It was almost 2 am before they arrived back at Rae's condo, having gone to pick up Denise's bags at Rick's place. He was sleeping when they crept in and searched around for something on which to scribble a note. But he woke up despite their efforts to be quiet, and wandered bleary-eyed into the kitchen of the tiny apartment wearing nothing but boxer briefs.
"Hey, I wondered if you'd be back."
"Sorry for waking you up." Denise apologized. "I was just going to leave you a note. I'm going to stay with Rae, ok bud?"
"Yeah, that's fine. Gotta work tomorrow anyway. Besides, she's better looking than I am."
"Hey, Rick." Rae smiled. "How's it going? Long time."
"Sure has. You haven't been down at the bar lately. Missed ya."
"Miss you guys too. I'm planning to go check out the Leatherman contest, though. You entering?" Rae looked at the buff man in front of her. She appreciated the esthetic value of a beautiful body, male or female. "You could win. Been working out?"
"Always. I'm not getting any younger, and I need something to attract those cute boys."
"And all this time, I thought it was your magnetic personality." Rae replied, enjoying the banter.
Rick laughed. "Right. I might enter. I'll scout the competition first. I'm not into humiliating myself."
"No fear of that." Denise answered. "I just wish I could be here to see you. Such a cute ass." She had returned from retrieving her bags and stood next to Rick, wrapping her arm around his waist. He hugged her to his side.
"Me too. But it was great to see you again. Come back soon, ok? The door's always open for you."
"I know, darling. I'll try. Shall we go?" She turned to Rae.
"Yep. Take care, Rick. I'll see you next weekend for sure." She leaned in for a hug.
"Good. You take care too. And Denise sweetie, have a nice flight back. Stay out of trouble."
More hugs and they were on their way.
Rae flipped on the light in the hallway as they entered, bathing the condo in a soft glow.
"You must be wiped. It's been a long day for you, transatlantic traveler."
"I think I'm on my third wind by now, actually. But if I don't get some sleep, I'll never function tomorrow."
"Yep. Time to hit the hay. You want something to drink?"
"Just some ice water please."
Denise headed to the bathroom to prepare for bed while Rae got a couple of glasses out of the cupboard.
"You don't want some strawberry Quik instead?" She called down the hallway.
"Oh God yes! I miss my Quik!"
The dark woman grinned as she mixed two tall glasses of the favorite bedtime drink. She headed to the bedroom, and set them on the side tables, suddenly realizing that she had assumed Denise would share her bed. Stripping the sheets, she threw them into the hamper with the pile of laundry awaiting her attention, and padded to the linen closet for fresh ones. The bathroom door opened and Denise stepped out, wearing her favorite nightshirt, a huge, well worn college T-shirt that Rae had allowed her to pilfer when they had been together.
"You still have it, I see." Rae plucked at the sleeve. ""I'll have to give you another. This one's pretty threadbare."
"Only if it's as worn as this one was when you gave it to me."
"Rummage through the drawer tomorrow and find one, if you want."
"You're so sweet to me."
"I'm a sweet gal."
"You sure are."
They walked back to the bedroom and started making the bed.
"I... uh..." Rae started awkwardly. "You can sleep here, if you'd like, or the guest room is ready too."
Denise stopped tugging on the corner of the fitted sheet and looked up. "I'd rather sleep with you. You're such a good cuddler."
Rae's face brightened. "Oh, ok. I was hoping you'd say that."
"The cuddling part, or the sleeping part?" Denise teased.
"Ha! The sleeping part. But the cuddling part was a nice aside."
They finished placing the sheets and threw the comforter on the bed. Denise crawled in and burrowed down under the covers. "Mmmm... I love this smell. You know, I used the same detergent, the same fabric softener, and my sheets never smelled as good as yours. Must be you."
Rae smiled and patted Denise's thigh. "Relax. I'll be right back." She headed to the bathroom, stripping off her T-shirt and sweater as she walked down the hall, and closed the door behind her.
When she returned, she stood at the foot of the bed and gazed affectionately at her friend, who was curled on her side, face completely relaxed in deep slumber. Rae climbed in quietly, and slipped an arm between Denise's shoulder and the pillow. She encircled the redhead's waist with the other arm, and spooned herself around her bed partner, snuggling close. Denise breathed a soft, contented sigh and relaxed into the strong arms as Rae closed her eyes and smiled. Sleep took her quickly into a dreamless, peaceful state.
The smell of strong coffee woke her gently, and she reached her arms above her head, stretching like a cat and groaning pleasantly. She felt more relaxed than she had in ages, and just lay there, enjoying the moment. She vaguely remembered Denise slipping out of bed earlier, but had been far too comfortable to even open her eyes.
Denise peeked around the doorway. "I thought I heard you up. Ready for some coffee?"
Sure thing, babe. Sleep well?"
"Yes, I did. My body had forgotten how well we fit together. Unfortunately, my inner clock didn't forget that it's five hours later in London. How about you?"
"Mmm... I feel great."
"Good. I'll pour a cup for you. You want it in here?"
"Nope. I'm getting up. Just give me a sec."
When she wandered into the kitchen a few minutes later, Denise had already prepared omelets and toast, and she sat down at the counter, a huge grin on her face. "Been a long time since someone cooked me breakfast."
"You need to find someone to take care of you, dear. You don't seem to do that very well." The redhead stated firmly.
"No really, Rae. I mean it. You need someone in your life. You thrive when you love."
"Uh oh. This is the chat from last night, right? Look, that whole Cindy thing was a huge mistake. I wasn't desperate to be with someone. I just had a brief moment of insanity. My hormones won the battle over my brain cells. What can I say?"
"Well, I agree. It was stupid, but that's not what I'm talking about. Open yourself up a little. Let the walls drop a foot, and you'll be amazed at what you see."
"I've stopped looking, Denise. I had my chance. I blew it. We've discussed this. Most people will never experience what Susan and I had, and I let it slip away."
"You were too young then, Rae. It wasn't your only chance. There is someone out there for you. You just have to let her in."
"I did let someone in... and I got my heart ripped out of my chest."
"Honey, I didn't know Sam, but from everything I've heard, you fell hard for a proper bitch. She wasn't the one for you."
"Obviously. But I won't let that happen again." Rae ate slowly, her appetite diminishing as the conversation wore on.
"Ok, I'm going to say this, and then I'm going to let you eat, because you're starting to look a little green." Denise placed her hand on Rae's arm. "You are a beautiful, wonderful woman with a heart of gold, and you know, so many times since we met, I've wondered why we weren't meant for each other. And the only explanation I can accept is that there is a woman out there who is just waiting for you to walk into her life. She's there, Rae, just open yourself up to the possibility. Otherwise, you'll walk right by her and never know. Promise me you'll try."
"Ok, I'll try, I promise."
"Good. I expect you to call me immediately when you find her. Now eat your eggs."
A grin and a slight shake of her dark head. "So what do you feel like doing today? Did you want to go see the game?"
"Yeah. Why don't we? It'll be like old times."
"Cindy will be there, you do realize."
"Oh, screw Cindy."
Rae arched her eyebrows. "Been there, done that. Not going there again."
"Sorry. Poor choice of words."
They looked at each other, shook their heads simultaneously and broke into genuine laughter.
"And what, young lady, do you think you're doing?" Rae was towel drying her hair after getting out of the shower, when she came in to the bedroom and found Denise wearing her favorite sweatshirt.
"Oh, Rae. I love it. Its so comfortable, and it's nicely worn... and it fits me perfectly! Can I keep it?"
"Denise, it's huge on you!"
"Just the way I like it. Please? You said I could find something I liked." Denise stuck her bottom lip out in an exaggerated gesture.
The dark woman smiled, thinking her friend looked adorable in the overly large shirt. "Don't pout. Oh, keep it. But you have to think of me every time you wear it."
"Thanks gorgeous. I promise this will be the only thing I ever wear again, and I'll think only of you for the rest of my life." Denise replied wickedly, with a twinkle in her eye.
"All right. Can the sarcasm. Jeez, try to be a little heroic and you get slapped in the face."
"Now, you know I'm only playing with you. You sensitive types..." Denise crossed the room and gave Rae a sweet kiss. "Thank you, sugarbear. I love it."
"Sure. Suck up now that you've stomped all over my heart." Rae laughed. "It's a good thing I can't get mad at you, or you'd be in deep trouble." She gave her friend a big bear hug, lifting her off the floor and swinging her around the room. "Let's get going. The game starts in half an hour. Gotta find a good place to cop a squat."
"Lead the way, baby, I'm right behind ya."
The softball field was perfectly situated in a small valley park in the middle of downtown, five minutes from The Rose. The grassy slopes surrounding the diamond provided spectators with a nice area to stretch out on a picnic blanket, as well as an excellent view of the game. The socializing that went on was as much of a draw, if not more, than the activity on the field.
Rae scanned the crowd discreetly as they approached, hoping that she wouldn't find Cindy. Not seeing the familiar bleached blonde, she sighed silently in relief and relaxed. Far out on the hill behind right field, a glint of sunlight reflecting from golden hair caught her eye. She squinted behind her Raybans, trying to determine if she knew the woman who was sitting there alone, cross-legged, with what appeared to be a sketchpad in her lap. Too far away. Oh well. Blondes always did catch your eye. You'd know if you met her before. She turned her attention back to finding a place to sit.
They claimed a spot comfortably near the top of the slope along the first base line, where many mutual friends stopped to say hi and find out how Denise was doing in her new life overseas. Mel wandered over and sat down on the grass next to them.
"Hey, gals. I see you made it. How was the rest of your evening?"
"Great, thanks." Denise replied. "Any more excitement after we left?"
"Nope. You guys provided the entertainment. Just went downhill after that. " Mel answered teasingly. "How are you, Rae?"
"Fine, babe. Dotty here?"
"Haven't seen her, but don't worry. She was back to her old self before the evening was over. She's pretty resilient. Are you going over to the bar afterwards? She's sure to be there."
Rae looked questioningly at Denise, who shrugged her shoulders and nodded her head.
"Yeah, we'll go over for a little while."
They settled in to watch the game, and were soon hollering encouragement to both teams, and cheering the good plays. It was a close game, well played, and without too many controversies. Bonnie, an old teammate of Rae's made a spectacular play, catching a fly ball on the run in the outfield, and throwing a perfect strike to the plate to catch the third base runner sliding home. It made the difference as the Pink Turf gals won by a single run.
Cindy hadn't made an appearance, and Rae found herself hoping that the blonde wouldn't show up at The Rose, unlikely as it was. After the trophy and medal presentations on the field, everyone trooped over to the bar to celebrate and enjoy the spread Deb and Liz had set out. As they were leaving, an impulse forced Rae to glance back out towards right field. The golden haired artist was gone.
When they arrived at The Rose, there was good-natured ribbing going on out on the patio, as spectators and players relived the game and razzed the umpires about Bonnie's close call at home plate.
"Nah. She made it. The game should have been tied."
"No way! She was a goner as soon as big momma caught that fly!"
The debate raged on in good fun as Rae listened, a half grin on her face, leaning back in her chair with one booted foot up on the table leg. She smiled as she watched Denise enjoying her old friends again, animated in her conversation. Rae wasn't much of a talker, preferring instead to observe from a slight distance. She had spotted Cindy inside, sitting at the bar talking with Rachel, and looking like she'd had a few. If she'd seen Rae, she hadn't let on, which suited the tall woman just fine.
Denise looked up at her with a question in her eyes when she stood up from the table, shook her long legs and settled her blue jeans into a more comfortable position.
"TBS." She replied to the silent query, and headed towards the door to the inside of the bar.
"Tiny bladder syndrome." Denise supplied to the gals at their table, causing them to burst into laughter at the acronym.
Rae walked into the bathroom, thankful that she didn't have to wait in line. She heard the other two occupants leave, and she was alone until the door opened and the click of heels warned her of another presence. Shit. She waited to see if Cindy would enter a stall, and when she didn't, Rae sighed and prepared to face the blonde.
"Cindy." She acknowledged the woman leaning against the counter with her arms folded across her chest.
"See the game?" Rae moved to the second sink to wash her hands, scant inches separating their shoulders. It was awkward for her to make small talk, but infinitely preferable to another ugly bar scene.
"No. I decided to come here instead and get pleasantly pissed."
"Mmm hmm. Well, enjoy." She dried her hands and turned towards the door.
She stopped and waited, not turning around, fingers wrapped around the door handle.
"You'll never find your golden girl. You're mean, and you treat people badly."
The dark woman closed her eyes, debating whether or not to respond. She decided ignoring Cindy wouldn't be worth the potential trouble. "I treat people the way they treat me. And as far as any golden girl is concerned, I'm not looking."
She pulled the door open and left, puzzling over the enigmatic exchange. At least Cindy didn't follow her out.
The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully. Much later, the pair got up to leave amid cries of protest to stay for one more drink.
"No way, gals. I have to work tomorrow, don't you?"
"That never stopped you before, Rae." A wicked grin from Bonnie, who was liberally celebrating her game winning play with tequila shots. "I remember some pretty wild Sunday nights down here during your playing days."
"Bonnie, I'm older now... and wiser." The statement met with drunken howls of laughter.
"Sure, you just can't keep up with me anymore, can ya?"
"Careful now, you don't want to make me angry." Rae leaned over Bonnie and jokingly put her in a headlock.
"Aaack! Abuse from the tall, old and wise one!" The right fielder pretended to gag, her tongue lolling out and eyes crossing. "I'm fading! Rae, I need mouth to mouth! C'mere baby!" Bonnie reached her arm back around Rae's neck and planted a big kiss on her lips "Ha ha! Gotcha! I stole a ki..iss, I stole a ki..iss!" The woman sang as Rae laughed and released her hold.
"On that note, we gotta go before I whup Bonnie's ass and embarrass her in front of all her admirers. Denise is leaving tomorrow, gang. Say your good-byes."
Everyone at the table got up and hugged the redhead, wishing her well, and telling her to come back soon. They walked into the bar to say good-bye to Rachel and Dotty, and noticed Cindy still sitting at the far end of the bar.
"I didn't know she was here, Rae. I'm surprised she didn't come out to the patio and make trouble."
"She followed me into the bathroom earlier."
"She did? What did she want?"
"Nothing really. Just said some bullshit about me being mean to her."
"What the hell is that all about? I swear, Rae, she's in love with you."
"I don't believe that. And if it's true, she's sure got a bizarre way of showing it."
"Well, she knows she'll never have you, so she lashes out every opportunity she gets."
"Whatever. I don't want to talk about her anymore."
They said the rest of their good-byes and headed back to the condo, picking up Chinese food on the way.
Sitting on the living room carpet and leaning their backs against the couch, they laughingly made their way through the meal, feeding each other out of the containers with chopsticks.
"I think I've gotten more on your shirt than in your mouth." Rae gasped, laughing so hard, tears were sliding down her cheeks.
"Mmph. Fooph seth." Denise mumbled around a mouthful of lo mein.
A swallow. "Food sex." She repeated. "God! I haven't had this much fun eating in a long time."
Rae choked again, this time almost dropping the rice on the carpet. "Jesus, Denise! What a loaded statement!"
Realizing what she'd said, the redhead choked too, spraying chicken fried rice all over Rae's chest. They pounded each other's backs, laughing and coughing until their faces were crimson.
"Christ! We're gonna die!" Rae spluttered. And then, in her best James Earl Jones voice, "They found them... days later... asphyxiated on rice... rigor mortis grins frozen on their faces."
"Enough Chinese for you! You get too morbid!"
Wiping her eyes, Rae got up and took the leftovers into the kitchen. "I think Hagen-Daz Chocolate Chocolate Chip is in order."
"What?!" Denise squealed. "You didn't tell me you had ice cream!" She moaned. "Where am I going to put it? I have no room left!"
" In that hollow leg of yours, chica. I know you've got room."
Rae brought the pint of ice cream and two spoons into
the room, and sat down
cross-legged. She handed Denise one of the utensils and clinked their spoons together. "Here's to food sex with good friends."
"Yes. A quite acceptable substitute for the real thing." Denise replied, digging into the frozen treat with relish, and popping a large spoonful into her mouth.
Rae glanced up sharply, wondering if the statement held an ulterior meaning. The innocent gaze that met her eyes answered the unspoken question, and she relaxed.
"You know, Denise. We have an incredibly unique relationship."
"Yes, darling. And I love you for it. We can discuss anything, no expectations, no tension, just wonderfully comfortable and peaceful."
"I'll miss you again." Rae stated quietly.
"I know, babe. Me too. But you're never far from my thoughts, even though we're thousands of miles apart." She leaned in and gave her former lover a sweet, chaste kiss.
They grinned at each other and dove into their dessert, dueling over the large chunks of chocolate visible in the depths of the ice cream.
The sun was rising towards its apex as Rae raced her red Z3 convertible eastward on the 401 back to the city. She had convinced Denise that taking Monday morning off to drive her to Hamilton was not that big of a hardship, and would give them the opportunity to spend a couple of extra hours together. It would likely be months before they saw each other again, possibly years.
Rae hadn't gone inside Denise's house, knowing from past incidents that her parents were uneasy with her presence around their daughter, electing instead to say her good-byes in the car before getting her friend's bags out of the trunk. And even though it had been a teary farewell, she'd driven away feeling pretty good, with a renewed sense of herself. Denise had always been able to make her feel more optimistic about her life and the possibilities it held. Maybe I will let those walls down a little. And maybe someone will peek over and smile. Ya just never know.
A grin settled on her face as she cranked up the sounds
of Pink Floyd on the convertible's stereo, and sped towards the sun.
Part 4 coming... eventually :)
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