Disclaimers: None. All of the characters are mine.
Violence/Sex: No violence. This story does involve an implied, 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—but not as much as usual. I've had my meds balanced, and my therapist says I'm really doing a lot better.
I welcome your feedback, and can be reached at email@example.com .
Copyright Ann McMan, September 2011. All rights reserved. This story, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any format without the prior express permission of the author.
Going to a party was the last thing she felt like doing.
Well. Maybe having her fingernails pulled out one-by-one with rusty pliers would actually be the last thing. But going to a party— any kind of party—had to be next in line right after that.
And a fucking costume party?
Who in the hell besides Annette Funicello threw a costume party to celebrate their 60 th birthday?
Rizzo, that's who. Born on Halloween—and perpetually enamored of All-Things-Dead. Rizzo was famous for her macabre masked balls. And this year, she promised to make it one for the record books.
She sighed and looked out the tiny window next to her seat. She hadn't been anyplace in months. And this damn trip was costing her a fortune. But Rizzo was her best friend, and she had been planning this shindig for nearly a year—long before Grace's relationship with Denise hit the skids.
Hit the skids? Hell. Roared off a goddamn cliff was more like it. You had to hand it to Denise. She didn't fuck around. When she decided that it was over—it was over . Capital O.
That was ten months ago. And those had been ten agonizing months for Grace. Ten months of trying to fit the broken shards of her life together into something that halfway resembled a human shape.
It was amazing. If you used enough duct tape and bailing twine, you could patch yourself up well enough to walk around without a limp. It was the ego that was harder to fix. And this time, it was a tossup to determine which part of her took the biggest hit—her ego or her heart.
It was a classic setup. An old standby. A golden oldie. A Blue Plate Special. One Number Six.
She got dumped for a younger woman.
And it got even better. She got dumped for a younger woman with an indifferent IQ, a head full of hair product, and a perky set of store-bought boobs.
But those were the breaks, right? The universe giveth, and the universe taketh away. The Ten Thousand Things rose and fell. And that was mostly okay—unless, of course, you happened to be poor schmuck standing in the cross hairs when all Ten Thousand of the goddamn Things came crashing down to earth and nailed your ass.
There was a ding, and above her head, the fasten seat belt light illuminated. They were coming into Phoenix. They had 45 minutes on the ground, then the flight would continue on to San Francisco. She glanced at her watch. It wasn't really worth deplaning—and since she didn't have to change seats, she decided just to stay on the airplane and enjoy the solitude.
For once, the landing was uneventful. The flight was only half full, so it didn't take long for the rest of the passengers to collect their bags and head out into the heat. Grace leaned her head against the window frame and watched the bored-looking baggage handlers toss suitcases onto the conveyor like they were sacks of mulch.
It could always be worse , she thought. I could have to do that for a living.
Suddenly, her job teaching English literature to bratty, self-important Millennials seemed like more of a gift than a curse.
“Excuse me, would you mind if I took this seat?”
Grace looked up to see a tallish woman wearing a tailored business suit standing in the aisle next to her row of seats. She was holding a book and a briefcase.
Grace stared at her stupidly for a moment before she realized that the woman was politely waiting for her to move her shit off the seat.
“God, I'm sorry,” she said, collecting her notebooks and lesson plans. “Life at the center of the universe—you know?”
The tall woman smiled and sat down. “I apologize for disturbing you. I really wanted an exit row seat for the extra leg room—and all the other ones look taken.” She gestured toward the seats across the aisle. They all were filled with duffle bags or other personal belongings. “I thought I'd try to move up before they boarded the passengers for the next flight.” She stowed her black leather briefcase under the seat ahead of her. It was a nice one. Monogrammed. “I guess we had the same idea,” she added.
“What idea?” Grace asked.
“Staying on the plane during the layover?”
“Oh, that.” Grace shrugged. “Ever been to Phoenix?”
The woman laughed. “Once—under duress. I swore I'd never do it again voluntarily.”
“Wise woman. Unless, of course, you're into video poker—in which case, you're missing a golden opportunity.”
The woman pulled a small pair of reading glasses out of a sleeve inside her briefcase. “To do what?”
“I dunno. Squander your winnings on riotous living?”
“Unfortunately, I'm not much into riotous living. Nor am I very lucky, as a rule.”
“That makes two of us.”
The woman looked at her for a moment, and then extended her hand. “I'm Abbie.”
Grace shook it. “Grace. Also unlucky at cards.” And love , she thought.
“Where are you headed, Grace?”
Grace smiled at her. “Same place as you, I'd imagine.”
“Do you live there?”
Grace shook her head. “Nope. Never been there, in fact.”
“Really? Is this a business trip?”
“No. Pleasure. I'm visiting an old friend.”
“Sometimes it is.” The dark-haired woman put on her glasses. For some reason, they made her look even more attractive. She glanced down at Grace's pile of papers. “Are you a teacher?”
Grace shrugged. “So they tell me.”
“What do you teach?”
Grace sighed. “Right now, I'm teaching four sections of ‘ Beowulf for Cretins.'”
Abbie laughed out loud. “I guess that's code for Freshman English?”
“You might say that.”
“I think I just did.”
“Oh really?” She tapped her fingers against her ear. “I must have a trace of tinnitus.”
“No, from straining to hear myself think.”
Abbie smiled. “Are you sure you're not a night club comic?”
“Trust me, “ Grace replied. “No one would pay to listen to anything I have to say.”
“Except maybe the parents of your Cretins?”
“Oh they don't really have a choice.”
Grace shook her head. “Nope. For their kids, it's either college—or forced internment in a gulag.”
Abbie raised an eyebrow. “Just where do you teach—Siberia?”
“Ah.” Abbie glanced down at her feet. “That would explain the crampons.”
Grace laughed. “Yes. I was amazed that TSA didn't confiscate them.”
“Well, things have grown slack since the tenth anniversary of 9/11.”
“So true.” Grace looked at her. Damn. With her pulled-back dark hair, intelligent gray eyes, and killer smile, the woman really was gorgeous. She was probably in her late 40s—classy, stylish. A great set of legs.
And totally out of her league.
When she could, she stole a glance at her ring finger.
Fuck. There it was—the inevitable band of gold.
“Well,” she said. “I suppose I should let you do whatever it was you intended to do when you decided to remain on the plane.”
Abbie looked down at the book on her lap.
Grace followed her gaze. It was a bookmarked copy of Boccaccio's De Mulieribus Claris . Jesus Christ. So she was brilliant, too. Why was the universe so unkind?
“I suppose so.” Abbie sounded almost disappointed. “I'm sorry. I'm not normally such a chatterbox.”
“Oh, please,” Grace extended a hand. “Don't apologize. I thought I was distracting you .”
“Well, if you were, it was a distraction I welcomed.”
They smiled at each other a little awkwardly. Like teenagers who had just been introduced at a sock hop.
A flight attendant who was making her way up the aisle from the rear of the aircraft stopped next to their row of seats.
“Would either of you ladies like something to drink?”
Grace looked up at her in surprise. “Can you do that?”
The flight attendant made a grand display of looking over both shoulders. “As long as you don't tell anyone,” she whispered.
Grace looked at Abbie. “Do you drink?”
Abbie nodded. “Whenever possible.”
“Okay,” Grace said. “Bring us two of your most indifferent, overpriced wines.”
The attendant smiled and nodded. “Red or white?”
“Red,” they replied simultaneously.
The attendant continued on toward the front galley of the airplane.
“Wow,” Grace shook her head. “I think my tinnitus is worse—I'm hearing echoes now.”
“That wasn't an echo—it was an affirmation.”
“Oh. No wonder I didn't recognize it.”
“Really? I guess it's contagious.”
Abbie nodded. “It hasn't been one of my better years. But I think things are looking up.”
“Short term, or long term?”
“If I'm lucky, maybe both.”
“I thought you said you weren't lucky?” Grace smiled at her.
“I figure that sooner or later, the law of averages has to catch up with me.”
“True,” Grace said. “And failing that, there are rumored to be certain drug therapies that are efficacious.”
“You mean, at producing medically induced delusions?”
Grace nodded. “Of course. It's all the rage.”
Abbie sighed. “Nobody tells me anything.”
“Maybe you need to get out more?”
“Maybe I do.”
Grace was about to reply when the flight attendant approached them with a tray containing two plastic cups of wine.
“Here you go, ladies. On the house.” She handed them each a cup.
Grace looked up at her in surprise. “Really?”
“Yep. It looks like we're gonna be stuck here for a bit longer than 45 minutes. There are some bad storms rolling through the bay area—and they've pushed our departure back.”
Abbie looked concerned. “Do we need to get off the airplane?”
The flight attendant shook her head. “Not unless you get drunk and start swinging from the overhead bins.” She smiled at them. “Enjoy the wine.” She walked off.
Grace looked at Abbie. “I love Southwest.”
Abbie held up her cup and they clinked rims. “Me, too.”
Grace discreetly looked her beautiful companion up and down. Might as well torture myself a little more.
“So, if it's not too personal,” she asked. “Why have you had such a bad year?”
Abbie flexed the fingers on her left hand and stared at her lap for a moment without answering.
“I'm sorry,” Grace apologized. “I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable.”
Abbie met her eyes. “No. It's okay. I'm not uncomfortable because of your question—I'm uncomfortable because of my answer.”
“Is it? Funny. From where I sit, it just feels pathetic.”
“Well, why not just put it out there and let me judge for myself?”
Abbie seemed to think about that.
“All right. Why not?” Abbie set her cup of wine down on the tray table and half turned in her seat so she could cross her legs. Grace had to fight not to stare at them. They really were things of beauty.
“I lost my husband to heart disease eighteen months ago, and I've been struggling with how his death should change the way I live. That's really what this trip is about for me—figuring things out. Making choices.”
Grace was stunned, and moved, by Abbie's honesty. She struggled with how to respond.
“I can't imagine why you'd find that pathetic?”
“Ah. That's because you don't know what the choices are.”
“Fair enough.” Grace shook her head. “And I thought I was on god's shit list because I have to go to a damn costume party.”
Abbie smiled at her. “Tis the season, I suppose.”
“That it is.”
“What's your costume?”
Grace raised an eyebrow. “You don't really expect me to tell you, do you?”
Abbie shrugged. “I don't see why not. I more or less just showed you what's lurking behind mine.”
“You're wearing a costume?”
“Of course. That's why my choices are complicated.”
“I begin to see now why you wanted to be seated in the exit row.”
Grace felt her pulse rate begin to accelerate. “I'm not really sure what we're talking about.”
“Choices. Costumes.” Abbie smiled. “And emergency exits.”
Grace was beginning to feel like she needed to make use of one, before she made a fool of herself.
“Right. Okay—I'm going as a Greek philosopher.”
Grace held up her hands. “Take your pick.”
“They're really not interchangeable.”
“They are when you shop at Party City.”
“But since you asked—I was thinking about Demosthenes.”
“An interesting choice. Why?”
“Because to pull it off, I only need a toga and a mouthful of pebbles. It greatly simplified packing for this trip.”
“But won't the pebbles make it difficult to talk?”
Grace nodded with enthusiasm. “See? I knew you'd get it.”
Abbie rolled her eyes. “Cheater.”
“Not really. I hate talking to strangers.”
Abbie sucked in her cheek.
Grace blushed. “I mean—generally.”
Abbie took a sip from her cup of wine. “Lucky me.”
Grace sighed as her pulse rate took off again.
They both looked up when the flight attendant appeared again.
“Drink up, ladies. It looks like there was a break in the weather action, and we're going to start boarding in a few minutes. I'll be back shortly to collect your cups.” She walked on toward the rear of the aircraft.
Grace and Abbie looked at each other.
Grace held up her cup. “How about a toast?”
“Okay.” Abbie followed suit.
“To having what we do become one with who we are.”
Abbie started at her for a moment before slowly clinking rims.
“You really are eloquent—pebbles, notwithstanding.”
“Only on Mondays and Wednesdays, from 9:05 to 10:10.”
Abbie looked at her watch. “It's 2:30—and today is Friday.”
“It is?” Grace looked at her own watch. “Well holy Grendel's Mother.”
“I guess nobody tells you anything, either?”
“You got that right, sister.”
They finished their wine just as the first passengers started to board. As she fastened her seatbelt, Grace decided that maybe flying out for this party wasn't such a bad idea, after all.
Rizzo's birthday shindig was being held at the South End Rowing Club on Jefferson Street—a landmark in the Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood, and a stone's throw from the Fort Mason cultural arts complex. It was a perfect venue for a party, with beautiful views of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, and a cavernous, wind-sheltered sundeck.
Rizzo promised that the guest list would be small—only twenty or thirty people—and she further insisted that Grace wouldn't have to worry about “blending in” because everyone would be in costume.
But when Rizzo “insisted,” it was best just to capitulate and go along. She'd learned that one the hard way. Rizzo was hardcore. A tough-talking, straight-shooting, don't-blow-smoke-up-my-ass, truth-teller who had survived more horrors than the combined casts of a dozen Brian de Palma movies.
You didn't say “no” to Rizzo. Not without a good goddamn reason—and, in this case, Grace didn't have one. A candy-ass case of ennui just didn't count.
So here she was—feeling short and ridiculous in her blue-trimmed toga and sandals.
At least the damn outfit was uncomplicated. Some of the other ensembles on display were fantastic, jaw-dropping creations right out of an Edith Head catalog. Rizzo, herself, was unadorned. She insisted that, as the hostess and guest of honor, she had the prerogative to appear however she fucking well chose.
Nobody argued with her.
She worked the room like a pro, however, and made certain that everyone felt welcome—and that every empty hand was quickly filled with a fresh drink or a plate of hot food.
And she kept a watchful eye on Grace—making certain that she didn't drift off to any dark corners to brood or to hide from the rest of the crowd.
She knew Grace pretty well.
“Warner,” she'd say. “Get over here. I want you to meet some people.”
So she did. Countless people. A slew of names without faces, since most of them were wearing masks—or sporting so much cheap makeup it would be impossible to pick them out of a police lineup.
Maybe that was the point? Rizzo's guest lists tended to be pretty eclectic.
Later on, when the live music started, Grace seized the opportunity to sneak off the sundeck and meander down toward the water, where a flotilla of long boats was tied up in the small marina, and sea lions lazed about on the piers. The sun was setting, and the air rolling in across the bay was growing a lot colder. She knew she wouldn't be able to stay out here for very long. Her cheesy toga was too lightweight to offer much protection from the night air.
It really was beautiful. She could understand why Rizzo loved it here. Maybe she needed to make a change—get the hell out of Ohio and start over someplace new? Why not? There was nothing holding her there. Not now. Especially not her “career.” She liked her teaching job well enough. But colleges like Welles were a dime-a-dozen: self-important bastions of the liberal arts that offered upper-middle class white kids ivy-covered halls, small classes, and boutique majors—all for a tuition bill that would dwarf the sticker price on any new Lexus.
Change? Change could be a good thing. Why not move on and try to reinvent herself? She was still young enough to make a fresh start. She was….
“I thought that was you.”
Grace was so startled by the voice coming from just behind her that she nearly dropped her glass of wine. It sloshed all over her hand and splattered across the front of her toga.
“Shit!” She shook her hand off to try and disperse the red liquid.
“Oh, god—I'm sorry!” The voice was closer now.
Grace turned around to see that it was coming from— Bonnie Parker?
At least, she thought it was Bonnie Parker—the toy Tommy gun, the tweed suit, and the black beret were pretty big clues.
She looked lethal. And she looked hot as hell. In fact, she looked a lot like—Abbie.
“No way?” Grace said, looking her up and down. “Is that really you?”
Abbie smiled. “I think so. Small world, isn't it?”
“You know Rizzo?” Grace was stunned.
Abbie nodded. “We met in grad school at Chicago, about a hundred years ago. But we've always stayed in touch. I wouldn't miss a big event in her life like this one—not for the world.”
“I think I'm in shock.”
“I know what you mean. I saw you about thirty minutes ago, shortly after I arrived, and I've been trying to make my way over to you to say hello. But by the time I finally broke free from some other college pals, you had disappeared. I came outside to see the view, and saw you down here.” She gestured back toward the cook shack. “Frankly, I was also trying to escape the music.”
Strains of “Now That I Found You” drifted toward them.
Grace struggled to avoid the irony. “Not a big fan of bluegrass?” she asked, with a smile.
Abbie shrugged. “I can tolerate the instrumental parts, but the vocals make my teeth hurt.”
Grace stared at her for a moment—then shook her head. “I just can't believe we're both standing here at the same damn party. What are the odds?”
“I don't know,” Abbie looked smug. “I think I told you that the law of averages would catch up with me sooner or later.”
“I thought you were talking about wanting your luck to change?”
Abbie smiled at her. “That's exactly what I was talking about.”
“I'm not trying to be dense, but how on earth does this qualify?”
“Do you always underestimate yourself?”
Grace was completely flustered. She had no idea how to respond—so she didn't make any response. She just stood there. Stupidly.
Abbie gestured toward the front of her toga. “I'm so sorry I startled you—now you've got red wine stains all over the front of your costume.”
Grace looked down at it. “That's okay. If anyone asks, I'll just tell them I'm Julius Caesar.”
Abbie laughed. “Beware the Ides of March?”
Grace nodded. “Maybe my luck will change, too?”
“Maybe it already has.”
They stared at each other again.
“I'm not sure if…are you….” Grace didn't know how to finish her question.”
“Am I what?”
How was it possible for Abbie to be so goddamn calm? “Just exactly what kind of life changes are you talking about making?”
Abbie hefted the barrel of her Tommy gun before resting it against her shoulder. “I don't know—maybe I'll embrace a life of crime.”
“That's one way to blaze a trail.”
“Or maybe I'll embrace something else.”
“Losing your courage?” Grace asked.
“On the contrary,” Abbie replied. “I think I'm finding it.”
Grace could feel her pulse rate going haywire again.
“What are we really talking about, Abbie?”
“You're a friend of Rizzo's. You shouldn't have to ask me that.”
“Rizzo isn't gay.”
“No. But you are.”
Grace narrowed her eyes. “Does my toga zip on the wrong side or something?”
“Not that I can tell,” Abbie replied, looking her over.
“Then how in the hell would you know something like that about me?”
“Am I wrong?”
“I didn't say that.”
Abbie smiled. “Maybe I asked.”
“You asked about me?”
Abbie rolled her eyes.
No. Come on…you said you were married.”
“I was married.”
Grace still didn't get it. “And now?”
“Now I'm not married.”
“But you're curious?”
“You're not curious?”
“Well—curious about you , maybe. But not about this.”
Grace sighed. “I think I need another drink.”
Abbie smiled. “I can take care of that. Wait right here.”
Grace reached out and touched her on the arm. “Gimme the gun. I'll cover you.”
Abbie laughed and handed it over to her. “I didn't know this was hostile territory.”
“You can't be too careful.”
Abbie met her eyes. “Believe me when I tell you that you can.”
“Is that what this is about?”
“No. This is about getting you some more wine.” Abbie laid a hand on her forearm. “And maybe a jacket. You're freezing. Stay put. I'll be right back.”
Grace watched her walk back toward the cook shack. She was wearing a knit sweater and a tight tweed skirt. She looked a lot more like Faye Dunaway than Bonnie Parker.
Not that anyone would complain about that. The woman was hot.
Holy shit. This is so not happening , Grace thought. The last thing I need right now is to become somebody's goddamn science experiment.
When Abbie reached the steps that led up to the sundeck, she turned around and waved.
On the other hand—why the hell not? It's not like we'll ever run into each other again.
They spent the next hour sitting on a bench overlooking the water, watching the flicker of lights on the two bridges.
Grace learned a little bit more about Abbie. A very little bit. She lived in North Carolina, and had been married for six years before her husband died. They had no kids. For the last two years, she'd worked as the executive director of a nonprofit philanthropic group. She liked the work, but felt that she was ready for something different.
Grace wondered if her desire for “something different” helped explain why she was spending the better part of the evening sitting on a bench in the cold, trading witticisms with a stranger.
It was clear to her by now that Abbie was flirting with her—testing the waters. Hell. There was enough electricity flying back and forth between the two of them to light up one of those fucking bridges.
So what was she going to do about it? It couldn't go anyplace—that much was clear. They lived in different parts of the country—and for all practical purposes, she knew next to nothing about her.
But none of that mattered. That wasn't what this was about. This was about something that Grace rarely did—and hadn't done in over ten years. This was about what Rizzo liked to call “an overnight rental”—or at least it could be, if she played her cards right and didn't lose her nerve.
She shivered. The breeze off the water was like a blast from an open freezer door.
“You're cold.” Abbie shifted closer to her on the bench. Grace didn't mind.
“It's my own fault for picking such a ridiculous costume. I should've gone with my first choice.”
“Which was?” Abbie asked.
Grace looked at her. “Scooby Doo.”
“You find that amusing?”
She nodded. “It's hard to imagine you dressed up like a giant dog.”
“I don't see why? It would have had several advantages.”
Grace held up her hand and commenced ticking the advantages off on her fingers. “Well, first, there's the fur coat.”
Abbie nodded. “I can see where that would have been beneficial.”
“Second, there's the flea collar—very useful when you're traveling in warmer climates.”
Abbie looked dubious. “Okaaayyy.”
“Third, it would have allowed me to do things that I could never do dressed like this.”
Abbie looked intrigued—and suspicious. “Is that a fact?”
“Oh, yes. Absolutely.”
“What kinds of things, exactly?”
“Oh, you know…dog kinds of things.”
“ Dog kinds of things?”
“And what might those be?”
Grace had no idea where her newfound bravado was coming from, but she decided to run with it. “Do you need me to show you?”
Abbie took a long, slow breath. Jesus the woman was sexy as hell.
“I'll probably live to regret this—but, yes. Show me.”
Grace reached up and took hold of her face with both hands. Her skin felt soft and warm. With the small part of her brain that was thinking rationally, she wondered how it was possible for Abbie to be so goddamn warm when she was fighting to keep her own hands from shaking. As slowly as she could, she leaned forward until their faces were nearly touching. Abbie remained completely still, and made no effort to pull away. Their breath mingled on the night air as Grace hovered there. Then, in a flash, she stuck out her tongue and licked the tip of Abbie's nose. Just as quickly, she dropped her hands and sat back against the bench.
“That kind of thing,” she said.
Abbie looked incredulous. “Did you just lick me on the nose?”
“I can't believe you did that,” she said.
“Why not? You asked me to show you.”
Abbie shook her head. “All I can say is thank god you didn't get the Scooby Doo costume.”
“That bad, huh?”
“I guess it was a lame joke.” Grace touched her on the arm. “I'm really sorry.”
Abbie looked at her. In the half-light, her eyes glowed like hot coals. “I'm not.” Her voice sounded husky.
Grace's head was starting to spin. “I'm confused again. You're not sorry?”
“Not at all. If you were dressed like a dog I couldn't do this.”
Before Grace knew what was happening, Abbie closed the distance between them and kissed her. Hard.
Grace had been kissed before, but never quite like this. There was something raw and uncontrolled in the way they came together. The kiss went on and on. Grace was practically in her lap by the time they finally broke apart.
“Woof,” she said when she could find her voice.
Abbie laughed softly against her hair.
“As soon as I can manage to stand up, I want you to push me into the bay.”
Abbie drew back. “Why on earth would I do that?”
“Too cool my ass off,” Grace said.
“I thought you were already cold?”
Grace shook her head. “Not any more.”
Abbie pulled her closer. “Maybe I like having you hot.”
Okay. There was that pulse rate thing again. “I think we should talk about this.”
Abbie kissed across her forehead. “Really? Talking is what you want to do right now?”
Grace swallowed hard and forced herself to draw back. “Of course not. What I want is a whole lot more related to—nonverbal communication.”
Abbie smiled and reached for her again. “Me, too.”
Grace held up a hand. “Wait. I haven't done this in a really long time.” She paused. “Well…I mean…I haven't done this —not in this way.”
Abbie looked confused. “I know I've been out of circulation for a while, but how many ways are there to do it?”
“That isn't what I meant.”
“All right. What did you mean?”
Grace took a deep breath. “How about I ask you a question instead?”
“Okay.” Abbie sat back and folded her arms.
“You've been with women before?”
Abbie thought about that. “Define ‘been with.'”
“You're really going to make me work for this, aren't you?”
Abbie gave her a shy smile. “I'm sorry. I don't mean to be obtuse. This isn't something I have much experience talking about.”
Grace nodded. “Well—here's your opportunity to practice.”
“Funny you should say that. I thought that's exactly what I was doing.”
Grace laughed. “Honey, if that's what you call ‘practice,' then you're a shoe-in for a reserved seat at the head of the class.”
Abbie smiled. “I've always been an overachiever.”
Grace smiled, too. “Lucky me.”
They stared at each other for a moment without speaking. Behind them, the band's spirited rendition of Willie Nelson's “Gotta Get Drunk” finished with a flourish, and a wave of applause rolled out across the small marina. Grace heard the bandleader thank the audience. It seemed clear that the entertainment portion of the party was over. That meant that Rizzo would be making her rounds again. They probably didn't have much more time to sit here, alone in the dark.
Fuck me, and my damn scruples for wasting it. Women like Abbie sure as shit didn't come her way very often.
What the hell was she thinking? Women like Abbie never came her way.
She sighed and nodded toward the lighted patio behind them. “I think we just ran out of time.”
Abbie followed her gaze, then looked back at Grace. “Maybe not.”
Grace raised an eyebrow.
“Where are you staying?”
Something fluttered inside her chest. “The Fairmont in Ghirardelli Square.”
Abbie smiled. “Me, too.”
“I had a coupon,” she explained.
Abbie shook her head. “Are you walking?”
“Me, too.” She glanced at her watch. “Want to meet me out front in about thirty minutes?”
Grace nodded again.
“Are you okay?” Abbie touched her hand.
“I honestly don't know. I feel like I'm sleep walking.”
“Funny. I feel like I'm finally starting to wake up.”
“What the hell are you two doing out here?” Rizzo's voice cut through the darkness. “Come on back up here—we're getting ready to do the cake.”
Grace turned around to see their hostess, leaning over the railing of the sundeck. She was framed by the backlight of a hundred Japanese lanterns. Her shape was unmistakable, and so was her air of authority.
“Save me a corner piece,” Grace called out to her.
“Fuck you! Come get it yourself.” Rizzo turned around and disappeared into the crowd.
Grace looked at Abbie and sighed. “She has such a way with words.”
Abbie agreed. “I know. It's a useful skill for a poet.”
They shared a laugh, then stood up and slowly started making their way back toward the party. When they reached the wooden steps to the sundeck, Abbie reached out and linked index fingers with Grace. For some reason, it felt like the most erotic thing she'd ever experienced.
She looked over at Abbie. “Did you say thirty minutes?”
Abbie nodded and smiled.
I'll eat fast.”
Abbie gave her finger a short squeeze, and then released it when they reached the top step. They separated and rejoined the party.
Three hundred and twenty-four bucks was the most she'd ever spent on a hotel room—especially one she never used.
Grace unlocked the door with her keycard and stepped inside. It was freezing in here. The AC was blasting. She forgot that she'd set it so low before she left for the party last night.
She leaned against the back of the big door and closed her eyes.
Good god. Did any of that really happen?
It was so not who she was.
But wasn't that what they'd each talked about wanting to do? Change who they were?
Right. Who they were—but not how they lived. Today, they each were headed back to their real lives. Alone. Abbie was already on her way to the airport. Her flight for Raleigh was leaving in an hour.
They made no promises—and no offers to stay in touch. Abbie never suggested it—and Grace didn't have the courage to offer first. So they both remained silent.
It was a missed opportunity. She knew it. One she'd probably keep on missing for the rest of her life.
Christ. She didn't even know her last name.
So now, she'd collect her shit and head back to Ohio with nothing more than a memory.
Unless…. She could always ask Rizzo about Abbie?
No. If Abbie had wanted to stay in touch, she'd have said so. They would have exchanged names and phone numbers. They'd have talked about finding ways to try and meet again in one place or the other.
But Abbie said nothing—so Grace said nothing.
Fuck it. Grow up. You knew what you were doing—don't weep about it now. There are no victims in this little drama.
She sighed and walked over to flop down on the bed. She had four hours to kill until her flight left. Might as well try to get a little sleep, since she didn't get any last night.
She closed her eyes, but all she could see were visions of Abbie.
Jesus. The woman sure made up for lost time. They both did. It was fantastic. Incredible. Without a doubt, it was the most erotic and exciting thing she'd ever done. What Abbie seemed to lack in experience, she made up for with enthusiasm—and determination. And she wasn't kidding—she was one hell of a fast learner. It wasn't long before Grace felt like the novice.
What a great problem to have.
She rolled over and stared at the bedside clock.
This was a colossal waste of time. She was too keyed-up to sleep. Only one thing could help her now. She got up to head for the bathroom, and a cold shower.
Back at Welles, things soon settled back into a normal routine. Memories of her ‘overnight rental' didn't exactly fade—but they slowly became easier to think about without an accompanying attack of angst. Or regret. She resolved to chalk the entire experience up to a growth spurt—an exponential leap forward in her recovery from the Disaster-That-Was-Denise.
Classes were winding down in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday. All four sections of her English Lit survey had papers due. She'd be up to her ass in reams of bad prose by Tuesday afternoon. She knew better than to waste her time holding classes on Wednesday—the students would all have decamped for home long before then.
The semester would be over soon. Then the long Christmas break would give her a chance to work on her book. That was how she filled up the empty spaces in her life right now—by resurrecting her ill-fated attempt at writing the next Great American Novel.
Well—it wasn't really so great …but at least it kept her busy through the succession of dull and interminable nights that kicked-in after Denise moved out.
She sat down in front of her office computer to check her email one last time before packing up and heading for home.
There were several messages from students, offering creative excuses for why their papers would be late. She archived those for later. There also were two messages marked “high priority” from the Presidential Search Committee. One suggested that an announcement from Trustees would be forthcoming soon. The second was actually from the Board Chair—inviting the entire community to an all-campus meeting at 2:00 that afternoon.
Grace looked at her watch.
Fuck . She wanted to get a jump on holiday traffic herself, and head out for her parents' farm in Pennsylvania before it started getting dark. But now, she'd be stuck here with everyone else. There was a follow-up email from her department chair, stating that all members of the English faculty who were still on campus would be expected to attend the announcement.
Not that she would want to miss it. An event like this one was a big deal in the life of a small college. The last two presidents of Welles had been pulled from business backgrounds. This time, the faculty was hopeful that they'd get a real academic at the helm—someone who would take a greater interest in curricular development and scholarship, rather than shaking the money tree.
She sighed. Fat chance. It was all about raising money these days. Still…it would be interesting to see which one of their dried-up old clones the big boys flushed out this go-round.
She shut down her computer and picked up her backpack. She'd have just enough time to run home and grab a sandwich before the meeting. When she got outside, she saw with a sinking feeling that it had started to snow. And it was already sticking. Great. The drive to Pennsylvania in the dark should be a real blast.
The auditorium was packed.
And things were definitely looking up. Grace exchanged surprised glances with Tom Shepard as the board chair finished talking about the methodology used by the search committee, and finally started sharing details from the Chosen One's curriculum vitae.
It slowly became clear that, this time, the committee had actually listened to the faculty. The new president was an academic with a solid background in research and scholarly publication—a teacher and a thinker with stellar credentials, including an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth, and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago. The winning candidate had authored a list of books and articles half a mile long, had served for six years as a full professor and associate vice president at Duke, and had two years of executive experience directing the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation—one of the largest, private endowments in the country.
It was a slam-dunk—and the board chair knew it. The normally unimpressed members of the Welles faculty were literally sitting on the ends of their seats, waiting for the big reveal. You could've heard a pin drop in that joint.
He made them wait.
“When she joins us on January 15, we will begin a new chapter in the life of this exceptional institution of higher learning,” he said.
Tom and Grace looked at one another in shock.
An audible titter of conversation spread across the hall.
The board chair smiled. “No, that wasn't a mistake—I said ‘ she. '”
The hall erupted in applause. People started getting to their feet.
The chair shouted over the din, “It gives me great pleasure to introduce the 22 nd President of Welles College, Elizabeth Abbott Williams.”
The applause in the hall was deafening. People were whooping and cheering. Grace got to her feet and strained to see around the bobbing rows of heads in front of her.
The cheers and the applause went on and on. This was a seminal event in the life of this college—the first female president in its 220-year history.
Grace finally took a step out into the aisle so she could get a glimpse of their new leader—who had taken the stage and now stood towering over the board chair, smiling and nodding at the audience. What Grace saw left her so stunned that she had to drop back into her seat.
Jesus H. Christ.
Her hands were shaking. She felt light-headed, and feared she might pass out. She knew that Tom was looking at her strangely.
This was not happening.
It was Abbie.
Author's note: I confess that I fully intended for this to be a stand-alone story (with a flimsy Halloween tie-in)—but it quickly took on a life of its own. I really didn't plan on that. Honest . Especially not when I'm up to my elbows writing Aftermath (the sequel to Jericho) . So, I'd love your feedback. Should we consign Grace and Abbie to this little peephole in time, and leave them alone to resolve their dilemma? Or do we need to know more about them and how they might fare, now that fate has tossed them into the same orbit?
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
As always, thanks so much for reading. —A.M.
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