Disclaimers: None. All of the characters are mine.
Violence/Sex: No violence, and no sex (but I hope you'll read it anyway). This story does involve an implied, consensual, loving and romantic relationship between two adult women. It is not explicit, but if references to "sweater meat" offend you, you may want to consider another story selection.
I welcome your feedback, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bard Solstice Challenge #26 - Quoth the Raven, Nevermore
by Ann McMan
Disclaimers: None. All of the characters are mine.
Violence/Sex: No violence, and no sex (but I hope you’ll read it anyway). This story does involve an implied, consensual, loving and romantic relationship between two adult women. It is not explicit, but if references to “sweater meat” offend you, you may want to consider another story selection.
This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any format without the prior express permission of the author.
Copyright, December 2011. All rights reserved.
“1-800-SPANK ME. I know that number.” Diz was staring at the caller I.D. readout on her cell phone.
Clarissa glanced over at her. “You should. You practically have it on speed dial.”
Diz snapped her phone shut, and tossed a malted milk ball at her. Christmas was only a few days away, and the office break room was inundated with tins full of cheap confections from vendors.
It was a good throw. It landed in her coffee, causing it to slosh all over the article she was proofreading.
“Oh, nice one, nimrod!” Clarissa snatched up the top pages and shook them off over her waste can. “Great.” She held up the top page. Spidery blue lines from what had been notes were running down the sheet of paper like varicose veins. “You can be such an asshole. Now I’ll have to do this all over again.”
Diz shrugged. “You impugn my integrity and then take umbrage when I defend myself?”
Clarissa sighed. “Eighteen people in this department, and I get to share a rabbit hutch with you. Someday I’m going to figure out who I pissed off in a previous life.”
Diz snapped her bright red suspenders and stuck out her tongue.
“Oh, that’s mature. And what’s with the outfit today? You look like Howdy Doody on crack.”
Diz rolled her eyes. “Give me a break, Clar. It’s for the Christmas party. Besides, you wouldn’t know Howdy Doody if he walked up and bit you on your high-class ass.”
Clarissa opened her mouth to reply just as her phone started to ring. Turning away from Diz, she snapped it up.
“Research, this is Clarissa Wylie.”
Diz watched her while she talked.
She and Clarissa had been working together for nearly two years, now. They
weren’t exactly friends—not in the sense that they ever did much
together “socially.” But that wasn’t hard to understand.
Clarissa came from money—old money. And her family owned the company
that published the magazine they worked for. In fact, her family’s
company published half the goddamn magazines printed in the
Clarissa was a
“comer.” Everybody knew that. Since finishing grad school at
Diz, on the other hand, was pretty
much fated to remain chained to her desk in the bowels of the building,
vetting facts and making sure the Wylies didn’t get sued for libel or
plagiarism. That was okay—this was just her day job. At night, Diz
slaved away on her other passion: a comprehensive and comparative study of
the development of detective fiction as a literary genre. She was
A.B.D.—all-but-dissertation—and after six years of night school,
she was only 900 plus pages away from earning her doctorate in American
literature from the
Dr. Gillespie—what a nice ring that had. Of course, she’d always be “Diz” to her family and friends. The childhood nickname started out as homage to her father’s love of jazz—but it stuck. And frankly, it suited her a whole lot better than her given name.
And once she finally had that sheepskin, she’d blow this pop-stand and…and what?
And be an unemployed Ph.D.
Oh, well. There were worse things. She could end up like her idol. Poe died alone in poverty at age 40—about five blocks away from this goddamn building.
She glanced over at Clarissa, who was still talking. Correction: listening. She was jotting notes down in longhand, using that damn, precious Italian fountain pen of hers.
Diz studied her. It wasn’t the first time.
Clarissa wasn’t just a comer—she was a looker, too. Her thick auburn hair cascaded down her back like a red waterfall. And she had a set of legs that would make Betty Grable’s pale by comparison. She knew how to dress for them, too. Today she was wearing a form-fitting black suit and stylish shoes that probably cost more than Diz spent on clothing in a year. Correction: in five years. Although she admired the view, Diz wondered why Clarissa bothered—it wasn’t like anyone who mattered was going to see her down here in this dank basement.
Clarissa turned her head and
caught Diz staring. She frowned and tossed a paper clip at her. Diz caught
it. Diz always caught anything Clarissa tossed at her—except
compliments, of course. Diz usually let those fly by like fastballs that were
thrown outside the strike zone. It was better for Diz not to indulge in how
great it felt when Clarissa paid attention to her. That was one dead-end
street that she just didn’t need to travel. Everyone knew that Clarissa
was A.B.E.—all-but-engaged. And her “intended” was the
granite-jawed, heir-apparent to
No, Diz thought, as she gazed back at Clarissa’s smoky gray eyes. There was no there, there for her.
Clarissa hung up her phone.
“What time are you leaving for the party?” she asked.
Diz shrugged. “Sometime after six. I figure it’ll take 45-minutes to get there with all the Christmas shoppers clogging the Metro.”
This year’s party was at Nevermore!—a high-end tapas bar
“You’re taking the Metro? Why don’t you take a cab?”
“A cab?” Diz raised an eyebrow. “Sure…I mean—I don’t really have to eat the rest of the month.”
Clarissa sighed. “Ride with me—I’ve got a car.”
“Of course you do.”
“Don’t be a cretin. You’d be doing me a favor.”
Diz was intrigued. “How so?”
Clarissa looked like she was trying to decide whether or not she wanted to answer that question.
“Oh, dear,” Diz guessed. “Trouble in paradise? You and Dash Riprock have a falling out?”
“Go fuck yourself.”
Diz sighed. “I usually do on Friday nights.”
Clarissa shook her red head. “Why do I bother with you?”
Diz gave her a blinding smile. “Because I’m a foot taller than you, and whenever we go anyplace together, people think you’re out with Rachel Maddow.”
Clarissa thought about that. “Sad, but true.”
“So,” Diz adjusted the black horn-rims that used to make her look like a nerd—but now made her look chic. “What’s up with Dash? He not coming to the party?”
Clarissa shrugged. “He has to work late.”
“On the Friday night before
Christmas? What? Is there a late-breaking shipment of yard arms coming in
“Or something,” Clarissa smiled. She had a great smile, with big, deep dimples that made Diz go weak at the knees if she looked at them for too long. It was every bit as hypnotic as staring at a lighted candle—and every bit as dangerous, too. If you weren’t careful, you’d end up going blind.
Diz sat back in her chair and extended her long legs. She was wearing her best pair of red, high-top Chucks. They matched her suspenders perfectly. “Let me get this straight—you need me to keep you company until Lord Nelson arrives?”
“Something like that,” Clarissa said.
“What makes you think I don’t already have a date? Or two?”
Clarissa rolled her eyes. “If you do, I promise not to cramp your style. Besides—aren’t you likelier to ‘make friends’ with someone at the party? If memory serves, you fared quite well last year. What were their names, again?”
“I have no idea who you’re talking about.”
“Oh, yes, you do…I’m talking about those two zaftig types from the mail room.”
Enlightenment dawned. “Oh! You mean Randi and Ronni. The twins. How could I forget?”
“Beats me,” Clarissa offered. “You walked with a limp for nearly a week.”
“And I thought you didn’t care.”
“In your dreams.”
Clarissa had no idea how true that statement was.
“Well,” Diz said. “It’s true that I do like to keep my options open. So you’re in luck—I don’t, as it happens, have a date for tonight. Yet.”
Clarissa smiled at her. “Great. Then maybe you’ll consent to keep me company until Dane arrives?”
Diz narrowed her blue eyes. “I’m curious about something, Clar.”
“Why hang out with me? Why not just mosey on up to the head table, where the rest of the ‘fambly’ will be tossing back the single malts?”
“I don’t socialize with my father at work.”
“This isn’t ‘work’—this is a Christmas party.”
“Maybe for you. For me, it’s work.”
“Well that kind of sucks.”
Clarissa shrugged. “I’m used to it.”
Diz smiled at her sadly. “I know. That’s the part that sucks.”
Clarissa stared at her for a moment. She was about to say something when Marty Jacobs appeared in the doorway to their cube.
“Yo—Diz! A couple of us are gonna splurge and share a cab ride to the Harbor. Wanna come along?” He glanced at Clarissa—then lowered his voice.
“Lisa even volunteered to sit on your lap if you promise not to behave.”
Diz glanced at Clarissa, who seemed to be studying something fascinating on the sleeve of her jacket.
“No thanks, Marty. I’ve made other plans.”
“Dude.” Marty looked incredulous. “I don’t think you heard me. I said Lisa—as in the woman voted Miss Sweater Meat of 2011.”
“I heard you, Marty.” Diz hissed. “Tell Lisa I’m beyond flattered—but I’ve made other plans.”
Marty stood there looking back and forth between Diz and Clarissa. Then he shook his head. “Whatever floats your boat. Don’t say I didn’t ask.”
“Later.” He rapped the wall of their cube and backed out, headed for god knows where.
Diz looked at Clarissa who sat there regarding her with a raised eyebrow. “Miss Sweater Meat?” she asked.
Clarissa shook her head. “I guess it’s an acquired taste.”
Diz fought to keep her gaze away from the plunging neckline of Clarissa’s silk blouse. Telling Clarissa that she could certainly hold her own in a Sweater Meat contest would probably be a bad idea.
A very bad idea.
“Yeah,” she said instead. “I guess.”
The party at Nevermore! was in full swing.
Or was that full-swig?
Most of the management echelon decamped as soon as the dancing started.
Diz didn’t really blame them. The majority of the dancers were beyond rhythmically challenged—and their obscene gyrations made them look like drunken extras from the set of Mogambo.
Across the table from her, Clarissa just looked amused. She was sipping on a glass of Pinot Noir, or Petit Syrah, or something red and expensive—and
Diz was amazed at how long she could make one glass of anything last.
Diz was feeling no pain—and not just because of the five vodka gimlets she’d had. Dash/Dane was still a no-show, and Clarissa didn’t really seem to mind—nor did she appear to be in any particular hurry to leave.
Diz could feel a surge of false courage pushing against the levy of better sense that normally kept her out of harm’s way. And that couldn’t be good news. After three drinks, Clarissa started to look less formidable. After five, she started looking downright…attainable. And Diz was barely clinging to enough good sense to realize that it was in everyone’s best interest for her to change the circumstances—fast.
Idly, she wondered where Lisa was. Maybe it wasn’t too late to rethink that whole lap-dance idea.
The music was so damn loud that it was hard to think. And she needed to be able to think. She needed to think because right now, all she wanted to do was act.
She heard Clarissa say something, but the ambient noise was too loud for her to make out what it was. She leaned toward her.
“What?” she bellowed.
Clarissa met her halfway. Bad idea. This was far too close for comfort. Her eyes were like tractor beams.
“I said, do you want to dance?” she repeated.
Diz looked around at the crush of people standing near their small table. No one seemed to be looking her way.
“With whom?” she asked.
Clarissa rolled her eyes. “With me, nimrod.”
Diz wasn’t sure she heard her correctly. “Did you say with you?”
“Is there an echo in here? Yes. Dance. You. With me.”
Diz sat staring at Clarissa with her mouth hanging open.
“Oh for god’s sake,” Clarissa finally said. She grabbed Diz by the hand and yanked her to her feet. “Come on. It won’t kill you.”
Diz could feel the room starting to spin.
“I’m not so sure this is a good idea,” she said, as Clarissa pulled her toward the dance floor.
“I think you can handle it,” she said, tightening her hold on Diz—probably so she couldn’t fall. Or flee, which was likelier. “Be strong and courageous.”
Diz wasn’t feeling particularly strong right then, and she appeared to be leaking courage like a giant sieve.
Clarissa led them over to a spot on the dance floor that was mostly unoccupied. Someone slammed into Diz from behind and shoved her up against her partner. She ended up with a mouthful of red hair, and Clarissa grabbed on to her suspenders with some kind of death grip. The sensation of having all that silk-clad sweater meat plastered up against her was making her woozy. She had a feeling that this wasn’t going to end well.
The music changed. Lady Gaga now.
Red Wine. I’ve had a little bit too much.
Clarissa laughed. “This should be my theme song,” she said.
Diz could feel the vibration of her words against her ear. She drew back and looked at her. They weren’t so much dancing as swaying. There wasn’t really much room to move around.
“Seriously? You’ve had, like one glass, all night.”
Clarissa rolled her eyes. “It’s a metaphor, asshole.”
Diz was confused. “For what?”
Clarissa just shook her head and tugged her closer. “You’re a bright girl. Figure it out.”
Diz was going to reply, but she got distracted when she noticed that people were staring at them. Lots of people. It started out small, then seemed to spread out across the dance floor like a wave. Between gyrations they were pointing and talking behind their hands.
She bent closer to Clarissa’s ear. “People are staring at us,” she said.
“You only just noticed that?” Clarissa replied.
Diz nodded. Clarissa’s hair smelled great—like red violets.
“Why are they looking at us? Is my fly unzipped or something?”
Clarissa laughed. “Is your fly on your ass?”
Diz had to think about that. In fact, her fly was quite happily conjoined with the waistband of Clarissa’s tight skirt. Right now, it was 180 degrees away from her ass.
“Then I don’t think it’s related to your pants.”
“Well what the hell is it then?”
Clarissa pulled back and gave Diz an ironic look. She raised a hand and ran it through Diz’s thick head of short, dark hair.
“They think you’re Rachel Maddow, nimrod.”
“Oh.” Diz had a sudden, and brief, moment of clarity. “That.”
Clarissa smiled and tugged her forward. “No argument from me on that one.”
Someone slammed into them again. This time, the perpetrator stopped and apologized.
“Hey—sorry about that,” he said.
Diz lowered her chin and looked at him over the rim of her glasses. He appeared to be anything but sorry.
“No problem,” she said.
The guy continued to stand there staring at them. “You’re Rachel Maddow, aren’t you? Man…I knew it was you! You totally don’t look this tall on TV.”
Clarissa started to laugh.
Diz rolled her eyes. “Well. You know how those cameras distort everything.”
“This is so freaking cool, the guy said. “I don’t really watch the news much, but I’ve seen you on Leno.”
“Right,” Diz said. “I’m really proudest of my late night TV work.”
“Hey—I won’t bug you any more.”
“Thanks,” Diz said. She turned away from him and started to steer Clarissa off the dance floor.
“What’s the matter, Rach?” Clarissa asked. “Don’t you like dancing with me?”
“You call that dancing?” Diz asked. “It was more like roller derby. Why don’t we just find a doorway to stand up in—or a deserted closet? At least we’d end up with fewer bruises.”
“Well, that depends on what you have in mind,” Clarissa said.
Diz stopped and stared at her.
“Do I know you?”
“Not as well as you could.” Clarissa gave her a look that could only be described as sultry. And Diz was sure about that because she checked. Twice.
Tunnel vision. Isn’t that what it’s called when everything around you suddenly constricts into a tiny pinhole through which you can see only one thing?
That’s how Diz felt. And she wasn’t sure if it was because of the booze, or due to the insane realization that she was moving in to kiss Clarissa—who halfway seemed to be inviting it.
“There you are,” a voice behind them roared. “I’ve been looking all over this place for you.”
Dash Riprock. Of course. He’d have to show up at precisely this moment.
Diz dropped her chin to her chest.
Clarissa didn’t look exactly ecstatic to see him, either.
Dane Nelson looked like he’d just popped out of a “ten-best” list in G.Q. He looped an arm around Clarissa’s shoulders and kissed her on the hair.
“Hi ya, babe. Sorry I’m late.”
Diz noticed that he was holding a half empty martini glass. Apparently he wasn’t that desperate to find her.
Clarissa glanced at Diz—then looked back at Dane. “I gave up on you.”
From your mouth to god’s ear, honey.
Dane laughed, revealing a set of perfect teeth. They looked blue in the neon light.
“Hey, I got here as soon as I could.” He looked around the crowded place. “Where’s your stuff? I’m beat. Can we get out of here?”
“You remember Diz, don’t you?” Clarissa asked.
Dane glanced at her. Diz could see his eyes moving up and down her frame.
“Sure. Hi, Diz. Thanks for keeping my girl company.”
“No problem, Dash.”
He didn’t appear to notice the nickname, but Diz saw the corners of Clarissa’s mouth twitch.
“Look,” Diz said. “I’m kind of beat myself, Clar. I think I’ll call it a night.”
Clarissa looked disappointed. “You’re leaving?”
Diz nodded. “You don’t need a chaperone any more—and I definitely don’t need anything else to drink. I’ll see you on Monday, okay?”
She started to turn away but Clarissa laid a hand on her arm.
“At least let us give you a ride home?” She looked at Dane, who took the hint.
“Oh. Sure. Yeah—we’d be happy to drop you off.” He drained his glass and set it down on a nearby table.
“No thanks,” Diz said. She looked around until she saw Marty, holding up the bar. “I’ll share a cab with Marty.”
“And Lisa?” Clarissa asked.
Diz looked at her in surprise. Clarissa dropped her gaze.
“Maybe,” she replied. “If I’m lucky.” She held up a hand and gave them a brief salute.
She walked away, cursing herself
for her stupidity. What the hell had she been thinking? Clarissa was just
using her to kill time until Lord fucking Nelson showed up. And she had almost blown it. If Dane hadn’t appeared
precisely when he did, Diz would’ve ruined everything. Clarissa
certainly would have slapped her, and tomorrow’s headlines in the Huffington Post would’ve been
all about how Rachel Maddow got dumped in a
Marty saw her and waved her over.
“Diz!” He looked behind her. “Where’s the Duchess?”
Diz jerked her head toward the door. “Prince Charming finally showed up.”
“Sweet.” He looked her over. “So you’re finally on work release?” He signaled the bartender. “Let’s have another round. What are you drinking? Gimlets?”
“Nothing else for me, dude. I’m already half-toasted.”
“Fuck that shit—it’s Friday night, and the company is picking up the tab.”
The bartender appeared.
“I’ll have another T&T,” he said. He gestured toward Diz. “And she’ll have a Goose Gimlet.” He looked at Diz, and frowned at her morose expression. “Make hers a double,” he added.
“Jesus, Marty. You’ll have to pour my ass into a cab.”
“Yeah. So? What are friends for?” He raised his glass. “We’ll have just one more drink, then we’ll head out.”
Three drinks later, Diz was past the point of no return. She knew she was in trouble when a server reached over her to retrieve a platter of hot—something—from the bartender. The steam from the dish wafted up into her face, and she felt the room start to spin.
Marty saw it.
“Oh, Christ—you’re gonna hurl, aren’t you?” he asked. He quickly picked up his glass and pushed away from the bar.
Diz clapped a hand to her mouth
and nodded. She slipped off her stool and staggered toward the restrooms,
gaining speed as pushed her way through the crowd, which parted like the
Apparently, she wasn’t the first person to make this trip.
In the solitude of a bathroom stall, she let go of everything—including what was left of her hope and dignity. Then she sagged to the floor and cursed her miserable life.
This is what it always came down to, she thought. This is what you got if you let yourself believe in fairy tales.
A pair of heels appeared outside the stall. Someone tapped on her door.
“Just a second,” Diz muttered. “I’ll be right out.”
She managed to haul herself to her feet, and took a quick look to be sure there was no mess to clean up.
Diz always cleaned up her messes.
With shaking hands, she opened the door.
Clarissa was standing there.
Diz was stunned. Was this some kind of fresh delusion?
“You look like shit,” Clarissa said, without a trace of empathy.
She was real all right. And she was mad as hell. Her face looked like a thundercloud.
“What are you doing here?” Diz asked. She pushed past her and headed for the sink.
“I came back to get you. I had a feeling you’d do this.”
“Do what?” Diz asked. She bent over the sink and rinsed out her mouth with cold water.
Clarissa walked up behind her. “This. Act like a stupid frat boy.” She grabbed a stack of paper towels and reached around her to wet them. Then she wrung them out and pressed them to the back of Diz’s neck. It felt great.
“Yeah, well…a propos of ‘frat boys,’ where’s Dash?”
Clarissa shrugged. “I dropped him off at home.”
“His home—not that it’s any of your business.”
Diz stood up and turned around to face her. Clarissa kept the damp towels against the back of her neck. That meant she continued to stand awfully close. As nice as that was, Diz felt like it was risky. Her stomach was still doing somersaults. The bright light in the bathroom was making her head swim. The scent of red violets wasn’t helping much, either.
“I think I need to go lie down,” she said.
Clarissa actually smiled. “You think?” She laid a hand on Diz’s forearm. “Can you walk?”
“Let’s go. My car is right out front.”
Diz didn’t have the stamina to argue with her. “Okay.”
Five minutes later, Diz was snugly strapped into the soft leather passenger seat of Clarissa’s Alfa Romeo.
They were driving along
“My home away from home,” Diz muttered.
“What did you say,” Clarissa asked.
Diz shook her head. “Nothing.” She ran her hand along the wood grain dash of the car. “What is it with you and all the Italian stuff?” she asked.
Clarissa shrugged. “I like simplicity. I like beautiful things.” She smiled. “I like things that are simply beautiful.”
Diz snorted. “No kidding.”
Clarissa looked over at her. “No kidding.”
Shit. There was that stomach thing again.
“I think you need to stop,” she rasped.
Clarissa checked her rearview mirror, then roared over to the side of the road. “If you puke in this car, I’ll kick your ass,” she cautioned.
Diz was fumbling with her seat belt.
“Jesus.” Clarissa reached over and unhooked it. Red violets. It was too much. Diz fell out of the car and staggered to her feet. She made it as far as somebody’s parked Mercedes, slid down the hood, and tossed her cookies all over its front tire.
She felt a set of cool hands on her forehead. They held on to her until she finished.
“Come on,” Clarissa said. “We’re almost there.”
She helped Diz stand up and guided her back to the car.
“Where are you taking me?” Clarissa didn’t live in this part of town—she lived in a high-rise condo, near Boston Street Pier.
“I’m taking you home.”
“You know where I live?”
Clarissa looked over at her. “Of course.”
Diz wanted to ask how, but it was too complicated. She was amazed at her ability to be coherent at all.
“I don’t suppose you have a bottle of Lavoris stashed somewhere in this thing, do you?” she asked.
Clarissa actually smiled. “No. But I think there might be some Tic Tacs in the glove box.”
Diz opened it and fumbled around inside the uncommonly large compartment. Italians must have to carry a lot of shit around, she thought. She pulled out a rolled up pair of torn pantyhose.
She held them up. There was a gaping hole in the thigh area of the left leg.
“Care to explain these?” she asked.
Clarissa glanced over at them. “No. I really don’t.”
“It’s not what you think,” Clarissa said.
“Since you don’t know what I think, you don’t really get to say that.”
“I can imagine.”
“I bet you can’t.”
Clarissa sighed. “Okay. What do you think?”
Diz rolled them back up. “I can only imagine two explanations. One—Dash was in an incredible hurry, and these got snagged on one of his diamond-studded cufflinks.”
“You have a rich fantasy life, don’t you?”
“I’m starting to develop one.”
Clarissa shook her head. “What’s your other explanation?”
“Ah—you wear these on your head when you indulge in your secret passion for robbing mini-marts.”
Clarissa thought about that for a moment. “I do love Twinkies,” she said.
Diz looked at her smugly. “Inspector Dupin’s got nothin’ on me.”
She put the pantyhose back into the glove box and continued to rummage around until she found her prey.
“Voila!” She pulled out a white plastic box and shook it. Then she held it up to read its label. “Oh, great. Citrus. Just what I need.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers, Diz.”
Diz shook out a handful of the tiny mints and popped them into her mouth.
“Ugh. Maybe I should just chew the pantyhose?”
“I always knew you were a pervert.”
Ten minutes later, they were parked in front of Diz’s brick row house. Her condition had deteriorated dramatically. Clarissa got out, and walked around to open her door.
“Keys?” she asked.
“Pocket,” Diz said. She didn’t carry a purse.
“You expect me to look for them?” Clarissa asked.
Clarissa sighed. “Stand up, then.” She helped Diz climb out of the car.
Diz leaned against her as Clarissa fumbled around in her front pockets.
“This is kinda nice,” Diz muttered against her hair.
“Don’t get any ideas, nimrod.”
“I won’t,” Diz promised. “Not any new ones, at least.”
Clarissa held up the keys. She took hold of Diz’s arm. “Can you make it up the steps?”
“I think so.” Diz took a shaky step forward, then stopped.
“Oh, god—you’re not going to be sick again, are you?” Clarissa asked with alarm.
“No. Just want to savor this. Can we go slow?”
Clarissa sighed. “Sure.”
They slowly climbed the steps. Diz leaned heavily against Clarissa while she fumbled with the keys.
“If you don’t have a car, why do you have so goddamn many keys?” she groused.
“You know, for someone with such a classy background, you sure do curse like a sailor.”
“Yeah? Well it must be from spending two years in a basement with you.”
Clarissa finally found the right key and unlocked the door. They stumbled inside. Clarissa stopped dead in her tracks while she looked around the spacious interior. It was tastefully appointed with primitive antiques and colorful artwork.
“Whatssamatter?” Diz asked.
“This place is gorgeous.”
“You sound surprised.”
Clarissa looked at her. In the soft lamplight, her eyes looked more hypnotic than usual—and that was saying a lot. Diz got an idea. Well—it was a repeat of the same idea she’d had earlier at the club. She leaned toward her, but gravity wasn’t cooperating. She missed her target and kept going. Clarissa barely caught her.
“Come on, Casanova. Where’s your bedroom?”
“That was fast,” Diz slurred. “I was at least gonna make us drinks.”
Damn she smelled good. Diz dropped a sloppy kiss on her neck. “I really like you,” she muttered.
Clarissa was steering them toward the stairs. “I really like you, too,” she said. “And I’ll like you a whole lot more when I can get your clothes off. You smell like a brewery.”
Diz continued to nuzzle her neck as they made halting progress up the stairs. “You wanna get me naked? I’ve always wanted to get you naked.”
“Really?” Clarissa asked. “I hadn’t noticed.” She pushed Diz’s hand away from her breast. “Step. Step. One more—that’s right. You can do it.”
You bet I can do it, Diz thought.
They were nearly at the top landing. Diz was feasting on her neck now. And she’d managed to work her free hand back inside Clarissa’s jacket. It was soft and warm in there. Everything about Clarissa felt soft and warm.
Next thing she knew, she was falling backwards—and Clarissa was right on top of her. They landed on the bed with a soft thud. Clarissa pushed up on her forearms.
“Good god—you’re a pain in the ass.” She sat all the way up and straddled Diz. “And a heavy one, at that.” She unhooked her suspenders and started to unbutton her white shirt. “Let’s get these dirty clothes off you.”
“I’m dirty?” Diz was busy groping any part of Clarissa she could reach.
Clarissa batted her hands away in between manipulating buttons and zippers. “Yes—you’re dirty,” she said. “And I must be crazy.”
“Why are you crazy?” Diz asked with a yawn.
“Because,” Clarissa pulled off Diz’s shirt and backed away to tug down her trousers. “Against all reason, I seem to like it.”
Clarissa stood up next to the bed and removed Diz’s shoes. Then she pulled her pants the rest of the way off. Diz was now clad only in her bra and panties. Clarissa hastily pulled a blanket up to cover her.
“You need to go to sleep now,” she said. She removed Diz’s glasses and put them on the nightstand.
“I don’t wanna sleep,” Diz reached for her. “I wanna snuggle.”
“You want to snuggle?”
Diz nodded sleepily. “Please?”
Clarissa glanced at her watch.
“Please?” Diz made her biggest, puppy-dog eyes. “I promise to behave.”
Clarissa rolled her eyes. “Sure you do.”
“I promise, Clar.” Diz yawned again.
Clarissa deliberated for a minute. Then she sighed and knelt on the edge of the bed. “Okay—but only for a minute. I mean it.”
Diz smiled through her haze of inebriation and happy delusion. She held up the blanket in invitation.
“I must be in my dotage,” Clarissa said as she kicked off her own shoes and lay back against her.
Diz wrapped her up in her arms. God she felt great. They fit together perfectly.
“Clar?” she asked, stifling another yawn.
Clarissa turned her head on the pillow to look at her. Their noses were practically touching.
“What?” Her voice was soft and low.
Then Clarissa kissed her. Or she kissed Clarissa. She wasn’t sure which one of them started it, but it didn’t really matter. The kiss went on and on, until Diz felt herself floating away. She was aware that her head had dropped onto Clarissa’s shoulder—then she wasn’t aware of anything but the faint, sweet scent of red violets.
When the morning came, Diz was sure of three things: one, she was alone in her bed; two, something clearly had died in her mouth; and three, she would never drink eight vodka gimlets again. Ever.
She lay on her back and stared up at the ceiling of her bedroom. She had a vague recollection of Clarissa bringing her home—and an even vaguer recollection that she’d done some drunken groping on the stairs. She closed her eyes in mortification.
The longer she lay there, the more she remembered. One nightmare succeeded another until they were too numerous to count.
Oh, Jesus Christ. She undressed me.
Diz lifted the blanket and gazed down at her scantily clad form. Thank god. At least she still had her underwear on.
But there was something else. Clarissa had been on the bed with her. She was sure of it. And they kissed. She raised a shaky hand to her lips. She was sure of that, too.
Shit, who even knew? The whole thing could just be some kind of drunken wish fulfillment. It wouldn’t be the first time for that. She was so damn pathetic.
She gingerly rolled over to test her equilibrium. Not too bad, considering.
She caught a trace of something on the pillow. Red violets. Holy shit. It was then that she saw the shoes…Jimmy Choo’s…on the floor next to the nightstand. Clarissa’s shoes.
Oh my god. She was here. She’s still here.
Either that, or she left without her fucking shoes….
Diz looked up at the doorway. Clarissa stood there, holding a tall glass of something. She crossed over to the bed.
“Can you sit up? How’s your head?”
“Which one?” Diz pushed herself up into a sitting position and tugged the blanket up to cover her chest.
“Here,” Clarissa held out the glass. “Drink this.”
Diz eyed her with suspicion. “What is it?”
“Don’t ask. It’s a home remedy—my father swears by it.”
Diz recalled being amazed by the number of single malt Scotches Bernard Wiley blew through during the 90-minutes he tarried at the party last night. She supposed he probably knew some things about hangovers. She took the glass and sniffed at its contents—then recoiled in disgust.
“Jesus Christ! What is this? It smells like sweat and dirty feet.”
“Just hold your nose and drink it. Then hop in the shower—I’ve got a nice, hot breakfast waiting for you downstairs.”
Diz looked up at her. How was it possible for anyone to look so goddamn gorgeous in the morning? She’d shed her jacket and was standing there in her skirt and un-tucked silk blouse.
“What are you still doing here?”
Clarissa shrugged. “I fell asleep. By the time I woke up, it didn’t make sense to leave. Besides,” she folded her arms. “I was worried about you.”
“You were worried about me?”
Clarissa rolled her eyes. “Yes. I was afraid you might fall out of bed and drown in a pool of your own vomit.”
Diz had to smile at that. “I can be pretty charming.”
“I’m starting to figure that out,” Clarissa said, drily.
Diz tried to wink at her, but the action made her head hurt. She raised a hand and rubbed the back of her neck.
“Just kill me now and get it over with,” she said.
“You’ll be fine.” Clarissa nodded at the beverage. “Drink up.”
Diz took a deep breath. “Bottoms up,” she said, and drained the glass. Five seconds later, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to die—or vomit, and then die.
“What the fuck was in that?” she rasped when she could find her voice. “Tar?”
Clarissa just smiled at her. “Shower now. Then come downstairs and eat something.” She took the empty glass from Diz, turned around, picked up her shoes, and left the room.
Diz watched her go in amazement. Was any of this really happening? Clarissa actually seemed to be enjoying her little June Cleaver routine.
Of course, June Cleaver never looked quite that hot….
Whatever. Diz pushed the blanket aside and slowly got to her feet. So far so good. At least the room wasn’t spinning. She made her way to the bathroom and looked at her reflection in the mirror.
Oh, Jesus Christ, she thought. Her eyes looked like a page from Google Maps—and her hair made Don King’s look tame. Rachel Maddow could sue her for character defamation and win in a walk. Maybe Clarissa was right, and a shower would help.
She sure as shit hoped so.
In fact, the shower helped a lot. So did putting on some clean clothes. By the time Diz ventured back downstairs, she felt almost felt human again.
Clarissa had plugged in the lights
on the Christmas tree. Diz always got a live tree, and this one was a
beauty—a big Frasier Fir, trucked all the way in from the mountains of
Diz loved Christmas. Not a lot of people knew that about her.
There was music playing. Jazz. It sounded like Sophie Millman. Diz was impressed that Clarissa had figured out how to turn on her sound system—usually she had to ferret out the goddamn instruction manual whenever she wanted to play it. Diz wasn’t all that great with “machines”—she really belonged in another century. Well. All except for that whole wardrobe thing. Her friends all liked to tease her about how technically savvy she wasn’t. She didn’t even have an iPod. And shit…these days, most people had more iPods than they had chromosomes.
That was probably a good essay topic. Maybe she’d tackle that one after she finished writing her dissertation? Why not? Her company published Wired magazine—maybe Clarissa could help her get an article placed?
Diz still couldn’t believe that she was here. Diz couldn’t believe that any of last night had actually happened. She really wanted to ask Clarissa about how much of what she thought she recalled was real—but she felt ridiculous about doing so. Besides—if any of it had really happened, Clarissa probably just wanted to forget about it. Diz would only make it worse for both of them if she brought it up.
It was typical, she thought. She’d had the greatest night of her life with the woman who fueled most of her fantasies—and she was too drunk to be able to remember any it with certainty.
Of course, she thought; if she’d been sober, none of it would have happened in the first place.
It was a paradox. Like the rest of her life.
She crossed her living room and went into the kitchen. Clarissa was nowhere in evidence, but her small pub table was neatly set for two. And something smelled great. So. It appeared that Clarissa could cook, too. Diz smiled. The cranky redhead was now two-for-two in the June Cleaver Derby.
But where in the hell was she?
There were a finite number of places to look. She was either out back in the small courtyard that passed for a yard—or she was in Diz’s study.
Nothing much doing in there, Diz thought. Unless, of course, you were into perusing your weight in extant primary source documents related to the rise of ratiocinative fiction. Somehow she doubted that Clarissa would find that very appealing. It even made her ass drag—and she was passionate about the stuff.
There was fresh coffee in the pot on the countertop. Diz was pouring herself a cup when she heard Clarissa call out to her.
“I’m in here!”
The voice was coming from her study—a small room adjacent to the kitchen.
Diz went in search of her.
Clarissa was sprawled out in her leather chair reading something. She had a stack of loose-leaf pages piled up on the ottoman at her feet. Diz recognized the open document box on the floor next to her chair.
Oh, god. It was her fucking dissertation.
She sighed and crossed the room. “I see you discovered nature’s cure for insomnia?”
Clarissa held up the pages. “You mean this? I don’t think so.”
“No?” Diz perched on an old oak three-legged stool that sat near her chair.
Clarissa shook her head. “It’s mesmerizing. I hope you don’t mind?”
Diz shrugged. “If you were bored, you could’ve just watched The Home Shopping Network.” Or gone home, she thought. Why was Clarissa still here?
“I wasn’t bored. I was curious.”
“Curious?” Diz asked. “About what?”
“Climate change.” Clarissa said dryly. She added the pages she had been reading to the stack at her feet—then dropped them all into the box on the floor. She looked up at Diz with those smoky gray eyes that always spelled trouble. “What do you think I mean?”
Diz set her cup of coffee down on an end table. “To tell the truth, I don’t know what to think about any of this.”
“This?” Clarissa asked.
“Yeah.” Diz was growing exasperated. “This.” She wagged a finger back and forth between them. “Any of it. All of it.”
Clarissa slid forward on her chair. “You’re such a nimrod.”
“I’m a nimrod?”
Diz felt like her head was starting to swim again—but it wasn’t from her hangover.
“Do me a favor, Clar—don’t make me work to figure anything out today. I’m only firing on about half of my cylinders right now.”
Clarissa reached out and grabbed her by the shirtfront. “Come over here and sit down.” She pulled her over to the ottoman.
Diz was afraid to look at her. She had a sneaking suspicion that if she did, she’d give too much away. Either that, or she’d turn into a pillar of salt.
It was pretty much even money.
“I’m sorry about what happened last night,” she said.
Clarissa was quiet for a minute. “Which part?” she asked.
Diz looked up at her. “Take your pick.”
In the background, Sophie Millman wrapped up her set, and the next CD in the changer started to play. Strains from “Orinoco Flow” filled up the quiet space between them.
Clarissa turned her head toward the sound.
“Is that Enya?” she asked.
“You’re certainly full of surprises,” she said.
“Is that good or bad?”
“Does it have to be one or the other?”
“What’s the matter?” Clarissa asked.
“I feel ridiculous.”
“Why?” Diz repeated. “Because I acted like an idiot.”
Clarissa looked like she was trying hard not to smile. “You always act like an idiot.”
Diz narrowed her eyes. “You were here last night, right? I mean…I didn’t imagine that part, did I?”
“Oh, no,” Clarissa agreed. “I was here, all right.”
“And did I or did I not…well…you know?”
Clarissa looked confused. “Did you or did you not what?”
“Jesus, Clar.” Diz’s mortification was increasing with every second that passed. “Did I or did I not kiss you?”
Clarissa gazed up at the ceiling as she pondered her answer. “No,” she finally said. “I remember a fair amount of clumsy, drunken groping on your part—and a few vague murmurings about finding my ‘sweater meat’—but I don’t remember that happening.”
Diz felt her heart sink. She looked away to hide the blush she knew was on its way.
So it had all been a drunken fantasy. And she had just added insult to injury by being stupid enough to confess it. How in the hell would she ever recover from this one?
She felt a warm hand on her thigh. She looked back at Clarissa, who was regarding her with a strange little smile on her face.
“You know, you’re actually kind of cute when you’re riddled with self-doubt.”
Clarissa sighed. “For someone who’s such an expert on detective fiction, you sure manage to miss a lot of big clues.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Seriously? You can’t figure it out? I thought you were some kind of Rhodes Scholar?”
Diz rolled her eyes. “That wasn’t me—that was Rachel Maddow.”
Clarissa just looked amused.
Diz was now on the other side of exasperated. “You really enjoy fucking with me, don’t you?”
Clarissa was studying her with those hypnotic eyes. “I’ll admit it’s an idea that’s been gaining some traction lately.”
Diz looked at her in surprise.
A timer went off in the kitchen.
“Come on.” Clarissa got to her feet. “Let’s get you something to eat.”
She left the study and headed into the kitchen.
Diz allowed herself to sit there another minute, marinating in her misery, before she stood up, adjusted her hair shirt, and followed the faint but hopeless trail of red violets that led to the world’s most unattainable woman.
Clarissa left right after breakfast.
She said she had some “things to take care of,” and that she was meeting Lord Nelson at two o’clock.
But Clarissa had been right, and the food really did make Diz feel better. The bacon and Gruyere quiche with leeks and sun-dried tomatoes was sumptuous. Diz ate two large pieces.
“I didn’t know you could cook,” she said after her first bite.
Clarissa shrugged. “I do all right.”
“All right? This is fabulous.”
“Don’t give me too much credit—you had all the ingredients.”
That was true. Diz liked to cook, too.
Clarissa was looking around her kitchen. “This really is a beautiful place.”
“I was lucky to find it,” Diz said. “The former owners get most of the credit for the improvements.”
Clarissa looked at her. “Did they sell it to you furnished, too?”
“I’ve actually been thinking about moving to a new place.”
Diz was surprised. Clarissa lived
in one of the most desirable, waterfront areas of
“Why?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Clarissa said. “Maybe because I spend my days below street level and my nights in the clouds.” She shrugged. “I think I’d prefer to live my life someplace in the middle.”
Diz smiled at her. “It does have its advantages.”
“In your case? I can only imagine.”
Diz narrowed her eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well,” Clarissa explained, “I’m sure it’s a real benefit to only have to stumble down a couple of steps when you feel compelled to vomit on someone’s expensive, German sedan. I’d have to take a ten minute elevator ride to enjoy that privilege.”
Diz sighed. “Remind me to include that feature in the ad if I ever decide to put this place on the market.”
Clarissa smiled and finished her coffee. Then she glanced at her watch.
“I really do have to go.” She gestured at their dishes. “Help me clear this away?”
Diz waved a hand over it. “No—I’ve got this. Go ahead and take off.”
Clarissa stood up, and Diz followed suit. “I’ll see you out,” she said.
They walked to the front door. Diz helped Clarissa into her jacket.
“I really don’t know how to thank you,” she said. “Believe it or not, this doesn’t really happen very often.”
“Really?” Clarissa grabbed hold of her mane of red hair and pulled it free from the collar of her jacket—a cascade of red violets filled up the tiny foyer were they stood. “You don’t often have overnight guests?”
Diz was embarrassed. “Well…no. But that isn’t really what I meant.”
“Relax, Casanova. I know what you meant.”
“Well.” Diz stood there stupidly, staring at her shoes and not really knowing what to say. She felt ridiculous and exposed—like she was trying to get up the nerve to ask the prom queen if she could carry her books to homeroom.
Diz raised her eyes and looked at her. Clarissa’s expression was unreadable. “I’ll probably live to regret this,” she said.
Diz was confused. “Regret what?”
“You wanted to know if you kissed me last night?”
“And I told you I didn’t remember that happening?”
Diz felt her misery compounding. Why was Clarissa bringing this up again? It was like grinding salt into an open wound.
“But,” Clarissa took a step closer. The cloud of red violets moved with her. “What I didn’t tell you is that I do remember this happening.”
Clarissa pushed Diz up against the wall and laid one on her. And it wasn’t any kind of tentative, you’re-drunk-and-won’t-remember-this, experimental kind of kiss, either. It was a full-out, head-on, hands-down, hang-ten, hail Mary, all-over-but-the-shoutin’ kind of kiss that left nothing to the imagination. And if Clarissa hadn’t had such a good handhold on her forearms, Diz would’ve slid to the floor and ended up in a pool of red violets on the rug.
“Holy shit,” Diz said when she finally came up for air.
“Now I’m really going to be late,” Clarissa said. She seemed out of breath, too. “See you tomorrow?”
Tomorrow was Christmas Eve. Diz nodded stupidly.
Clarissa kissed her again—quickly this time—then turned toward the door. She was halfway out when she stopped and turned around to face Diz. “What the hell is your real name, anyway?” she asked.
Diz smiled sheepishly. “Maryann.”
Clarissa raised an eyebrow. “Maryann?”
“Christ. Clarissa and Maryann. We sound like a lost episode of Little House on the Prairie.”
Diz gave her a cocky grin. “Strange bedfellows?”
“You’ve certainly got that part right.” She walked down the steps toward her waiting car. “I’ll call you later.”
Diz stood in the doorway and watched her leave. Then she went outside and sat down on the top step. It was cold today. The sliver of sky that was visible above the canopy of trees that lined her street looked bleak. The street was wet. Diz held out a hand. Tiny snowflakes landed on her palm. It looked like it was going to be a white Christmas.
She smiled through her haze of confusion and elation. Nothing about what was happening made any kind of sense.
A cardinal landed on the wrought iron railing that flanked the steps to her row house. Diz and the bright red bird stared at each other through the gauzy curtain of swirling snow.
Last night had been surreal. Today was on the other side of surreal. And tomorrow? Tomorrow was Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve with Clarissa. She sure never saw that one coming. Clarissa was right. Sometimes Diz did miss the biggest clues.
But it didn’t really matter—because, right now, all the omens were looking good.
She gazed at the bright red bird that continued to perch there, staring back at her. Here he was—impossibly ahead of schedule: a talisman to signify the end of her darkest days…like the icon at the end of a string of rosary beads.
“Hope is the thing with feathers.” Isn’t that what Emily Dickinson said?
She smiled at the crimson metaphor, and extended her hand.