(Turning Tides, contd.)
"Livin on daydreams,
Walking in my sleep;
Nothing is as it seems,
When you're in so deep." Til Tuesday
When the following Sunday rolled around, Alli realized in horror that it was November 10th, and it was M.J.s birthday. Had she remembered this earlier, she would have mentioned it when they went to dinner on Friday and made it a point to... to...
To what, Alli? Her subconscious asked. She honestly didnt know. What exactly could she, and should she, do in a situation like this? Get M.J. a gift? Offer to take her out to dinner? Just give her a card and play it casual? Or ignore it completely and pretend she had no idea? Alli had to make up her mind, and quickly.
M.J. entered her office Monday morning with her hands full her briefcase and a wad of mail in one hand, and her keys and a hot chai latte in the other. She flopped everything onto her desk unceremoniously, immediately taking notice of a small yellow envelope with M.J. written neatly across the front of it.
She opened it, revealing a humorous birthday card inside. As she read, a smirk slowly crept across her lips until she was grinning in a full-blown, toothy smile.
The Assistant HR Director was typing at her pc, deep in concentration, when she suddenly had the sensation that someone was watching her. She turned around and gasped aloud when she saw the President standing in her doorway, the now-familiar Mona Lisa smile on her lips.
"You gotta stop sneaking up on me like that," Alli said with a slight laugh and grin.
M.J. returned the grin evilly, a hundred sly come-backs dancing on the tip of her tongue... but she relented. Softening a little, she held the card up and waved it at Alli.
"Thanks for the birthday card," she said with genuine sincerity. She couldnt remember the last time someone surprised her with anything on her birthday, even something as simple as a funny little card. These days, the only acknowledgements she got regarding her birthday was a card and either dinner or a small gift from Madison and Lizzy, and the usual bland, no-nonsense card from her mother, sent across the seas from merry old England. She never got anything from her father and his wife.
Alli grinned in satisfaction at the happy look on M.J.s face; her decision to just give her a little card was obviously a good one.
"Youre welcome," she answered, her face flushing pink.
Why am I embarrassed? She wondered internally. She was happy that M.J. was pleased with the card, but the look that the dark woman was giving her, standing tall and gorgeous in her doorway, was doing something else to her insides.
"I dont even wanna ask how you knew it was my birthday," M.J. said in a playful, scolding tone as she continued to smirk.
Alli simply made a face, darting her eyes skyward and shrugging her shoulders. M.J. laughed quietly, liking the way Allis cheeks were tinged a soft pink. The fact that she could elicit such a reaction from the lovely blonde gave her a warm feeling of satisfaction. They stood there, mutually smirking for mere seconds, but it felt like an eternity to both of them.
Finally M.J. cleared her throat, "Well... I dont want to hold you up; I just wanted to say thank you," she said, waving the card again and smiling as she backed out the doorway and turned to leave.
"Ahm, M.J.?" Alli blurted out suddenly, causing the President to turn around and look at her in question, "Ah... I was wondering... are you busy for lunch today?" It came out before Alli really had time to think about it. Well, that wasnt entirely true shed been mulling the idea over since last night, but still, she hadnt really decided to *definitely* ask her.
M.J. immediately put her mind at ease, however, by grinning again, "No, not really," she lied. She actually had two back-to-back conference calls scheduled over the lunch hour, but she quickly decided that they would be rescheduled.
"Good... then youll let me take you out and treat you?" Alli asked hopefully.
M.J. graced her again with another tooth-filled smile, "Sure... thatd be nice." Today seemed to be the day for surprises.
Lunch was wonderful, and Alli was quite pleased with her bravery over the whole thing. She had fretted over whether or not she should even ask M.J. to lunch, but now that they were here, enjoying themselves and having wonderful conversations, she was so glad that she took the plunge.
M.J. was relaxed and funny and flirtatious, and Alli was jovial, happy and talkative. They traded little stories and tales and talked throughout the entire lunch. Perhaps it was just her overactive imagination, or perhaps she was just being overly hopeful, but Alli thought that M.J. was acting differently toward her in general. She noticed that M.J. seemed to stand closer to her and looked at her with a changed expression in her eyes. She also noticed, again, that M.J.s hand always insinuated itself very gently, very lightly, at the small of her back whenever they were ushered anywhere. Alli supposed she did it just to be polite, but it was oddly comforting, and maybe even possessive, in some tiny way. Secretly, it thrilled her to no end.
Alli knew that she was drawn to M.J., and she now had to admit that she was becoming hopelessly enchanted with the tall brunette beauty. As much as she knew it shouldnt be happening, she was powerless to prevent it. Her judgment was definitely clouded on the issue. She worked in Human Resources she knew all about dalliances and affairs in the work place. Situations like this usually had a tendency to turn volatile and go downhill very quickly.
She realized, all too well, that the two of them were fast-approaching the very precarious edge of an are we just going to be friends and co-workers, or are we going to be more than that precipice. She just wished that she had some idea of what M.J. thought and felt. The intimidating, austere woman was so hard to read. Aside from the flirting and the disconcerting way in which her neon blue eyes would rake over Allis body, M.J. never revealed any other obvious signs of attraction. ...That is, until lately. The little inquisition that M.J. had launched after they had dinner on Friday made Alli wonder exactly what was on the tall womans agenda. And then there was the hand-placing on Allis back... what was that all about? Even though neither of them ever mentioned anything about the subtle increase in the light touches and gestures between them, not even in a joking way, it seemed to Alli that they both did it because they both craved the contact. Alli always enjoyed the interactions, and she was pretty sure that M.J. did too, but she couldnt help but continually wonder would it, could it - and more importantly, SHOULD it - escalate into anything more?
Deep down inside, Alli secretly wished that something would happen. She yearned for someone to touch her, and hold her, and be with her in *that* way. She longed for real passion... to be deeply desired and worshipped and cherished... to be truly loved, both emotionally and physically. She never had those things before, and she wanted them so badly. Moreover... she was starting to think that she might want them from *M.J.*. Her feelings were getting totally out of control, she was certain of that.
It was ridiculous, but if a span of days went by and she didnt get to see M.J., Alli felt empty inside. If she didnt get to meet with her or spend any time with her, her week felt unfulfilled. She found herself craving the presence of the tall woman almost like a junkie craved her next fix. It seemed so absurd, but it was true; she couldnt deny it anymore. She tried to understand what was happening, and why. She had some psychology training in her background, why couldnt she figure it out? Was she just projecting her own sexual hopes and fantasies onto the first person she found attractive? Did she have a subconscious thing for dominating personality types? Was is just raging hormones and misguided animal lust? Or was there really something between them? Were they really meant for greater things? ...She didnt know. She didnt know what to make of her feelings, and she didnt know what to make of the strangely quiet, but definitely deepening intensity between the two of them. It was most perplexing, to say the least.
And of course, the fact that she was uncertain whether or not M.J. was involved with anyone didnt help matters. M.J. was a huge flirt, and most likely a major player, and although shed said she wasnt currently involved, that didnt clarify if there were any recent involvements, or even if there was a casual someone on the side. Alli would bet lots of money that M.J. had a vast resume of lovers, and a wide variety of sexual experiences she could tell that just from being around her. It was in the way the brunette beauty behaved and interacted with others; the confidence she exuded wasnt false bravado M.J. was sure of herself because she had the experience and know-how... in many ways. And it was in the way she expressed herself her flirtations and overtures, her body language and little nuances, and that exotic gleam in her bewitching eyes all of it told Alli many things; mostly, that M.J. was a woman who would try almost anything once, and probably had... several times.
Sometimes Alli wished that she could just tell M.J. how she felt... just lay it all out on the line and see what the reaction would be. But no... that would be disastrous, not to mention the fact that it would most likely mean career suicide. Besides, she really had no idea how much she should tell or ask M.J. about *anything*. M.J. had asked her some personal questions, but could she turn the tables and ask the same? Just how *personal* was too personal? When did you hit the too much information danger zone? How far was too far for the enigmatic brunette? Again, she was totally clueless... it all seemed so impossible sometimes. There were so damn many unknowns, it drove her crazy.
Alli realized, rather frustratingly, that shed just have to control herself and keep her mouth shut, allowing things to continue as they were. She would have to learn to live with her lustful thoughts... she would have to learn to be happy with the flirting and the subtle touches... she would have to learn to deal with the non-clarity... and she would have to push aside the secret dream that perhaps some day, some way, it might turn into something more.
"Dont you ever call me, I dont wanna see your face
Dont you dare to call me, dont darken up this place
What the hell did you expect from me?
Emptiness and misery, took it all away, you see?
Oh it means nothing to me
Oh you mean nothing to me
Oh it means nothing to me;
I paid the price... sacrificed." - A. Lennox
The Thanksgiving holiday finally arrived, giving everyone a nice 5-day weekend. Alli reluctantly decided with the help of Kaitlyns prodding to go home to Savannah for the break. She arrived home Wednesday evening and spent an agonizing Thanksgiving Thursday with her entire family.
By Thursday afternoon, she was ready to return to Jacksonville even if it meant driving in the middle of the night. Not only had her mother grilled her constantly about what she was up to, she also did her usual harping about Allis unmarried, uncertain status. The icing on the cake, though, came when Susannah Watson announced to Alli, and everyone, that she runs into Eric Phillips on numerous occasions. It was bad enough that the woman would torture Alli with something like this, but the fact that she made the announcement at the dinner table, in front of everyone, wounded the sensitive blonde very deeply. Why she would feel the need to bring it up now, at this particular moment, made no sense to Alli. She, therefore, had to assume that her mother was just doing it to humiliate her and further ruin her homecoming.
"I saw him at the mall recently, and Ive seen him at the supermarket several times," Susannah said merrily in her heavy southern twang. "We talk just like were old friends!" she chirped, "I told him that I still think of him as my son-in-law, you know," she said with feigned good-heartedness, acting as though it was a good thing, and she was Martha Fucking Stewart. Alli merely sat motionless, slowly chewing her now-dry mouthful of food. Susannah eyed her youngest daughter carefully, then continued, "He married and divorced again, you know... poor boy... just cant seem to find the right one, he said!" Susannah added with a forced chuckle.
Jesusfuckingchrist... Alli thought to herself as she sat with her eyes closed, feeling very sick to her stomach. "He says to tell you hello, by the way, Allison... I told him you were coming home for the holiday to visit," her mother added casually, but with an underlying tone that inferred she and Eric had several discussions, and that shed obviously told him all about Allis move to Jacksonville.
Everyone sat at the table in silence... it was as if they all knew that a single utterance could spark a huge explosion. The tension was so thick it would have taken an axe to hack through it, and Alli wished like hell that she had one handy. She had about a hundred things she wanted to say to her mother the predominant one being youre such an unbelievable fucking bitch, but she knew better than to fall into the trap that her mother had set for her. For a brief second, Alli just felt like blurting out that she was gay. The satisfaction of shocking her mother into absolute silence would be well worth the pain and suffering that would eventually follow. How much such a revelation would floor anyone else, Alli didnt know. She had always thought that Erin was suspicious of her the older sibling often made comments and remarks that seemed to indicate she might have an inkling of Allis preferences, but the only people who knew for certain were Kaitlyn and her husband.
But, instead of saying anything, Alli opted for her usual strategy of saying nothing. She continued to keep her eyes fixed on her plate and prayed that someone else would start a much different discussion. Her savior ended up being her creepy stepfather, Albert, who leaned over from his chair at the head of the table and began to rub Allis back a little *too* warmly.
"Oh now Susannah, leave the poor girl be!" he slurred in a half-inebriated drawl.
Alli stiffened at his unwelcome touch and her eyes flashed a warning that he didnt catch. He always pretended to be on Allis side whenever she had a disagreement with her mother, but Alli knew it was just a convenient excuse that he used in an effort to make himself look like the good guy. He was nothing but a pervert, in her opinion, and she just wanted him to take his slimy paws off her.
Being able to read her younger sisters mind, as always, Kaitlyn quickly jumped-in and started talking about something that was happening at the school where she taught 3rd grade. Alli was deeply grateful for the interjection, but she continued to just sit quietly at the table, making no effort to join in any of the conversations that ensued after that.
After the big noontime meal, the men had toddled off to the living room to partake in the long-standing custom of watching football games in-between bouts of belching and napping all afternoon. That left Alli, her mother, and her two sisters to clean everything up. Alli dreaded the chit-chat that she knew would ensue once the women reached the privacy of the kitchen; although, to Alli, it was more like The Inquisition than innocent chit-chat. She had calmed-down a little after the bombshell that her mother had dropped earlier. She supposed she had every right to get up from the table, pack her bags, and walk out the door, but she didnt want to ruin everyone elses holiday. Alli was always concerned about everyone else. Perhaps that could be considered a character flaw to some extent, but she figured she could be a lot worse things than foolishly selfless. She resolved to make the best of the day, despite her mothers attempts to goad her into an arguing match. She told herself that she was here mostly to see Kate and Josh, so she would simply try to steer clear of her mother and Erin. However... that was much easier said than done.
She managed to avoid being trapped in the kitchen until it became absolutely necessary for her to dump her handfuls of dirty dishes. Her eldest sister wasted little time and began the grilling as Alli entered with her load.
"So, Alli... tell us allll about how life in the fast lane is going," Erin started in as soon as she reached the kitchen. Erin hadnt called once to ask Alli how she was doing since she left Savannah. She was pretty sure that her eldest sister was a little jealous, as usual, and she wanted to avoid getting into a show-down with her on Thanksgiving Day.
"Its going fine, Erin," Alli answered blandly.
"Fine? Just fine? That doesnt sound very enthusiastic!" Susannah piped-in, her voice loud and grating to Allis ears as it filled the kitchen. Erin and Susannah had already pummeled her relentlessly with questions, and it appeared that they would be continuing throughout the evening.
"Well tell me what the citys like... whats your apartment like? Have you made any friends? Have you met anyone *interesting*?" Erin spouted in a barrage of questions.
"Alright, alright!" Alli held her hand up in surrender as she moved to the other side of the kitchen, feeling the need to be as far away from her tormentors as possible. "The city is nice lots of traffic and lots of people, but its not so bad if youre closer to the beach, like I am," Alli couldnt resist teasing a little; she knew that Erin loved the beach.
"My apartment is nice its small and a little out-dated, but its neat and clean, and... its close to the beach." She gave Erin a smarmy smile; she just couldnt resist giving her sister a dig she deserved it anyway. Erin acknowledged her sarcasm with a dirty scowl and a knowing grin, aware of what her smart-aleck little sister was doing.
"The only friends Ive made are at work Ive only been there a few months, so I dont have much of a social life yet," Alli said. "Besides, I dont really care about that. Im concentrating on my job right now," Alli added as she absently picked up a stray carrot stick and took a bite.
"Well youll never meet a nice man if all you do is work, work, work, Allison Marie," her mother quickly chided. "Unless, of course, you meet a nice executive... are there a lot of nice young men at this company of yours?" Her mother prodded, turning to eyeball her suspiciously.
Alli rolled her eyes; all her mother thought about was finding a man and getting married.
God... if she only knew, Alli groaned internally. "Im sure there are plenty of *men*, Momma," Alli grumbled back at her mother. "But Im not interested in that... its not the focal point of my life," she added with a sarcastic snap.
Erins eyebrow shot up at that remark, "Yes, thats right your focal point is runnin and hidin and drownin yourself in your new *career*," she sniped, emphasizing her words. She, like their mother, hadnt been supportive of Allis move to Jacksonville, and she didnt understand why Alli didnt make it a point to keep in touch with everyone back home. Just then, Kaitlyn came walking into the kitchen, her arms full of still more dirty dishes. She could tell from the tight look on her baby sisters face that her mother and older sister were up to their tricks again.
"Im not *runnin* and *hidin* from anything, Erin. Just because I dont want to date doesnt mean that Im running from anyone or anything!" Alli shot back in defense.
"Well if you dont *date*, how do you expect to meet someone and get *married*?" Susannah chimed-in again. Alli glanced over at Kait, but her sister only rolled her eyes and shook her head slightly. Alli was getting extremely fed-up with the constant harassment from her mother and Erin; she was ready to blow a gasket, and Kait could tell.
"I dont *want* to get *married*, Momma. Ive been there and done that, as you well know," Alli said, biting off her words with obvious irritation.
"Yes, yes, I know, I *know*," Susannah said with a dismissive wave, intentionally downplaying her youngest daughters flaring emotions. "Youll always blame that poor boy for your miseries, wont you?" She said, tossing a scolding glance in Allis direction.
Allis anger hit its breaking point. Her face flushed a violent red, threatening to erupt. How dare her mother defend her asshole ex-husband still?! Kait saw the look on Allis face and she knew that a meltdown was imminent.
"That *boy*?!" Alli growled, "That *boy* was the CAUSE of all my *misery*," Alli spoke lowly through clenched teeth as she regarded her mother with a burning rage in her eyes. Susannah turned to look fully at her seething daughter, surprised by the intensity of the anger coming from her.
"That *boy* hurt me, both emotionally and physically," Alli continued, her fury barely in-check. "That *boy* devastated me... and yet, for some strange reason, you continue to defend him, Momma...? Can you please explain that to me?!" Alli ended, her voice filled with fury and hurt.
Susannah stared at her daughter for a moment, "It takes two people to make a marriage work, Allison... and it takes two people to make a marriage fail as well." She said it condescendingly, as though Alli were still a naive little girl.
"Well, you would know allllll about failed marriages, wouldnt you Momma?" Alli snapped as she glared at her mother; she didnt care how catty she sounded or how much her words stung the older woman. Like a good and proper Southern-bred girl, she never spoke up or challenged her domineering mother... before now.
Erin and Kaitlyns mouths dropped open in shock, and their mothers face flushed red in anger.
"*That* was uncalled for, Allison Marie!" Susannah spat angrily as she took a step toward her defiant daughter.
Alli stared her down, refusing to be intimidated and bullied by the woman any longer, "Was it? Funny how you dont have any problems tearing my life apart, but when I comment on yours, its a much different story," Alli shot back. Shed argued politely and half-heartedly with her mother before, but this was much different. She suddenly found a strength within herself that shed never felt before. She wanted to get in the older womans face and show her that she was not only happier and better off with the life she now had, but she was different and stronger because of it.
Apparently Susannah did notice, because, for a change, she didnt reprimand, and she didnt argue back. She simply stood and stared at a daughter who had, apparently, metamorphasized into someone she didnt know anymore.
"I dont understand you, girl. I dont understand who you are, and I dont understand why you live your life the way you do." Susannah said sharply, looking at her daughter in total confusion with not one ounce of sadness in her eyes.
Alli gave a derisive half-laugh, "Oh I know you dont Momma... I know you dont," she said quietly, raking her hands through her hair and shaking her head as she walked out of the kitchen.
Kaitlyn found her little sister out in the back yard, swinging on an old, decrepit glider that had seen better days. Alli had a faraway look in her cloudy green-blue eyes, and Kait knew that she was miserable being here with the family. Who could blame her? Kait had hoped so much that they all could get together and have a half-decent time, but her mother and Erin had ruined Allis homecoming with their constant needling, endless questions, and snide remarks. She would bet her bottom dollar that Alli would be leaving tomorrow.
"Hey Peanut," Kait said as she approached the lone figure quietly.
Alli twisted her mouth and gave Kait a subtle warning look Peanut had been her childhood nickname, and Kaitlyn always used it as a way of gently teasing her.
"I guess youre pretty pissed at me for begging you to come here and put up with all this, huh?" Kait asked as she sat down beside Alli and patted her thigh in a friendly gesture.
"Nuh," Alli answered quietly, "I had hoped that itd be better than this... I really did."
Kait released a long sigh, "Some things just never change, huh?"
"Nope... seems they dont," Alli said, shaking her head. They sat, swinging silently for a few moments.
"So... I guess youll be leaving tomorrow?" Kait asked with trepidation. She didnt want Alli to leave, but she really couldnt blame her if she did.
Alli gave a scornful laugh, "Im leaving *tonight*. Fuck putting up with three more days of this bullshit," she said crossly. "Actually, I was thinking of going to see Daddy... maybe Ill just spend the rest of the weekend with him?" she said, looking at Kait for her reaction.
Kait smiled warmly, "Thatd be nice... Im sure hed love to see you."
"Yeah... I miss him," Alli said wistfully as she smiled and looked back at Kait. The older woman grinned and reached up to run her fingers through her younger sisters yellow-gold hair.
She seemed to have changed since moving away; whether or not it was a good change, she couldnt say. Something was incubating and brewing inside Allison; something that made her speak up and challenge their overbearing mother like she never had in the past. She seemed stronger... less naïve... more confident and sure of herself. If this is what striking out on her own did for her, then it was good. But, Kait sensed that Allison was unhappy too. Maybe not unhappy, maybe just frustrated, or tired... maybe she was tired of being alone. Whatever it was, Kait hoped that her new life would provide some relief for her in that department as well. Shed always thought that Alli had so much to offer someone; she hated to see her wasting it by being all alone.
"So, tell me more about your job," Kait began, wanting to brighten the mood a little, "Last time I talked to you, you said you were doing a lot of work for the President of the company?"
"Uhmm, yeah... I do a lot with her, shes--,"
"*She*? I didnt realize it was a woman! Wow a woman President! Thats so cool!" Kait interrupted.
Alli made a face at her sister, "Its no big deal; shes very capable, and very... well, shes very good," Alli said succinctly, wary of revealing too much about her unique relationship with M.J. Whitton.
"So you work with the President of the company? Thats impressive, Alli howd you manage that?" Kait asked, genuinely interested.
Alli blushed slightly and shrugged, "Uhm... well, she oversees the Human Resources area, and she needed some information for some reports and stuff, and... I dunno, I seemed to be the only one who had any clue about how to gather all the data, so... we just sort-of started working together," Alli explained as honestly as she could without going into detail.
"Well thats great, hon! Its quite a big pat on the back to get kudos from the President of the company!" Kait exclaimed with a proud smile.
"I dont get *kudos*, Kait we work well together, and... and I like her," Alli averted her eyes and shrugged again, trying to sound matter-of-fact rather than defensive.
Kate responded with a knowing smile, "Oh yeah?" she said, lilting her voice. Kait was well aware of Allis inclinations toward women, and although they had never discussed anything in great detail, she knew, just from the way Alli was acting and the sudden red flush of her cheeks that something was up with her baby sister. She grinned at Alli, "Is she preetttyyy?" she said, drawling the word out teasingly.
Alli rolled her eyes, "God Kait, *please*! Not you too! I cant TAKE it!" she exclaimed, clutching the sides of her head.
"Allison, relax! Im *teasing*!" Kaitlyn said, giving her sisters shoulder a playful shove. "Why are you being so sensitive about this? Whats wrong?" she asked in a gentle tone.
"Nothings wrong!" Alli snapped, "I just... I get tired of everyone giving me *shit* all the time, yknow? It gets old," she said, slouching down in the glider dejectedly.
"Oh honey," Kait said, throwing her arm around Allis shoulders, "Im not giving you shit; Im just teasing you, honest," she assured the smaller woman, "I just dont like to see you unhappy, thats all."
"Im not unhappy," Alli quipped quickly, shaking her head, "I mean... well, Im unhappy *today*, but... Im not unhappy in general... not really," Alli rambled, trying to make it sound like everything was fine, but Kaitlyn didnt believe her. She knew her younger sister; she knew that something was troubling her, but she also knew not to push her about it right now. Alli would totally clam-up if she pushed her, so she told herself to be patient; shed find out what was going on inside that head sooner or later.
"Okay, baby... okay," Kaitlyn whispered lovingly as she leaned down and kissed the top of Allis head. "Cmon, lets go back inside; you can call Daddy and see if hes up for having some visitors."
"You gonna go with me?" Alli asked, turning to look at Kaitlyn with hopeful eyes. Sometimes the wide-eyed expressions on Allis face made her look like a child again. A child who had always adored her sister and looked up to her for guidance and affection with bright eyes full of innocence and devotion. It almost broke Kaitlyns heart to know that this loving young woman was unhappy. In so many ways, Alli would always be a precious little girl inside.
"For a little while, sure," Kait nodded.
"Youll have to deal with the *Wrath of Momma*...," Alli said emphatically, in a teasing warning tone.
"Oh I dont give a goddamn!" Kate said, making a face and smiling. Alli answered her with a grateful smile as they got up and walked back toward their mothers house, their arms encircling each other warmly.
"And I dont want the world to see me,
Cause I dont think that theyd understand;
When everythings made to be broken,
I just want you to know who I am." Goo Goo Dolls
M.J.s Thanksgiving holiday passed in painful, turkey-filled boredom, as usual. She went to Madisons house for dinner on Thursday, but she left soon after, declining the invite to stay into the evening and chat with Dougs parents. The elderly Cohen and his wife were always obnoxious and rude, and either one or both of them always managed to make a huge deal about the fact that M.J. wasnt married. They were either the most clueless, dense people on the planet, or they intentionally played stupid in a pathetic attempt to bait the surly brunette to see if shed tell them the official score. M.J. vowed and declared that if she didnt have to worry about her niece, Lizzy, and the repercussions that would certainly reach out and affect her, as well as Madison, she would get right in the Cohens faces and announce with great satisfaction that she was a big, fucking dyke, and damn happy about it.
Instead, she made excuses and left Madisons house early enough for her to get home and enjoy a quick work-out, a jog around the block, and maybe a nice swim in the pool.
M.J.s arms ached after the bruising work-out she gave her punching bag. It felt so good to burn off steam like that... it was so much better than that monotonous stationary bike she got rid of last year. Hot and sweaty and deciding to forego a run, she instead trudged her weary body out to the pool cabana where she unceremoniously stripped her damp clothes off. The huge pool beckoned her with its peacefully tranquil, crystal-clear depths, and she waltzed out and dove straight in, naked as the day she was born.
As she surfaced, the cool air nipped at her shoulders, reminding her that the nighttime temperature wasnt as warm as the daytime had falsely promised. She didnt care though; she just expelled her breath and sunk back down into the heated water, propelling her long body through the pool with graceful underwater strokes.
While she was swimming about, M.J.s thoughts began to drift to Allison. She found herself thinking about the petite blonde more and more lately; whether or not that was a dangerous thing or a positive thing, she wasnt sure. She only knew that it meant something, and that something worried her.
She performed self-therapy on herself, preferring this method of treatment as compared to spilling her guts to someone, which was out of the question anyway, really. Besides the fact that it calmed and grounded her to think things through as logically as possible, it also served as a source of amusement for her... usually.
Tonight she was a little more on-edge than usual, and she decided to blame it on the Cohens and their incessant, asinine game of twenty-questions. All the other times the elderly couple had tried to pin her down about her romantic life, shed playfully banter with them and easily thwart their clumsy digging attempts. It was amusing to her, and she sometimes enjoyed teasing and leading them on, dropping false clues and making innocuously ambiguous statements about her supposed love life. But tonight she hadnt been in the mood to play. For some reason, every time they brought up the love life topic, all M.J. could think about was Allison and whatever it was that was evolving between the two of them. M.J. couldnt explain it, but she almost felt like she would somehow be forsaking Alli if she bullshitted with the Cohens like she usually did.
Its fucking ridiculous, she told herself, because there IS nothing going on between us!
Yes, she could float here, weightless and warm, in the secluded privacy of her pool, and outwardly declare such things... but in the privacy of her mind, M.J. began to suspect that the only person she was kidding was herself.
M.J.s swim and self-analysis only lasted about 30 minutes, but it was enough to calm and relax her sufficiently. Mindful of the lurking cool air, she climbed out of the pool quickly, dashing into the cabana and wrapping a terry robe around her body before hustling back into the safety of the house.
Once back inside, she flipped her television on and went on a scouting mission in her rarely-used kitchen. She had left Madisons house before dessert was served, so, she reasoned that she deserved to treat herself.
A half hour later, sitting on her sofa eating Starbucks coffee ice cream straight out of the container while mildly entertaining herself with a bad cable movie, M.J. reminded herself, again, how much she hated the holidays... all of them.
The Monday after Thanksgiving is always oppressive, its heralding of the return to the grind reminding everyone that not only has the nice, extended weekend come to an end, but there was still almost an entire month before the working world was afforded another break... if you can call the madness that is known as Christmas a break. Anymore, it was so chocked-full of excessive, tacky festivities, grotesque over-indulgences, and falsely-wished good cheer that it seemed more of a painful punishment than a break. And, even after all that, the dullness of winter still remained for two or three more months.
Winter sucks, even in the sunny South, M.J. thought bleakly to herself while rifling through her daytimer. She was in a foul mood today; her usual erotic dream of the faceless woman had disrupted her sleep throughout the night, and she felt tired and irritable.
She took another sip of her chai latte and picked up the phone, determined to get through the day as quickly as possible. "Helen... see if you can schedule an impromptu meeting with Ray this morning, preferably before noon Id rather take my lunch break *after* meeting with him, as Im sure Ill be needing it... okay... well if he insists he cant do it, then tell him Im going to come down there to his office personally, dammit!" She snapped, dropping the phone back into its cradle.
Christ, even Helen knows his tricks... asshole, M.J. thought as she returned to her paperwork.
Raiford had always been belligerent toward M.J., but his attitude had taken a nosedive since he returned from his vacation. She planned to nip his poor behavior in the bud as soon as possible. His division was showing signs of high absenteeism, and his crews werent meeting crucial deadlines. M.J. never permitted any of the construction crews to slack-off and fall behind schedule Rays area was certainly no different.
She knew that Ray often put himself on the same level as his workers, socializing with them outside the workplace and playing in his mind the Mr. Nice-Guy routine in order to gain their acceptance. He never understood M.J.s insistence that such behavior was acceptable to a very minimal degree, and that he needed to remember his place in the company. He was a Vice President, and carrying-on in a too-casual fashion with his employees undermined his credibility and respect, in M.J.s opinion. Of course, Ray argued with M.J. about this constantly, especially when Madison sided with her, and the President felt like she never made any headway with the imbecile. Still, she had to keep trying... someone had to keep him in line.
The noon hour finally arrived, and M.J. sat in the cafe in her customary spot corner table in the rear eating her salad and, today, a milkshake.
I need some comfort-food after dealing with fucking Ray all morning, she reasoned with herself. As suspected, her meeting with Raiford turned into one of their usual shout-fests, and it ended with him stomping out of her office like a petulant teenager. Her morning was ruined, but she still had the rest of the afternoon to improve things. ...Yeah, right, she thought with a self-deprecating roll of her eyes.
She was flipping aimlessly through the morning paper when a shadow suddenly darkened her table. Looking up, her lips curled into a subtle smile as she took in the flaxen-haired, ocean-eyed face of her favorite Assistant Director.
Hmm... the day is looking up, she mused inwardly.
"Mind if I join you?" Allison asked, trying to sound casual but feeling ridiculously hopeful inside. Shed seen the scowling figure of her boss, sitting in her private little refuge, as she went through the deli line, and she tossed the idea of approaching the moody woman around inside her mind several times before deciding that she missed her company enough to risk being publicly shot down.
"Not at all," M.J. replied with a slight grin as she folded up her paper and tossed it aside.
Alli sat, putting her things on the table in front of her and trying not to appear nervous.
Why am I so jumpy? she wondered, its just M.J. The truth was that M.J. always made her nervous; she hated to admit it, but being close to the overpowering woman was a double-edged sword for Alli. She wanted no, she craved M.J.s presence, but it twisted her up inside and threw her completely off-balance at the same time. It was like a necessary evil.
"So... how was your Thanksgiving?" Alli blurted, feeling the need to talk immediately. Aside from the fact that she really did want to know what M.J. did over the holiday, talking always helped to calm her nerves.
M.J. curled her upper lip slightly and shrugged, "Alright, I guess," she mumbled carelessly as she stabbed at her salad.
"That good, huh?" Alli retorted with a knowing smile. "Whatd you do? Stay home? Go out?"
M.J. looked up, pinning the blonde with a direct stare, "What, are you writing a book?" She quipped back. As soon as the smile fell from Allis face, M.J. grinned at her, letting her know that she was just kidding. Relief swept across Allis face instantly, and M.J. smiled harder at the ease with which she could rattle the blonde.
"I went to Madisons house, as usual. And it was boring and stuffy, also as usual," M.J. finally offered, waving her fork dismissively.
"Mmm, well... thats too bad," Alli said around a mouthful of sandwich.
"Was yours so much better?" M.J. responded sardonically, her brow arched high and her curiosity piqued.
"Ha! Thats a laugh!" Alli said, laughing nervously before taking a sip of her drink. She was silent for a moment and looked over at her companion, who was obviously awaiting further explanation with raised brows. Alli pushed her drink away and shrugged slightly, "Mine was pretty much... disastrous, Im afraid," she said dismally, taking a bite of her sandwich again. Hopefully M.J. would just let it drop.
Oookay... guess not. "Uhm... well, for starters, my family isnt very happy that I moved away," Alli began, "so they made sure to give me plenty of grief for that again," she said as M.J. looked at her blankly, save a slight crinkle in her dark brows. "Add to that my mothers constant hounding about me still being single, and the announcement that she apparently socializes with my ex-husband on a semi-regular basis and still considers him family, and you have one *hell* of a good time," Alli finished, her voice laced with obvious sarcasm in an attempt to hide the underlying pain.
Pausing, she suddenly regretted letting all that tumble so carelessly out of her mouth. Why was she saying all this to M.J., of all people? She could talk to almost anyone about this, but not M.J.!
God... shell think Im a total basket-case for sure... shit! I take it back I take it back! Alli thought in a panic. She ventured a glance up at her boss and was shocked to see a look of quiet concern on the normally impassive face.
"Why would your Mother stay in contact with your ex?" M.J. questioned carefully. She wasnt sure why Alli was offering this information about herself, but it was obvious that she needed to talk to someone, so M.J. told herself to play the good friend and listen.
Alli shrugged her shoulders, "I dunno... well, thats not entirely true I do know I just dont understand it," she said cryptically. Again M.J. looked at her with expectant eyes. The silent, sky-blue gaze automatically gave Alli goose bumps, and she looked away as she struggled with a suitable explanation.
"Uhm, you see... my mother never had a son just me and my two sisters so she always made a huge deal over the boyfriends, and the husbands even if they were complete assholes," Alli began, and M.J.s brows furrowed further. "In my mothers mind, the most important thing in a womans life is to find a man, convince him to marry you, and then dutifully play the part of the devoted little wife." Alli explained, "Not being married is like having the plague or god-forbid, divorcing and swearing off of men is even worse." Alli spouted off with more sarcasm.
It was obvious to M.J. that the blonde was reliving painful memories, and even though she knew she should probably just keep quiet and let her vent, she couldnt help asking questions. "Your mother blames you for your divorce?" She asked knowingly, tentatively.
"Oh yes," Alli answered immediately, "I never did anything right, in her mind... getting married was just another mistake, even though she pushed for it," she added.
M.J. had tried to put together some of the pieces of Allis past after shed found out that the blonde had been married. Recalling the name-discrepancies on her college diplomas, M.J. figured that Alli got married sometime after receiving her B.S., but before earning her M.S. two years later. This placed her marrying age somewhere between 21 and 24, by M.J.s estimations. That was still rather young, she thought; especially if you arent entirely sure, which Alli obviously hadnt been since she had to be pushed into the marriage.
"So... why did you get married if the guy was an asshole and everyone thought it was a mistake?" M.J. asked, hoping she wasnt making too many assumptions and pushing the issue too far, but feeling extremely curious about the answer.
Alli paused, her sandwich hanging limply in her hands, as her eyes locked with M.J.s. She wondered how well the brunette could read her mind... she hoped not well at all. The hesitation was obvious, and Alli nearly panicked as she thought about what to do and say.
"Uhmm...," was the only thing that came out.
"Hey, its okay you dont have to answer... I shouldnt be prying," M.J. relented quickly, holding up her hand. Even though she really did want this particular mystery solved, she didnt want it at the expense of her adorable friends pride.
God, what does that say? She mused somewhere in the back of her mind.
"N-No, its okay, its just...," Alli paused again, "uh... I just havent really... discussed it with very many people." She said quietly, darting her eyes away, seemingly embarrassed.
"I understand... forget I asked." M.J. added quickly, waving her hand as a feeling of strained awkwardness settled over the suddenly-silent table. Both women dropped their heads down, diving into the remains of their lunch and avoiding eye contact.
Well, this sucks, M.J. thought, inwardly rolling her eyes and scolding herself for pushing.
This is stupid, Alli thought, closing her eyes and chewing more forcefully than needed. The silence seemed to stretch on forever, until Alli could stand it no longer.
"I got pregnant," she blurted out impulsively.
M.J.s long draw of milkshake ended mid-suck as her eyes widened and stuck open in shock. She pulled the straw out of her mouth slowly and sat the styrofoam cup onto the table, her pale cerulean gaze locked on Allis uncertain jade one. How the hell was she supposed to respond to something like that? Silence reigned for a few moments while M.J.s mind raced and she swallowed her mouthful of melted vanilla. Knowing she had to say something, she finally managed a reply.
"...Oh...," was her stupendous exclamation.
Alli laughed nervously, breaking the gaze and looking down at her nervously-twisting hands, "Yeah...," she mumbled in an equally brilliant response.
God... why did I just tell her that! Shit! She thought in near-panic. She was morbidly embarrassed now, and her mind began to frantically think of ways in which she could quickly and easily escape. The best idea she had was turn into a puddle of water and evaporate, but without her Wonder-Twin-Powers, that idea was moot. Alli nearly choked on more nervous laughter and she shook her head, wiping quickly at the moisture that had inexplicably begun to pool in her eyes. When she looked up again, she knew her face was flushed pink and her eyes glistened with insistent tears.
M.J. felt for her, truly, but she had no idea what to say... this was *so* not her forte. "Uhm, how did you... I mean, well, I know *how*... I mean, was it, ah...," she stumbled and fumbled for words uncharacteristically.
Alli took pity on the struggling woman; she was glad she wasnt the only one feeling awkward, "It was unplanned, believe me... very much accidental." She said, taking a huge hit of her drink to quench her suddenly parched throat. "I didnt know what to do," she continued nervously, her voice quavering, "...he said he wanted to marry me... my mother thought that was *extremely* generous of him... so... I said okay," Alli finished with a slight shrug, her voice flat and devoid of any emotion.
M.J. frowned, "Just okay? That was it?" She asked bluntly, knowing full well that she shouldnt dig anymore, but blundering ahead anyway. Alli was opening up to her she wasnt about to pass up the opportunity.
Alli had a sad look on her face as she shrugged her shoulders slightly, "Yeah, that was it." She said humorlessly, aware of how ridiculous it must sound. "I was confused... scared... I figured getting married was the right thing to do... you know, all that bullshit," she said ruefully. M.J. just looked at her solemnly. "But then Eric started to... change," she added, "and I guess I changed too... it didnt take long for things to fall apart." Alli said with a deep sigh and a faraway look in her glistening eyes.
M.J. studied her companion for a moment while she took another bite of her sandwich. She knew something about shotgun marriages she became the product of one herself when Mark Whitton had quickly married Elizabeth Grayson because hed gotten her pregnant. But, her parents were from a generation that believed that you stayed together, no matter what - no matter how miserable and unloving the marriage may be. Granted, her father wasnt the most loving man, and things eventually did get very very bad, but M.J. always felt that he truly did care for and support her mother, despite it all. So what kind of hell must Alli have endured being young, scared, uncertain, and surrounded by people who, apparently, didnt give a damn about her well-being or what she wanted? What must it have been like to find herself a young newlywed with an unwanted pregnancy, a mother who obviously treated her like the daily trash, and a husband who was an ass?
M.J. gazed upon the somber but still angelic face seated in front of her, suddenly noticing an underlying hurt and diminished spirit that shed never seen before. M.J. had always thought of Allison as an equal match for her, in numerous ways, but for the first time, Alli looked small and fragile to her. There was a painful vulnerability in her features, and the taller woman suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to protect the little blonde and take care of her. To think that the intelligent, kindly soul before her had been mistreated and hurt filled M.J. with anger, and to think that some ignorant, undeserving man might have been responsible for it made her see pure red. What kind of person would be stupid enough to treat someone like Allison poorly? What kind of fool would let her get away? And... whatever happened with the pregnancy and/or the baby?
"Uhm... forgive me for asking, but...," M.J. ventured in a gentle tone, uncertain if her persistence was wise or not, "...what happened with the pregnancy?"
Allis eyes widened a little before they dropped down to her lap, and M.J. could sense her discomfort and apprehension as the tip of her tongue flitted nervously across her lower lip. She immediately regretted her question and quickly flipped a hand up in surrender.
"Look, Im sorry... again. Damn, I cant seem to refrain from shoving my foot in my mouth." She muttered in a quick, atypical apology.
"No, no... its alright," Alli started. "Like I said, Im just not used to talking about this, thats all."
"Well, still, I shouldnt have asked, and I apologize." M.J. said, touching a hand to her chest in a sincere gesture and shifting uncomfortably in her seat.
"Its okay." Alli insisted, reaching across the table to gently grasp M.J.s arm. They smiled lightly at each other in tentative understanding. "I miscarried." Alli said quietly, quirking her lips nervously as she answered M.J.s question and shocked the brunette yet again.
M.J. bit her tongue, forcing herself to hold off on saying anything before thinking about it carefully. This was obviously something that was difficult for Alli to discuss, and she chided herself to be as delicate as possible.
"Wow." She finally spluttered. Oh yeah, that was really *delicate*, idiot! "I mean... Im... Im sorry, Allison." She said sincerely, looking deeply into green-blue pools.
"Thank you, but dont be... it was a long time ago, and its all in the past now." Alli said calmly, shaking her head and sitting back in her chair again.
Despite Allis apparent finality on the subject, M.J. still felt the urge to ask just one more thing, "Were things ever good with him? Your husband, I mean?" She cocked her head slightly and asked softly, hoping that she sounded casual and not jealous.
Jealous? Im not *jealous*! Her subconscious interjected quickly.
Alli paused for a moment as she pondered the question. "...Honestly? ...No." She said, looking at M.J. squarely as she leaned on the table and propped her chin on her hand. "We were both so young and naïve, and we didnt know what we were doing, or what we felt. I guess I thought - and hoped - that things would just magically work out between us." Alli gave a small, regretful grin and her eyes took on the faraway look again, "We were only married for three weeks when I lost the baby." The words were spoken quietly, with such apparent sorrow, and as Alli gently rubbed her fingers along her lower lip in a self-conscious gesture, M.J. felt a tremendous amount of pity and sympathy for the blonde.
Allison paused thoughtfully and looked down at her hands, "I was so upset... I got depressed... I couldnt talk to anyone about any of it. Eric didnt understand, of course. He thought I would just get over the whole thing... like I could just take some pills, and it would all just *go away*. But I didnt just get over it, and it didnt go away." Allis face was softly sad and contemplative, and M.J.s eyes were glued to her in rapt fascination and amazement. "After that, Eric... changed... so much. I was never sure if he was angry because I lost the baby, or if he just resented me for being stuck in a marriage that neither of us really wanted."
M.J. didnt miss the usage of the words angry and resented, and she felt a swell of dread and fury rise up deep within her chest. She feared and wondered if Allis ex-husband had assaulted or abused her. It sickened her to think that something like that might have happened, but short of asking the blonde straight-out, she had no way of knowing.
And its better you dont anyway... youre already in enough trouble with this one, she cautioned herself, refocusing her attention as Alli continued.
Allis brows knitted together pensively, "Maybe we just didnt care about each other enough? ...I dunno." She added with a slight shrug. "I dont think Ive ever cared about anyone enough to truly consider devoting my whole life to them, or anything like that." Furrowed brows relaxed and aqua eyes suddenly looked up and locked with intense blue. "Have you?"
The innocent question took M.J. totally off-guard. Shit... how did this conversation get to this point? I thought we were talking about her!? "Uhm, no... not really," M.J. said with minor hesitation as she shook her head and twiddled her fork in the remains of her salad.
" Not really... hmm... interesting answer," Alli said with a grin, quirking an umber brow upward as she made an attempt to lighten the mood just a little.
M.J. smiled sheepishly and shook her head, "No... the answer is just no." She said, trying to do some damage-control and save face. They smiled knowingly at each other and amicably returned their attention to their lunches.
Somehow, they had inadvertently managed to simultaneously answer unspoken questions while spawning new ones in each of their minds. As usual, their simple shared meal had turned into a veritable wealth of information and insight for both of them. And, once again, the bond between the two had deepened and changed irrevocably.
"She floats like a swan, grace on the water,
Lips like sugar... lips like sugar;
Just when you think you've caught her,
She glides across the water,
She calls for you tonight,
To share this moonlight;
Youll flow down her river,
Shell ask and youll give her,
Lips like sugar... sugar kisses." Echo and the Bunnymen
After the Thanksgiving holiday, the weeks seemed to pass quickly. The intensely personal conversation the two women shared at lunch those few weeks ago definitely changed things between them... at least Alli thought that things were different.
At first she found herself embarrassed to be around M.J., for fear the brunette would think her foolish or pathetic, or something. But M.J. didnt act as though she felt that way at all; if anything, she seemed to treat Alli with more respect and maybe even admiration... although Alli admitted to herself that she might be stretching her hopefulness a bit.
It took Alli a little while to get her own confidence back, but once she did, she could tell that M.J.s demeanor had indeed changed. The tall woman still flirted and joked, but her body language had somehow lost the defensive edge that it had always carried before. It was as though, by having Alli confess one of her deepest, darkest secrets, M.J. now felt safe enough to ease-up on her own strict personal-space barriers... but just a little. Even so, the little breach in the brunettes security allowed Alli some glimpses of what lay beneath the thick, hard surface that was M.J.s public facade. Alli knew all along that M.J.s gruff persona was just a self-protective layer for what was underneath... and M.J. was unwittingly proving her right.
The two of them continued to work closely with one another, their unique bond steadily growing stronger... and their feelings, quietly deeper.
Remembering Allis confessions over the revealing lunch that theyd shared, M.J. often felt the urge to touch her lips to Allis ear and whisper to her that she wasnt stupid, that everyone makes mistakes, that she should never doubt herself, and that she would always be there to listen to her. But she couldnt do that; she had a hard enough time controlling her libidinous thoughts when within the blonde beautys range. It was a constant battle for M.J. to not reach out and touch Alli the way she sometimes longed to... to not brush her knuckles across a soft cheek; to not let her fingers caress a small, dainty hand; to not run her fingers through the inviting flaxen hair... it was maddening at times. She constantly fought to keep her behavior proper when in the blondes company; one look into those deep-set, unusual sea-green eyes sent her mind careening off into forbidden territory. She seemed to be forever berating herself for thinking devious thoughts when in Allis presence.
For her part, Alli was having the same difficulties. She often wondered if M.J. could sense what she was thinking. She couldnt seem to take her eyes off the tall beauty whenever she was around, and it didnt go unnoticed either M.J. often caught her staring. At first, Alli had been embarrassed; now, she no longer cared, and she no longer looked away when it happened. A pattern was beginning to emerge... in the midst of a conversation, or across a crowded room, crystal-clear aqua would lock onto bright, light azure... a tiny flicker of some unspoken emotion would spark and pass between them... theyd share a secret look and a private smirk... and their minds would wander freely before one of them broke the spell and brought them back to reality. It was as though theyd developed their own silent, secret communication system that no one else was privy to. For both of them, the little side-trips to fantasy-land were exhilarating, but the implications were growing more and more disconcerting.
The week of December 10th heralded the arrival of the annual company Christmas party. Alli had learned that M.J., for some reason, despised the event and did not want to attend. She told Alli that she had successfully escaped attendance for the past two years, but would have to be there this year, as the companys new President. Not much more was said about the event, just grumblings and sarcastic comments from M.J. about how she thought it was a pointless waste of money that would be better appreciated if it were put in the employees paychecks instead. The Assistant Director was a little surprised by M.J.s opinion, but she had to agree with her.
Alli remembered back, months ago, when she and Liz Jacobs had discussed the Whittons, their money, and their high-society ways. Liz had cryptically said, "most of them enjoy it and are happy to flaunt it... but not all of them do." From M.J.s statements, Alli was beginning to realize that she was not your typical rich-bitch. For some reason, however, this only surprised her slightly. Her gut feeling that M.J. was a very different person on the inside was proving to be accurate, so to her it made perfect sense for the complex brunette to have an aversion to glitz and glamour deep within.
The Saturday party-night arrived unseasonably warm and breezy. Remembering their pact from months ago, Alli agreed to meet Liz in the lobby of the plush country club where the gala was being held, so they wouldnt have to walk in "obviously alone and painfully single", as Liz joked. The Finance Director showed up wearing a surprisingly modest, royal blue cocktail dress, and she had her hair pulled up in an interesting updo with a few stray tendrils dangling in gentle wisps around her face. She looked quite elegant and very lovely, and Alli couldnt help but wonder why she was alone and single. After much shopping and consternation, Alli had decided to go with a basic black, strapless dress, and heels as high as she could stand them. The clerk at the dress shop promised her that the guys would be salivating over her, but that, of course, didnt matter to her in the least. She was only interested in catching the eye of one particular person.
"Wow, Alli! You look fantastic!" Liz exclaimed upon seeing Allis entrance into the lobby.
"Really? I was afraid it was a little... too much maybe, yknow?" Alli replied with uncertainty as she fidgeted and ruffled the hair at the back of her neck in an attempt to quell her nerves. She wasnt used to attending anything as glitzy and glamorous as this, let alone dressing the part. This was all brand new and she felt very self-conscious.
"Hell no! You look *great*! Cmon," Liz said, looping her arm through Allis as they set off to enjoy the remainder of the cocktail hour.
When they reached the large room, Alli couldnt help but feel her stomach twist into more knots of nervousness. She felt like every eye was on her, staring, critiquing, judging. She was so glad that Liz suggested they come together she probably wouldnt have done this on her own. They found the bar and secured a glass of wine for themselves, then proceeded to mingle and make small-talk with their co-workers.
Most people brought spouses, significant others, or at least a date of some kind, and Alli felt out-of-place by just being with Liz. Having attended the function many times in the past, the Finance Director was much more comfortable, and she openly joked with everyone about being single and having to bring her female co-worker and friend as her date. Alli wished she shared her casual confidence Liz could tell that Alli was uneasy, and she stayed by the blondes side faithfully. Alli was thankful that Liz was turning out to be a good friend; she needed to find some friends in this big city, or else shed go nuts.
As the two women stood and chatted politely with some over-friendly men Alli didnt really know, she surreptitiously began scouring the room in search of a particular brunette. Her eyes stopped at every dark head with hair piled up high, but she didnt find the face that she was looking for.
She said she had to be here... dinner is about to be served... where could she be? Alli wondered as she continued to scan.
The announcement was soon made that everyone should take their seats for dinner, and Alli and Liz found their place-cards and went in search of their table. Continuing to glance around as she walked behind Liz, Allis eyes were drawn to two statuesque women with dark hair who were laughing and speaking with three gentlemen and a petite, attractive, auburn-haired female. The two tall women had their backs to Alli, but she knew, without a doubt, who the beauties were. One wore a shimmering, strapless green dress, and the other wore a red dress that plunged breathtakingly deep at the back.
Green and red... how Christmassy, Alli thought with a wry smirk. As she slowly took her seat, the two Whitton sisters finally turned to head toward their table, and Allis jaw went slack.
Good god... how could I possibly have missed THAT? She asked herself as she drank in the vision that had been the object of her search.
M.J. wore a ruby red, full-length dress that was split tantalizingly up the side and sported a deep, scooping neckline in addition to a wonderfully wide-open back, and little skinny straps that wrapped around her neck. How the creation manifested itself into a dress, Alli didnt know; it looked like the front had to be hanging on with strategically-placed double-sided tape. M.J.s hair hung long and loose, full of glossy body and spilling freely down over her bare back and shoulders to end in gentle, wavy curls. Her crystal-blue eyes seemed to sparkle luminously, and her white teeth contrasted brightly against her matching red lipstick as she smiled and walked beside a blonde gentleman who put his arm snugly around her barely-clad waist and then held her seat for her as they sat down side by side. They looked a little too cozy for Alli, and she immediately felt the rumblings of something that was a cross between awe-struck dumbfoundedness and simmering jealousy. M.J. looked like an absolute goddess... and she apparently had a date.
The evening was dragging on painfully slow, in M.J.s opinion. Dinner was just concluding and already she was sick and tired of being polite, making small-talk with people she didnt know, and kissing-ass with people she didnt like. Unlike Madison, who loved this kind of function and loved mingling and schmoozing with everyone, M.J. loathed it. The only reason she came was because she absolutely *had* to; she was the President, after all, so she couldnt escape it. One positive thing about the evening was that she didnt have to put up with her insufferable stepmother; however, she still had to put up with the womans son, who was thoroughly enjoying parading around introducing himself to all the women as Mr. Vice-President.
What a fucking jerk, M.J. thought with an internal eye-roll as she watched Raiford in action across the room.
She had come to the party with Madison and her husband Doug, as well as another attorney who worked with Doug - Steve Wilson. Steve was conveniently divorced, and for some reason, Doug and Madison thought it would be nice for him to escort M.J., so that neither of them would have to be alone. Tossing a sideways glance at the boring blonde man as he talked shop with Doug, M.J. cringed inwardly at the memory of him touching her so eagerly. She wondered why in the hell she had let her sister talk her into this.
Practically everyone knows that I dont date, for chrissake, especially *men*! Why would anyone give a shit if I came alone? For that matter... why didnt I?! She thought crossly, closing her eyes and shaking her head slightly.
She looked up briefly to catch Doug smirking at her, and she suddenly had the urge to reach across the table and slap him silly. Steve Wilson was new to the Cohen, Reed & Barninger law firm, and M.J. would bet money that her smart-ass brother-in-law thought it would be a good joke to fix him up with his wifes attractive sister who would not only be completely disinterested in the young man, but, unfortunately, she would turn out to be *gay* as well.
Yeah, very funny Doug... youre a fucking jerk too, M.J. thought angrily. Looking at the blonde man again as she sipped her fourth glass of wine, M.J. mused sarcastically, I hate to break it to you, Steve-o... we may have come here together, but we sure as shit wont be leaving together. You can catch a ride home with Dougie, and he can explain evvvvverything. She really wasnt a big drinker, but she decided to make an exception this night.
Releasing a sigh of boredom, M.J. thought about the only other positive thing of the evening, and that was the fact that she was getting a most enjoyable eyeful of one Allison Phillips. Sipping her wine and shifting her gaze furtively over to the side of the room where Alli sat, M.J. watched the blonde over the rim of her glass. Normally, Alli would be described as cute; tonight, M.J. would describe her as simply gorgeous. She didnt know if it was just the little black dress, or the fact that it was strapless and rather form-fitting whatever the reason, Alli looked terribly sexy and good enough to eat. At that thought, a small smirk danced fleetingly across M.J.s lips as she licked them and took another sip of wine, carefully keeping her dark stare riveted on the object of her impure thoughts.
"See something interesting, Madame President?" a throaty voice suddenly purred in her ear.
M.J. had to restrain from rolling her eyes. "Gatherings like this usually tend to produce interesting things, counselor," she replied in a bored tone, not turning to acknowledge the petite redhead that had sidled up to her at the table. Kate Reed smirked at the brunette who was a vision of loveliness in her unique red dress and long, shiny, dark hair.
"You look quite ravishing tonight," Kate whispered seductively, leaning closer to M.J. "Cant remember the last time I saw you in a dress."
M.J. drained her drink and turned to look at Kate uncaringly, "Gee thanks - you look *swell* too," she said sarcastically.
Kate saw the annoyance on M.J.s face, but she wasnt buying it. This was a game that the two played often.
"So... I havent heard from you in awhile. Whatve you been doing? besides distracting yourself with work, that is," the redhead purred.
M.J. turned away from her again, propping her elbows on the table and twirling her empty wine glass in her fingers, "Nothing... absolutely nothing," she said flatly.
"What a pity," Kate said. "You know... you should give me a call when youre bored... Im sure we could come up with some way to... *entertain* each other." She added as she snuck her hand beneath the table and laid it on M.J.s exposed thigh.
Not flinching a muscle, M.J. smirked, "I seriously doubt that, Katherine." She didnt even look at the redhead; her wintry eyes were fixated on a certain blonde bombshell.
Kate followed the direction of M.J.s gaze, seeing only one person who could be responsible for the look on the face of her sometimes-lover. Knowing M.J. as she did, and knowing the brunettes penchant for blondes, Kate easily put two and two together.
"Listen, handsome... I can think of *much* more interesting things to do besides sit here and drool over your employees." The redhead said lowly as she non-too-discreetly ran her hand up and down the length of M.J.s thigh.
Blue eyes finally rolled in disgust and the President turned to face Kate, "Oh really?" M.J. asked, quirking a brow.
"Oh yes." Kate nearly growled, arching her brow in return and giving the firm thigh a squeeze.
"Well Kate... if youre so bored, you can leave," M.J. quipped, reaching down and removing Kates hand. "And dont let the door hit you on the ass on your way out." She added, her eyes flashing icily as she stood up and walked away. Kate could only smirk as she watched the tall beauty disappear into the crowd. Turning her attention back to the table across the way, she observed as the small blonde woman smiled and talked to a brunette in a blue dress.
"I dont know who you are, Blondie, but Id bet a lot of money that lil Ms. M.J. has plans for you," she murmured to herself, taking a sip of wine and watching the blonde through narrowed eyes.
Deciding that she hadnt had nearly enough to drink, M.J. was trying to make her way to the bar when she suddenly found herself face to face with Raiford.
"Well well... dont we look *scrumptious* tonight," Ray drawled as he openly looked M.J. up and down. M.J. merely fixed him with a dark warning glare; now was not the time nor place to get into it with her obnoxious stepbrother.
"I see that Ms. Kate thinks you look quite yummy as well," Ray added snidely, motioning his head toward M.J.s table, where Kate still sat.
As much as she wanted to tell her step-sibling that Kate Reed was none of his damn business, M.J. knew better than to give or say anything that Ray could and would use against her. "Fuck off Ray," M.J. snapped through gritted teeth as she pushed past her smirking stepbrother.
Heading once again toward the bar, M.J. kept getting side-tracked by people who insisted on talking to her. She did her best to maintain a polite attitude, slipping on her fake smile and flirting with those who begged for it. It was artificial, but she tried her very best to grin and bear it.
The evening will soon be over and then I can forget about this bullshit for another year, she mused to herself as she craned her neck, trying to see how close she was to the bar. As she glanced around, she found her eyes gravitating to and locking with a pair of bright, jade-colored ones. Seeing the shy look on Allis face, M.J. grinned and gave her a wink, causing a flush to visibly spread across the blondes exposed chest. This made M.J. smile even more.
Before she got a chance to make her way over to Alli, however, Madison interrupted her, "Ah, there you are Morgan, I want you to meet someone...," Maddy continued as she introduced M.J. to some older man dressed in a stuffy suit and mismatched tie. M.J. wasnt really paying close attention to what Maddy was saying as she began talking; her eyes kept glancing to the greenish ones that continued to dart her way demurely. M.J. found it difficult to conceal her grin both she and Alli were pretending to talk to other people, yet their eyes kept sidetracking and meeting up with one another. Realizing her sisters attentions were elsewhere, Madison touched M.J. on the arm to bring her back to the conversation at hand. One look in Allis direction told the younger Whitton what M.J. had been preoccupied with.
M.J. tried her best to feign interest in Madison and the boring, overly-touchy gentleman with her, but it was difficult; she couldnt even remember what his name was... maybe she *had* had enough to drink after all. A few cautious looks from Maddy reminded M.J. to play nice, however, so she turned on her considerable charm for the man, who fairly salivated over her attentions and didnt bring his gaze up much past her breasts. Finally having had enough, M.J. fixed her sister with a knowing look and made up an excuse to break away from the conversation and the man, who had begun touching her arm way too much. She spotted her salvation just a few yards away and started to walk toward the bar quickly, only to find herself suddenly face to face with her favorite blonde.
"Well... we meet at last," M.J. said as she took-in the vision of Alli at close-range. Pale blonde locks were gelled and styled wildly, and cream-colored shoulders highlighted a wonderful display of pale flesh against stark black fabric. Accenting the slender ivory neck was a simple, but beautiful, string of iridescent pearls. M.J. almost laughed out loud as the term pearl necklace registered and raced through her libidinous, slightly-intoxicated mind, and her lips stretched into a mischievous smirk.
"Yes... I thought I wasnt going to get a chance to talk to you," Alli said shakily, her heart-rate increasing as M.J. stepped closer to her and the familiar smell of her perfumed essence wafted through the air.
"Oh dont worry... Id have come looking for you before the night was through," M.J. said, her brows arching sharply above wicked, translucent eyes as a lecherous grin spread across crimson lips. She turned to order another glass of wine, and Alli was at a loss for words.
The blonde just stood there, licking her dry lips while staring at M.J.s very-exposed back. The smooth, lightly-tanned skin and the dark, silky-looking tresses that rested against it were just begging to be touched. Allis fingers itched at the prospect of caressing those shoulder blades and trailing a finger down the long line of that supple spine, all the way to
"Alli?" M.J.s voice snapped her out of her reverie.
"Hmm?" Allis head snapped up when she realized that M.J. was speaking to her. She couldnt stop the flush of pink that invaded her cheeks, and she knew that M.J. saw it when she looked up at the mischievousness in the twinkling eyes.
M.J. wanted to go in for the kill and totally disable the flustered blonde; she had about a hundred sly remarks and come-ons dancing on the tip of her tongue. But, she relented, deciding to take it easy on her gorgeous friend. Torturing her slowly was so much more fun anyway.
"I asked if you were having a good time?" M.J. said lowly, quirking the corner of her mouth as she sipped her wine and watched Allis continued struggle.
"Oh, uh, yes... this is very nice... and dinner was delicious," Alli stammered, trying to regain some modicum of self-control.
M.J. grinned wide; she just couldnt resist any longer. She stepped closer to Alli, leaning down a little so she didnt have to talk loudly, "Speaking of delicious... you look *very* lovely this evening," she said lowly, her eyes dark and intense. A lump immediately formed in Allis throat and she almost gasped aloud as M.J. reached out to lay a hand on her waist. "And this dress... its *perfect* for you," the brunette demurred as she stroked lightly with her fingers, feeling warm skin beneath the fabric.
Alli thought her eyes were going to pop out of her skull. M.J. knew she was being awful, but she couldnt help it; alcohol always made her bold and a little reckless. Besides... shed been dying to touch Alli ever since she saw her tonight. Sensing Allis distress, she decided to step back, smiling hard and almost chuckling out loud as she removed her hand and brought it back to hold her wine glass while she pretended to look around the room nonchalantly.
Allis heart beat in triple-time while she tried to reign in her shock. M.J. was in ultra-rare form tonight, and she struggled to get her head around what was happening. She and M.J. had flirted in the past, of course, and theyd touched casually, but this touch... this touch was completely different. She actually felt the need to look down to see if there was a gaping hole in the waist-line of her dress M.J.s hand had burned *that* much. By the time she looked back up at her boss, M.J. was looking strangely at a petite, flame-haired woman who had come to stand in front of her.
"Arent you going to introduce me to your *friend*, M.J.?" The redhead asked, quirking an eyebrow high.
M.J. fairly glared back at her, then she turned awkwardly to Alli, "Allison... this is Katherine Reed shes one of the senior partners at Cohen, Reed & Barninger," M.J. said in a clipped tone, motioning to the redhead. "Kate... this is Allison Phillips shes the Assistant Director for our Human Resources Department," M.J. added, motioning back to Alli.
"Pleased to meet you, Ms. Reed," Alli managed, sticking her hand out and smiling politely.
Kate returned the gesture with a small, prim smile and took the proffered hand, giving it a firm grip as she eyed her competition. "Likewise," she said succinctly.
Shes quite attractive... M.J. still has good taste, Ill give her that, Kate thought to herself.
Alli was thinking the same thing as they released hands and continued to smile falsely at each other. Kate Reed was tiny, and very pretty. She had an aristocratic-looking face... fairly prominent cheekbones; a slim, slightly aquiline nose; a strong, tapered chin; perfect rosebud lips; and eyes that were an intense, penetrating, royal blue. All of this was framed by a cap of auburn hair that just reached her shoulders. She wore a black dress that sported very sheer fabric in numerous places, and her fingernails were perfectly manicured and painted blood-red. She was petite, but she carried an air of intelligence and arrogance about her.
...Definitely an attorney, Alli thought. She was just beginning to feel oddly uncomfortable when she stiffened suddenly, feeling M.J.s hand come to rest in her new favorite place - the small of her back.
"Alli has been absolutely invaluable to me these past few months. Shes assisted me with numerous projects... shes a whiz with computers and spreadsheets and databases," M.J. said to Kate.
It seemed to Alli that M.J. had taken a somewhat possessive stance beside her, and it felt like she was bragging, or showing-off to Kate. For a moment, Alli wondered what the hell was going on, and she watched with interest as a strange look passed across Kate Reeds tight face. Feeling the pressure of M.J.s hand again, her mind immediately tuned the redhead out and just focused on the thrill of having the tall woman touch her like this.
M.J. was saying something else to the redhead, but Alli wasnt paying attention; she was too busy memorizing the feel of M.J.s hand as it moved lightly from the small of her back, up to the middle of her shoulder blades... then down again... then up again.
OhMyGoddd... shes caressing me, in public, in front of this woman, Alli thought, who is obviously jealous.
She was willing to bet that there was some kind of history between the two women, and she knew that she should probably be upset that M.J. was, apparently, using her to torment the redhead, but she just couldnt bring herself to care at the moment. As long as M.J. continued to touch her the way she was, Alli didnt give a shit if the President was offering to sell her body to the little redhead.
God, what is WRONG with me!? She chastised inwardly. She tuned back in to the real world just as M.J. and Kate were concluding whatever conversation theyd just had. M.J. was looking across the room, nodding to someone.
"Well, if you lovely ladies will excuse me... it seems Im needed for something," M.J. said as she began to step away from Allis side. Instead of just removing her hand, however, she let her palm slide all the way down Allis back, ending in an ever-so-subtle but lingering brush across her ass. Alli nearly jumped out of her skin at the sensation.
Just as a blush was blazing its way up her neck, M.J. suddenly turned back to face her again, a mischievous smile once again on her lips, "Make sure you find me before you leave," she said lowly. "Wouldnt want you to disappear without saying goodnight," she added, reaching up and quickly touching a fingertip to the underside of Allis chin. She grinned evilly at both the blonde and the redhead, then turned and walked away.
Jesus *CHRIST*!! Alli thought, her eyes bulging and her mouth parted slightly. What is she trying to DO to me?! She had no idea what had gotten into the brunette. Maybe this was her way of stepping things up? Maybe she was just showing-off? Hell, maybe she just had too much to drink? Alli had no idea. Her head was spinning, her heart was pounding wildly, and she was suddenly more confused than ever. God, maybe *Ive* had too much to drink?!
She had observed M.J. flirting with men - and women - all night. The tall beauty had apparently come to the party with the blonde guy who had been at her side and doting on her most of the night, and there was obviously something between her and Kate Reed.
So where the hell do *I* fit into all of this? Alli thought, suddenly feeling very much like a pawn in some kind of giant chess game that she was, obviously, completely clueless about. Without realizing it, Kate had stepped in closer to her, and when Alli brought her cloudy jade eyes back to meet the intense blue, she had the feeling that she was about to be educated.
"I swore I would be true, but honey so did you;
So why were you holding her hand?
Is that the way we stand?
Were you lying all the time?
Was it just a game to you?
But I miss you...
You know I'm such a fool for you;
You got me wrapped around your finger,
Do you have to let it linger?" - Cranberries
Alli was in a trance-like state as she walked back to her table. She wanted to find Liz and leave, right now. She was upset, and she was confused more than ever. After M.J. had left them, Kate Reed proceeded to try her best to fluster Alli and intimidate her.
No, outwardly threaten is more like it, Alli thought angrily. Her mind played back the discussion...
"I hope youre prepared for a wild ride, little girl." The redhead had started, her tone haughty and condescending.
"What? What are you talking about?" Alli replied indignantly.
"M.J. likes to play, and she likes to play *rough*," Kate snarled, her eyes narrowed.
"Were not *playing* at anything." Alli insisted.
Kate leaned menacingly closer, "Oh yes, you are you just dont know it. And let me assure you... you will *lose* the game, my dear," she hissed, her eyes gleaming with dark blue intensity.
"I think I can keep things under control," Alli sniffed back in reply, refusing to be intimidated by a woman who was actually shorter than her.
Kate laughed derisively, "You are *never* in control when it comes to M.J., darling! You might *think* you have control, but its only a fantasy, and its only temporary. Shell never allow you more than that - *trust* me." The redhead responded darkly, her eyes still fixed and angry. "She's a siren... she'll lead you off the path, lure you into the rocks, and laugh as your hull smashes and splinters into a thousand pieces. And while you flounder and struggle for life, she'll smile and let you drown in those pretty, deadly, water-colored eyes." Kate finished dramatically.
Allis mouth had unconsciously dropped open in shock at the poetic eloquence that emanated so viciously from the auburn-haired woman. Somehow though, she managed to keep her composure and glared firmly back at Kate.
"Ill try to keep that in mind, counselor." She said sharply, then turned and walked away.
Pulling herself back to the present, Alli shook her head.
What a bitch, she thought. ...Unbelievable! She had wanted to reach out and slap the condescending smirk right off the attorneys smug face. There was no question in her mind that something *definitely* had taken place between Kate and M.J. The redhead came off as the typical jilted lover; whether the something was in the past or the present, however, she didnt know. Alli suddenly felt both foolish and angry that she let M.J. intentionally use her to bait the attorney and make her jealous. Shed be damned if she was going to be threatened by some snooty little bitch, and shed be damned if she was going to let M.J. toy with her.
God, is that what she was doing? Just fucking with my head? Using me to fulfill her alpha male role with a former lover? What is she trying to do, mark her territory? Hell, why not just *piss* on me, M.J.! Alli thought angrily as she looked around for Liz.
Finally reaching her date, Alli touched Liz on the shoulder lightly, "Hey, uhm, are you ready to go?" She asked anxiously.
Liz gave her a confused look, "Its only nine oclock," she said, checking her watch and looking back at Alli.
"I know, I just... Im just kind-of ready to leave," Alli said, trying to look and sound calm, but feeling her emotions welling painfully inside.
Liz studied her friend... something was obviously wrong. "Are you okay... whats the matter?" She asked, leaning in close and speaking softly.
Alli had to bite her lip and blink hard to keep the tears at bay, "Nothing - look, if youre not ready to go, thats okay; I can hang around for a little while longer. Youve stuck by me all night, and I really appreciate that"
"Alli, whats *wrong*?" Liz asked, interrupting the blonde and reaching out to touch her arm. Alli let out a nervous laugh, shaking her head and looking away for a moment.
"Its nothing... its really stupid... just forget it, okay? Look, I gotta go to the ladies room... Ill be right back," Alli said quickly, turning to leave before Liz could say anything else. The Finance Director watched her friend disappear quickly, wondering what in the hell could have happened to upset her so.
Alli wished that she didnt have makeup on, because she could really use a nice, cool splash of water on her face to perk her up. Instead, she just looked in the mirror and smoothed under her eyes and fluffed her hair a bit. This evening had started out shaky, but just when things were looking up, they came crashing down again. She was pissed-off at M.J. for playing whatever head-fuck games she was playing, and she was very pissed-off at Kate Reed for being such a witch. She wanted to be pissed at M.J. enough to stay away from her and not speak to her for a long time maybe it would teach her a lesson somehow... show her that Allis emotions couldnt be trifled with.
The only problem was, Allis mind kept playing back the earlier moments tonight when M.J. smiled and winked at her, and the way shed looked at her and touched her when no one else was around. Did all that mean nothing whatsoever? And what about the daggers shed seen M.J. throwing at Kate? Is there real animosity between them, or what? She just didnt know what to make of it. Was Kate just saying those things because she was jealous? Was it all just an insane *game*, or what? Allis mind spun helplessly, flip-flopping between burning aggravation and residual attraction. She closed her eyes and let her head hang down.
Hell, maybe we *all* just had too much to drink tonight, she thought ruefully. She supposed she had no right to expect any exclusivity with the bewitching President. Shes a beautiful woman, Alli thought, of course other people lust after her as much as I do, she told herself. Maybe Im just overreacting.
Part of the problem was that there were no clear lines between them; there were no set boundaries, and there was no real consistency in behavior. With M.J., it somehow always ended up going through the same cycle - hot one minute, then cold the next... flirt shamelessly, then turn it off and act like a stranger. She had thought that their relationship was growing more solid, given the events of the last few weeks; but now, through all this confusion tonight, Alli had absolutely no idea where they stood nor where they were headed. She was so frustrated, she wanted to disappear into a corner and cry. Mostly, however, she wanted to smack herself for being so naïve about the whole thing.
Vowing to keep her chin up and get a better grip on her escalating, out-of-control feelings toward M.J., Alli righted herself, smoothed her dress, and walked resolutely out of the restroom. She had just closed the door when she heard some voices murmuring softly and chuckling lowly in the darkened hallway adjacent to the restroom. Out of sheer natural reflex, she turned her head in that direction.
What she saw would stay with her for a very long time.
M.J. was leaning lazily against the wall with her back to Alli. One of her arms rested along the wall, the other hung down at her side, holding an empty wine glass. Someone elses arm was wrapped around her waist, a small hand stroking the bare skin of her tanned back. Based on the blood-red fingernails that decorated the fingers of that intruding hand, Alli knew exactly to whom it belonged. She could only stand there and stare unbelievingly.
It was true... it was all just a game. A fucking game that she stupidly fell for. Allison could hardly believe it. She felt positively sick to her stomach and a sudden surge of bile burned in the back of her throat. A crushing weight had descended on her chest, and she suddenly couldnt breathe.
At that moment, Kate Reeds face appeared from behind M.J.s shoulder, and she caught the stunned expression on the blonde beauty. Smirking triumphantly at her competitor, she decided to rub it in by reaching up and placing a seductive kiss on the neck of her sometimes-lover. Seeing the blondes mouth drop open even further as she gasped and bolted out of the hallway, Kate let her head fall back as she laughed out loud.
Sometimes it felt so good to destroy people.
Alli was numb as she made her way back toward Liz. She knew her mouth was still open, and her eyes burned with tears that begged permission to fall. How she was holding it together, she didnt know. When she reached the table, she paused for a moment, not knowing exactly what to say. Before she could think of something, Liz felt her presence and turned to her,
"Hey, you wanna-- hey... Alli? Whats wrong?" Liz said, noticing the odd expression and paleness of Allis face.
"I... Im... Im gonna go... okay?" Alli stammered, "If you dont mind... I really have to go," Alli said rapidly, shaking her head and turning away abruptly before Liz could protest. She made it the whole way outside before Liz caught up to her.
"Alli! Alli! What is the *matter*!?" Liz said emphatically as she reached Alli and spun her around to face her.
The tears had begun streaming down her cheeks and her whole body was trembling, "I feel... so stupid... Liz... Im *such* an idiot!" She choked-out between sobs.
"Shh... shh... its okay," Liz soothed as she put an arm around her distraught friend. "Come sit down over here and tell me whats going on." She said as she guided Alli toward some benches that overlooked a large reflecting pool.
Alli spent the better part of an hour spilling her guts to her newfound confidante, telling her everything about her peculiar relationship with the ambiguous, frustrating President of Whitton, Inc. Liz listened very carefully, allowing Alli to cry and rant and rave, and even pound her fists here and there. The poor little blonde had fallen for M.J.s charms, only to find out she was being used. It was a lousy introduction to a new city and the sometimes cut-throat world of big business politics, but unfortunately, things like this happened all the time. Liz just hated to see someone like Alli get caught up in it. The poor woman was understandably devastated.
The only saving grace for her petite friend was that she hadnt gone *too* far and done anything too inappropriate with the President. Liz had seen that before as well... this whole scenario was sickeningly familiar to her... and it made her mad as hell. She wasnt stupid she was aware of the extraordinary amount of time Alli spent with M.J. She had noticed the little smiles and the expression that flashed across the blondes face whenever M.J. was mentioned. Many times, Liz had wanted to warn her friend; she wanted to tell her that M.J. was a snake and couldnt be trusted for shit. She had tried, early on, to warn Alli a little about the President, but apparently, it wasnt enough.
Well... I have to be brutally honest with her now, Liz thought as she took a deep breath and released it wearily.
"Listen, Alli... there are some things you should know about M.J.," Liz began cautiously. Alli looked at her carefully, her umber brows knitted together as she wiped the tears from her eyes. "I suppose I should have told you about this earlier, but...," Liz hesitated, looking away for a moment. "I dunno... I guess I didnt want to sound like I had a grudge against M.J. or something," she finished with a shrug.
"What do you mean?" Alli asked, her voice nearly hoarse from crying.
Liz released another sigh, "M.J. has somewhat of a... history," she began. "You see... this sort of thing has happened before," Liz said, looking at Alli seriously. "How many times its happened, I dont know; but I do know that the last time it happened, it involved a friend of mine, and I do know that M.J. did the exact same thing to her." Alli looked at her anxiously. "The only difference is, M.J. managed to convince Alex to sleep with her a number of times before she unceremoniously dumped her ass." Liz added sarcastically.
Allis eyes widened and her mouth parted slightly as she looked away for a moment. She knew shed heard the name Alex before. He mind frantically processed until a light bulb came on, "Alex Whats-her-name," she mumbled.
"What?" Liz asked.
"Alex Whats-her-name... Madison and M.J. mentioned her one time. She used to work here, right?" Alli asked, looking imploringly at her friend.
"Yeah - she worked here until M.J. fucked her over literally then they fired her," Liz snorted.
"Youre kidding?" Alli asked incredulously.
"Afraid not. In a nutshell, Alex fell for M.J... they had an affair... then M.J. got tired of her and dumped her. When Alex tried to fight and win her back, M.J. cried foul, and Madison got her hubbys law firm to step in and pay Alex off so that shed keep her mouth shut and leave quietly." Liz said, laying it all out brutally.
"What?! Youve gotta be shitting me!?" Alli exclaimed.
"Nope. Alex was heart-broken, but she wasnt stupid. She took the money and ran. It wasnt pretty." Liz added. Alli just sat with her mouth open, staring at the ground.
"Theres something else too...," Liz started cautiously, hating to hit the blonde with more bad news, "...thats when M.J. met up with Kate Reed. Kate handled her case against Alex." Alli looked up again, her eyes wide and unbelieving. "She and M.J. have been an item ever since." Liz said with quiet finality.
Alli sat in stunned silence for several minutes. "Jesus... I cant believe Ive been so *stupid*," she finally muttered, letting her face fall into her hands.
"Alli... listen to me," Liz began, reaching out to lift her friends chin up, "it is *not* your fault. M.J. is the one whos wrong. Shes a consummate pro at seducing and using people, and wrapping them around her little finger. Hell, when I first came to work here, she had *me* frothing after her!" Liz said. "Shes devastatingly beautiful, yes, but she uses that to get what she wants, and honey... shes using *you*." Liz said bluntly, staring at Alli with hard eyes.
"Yeah... I can see that now," Alli said, clearly frustrated. Her shoulders slumped as she sat in silence for a moment, wiping at her eyes and nose with a tissue.
She wrinkled her brows thoughtfully, then looked up at her companion, "Liz... are you gay?" She asked with frank curiosity.
Liz smiled and laughed at her honesty, "Yes, Alli, Im gay. Well, I guess Im really bi... Ive had relationships with both... but hey, you can call me whatever you want," Liz cracked, leaning back against the bench.
Alli laughed lightly, despite her emotional state. "Youre not involved with anyone right now?" She asked a bit more seriously.
"Nope. Ive decided to be a little more selective from now on. But, as you can see, thats getting me *nowhere*! But Im determined to be patient." Liz said with a grin as she mockingly shook her fist.
Alli grinned back at her. "Ive been wondering about you, yknow... but I didnt want to just come right out and *ask* you," she added somewhat sheepishly.
"Thats okay... I knew you were gay the first time I met you it was your first day, when M.J. ran into you in my office," Liz said with a sly smile. "The look on your face said it all."
"Shit... am I that transparent?" Alli rolled her eyes and asked as Liz laughed her confirmation. "Terrific... I wonder who else knows." The blonde grumbled as she too sat back and relaxed against the bench.
"Dont worry, most people arent that observant. But... Id put money on Madison knowing. Aside from the fact that shes the one who keeps her big sister in line, not much gets past that woman." Liz commented with a shake of her head. Alli hummed her agreement and they sat in silent contemplation for a few moments.
"You know what the real problem is with all this?" Alli began again, "I really *am* attracted to her." She admitted quietly.
Liz made a disgusted noise, "Well youd better get yourself UNattracted, and fast."
"I know, but... its not like... I mean, its not just a matter of me stupidly falling prey to her seductions, its...," Alli hesitated, searching for the words. "Its like... Im truly and inexplicably *drawn* to her. I dunno... I cant explain it. I just know that Ive never felt this way before," Alli said, looking to her friend for understanding.
Liz opened her mouth to say something, but Alli cut her off, holding up a hand, "Before you say it yes, Ive been attracted to and involved with other women before, so its not just because its something new. Its something... I dunno... its something Ive never experienced before, with anyone. Its a little frightening, to be honest." She said, giving Liz a worried look.
"Good... you should be frightened," Liz spat out quickly, looking at Alli intensely, "I would suggest that you listen to your fright instinct and stay the hell away from M.J. Whitton. Youre a good, decent person, Alli. I dont want to see you get hurt. And believe me you *will* be the one to get hurt." Liz said, pinning Alli with serious finality in her hazel-brown eyes.
Alli took a deep breath and blew it out, running her fingers through her hair roughly as she looked away. She knew she shouldnt expect Liz to understand what she felt, and realistically, she knew Liz was right. But how in the hell was she going to sever her ties with M.J.? No one could possibly understand what it was that drew her to the alluring woman, because she didnt understand it herself.
She had unwittingly fallen under M.J.s spell, and she knew, however difficult it might be, that she had to push her lustful feelings aside and remember what she saw in that darkened hallway. She had to remember that M.J. was just fucking with her head, and she could not let herself fall victim to that any longer. Whatever she once thought they had was now a figment of her imagination; they were strictly co-workers, and nothing more. She told herself that she would try to avoid the woman, and if she had to meet with her, shed keep it all-business.
If M.J. can turn it on and turn it off, so can I, she thought defiantly, ...*So can I*.
end ch.s 19 23
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