Disclaimers: See Part 1
Violence/Sex: Some (brief) violence. This story does involve a consensual loving and sexual relationship between two adult women. It is not explicit, but if it offends you, is illegal where you live, or if you are underage—please consider another story selection.
Warning: This story contains profanity—lots of it. In fact, Evan Reed should will her mouth to science. For those of you who are brave enough to persevere—my heartfelt thanks in advance.
Dust is complete, but will be posted in installments.I can be reached at email@example.com .
Copyright Ann McMan, May 2011. All rights reserved. This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any format without the prior express permission of the author.
It snowed on Tuesday morning. It was just a light snow that didn't promise to add up to much, but it was pretty enough to lure the two women outside after breakfast. Julia had a conference call scheduled for 11:00, but they decided to take advantage of what was left of the morning to hike across the open field behind Evan's house.
To Julia, the landscape looked uncannily like it had been lifted right off the canvas of an Andrew Wyeth painting—a bleak but beautiful creation, drawn from a sparse and unvarying palette. When she said as much, Evan laughed at her.
“That's funny?” Julia asked. Her breath made patterns in the cold air. They'd been trudging along the creek bed that divided Evan's land from a neighboring farm.
“No—it's insightful. And Ironic.” Evan gestured behind them, in the general direction of some rolling land off to the east. The snow had nearly stopped, and a single ray of sun was beginning to peek through the bare trees. “The Keurner's farm is just about two miles away—over that very rise.” She bumped Julia playfully as they walked along. “I guess your gramma wasn't the only Donne gifted with a knack for sniffing out fine art.”
Julia smiled. Her blue eyes were as bright as the single bit of sky that was visible behind the dense cloud cover.
“That's me,” Evan agreed. “I'd say anything to get into your pants.”
Julia lifted the front of her jacket and tugged at the waistband of the oversized pair of Carhartt jeans Evan had lent her that morning. They once had belonged to her grandfather, who, fortunately for Julia, had been about a foot taller than Evan.
“Well, there does appear to be room enough for both of us in here.”
Evan made a grand display of trying look down Julia's pants.
“I know. Lucky me.”
Julia yanked the front of her jacket down and punched Evan on the arm.
“I know. Lucky you .”
Julia rolled her eyes. They walked on a bit further.
“I can't stay here forever, you know.”
Evan considered Julia's quiet words. The sun that had been struggling to break through the clouds disappeared again—almost as if an unseen special effects director had cued it to turn off.
She supposed that now was as good a time as any to talk about her scheme to divert Andy's attention away from Julia. She was less certain about how to navigate an explanation of how she intended to accomplish this.
Julia gave her another opening.
“So what are we going to do?”
Evan took hold of her arm as they walked along. “I got Dan to agree to let me have a sit—down with Andy on Monday.”
Julia looked surprised. “What will that accomplish?”
“Nothing, if you don't do some fancy footwork on the front end.”
Julia looked exasperated. “I've got a bad feeling about this.”
Evan squeezed her elbow through the heavy jacket. “Don't. Remember that I promised never to coerce you into things you didn't freely consent to do.”
“I know. That's what worries me.”
“Meaning that if I don't agree to participate, it will end up putting you in danger.”
Evan didn't want to tell her that the truth lay about 180 degrees opposite her assessment. So she didn't.
Julia sighed. “I guess this means you want me to continue to press for a bogus reconciliation with Andy?”
“God.” She looked over at Evan. “What makes you think he won't see right through this? What makes you think he doesn't know where I am right now?”
“It doesn't matter, Julia. I want Andy to know you're— involved —with me. I want him to think that I am pursuing you. In fact, I intend to provide him—and anyone else who might be paying attention—with some pretty damn incontrovertible proof.”
“Do I want to know what that is supposed to mean?”
Julia waved a hand in frustration. “I'm not comfortable with any of this.”
“I know, honey. But I need you to trust me.”
“I do trust you. It's myself I'm not too sure of. I've never been very good at subterfuge.”
“If that's true, then you're better off not knowing many details. You won't have to pretend as much.”
Julia was plainly exasperated. “How can you be so calm about all of this?”
Evan smiled at her. “I try to be when it's important.”
Julia stopped and turned to face her. She raised an eyebrow. “Where have I heard that before?”
Evan shook her head. “I simply cannot imagine.”
Julia leaned her forehead against Evan's. “I have to be back in New York by Friday.”
“I know that, too.”
“But I can stay here with you and Stevie until then.”
“Are you nervous about having me here when she comes home?”
“No?” Julia seemed dubious.
Evan shook her head. “Stevie's smart and savvy. She'll roll with it just fine.”
“So she's used to you having overnight guests?”
Evan drew back and looked at her. Julia's demeanor seemed casual enough, but she thought there might be some nascent insecurity lurking behind her question.
“I don't have overnight guests. Ever. That's why she'll understand that this is important—and she'll be fine with it.”
Julia dropped her eyes. “Isn't that asking a lot of a 14—year—old?”
Evan laughed. “Not this kid.”
Evan took her by the arm. “C'mon. Let's head back. I don't know about you, but my feet are freezing.”
“Your feet are always freezing.”
Evan looked down at her wet boots. Then she looked over at Julia's feet.
“Yeah…why is that? You never get cold—and you're always running around barefoot.”
Julia shrugged. “Hot—blooded, I guess.”
Julia linked arms with her as they made their way back along the creek toward the house.
“It's beautiful here.”
“I think so.”
“I'm glad you had this—growing up. I didn't have anyplace that grounded me in the same ways ”
Evan tugged her closer. “I'm sorry about that.”
“Don't be. It is what it is. I managed.”
“I know. I'd like for you to do more than ‘manage.'”
“I'm not complaining.”
“No. You don't complain, do you?”
Julia shook her dark head. “I've never found it to be terribly productive. Have you?”
Evan scoffed. “Hell, yes! I complain about everything.” She looked over at her tall companion. “Are you telling me that you've somehow failed to notice this about me?”
Julia smiled. “I was giving you the benefit of the doubt.”
“Thanks, I'm sure.”
“To be frank, that's one of the things I love most about you.”
“Jesus. You make me sound like a Chihuahua .”
Julia laughed. “That would be the other thing.”
“Why does that offend you? It's not like you don't enjoy sitting on my lap.”
Evan thought about that. “True.”
They turned away from the creek and slowly started making their way up the lawn toward the house. The snow had drifted a bit in this area, and walking took more effort.
When Julia spoke again, her voice had lost any trace of levity. “What's going to happen to us, Evan?”
Evan looked over at her. She knew that her answer to this question was important.
“If we're lucky—nothing.”
“Normally, a response like that would annoy me.”
After a moment, Evan prompted her. “But?”
“But right now, ‘nothing' sounds pretty damn good.”
Evan disengaged her arm and reached down to take hold of Julia's hand. “I'm not going to let anything happen to you.”
“I believe you.”
“And before you ask—I'm not going to let anything happen to us , either. Not until we decide that there isn't an ‘us' to protect anymore.”
“Don't hold your breath on that one.”
The simple statement wrapped itself around Evan like an extra overcoat. She tightened her fingers around Julia's gloved hand. They continued on toward the house in silence.
They spent the rest of the day working from their respective corners of the house. Evan set Julia up with a makeshift office at the dining room table, where she could have some modicum of privacy for her conference call. While Julia was occupied with that, Evan finalized Stevie's travel arrangements for her trip tomorrow from Albany to Philadelphia . She'd be arriving at the 30 th Street Station on the 12:20 train.
Evan didn't really want to leave Julia alone tomorrow, and she could hardly expect Julia to accompany her into the city to pick Stevie up—it was too risky right now for the two of them to be seen together in public. Besides, she preferred to have Stevie's first meeting with Julia take place in more hospitable and inviting territory. Dan was unavailable. He'd already called to say that he wanted to connect with Stevie on the weekend, in advance of their Monday meeting with Andy.
She was trying to puzzle this out when her cell phone rang. It was Tim Donovan.
“Father Tim?” Evan asked with surprise, when she saw his name on the caller I.D. “Whatever it is, I had nothing to do with it.”
“Nice try. You should know by now that yours will always be the first number I'll call.”
“In that case, what do I need to atone for now?”
He laughed. “You're not on the hot seat this time. I have to be in Kennett Square tomorrow, and I wondered if you wanted to grab some lunch. You know—maybe see what it's like to meet in the daylight?”
“Now there's an interesting idea.” Evan thought about it. Why not kill two birds with one stone? It was clear that Tim needed to meet Julia at some point—and maybe he could help her out with Stevie. “What time do you need to be over here?”
“Mid—afternoon—any time before 3:00. I've got to make a condolence call, and then stop by the hospital there. Why?”
“Stevie is coming home on the 12:20 train from Albany . Feel like picking her up on your way? I can explain why later.”
Tim didn't hesitate. “Sure. I'd love to see her. And this will give the three of us time to grab some lunch together before I have to head out.”
“Yeah. About that.” She hesitated.
Tim noticed. “Okay. This sounds ominous. What's up?”
“Remember the woman I told you about?”
Tim didn't miss a beat. “The married one?”
Fuck him for picking that fact to zero in on. “Yeah. The married one.”
“What about her?”
There was momentary silence on the line. “Here—as in there? ”
She cut him off. “Before you jump to conclusions, it's not what you think.” Well. In fact it probably was exactly what he thought—but that was beside the point. “I can explain everything, and I will —once you get here with Stevie.” She paused. “I need you to trust me, Tim. I would never do anything reckless where my kid is concerned.”
He sighed. “I'll probably live to regret saying this, but I do believe you.”
“Thanks, Father .”
He chuckled. “I know I'm in for it whenever you start tossing out the honorifics. Will you let Stevie know I'll be picking her up?”
“Okay, then. See you tomorrow.” He hung up.
Evan closed her cell phone and set it down on the desktop.
“ Thanks, Father? ”
Evan swung around in her chair to see Julia leaning against the doorframe.
“Jesus—you startled me.”
Julia raised an eyebrow.
Evan shrugged. “That was Tim—my, um….”
Julia crossed her arms. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah. He's going to pick Stevie up for me and drop her off here. I, uh, asked him to stay for lunch.”
Julia nodded. “Lunch. Okay.”
Evan was embarrassed. “Look, I know this is bizarre—but Tim is more than my…. He's really a friend—a good friend. We sort of raised each other.” She hesitated. “He wants to meet you.”
Julia looked amused. “He knows about me?”
Evan stared at the floor. Then she stole a look up at Julia, who plainly was trying hard not to laugh.
“You're enjoying this.”
Julia nodded. “Immensely.”
“Well thank god my angst can serve some useful purpose.”
Julia did laugh, then. And Evan smiled, too, although she was trying hard no to.
“How'd your call go?”
Julia walked into the room and sat down in an upholstered chair next to the desk.
“Okay.” She picked at a stray thread that dangled from the sleeve of the lightweight fleece jacket Evan had lent her. The snow had stopped, but it was chilly in the house. “I also talked with Andy.”
Andy? Evan was shocked.
“How did that happen?”
“I called him.”
“And you got him?”
“Of course.” Julia's tone was sharp. “Why wouldn't I? He's in Canada —not on Mars.”
Evan didn't say anything.
Julia sighed and closed her eyes. “I'm sorry.”
Julia reached out and laid a hand on Evan's knee. “No, it's not. You didn't deserve that.”
Evan was silent again. She moved her hand over to cover Julia's. “What did you talk about?”
Julia shook her head. “Nothing. Everything.” She looked up to meet Evan's eyes. “He's going to stop in New York on his way back to Washington on Friday. We're going to ‘talk' about our situation.”
Evan nodded. The thought of Julia with Andy made her half sick with worry—and dread.
“Where are you meeting him?”
“At my office. He'll only have about 45 minutes—then he'll take the train back to D.C.”
Evan's wheels were turning. “What time will you have to be back in the city?”
“I'll need to be there by noon for a lunch meeting. Andy will be there between 2:00 and 2:30—if his flight from Toronto is running on time.”
This might just work out, Evan thought. She could drop Stevie off at Dan's office on her way.
She leaned forward in her chair. “I know this will be difficult—but it needs to happen.”
Julia leaned forward, too. “I hope you're right.”
Evan kissed her, and reached up to stroke the side of her face. “I know I am.”
In fact, she was never less certain of anything—but she knew it was a risk they had to take.
Early that evening, Evan got a text message from Ben Rush.
Did some poking around and made an interesting discovery about Ms. Yellow Skis.
Evan quickly typed back.
Where are you?
In short order, Ben wrote back.
Reston . Will call you in 5 minutes.
Julia was upstairs showering, but Evan carried her phone out to the back porch just to be certain she wouldn't overhear their conversation.
In exactly five minutes, her phone rang.
“Talk to me.”
“So, it turns out that your girlfriend, the Black Widow, went on a little shopping spree the other day.”
“Meaning that she dropped about a yard—and—a—half at Willis Ski & Snowboard in Fairfax . Care to guess what she bought?”
Evan drummed her fingers on the porch rail. “I'm curious about something.”
Ben laughed. “I was sure you would be.”
“Why did she do this herself? I mean—why not job it out. Make it harder to trace?”
“Fuck you, Reed! What makes you think she didn't job it out? I just happen to be very good at my work.”
Evan snorted. “My apologies, Ben. I'm sorry I underestimated you.”
“That's more like it.”
“So who actually made the purchase for her?”
“Beats the fuck outta me—some joker named… Hang on a minute.” She could hear him fumbling around with some papers. “Here it is. ‘D. Nemo.' Ring any bells?”
Evan thought she was going to vomit.
“Are you serious?”
“Yep. That's the name. It was an online purchase—but the stuff shipped to Sheridan 's office in Reston .”
Christ almighty. “Yeah. I'm familiar with the name. Thanks, Ben. Great work.”
“No problem. Oh—and, Reed?”
“Thanks for the little present you left hanging in my bathroom. Not .”
“What's wrong, Ben? Not your size?”
“Fuck you! I had a date last night, and she wasn't any too pleased when she came back from taking a piss.”
“ Oopies. So sorry, Ben.”
He huffed. “I repeat—fuck you.”
“I'm sure you'll find a way to make me pay for it when you bill my ass.”
“Count on it, love chunks.”
He hung up.
Jesus, Evan thought. Now she knew for certain that Margo was in this with both feet.
But what was she going to do about it?
Everything was starting to move fast now. And that worried Evan. She needed to slow things down. Get Andy and Margo to relax and take their jumpy feet off the accelerator. She needed to buy some time. And she needed to buy it now , before Julia got caught in the their crosshairs again.
She'd have to play her hand exactly right on Friday. It was shaping up to be her only shot at turning this mess around. She had no idea how Julia would react to her performance, but she didn't have a choice. The less Julia knew in advance, the better.
She walked back inside the house. There was no sound of water running. That meant that Julia was out of the shower, and would likely be back downstairs soon. Dinner was already in the oven, and would be ready within the hour. She glanced over at the refrigerator. She still had a good bottle of champagne left over from her birthday—Dan gave it to her, jokingly, in a big box with a bottle of Don Julio tequila and a note that read, ‘For old time's sake.'
Evan had long since re—gifted the tequila—but the champagne was something she'd been saving for the right occasion.
Since she thought there was even money on the likelihood that Julia wouldn't be talking with her again after Friday, she decided that tonight was the right time to open the bottle of Veuve.
She got out two glasses, and then walked into the living room to lay the fire.
With any luck, their last night alone together would be one for the memory books. She hoped so—especially since she had no confidence that she'd ever get a shot at another one.
After dinner, the two women lounged on the floor in front of the big stone fireplace, and drank the last of the bottle of champagne.
Julia had her arms wrapped around Evan, who sat propped against her chest. Stevie's red throw was spread out across their legs.
Evan's fire was burning well. She'd built it earlier, using an assortment of cherry and apple wood logs that she'd salvaged from trees that had fallen during an ice storm two years ago. The slow—burning hardwood filled the room with warmth and a heady aroma that was mildly intoxicating. It smelled like winter and spring, all at the same time.
Julia took a sip from her champagne glass, and set it back on the coffee table beside them.
“I could get used to this.”
Evan smiled. “It is pretty good hooch, isn't it?”
Julia kissed the back of her head. “Yes, it is—but I wasn't referring to the champagne.”
Julia's arms tightened around her. “No.”
“I think maybe you knew that,” Julia said.
Julia kissed her head again. “I'm going to miss you when I leave on Friday.”
Evan closed her eyes. “Me, too.” More than you know .
“Come and see me in New York ?”
“I will if you want me to,” Evan said. She didn't like the direction this conversation was taking. She wanted to stay in the moment, and not look beyond tomorrow.
“Of course I'll want you to.” She felt Julia's mouth close to her ear. “Why wouldn't I?”
The hot breath against her neck was making it hard for her to think straight.
“Oh…I don't know. Outta sight—” Ohmygod. Julia's hands were traveling now. “Outta mind.”
She felt a gentle nip on her earlobe. Julia's warm hands were beneath her shirt now. She licked and kissed along the side of Evan's neck. “Outta what? ” Her voice was low and husky.
Jesus god. Evan pulled free and pivoted within the circle of Julia's arms.
“My mind ,” she muttered against her mouth. “I'm outta my mind.”
Julia kissed her back as they dropped to the floor together. “Then we're both crazy.”
She got no argument from Evan as they quickly lost themselves in each other—and in the sweet, hypnotic heat of the fire.
It was nearly 1:45 by the time Tim arrived at Evan's house with Stevie in tow. The big redhead unloaded Stevie's oversized blue duffel bag from the back of his Subaru wagon. Evan realized that this probably was a bad omen—hinting at the fact that Stevie hadn't done any laundry in a while.
Then Stevie was in front of her, smiling, and the two of them hugged each other without reservation. Evan stroked her daughter's blonde head and smiled into her hair. She didn't want to let go of her. The weeks since she'd last seen her felt like a couple of lifetimes.
“Hi, mom,” Stevie said into her sweater. “What's for lunch?”
Evan laughed. “I missed you, too.”
Stevie drew back and shrugged. “I tried to get Father Tim to stop at Dunkin' Donuts—but he said no.” She looked over her shoulder at Tim, who was now just behind her.
Tim reached around Stevie to kiss Evan on the cheek. “Yeah—I told her that one munchkin in the car was enough.”
Stevie sighed and rolled her eyes. “He's hilarious.”
Evan swatted her on the butt. “Show some respect.”
“I am showing respect. You'd just tell him to fuck off.”
Evan looked at Tim. He shrugged. “Hard to argue with that,” he said.
Behind them, Evan heard the low sound of Julia's laughter. She stepped aside to make the introductions.
“Stevie and Tim, I'd like you to meet my very good friend, Julia Donne. Julia, this freakishly tall person is Tim Donovan—one of my oldest and best friends. I figure that the two of you will soon see eye—to—eye on most things—literally, if not metaphorically.” She looped an arm around Stevie's shoulders. “And this vertically—challenged victim of Tourette's Disorder is my daughter, Stephanie. As you have, no doubt, already determined—she takes after her father.”
Julia smiled and stepped forward from the doorway.
She shook hands with Tim, who seemed to be looking her over with surprise and admiration. Evan felt irrationally pleased by that.
Then Julia turned to face Stevie. It was the moment of truth.
“Hi,” Julia said. “I'm really happy to meet you. And I confess that I like donuts, too—so, selfishly, I wish you had stopped for some on the way.” She held out her hand. Stevie took it without hesitation. She smiled shyly at Julia—then looked at Evan with a raised eyebrow.
Evan looked back and forth between Tim and Stevie. They both stood there, staring back at her and not speaking.
All that was missing from this goddamned scene was an overlay of cricket noises.
What the fuck?
She sighed. “Okay. Let's just get it out there and move on.” She stepped back toward the open door and took Julia's hand in hers. “Yes—she's my girlfriend . Okay? Any other questions or concerns will have to wait until lunch. I'm starving, and I'd rather not stand out here in the cold any longer.”
Julia looked stunned—but Tim and Stevie both started laughing.
The curious foursome made its way from the yard into the house.
Once inside, Stevie dropped her backpack on the floor of the foyer and announced that she needed something to drink. She pulled off her jacket and made a beeline for the kitchen.
Tim dropped the bulging duffel bag near the bottom of the steps and turned to face the two women.
“Well. At least we don't have to kill time talking around anything.” He smiled at Julia, who still seemed nonplussed.
“I guess not,” she said.
Tim laid a hand on Julia's shoulder. “Don't worry—I'm used to her unorthodox style.”
Julia smiled at him. “You're a few steps ahead of me when it comes to that, I guess.”
Evan held out both hands. “ Hello? In the same room and standing right in front of you….”
Tim looked over at her. “Deal with it, Evangeline. You're the author of this little drama.”
Evan started to unleash a stream of expletives, but Julia quickly clamped a hand across her mouth.
“Stop it—he's a priest , for crying out loud.”
Evan pulled Julia's hand down. “Oh really? And what tipped you off? The dog collar?”
Tim laughed. “I think I like this woman, Evan.”
Evan looked back at him. “Now there's a newsflash. You always were a sucker for blue eyes and a good set of gams.”
Tim shrugged. “I am still a man.”
Evan leaned closer to him and lowered her voice. “Don't worry, Timbo—I won't tell anyone.”
Stevie walked back into the living room carrying a can of Diet Coke. “What are you all still doing in the foyer? You look like you're expecting a tornado or something.”
Evan rolled her eyes and started toward the kitchen, stopping to grab Stevie by the arm. “Come on—you can help me carry the food in.” The two of them disappeared into the back of the house.
Julia still looked slightly shell—shocked, so Tim took her by the arm and lead her toward the sofa. “Come on, Julia—let's sit down and get better acquainted while Evan gets the food up.”
Julia just nodded, and followed Tim into the living room.
Tim sat down in the armchair next to the couch. “So, I know a little bit about your—situation.”
“My situation? ” Julia asked.
Tim demurred. “Well. I'm reluctant to run the risk of inaccurately characterizing your relationship with Evan,” he said. “What I mean to say is that I know a bit about how the two of you met—and a little bit about the complicated dynamics of your personal situation.”
Julia raised an eyebrow. “You should be a politician.”
He smiled. “Don't think it hasn't occurred to me. The wardrobe choices are a lot better.”
She smiled at him. From the kitchen, they could hear the muffled voices of Evan and Stevie, laughing and arguing. Julia dropped her gaze.
“It's true that I am still married to Andrew Townsend—but we've been estranged for some time now. This—this thing with Evan…this relationship—it wasn't planned. For either of us.” She looked up and met Tim's eyes. “It just happened. And I'm not sorry it did.”
He reached out to lay a hand on her forearm. “You don't owe me any explanation.”
“Yes I do. You matter to Evan. I want you to know that I'm not using her—or leading her on.”
Tim looked back at her for a moment without speaking. “I believe you,” he said. He inclined his head toward the kitchen. “She's a handful. You sure you've got the stamina to keep up with her?”
“I honestly don't know. I hope so.”
Tim nodded. “Well in that case, my best advice is to tie a knot and hang on.”
She smiled at him. “I had planned to do just that—but thanks for the heads—up.”
In the kitchen, Stevie was helping Evan plate some pre—sliced cold cuts and raw veggies.
“What's with the rabbit food, mom? I was really hoping for something home—cooked.”
Evan handed her a plastic container. “Quit complaining. I got this for you at Wawa.”
Stevie snatched the container out of her mother's hands. “No way! Is this a Hot Turkey Shorti?”
“It's most of one—you have to supply your own bread. I didn't want it to get soggy.”
“Sweet.” Stevie looked up at her hopefully. “But you'll still cook something tonight, right?”
“I might be persuaded—if you don't do or say anything to embarrass me.”
“Oh,” Stevie set the container down on the counter top. “Right. Not in front of your ‘girlfriend.' Jeez, mom—when did that happen?”
Evan crossed her arms. “It hasn't ‘happened.' It is happening.” She watched Stevie for a minute, trying to gauge her reaction to the revelation. Stevie looked calm enough—unmoved, even. “So, are you okay with this?”
Evan exhaled. “Yes. This. Julia. Me. You and me. You and we . All of it.”
Stevie picked up a carrot stick and bit it in half. “Sure. Why wouldn't I be?”
“Are you being serious?”
“Yeah. I mean—it's about time, mom. You haven't even gone out with anybody since Cruella.”
Stevie meant Liz.
They actually met once—accidentally—last spring when Evan took Stevie to a concert at Wolf Trap. She'd dropped Stevie off at Dan's apartment that night—then reconnected with Liz much later at a bar. Evan remembered how awkward she felt, introducing Stevie to Liz—who was hardly discreet about the nature of her interest in Evan. She shook her head at the recollection of how mortified and dirty she felt—how shallow and exposed.
“Julia's not like Liz,” Evan explained.
Stevie rolled her eyes. “No kidding, mom. She's nice —and gorgeous.”
Evan was surprised. “You think so?”
“Duh? Now who's not being serious?”
Evan shrugged. “I guess she is.”
Stevie was looking at her with an amused expression. “How long will she be staying here?”
“Only until Friday morning.” She hesitated. “Is that okay with you?”
Stevie nodded. “Does dad know?”
Stevie nodded again.
Evan thought about how to answer. She decided that less was more. “Yes and no. Honey, you need to know that Julia is married to Senator Townsend.”
Stevie's eyes grew wide. “No way!”
Evan sighed. “Way.”
“Yes. For real.”
Stevie chewed on this detail for a moment. “Wow. Am I going to, like, see your photo on the cover of People magazine or anything?”
“I certainly hope not.”
“Does Senator Townsend know?”
Evan nodded. “But he and Julia are separated right now.”
“Because of you?”
“No. Not because of me.”
Stevie looked toward the living room. She lowered her voice. “Does Father Tim know?”
Evan looked over her shoulder, and cautiously leaned toward her, making a grand ceremony of whispering into her ear.
Stevie drew back and socked her on the arm. “You suck .”
Evan laughed at her. “So I've been told.”
“Mom—that's just gross. ”
“You said it—not me.”
Stevie looked up at the ceiling. “Why'd I have to be the one tagged with the lesbo mother?”
“Beats me. Luck of the draw, kiddo.”
Stevie sighed. “Do you really like her?”
Evan was trying hard not to blush. It wasn't easy. “Yeah. I do.”
“That's okay, then.” Stevie picked up the tray of cold deli meats. “Let's eat.”
She turned around and walked back toward the dining room.
Evan stood there and watched her go, feeling like she'd just won the lottery—twice.
The conversation during lunch bounced around from politics (Stevie had joined the debate team at Emma Willard, and her fall break assignment was to research the pros and cons of health care reform), to religion (Tim was an aficionado of William James—and was thrilled to discover that Julia's firm had exclusive North American publishing rights to his works), to yesterday's surprise snowfall (Evan was pissed about already having to dig her 12—year—old Jeep out of the garage at the back of the property). The four made short work of the platters of cut—up meats and cheeses. Stevie even generously offered to share part of her Turkey Shorti sandwich with Julia—and Evan was still marveling over that development. She wondered, in passing, if she needed to start looking around for giant seedpods. It wasn't like Stevie to be so generous—not when it came to food, anyway. Clearly, the teenager was making an effort to reach out to her mom's new ‘girlfriend.'
Julia seemed to notice this, too—and more than once, she met Evan's eyes with a quiet smile.
For his part, Tim took everything in stride—and genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself. He certainly missed no opportunity to make Evan twist in the wind—but Evan suspected that Julia actually surprised the big man. She guessed that once Tim was able to separate the woman before him from his preconceived ideas about her—he was able to appreciate her for who she really was. And there was so much more to Julia than her status as the estranged wife of a United States Senator.
Yeah. A lot more , Evan thought as she regarded the beautiful woman who sat across the table from her, laughing at something Stevie just said.
The sound of Tim clearing his throat caught her attention. She looked over at him with a guilty expression.
“I was saying ,” Tim repeated. “Is there any way to coerce you into making some coffee?”
“Sure.” Evan pushed back her chair. “Coming right up.”
Tim stood up, too. “How about I help you?”
Together, they collected plates and silverware before heading into the kitchen.
Julia and Stevie remained behind, continuing their conversation about the questionable popularity of the entire “Twilight” series of books and films.
“I just don't get all that Mormon jazz,” Stevie was saying, as Evan pushed open the door into the kitchen. Evan shook her head and smiled.
Behind her, Tim pushed the swinging door closed.
Evan suddenly felt like she'd been caught smoking cigarettes beneath the bleachers at school.
Tim set his stack of plates down and leaned against the countertop, facing her.
Here it comes, Evan thought.
“So,” he began. “Not what I expected.”
“No?” Evan asked.
“No. Not even close.”
“I'm sure you've seen photos of her before.”
“I'm not talking about how she looks —although may I just say , wow?”
Tim laughed. “No—what I meant was that she's just so much more….”
“Poised?” Evan suggested.
“Yeah, that. But really—just— more .”
He nodded. “More. Isn't that how she first hit you?”
Evan thought about it. “No. I'd have to say that how she first ‘hit' me was more like having a ton of bricks dropped on my ass.”
Tim smiled. “I can see that.”
“I bet you can, you old letch.” She started setting up the coffee maker.
“Hey.” Tim held up a hand. “Hold off. I've never once resented you for any of your girlfriends—until right now.”
“High praise, Tim.”
“Yes, it is.” He smiled smugly. “Stevie seems to like her.”
“You think so?” Evan took three mugs down out of an overhead cabinet. She tried to sound casual.
He nodded. “I'd say so. She's enough like you and Dan that she doesn't pull any punches. If she didn't like her, I think you'd know it.”
“I guess that's true.”
“So, what happens now?”
He sighed. “With you and Julia. Where are you going with all of this? I'd assume that having her here to meet Stevie is a pretty big step?”
“It's a step,” she agreed. “How big it ends up being remains to be seen.”
“What about her husband?”
Evan was growing impatient with this line of questions. “What about him?”
“Come on, Evan. Does he know about you two? Is he going to step aside?” He paused briefly. “Are you?”
Evan lifted her hand and made rapid slashing motions across the base of her neck. “You wanna give the inquisition a rest, Tim? We're not in the confessional right now—and I'm not really feeling the urge to wax prosaic about my future relationship prospects.”
“Okay, okay. Forget I asked. But, Evan—I know you. And there's no way you'd be this far down any road if you only saw diminishing returns.”
“Is that so?”
“Yeah, that's so. And you know it, too.”
She sighed. “I'll keep that in mind.”
“Just do me—and yourself—a favor, and be careful. I'm not sure what all is going on here, but it's clear that you're involved in something—ominous.”
She looked at him in amazement. “Just how in the hell did you come up with that idea?”
“As much as I'd like to pretend that I'm psychic, I have to confess that Dan called me.”
What the fuck? “ Dan called you? When?” Evan was furious.
Tim shrugged. “Two days ago. He was pretty bent out of shape after you met with him on Monday.”
“ Jesus Christ! So he calls my fucking priest? ”
Tim reached out and laid a calming hand on her shoulder. “No, Evan. He called your friend .”
She stood there fuming for a moment, while she tried to collect her thoughts. What the hell was Dan up to with this bullshit? It had to be about Julia. Goddamn it to hell. He was jealous . She knew it. I happened any time she showed serious interest in someone.
Not, she reasoned, that she showed serious interest in anyone all that often.
She sighed. Maybe he really was just concerned about her acting like some out—of—control conspiracy—mongering whack—job?
Great. She hated it when she was forced to pull back and think about things rationally .
Well, it was all about to get a lot worse. After Friday, Dan would have the guys with the butterfly nets all spooled—up and ready to haul her ass off. This was all working out just fine .
First she'd lose Julia—then she'd lose her job and her credibility. It probably wouldn't be long until Dan tried to take Stevie away, too. Then what would she be left with?
From the dining room, the silvery sound of Julia's laughter floated in above the noise of the coffee maker. Evan dropped her head and stared at her shoes.
Julia would be safe and alive. That's what she'd be left with. And then Evan could return to her life of self—imposed solitude.
Julia will be safe—and I'll be alone, she thought.
It wasn't perfect, but she'd find a way to live with it.
Just like she always did.
It felt to Evan like they'd been playing this damn game for about six hours.
She stole another glance at her watch.
No—it wasn't that bad. Yet. But it sure as shit felt like it.
It was Stevie's turn— again —and Evan couldn't believe the level of intensity her daughter was applying to this. Stevie loved games—always had. That amazed Evan, because she never had the patience to enjoy them—or the inclination to try and acquire it.
She looked across the table at Julia, who was wearing an expression that mirrored Stevie's. She was studying the board with textbook intensity. Watching her, Evan got a clear sense of what it must be like to face this woman across a boardroom table.
Not something, she realized, that she'd ever want to do.
Evan sat, tapping a tile against the tabletop. It was the fucking “z”— of course . She'd drawn it about five turns ago.
The board was filling up. There were precious few open spaces left. And Stevie wasn't helping. Evan had had just about enough of this.
“You planning to make a play during this life, kiddo?”
Stevie lifted her gaze and looked at her. “Jeez, mom. You got a train to catch or something?”
“No. I'd just like to wrap this up before my first Social Security checks start rolling in.”
Stevie rolled her eyes and looked back down at her row of tiles. “I'm not taking that long—just chill.”
“Chill?” Evan sat back. “You're kidding me, right? I think the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were finished in less time that this damn game is taking.”
Julia laughed. “Will you just relax? Go and make us all something to drink.”
Evan brightened up at that suggestion. Why not? It was after 4:00.
“Okay.” She pushed her chair back. “Whatcha want, kiddo?”
Stevie didn't lift her head. “A Mojito, please.”
“In your dreams , munchkin. Wanna make another selection?”
Stevie sighed. “Diet Coke.”
“That can happen.” She stood up and started for the kitchen.
Julia raised her eyes. “Hey? Aren't you going to ask me what I want?”
“Oh,” Evan said. “I already know what you want.”
Stevie looked back and forth between the two women—then sighed as she reached out to lay her tiles down on the board. “ Gross. Why don't you two get a room?”
Evan thumped her on the head as she passed by her chair.
“We have a room.”
Stevie shook her head, and started counting up her score. “Okay…that's five, six, 11, 12, 13—and triple word score makes 39.”
Evan stopped and turned around. “ Thirty—nine? Are you kidding me?” She looked at the board. “What the hell is a fakir? ”
Stevie met her gaze. “Are you challenging me?”
Evan sighed. “Oh—the two of you royally suck. I don't know why I agreed to this.”
She walked on into the kitchen to make the drinks. Behind her, she could hear Julia and Stevie laughing.
In her wildest dreams, she never would have imagined that the two of them would get along as well as they were. It was incredible. Surreal. What were the odds?
And now that she'd experienced it—how would she ever adjust to life without it?
She yanked open the door to the freezer, and filled Stevie's glass with ice. Rhetorical questions like this didn't accomplish anything . They just made her feel cranky and hopeless.
And she didn't need any more incentive to be cranky. Tomorrow would take care of that. Tomorrow, she'd go and do what she had to do. She'd take care of business —because, after all, that's what everything came down to at the end.
And after she took care of business? Well. She'd have plenty of time to sit alone and sort through the detritus of her life.
She grabbed a bottle of Seghesio and two glasses. Why not lend some elegance to life's misfortunes? Isn't that what Jane Austen said? Hell. She could deliver a credible enough imitation of Mr. Bennet, and sit quietly in her study, sifting through the ashes that filled the coal bin of her life—searching for stray diamonds. They were there, certainly. Some she'd made—and some that came her way just because they did.
There was plenty of time for all of that. Plenty.
Right now, though? Right now, Stevie was calling her because it was her turn to play. It was her turn—and she had nothing to put down that would add up to any kind of winning score. Not here, and not anyplace else in her life, either.
She loaded all the drinks onto a wooden tray and turned back toward the dining room.
Julia raised her eyebrows when she saw the bottle of wine.
“Are we celebrating something?” she asked.
Evan handed Stevie her coke.
“You might say that.”
“What's that, mom?” Stevie asked. “You finally come up with a way to play that “z” you've been waving around for the last hour?”
“Smartass,” Evan said, as she reclaimed her seat. “I knew I shoulda taken that morning after pill.”
Stevie just laughed at her. This was not a new exchange between the two of them. “You know what hindsight is worth?”
“In your case? About sixty—grand in tuition payments—and never being able to watch what I want on TV.”
Stevie stuck her tongue out at Evan. “It sucks being you.”
“Sometimes it does.”
They smiled at each other.
Evan sat forward and got serious about groaning her way through another turn. This was really hopeless.
Then she saw something. No way? She checked her letters. Then checked them again.
Well, whattaya know?
With great deliberation, she laid out her tiles, and did her best imitation of Stevie.
“That's ten, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19— and triple word score makes 57.”
She sat back, curled her hand in front of her mouth, and blew across her nails.
Julia and Stevie sat staring at the board.
“You have got to be kidding me with this?” Stevie was hunched over the board, recounting the point values of the tiles.
“ Zygote? ” Julia asked, with a raised eyebrow.
Evan winked at her, as she poured herself a big glass of wine. “What can I tell you? I'm a sucker for cleavage .”
Julia gave her a dramatic eye roll, but had a hard time concealing her smile.
Maybe, Evan thought, these damn games really were okay—once you got the hang of them.
She smiled back at Julia.
Even losing wasn't half bad, if you had a good time getting there.
To be continued.
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