew her, always preferring Val to her. By the time she had mustered up enough nerve to get to know him, he had pulled a gun on her and chased her around the house, shouting obscenities. It wasn't a long story at all. But it was a story she had never told anyone, not even Tina, and she wasn't about to start telling it now.

Erin caught the finality of Carrie's words, along with the tenseness of her body, and she willed herself to mind her business. Quickly changing the subject she asked, "Is that a mountain?" She was pointing out the large window.

"More like a big hill..." Carrie replied, happy for the change of subject. "...They don't call this place Seven Hills for nothing." Carrie laughed lightly as she fondly recalled Joan saying those same words to her. She pulled Erin firmly to her and asked, "You hungry?"

"Boy, am I ever!" was the response.

"Come on then. Let's get dressed. My mothers have invited us to lunch."

"Your mothers?"

Carrie didn't answer. Instead she grinned, kissed Erin on the tip of her nose, and in all her naked glory, strolled casually into the bathroom.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"The whole bottom floor is a garage with, of course, the exception of the lobby," said Carrie, as she leaned out of her black jaguar to open the garage door by remote.

Erin sat silently as she watched the metal garage door rise. They hadn't had a chance to be close since their session before lunch and Erin was now hoping for more lovemaking, before returning to her own apartment. They had reached the perimeter of Manhattan at six o'clock, and when they approached the Lincoln tunnel, butterflies began to possess Erin's stomach. Carrie's family had put her at ease and made her feel comfortable, but she was now back in the city, among her family and friends. Things were bound to be different, and she was scared. In spite of how joyful she felt about her new found love, her emotions were teetering back and forth between wanting to cling to Carrie and wanting to be somewhere alone to digest the whole incredible weekend.

"Well, it's about time!" Lucille had hollered through the telephone earlier, when Erin called to tell her she had spent the night with a friend. Erin recalled the thrill in Lucille's voice, and smiled to herself. Lucille had been ecstatic and had called Danny to the phone to share in her happiness, as if Erin was a debutante who lost her virginity on prom night. Of course Erin didn't mention that her new friend was female; she had let Lucille assume that it was a man.

As Carrie pulled into her designated parking space, Erin tried to imagine what it would be like to tell her best friend about Carrie. "So, what if it's a woman." Lucille would say, "as long as you're happy, that's all that counts." Erin laughed at this thought, to herself. She knew better. Lucille's staunch Catholic background would not allow her to be so tolerant. At that point she made her mind up, when she tells Lucille, if she tells Lucille, it will be when she is certain that a relationship with Carrie was what she wanted. She framed a mental note as she climbed out of the car - "VERY CERTAIN!"

"And this is where I work." Carrie said, as she flicked the switch for the window shutters to rise and let the evening shades of light into the room. She was giving Erin the grand tour of Gentry, having stopped first at the main studios on the second floor.

"I claimed this as my studio" she continued, "because when I first moved here I used it as a bedroom. But, as the agency grew, the clientele grew, and everyone was complaining about the fact that there wasn't any place to park. So, I moved everything up another flight and made the bottom floor a garage." Carrie, animated, smiling and waving her hands to illustrate this and that, was happy and excited. This was an alien feeling that had been building sense the first time that she laid eyes on Erin. It was as if a valve had been released, freeing her heart to feel and react to all her inner emotions. She hadn't felt this way sense her early years with Tina. She couldn't remember the last time her usual reticent self had talked so much or had so much fun doing it. Erin possessed a natural inner beauty that Carrie found irreproachable.

"This is really nice," said Erin. She was standing among the huge white boards, that Sonny had occupied that Friday. She had the impulse to lie up against them and pose for Carrie to take her picture like, she imagined, the models did. But, thinking the idea to be ridiculous, she dismissed the urge from her mind. Carrie was opening her eyes to a world she had never known. She was trying not to show how overwhelmed she was.

Something lying in the corner, by one of the boards, caught her eye. She picked Sonny's hair band up and examined it closely. She knew it wasn't Carrie's, she's not the hair band type. Still holding it in her hand, she suddenly remembered the large portraits of females who daunted the walls of the lobby and halls. Suddenly she blurted it out, "Do you only take pictures of women?" Carrie smiled broadly, looking perplexed. Erin could have punched herself for asking such a question. She had only known Carrie for a short while, and was already acting like a jealous lover.

Trying to clean it up, she said, "I mean, it's just that most of the pictures I've seen so far are all of women."

Quickly recovering and still smiling, Carrie picked up a magazine from the coffee table. "Come here," she said, flipping through the pages. When Erin got there she took the hair band from her, threw it to the table, and said, "I took this picture." pointing to a Bugle Boy ad with two men who appeared to be in deep thought over a game of chess. She flipped a few more "and I took this picture." she said, pointing to a close up of Jack Nicholson. The page opposite read, 'Is Jack Really the Joker?' It was a copy of GQ magazine. "...So, you see I don't only shoot women. However, women are my favorite subjects, and they're what I prefer to look at."

It was as if she could read her mind; Carrie returned the magazine to the table, took Erin into her arms, and pressed a light kiss upon her trembling lips. Whispering, she blatantly lied, "...And I don't make a habit of sleeping with my clients." As Erin was about to defend herself, Carrie's lips stopped her, and she passionately kissed Erin's mouth again.

A slight tinge of regret pierced her heart when she lied to Erin but she felt it was for the best. Erin was different. It mattered to her what Erin thought and she didn't want her to know what a loser she could be. Pulling her in tighter, Carrie let her hands slip down to Erin's rear and held her tightly, causing her to stir and respond with moaning sounds. A few moments later Carrie sighed and said breathlessly, "Come on. Let's move this party upstairs."

They walked back to Carrie's office and up a flight of winding planked stairs, to Carrie's apartment. It was nothing like Erin had expected. It was plain, compared to the studios, offices, and lobby downstairs; and of course, the estate at which they had just spent the weekend. A floral couch rested in the center of the room, with two matching solid color chairs facing it. Lined, along the wall were two bookcases, a stereo, and a stand holding the television set. In the background she could see a small eat-in kitchen, that seemed to catch all of the afternoon's sun. On the other side, atop three small steps, were four doors. Erin figured these to lead to the bath and bedrooms. The only thing that could be predicted was the one wall that displayed an arrangement of assorted framed photos. There had to be at least fifty of them, of all different sizes and shapes. The only thing they had in common was that they were all black and white, blending with the rest of the apartment in a wholesome way. Erin liked the apartment. It looked homey and comfortable. Up until now Carrie's life was intimidating, almost unreal. Erin concluded that this was the real Carrie.

"Make yourself at home." Carrie said walking toward the couch. Erin enjoyed watching her walk. It was a slow, purposeful walk. If she were a man, Erin thought, it would be called "cool", but since she is a woman, it is called "seductive", "sexy", and maybe even "Vamp-ish".

Carrie continued. "Hungry? I could open a can of tuna, and we could have a romantic dinner out on the patio, while watching the sun go down." Carrie gave a big smile that sent shivers down Erin's spine.

"Sounds great." answered Erin, settling on the couch. She was concentrating hard on putting the thought of their love making out of her mind.

Carrie leaned down and pressed the switch on her answering machine, winked at Erin, then went into the kitchen saying, "What do you want to drink? Iced tea, beer, wine, or water?"

"I'll have a beer."

The messages began to play..."beep...(click)...beep...Hi Carrie, Jean. Call me when you get in. I want us to have lunch one day this week, so call me...(click) beep...(click)...beep...(click)... beep...It's Val. I had something to discuss with you this weekend but I couldn't get you alone. Call me when you get back...It's really important...Okay? (click) beep...Hello, Catherine. It's me. I'm staying at the Plaza. Call me...I've missed you. (Click)...beep, beep, beep.

When Erin looked over at Carrie, she was standing there holding the refrigerator door open, staring at the answering machine across the room. All the color had drained from her face. She looked as if she saw a ghost.

"You all right?" Erin asked in a soft voice. Carrie didn't answer she was still staring at the machine. A blank look was on her face.

Erin started to get up. "Carrie." she said louder.

"Huh?" She answered, looking bewildered.

"I said, are you all right?"

"Uh ...yeah! I'm fine," she said, giving an unconvincing smile. "Dinner will be ready in a moment."

She took two beers from the refrigerator and closed it slowly. Erin watched her as she moved around the kitchen silently. It was as if she was in a daze and Erin was now wondering who the caller was. She had called her Catherine, and this made Erin feel uneasy.

The sunset was beautiful from atop Carries roof. The patio was off from the kitchen, and obviously, intentionally put there for this exact purpose. Carrie had decorated it with a mass of plants and miniature trees. A small garden that told of her love for plants was off to the side, appropriately roped off to keep its tender leaves from being trampled upon. Surrounding all this was a waist-high, brick wall that kept neighbors from looking in and enabling them to have the privacy they needed.

They lied lazily in lounge chairs with a table between them that held an oval glass with one small candle burning in it. It was romantic, as Carrie had said, and would have been perfect had Carrie been there.

She was there physically, but not mentally. Erin had to keep the conversation going, and when she asked a question she had to ask it twice, receiving one-word answers in return. Carrie's thoughts were somewhere else. Erin began to feel like an intruder. When she suggested she should go home, Carrie had only said "Okay." and quietly got up to get her car keys. This disturbed Erin. She didn't want their weekend to end this way.

The ride to Brooklyn was in silence. Carrie didn't even turn on the radio, as she had done earlier during their trip back from New Jersey. When they reached the apartment Carrie sighed loudly and looked over at Erin.

"I'm sorry I haven't been very good company tonight."

"Why don't you tell me what's wrong?" said Erin, placing her hand on Carrie's thigh. "Maybe it's something that I could help you with."

Carrie smiled at her, like she had earlier that day. "I think you just might be the one who can." She leaned over and kissed her lightly on the lips. "I'll call you tomorrow. Sleep well."

Erin said good night, knowing she shouldn't pursue it. As she heard Carrie's car pull off, she suddenly felt lonely and cursed the stranger who had called and put a damper on her weekend.

"Well?" bellowed Lucille from the top of the steps. Erin had just rounded the second floor landing, when she saw Lucille towering above the stairs, from the third. She was dressed in her nightgown and it's faded matching robe. Her hair was in disarray, partially in rollers. "Oh, god," Erin mumbled to herself. Lucille's apartment was in the back. She must have heard the car and ran to the front hall window to see if it was her.

"Well, what?" answered Erin. A conversation with Lucille was the last thing she needed.

"I saw the Jag! Black on black, spoked hubcaps. It was a convertible wasn't it?"

As Erin reached the top step, she looked Lucille in the eye and said, "Yes, Lucille it was. I'll tell you all about it in the morning. I've got to get some rest now."

As if she hadn't heard a word Erin said, Lucille grabbed her hand and said, "Is he handsome? ...Is he cute? Rich!?! I know he's rich! With that car he's got to be rich! Oh, I'm so happy for you Erin!" She hugged her tightly. Erin gently pulled away and began walking towards her door when she heard, "Danny, I'll be right back. I'm going next door to Erin's"

"No!" Erin said in a panic, turning to meet Lucille at her heels. "I mean not tonight, Lucille. I'm really tired. All I want to do is get out of these clothes and into a shower."

Lucille looked confused and hurt at first, but she quickly recovered. "Oh, I'm sorry, Erin. You poor thing, you've been in those clothes all weekend, haven't you. I wasn't thinking. I'm just so thrilled for you, honey! Yeah, you get some rest. We can talk on the way to work tomorrow. Don't worry about Lorcan. He's been fed and walked already." She leaned over and kissed Erin on the cheek. "See you in the morning."

Erin watched her as she lifted her rob slightly, to scamper down the hall, exposing her pink bunny slippers. Erin smiled and thought to herself, 'It's really going to be hard to tell her.' Lucille was a friend she really didn't want to lose.

Once inside, Erin flopped onto the sofa. All of a sudden she was very tired. And she felt as if she could close her eyes and fall asleep right there. But Lorcan wasn't having it. After being alone all weekend, he missed her and was now letting her know how much. He put his paws upon her chest and began liking her face vigorously. Erin giggle as she calmed him down and gently stroked his head. He lowered his head to her chest and let it lay there as he listened to her heartbeat.

Carrie was incredible. Erin had never met anyone who attracted her so much, as Carrie had done. She thought about Saturday night, when they first made love. Quickly she put a hand over her face. "Damn!" she breathed out loud in embarrassment, causing Lorcan to lift his head to see whom she was talking to. Even now, she could feel her body responding to the touch of Carrie's fingers, lips, and words. She was amazed at this new person she had become. How bold she had been - especially during their lovemaking. She touched Carrie in places, that she hadn't even touched herself - and, enjoyed every second of it. She had never before initiated sex, but she had that afternoon, when they were in Carrie's shower.

She climbed in with Carrie as she was showering, and asked "Can I wash your back." Carrie responded with a slight nod of the head and a smile. She took the soapy cloth from her and began rubbing Carrie's back, hips, and thighs. Leaning in, she began to rub herself against her as her hands and the cloth made their way around to the front to caress her waiting breast. Carrie moaned and turned, wrapping her long arms around her, and kissing her passionately upon the lips. Erin pulled away. She turned Carrie back around and drew her arms up telling her to place one hand on to the shower curtain rod and the other against the shower wall. Carrie quirked an eyebrow then obeyed leaving her exposed to Erin's whims. Dropping the cloth, Erin soaped her hands and continued her assault on Carrie's breast. She drew an arm around her waist pulled her buttocks into her, causing the taller woman to bend slightly and part her legs amply to keep her balance. Erin then began to tenderly massage her rear with soapy hands that slipped rhythmically between her checks, each time slipping further until it reached her vagina. As Carrie's breathing became more rapid, Erin let her finger slip inside. When she felt the warmth of Carrie's insides, she quickly slid it out then pushed in two. Carrie closed her eyes and tightened her grip around the curtain rod. Erin then let her other hand slip around the waist to find the clitoris and began a hand motion that moments later caused Carrie's hips to thrust in ecstasy. When she had ended, Carrie turned to look at her with surprise. "Oh you're just full of surprise." She then kissed Erin hard and began to reciprocate her love.

Erin didn't know why she did it. It was just a feeling, and she went with it. She had never thought of herself as impulsive or aggressive, but being with Carrie made her feel differently. For the first time in her life, she had thrown caution to the wind, and was now happier than she had ever been. Carrie made her insides tingle, and she was now hoping she did the same for her.

Right then she had the urge to call Carrie, and tell her that she loved her and that she wanted to share everything with her. But, just as suddenly, she grew sad. She thought about the phone message and Carrie's reaction to it. 'Who was this person?' Erin thought to herself. 'An old acquaintance? Perhaps a client who's been away for a long time.' Erin withdrew from the couch with a sigh. She knew exactly who it old lover, an old flame, an old girlfriend. Looking down at Lorcan she said, "Will I ever see her again, Lorcan?" She dragged herself to the bedroom, turned on the lamp, and slowly removed her clothes.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jean awoke with a startle. The doorbell rang again and this time it awakened Sonny too. "Who could that be?" she said, squinting at Jean, who was now putting on her robe.

"It had better not be Lars!" she said with a growl. Still half asleep, she stubbornly went to the door. "Who is it?" she asked loudly.

"It's me" came from the other side.

Jean hastily opened the door. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I just need to talk." Carrie stepped in and Jean closed the door behind her. "You're in the bed, already?"

"It's late Carrie. What's the matter?"

Carrie stood in the center of the little room. She looked down at her watch and saw that it was 10 o'clock. She looked back at Jean in bewilderment, "You going to offer me coffee or what?"

Jean smiled, putting her arm through Carrie's and led her to the kitchen. "Okay Friend, we'll talk." She turned on the faucet before taking down a jar of instant coffee from the cabinet. Reaching towards the other cabinet she asked, "So, you going to tell me what's going on with you or do I have to guess?"

Carrie propped her feet up in the chair opposite her and leaned her chair back. "She's in town."

Jean started to ask, 'Who?' but the look on Carrie's face told her 'who'. "How you know?" she said spooning the coffee into the cups.

"She left a message on my machine." Carrie lit a cigarette. "Says she's staying at the Plaza."

"Trump Plaza?" Jean said, carrying the two cups now filled with water to the microwave. "She say what she's doing here?"

"No, just that she misses me and wants me to call her."

"And I take it that you haven't?"

"No." Carrie drew hard on the end of the cigarette feeling her lungs fill with smoke. She then let out an audible breath of smoke, slowly. "Not yet."

"You shouldn't." Jean replied throwing an ashtray to the table.


Retrieving the cups from the microwave she sat one down in front of Carrie then took the seat across from her. She looked Carrie in the eye and said with conviction, "Because calling her would be the civil thing to do. She doesn't deserve to be treated civilly, Carrie. You should treat her like the dog that she is. Ignore her. Pay her no mind. When she calls, hang-up on her. If she comes by, refuse to see her. Do everything you can to let her know that you haven't forgotten how she treated you. Let her see how it feels to be pushed aside, with out a reason and with no explanation. Give the bitch a taste of her own medicine."

Carrie pulled her cup closer and passed her hand above it, to feel the steam. "You're probably right, but I can't be that cold, Jean...not to Tina. Besides..."

"Then let me do it!" Jean interjected enthusiastically. "Let me go see her and tell her to fuck off!" They both laughed. "I'm serious. I'll tell her to her face...Take your lying ass back to where ever you were, and leave Carrie alone!" Jean looked at Carrie thoughtfully. "I can be that cold...Especially to someone who has hurt someone I love.

"You love me?" Carrie asked softly, with a grin.

"You know I do, silly. Why else would I put up with you this time of night?"

Carrie reached across the table and cupped the side of Jean's face. "You're always such a good friend to me...I love you too."

"Am I interrupting something?" Sonny was standing in the doorway. Her hair was in disarray and her fists were planted solidly on her hips.

"Hey, Sonny." Carrie said retrieving her hand.

Jean quickly stood up. "Here sit down, baby. You want coffee?"

Sonny didn't answer. She brushed past Carrie and took the seat between them. Her annoyance was evident on her face. Jean watched them out the corner of her eye, as she puttered around the kitchen to make Sonny a cup of coffee. The silence was distracting. But, Sonny was staring at Carrie, who was staring at the cup she held with both hands; oblivious of the attention she was receiving.

Once she had the cup into the microwave and programmed it accordingly, Jean turned back to the room. "So, what about this new friend of yours Carrie?"

Carrie raised a brow and looked at her questioningly.

"Come on now, don't be coy with me." Placing the mug in front of Sonny, she took her seat. "I hear you two spent the weekend together."

A slight smile edged its way onto Carrie's face, broadening as she looked up at Jean. "You must have been talking to my mother...and it wasn't the whole weekend. We just spent today there."

"Got a girlfriend, have you?" Sonny asked, peering at Carrie over the top of her cup. Her tone was sarcastic. This caused Carrie's smile to disappear; slowly she turned an icy stare on Sonny.

Sonny visibly withdrew. Jean quickly interjected. "I called for you but, your mom said you had already left. She likes Erin."

Carrie reluctantly looked away from Sonny and picked up her cup. "Well, you know Melinda, she likes everyone." Carrie was smiling again as her thoughts went back to Erin and what their morning was like. "But yeah, Erin's special. I want you to meet her."

"Soon, I hope. I was surprised when she told me. You've never mentioned that you were seeing anyone."

Sonny snorted. "What? She has to tell you everything?" She looked annoyed "Who the hell are you?"

"I'm her friend." Jean replied softly, with a wink she smiled tenderly at Carrie, who's relaxed grin looked more like a smirk.

In a fit of anger, Sonny jumped up from the table, pushing her chair back. This caught both of their attention and they were now staring up at Sonny.

She had had enough. When she first met Carrie she could tell that Jean had a thing for her, but she thought it to be platonic. After all, hadn't Jean said they were just friends and they had never been together? However now, after seeing the two of them together Friday night, after everything that Lars had said about Carrie, and after walking in on them with Carrie's hands all over Jean, it was becoming obvious, someone was lying!

Mustering all the control she possessed, Sonny spoke softly and evenly. "Are you coming to bed?" Without waiting for an answer she stormed out of the room, throwing an accusing glancing at Carrie.

After an uncomfortable moment of silence, Carrie spoke first. "Well I guess it's time for me to go."

Jean shrugged. "Pay her no mind. She caught the tail end of a conversation she knows nothing about. Besides she always wakes up in a bad mood. I'll explain things later. She'll get over it."

Carrie gave a snort, drained her cup, and swiftly arose from the chair. "Anyway, I do have to go...I have a phone call to make."

"Tina?" Jean asked, tentatively.

"I'm going to give Tina a call, but that can wait until tomorrow...I want to catch Erin before she goes to bed."

Jean stood too. "How did you two meet, anyway?"

With a low chuckle, Carrie grinned at Jean. "Fate, my friend...It was our destiny to meet." She grinned again then winked at Jean.

Jean followed as Carrie left the kitchen. "Just be careful...Don't go setting yourself up. You know how hard you fall." She wasn't having, as much fun with this as Carrie seemed to be.

Carrie paused in the middle of the living room and turned back to a scowling Jean. "You had better stop worrying about me and worry about that 'hell cat' you got up stairs." She leaned and kissed Jean on her cheek, and with a wicked grin, she added, "I don't want to walk in here one day, and get my eyes scratched out!"

As Jean watched Carrie walk to her car, her only thoughts were of their conversation about Erin. Carrie was deliberately being secretive. She had seen her take this attitude with others but never with her. 'And this shit about destiny!' Jean thought to herself. 'What the hell was that all about?' She had to meet this Erin!

* * * * * * * * * *

Erin stepped out of the shower in time to here the telephone ringing. Quickly she dashed to the bedroom, leaving wet footprints on the carpeted floor. "Hello?"

"Hey." said Carrie, in a low voice that sent shivers through Erin. "Did I wake you?"

"No, not at all. Actually I was just getting out of the shower."

Carrie smiled into the phone. "Really? I know how dangerous that could be."

Erin rolled her eyes as her cheeks turned crimson. She was speechless.

"Oh how I wish I was there right now! You are so cute when you blush!"

Giggling, Erin managed to say, "I had fun today."

"I did too...The most fun I've had in a long time. How about we spend sometime together tomorrow?"

"Great!" said Erin with more enthusiasm then she intended to reveal. "I mean ...I'd like that."

Carrie could barley contain herself. Erin was so fresh and innocent; nothing like the usual. With each interaction, she fell deeper for her. "Good! Perhaps we could have lunch tomorrow...or dinner."

"Dinner sounds good. I have to work tomorrow."

"Work? What do you do?" Carrie was genuinely intrigued. It never occurred to her that Erin might have a legitimate nine-to-five job. She just didn't run into people like that often.

"I'm an Accounts Receivable Clerk for State Wide Insurance.

"Sounds interesting, you'll have to tell me about it someday. I guess I better let you go so you can make it in on time. How about it if I meet you after work? I could pick you up."

"Uh, no." said Erin hastily "My job isn't too far from you, it would be easier if I just came straight to your place. I get off at five-thirty, so I could be there by six."

"Okay, if you prefer." Carrie caught the desperation in her voice but shrugged it off. "Sounds good to me." An uncomfortable silence ensued. Carrie cleared her throat, then continued. "I'll see you tomorrow then...Good night."



"I...I just wanted to tell you...I mean, I wanted you to know, that I miss being with you...already."

There was silence again as a wide grin took residence upon Carrie's face.


"I'm still here...I was just thinking, that's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. Thank you. Erin, sleep well."

"You too."

"Good night."

"Good night."

Carrie flicked her wrist to close the petite cellular phone in her hand. She threw it to the passenger's seat, turned the key in the ignition, and expertly maneuvered the jaguar out of the parking space in front of Jean's apartment. As she drove toward home, she conjured up an image of Erin lying totally naked among the cream colored fluffy pillows and sheets on her bed at Seven Hills. Shaking the image from her mind, she said aloud "I'm truly falling for you Miss Erin Grey!" then more pensively she added, "Please don't break my heart."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Four

She awoke on her own, still feeling tired and drained. The flight from Las Vegas was more wearing than she had anticipated it to be. Slowly she sat up in bed. The jet lag was overbearing as it had been all through the night. She decided she needed help in fighting it. Reaching down into her purse beside the bed, she pulled out a prescription bottle and tried to read what was on the label. The bottle was so old that the writing was too worn to make out what it said. Tina tried hard to recall what these particular pills were for but the thinking process only made her head hurt worst. So instead, she popped two pink capsules into her mouth, replaced the lid and chugged what was left in the beer can from the night before. "urrrgh..." she moaned as she retreated back under the covers. Five minutes later, without warning, the telephone rang. When it wouldn't stop, she answered it.

"What...!?!" she breathed virulently, into the receiver.

" So, you made it. ...Is this the way you intend to greet our gorgeous blue-eyed adversary?...Tsk...Tsk. I think, perhaps I have made a mistake. You don't seem to have what it takes, anymore."

Recognizing the voice, Tina jumped up, and her tone changed. "No! ...I mean, yes! ...Oh, shit!" She grasped her head as the pounding began to persist. Dejectedly she said, "I don't know what I mean. I'm not up yet...and I've got the worst case of jet lag."

"I thought I made myself clear. I don't give a shit about your personal problems!...Have you made contact!?!

With closed eyes, Tina tried to concentrate. "I tried last night. I'll try again later...when I think she's at work."

"It's eleven fucking o'clock, Bitch! What the hell you mean later!?!"

The shouting was making her head pound more. Tina pleaded. "All right, all right, I'll call her! Just stop shouting...please!..(sigh)...Don't worry. I know what I'm doing. Everything you've planned will be a go. I won't let you down. I promise!" Tears were streaming down her cheeks, the room was spinning, and Tina felt like she was about to vomit. Without hesitation, she dropped the phone and scrambled into the bathroom. Half of it made it into the toilet the other half landed on the seat and floor; where Tina was now sitting, and wiping the sweat from her forehead. She suddenly remembered the phone and scrambled back across the carpet on her knees.

"Hello? ...You still there?" There was silence but she could hear breathing on the other end. "I...I need a favor."

"What this time?"

"I need something." She quickly added, "Just a little something so I could pull myself together."

There was a sigh from the other end. "Someone will be there within the hour. Just take it and say nothing to him."

"Okay," she said, as relief washed over her. "Thanks and don't worry. Everything will be fine."

"It had better be...and Tina?"


"Get room service. You'll feel a lot better with a hot meal in your stomach."

"Okay" she whispered, as she listened to the other end go dead. Blindly, she replaced the receiver and turned back into the space she had lain. With knowledge that she had a package on the way, her head seemed to feel better. She closed her pale green eyes, but she did not sleep. Instead, she let her thoughts drift back to the first time she and Carrie met.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was early April and Tina Thomas was basking in the sunshine of being a top box office hit. She had New York eating out of the palm of her hands. Anything she wanted she got and Tina wanted everything. Born Christine Lorraine Thomas, Tina saw things going just as she had planned. She was 26, and on top. After two consecutive, smash box-office hits, she was Broadway's reigning queen, and was properly annoyed when she heard the news of her photograph hanging in a SoHo gallery.

Tina hadn't remembered posing for any photographer in the park. The idea of paparazzi hiding out in Central Park was irritating, and she thought it to be insulting. Her first impulse was to ignore it but the tabloids were writing about it, everyday. It seemed to be causing a great upheaval, getting more press than she was. At a friends advice and another's insistence, Tina let curiosity get the best of her and headed downtown to SoHo.

At 10:00 a.m., when the doors opened she was the first to walk in. Slowly she browsed the room, nonchalantly searching for her photo. She let her eyes gaze among, what she thought to be the most astonishing and sensitive photos she had ever laid eyes on. They adorned the walls and leaned lazily among easels as if they were created solely for this purpose. Tina was amazed at the amount of compassion that poured out from the black and white photographs of strangers, who looked back at you as if you were kin. The photos were exquisite. Not at all what she had expected, and she grew increasingly nervous at the anticipation of seeing her own portrait. It didn't take her long to find it. It was on a back wall, where crowds of on lookers were assembling.

At first glance, Tina was in shock. It took her breath away. Someone, from behind, leaned in and said in her ear, "Truly a work of beauty...don't you think?" She didn't answer. She moved closer, thinking it to be incredible that a stranger knew exactly who she was, inside and out, and was able to capture it on film. It was haunting and she had to have it. The gallery owner walked toward her.

"Welcome Miss Thomas. It's a pleasure to see you here." Val advanced her hand but Tina ignored it, still inspecting the photograph.

"How much do you want for it?" Tina finally asked, in a controlled monotone.

Val gave her, her most gracious smile. "I'm sorry Miss Thomas but, we're not selling any of these photographs. However, I do have a wonderful 'Montoreau' over here. It's from his 'Street Life' collection..."

"I'm only interested in this one." Tina pulled her checkbook out. She stared Val straight on and said, "Now, how much do you want for it?"

Nervously Val looked around the room. Everyone was looking in their direction. A scene was the last thing she needed. "Miss Thomas, why don't we discuss this in my office."

"There's nothing to discuss. Just give me a price!"

"It's not mine to sell!" Val felt herself losing control. She had spotted Ed Bostwick earlier, an art critic for the Village Voice. Although he was out of her sight, she was sure he was observing this.

In frustration, Tina dropped her hands to her side. She looked at her Chauffeur, who had accompanied her there and said, "Do you believe this?" She looked down at the nametag beneath the picture. Turning back to Val, she said, "How do I get in touch with this Carrie Lewis person?"

Seeing this as a golden opportunity, Val slipped a friendly arm through Tina's, talking as she walked her towards her office. "Now this I can help you with. You see, she just so happens to be my little sister." Val gave a nervous laugh and continued, "You know what? We could call her from my office. I'm sure she'll be more than happy to do business with you directly." Val glanced back over her shoulder, just in time to see Ed scribbling in his notebook.

The telephone call was of no consequence. Carrie hadn't even been impressed when she heard the name of Tina Thomas. Instead, she refused to talk to her, citing that she was far too busy to listen to the whining of a "spoiled Broadway brat". She told Val the photograph was not for sale and she wasn't going to quibble over it and hung up. Tina was outraged. She angrily left the gallery, but not before threatening to sue Carrie, Val, and the gallery.

The next morning the incident was mentioned in every New York newspaper. It became apparent that Ed worked for more newspapers than the Village Voice. At her lawyer's advice Tina phoned Val and apologized for her behavior. She asked her to use her sisterly influence to get Carrie to set her price. Still Carrie refused her and Tina was infuriated. She learned from her lawyer that she had no legal grounds to sue and just had to get use to the fact that she couldn't get it. After a week of un-returned phone calls to Carrie, Tina received the portrait by delivery. When she read the card she was knocked off her feet. Here this woman wouldn't even talk to her on the phone but yet she sent her an expensive piece of art and told her that she was "priceless". Tina had to meet her. She was now becoming more obsessed with the photographer than the photograph.

She phoned Val again, and asked her to set up a dinner meeting between her and Carrie. Carrie agreed as a favor to Val, to meet her at "Tweety's", a popular dinner spot for New York's younger set. It was against her better judgment but she was growing increasingly weary of Tina's constant phone calls. Up until now she had managed to avoid the company of entertainers. She thought them to be superficial and shallow, and had no desire to become friendly with one; regardless of how beautiful they may be.

Tina was thirty-five minutes late, and by the time she arrived, Carrie had nursed two old fashions and was working on her third. Tina's arrival at the restaurant caused a stir. Carrie watched, as the Maitre'd lead her towards the table. All eyes were on them. She was beautiful. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail that wiggled every time she moved her head. Her make-up was light and she wore no lipstick. Her green eyes sparkled as brightly as the ear to ear smile she was now sporting. And to set it all off, sequined butterflies graced the front of her sweatshirt, which matched the butterfly on the back pocket of her jeans, giving her that elegant air of success look. Carrie was smitten, and wished she had her camera with her.

"Carrie Lewis?...Tina Thomas." She put her hand out taking all of Carrie in from head to toe. 'My, My, My,' she thought to herself as her long polished fingers just touched Carrie's before she sat down. Her smile was relaxed, as she smoothed a stray strand of golden hair back into place. She snorted as she silently mused 'What a tall sumptuous drink of water she is. Jackpot!' The waiter came happily to their table putting a halt to Tina's thoughts.

"Good evening, Miss Thomas. You look lovely tonight." Tina thanked him. "My name is Henry, and I will be your server tonight. May I start you off with a cocktail?"
Tina ordered a white wine and asked Carrie if she wanted another. Carrie declined and the waiter went hurriedly to the bar.

"Well," Tina began. "I finally get to meet the woman that makes me beg." She watched as Carrie smiled a little, staring into the glass before her. The thought, 'She's shy!' rang in her head and Tina found it to be endearing "You're very talented, Carrie. Is this your first showing?"

"Yes..." she said, looking up. "And my last."

'Those eyes!' she shouted to herself, just as a twinge erupted at her center. 'My god! I'm in love!' She quickly recovered and continued her seduction. "Why!?! ...It's not because of me, is it?

Carrie sipped her drink. She was annoyed that Tina had kept her waiting. But, she had to admit...Tina was charming. She didn't know if it was Tina's mood rubbing off onto her, or if it was just the old fashions taking a hold but, she began to relax, and she let herself smile, again. "No, not really...It's just not the reason why I take photos.

'Oh, how cute! The moody, sensitive type.' Tina put on her best sincere face and asked, "Why do you take photos?"

"I take them to preserve."

"I don't understand"

Crossing her arms in front of her and leaning in upon the table, Carrie looked deep into Tina's eyes. She was picture perfect, Carrie thought as she watched Tina squirm under her glare; everything you would expect a "star" to be. Blue-green eyes as clear as the ocean's water, a nose that protruded just enough not to be characterized as a button, cheeks that were plump and ripe, and lips so perfectly shaped that they appeared to be smiling, even when she wasn't. At that moment Carrie wanted to reach out and feel the smoothness of her skin, caress the contours of her long and slender neck. Instead, she explained her lust for photography, giving Tina the intimate details of the only lover she had experienced - her camera. She went back to her childhood in Philadelphia, painfully skipping over the part about her father's death. Tina listened intently, hanging on to Carrie's every word.

By the time desert was served the conversation had turned to Tina, giving her the opportunity to talk about the past that, as she said, her agent told her was best forgotten. Without hesitation, she began telling Carrie about her last memory of her mother.

She was living in a boarding house with her mother, on 125th street. It was Sunday morning and her mother was lying on the couch, passed out from the night before. Tina was used to this scene on Sunday mornings and knew exactly what to do. She was to prepare a cup of tea, make two slices of toast, and serve them to her mother along with two aspirins. However on this Sunday morning it was different. When Tina awoke she found herself in a pool of blood. She sprang from the bed and ran into the bathroom. Looking down at her legs she could see that the blood was coming from her. Suddenly she felt faint and nauseated. Not knowing what to do she ran to the living room screaming to her Mother.

"Momma! Momma!" she cried. Sleepily her mother opened her eyes. She looked at Tina standing before her with tears streaming down her face. "What!?! What is it?"

"Momma, look!" Tina held a bloody hand out to her Mother, who jumped up from the couch. "What the hell is that!" she screamed at her. Looking down at her nightgown and legs, she finally realized what it was. Tina had gotten her first period. Laughing hysterically, her Mother said, "You stupid bitch. You've got your period!"

"Huh?" Tina said in bewilderment. This was the first she had ever heard of a period. She didn't understand what she had done.

"Your period!...For Christ sakes, don't stand there getting it all over the floor, Tina! Go to the bathroom." Still bewildered, she obeyed. But, she didn't know what for. When she got there she stood in the middle of the floor, watching the blood run down her legs.

Ten minutes later her hung-over mother, still in the dress from the night before, came shuffling into the bathroom. She stared in disbelief, as Tina's menses continued to run down her pale legs. In an outburst of rage she grabbed the nearest thing to her, which was the plunger in the corner, and began crashing it down upon Tina's head, screaming "You dumb bitch!!!", repeatedly.

Carrie listened intently while Tina spoke. She studied her features and watched her lips as the painful words spew from her mouth. Her eyes were full of tears, and they looked off past her, as if Tina was narrating a scene unfolding before her. Suddenly she stopped and looked back at Carrie and smiled. "Our landlady and her husband finally rescued me and asked my Mother to leave. Needless to say, my mother jumped at the opportunity to rid herself of her, and left." Tina's eyes dropped to the table and she whispered, "She didn't even say "Good-bye."

Feeling her eyes swelling with tears, Carrie reached and touched Tina's hand softly. "Are you all right?"

Bouncing back, Tina lifted her head and quickly wiped her eyes. Smiling, she said, "Oh yeah. It's just that I hadn't thought about her in a long time. Thirteen years, to be exact."

"Do you have any contact with her now?"

"No...The Campbell's, the people who took me in, they told me she died in a car wreck a couple of years later. But word out on the street had it that she died from a Heroine overdose. She supposedly had gotten high, fell down the stairs, and choked on her own vomit...I never told them that I knew how she really died. They were always trying to protect me. They are good to me. Whenever I talk about my parents in an interview, it's them that I'm referring to".

"Coffee ladies?" the waiter asked from above.

They had been so absorbed in conversation, neither of them had noticed his presence. Tina shook her head in the negative and waved him away. Taking the last swallow from her glass, she looked into Carrie's eyes and stared. Carrie stared back. For the first time that evening, they were both at a lost for words. An air of uneasiness had swept in, that neither of the women understood.

Finally, Tina spoke first. "Carrie, what..." She paused to light a cigarette. "Carrie. That's your given name?"

"No, it's Catherine."

"Catherine. I think that suits you better. Mine is Christine, but I prefer Tina...What do you prefer, Catherine or Carrie?"

Carrie gave it some thought before she answered. She had been called Carrie for so long, it didn't matter to her. "Carrie I guess. That's all I've ever heard. Even in grade school the teachers always called me Carrie."

"Well, I'm going to call you Catherine. Like I said, it suits you." The two women smiled. "Catherine, What do you have planned for the rest of the evening?" Before Carrie could answer, Tina quickly added, "I have a Limo parked outside. I'm in the mood for a drive through Central Park."

"It sounds great, but I really have to get back home...I have a ton of work to do."

"On a Saturday night!?! What do you do?...Work twenty-four hours, seven days a week?"

"No." Carrie said, laughing. "It's just that I'm in the process of opening a studio and there are contracts and things waiting at home for me to read and sign."

"Well then..." Tina said, beckoning to the waiter. "...I'll go with you. I know a lot about contracts and things like that. You'll need me."

"Oh, no...I couldn't ask you..."

"Nonsense. I do this sort of thing all the time. Besides, ...I'm not ready to go home yet."

"Look." Carrie spoke firmly, trying to keep a smile on her face. "I had a very nice time but, I do have plans for tonight. Thank you for the dinner. But, we'll have to get together some other time.

The black limousine followed Carrie closely, as she drove back to the small factory that she called home. She hadn't wanted Tina to come home with her, but Tina had become persistent and pushy, much like she had on the telephone, when she wanted the picture. Carrie decided to avoid a scene and give in to her insistence. It was against her better judgment, so while driving, she made up her mind to go through the contracts fast and have her out within an hour.

Once inside, Tina walked around, the vast open space, shaking her head approvingly. "Yes...There's a lot you can do with this. This should make a beautiful studio." Slipping off her jacket, she flung it across the arms of a mannequin that was leaning against the wall.

"Catherine, are you keeping these mannequins?"

"No. I like human models." Carrie said, trying to keep idle conversation at a minimum.

"You should keep them. You could use them as props or something."

"I don't really like them. They give me an eerie feeling.

"Nonsense! That's silly. Keep them.

"The mannequins go!" Carrie said this with a sound of finality in her voice. She hadn't meant it to sound harsh, but she was angry with herself for letting Tina take control. Tina's beauty was weakening her and she didn't like it. She wanted to be alone, away from her, so she could assess the strange feelings she was experiencing.

"Okay." Tina said, looking oddly at Carrie. "The mannequins go."

Gentry was in its infant stage, and Carrie had chose a small corner on the second floor to live in. There was only a bed, an oak wardrobe, a portable television on a milk crate, and a collapsible table with one chair, up against the wall, which now appeared to be suspiciously bare with the absence of Tina's portrait. Her bathroom was across the room, and it doubled as a darkroom. She sat down on the bed, opening a brown envelope she picked up off the table.

Trying not to show her annoyance any further, she said, "Here are the contracts." and held the pile of papers out to Tina. Tina walked slowly across the bare floors to the place where Carrie sat. Smiling at Carrie, she said, "Can we have a cup of coffee or something, before we begin?"

"Sorry. But, as you can see, I don't cook in here. No kitchen."

"Well how about a drink?" She crossed the room to her pocketbook, where she revealed a flask. "You do have glasses, don't you?"

Placing the papers and envelope back on the bed, Carrie reluctantly stood, grabbed a glass that was on the floor by the bed and went into the bathroom. By the time she returned, with two dripping wet glasses, Tina was on the bed. She had taken off her shoes and was propped up against the headboard, lying on her side, with Carrie's pillows beneath her back and elbow. Carrie thought she looked beautiful, as she stared admiringly.

"Hope you don't mind but, I made myself comfortable." Tina said, with a look of mischief. Carrie didn't answer. She put the glasses down next to Tina, then went to the table for a cigarette.

"May I have one too." Tina called to her.

Carrie pulled out a second cigarette, and lit it from the first. She sat on the edge of the bed and passed it to Tina, who gave her a half filled glass of the liquor in the flask, and whispered, "Thanks,... It's scotch. It's the only liquor that travels well."

In silence they sipped from their glasses and puffed on their cigarettes. While Tina stared at her features and entertained lurid sexual musings, Carrie stared at the floor. She had acknowledged her desire for women, long ago, but had never had any real sexual thoughts. However, now those were the only thoughts she was having, and it left her body stiff and ridged. She could hear Tina pouring herself another drink, in the distance. Tina's perfume was filling up her nostrils and her head was getting light. Suddenly she became aware of Tina's hand massaging her back. It was light and gentle, and Carrie felt herself relaxing as her eyelids grew heavy. Her nails scratched teasingly up her spine, then a flat palm smoothed it away. Tina repeated the pattern over and over again, as Carrie relaxed her body and endured it. Eyes shut, Carrie swallowed what was left in her glass, then opened them as she placed it back on the table. Their eyes met and held. She paused, holding her breath in the stillness. Tina slowly leaned forward and tilted her head upward. She stopped as Carrie retreated backwards.

"What's the matter?" Tina whispered, while slipping a tender arm around Carrie's waist.

"I...I don't..." Carrie was at a lost for words. She knew what was happening, but didn't know how to react. Looking into Tina's eyes she wanted her too, but she wasn't sure. Up to this point she had never been intimate with a women - or a man, for that matter. She began feeling like she had when she was in the restaurant. A rush of heat was crawling its way up her spine and her head was now spinning faster.

Giggling slightly, Tina smiled and mused, "Don't tell me I have to beg for this too?" At this, a smile flashed across Carrie's face and vanished just as quickly. Things were becoming confusing. She had no place of reference. She was beginning to like Tina's odd sense of humor. It came at the strangest times but always seemed ironically appropriate. Carrie squeezed her eyes shut trying to decide how she should respond. When she opened her eyes, Tina was looking at her intently. She had a look of puzzlement, which slowly changed into a look of admiration.

"You've never been with a women, have you?"

From somewhere within her, Carrie managed to say, "I've never been with anyone."
Smiling broadly she said, as if to herself, "Who would of thought it?" Tina slid her other arm around Carrie's neck, pulling herself up and pulling Carrie into her at the same time. She gently rocked as she cradled Carrie, stroking her hair. She whispered, "I won't hurt you. I'll never hurt you. I only want to love you the way someone as beautiful as you should be loved." She placed a soft hand upon her cheek and gently caressed it. "Trust me," She whispered.

Carrie began to respond, on impulse. She placed her arms around her waist, then lifted her lips to Tina's. Gently their lips touched, and their tongues explored. Carrie felt her desires grow more intense. She shifted her body onto the bed and lay back with her head in the pit of Tina's arm. She slowly slid her hand underneath Tina's sweatshirt, across her flat smooth belly, up to her bare breasts. They were firm and the nipples were hard and erect.

Tina undid the buttons of Carrie's shirt, revealing her black bra, which conveniently clasped in the front. Once the bra was undone she quickly undid Carrie's zipper and slid her fingers between the silk and the soft mound of curly hair. Carrie gasped, as a surge of desire shot up her spine. She closed her eyes as she felt Tina's lips draw in the nipple of her breast. Lying flat on her back, she raised her arms up over her head, as Tina slipped her shirt and bra off. Tina put a leg across her and used both hands to pull Carrie's jeans and panties down below her hips. She tossed them to the floor as she stood to take off hers. Carrie opened her eyes to watch Tina undress. She smiled when Tina noticed and put her arms out, as Tina returned to her side. Tightly, they embraced. Kissing more intensely, and letting their hands explore each other more knowingly. Their legs intertwined as they moved in rhythm with each other.

Tina pinned Carrie down to the bed and sat up on her knees. She looked down at Carrie as she slipped off the clasp that was holding her hair in place. Carrie reached to touch it as it fell freely about Tina's shoulders. Smiling, Tina bent down and began sucking Carrie's breast again. "You have the most beautiful complexion..." she murmured, as she moved her hips around, pushing her wetness against Carrie's flesh. "...It's like caramel, caramel candy..."

Systematically, Carrie began massaging Tina's thighs and buttocks. Her breathing was getting heavier and she could feel the beginnings of a spasm at the base of her spine as Tina's tongue began to trek down her belly to her hips. Carrie shivered, and obediently opened her legs. She felt warm fingers explore the outside of her vagina. They massaged and squeezed the lips together and Carrie let out a sigh again. She opened her legs wider and clasped them around Tina's waist. Slowly she fell into the rhythm of the fingers, gliding in and out of her. The spasm began finding it's way up her spine. She moved faster as the spasm climbed. She frantically grasped for the sides of the bed, as her body felt to be on fire.

Tina suddenly laid her entire mouth over Carrie's vagina. Parting the lips with her tongue, she sucked and licked as Carrie's body began to heave. Her legs tightened about her shoulders. Tina sucked harder at the fresh liquid that was now in abundance. She was fervid by the smells of the fresh young body beneath her, and exhilarated by the thought of being the first one there. From a distance she could hear Carrie's tender cries and moans. And she responded vehemently to every demand.

Three months had passed and, Carrie was blissfully happy. She had never known that loving someone could make her feel the way she did. Although she enjoyed her life of solitude, her new life, with a love of her own, brought her happiness she never knew existed. They had spent all of their time wrapped in the joys of love making, interrupted only by the demands of their professions and the intrusions of curious workmen. Tina was spending so much time at the studio that the workman begun taking orders from her, as she pushed them to complete their construction. Within six months time, much to Carrie's delight, Tina partially moved in. She brought with her a few of her belongings but kept the bulk of her things at her condo, which she intended to continue to maintain.

It was their first New Years eve together, when the buzzer from the intercom sounded. Melinda had invited them for the weekend and they were dressing and packing for the short trip across the bridge to Seven Hills. Tina was in the shower when Carrie answered, hoping it wasn't someone who would delay their trip.

"Yes?" Carrie said with her mouth up against the speaker.

"Oh, hello...Is this where Christine Thomas lives?" the voice asked, somewhat unsure of herself.

"Yes, it is...Who is it?"

"This is Lorraine Campbell, her mother."

Excitedly, Carrie buzzed her in and turned the key to allow the elevator to ascend to the third floor. For the ten months that they had lived together, she had never met Mrs. Campbell. The conversation of Tina's adoptive parents had rarely come up. Even when Carrie took her to Seven Hills to meet Melinda, Tina had avoided talking about her family. Carrie did too, thinking it to be too painful for Tina to deal with. However, that Thanksgiving Tina had spent it with the Campbell's, leaving Carrie alone for six days explaining that she owed the Campbell's that much. Now with the chance to meet her mother it was exciting, and she thought this would be an unexpected pleasure for Tina too.

When the elevator doors opened, a short round woman was standing before her. Carrie quickly raised the gates and held out her hand to assist her. Slightly stooped by her sixty-three years, Lorraine Campbell stepped elegantly from the elevator, and looked back at it in amazement. She was wearing a gray mohair suit, with silver and pearl buttons down the front. The stole around her shoulders was of mink and was clasped handsomely by a diamond broach. With a smile of embarrassment, she turned to meet Carrie's eyes.

" Thank you my dear, what an interesting contraption. You must be Catherine. Christine has told me so much about you. You must pardon my intrusion, but I just couldn't let the New Year come in with out seeing my daughter at least once this year. You will forgive me, won't you dear?"

Carrie opened her mouth but the words would not come out. She was staring at a ghost. It was like looking at Tina - in older years. Her hair was a silvery - gray and her eyes were as green as Tina's. Carrie froze at the sight of her. This woman looked just like Tina.

"Mother!" Tina shouted, wrapped in a towel.

She ran to her with open arms.

"You look terrific! You didn't tell me you were coming. When did you get back to the States?"

"Only this evening, dear. I was just explaining to your friend. I could not let the year go out without seeing my baby at least once this year."

"Mother I'm so happy you're here!"

They hugged again. Carrie, in shock, sat down on the couch. She looked on in silence as the two women mused at each other.

"Oh mother, have you met Catherine yet?...Didn't I tell you she was beautiful." They were both staring at Carrie now, and she managed to smile.

"Yes, she is exquisite..." Mrs. Campbell said relieving herself of her stole. "...But she is so quiet."

"Reserved, Mother. Catherine is reserved. She was raised on the mainline in Philadelphia."

"Ah, yes. I do recall your mentioning that before. It's my pleasure" A small hand freckled with liver spots was now extended before her. Carrie reached for it numbly. She smiled as she touched the softness.

Closing the door hard behind her, Carrie stood against it glaring at Tina.

"Isn't it wonderful that mother is here?"

"Tina." Carrie said, in a controlled tone

Tina stopped putting on her stockings and looked at Carrie with concern. "What?...What's the matter with you?"

"Tina...That's not your adoptive mother out there...She's your mother."

"Yeah...So, what?"

"Your real mother!"


"You told me your mother died!"


"The first night we met! You told me that the Campbell's raised you after your mother...."

"Oh, that. I was lying. I made it up."

Carrie fought hard to keep her composure. She began to pace the floor. She looked down to avoid looking at Tina. She couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"Catherine. Look, we had just met. I didn't know who you were," she stood and blocked Carrie in mid stride of her pace. Gently she placed her hand under Carrie's chin, and took hold of her tear stained face so that she could look in her eyes. "Baby...All I knew was that from the first time I saw you I wanted you. But I couldn't take any chances. I didn't know who you where or who you knew. So, I told you that story just in case you were one of those people who kiss and tell. That story was so sensational that I thought if it was ever printed I could easily prove it to be a lie and I would know exactly who leaked it."

"You were setting me up!?!"

"Yeah...I guess you can say that. But you've got to remember. I'm a celebrity. People are always out to get me. I have to be careful. I have to take care of things or I won't have a career."

"What about after you moved in here. You still didn't trust me enough to tell me the truth?"

"Oh, um, by then I forgot all about it, ...and keep your voice down."

"Really? ...Well what about Thanksgiving and all that shit about the 'It's the least I can do after they took me in.' where were you for those six days!" Carrie was trembling, she was so angry. Tina had deliberately lied about this and she couldn't understand why.

" was with her. I..." Tina took a deep breath, trying to form the next lie in her mind. "Look Carrie, that woman out there can be such a bitch. I didn't want you know how much. I...I. You've met her now. What's the big deal?"

"Tina you lied! Everything you've told me was a lie!" Carrie began pacing again. Tina was acting like this was nothing. She couldn't understand it. "Tina...You've got to promise me you'll never lie to me again!

Mentally Tina breathed a sigh of relief "Okay, I'll never lie to you again."

"I'm serious! You've got to promise me!

"All right! All right! I promise! Now will you keep your fucking voice down! I don't want my mother hearing this."

Carrie slowly sat on the bed. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, letting out a deep sigh. The trembling hadn't ceased and she was trying to control it by breathing deeply.

Back to putting her stockings on, Tina blurted, "I can't go with you to your mother's this weekend..."

In astonishment, Carrie asked, "Why!?!"

Without looking up Tina continued. "With my Mother here in New York, I can't go. She's here to see me. I just can't go trotting off to Seven Hills with you, leaving her here."

"She can come with us."

"Catherine, your Mother's different. She understands our life style...hell, she's living it. But, my mother wouldn't...she would never understand this. "

"We could be discrete. We could stay in separate rooms."

"No. I can't take the chance of her finding out. It would be too risky..."

"Then I won't go either."

"Yes you will. You'll go and you'll enjoy yourself. By the time you get back my mother will be gone and things will be back to normal."

Pouting Carrie mumbled back at her, "I was hoping to spend some time with your mother too."

In hysterics, Tina sauntered over to the closet. As if she just heard the funniest joke in her life, she gently wiped her eyes while, gaining composure. "Your kidding right?...No, darling...It's way too soon in our relationship for something like that...Tell you what, you go spend some time with her now while I'm getting dressed. Then you can pack your things and be on your way while we're at dinner."

Carrie sat silently for a minute, staring at the floor. Then in a low whisper, "Are you embarrassed about us?"

Tina stopped applying her make-up and sat next to her on the bed. She studied Carrie close, putting her arm around her lightly.

"I love you Carrie. And I'll never be embarrassed about that. You're so beautiful, that I wish I could shout it from the rooftops. But, you have to try and understand who I am. What I am. Everything you have was practically given to you. No matter what happens, you'll always have it. You were born with it all. Me? I had to work for what I have and if I'm not careful, it could all vanish just like that...Including my mother's love...just like that." Withdrawing her arm, she took both of Carrie's hands in hers, "I understand how hurt you must feel right now, I feel it too. But, I think it's for the best. And baby, I promise, when all this is over, I'll make it up to you. The minute you step through the door, I'll take you in my arms and fuck your brains out."

This made Carrie smile, and Tina kissed her, wet from tears, lips.

Things went on much of the same. Tina moved completely in with Carrie, selling her downtown Manhattan condo. Since she had made that concession she insisted that Carrie make a concession too and remodel the unused third floor of the building into a private studio for Tina, where she could practice and have solitude when needed. Three months later Carrie learned that practice and solitude meant undisturbed private sessions with male friends that Tina felt she needed in order to be whole. At first Carrie turned a blind eye to these activities thinking that if she complained Tina would move out completely, but as time went by she started to put her foot down. Heated arguments erupted and this behavior only led Tina to increase the activity. So, she eased off, trying to ignore the fact that her lover was cheating right under her own roof. Weekends at Melinda's became more frequent.

The day that she met Jean had been a godsend. Because there wasn't enough room on the second, she moved her on to the third floor, telling Tina it was temporary. Temporary turned out to be two years. And it put an abrupt halt to Tina's clandestine affairs under her roof.

In June of 1995, like a cat on fire, Tina came flying into the lobby of Gentry, stopping at the front desk first. "Janet, where is she?"

"In studio B." said Janet in a monotone. She didn't particularly like Tina. Oh, she was talented and great on stage, but she was condescending and down right rude at times. She knew Carrie could do much better.

Annoyed at Janet's lackadaisical disposition, she spewed words at her. "Well, page her and tell her to meet me upstairs, right now!" She turned abruptly on her heels and dashed to the stairs.

Within moments, Carrie came running up the steps. "What's up!?! she said, out of breath. Tina held the paper out to her, with a trembling hand. Carrie took it from her and read the headline. "Yeah, so what?"

"Turn to Dale Coleman's column. Page 14."

Carrie quickly found the page and folded it back to read more easily.

"The line on the vine is asking what Broadway
beauty is having a lurid lesbian affair with an
up and coming New York Photographer,
with the initials C.L. An insider has told this
reporter that they are madly in love and living
happily together as 'MAN and WIFE'..."

"Can you believe that shit!" Tina hollered at the top of her lungs, shaking a cigarette at the newspaper.

"Now wait a minute Tina. He hasn't mentioned us by name."

"He hasn't mentioned us by name! ...'What Broadway beauty!?!' Don't be so fucking dumb! He doesn't have to say my name! Every goddamn body in New York knows he's talking about me. He even gave your initials!"

Carrie read it again.

"Goddamn!" Tina screamed at the top of her lungs. "How could this of happened!?! ...Why now?...Why the fuck now! Just when it's all coming together, this shit has to hit the fan. Do you know how long I've been waiting for Hollywood to call me?...Shit, shit, shit!" She paused long enough to light another cigarette. "I've been living here with you, what?...three years? Not a word. Not a whisper!...Now this shit...Catherine what the fuck am I going to do!?!"

Carrie gently folded the paper and laid it on top of the table. She didn't know what to do or what to say to her lover, who was now sobbing uncontrollably. She went to her and held her in her arms. She began to cry too, as they both sank to the couch.

"Catherine, what am I going to do..." Tina whispered.

"I don't know baby. I just don't know...Maybe this will just blow over and we needn't do anything."

Tina pulled away and sat up glaring at her. "Blow over!?! Why do you always do this?...Why do you always have to trivialize things when it's happening to me!?!. It would suit you just find if I had no career...and I stayed locked in here with you for the rest of my life, wouldn't it? Things like this just don't blow over, Catherine. I've got to do something and I've got to do it now! She stood again, lit another cigarette, and began pacing the floor. "I've got to find out who leaked this story to him. Who do you think it was?"

"I don't know Tina...Probably, no one. We haven't been exactly keeping it a secret." Carrie was now lighting a cigarette too.

As if she didn't hear her Tina continued, "It's probably someone close to us...Jean!...I bet it was that bitch!

"Oh come on Tina! Jean? She's only been in New York for a few months. She doesn't know anyone...especially Dale Coleman. Besides, why would she do something like this?"

"Because she's in love with you!...And she hates me! She would love to see me destroyed...Or maybe it was Lars. Yeah, I bet it was him. He knows Dale. He knows every reporter in town!"

"And why would he take on such a sordid project. What did you ever do to him?"

"It's not me he's after, it's you!


"Yeah! We both know how he feels about his new assistant, Jean. And he knows how she feels about you...He probably thinks the three of us are up here having orgies with her every night! Who the hell knows what that black bitch has been telling him...Oh she's a sly one. I want her out, Catherine. I want her out of here tonight!"

"Stop it, Tina! You're grasping at straws." Carrie headed for the door. "I'm not going to listen to any more of this." She stopped and turned to face Tina. "Look you're making to much of this. Jean is a friend. She's not going anywhere. I realize how upset you are but I'm not going to allow you to take it out on her. If you want to know what to do, call Ivan. He's your agent. Isn't that what he's there for? Let him do something about it...I have to go. If I'm lucky, I still have a client waiting for me in my studio..."

"And I'm sure she's more important than me, too!..." To a closed door she added, "I forgot you people stick together!"

A month later, all the major gossip rags had picked up on the story. They were now naming names and had photos of them shopping together or dining in the village. That Friday the Enquirer ran a front-page headline:

'Tina Thomas linked to love affair with
lesbian socialite, Carrie Lewis.'

Tina was raging with fury. She moved into the Plaza, telling Carrie it was for the best until things died down. Carrie was also devastated at the turn of events. Although Tina called twice a day she was still very upset and found it hard to concentrate on work. She had grown accustomed to having someone in her bed at night, and now she found it hard to sleep. Jean's presence in the apartment helped when she needed someone to talk to But, it wasn't the same without Tina. She would have nightmares about what activities Tina was participating in, on her own.

She began to read the papers daily, keeping tract of what was being said about them in print. She would get one or two phone calls a day from reporters asking her to comment but mostly they seemed to concentrate on Tina. Tina was vehemently denying every accusation they threw at her, threatening lawsuits.

After Two weeks the phone calls stopped, as did the newspaper articles. The stress Carrie was under took its toll visibly and the business of Gentry began to take a dive as Carrie ignored things, leaving it all in Janet's hands.

Jean tried her best to support her friend but Carrie was non-responsive. In spite of Lars' advice to move out and disassociate herself with Carrie, Jean stayed on taking time from work to help Janet with the management of Gentry.

The final blow came early September, just after Labor Day. Jean walked into an eerily dark apartment after spending hours going over contracts with Janet. She sensed something was seriously wrong. She stumbled in the dark until she found the lamp switch. Upon illuminating the room she saw Carrie bawled into a fetal position clutching a newspaper. Her eyes were staring into space and they were puffy and red. Jean slowly walked over to Carrie noticing that there wasn't any reaction. She carefully liberated the newspaper from her folded arms and read the headlines.

Tina Thomas: Tina speaks out "I Am Not A Lesbian!
Suspected lesbian actress scheduled to marry studio owner's son.
Says: I'm going to marry him because I love him.
We've been secretly engaged for over a year.
We kept it a secret because I didn't want it to look
like the only reason I got my studio contract
was because I was the boss's daughter-in-law.
Now that the contracts have been signed I can
tell the world how much Mitch and I are in love."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lars stepped out of the revolving doors of the Lido restaurant, and stopped briefly to pull his suit jacket collar up around his neck. He had been lunching with clients who were eager to spend their money with his company. He smiled triumphantly at himself. It was drizzling out and cool, typical for May in New York. Quickly he crossed Madison, and turned up 48th towards Fifth Avenue. His walk was brisk and even. He looked straight ahead as he strolled in his dark gray Hugo Boss suit and Zegna shoes. A newspaper was tucked neatly under his arm and his hand, fashionably, in his pocket.

As he rounded the corner of Avenue of the Americas, he went head-on into someone. "Excuse me!" the stranger, said. Lars looked into the face of a boy, who looked to be no more than sixteen. He was a few inches shorter than Lars and quite thin but appeared to be in good shape. He had dark curly hair that was thick at the ends and fell to his shoulders. His face was clear and smooth with hints of manhood shadowing his upper lip. When Lars moved to his right to get pass him, the boy moved with him, still blocking his path. He then shifted to his left; the boy shifted too.

"What do you want?" Lars finally asked.

The boy looked at him seriously. "You got a cigarette?"

"No." said Lars, looking the boy in the eyes.

"Well, you got a few dollars so I can buy a pack?"

Lars withdrew his hand from his pocket and straightened his posture. "What are you suppose to be doing...mugging me!?!"

"Uh, no." the boy said, giving a nervous smile. He retreated slightly, looking around him, and moved to Lars' left side. "I was just wondering if you can spare me some change...You see, I'm not from here, and I haven't found a job yet.

Lars eyed him suspiciously, then began walking away. "How old are you, boy?" he said, over his shoulder.

The boy followed behind him, sometimes skipping to keep up with Lars' fast pace. "I'm eighteen. I'll be nineteen next month."

Lars stopped, with the boy almost running into him again. He studied him from head to toe, then stepped back into stride. "What's your name?"

"Kyle." the boy answered, slightly out of breath.

Lars stopped again and turned fully around, facing him. The drizzle had stopped and Kyle stood before him, breathing into cupped hands, while rocking back and forth from foot to foot. "Well, Kyle what do you want? I'm a very busy man. I have no time to waste."

Kyle looked down at his shoes, then back to his eyes. "Ten."

Studying his face hard, Lars said, "Okay. You have a place around here?".

The boy pointed to an alley behind them. Reluctantly, Lars followed him in, strategically avoiding the small puddles of rainwater. Kyle walked to the back where there was a wall and a few stacked boxes. He walked behind them and Lars followed. Lars stood back against the wall lightly, remembering his Hugo Boss suit. Kyle quickly undid Lars' belt and zipper. He reached inside and pulled out his hard penis. Lars was stiff as a board and he groaned as Kyle wrapped his mouth around it. Lars began to thrust. He grabbed the top of the boy's head and thrust harder. His eyes shut tight as he gave two big thrusts and four little jerks, relieving himself inside. Kyle came up coughing. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and then to his jeans. Lars took out his handkerchief and gently wiped his limp penis off. He adjusted his pants and zipped them up. He went in his pocket and pulled out a flat fold of money, held together by a silver money clip. He peeled off a twenty and handed it to the boy, and said, "I don't have any change."

Kyle smiled. He stuffed the twenty in his pocket. "I could meet you again."

Lars adjusted his jacket and picked up the newspaper he had dropped. "I'll be seeing you Kyle." He tapped the paper on Kyle's butt and walked off briskly down the alley.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Emma met Carrie coming off the elevator. She handed her a blue folder and took her arm to escort her to the conference room. "Mr. Whittaker is waiting. I specifically told your secretary that the meeting was scheduled for 2:30, sharp...Everyone else is here...They're in the conference room."

Carrie stopped dead in her tracks. Smiling at Emma, she said "And good afternoon to you too, Emma."

Emma shyly smiled back. "I'm sorry Ms. Lewis. It's just that Mr. Whittaker has a very tight schedule today and it's important that he ends this one on time."

"I understand, Emma. Now, do you think you could get me a cup of coffee? I'll go in, while you get it, so the meeting can start. Okay?"

Emma shook her head and quickly retreated for the coffee. She didn't particularly care for Carrie. All the other photographers that the agency dealt with were polite and genuinely eager to work for Lars. However, Carrie was picky and choosy. She never agreed to an assignment before thinking it over for a couple of days, which usually held things up. She took days to return phone calls and sometimes weeks to sign contracts. She often barged in, unannounced, and was usually late for meetings. She was a secretary's nightmare and Emma took it personally. Her talent and beauty might mesmerize Lars and Jean, but not her. Emma felt she knew exactly what Carrie was all about. She was a selfish, inconsiderate, spoiled, rich-bitch, that looked down on people like herself, as if they weren't significant. She wasn't a bit surprised when Carrie's private life went public. She didn't feel sorry for her, and felt Carrie was only reaping what she had sown. It was just too bad that the talented Tina Thomas had to suffer too.

Lars stood with his arms stretched wide. "Ah...She's here. Now we can begin. Carrie gave him a sideways look and took the only chair available, between Harry, head of the production crew, and a man Carrie didn't know. As she settled back in the gray soft chair, she acknowledged Jean, who had winked and smiled at her. She glanced around the table to see who all was there and gave polite nods of her head to acknowledge them.

"Carrie you know just about everyone here, with the exception of George sitting next to you. " Carrie turned slightly and smiled at him. He appeared to be in his thirties, with Sandy brown hair that was balding on top; And horned rim glasses, with a brown tint, that sat snugly on the bridge of his nose. Carrie noticed a tuff of hair peeking out from his sleeve as he extended his hand to her. He reminded her of the reporter, Dale Coleman, who wrote for the Globe, and had given her hell when she went through that mess with Tina. Instantly she didn't like George.

"He's going to direct this thing."

Carrie gave him another empty smile.
"Now people..." Lars continued, "Let's get down to business."

The meeting lasted two hours, well past the amount of time Emma had allotted. However, Lars gave an impressive spiel about the importance of the account and the results he had personally guaranteed. They were to commercialize a Japanese soft drink that was already number one in Japan, and put it among the rank of colas in the U.S. Lars had a time convincing Carrie and a few of the others, that the product would be made and bottled in the States, before they agreed to work on it. But, he convinced them, and Carrie was excited about the opportunity to photograph authentic Japanese models. Lars also made it clear that Jean was at the helm. Every time he referred to her, he would smile and glance her way. Carrie found this humorous and at every opportunity, teased Jean from across the table.

They emerged from the conference room at 4:37, only to be greeted by a pasty-faced Emma. "Mr. Whittaker!?!" she said, with wide eyes. "Mr. Carter has been waiting in the lounge for forty-five minutes!" She had tried to interrupt the meeting numerous times, but Lars only hung up on her or slammed the door in her face.

"I know. I know." he said, raising his hands in surrender. Turning to Carrie and Jean he smiled shyly. "Duty calls. Carrie I'm pleased you'll be joining us on this one. The contracts will be going out first thing in the morning." Glancing at Emma, he added "All I ask is that you get them back to us in a timely matter."

"As long as they contain everything we've discussed Lars, that shouldn't be a problem."

"They will." Jean interjected.

"Well then, if you ladies will excuse me. I have to see a tiny man about a tiny account." Winking at Carrie and squeezing Jean's arm, he dismissed himself and walked briskly down the carpeted hall, with Emma at his heels.

The two women starred after them. "He's really excited about this account." Jean said with a thoughtful tone. "He believes it's only the beginning of a multitude of business that will be coming from the Orient."

"If that's true, why is he letting you head it?"

Jean looked at Carrie in puzzlement. "What do you mean?"

"Jean, it just doesn't make sense to me that a man with Lars' head for business would turn over a multi-million dollar account to someone who'll be leaving his company in a matter of months....regardless of how he feels about her."

Jean quickly looked around them. "Keep your voice down!" she whispered. "I haven't had a chance to tell him yet."

Without an attempt to lower her voice, Carrie asked, "Why not?"

"We can't stand here and discuss this." Jean took Carrie's arm and led her down the hall and into her office. As soon as she closed the door she said, "I haven't had the chance to yet."

"We decided on this months ago. In all this time you haven't had the chance?...C'mon Jean, you'll have to do better than that."

"What am I supposed to do? ...Say, 'Oh Lars, by the way, I'm leaving.' You know how Lars is. I have to find the right opportunity to tell him. It's not going to be easy for him to except my leaving."

"That's just it, Jean. It's not going to be easy for him to except. There will never be a right opportunity to tell him. That's why the sooner you tell him the more time he'll have to get use to the idea that you won't be here. Your putting this off won't make it any easier...He's your friend, Jean. He doesn't deserve to be the last to know."

"I know. I've been trying. I tried Friday night."

"Well, try harder. I talked to Val this morning. Paula has a site." Carrie stopped to watch the reaction of her friend. As she predicted Jean's face blanched and she was looking at her with incredulity. "Hey! You knew this was coming. You want to back out on me now?"

Jean closed her eyes and shook her head in the negative. She was upset with herself. Why had she waited so long? Procrastination was once again biting her in the ass and it stung like hell!

"You know, Jean, if you really want out it wouldn't be that big of deal to me. I don't want to push you into something you aren't ready for."

"No. I'm not going to back out. We are going to do this. I just have to find a way to tell him."

The worried look on Jean's face prompted her to ask, "You want to tell him together? He won't act-up in front of me."

Jean seemed to contemplate the offer at first, but then quickly shrugged it off. Without much conviction, she managed to say, "No. This is something I have to do. Don't worry, I'll tell him."

"Okay...If you're sure?"

Jean looked at her questioningly. "You really wouldn't mind"

Carrie smiled and laughed lightly. "Not at all."

In much better spirits, Jean asked, "When?"

"How about and I have an appointment at our perspective business to case the joint. Val and Paula are going to meet us there for dinner. You can bring Lars along and we could enlighten him then."

Jean's mouth was wide open and her eyes were as big as saucers. "Dammit! You set me up! You planned this all out."

Barely containing her laughter, Carrie held up her hands. "No, I didn't, seriously. It just kind of developed.

Jean was now chuckling too. She flopped down in her desk chair and let out a heavy sigh. She looked up at Carrie and smiled at the blue eyes that twinkled before her. Carrie looked exquisite in her black Vera Wang suit. The jacket was single-breasted with a mandarin collar, and tapered sensuously at the waist. Jean sighed inwardly at the cardinal thoughts that were running through her mind. Snapping out of it, she hit a button on the telephone and said, "Emma, does Mr. Whittaker have anything on his agenda for dinner tonight?"

They heard papers ruffling before Emma came back and replied. "No Jean there's nothing on the books but that doesn't mean he's clear. With the way he backed himself up this afternoon I don't know if he'll even have time for dinner."

Jean dramatically rolled her eyes, mocking Emma, then said, "Good! Put me in at" Carrie whispered, and Jean continued "7:30, I'll call you back with the details."

"Okay Jean, it's done."

"Thanks Emma." Jean clicked the button again and looked up at Carrie. "It's done. I sure hope you know what you're doing."


"Yes! It was your idea to do it this way. Anything backfires it's all your fault."

"No problem. I can handle Lars." Carrie said taking the seat facing Jean. Silence settled in as both women contemplated what Lars' reaction was going to be. Finally, Jean let out a sigh, while unbuttoning her suit jacket. "Did you ever make that call?"

Carrie smiled and raised both eyebrows. "Called her twice already and I'm going to call her again when I leave here."

Jean jerked her head at her, "What!" then a light went off in her head. "Are we both talking about Tina Thomas?"

Carries expression changed instantly. "No! I'm talking about Erin...I haven't given Tina another thought. In fact...I forgot she was even in town." Her brows wrinkled as she looked guiltily down at her feet. "I've been like this all day."

Jean leaned in. "Like what?"

"Forgetting things." She looked up at her friend. Her blue eyes misty. "I can't concentrate. All I can think about is Erin...That's why I was late for the meeting. I completely forgot about it. If Janet hadn't reminded me, I wouldn't have been here."

Jean scrutinized the anguished face sitting across from her. "Are you trying to tell me that you're falling?

Carrie's face lit up with a smile that reached her eyes. "Falling hard, Jean. This girl...she's just...just...the best thing that's come along in a long time. I am totally enamored with her. She's...she's wonderful!" Carrie flopped back in her chair as if the whole conversation had been cathartic for her. She was bursting with the feelings of desire and now she had an unrelenting need to call Erin.

Jean watched her with furrowed brows. "You had better slow down. You of all people should know what you see isn't always what you get."

"No, no Jean. She's not like that. When I think about it, I had misgivings about Tina from the start, all the sign's were's just that some where along the line I got lost and didn't heed the warnings. But with Erin...from the first time I saw her...It was as if she was so familiar to me. As if she was an old friend." Looking up at Jean, she stood abruptly leaned forward, and placed a palm onto Jean's desk. "You bringing Sonny?"

"What? Oh...I forgot all about her...Yeah, I guess I am. I'd better call home before she starts with the pots and pans."

Bending down Carrie picked up a pen and wrote the address of the restaurant on Jean's blotter. She then turned away. Heading for the door, she called back over her shoulder and said, "Good. Then you'll both get to meet Erin. See ya'."

Jean stared at the back of Carrie as she made her way out of the office. She reached for the phone and punched in a number. While she waited for the other end to answer, she said aloud to herself "Well, she's not the only one who can make tonight more interesting."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

At 4:45, when everyone began packing up to end the day, Erin unnoticed, slipped back into the files, and quietly sat on the step ladder as she awaited the sound of the last person leaving, with only a bag of M&M's to keep her company. The workday had gone by uneventful and Carrie had surprised her by calling her three times. She smiled subconsciously at that thought. Every time she talked to Carrie she fell a little bit deeper
. Ten minutes had gone by, and she could still hear the muffled voice of Lucille questioning her whereabouts. She sat motionless, with her eyes shut and her face in her hands, praying that Lucille would not think to search the files.

Careful planning and pure wit had helped her avoid Lucille this morning. Erin knew that as soon as she opened her door, Lucille would be there, dressed and ready to go. Even if she tried to be late, Lucille would only wait. She set her clock to wake her at 5:30, a half an hour earlier than usual. She was showered and dressed buy 6:30. When the water, in the kettle had boiled, she went to it, poured the water into an old hair spray bottle, and quietly crept to the back window.

There he was on the fire escape landing. Nestled lazily among the tin trash cans, was Lucille's cat, surrounded by his neighborhood friends. Erin slowly pulled the window up, took the spray bottle in hand, and fired rapidly into the crowd. "MEEEOWWW!" screamed the cats. "BANG...CLANG...BANG!" went the trash cans and their lids. The alley was in a state of chaos. Erin smiled to herself. Two minutes later the neighbors ran to their back doors and Erin heard, "Sebastian! Sebaaastian!....Here kitty-kitty." It was Lucille calling her cat. Erin ran to the front door, grabbed her handbag and Jacket, and dashed down the three flights of stairs. Outside, she slowed her pace, taking deep breaths as she walked triumphantly to the bus stop.

Erin avoided break time by burying her head in work. When Lucille walked past all she saw was the back of a very busy Erin, earnestly doing her job. She hated treating Lucille like this but she justified her actions by thinking it was for Lucille's own good. She knew she would eventually have to tell Lucille, but she also knew that Lucille would be full of questions, and Erin was determined to have those answers when the time came.

She didn't go to the employee lounge for lunch, like she always did, either. Erin still wasn't up to facing Lucille yet, so she had decided on window-shopping instead. Luckily, Carrie had called before she left, so she opted to talk with her for an hour while she ate her lunch at her desk. This had been Carrie's second call of the day and Erin was both pleased and flattered by all the attention. Erin thought that Carrie had been so charming when she shyly and apologetically had to change their dinner plans for the evening. Apparently she had a business dinner to attend and instead of breaking their date she wanted Erin to accompany her. Of course, Erin had accepted and took the opportunity to tell Carrie how kind and considerate she was being. Other than that, Carrie hadn't said very much, and Erin had provided most of the conversation. She gave Carrie background information on her family and life growing up in Brooklyn. She even mentioned Lucille and confided in Carrie about her escapades of the morning to avoid her. Carrie had laughed at her antics and reinforced that her support was there should she need it. Needles to say, when their conversation ended Erin was walking on air. She knew she couldn't hide forever, but when she heard the others coming back, she ran into the files, and stayed there until she was sure Lucille was down the hall, and back at her desk.

Erin now looked down at her watch. It was 5:40. She hadn't heard Lucille's voice for five minutes. She wondered if it was safe. She was to be at Carrie's by six, no way would she be on time. Then a thought came to her. 'Suppose Carrie thought that she had changed her mind, and wasn't coming?' In a panic she quickly left the files and ran from the office, grabbing her belongings on the way out.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Why are you following me?!" Lars said as he spun around to face Kyle. He had spied the boy across the street when he came out of his office building and again when he stopped to by a pack of Velamints from the corner newsstand. Now that he was nearly at the building of his condo, and Kyle managed to get closer to him, he decided to confront his shadow.

"I'm a busy man, Kyle. I've no more time to play with you."

Kyle looked down at his feet and mumbled, "I...I thought you might want some company for tonight."

Lars sighed loudly as he glanced around the somewhat busy street and then back at Kyle. "You have a place to stay tonight?" It was nearing dusk, and the sky was threatening more rain.

"Um...I do all right out here." He was nervously shifting in his stance under Lars' scrutinizing stare. He could tell he was considering his offer. Maybe the vigil he set up outside of the office building was going to pay off. He consciously put on his best 'little boy innocent look' and smiled shyly at Lars.

Lars finally relented. Kyle might be useful to him. He instructed him to follow and together they made the rest of the trek to his apartment.

Once they entered the building, Lars barely acknowledged the doorman that was suspiciously eyeing Kyle. When they reached the door of the condo Lars ushered Kyle into the foyer, then followed. Steven was relaxing on the couch, watching television. Jean had called him earlier and invited him to have dinner with them. He had then called Lars to confirm it and agreed to meet him at the condo, so that they could go together. The sound of the front door had made him smile, and without looking up he said, "Hey old man, 'bout time. I made a pitcher of martinis to get us going." He reached for the remote and flicked off the television. When he stood and turned around, the site of Kyle caused his smile to be replaced by a look of shock then puzzlement. Once he got a good look, it turned to anger.

"This is Kyle." Lars said not looking at Steven. He threw his keys in a dish on the glass sofa table by the entryway. "He's a little down on his luck. He'll be staying here for awhile...until he can get back on his feet. Kyle, make yourself at home. I've got to get ready for dinner." With that he withdrew to the master bedroom, not even glancing at Steven.

Steven stood staring at Kyle, in disbelief. The young man who stood before him was obviously a 'street urchin'. He was dirty, wet, and disheveled. 'What was Lars thinking!'
He watched as Kyle strolled over to the couch and sat down. He picked up the remote, flicked on the switch, and sat back with a satisfied grin on his face.

Steven made his way to the bedroom. He was reluctant to leave the boy on his own, thinking he might take something when no one was looking. Confronting Lars he said, "Who is that?!" He hadn't intended to sound so exasperated but this was unconscionable!

"I told you...Kyle. He's a friend of mine."

"Do you really know this person?"

He looked at Steven through the mirror and dramatically said, "Does anyone really know anyone?"

"Lars we're going out to dinner. You're just going to leave a stranger in your apartment?"

"No. You're not going. You have to baby-sit."


"Like you said, I can't leave him unattended in my apartment. He'll probably rob me blind! No, you have to stay and keep a watchful eye on him."

Steven furiously turned to leave the room but briskly spun back around as he had another thought. "And what about my dinner?"

"Order out for pizza. Kyle will probably like that." Before Steven could take a step, Lars added, "And Steven, don't let him sit around here too long without taking a bath...A bath, not a shower. He can put on a pair of my sweats when he finishes." He then dismissed Steven saying, "Go now. I have a phone call to make."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jean entered the apartment humming lightly to her self. She was in a good mood and was excited about the dinner that was turning into a party, tonight. 'A victory party.' She said to herself. The wheels were in motion. They had a site and if it is what they are looking for, her long time dream would come to fruition. And to make it even better, Carrie would be there right along side of her. She new it wasn't necessarily a dream that Carrie shared but when she had posed the idea to her years ago, Carrie had said she wanted to be apart of it, explaining that it would give her something to do with the endless well of money she had inherited. They had discussed it in detail. Carrie would mainly be a silent partner, even though she was putting up the bulk of the money, and Jean would actually do the hands on day to day management, giving her the autonomy to be her own boss and realize a dream.

She entertained all kinds of ideas she would implement to make their restaurant the best and most famous in New York. There was only one obstacle, Lars. Telling him was going to hard, but worth it. She enjoyed working for the Whittaker Agency, had learned a ton of knowledge about the business from Lars, and was sincerely grateful for the opportunities he provided her with. The term eternally grateful was inept to describe what she felt towards Lars. But as all good students do, they need to move on to more challenging things in order to grow. Jean felt she reached an impasse at the agency and it was time to move on. She just hoped that Lars was going to understand that.

After perusing the mail on the table she ambled into the bedroom. Spying Sonny peering in the mirror, concentrating on her eyeliner, she leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek. "Hi honey I'm home."

"Hey baby. This dinner isn't going to be dressy is it?

"No honey, casual." As she was leaving Sonny's side something gleaming caught her eye. On her left hand the third finger was sporting a silver diamond ring that Jean had never seen before. She quickly shot out and caught Sonny's hand in hers. At a closer look she observed what looked to be a half-carat center diamond with a single row of six tapered baguette diamonds along each side. "What's that?!" she inquired.

"My wedding ring. Here this one is for you." She handed Jean a cream colored box with a small gold ribbon and bow on it. Jean noticed it had been opened and she looked at Sonny with a raised eyebrow. "Yours is gold but it's the same design."

"Where the hell did these come from?"

"Lars, he had them delivered today. They're our wedding rings." Sonny smiled while she held her hand in front of her to admire her ring.

Jean threw the box to the dresser. "Take it off, she said slowly." She closed her eyes as she heard Sonny shout "Why!" She was trying to keep her composure as the anger rose up to her checks. Opening her eyes she looked at Sonny sternly. "We are returning them to him. Take the goddamn ring off!"

Sonny covered her ring with her other hand, as if to hide it. "No! Why do we have to return them Jean? It's a gift; what's wrong with a gift from Lars?!" Sonny was backing away as Jean glared and approached her. It was the most elegant thing she had ever seen and it was hers! Jean was not going to ruin this for her! "You can give yours back but I'm keeping mine!"

Between clenched teeth, Jean shouted, "The rings are going back, Sonny! If you want a fucking ring, I'll buy you one!" She was now closing the gap. "But these are going back to Lars, tonight! ...The nerve of him!"

Sonny stopped her motion and stared at Jean as a tear found it's way down her cheek. She was ringing her hands feeling the exquisite lump of the diamonds caress her fingers. Softly she implored, "Please Jean. Let me keep it. He didn't mean anything by it. He was being polite and thanking us. "

"I knew that bogus marriage was a big mistake." She lowered her head and shook it. Looking back up, she asked, "And how the hell do you know what he meant."

'Uh oh!' Sonny thought to her self. "He um...called this morning. Just after they arrived. He said he only wanted to thank us for a lovely evening out Friday."

Jean was now seething. He had seen her all day at work and never mentioned it. And what was he doing calling Sonny at home when she wasn't there. Lars had some explaining to do. "Give me the ring...Now!"

Sonny jumped a little startled by the loud shout. She reluctantly pulled the ring from her finger. Before handing it over she looked at it sadly and silently said her good byes.

"Get the box and the other stuff it came in.

Slowly, Sonny went to the dresser and pulled out a drawer. The box and the little gold shopping bag it came in, was tucked neatly between her silk panties. She retrieved them and handed them over to Jean. Softly and defeated she said, "You know Jean, I've have never owned something so expensive in my life."

Jean suddenly felt bad and looked at her sincerely. "I'll buy you a ring sweetheart. One that's bigger and better."

Sonny looked at her stunned and sarcastically retorted, "You! What are you going to buy me a ring with? You're sinking everything you have into that business disaster Carrie conned you into. Soon you won't have a penny!

Jean started to reply but thought better of it. Instead she ignored Sonny's remark, stuffed the boxes into the bag, and placed it on the dresser. Looking at her watch she said, "Come on we had better get to the restaurant. I don't want to be late."

"I'm not going!" Jean was pouting and crossed her arms in front of her.

'She is really working my nerves, tonight!' Jean thought. She could feel the beginnings of a migraine. Still with a composed voice she said, "Yes you are and you're going to enjoy yourself." Grabbing the bag she turned to leave the room. "Hurry up, I am not going to be late."

Sonny watched her retrieving back and glared at her. When she was gone and sure that Jean was down the hall, she turned and picked up the telephone receiver.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As Erin walked purposely, towards her destination, in the distance she noticed a tall figure standing stoically on the sidewalk. As recognition increased a smile came to her features. Carrie was standing outside of Gentry obviously waiting for her. When she noticed it was Erin she smiled too, and extended her arms out which Erin ran and fell happily into. They hugged furiously. "Ugh." She moaned breathlessly into Carrie's chest. "Thank you for not leaving me. I'm so sorry I'm late."

"Hey, hold on now. It's only 6:30. No need to rush, we're not late. Did you really think I would leave you?"

Attempting composure, Erin breathed deeply. "Well, I didn't know. I saw you standing here...and I just thought..."

Carrie wiped some arrant strands away from Erin's bangs and cupped her now glowing face in the palm of her hands. It was so good to see her. "No, I was just looking out for you. It's getting dark and this isn't the best neighborhood to be walking around unescorted in." She gave Erin a quick kiss on the lips. They hugged again and Carrie led her into the building. Once they were securely inside Carrie whipped around and swept her up into her arms. They kissed deeply, as tongues reunited, leaving a dizzying effect upon Erin.

"Mmmm, I think I'm going to be late all the time if this is going to be the result." She leaned up to capture Carrie's lips once again and they continued their exploration of each others mouth for several more minutes, steaming up the portraits that aligned the walls, in the lobby of Gentry.

TBC: Part Two

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