Teaser:

There are two types of people that live in this world. Those that live in the light and those that live in shadow. Those that live in the light spend their lives making this world a better place for no other reason than that they believe it should be. Those that live in shadow spend their lives seeking the opposite purpose. For Lee this in an undeniable fate. This tale is the first section in an ongoing novel. This story will bring you love, hate, hope, despair, forgiveness, damnation, and redemption. It is amazing what you can endure if you remember to breathe.

Disclaimers:

Story: Original

Disclaimer 1: I am gaining absolutely nothing from this story. In fact, I have spent more hours on this than I ever thought I would, but once I started... Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.

Disclaimer 2: I set up this story as though you could see it being performed. In the story there are a few instances where I used song lyrics to help depict a scene. I am gaining nothing from these songs and no copyright infringement is intended. I simply used them to help tell a story. As such, the wonderful performers are listed in the endnotes. Again the songs belong to their respective writers and performers and in no way belong or were made by me.

Disclaimer 3: This story will eventually have sex between two adult consenting women. Whereas this brings happy thoughts to me along with a variety of other readers, I realize that it is not for everyone. Also, it may be illegal where you live, which is lame. As such, if you are not a 18, it is illegal in your state, or you are just a hater, move on. For all my wonderful lesbian friends, the sex does not happen until later in the story. It is all about the seduction for me.

Cheers! Comments are welcome at: rem2breathe@yahoo.com

Remember to Breathe

by Freedom

Chapter 1: You May Need to Step Back To See Clearly

"Mama look!" The little girl holds the flower out toward her mother. The flower was beautiful; ivory in color with blue edges. Next to the child was a butterfly floating across the tips of the flowers, gracefully outmaneuvering the child's attempts to catch it. The child giggled each time she made a grab for the butterfly and each time the butterfly would fly just near enough to keep the child's attention, but not close enough to be caught.

Sneaking up behind the child, "This is how you catch a butterfly!" she whispered lifting the child up to spin her as though she were flying. The child's laugh was unguarded and full. Beautiful.

"Again mama, again!"

Pulling the child into a fierce hug, "Come on Ileana. Let's get something to eat."

The child nodded holding her mother tightly. Just as the pair turned to go inside, the mother caught sight of me. She raised her hand above her brow to block the sun from her vision and smiled.

The child waved eagerly and called out, "Hello!"

Lee awoke abruptly sitting straight up at her desk. Talking a calming breath she straightened her hair and clothes. She did not go home the prior evening, preferring instead to continue working. Working was preferable to sleeping. To sleep meant to dream.

Turning back to her computer, Lee sat staring intently at the computer screen. She was determined to find a connection, a lead, any viable piece of information that would lead her to her answer.

Lee was a beautiful yet imposing figure. In her mid twenties, she had hair like fire, eyes like emeralds, and a muscular frame. For her character, those who knew her would describe Lee as stubborn and willful to a fault. Depending on whether she fought for your cause, this was considered the greatest grace or vice of this Irishwoman. Still, her willful nature was kept hidden away for the most part. To the world, Lee was reserved in demeanor, but maintained an aura of strength.

A knock at the office door proceeded with the entrance of her business partner Anne Torres.

"Hey Lee, I just received the projections for the development project. The plans are well thought out but still need revision. I thought you would like to look over them."

Lee continued to stare at the screen with frustration gracing her features. She knew that she was missing something small. Something that would be so inconsequential she would not think to look for it. Again and again she looked over the data. She created program after program which would find different ways to correlate the data. After following all the immediate leads she began widening the search parameters. So wide had they become she might as well be looking under rocks.

"Lee?... Lee, did you hear me?"

"Yes, sorry Anne, I heard you. Thank you."

Concerned, "Are you alright?"

Anne was a jovial spirit in her early fifties. She had salt and pepper hair and a quick wit. Anne was a good balance to Lee. Whereas Lee was sometimes viewed as cold and unapproachable, Anne was cheerful, fair, and easy to get along with.

"Yes, I was just analyzing some information."

"Ah your secret project," quipped Ann. "You know you have been working on that same project for two years now. You come to work, save the world, and then you work on this project." Pausing a moment, "Maybe you should let me take a look. You know, that whole... two minds are better than one, another point a view, that kind of thing."

Amused by her associates response she turned the monitor toward Ann. Although truth be told she truly liked Anne, she never let anyone get too close.

With feigned indifference, "If it were a secret Ann, you would not know about it."

Anne rolled her eyes at the response and began looking at the information on the monitor. She scrolled through it once, then twice, on the third round she turned the monitor back to Lee. With a smirk on her lips, "Well I am not sure what language that is but it looks incredibly interesting."

Lee returned the smile and went back to looking at the screen.

"Your project, what are you looking for?"

Normally Anne would not be so forward in the question. It was rare that Lee would reveal anything about herself. She had only seen Lee's stubbornness and willfulness come out for two reasons. The first and most often was when Lee was trying to protect someone. The other was in business. Lee was stubborn to make certain things went well and correctly. She did not tolerate people trying to take advantage of anyone for any reason. Other than that, she had to admit to herself that prior to meeting Lee two years ago, she really did not know anything about her. If she ever did say anything about her past it was always vague in terms; nothing concrete. Despite this, Anne had come to care for Lee. What she did know is that despite Lee's tough unconquerable visage, Lee was strong, compassionate, and willing to do anything to help those in need if she could. What would drive a woman so relentlessly to help people?

Interrupting her thoughts Lee answered, "An old acquaintance of mine."

"Well if I know anything Lee, I'd bet my life savings that you will find whoever it is you are looking for."

A smile was the only response.

Then being the mother hen type, "However, I think you should take a break."

Lee looked up from her computer with attitude.

"Don't look at me like that. You have been working nonstop. Between this job and your secret project I am surprised you have time to sleep. You won't do this company or your friend any good if you are too tired to think."

"I can take care of myself Anne."

"Of course you can, no one is saying different. But," pausing for dramatic effect, "you need a break. Take the weekend off. Do something for yourself for a change. I find that if I cannot find a solution, sometimes I need to take a step back to see it clearly. Sometimes I get so close I have lost sight of the right direction."

Looking at Anne "I am fine."

"I'm fine" Anne mumbles. "Take it from me, you could stare that that screen for the next few weeks and come up with nothing. Or... you could take the weekend off. You may miss the very inspiration that will lead you to your friend."

"I'll think about it."

Seeing an advantage, "Great! By the way, I am having a barbeque at my house on Sunday. Everyone would like to see you, especially Sara." Sara was Anne's youngest daughter. She was only eight years old and something of an oops baby. Knowing that children had the strongest pull on Lee's agreeableness, "I told her you would probably be busy, but she insisted. No that's wrong. She told me to tell you that you are coming and that you should bring chocolate pie."

Lee did not like being told what to do. Even if it was just an eight year old.

"We will be eating around 1:00." Then changing the subject as quickly as possible to avoid rejection, "Oh and are you going to the play tonight?"

"No."

"Lee you wrote the play, you should go."

"Since I wrote it I know how it ends. No need to go."

Arguing, "For moral support"

"What are you for?"

One evening Anne was finishing up some last minute documentation. When she pulled all the files off Lee's desk, she noticed one in particular. It was a play. Intrigued that Lee would ever leave something so personal she could not help but be curious. No more than a few pages into the story, Anne recognized the familiar writing techniques. Realization hit like a ton of bricks. Not only was it a play, she believed Lee wrote it. Knowing so little about Lee she rationalized that she would simply read it that night and bring it back in the morning. She knew that reading something so personal was wrong but she just had to have some insight on the woman that was Lee.

As always, intentions never go according to plans. Later that evening, she had dinner with another one of her friends named Shelby. In the midst of dinner, Shelby got a hold of the play and just insisted that it had to be performed. Convincing Shelby that this was a bad idea was next to an impossible task. In the end, Shelby went straight to the source to convince Lee that she should let her and her band of actors perform the play. After the initial anger of having her privacy interrupted, Lee agreed .

Anne was shocked that Lee had actually acquiesced to the idea. She expected many things, but not that. Deciding to take the humble road, she apologized for taking the material.

"Funny" Anne said.

"Not trying to be. I write the plays, she performs them. It is a very simple arrangement."

"Lee.." Frustration in her voice. "I will see you Sunday, and hopefully this evening at the play."

"Goodnight Anne."

Anne left the office biting the inside of her cheek. Lee could be incredibly frustrating at times.

 

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Chapter 2: A Good Feeling

"Do you know the answer?"

Frustration covering her features. "I cannot see it Samuel. I know it is there, but I cannot see it."

Samuel looked down at the child. Her hair as bright as fire and with a temperament to match. "Let's take a break."

"But I have to finish. Eliane will be upset."

"And you could stare forever at the problem and still not see. Inspiration is everywhere. Sometimes you must take a step back to see it clearly. New eyes, new perspective, renewed determination. Add this to the dedication and persistence you have and nothing can stop you."

Straightening her desk, Lee prepared to leave for the day. She had no intention of taking the full weekend off but perhaps the evening. She enjoyed sitting by the gardens. New Zealand was such a beautiful place, intensely green with a variety of flora everywhere you looked.

Settled in her decision, Lee drove her motorcycle to the park. Being near the downtown area, there were a number of vendors nearby. Despite the obvious difference, nature versus the tourist market, the park was actually one of the favored places to be. There were people, but not too crowded, and it was quite family oriented.

In an attempt to take her mind off her problem, she brought along the newest play she had been working on. Continuing to walk as she read, a vision caught the corner of her eye. As she raised her eyes to confirm, someone ran into her spilling coffee all down the front of her shirt and knocking the play out of her hands.

"Oh shi.." The woman was stunned. "I am so sorry I did not see you" Concern coloring her features, she pulled Lee's shirt out and away from her body. She had napkins in her other hand and began dabbing at the shirt. "I am so sorry that was incredibly hot."

Despite the burning sensation, Lee immediately began looking in the direction of her vision. It was gone. Trying not to let annoyance show in her voice, "It's alright" Lee said as she bent down to pick up her other papers. The woman followed and started to help her. "It happens, don't worry about it."

Grateful that the woman was not terribly upset at the incident she asked, "Are you always this nice to people who spill hot coffee on you?"

"Only to those who do it on accident."

Bemused, the woman smiled at the answer trying to think of reasons why someone would intentionally spill a hot drink on someone else. As she handed the papers back to Lee "Happens often does it?"

Lee had still not looked up at the woman. She was intent on gathering the rest of her papers before the wind blew them away. Grabbing the last one, she reached for the papers offered by the woman. If she had looked up she would have seen a beautiful woman staring at her. Instead she answered, "More often than you think."

A smile evident on her features now, "Really?"

Finally looking up, the woman was quite beautiful. Light brown hair brushed just past her shoulders. She had blue eyes, high cheek bones, and a smile. That smile. Lee smiled and stood up. The other woman did as well.

"I feel terrible. Here take that off" She motioned to Lee's shirt "You can have anything you favor."

A look of confusion crossed Lee's features. She had been hit on before by both men and women, but not quite like this. She did not know what to say in response.

Seeing the look of confusion on Lee's face, "I can't have you go home like that, it must be incredibly uncomfortable. She motioned just behind Lee, "Do you favor any of them?"

Behind Lee was a vendor that no doubt sold to tourists. Many of the shirts had a heart and New Zealand on them. Never before had Lee felt so flustered. She had been in a variety of situations that required a variety of talent and action and this Kiwi woman was so..so...

Who is this woman?

During Lee's internal musings the woman walked over to the shirt stand and picked out a shirt.

"Doesn't really go with the suit pants, but I think this would look nice on you." She picked out a fairly simple cotton t-shirt with the phrase I love New Zealand on it. "Here why don't you let me hold this for you while you put it on."

"Thank you. You are very kind, but that is not necessary, really I am fine."

"There is no way I am letting you go off like that. I feel terrible. Honestly. I will even pay the dry cleaning for the shirt."

Seeing as how she did not want to drive home with coffee all over her shirt, she decided to accept the kindness. "Thank you."

"Sure." The woman said as she reached for Lee's play.

Lee changed in a small tent behind the vendor. She paused while she changed thinking of the woman. It had been a long time since someone had been able to catch her with her guard down. Quite frankly, she could never remember feeling so unguarded before. This woman was so...different. Warm. When she came back out of the changing room she threw her old shirt in the trash.

"Wait, I will pay for the dry cleaning."

Turning towards the woman, "No need. I never liked the shirt anyway. You did me a favor really. I had no reason to get rid of it before but now that it is damaged I see no reason to fix it."

The woman gave her another amused look. "I'm Riley," she said while extending her hand.

Lee accepted the handshake and smiled. "I feel like I should buy you another coffee as I was clumsy enough to spill yours all over me."

The woman laughed. Beautiful. "Tell you what, if you join me for a cup I'll buy." Seeing Lee's hesitation, Riley offered, "Iced coffee, that way if I spill it on you again it won't hurt."

Normally Lee would have declined. Although she knew many people liked her, she did not try to be friends with anyone. Anne and Shelby had gotten closer than anyone else simply because they had known her for a couple of years. More often than not she would go out of her way not to make a connection. However, she was taking the night off. Why not spend it with company? It's not like she would ever see the woman again. Decided, she accepted with a simple nod.

After retrieving her coffee, the two decided to sit at the outside section of the cafe.

"Am I keeping you from something?"

Lee answered, "No. Why do you ask?"

"You just look like you are thinking about something else."

"Honestly, I was just wondering if made it a habit of inviting complete strangers for coffee."

Catching the offhanded humor of the situation, "Not particularly. No." The look on Riley's face revealed that she was thinking more but was not about to elaborate.

"Am I keeping you?" Lee parroted.

"Nope. Actually I was out shopping when I had the happy circumstance of running into you." She pulled out a DVD. "Old I Love Lucy episodes. Have you seen it?"

Lee shook her head in response.

"Really, I thought all Americans loved this show. Lucille Ball is hilarious." Pausing, "So, tell me about Shoshanna."

Startled by the question. "Excuse me?"

The play you're carrying. One of the names I saw was Shoshanna. With a name like that she must be the main character.

Lee nodded. " She is."

"So are you an editor?"

She looked at Riley quizzically.

Smiling. "Well I would have first guessed the writer if not for the suit. Not many writers I know dress so formally. Therefore, I thought you might be the editor."

"Ah yes to both. Writing is something of a hobby for me. I write how I see the story and then edit it down to something more manageable." Edit it down to what I am willing to tell.

Interest coloring her tone, "If writing is a hobby what do you do for a living?"

Laughing, "Sign papers mostly."

"Well that sounds... fascinating."

Lee smiled. "And you, what do you do?"

"Many things really. Currently, I am something of a business woman."

"You don't enjoy it?"

"No, I do actually. I just don't want to bore you with the details. I have been told that what I think is interesting may not always be to someone else," she said laughing. "What about you, do you enjoy your work?"

"It has its moments."

Sharing a moment of understanding, "So tell me about Shoshanna."

Lee paused. She was not sure she wanted to tell Riley. Deciding that since the story was about to be turned into a play and thus public knowledge, she began, "This is actually the third play on this character. I could tell you about this play but it might be confusing without knowing her back story."

"Well I am glad I got the large coffee then."

Lee smiled at the remark. "Alright. Shoshanna is a woman unlike any other. At a very young age she was recruited into an underground cohort called The Order. In this place you are stripped of your former life. Ninety-five percent of the people in this place are recruited from jail. Their deaths are faked and they become part of this underground world. In this world you are taught language, etiquette, logic, and strategy."

"That doesn't sound so bad, but surely there is a catch." Riley interrupted.

Lee smiled, "You are also taught how to kill, torture, and resist torture yourself. Understand that there is no way out of this world. Those that do not make it through the training are killed. Those that do make it generally have something to live for. For some it is power, others money, and others live to look after the loved ones left behind. You are not given a choice for what you do. You do what they order or they will kill you."

"Aren't some things worth dying for?"

"Yes there are. And other things that people will kill for. I assume you have family."

Riley nods.

"You love them."

She nods again.

"People will die for many things in this world. Some will die for family and honor while others die for less noble reasons. What remains is that The Order learns what your weakness is and then exploits it. For example, you may not kill to save your own life, but would you kill to save the life of your mother, father, sister, child..? Even now there are some that would say they would not. That killing is wrong. Ultimately though, when you are put in a situation where you have to decide between the life of someone ordered dead or to watch your family be tortured and murdered one at a time before you comply, the choice may not be so easy. You would be surprised what people will do for the ones they love."

Interested, "Go on."

"In the first two stories, I think I gave the audience the wrong impression. Shoshanna was put in situations where she was the heroine, but there are no heroes or heroines in The Order. The Order is a place that does whatever it needs to stay in power. Sometimes what they do seems righteous. For example they may order the death of a dictator that killed thousands of his own people. In this way, The Order does not seem so bad. Kill one to save thousands. The very next day though they may kill a thousand to save one leader not worth saving. The leader would be saved simply because he or she has something The Order wants. The Order's first and foremost mission is to do whatever is necessary to stay in power and control the world. Anyway, as I said, the first two stories made Shoshanna some sort of heroine. They saw Shoshanna, who even in The Order has found a way to make the right choice. Shoshanna is intelligent, quick, and usually finds a way to give The Order what they want without sacrificing lives. It is not always the most efficient way, which is what The Order prefers, but she gets the job done. And as their top field operative, they allow her this slide whereas if it were anyone else they would most likely be tortured into submission.

In this story, however, there is no way out. This time she must choose between wrong and less wrong. Depending on one's point of view, the audience may go either way. In this story, there is a man named Jean Michelle. He is the president of France. Unfortunately, he is not a good leader. In addition to being a womanizer and compulsive gambler, he made an illegal underground deal for fifty million dollars. It basically had to do with taking a bribe. The reason all this is an issue is because a terrorist group, or freedom fighter depending on your view, has targeted the president for political reasons. Since the president has many low underground connections, The Order sees him as a useful commodity and decides to protect him. Shoshanna is activated to be in charge of his protection. In order to protect him she is instructed to find a way to infiltrate the terrorist group and find their plan of assault. She does what she is told and finds a way in through a man named Jacob Francis.

Jacob joined the terrorist cell for reasons other than killing Michelle for political issues. In the fifty million dollar deal, a woman overheard one of the conversations Jean Michelle had about the deal. In order to tie up loose ends, Michelle had the woman killed. The woman's name was Emmanuel. She was Jacob's wife and seven months pregnant with his child. It had taken Jacob three years with this terrorist group to finally get close enough to have a chance to kill the president. This is where Shoshanna shows up. She finds her way in by seducing Jacob. The couple were never intimate, but it was a promise of something more if they could just get away from their current lives. During the mission, Shoshanna develops feelings for Jacob. For her the feelings are not intimate. For her it is more empathy towards his situation. He of course falls in love with her. In the end, she tries to convince Jacob to walk away, but he won't. No matter what she did, no matter what promise, she could not turn him away from his current path. Jacob wanted his revenge. Emmanuel was his life and Michelle took her from him. The problem is that now not only does Shoshanna have to betray Jacob, she knows that in doing so the terrorist group will be captured, tortured for information, and then killed.

There is another way though. The Order is always in need of new recruits to fill vacancies for those who have been killed in the field or murdered for failure to live up to expectation. The only way out of seeing Jacob killed was to make him a recruit. So Shoshanna's dilemma is one, let Jacob be killed, or two, make him an operative of The Order."

"Well that doesn't seem like such a hard choice. Isn't becoming an operative better than dying?"

"That is the dilemma."

Riley looked confused.

"Tell me, if you knew you were going to be recruited into The Order, would you want to live? They are going to strip you of your humanity, make you a murderer, a liar, a thief, and most likely a whore. You will do what they want or the will torture, rape, and murder your family until one of two things happen. You submit to The Order's will or you kill yourself. Know that in revenge, The Order will kill your family anyway as a message to the rest of the recruits. Death is not a means of escape unless you are willing to bring your family with you. In return you will receive nothing but a shortened life span. Either The Order will kill you, you will be shot or stabbed in the field, or The Order will let an enemy torture you to death. They may even trade you to the enemy if it suits their purpose. In the end you are nothing but a monster."

Understanding crossed Riley's features.

"So does Shoshanna save Jacob or let him die? If she lets him die now it will only be him. There will be no need to go after the rest of his family. Also, it probably would not be painful. As he was not the leader of the group, The Order knows that he will not carry any important information. As such, a bullet to the back of the head is the most likely outcome. That, or she could turn him into the very thing she hates most, herself."

"So what does Shoshanna decide?"

Lee smiled.

"That is not funny. Don't leave me with that. You have to tell me how it ends."

"Ah but if I gave away the ending, no one would come to see my play."

Riley thinks about it for a moment and then looks towards the document. A smile plays across her features as she turns to look deeply into Lee's eyes. At that very moment she makes a playful grab for the play but Lee is too fast and snatches it up first.

"You will just have to wait."

Riley laughs. "You know, in all this time I still haven't gotten your name."

"My name is Lee."

Riley grins. "Well Lee, you have managed to ruin my whole day. How am I ever going to get passed not knowing the ending of the story. At least tell me when and where it will be performed so I can come and see it."

Laughing. "I am not sure yet. I have not finished editing it and then it has to be memorized and rehearsed. It is usually a three or four month project."

"I would be willing to wait. Where can I look for the venue so I can be sure not to miss it?"

 

"Lee! Hey Lee!"

Lee turned quickly to see Shelby scrambling toward her.

"I take it you know her."

"Yes. "

Shelby had finally made it over to the table.

"Shelby, this is.."

"Riley Shelton."

Lee looked between the two.

Shelby noticed the surprise on Lee's face.

"Riley is a famous. She was in theatre for a long time before she became a political activist."

"I don't know about famous. The theatre was years ago. I am only a businesswoman now, but thank you."

Shelby glared at Lee. "Why do you always meet all the interesting people? How do you know Riley?"

"I ran into her."

Completely ignoring the response, Shelby turned back toward Riley "Are you coming tonight?"

"Coming to what?"

"To Lee's play. We are performing a play tonight."

Riley turned towards Lee, a mischievous smile tugging at her lips, "Really?"

"Yea, there are a number of writers for our theatre guild but Lee is the favorite. We are performing for the local youth group" Shelby turned to glare at Lee. "Surely Lee has invited you."

Riley shrugged in response, "Not yet."

Shelby elbowed Lee in the ribs. Lee glared at her. Not leaving any room for Lee to find a reason not to invite Riley, "Well on behalf of both of us we would love it if you would come to the play. It would be an honor to have you."

"I would love to." Then glancing at Lee, "if you don't mind."

Lee did not really want to go to the play, but seeing no way out of it without being incredibly rude she would have to relent. Truth be told, she would actually like to spend more time with Riley.

"Of course."

"Great!" Shelby interrupted. "It is kind of an awkward place to find. Here is my card. It has the theatre location on it in case you get lost. The best way to get there is to go straight down Darton Ave., take a left on Peyton, and then another right on Darby."

Riley smiled in return. She would do better just to download the directions. "Thanks."

Realizing the directions were a bit confusing, Shelby had a bright idea. "Otherwise I am sure that Lee would be happy to take you. I would invite you to ride with me, but I took the bus today."

Lee just stared at Shelby with disbelief. "I rode my motorcycle today. I very much doubt Riley wants to ride on the back."

Excitement in her voice "You ride a motorcycle? I have always wanted to try one but am way to clumsy to ever want to ride by myself."

Looking for anyway out of it. "Didn't you drive here, maybe it would be better if you just followed me."

"No actually, I took a cab here. Just wanted to relax and do some shopping."

It took all the restraint Lee had not to smack the smile off of Shelby's face.

"Well I guess you're with me then."

"And I will see you two at the play. I am going to head off. It's an honor to meet you Riley. "

Lee walked silently towards her motorcycle trying to think of a way out of it.

As if reading her mind, "Listen I realize we put you on the spot there. If you don't want me to come to the play I can make some excuse."

"Why would you think that?"

"Because we sat talking about one of your plays for nearly twenty minutes and you did not invite me to the one you were holding tonight. If it makes you uncomfortable, I understand." It was too bad, she really did want to go to the play.

Looking deeply into Riley's eyes, "Ms. Riley, will you please accompany me to one of my plays." A theatrical bow at the end.

Riley laughed at the sight. "I would love to."

Settling down on the motorcycle an interesting thought crossed Lee's mind. Catching the look on Lee's face Riley asked, "What is it?"

"Hmm?'

"You have an amused look on your face. I was just wondering what you were thinking."

Smiling and thinking of the earlier conversation. "Do you make a habit of jumping on the back of motorcycles with complete strangers?"

Laughing, "Not particularly."

"No?"

Leaning in close as if to tell a secret, "I have a really good feeling about you."

With that Lee started off towards the theatre. Startled by the quick start, Riley tightened her grip around Lee's waist.

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Chapter 3: The Theatre

The theatre was about a twenty minute drive from the park. Already the small parking lot was full awaiting the beginning of the play.

Lee pulled in back of the building and parked; a huge smile plastered on Riley's face.

"Be careful when you get off. Don't burn yourself on the exhaust pipes," she cautioned pointing towards them.

Riley carefully un-mounted the motorcycle. "So...what is this play about?"

"It is for the youth group. The director asked if we had a play that dealt with a young person overcoming hardship and following their dreams."

"An inspirational story then."

Lee nodded.

"How many plays have your written?"

"Four. Three are about Shoshanna. This I wrote at the insistence of Shelby."

Laughing, "I see."

Entering the back of the building they were overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the crew.

"Lee!" Shelby shouted.

"Hello."

"Come on, come on Riley, right this way," ushering Riley towards the group.

"Well if not by my own eyes," interrupted Anne. "Decided to take the night off after all?"

"Apparently," Lee glared.

"Anne this is Riley"

"Of course, I know Riley Shelton. We are honored to have you."

"Thank you. Are you in the play?"

"No, No. I work with Lee. Just here for moral support." She winked at Lee. "I have great seats on the balcony, you two are welcome to sit with me unless you had other plans."

Glancing towards Lee before answering, "Sounds good. Honestly I just tagged along."

 

In the background, "Ouch!"

"Are you ok Kim?" Another crewmember asked.

All eyes turned to the commotion.

"It is my ankle," Kim said holding the offending limb.

"You know that break a leg is just a saying right," Shelby added unhelpfully.

Holding out her hand for support, "Can you stand?"

Reaching for Shelby's hand, Kim was on her feet doing her best to walk but the ankle was strained and starting to swell. It was not long before Kim could not put pressure on it at all.

"Well I think you are out for the night" said Shelby. Kim frowned. She was looking forward to being the lead. Looking towards another crewmember, "I guess it is up to you Sarah."

"Uh?"

Shelby looked worried. "What does 'uh' mean?"

"Well Kim was just so excited about playing lead. She said nothing short of the world bursting into flames would keep her from being here."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning, I only marginally learned the lines."

"Sarah! This is the very reason for having understudies" Shelby groaned.

All the while Lee was slowly backing away from the scene.

Seeing the movement, "Well I guess it is up to you Lee," Anne said. Shelby brightened at the idea.

"No." Simple, firm, direct.

"Lee you have to."

"Wrong."

"Are you really going to let all these people down?"

Seething and glaring at Shelby she answered through gritted teeth, "Fine."

Shelby smiled triumphantly. So annoyed by the predicament, Lee did not notice the growing smile on Riley's face.

Anne motioned for Riley to follow, "We will just go take our seats."

Following Anne, she found herself sitting in a separated part of the theatre. It was balcony view but very private.

"So how long have you known Lee" Anne asked?

Riley grinned, "About an hour and a half."

Anne returned the smile, both holding in laughter.

"And you?"

"Just over two years," Anne supplied.

Riley had a million questions in her mind about Lee but unable to verbalize them all as the lights dimmed for the start of the play. As quietness enveloped the theater, the curtains opened to reveal a band set up on stage. Riley turned to Anne with a confused expression. Now days, music is generally left to sound technicians or the band is set up below the stage. She did not have long to think about it though when Lee stepped into sight. Lee had changed from her suit pants but still had on the I love New Zealand t-shirt. Her suit pants were replaced by long, well fitted linen pants. Instead of heels, her footwear of choice were sandals. In addition she now wore an assortment of jewelry that took on an earthy tone. To finish the ensemble she was wearing a fedora hat tipped stylishly forward.

Watching closely, the lights focused in on Lee as she stepped towards the microphone and began to sing, ( you tube if you have not heard it is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_6ozSFSwTc)

"Hey, man, don't look so scared.
You know I'm only testing you out.
Hey man, don't look so angry,
you're real close to figuring me out.

We are a part of a circle.
It's like a mobius strip,
and it goes round and round until it loses a link.
And there's a shadow in the sky and it looks like rain,
and shit is gonna fly once again.

Hey, man, we look at each other with ample eyes,
so why not some time to discover what's behind your eyes?
I've got so many questions that I want to ask you.
I am so tired of mirrors- pour me a glass of your wine!.."(1)

 

Of course she can sing Anne thought, impressed as always. What she did not expect to see was the memorized look on Riley's face as she watched Lee perform on stage.

"And there's a shadow in the sky and it looks like rain,
and shit is gonna fly once again!
I've got a bunch of government checks at my door.
Each morning I send them back but they only send me more.
I look at myself in the mirror - am I vital today?
Hey, man, I let my conscience get in the way!

And there's a shadow in the sky but it looks like rain,
and shit is gonna fly once again,
and I don't mean to rain on your parade,
but pathos has got me once again...

And I don't want ambivalence
No I don't want ambivalence no more,
No I don't want ambivalence
No I don't want ambivalence no more,

I said I don't want ambivalence
No I don't want ambivalence no more, no more
I said I don't want ambivalence
No I don't want ambivalence no more, no more "(2)


Hooked from the moment Lee opened her mouth, Riley, along with the rest of the audience, watched as the character's story unfolded.

 

The young character's talent opened many doors for her and she was given a shot to make it big. In her ascension to the top, however, the audience watched as Lee's character started making poor decisions, rationalizing each as it was made. She had left behind those character's that helped her become famous, her famous friends influenced her to begin using cocaine, and in the end she became a strung out junkie unable to write or perform her music even marginally well.

 

It was then that she ran into one of her mother's long time friends. This woman was a nurse by trade and worked in a hospital that had a wing specializing in detoxification.

 

The nurse looked at Lee's character, "I have seen many like you little one. If you don't stop, you will die. It is not a matter of if, it is a fact of when."

 

Naturally Lee's character was not interested in the old woman's warning. She continued on partying with her famous counterparts as if she were still on top of the world even though the record deals had stopped coming and she was not being booked on venues. After a long night of partying, Lee's character woke up in a stranger's house. She did not know how she had gotten there. The room smelled of vomit and urine. When she looked over to her friends, they were passed out half naked. Looking at them she noticed the needle marks up and down their arms. She noticed the blotchy redness around their noses. Instantly she thought that she should take them to the hospital that is how sick her friends looked. She was amazed at the power of good make up will do to cover up the ugliness of it all. Turning from the sight, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She had red blotches around her nose as well and a cut above her eye. Not knowing how she came by it she began checking herself over and found how lean she had become. If she did not know better she would have thought herself dying.

 

Walking home she passed by the hospital where the nurse worked. Scared, she walked in the door. Seeing her nurse, "I don't want to die."

 

The nurse enfolded Lee's character in her arms. In the next scene Lee's character dramatized the detoxification process as the lights faded out.

 

When the lights brightened again the nurse asked, "Four months, two weeks, and five days. You think you are ready?"

 

With squared shoulders and chin parallel to the floor, Lee's character smiles up at the nurse.

 

Walking to the exit of the hospital the nurse calls after her, "A meeting a day and don't hesitate to call me if you need me!"

 

"I hear you" Lee's character intoned as she left the hospital.

"That's fine, but make sure you listen!"

 

Turning back to the nurse, Lee's character presses her lips to the glass door leaving a kiss. "I am listening. Thank you" she answered sincerely.

 

Going home is never easy, but ultimately the family comes around as Lee's character makes amends for her previous actions.

 

The mother of Lee's character walks over holding a guitar.

 

Before anything is said Lee hold's up her hand, "Mom I don't think this is a good idea. The last time I went that direction I messed everything up terribly. And you hear everybody talking. Some say I am a failure. Some say that I couldn't cut it. That I am nothing. Oh, and everyone has a suggestion on what I should be doing. "

 

"Listen child. You made mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. A person's character is defined by what they do afterward. You can sit here and waste the wonderful talent you have in fear, or you can sing. I would prefer you sing. You worry about yourself. You let me worry about you as a mother's prerogative. Ignore everyone else. Let them worry for themselves."

 

The lights dim as the next scene is set up. As the lights rise up again, you could see the band set up in the same way it had been at the beginning of the play. Again Lee steps toward the microphone.

( youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OscyJP83lo)

 

"Somebody told me once that pain is a game we all gotta play.
Then why am I in overtime and sudden death every other day.
I know that for the good of life there's a price we all gotta pay
But I'll pay till I'm poor and I still don't know what it is to have a good day.
Yeah
Since everybody knows what it is that I need to do.
Well do me a favor, let me worry bout me and you worry bout you.

I don't need no one to put me down,
I'm on the ground, can't get no lower.
And I don't need no one to hang around an make me frown just makes me look older.
And I don't need no one to black my eye and tell me lies
Don't wanna cry over nobody else
No no no no I can do bad all by myself

Somebody told me once that running from the rain don't make no sense.
I had my own dark cloud for awhile now, it goes where ever I'm going.
Yeah
Your telling me the grass just might be greener on the other side.
But I don't wanna take a chance on dirt when I got grass even tho the grass has died.
Oh since everybody knows what it is that I need to do,
Well do me a favor, let me worry bout me and you worry bout you

I don't need no one to put me down,
I'm on the ground, can't get no lower.
And I don't need no one to hang around an make me frown just makes me look older.
And I don't need no one to black my eye and tell me lies
Don't wanna cry over nobody else
No no no no I can do bad all by myself

 

Some feel real bad for me
I didn't ask you for your sympathy
No I know God is watching over me
So I guess that the good I was supposed to be
Ohh yes


I don't need no one to put me down,
I'm on the ground, can't get no lower.
And I don't need no one to hang around an make me frown just makes me look older.
And I don't need no one to black my eye and tell me lies
Don't wanna cry over nobody else
No no no no I can do bad all by myself "(3)

 

 

Close curtain.

 

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Chapter 4: The After Party

 

"Lee that was great," Shelby exclaimed running up to greet Lee. "Amazing as always."

Anne and Riley rounded the corner catching Lee's eye.

 

"A playwright, an actress, a singer, and a business woman that spends her time signing documents. Is there anything you can't do" Riley asks smiling?

 

"No!" Shelby interrupts. "And we all hate her for it!"

 

All listening nodded good naturedly in agreement.

 

"Come on Lee time to party," Shelby called rummaging out a bottle of rum.

 

"Not for me thanks"

 

"Come on Lee. Let your hair down, literally, and come have a drink. You know it is tradition to have a party after a big production."

 

"By all means, enjoy yourself"

 

Rolling her eyes she turned to Anne hoping for backup. For her part Anne was about to shrug when she noticed Riley. Never before had she seen Lee show up with anyone, to anything.

 

"How about you Riley. Are you in the mood for a let your hair down type of party," Anne asked?

 

Smiling mischievously, "Well I would hate to ruin tradition."

 

 

Once the audience had left, the stage was opened up again with music in the background and lots of drinking.

 

All four moved to the dance floor, drink in hand. Shelby was a free spirit while Anne danced more modestly. Riley and Lee both moved well to the beat. Just as the song was ending a boy called out to Lee.

 

Watching as he came closer, "Hello Eric."

 

Holding up a piece of paper to Lee, a huge smile adorned his face. The letter showed enrollment in college classes.

 

"That's great. What are you majoring in?"

"Well I thought I would do the arts, but I want to double major in business as well."

 

"I am glad for you."

 

Continuing to stand and look at Lee expectantly.

 

"What?"

 

"You promised me a dance if I enrolled in classes."

 

Lee looked over to Anne and Shelby snickering. "You did Lee, I remember. He asked you to dance and you said you would if he enrolled."

 

Holding his hand out to her, Lee sighed and acquiesced.

 

Riley watched, fascinated, "Of course she can dance."

 

The pair laughed in response. "Of course she can, she's Lee."

 

"Shelby, come dance with me," someone called out from the crowd.

As Shelby moved to go dance, Riley and Anne were left by themselves.

 

"I could use a water. You?" asked Anne.

 

"That sounds good," replied Riley. "So, who's Eric?"

 

"One of Lee's many admirers. No, uh. Eric had a bit of a rough life. His mother was a junkie and left him at the age of four. His father died of a heart attack when he was ten. Eric was moved from foster home to foster home. I guess some of the homes were not terribly welcoming. At fifteen he ran away. He was on the street about two years when Lee met him." Anne laughed, "Actually, I think he was terrified of her in the beginning. I was with her at the time. He had tried to pick her pocket on the street but she caught him. Then she asked him why he was a thief. He answered that he was hungry. He was about to run away when she stepped in front of his path. She said that he could either go to jail for being a thief or follow her. The next thing I know, she walked into the next restaurant and bought him a meal. When he was finished, she took him downtown and bought him a nice outfit and gave him a business card. She looked at him and told him that everyone has choices in life. He could continue to be a thief or he could learn to take care of himself. Should he wish to be more than what he was he should show up at the business address on the card at three pm the next day. Naturally I thought she was nuts. However, he has turned out to be a hardworking young man." Laughing, "I am not sure what Lee likes most, helping the underdog, or the challenge."

 

Riley laughed at the story. "And a philanthropist."

 

"That's Lee, business woman, playwright, actress, and philanthropist. You see why we hate her."

 

Riley smiled.

 

As Eric and Lee finished the dance, they headed over toward Riley and Anne. After reaching their destination Eric asked, "Lee, I was wondering if you, I mean would you like to..."

 

Lee interrupted, "Have you noticed Liz."

 

He turned to look over in Liz's direction.

 

"She has been looking at you all evening. I do believe she is interested in you."

 

Eric turned back towards Lee. "And you? I mean, could you ever be interested in me?"

 

Lee answered gently, "Not in the way you would like me to be."

 

"I am the younger sibling right" said Eric looking sullen.

 

Lee nodded at the statement. "Liz on the other hand I'm sure would love to have a young gentleman such as yourself pining after her."

 

Smiling again at Lee. "Are you sure there is no.."

 

"No" answered Lee interrupting him. She knew it was best to be direct.

 

"Well I had to try" he smiled and then turned and went to get a coke. It was not long before Liz found him and they began dancing.

 

Anne looked at Lee.

 

"Don't" Lee said.

 

Anne doing her best to feign ignorance, "Don't what?"

 

Lee glared.

 

Anne couldn't help but jibe at her. "Is there anyone you meet that does not fall for you?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Really?" She leaned towards Lee with a quizzical look, "Who?"

 

Riley was smiling at the bickering.

 

"Come on Lee let's dance," Anne said grabbing both Riley's and Lee's hands to join in with Shelby on the dance floor.

 

After about an hour more of dancing and far too many drinks later, the quartet decided to hang it up for the night.

 

Anne and Shelby where smashed. Riley was tipsy but not quite drunk. Lee, being a good Irish woman was within her tolerable limit, but not by much.

 

"Lee you are the bessst!" Shelby said way too loudly. "I can't wait see the nessxt Shosshi...Shoshawne..Sho..shan..na." she hiccupped.

 

"To Lee!" Anne mocked raising a glass to Lee in agreement before falling into the taxi cab with Shelby.

 

Riley had thrown an arm around Lee's shoulders. "You throw a great party"

 

"Shelby," Lee said pointing to the taxi, "Not me."

 

Riley waved at the taxi and then focused again on Lee. "I'm hungry. Are you hungry?"

 

Lee tried to think straight but was a little fuzzy from the alcohol. "There is a Chinese restaurant nearby."

 

A huge grin crossed Riley's face. "We could eat Chinese food and watch old I Love Lucy episodes."

 

Lee laughed. She knew she should say no, but the smile Riley was beaming at her made it impossible to do so. "Ok."

 

"Where do you live?"

 

Lee pointed, "That way," she said as they entered the taxi.

 

 

Entering Lee's apartment, the two sat down to eat. I Love Lucy was playing in the background.

 

Continuing to laugh even as the credits were coming to a close. "When I was younger, I use to dress up like Lucille Ball. I would put on a red wig and bright red lipstick and dance around my home." Riley reminisced.

 

Lee smiled at the story.

 

"Who did you dream of becoming growing up?"

 

A far off expression crossed Lee's eyes, "A bee charmer."

 

"A bee charmer huh."

 

Lee nodded.

 

"No doubt an extraordinary one," Riley said finishing her water.

 

"Would you like more?"

 

Riley contemplated, "Uh, yea that would be great."

 

Lee rose to fetch the water. On her return she saw Riley laying back against the coach. She had fallen asleep. Lee was about to wake her when Riley sighed and broke into a large grin. She smiles when she sleeps. Thinking it sinful to wake someone who sleeps so peacefully, she decided instead to lay a blanket over top of Riley. With a last glance, Lee went to her bedroom to sleep.

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Chapter 5: The Bee Charmer

 

I find myself standing in a stadium. People all around me are cheering for their team. The woman next to me was especially excited.

 

"Go Marco! Go!" she cried enthusiastically. She had brown hair down to the middle of her back. Without reason I could tell she was one of those woman you knew had a kind spirit. With a genuine smile on her face she cheered on her team. A young boy looked towards the crowd and smiled. He wore number 15 on his shirt with the name Santino on the back.

 

She leaned over to me. "That is my son. Handsome is he not?"

 

The look of pride on her face was enthralling. I nodded at the woman.

 

"Who do you cheer for?"

 

I looked toward the field, "No one." I said.

 

"Just a fan. It is no wonder. Our boys are the best in the league."

 

I nodded again. I looked towards her son, a boy, no more than seventeen. He was fast and decent player; a hard worker no doubt. The maneuvers he and his team were doing must have been drilled over and over to perform as well as they did.

 

"He wants to go to the university. He has worked so hard to make this team so as to get a scholarship."

 

I listened to the woman while staring at her son.

 

"His father thinks he should be fisherman like him. Not my son though. He has such dreams. He wants to study the stars. An astronomer." The pride in her voice was so evident. "I bought him his first telescope at the age of seven. Not a night goes by that he does not spend hours dreaming of what may be. I received the letter this morning. I have not told him yet. He was accepted. Full scholarship. I have planned a celebration after the game."

 

"You must be so proud of him."

 

She nods enthusiastically and turns to me. "What do you dream of?"

 

 

Covered in sweat Lee jolted up from the bed. Hands closed in fists and heart racing she tried to catch her breath. Taking in large gulps of air she willed her body to calm itself. When she had regained a measure of control, she wiped her brow and headed towards the shower. What do you dream of? The words echoed in her mind as she rinsed the soap off her body. Thinking of her companion in the next room, she turned off the shower. It was six thirty in the morning. She doubted Riley would be awake and walked towards the living room to confirm. She was still sleeping, but maintained the contented look she wore the previous evening.

 

Walking towards the kitchen she decided to make breakfast. Eggs for protein, crepes for sugar.

 

Riley awoke to the smell of cooking. Having slept on the couch, she was a bit stiff and took a moment to stretch her arms and legs. In the middle of her stretch she realized, Shit! I am not at home. Where the...? Oh crap! Standing up slowly she made her way to the kitchen. She did not consider herself the shy type but in this moment, she felt incredibly awkward.

 

Making it just in the doorway, "Hello. I am so sorry for falling asleep. You should have woke me. Anyway, I will just call a taxi and be on my..."

 

"Are you hungry?" Lee interrupted.

 

Riley paused at the question. How can she be so calm about this. She is practically a stranger to me and I am sleeping on her couch. I have lost my mind. "Thank you, but really I should be going."

 

Despite Riley's protests, Lee had set the table for two already. "Are you sure?"

 

Unable to resist, Riley looked towards what Lee was cooking. Of course she can cook.

 

"I am sorry for not waking you last night. Perhaps I should have, but you just looked so content. Anyway, the taxi will take time to get here. You might as well eat something. I am having a spinach, tomato and cheese omelet with raspberry and kiwi crepes."

 

By this time Riley's mouth was watering. Trying to diffuse the tension, "I don't suppose you are just trying to delay me until the paparazzi arrive," she said smiling.

 

"Well honestly I thought about it. The great Riley Shelton driving off with strangers, partying, and sleeping at strange apartments. A story for sure." Riley's eyes widened as she took a deep breath. "But then I realized they would probably want my picture as well and I am terribly camera shy." Lee grinned at Riley's visible relief. "Is what I am having ok or would you like something different?" Lee asked innocently.

 

Defeated, she nodded, then pursing her lips together to keep from laughing, "Do you always let strange people sleep in your apartment?"

 

Laughing at the jest and leaning in towards Riley as similarly as Riley leaned into her on the motorcycle the day before, "No. But I had a really good feeling about you."

 

Laughing outwardly at this point, all the tension Riley was feeling before was immediately alleviated.

 

Lee served the food. "I am going to have a blueberry pomegranate tea to drink. What would you like? I have cranberry juice, orange juice, coffee, tea?"

 

"What you're drinking sounds great."

 

With that Lee moved to the refrigerator to obtain the tea. The tea was from a simple glass pitcher. Obviously homemade.

 

"What?"

 

Riley pointed to the pitcher of tea. "You are one of those women who are good at everything aren't you. Is there anything you can't do?"

 

"Several things," Lee replied easily.

 

"Such as?"

 

Lee shrugged her shoulders and gave a half frown as she brought the tea to the table. "I can't tell you."

 

"Why is that?" Riley smiled accepting the tea.

 

"Well," she sighed. "It would completely ruin my image."

 

"Naturally." Riley replied shaking her head. "So, besides picking up strays, what does a bee charmer do on the weekends?"

 

"I don't have anything planned really. Normally I would work through the weekend, but I have decided to take this weekend off."

 

Riley smiled as she began eating. This is so good. Then frowning, I burn toast!

 

Interrupting her thoughts, "And you? What do famous actresses do on the weekend?"

 

Laughing, "Actually, I have a couple of photo shoots today. One is at ten this morning and the other is at four this afternoon."

 

"Well that sounds terribly exciting."

 

Riley answered sarcastically, "Isn't it though?" And then added, "It is for a good cause."

 

"Do you need a ride?"

 

Riley bit her bottom lip. "You want to chauffeur me to my photo shoots? Surely you can come up with something better to do than that."

 

"Not really." She shrugged.

 

Not sure whether to accept or not she looked towards Lee. Most people who want to go with Riley to photo shoots or the like are looking to be discovered. She hated it when people used her as a way to get ahead. Unfortunately, being famous made many of these people seek her out, pretending to be her friend only for advancement of themselves. When she looked at Lee though, she saw none of this. Lee was, different. "If you like. I have to go home and change first."

 

Lee nodded her acknowledgement.

 

"I guess I should call that taxi after all. We left your bike at the theatre yesterday."

 

Lee smiled, "I have a car as well."

 

Mischievously, "Well that's no fun."

 

 

 

After the taxi dropped them off at the theatre Riley mounted the motorcycle. Lee's only response was a grin. As Lee moved to sit down, Riley wrapped her arms around Lee.

 

"Are you alright?" Riley asked.

 

"Of course, why?"

 

"You just stiffened when I put my arms around your waist. I must have really got you with the coffee yesterday. I am not sure where else to put my hands though."

 

Not realizing that she had stiffened, Lee noticeably relaxed her posture. "You're not hurting me. I am just not use to having a passenger. I did not realize I stiffened up."

 

"You're sure?"

 

Nodding, "I'm fine. Where to?"

 

"Actually not far from where we met yesterday. There is a building not far down near the park called the Rec Center. The photo shoot is there."

 

Lee took off on the motorcycle with Riley in tow. Having an ample amount of time to reach the destination, Lee took surface streets in order for Riley to enjoy the ride. Arriving at the Rec Center, they dismounted the bike. When Lee did not immediately follow Riley, she turned to ask,

 

"Coming?"

 

"Actually I thought I would wait in the park. I know I made the joke about the paparazzi earlier, but I am actually quite camera shy."

 

"Lee, you perform on stage," Riley said unbelievingly.

 

"Small theatre and no cameras," Lee shrugged.

 

Just as Riley was about to interject, "Don't worry about me. I saw a magazine stand about a block back. I am just going to find a magazine and enjoy the fresh air at the park bench over there." Lee pointed towards the bench in question. "I will be a ready and waiting chauffeur when you return."

 

"Alright then, it should only take about an hour."

 

During the photo shoot, Riley's mind continuously wandered back to Lee. Maybe it is because she is American. This didn't make sense though either. Most American's Riley knew were way different than Lee. She could not put her finger on it, but Lee was different from anyone she had ever met before. She felt so secure around Lee for just having met the woman. Despite her experience to the contrary, she truly felt like she could be herself around Lee with no worry for judgment or reprisal. Taking the last of the pictures Riley gave a short interview, thanked everyone for their time and walked towards the exit of the building. Upon her exit she saw a small child pointing towards the tree behind Lee. In the tree was a pink and blue kite that was obviously stuck. The little girl was accompanied by what she perceived to be her brother holding a young golden retriever. Laying her magazine down, Lee walked towards the tree and began climbing. By the time she crossed the street towards the park, Lee had successfully freed the kite from the offending branch. The children shouted there thank you when the puppy bolted off. The children ran after the excited dog. As she arrived at the tree she looked up to see Lee making her decent. As Lee approached the lower branches she caught sight of Riley looking up at her grinning.

 

At the bottom branch, Lee jumped down.

Pursing her lips and pointing towards the tree trunk, "There is a good explanation for why I was in the tree," she offered.

 

Riley nodded and leaned against the tree with a huge grin on her face.

 

"There was a little girl, her brother, and a puppy named Pete. The little girl had gotten the kite stuck in the tree and asked me to free it." She is going to think I am crazy.

 

Unable to control herself, Riley burst into laughter. Despite having witnessed it she replied, "Uh huh."

 

"Honestly."

 

Acquiescing, "I know, I saw them run off. I just wanted to hear you explain it."

 

Grinning at her predicament, "I take it the photo shoot went well."

 

Riley nodded agreement. "You know, when I was that age I liked kites also. I use to think that if I ran with them, they would lift me off the ground and I could fly away with them."

 

"And where would they take you?"

 

"I don't know. I use to dream of traveling when I was younger. I have done a fair amount since then and even moved around a bit. I enjoyed it at the time, but I don't believe I would want to move again. Travel yes, but not move. Where would I move that could take me anywhere better than here? Do you miss the states?"

 

Lee shook her head no. Then having an idea.

 

"You said your next photo shoot was at four?"

 

"Mmm hmm."

 

Lee grinned, "I know somewhere we could eat lunch. It's a bit out of the way, but I promise to have you back in plenty of time for your next photo shoot."

 

Riley knew Lee had more on her mind than what she said. Unable to resist her curiosity Riley jumped on the back of the bike. The ride took about an hour. Riding through the twisted roads made the trip more enjoyable. It had been awhile since Riley was able to just look out and view all the greenery that made up New Zealand. God I love this place. The longer the ride took, Riley realized they were heading up towards the mountains. Where is she taking me. About halfway up the mountain, Lee turned off the main road. She pulled up near small vendor selling sandwiches.


"I will be right back." Lee said.

 

Riley's amusement was evident. She had driven and hour out of the way for a sandwich. Bringing the food back she asked Riley to hold the bag containing two sandwiches and two bottles of water. Hopping back on the bike, they continued up the side of the mountain for a few more minutes before pulling of near the side in a rest area. Riley had to admit the sight was beautiful. Dismounting the bike Lee motioned for Riley to follow her near the edge.

 

"I thought you might enjoy this."

 

As Riley peered over the side she saw something in the distant canyon, but couldn't quite make it out. What she thought she saw was an overgrown kite. She looked at Lee questioningly.

 

"What is it?" She asked too soon because just then on the edge of a cliff above them she saw two people standing on a flying contraption. She could only imagine that this was she saw entering the canyon at the bottom of the mountain. She watched as the two riders neared the edge, dove over, and took flight as they slowly flew down the canyon passage. There cries of excitement could be heard even at the distance.

 

The look on Riley's face was priceless. Well worth the ride a thousand times over. The riders basically jumped off the side of a mountain in a flying contraption. She had never seen anything like it before and she had lived here most of her life. It took about a total of ten minutes before the contraption landed at the bottom of the canyon. She could just imagine the excitement it would be to fly in one.

 

"Feel like a ride?" Lee asked.

 

"Not on your life. Those people are crazy." Riley responded despite the fact that she was overcome with excitement.

 

"I thought you wanted to fly away on a kite." Lee grinned.

 

"A child's dream. I didn't realize people actually did it," she laughed. "I would die of fright."

 

Lee looked on mischievously.

 

"No." Riley responded as if knowing what Lee was about to say.

 

Lee continued to smile. "I bet you would jump given the right circumstances."

 

"There is nothing in this world that would make me jump over the side of a cliff."

 

"That's not true."

 

"Oh really. Well what do you think would make me jump?"

 

"Love." Lee countered. Just as Riley was about to reject the notion Lee continued. "If someone you loved was at the bottom of the cliff and the only way you could save their life was to jump off this cliff in one of those flying contraptions I bet you would do it."

 

"That is a highly implausible situation."

 

Firm in her belief, "You would still jump."

 

Deciding not to agree or disagree Riley asked, "And you? What would you jump for?"

 

"Many reasons. If for no other, to see that I could. It is one thing to stand on the ground and say that you would jump. It is another to stand on the cliff and dive over."

 

"You're crazy!"

 

Lee smiled in response. The pair ate lunch as they continued to watch as pair after pair took turns flying down the mountain side. Neither wanted to leave, but Riley needed to return. Climbing on the motorcycle, the two returned to the city.

 

 

Once again Lee sat outside as Riley went to the photo shoot and once again Riley's mind drifted toward her new friend. Compared to the afternoon she just had, the photo shoot was quite boring. Riley couldn't wait to be finished. On the other hand, she was afraid that Lee would simply drop her off at home once the shoot had ended. In order to escape that end, she spent the rest of the shoot trying to devise a plan to entice Lee to spend the evening with her. Unfortunately, she could not come up with anything as exciting as the way they spent the afternoon. Deciding she couldn't put of the inevitable any longer she left the shoot. This time Lee was sitting quietly on the park bench continuing to page through her magazine. As soon as Riley came near Lee looked up and smiled.

 

"That didn't take long."

 

"This one didn't include an interview."

 

"Hmm. So where to now? Shall I take you home?"

 

Damn. "Uh yea I guess so, I am finished with all my business today. Thank you for driving me around."

 

"My pleasure."

 

Just as before Lee took the surface streets allowing Riley to take in the full beauty of her home town. Riley's home was not more than another few minutes away. On the ride home all she could think of was to invite Lee in for a drink since she was kind enough to chauffeur her around all day.

 

Pulling up to a stop sign Lee asked, "Are you tired?"

 

"No." Riley answered a little to enthusiastically.

 

Lee smiled. "Waiuku has a festival this time of year. There are a number of different shops that might be fun to run through. It is a bit out of the way."

 

Tightening her grip, "Let's go."

 

 

 

The festival was full of excitement. All over there were people singing and dancing. Vendors set up their tables full of knick knacks and trinkets. Being only six in the evening, the festival was just starting to get under way. To the side Riley saw a store that interested her. Pulling Lee along she recognized it as a costume store. To Lee's surprise Riley picked out an outfit and motioned for Lee to stay there. When she came back out she looked like a woman straight out of the seventies. Plaid pants, a shiny shirt and an afro wig completed the ensemble. Lee couldn't help but laugh. She went to change again and came out wearing a poodle skirt and matching sweater vest. Pulling Lee up she threw a costume at Lee. Lee tried to refuse but Riley just nodded her head and pushed Lee towards a dressing room. When they both came out, Riley was wearing a golfing outfit while Lee looked as though she were a hippie. Changing again Riley put on a scientist outfit while Lee came out dressed as a pirate. Coming to their senses they left the store and continued wandering down the street glazing over each vendor. Stopping, Riley bought a bracelet. It was very simple in design made of rocks and shells. The bracelet itself was not bulky in size despite the fact it was mostly made of rocks. Instead, the piece was a rather earthy piece of jewelry. It looked as though someone went to the beach to find the pieces to make this bracelet. That is not to say it was not well made. In fact the bracelet was quite beautiful. Lee had never seen that color blue on the rocks before and the shells although simply white in color added a bit of charm to the bracelet. Turning, Riley took Lee's hand and slipped the bracelet on.

 

"It suits you."

 

"Thank you," Lee replied. "I know we have been eating all day but would you like to get something to eat? Something light?"

 

Finding the nearest patio cafe the two sat down and shared salad and bread.

 

"So how long are you staying here?"

 

"Tired of me already?"

 

"No, not at all. Just wondering when you had to return to the states?"

 

Smiling at the statement she replied, "Not for some time."

 

"Yea?"

 

Lee nodded.

 

"Well that's great. We need good people here," she laughed.

 

"Actually, I'm not American." Unsure what compelled her to divulge this information, all Lee knew is that she did not want to lie to Riley. Everything she was taught told her not to give such information away, but looking at Riley, those lessons seemed to melt away.

 

"No?"

 

"No. My mother was Irish and my father Italian. I was born in Ireland. Truthfully, I have not spent more than six months in America."

 

"Then what's with the accent?"

 

Lee smiled. "It helps in business. Usually, Irishwomen are seen as too stubborn for their own good and therefore not many people want to do business with them. Italians are seen as lovers of life and thus many think Italian women are better suited to passion than to business. American women, however, are seen as ambitious and aggressive. Whereas this is not always good, if an American woman can back up her talent with ability, she is usually taken seriously. Americans are go getters. Like I said, it is purely for business purposes. I have used it so long though I tend to just maintain the accent. Going back and forth would just lead to confusion and then problems." She took a sip of her drink. "Even Anne and Shelby don't realize I am not American. I have always used it."

 

"So why tell me?"

 

"I don't know," whispered Lee honestly.

 

Riley smiled. "I'm glad. So can I hear your real accent?"

 

Lee laughed and complied, "Aye, but don go 'n tell anyone. If Annie ev'r found out I'd never hear the end of it."

 

Riley laughed, "It suits you."

 

Lee nodded. Finishing dinner the two walked along the beach sharing conversation. In reality, Riley talked while Lee listened. Riley spoke of her favorite music and movies. She spoke about where she grew up as a child and what schools she attended. She even spoke about the weather. Even though Riley would ask Lee questions, Lee would give a short answer and then move the conversation back to Riley's life. Continuing down the beach Lee spotted a vendor selling kites.

 

Smiling, she turned to Riley with innocent eyes, "Do ya favor any of 'em?"

 

With gleaming eyes Riley pointed.

 

Now sitting on the beach the two watched the kite, each taking turns making sure the string was tight in order to keep it flying overhead. They continued to fly the kite even as the sun began to set.

 

"Thank you,"

 

Lee turned to Riley, "For what?"

 

"For this. I have had such fun these past couple of days."

 

"As have I."

 

 

It was dark as Lee pulled into Riley's driveway. Dismounting, Lee walked Riley to her doorstep stopping just shy of the door.

 

"I don't suppose you want to come in for a drink?"

 

"If I come in I may end up asleep on your couch."

 

Riley laughed. "I wouldn't leave you on the couch... I have a spare bedroom."

 

Despite her desire, "Another time. Goodnight Riley."

 

Just as Lee turned to leave, "Lee?"

 

Lee turned back to Riley.

 

Riley smiled and tried to think of the best way to phrase the question. "Listen, I know I have taken up your weekend but I was wondering if you wanted to come to a party with me tomorrow evening. It is going to be terribly boring with terrible food and awful music."

 

Sarcastically, "You sure know how to tempt someone."

 

Laughing, "Just giving you an honest assessment. Anyway, I have to go to this party every year but I thought if you were to join me it wouldn't be so bad. I'm sure we could find some way to make it fun."

 

"When is it?"

 

"It starts at four thirty. Usually there is drinks and dancing as guests arrive. Dinner is at six. Then more dancing."

 

"Sure."

 

"Yea? Great. Oh there is one thing. Everyone is suppose to wear all white clothing. Don't ask, I don't know. Last year it was all blue. Anyway if you like we could go shopping before."

 

"Actually, I told Anne I would meet her for a barbeque. It will probably last most of the afternoon. It might be better if I just met you at the party. I am sure I can come up with something to wear."

 

"Great!" Riley wrote down the address of the party. "Just tell them you are my guest."

 

Lee accepted the note. Taking a last look at Riley, she turned and left for the evening.

 

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Chapter six: I could use some chocolate in my life

 

"Lee! Lee! You came!" came Sarah's eager greeting.

 

"I had to. Your mother informed me that you were in desperate need of chocolate pie," Lee said handing the pie to Anne.

 

Throwing herself into Lee's arms and giggling, "I really like chocolate pie."

 

"I would have figured you for a lemon meringue myself."

 

"Lemon?! Those are sour Lee. Pies are suppose to be sweet."

 

"My mistake."

 

"Come on child let Lee catch her breath before you smother her," said Anne.

 

Sarah turned to Lee, "Am I smothering you?"

 

"Sarah Anne Torres, don't you start that mess. Come over here and help me set the table."

 

Before long the barbeque was underway. There was music and games all of which Sarah insisted Lee be a part of. Naturally, with Lee's help the two were victorious nearly every time.

 

Despite enjoying the festivities, Lee's mind continued to wander. She needed to solve her riddle. Where are you hiding Paul? She had been looking for Paul for nearly three years now. If she could find him, she could put an end to it.

 

Looking at the company around her, she wondered what it would be like to live so freely. Laughing and giggling surrounding her at every turn. Anne was tickling Sarah and her husband Jeff was chasing after their other daughter Cassy. Cassy was running as fast as she could holding onto the Frisbee. The father in hot pursuit over exaggerating his missed attempts to catch her.

 

"You would be surprised what people will do for the ones they love." A shiver ran up Lee's spine with the memory of Eliane always near. Looking out at the family in front of her, she knew that such a life was never possible for people like her. An incredible sadness washed through her. Despite her anguish, she maintained a gentle smile while looking over the family.

 

 

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Chapter 7: Happy Birthday

 

After changing for the party Lee decided to push the unhappy thoughts away. This evening she was going to spend with Riley. Though she knew she could not continue like this, she decided to enjoy the evening anyway.

 

As usual, she parked her motorcycle near the side making for an easy out of need be. As usual, her hair was bound up tightly in a French roll with silver hair pins. She never wore regular bobby pins, instead she preferred the elegant elongated metal that she could wrap her hair around. For her outfit she wore long white trousers and a white silk blouse. To finish, she wore white stilettos with a silver heel.

 

The party was for the Prime Minister's daughter. All of the who's who was here to pay their respects. The fact that Riley was on the guest list was a major indicator of her influence. Walking down the marble steps, a waiter offered her a glass of champagne. She accepted and continued to scan the room for Riley.

 

For Riley's part, she had caught sight of Lee the moment she entered. Beautiful. Making her way through the crowd towards Lee she tried to still her fluttering stomach. "You made it." She hugged Lee.

 

Being unused to having people randomly hug her, Lee haphazardly returned it. "Of course."

 

"So how was your barbeque?"

 

"It was good. I was in charge of bringing the chocolate pie. Sarah, Anne's daughter, has something of a sweet tooth."

 

Smiling, "All children have a sweet tooth. Thank you again for coming I was bored to tears."

 

"Already? How long have you been here?

 

Just as Riley was about to answer, the two were interrupted. "Who is your guest?"

 

Both Riley and Lee turned towards the Prime Minister's daughter. Riley answered, "Ms. Harper this is Lee, Lee...Gillian Harper."

 

"Ms. Harper, thank you for having me at your party. Happy birthday," Lee extended her hand.

 

Taking Lee's hand in her own she held on a little too long for Lee's comfort. "I am so glad you could come Lee. And please call me Gillian. I'm sorry I did not catch your last name."

 

"Just Lee," she said as she pulled her hand back.

 

"Of course," Gillian said seductively. Leaning towards Riley she whispered, "Now if I knew you kept company like this, I would insist you bring her every year."

 

You could tell Riley's annoyance was hitting a brim. Flirting is one thing, but the way Gillian was circling Lee she looked like a shark deciding the best way to devour her prey.

 

"So tell me about yourself Lee."

 

"Nothing exciting I'm afraid."

 

"Oh I doubt that," was Gillian's reply.

 

Riley interrupted, "Hey Lee did you want to see the gardens outside, they are quite lovely. Besides I am sure Gillian needs to say hello to the rest of her guests."

 

"After you." She turned towards Gillian, "Happy birthday."

 

For Gillian, she just watched as the pair made their way to the entrance.

 

"I am sorry about that."

 

"For what, it is not the first time someone has taken an interest in me. Unfortunately, I am afraid she will be thoroughly disappointed in my lack thereof."

 

"Still."

 

"Don't worry about it. Some people are far more forward than others." Changing the subject, "Her garden however is lovely. Who do you think landscapes it? I cannot imagine a woman like her playing in the dirt purposefully."

 

Riley laughed. "I'm not sure but I can ask her if you like."

 

"No... I'm good."

 

"You don't want me to draw her attention back?" Riley teased.

 

Lee smiled in response and then added, "Only if you want to eat dinner alone."

 

"Harsh."

 

The two wondered about the landscaping until about a quarter before six before heading back inside. As expected people were taking their seats for dinner.

 

"Lee, Riley, I saved you a place next to mine. Come sit with me," Gillian requested.

 

The pair looked at each other and smiled before walking towards their seats. For the next half an hour the two listened as Gillian was doing her best to impress Lee. She talked about all the political influence she had amassed over the past few years. How she has been able to influence counsel to her point of view. How she has even traveled abroad to speak at various political functions. Lee did her best to act interested while Riley scooted her peas across the plate for the third time. Lee noticed the movement and smirked. Riley caught the direction of Lee's eyes and smiled back. She was about to say something when once again Gillian interrupted.

 

"Did I say something funny?"

 

Clearing her throat, "No, no, go on."

 

"Actually, I would like to hear about you."

 

"Like I said, nothing interesting. Perhaps you should talk to Riley," she said as she gave a teasing glance in Riley's direction. "She's famous." Riley nudged Lee under the table as Lee continued to grin at her.

 

"Oh yes. I know a lot about Riley. In fact, I use to watch her perform when I was younger. I loved her shows. I am also quite aware of her business ventures. Quite clever. You however, I know nothing about. What do you do?"

 

Before Lee could give her the I sign papers for a living answer, Riley interjected, "She is a bee charmer."

 

"A bee charmer?"

 

Lee nudged Riley back before nodding her agreement to Gillian. Riley's grin was near ear to ear at this point.

 

"How does that work. Do you have a bee farm?" asked Gillian credulously.

 

"No, just when I come across them."

 

"How often does that happen?"

 

"You'd be surprised."

 

"Well, I am not much for bees, but I can understand them. You are most definitely charming," Gillian laid her hand over Lee's. "Dance with me?"

 

"Two left feet I'm afraid. I'm a terrible dancer."

 

Leaning closer to Lee, "With hips like those I very much doubt that."

 

 

Pulling back, "And judging by the ring on your left hand, your fiancé would not be particularly happy if I agreed."

 

A dark guttural laugh emerged. "If you haven't noticed Lee, I tend to get what I want. And I want you."

 

"Gil.."

 

Lee held up a hand to stop Riley from interrupting. Staring directly at Gillian, "Then I fear all you will be left with is disappointment." At that Lee excused herself from the table telling those in near proximity that she was feeling a little flush and was going to get some air. Riley followed.

 

"Lee, I am so sorry. I did not know she would act like this. I expected her to flirt with you like she does with me and everyone else. I didn't expect her to be so rude."

 

When Lee turned around Riley was surprised to see that Lee did not look angry.

 

"You cannot control what other people do Riley, only what you do. She does not bother me. I just didn't want to sit that close to her anymore. If she got any closer she may have ended up in my lap," Lee smiled. "Besides, the food was terrible and I thought you may want an out of dinner before you pushed your peas across the plate for the fourth time."

 

Riley laughed in response. "I don't normally have a problem with peas but I am just not sure what she cooked those with. They tasted awful."

 

"Why do you come to this party every year if you dislike it so?"

 

"Because when you are invited to the Prime Minister's house, you do not decline the invitation unless you have an extremely good reason."

 

As they walked along the outside of the house, they came upon a swing set. Lee sat down and began to rock back and forth. Riley followed suit.

 

"Says who?"

 

Riley laughed, "I don't know. I just know it's not a good idea."

 

"Seems to me that she should be honored you would show up. I have seen the influence you have on people even in the short time I have known you. Everyone I have tried to introduce you to already knows you. And not one of those people has had a negative reaction to you. And yesterday, when I took you to the photo shoots, I noticed that they were for charity. One was for 'Good Samaritan' and the other was for the 'Cancer Center Research'. I have a feeling that the fundraising efforts of both institutions will be much higher now that it has your support. You do it because it is right to do so. If Gillian ever did something like that it would be purely for looks and the press. She is not the type that cares for the less fortunate."

 

"Thank you." Riley said to the unexpected compliment.

 

"Besides, you could always schedule a fundraiser at this time of year and then send a birthday gift in the mail. That way you would still be acknowledging her and not have to come to the party. I cannot imagine that even she would be so callous as to demand that you stop helping people so you can come and be harassed at her party," Lee grinned.

 

Riley laughed but inside her mind was seriously assessing whether she could get away with that. Maybe if it was for a volunteer group the Prime Minister himself supported. "On the bright side, we can leave soon, I have made an appearance and made it through dinner."

 

Across the way the pair looked up to see Gillian approaching.

 

"I thought you two had gotten lost," she called out.

 

"Just getting some air," was Riley's response.

 

"The music is becoming lively," she looked to Lee. "I am still waiting for my dance."

 

Riley was so close to losing her temper she had stood up and started to approach Gillian. Quick to response Lee reached out and stopped Riley by taking her hand.

"I know this place." Riley turned around to look at Lee as she continued. "It has drinks that are far too strong, food that is incredibly tasty but completely unhealthy, and music worth dancing to. I can't promise that you will not have admirers, but they will be polite enough to ask you to marry them before they get too rowdy."

 

Turning back to Lee she tightened her hold on Lee's hand, "Is it a bit out of the way?" Riley's smile was returning and eyes softening.

 

"Naturally."

 

"Excuse me. You two are not going anywhere," huffed Gillian.

 

"Happy birthday" was Riley's only response as Lee tugged her away.

 

Hopping on the back of Lee's bike the pair drove to the ferry that would take them to the Devonport.

 

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Chapter 8: We're Irish, The First One is Always to God

 

The taxi pulled up toward a pub, O'Charlie's. Making their way towards the door Riley was surprised to find so many Irish accents. Who would have thought to find a true Irish pub in Devonport.

 

"Ha, you brought me to an Irish pub."

 

Lee smiled as they made their way through the entrance. A band was playing in the back and the entire tavern looked lively. To the left you had people having a drinking contest, to the right a game of darts. In the back was a pool table while the middle of the floor was left open for dancing. Tables were scattered around the sides of the tavern. There were not many, but there were a few open.

 

"Aye, it's Lee everyone!" The bar full of men raised their glasses. "To Lee and her lovely friend."

 

Lee smiled and kept walking towards a table waving in response. Just then a man in his thirties bumped into Riley.

 

"Pardon me lass, you alrig't?"

 

"I'm fine."

 

"Go on Tommy, ask the lass to dance," yelled someone from the background.

 

"Better yet, ask her to marry you, a lovely like that is not one you pass up," yelled another.

 

Riley turned a bright shade of red as the man tried to get the gumption to ask Riley to dance or marry him. She never would be sure when Lee came up behind her.

 

"Maybe later Tommy, let this one go for now. I need to get her some real food to eat."

 

Riley couldn't help but laugh as Lee tugged her along to a table in the back. Sitting down together Lee ordered to potato soup, bread, water and two shots of whiskey. Riley knew one thing for sure, Lee was not kidding about the whiskey. It was not watered down at all. If she had a few more shots, she would be well liquored up. The food came quickly and the two watched as the others danced and played games. The two talked for a bit and Riley laughed when Lee warned her not to get involved in any drinking games.

 

"Lee come and dance," called a young woman in the back.

 

Lee shook her head no. "Maybe later Bess."

 

"Lee get out here and dance, show your lady friend how the Irish move," called an older woman near the right of the tavern. The woman's name was Lauriel. She was a woman about mid forties. "Bess, why don't you call Jenny and Kerri to come. Find some good lads and let's get started." When all but Lee had come out to the dance floor, Lauriel whispered to the band. Then she grabbed Lee by the wrist and yelled out for Tommy. As the music began to play, Riley watched in fascination and the couples danced to the old Irish jig. In the middle of the song a crowd joined in and Lee reached out for Riley.

 

Trying to decline, "Lee I don't know the steps."

 

"I will teach you, come on."

 

The entire dance was full of pure laughter. Riley never quite got all the steps down but she was a quick learner. The two danced together for more than an hour stopping only to get drinks. As in all good pubs, beer was plentiful and the bar tender made sure to keep them coming.

 

"Do you want to sit down awhile, I'm tired," Riley panted.

 

"Sure. I will get us some water."

 

"No, I'll get them, be right back."

 

Riley wandered off toward the bar and Lee back to the table. She waited for a few minutes and then wondered where Riley had gotten off to. When she looked towards the bar, she saw Riley talking to the bartender and some others. All of them had drinks in hand. She was about to call out to Riley when she saw Riley down what looked like a shot of whiskey. Guess this is going to be a long night . I swear I warned her about the drinking games. At the same moment Riley turned around and waved for Lee to join her.

As Lee approached the bar, "Traded water for whiskey did you?"

 

Riley smiled. "Well I asked for water and this nice group of people told me that I couldn't come to an Irish tavern and walk out without playing at least one drinking game. I didn't want to be rude."

 

"That's right Lee, we can't hav' you bringin' in beautiful lasses such as this and not show 'em a good time," called out a participant.

 

"Aye, wh't kin' of hospitality would it be if we didn't invite the lass to good c'mpany n good friends," said another.

 

"Come on Lee, join us," said Riley. "How bad could it be, the first one starts with to God."

 

Lee smirked and leaned in toward Riley, "We're Irish, the first one is always to God." Then speaking towards the others, which game are you playing?"

 

"Clover," a woman said looking smugly into her glass.

 

"They said I needed a partner, but I didn't know that when I started which is why I waved you over."

 

"Did they tell you what the other three drinks are to?"

 

Smiling, "No."

 

"The first one is to God, the second is to true love and friendship, the third is good business," Lee said.

Riley was following along not seeing a problem to this.

 

"On the fourth one, you have to kiss your partner while toasting to sex."

 

"Unimaginably passionate sex," the woman who spoke earlier corrected.

 

Riley's face was turning quite a bright shade of red at this point. Lee decided to have mercy on her. "On the bright side, I have not started drinking so you have yet to choose a partner. I am sure there are any number of people in here who would love to take my place."

 

Looking around Riley saw a number of interested faces staring back at her both men and women. Drawing closer to Lee she whispered, "Please don't make me kiss a complete stranger. Can't we just chalk this up to something that good friends do when they have too much to drink and too much fun?"

 

"You're sure?"

 

Riley nodded. Just as Lee was about to say she was not the romantic type, she looked around the room and saw the patrons that were more than willing to take her place and had a strong desire not to see any of them do so. Decided Lee picked up the whiskey, "To God," and took the shot. The smile plastered on Riley's face told her she made the right choice.

 

As spelled out, the next drink was to true love and friendship, the third to good business. As the fourth came along Riley began looking a little nervous.

 

"When you take this drink, you have to look into my eyes until we kiss. It is bad luck otherwise," said Lee.

 

"Aye, and lass, make sure you good an' kiss her. You're love life is destined to be as passionate as the kiss you give."

 

"Aye, no use in bein' shy miss."

 

Riley was once again a very bright shade of red with an increasingly deep sense of frustration building inside her. Two days ago, she would have never thought to be kissing this woman, or any other woman for that matter. You love who you love. However, when Lee explained the rules of the game to her, the excitement she felt at the prospect of kissing Lee was overwhelming.

 

Lee picked up the drinks and handed one to Riley all the while she continued to stare straight into her eyes. For Riley's part, looking so deeply into Lee's eyes made her stomach flutter. She barely remembered the actual toast called out before hand. Something about mind boggling, tow curling, all the passion you could withstand sex. Continuing to stare into each other's eyes both took the drink slowly and then moved to kiss one another. Eyes closed at the first touch. Riley felt Lee kiss her chastely once, and then again. Lee's touch becoming more and more intoxicating. Growing bold, Riley reached up to touch Lee's face and pressed more firmly against her lips. Not expecting the sudden change of pace, Lee's lips part slightly. Needing no more invitation, Riley deepened the kiss considerably. Tasting the inside of Lee's mouth, Lee tasting her, the frustration Riley had been feeling before started descending to a much lower region of her body. Realizing how quickly this kiss was becoming one that lovers share, Lee tried to lean backward as a way to lessen the intensity. Much to her chagrin Lee did not find the relief she was searching for. Instead, she quickly felt her back being pressed up against the bar with no further means of retreat. Riley leaned forward nearly falling off the stool she was sitting on before she stood and pressed herself against Lee. She never once broke contact. Trying to muster what little composure she had left before she forgot herself completely, Lee turned her face to the side; a moments reprieve. Not to be deterred, Riley wrapped one arm tightly around Lee's waist and pulled her forward while her other hand gently pulled Lee back to her lips, kissing her even more passionately than before. Finally, Lee pulled back just enough to put her fingers directly in front of Riley's lips. Only at this moment did Riley finally open her eyes to find Lee's emerald ones staring back. Riley was certain of only one thing at this moment, when she looked in Lee's eyes, what she saw was desire. What she was not certain of was how she came to be standing let alone leaning quite provocatively against Lee. Not wanting to let go, but knowing she had to, Riley took a step back. Only then did she look at the other's who were now shooting quite amused expressions at the pair. The bartender poured another two shots of whiskey and pushed them in front of her.

 

"Another drink?"

 

Quickly, Lee drank one shot and then passed the other to Riley. "Guess we won, here you go."

 

Riley took the drink and swallowed. "We won?"

 

"Aye lass, you one the most passionate kiss. Drink's are on us. Cheers!"

 

Riley blushed in response. "And the last drink, does it have a meaning or is it just because we won?"

 

Mumbling her thanks for the drinks, Lee tried to tug Riley back to the dance floor before Riley heard the answer. Just in ear shot one of the players called out, "The last drink is to help ya to bed!"

"Did he just say?" But before she could get the rest of the sentence out Lee had spun her onto the dance floor, and they danced for another hour before heading home.

 

 

Arriving at Riley's doorstep was a bit of a challenge. Neither being able to walk perfectly straight, Riley put her arm around Lee's shoulder for support.

"Yep this is it," Riley stood looking at her door.

 

"Keys?"

 

"Right, right," she said as she fumbled through her pockets. Pulling them out she handed them to Lee as if Lee knew which one it should be. Lee fumbled with the keys. Closing one eye she attempted to ward of double vision while trying to speculate which one looked like a house key.

 

After the third try, she found the one that fit. Entering the house Riley headed for the stairs.

 

"You know, I never realized how many stairs that was. I think I will sleep on the couch." Stumbling, Lee caught her around the waist. Riley, however simply pulled Lee into a tight embrace and whispered, "Do you always have this much fun?"

 

"No, I am usually boring."

 

Riley sighed, "Somehow I doubt that."

 

Lee laughed and started heading towards the couch. She sat Riley down and lifted her legs up so that she could rest comfortably. As she went to stand again, she felt a bit light headed. Riley grabbed her by the wrists and sat her down on the couch opposite to her.

 

"Sleep" Riley directed. Then with a smile turning quickly into a sleepy grin she added, "I promise I won't call the paparazzi."

 

Having no energy to argue Lee acquiesced, sleep finding her quickly as she leaned against the arm of the sofa.

 

 

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Chapter 9: You Have Many Things You Can Be Proud Of

 

"Johanna. Johanna I love you" Stephen whispered undulating against his wife.

 

"I love you Stephen." Johanna moaned as she wrapped her arms and legs around her husband.

 

Stephen was a gentle lover, easing in and out of his wife with such patience. With each thrust in, Johanna matched, pushing her hips up to meet his own, delighting in such exquisite contact.

 

"Please Stephen. Please." she continued moaning.

 

As her breathing grew ragged, Stephen knew she was close to climax. Quickening his pace, he pushed deeply into his wife feeling her inner muscles tighten around his own pleasure. Johanna covered his mouth with her own just before erupting in climax. Screaming his name over and over again, she finally collapsed in his arms.

 

Lee awoke with a start, but found herself tightly pinned to the couch. What was I thinking, she shouldn't touch me when I sleep. Riley moaned at the disturbance of her sleep and tightened her hold around Lee's waist. How did she? Unsure of where that thought was going, Lee tried to ease her way out from under Riley. She had managed a fairly decent job of untangling herself to the point where she only had one arm left pinned. As she tried to slip her arm out, Riley began slowly coming back to consciousness, unhappy that her warmth was leaving her. Opening her eyes slowly, she watched Lee carefully trying to slip her arm away. Just as she was about to be free, Lee turned to look back at her companion not expecting her to be awake. Startled, she lost her balance and fell off the couch with an impressive thud.

 

Quickly peeking over the side of the couch, trying to hide the grin on her face, "Are you ok?"

 

Embarrassed, "Yes, fine," Lee said sitting up and leaning against the couch.

 

Riley reached out to touch her shoulder. "You sure?"

 

"I was trying to slip away without waking you. The other day, you were embarrassed to have slept on my couch. I... you... we were sleeping quite close. I didn't want you to feel uncomfortable."

 

Smiling at her counterpart, "Well I would offer to make you breakfast, but I burn toast."

 

Lee laughed and then wished she hadn't. That whiskey was strong.

 

Lowering her voice to ease her own aching head as well as Lee's, "We could go out to breakfast if you like."

 

Looking towards Riley, she wanted to say yes, but she knew she had to go into the office this morning. She had meetings to attend to and she needed to get freshened up. "I would like to, but I need to get to work. I have some business to attend to that I cannot put off."

 

"Of course, I have some meetings this afternoon I cannot miss either, I understand."

 

Standing up slowly, Lee began walking toward the door. Riley followed in pursuit, trying to think of a way to express herself.

 

As Lee reached for the door Riley called out, "Lee."

 

Lee turned to meet her gaze.

 

"This weekend. It has been awhile since I have had that much fun. Thank you."

 

"Me too." Lee smiled and turned for the door again.

 

"May I see you again? I.. " Taking a breath to calm herself, "We could have dinner sometime."

 

Having a hangover did not help the her stomach at this moment. Despite her better judgment she nodded her agreement. No matter how many times she had seen it, Riley's smile seemed to brighten the entire room.

 

"I'll call you then."

 

Stepping just outside she replied, "I'd be disappointed if you didn't."(4)

 

Wondering if it were possible to go blind at the sight of Riley's smile, she turned and left for work.

 

 

 

 


Lee was not in her office for more than a minute when Anne promptly walked in behind her.

 

"I got here before you. I am never here before you. Is everything ok?"

 

"I'm fine Anne, I was just a little late this morning."

 

"You are never late." Anne's persistence stemmed from genuine concern. In all the years she had been working at the company, Lee was always the first to arrive and the last to leave.

 

"I'm fine Anne. Honest. Listen, I will be out the rest of this morning. I need to attend the conference downtown and then I am going to stop by the contractor's office before I come back for this afternoon's meeting."

 

"Alright, see you then. I will have everything set up."

 

"Thank you Anne."

 

 

For the rest of the morning Anne had been finishing up the last minute preparations for the afternoon meeting. They had been in discussions with another nonprofit company and were very close to an agreement. It would be in both company's interest if they could pull it off, not to mention how it would extend their reach in helping the community. Lee was a brilliant businesswoman and Anne just knew that this contract was going to open new doors.

 

Anne looked at the clock. It was twelve thirty and the meeting was at one. She had expected Lee to be back by now, but she wasn't worried. She knew there was no way Lee would miss this meeting. Another ten minutes went by as she made fresh coffee.

 

"Mrs. Torres?" Eva knocked on the conference room door. Eva was a secretary that had been employed with the company since the opening.

 

"Yes, Eva."

 

"Your one o'clock appointment is here. She is waiting in your office."

 

Walking into her office she was surprised to find Riley Shelton standing near her desk.

 

"Anne? "

 

"Riley. What are you doing here?"

 

"I have a meeting with a Ms. Torres and Ms. Leeland."

 

"The only meeting I am aware of this afternoon is with a Mr. Sono, Mr. Karman, and Ms. Allen."

 

Slowly smiling, "I am Allen. Shelton is a stage name."

 

If the situation was not happening to her, Anne would have thought it quite amusing. Cupping her hand over her mouth she tried to hide her smile.

 

"Small world."

 

"What do you do here?"

 

"I'm Torres," Anne said with a grin.

 

Suddenly realization came to her, "You work with Lee. Is she here?"

 

The grin growing wider, "You are about to have a meeting with her. Lee is short for Leeland."

 

After years of training, standing up in front of audiences for live performances, the only thing that Riley could manage at this point was "Huh."

 

To Anne it was quite obvious that Riley had not made the connection between Lee and Leeland. In fact, Riley distinctly remembered Mr. Sono describing Leeland as a confident, tough, balls to the wall negotiator with mad skills with numbers. Riley was having a hard time trying to meld this image with the bee charmer she had come to care for over the last few days.

 

 

As if on cue, Lee came walking in the building at that moment. Looking through Anne's windows she watched as Lee signed a few documents and started speaking French to someone on a phone that was handed to her. The phone conversation was quick as she walked towards her office which was situated next to Anne's.

 

"How many languages does she know?"

 

"My last count was five. She speaks, English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish."

 

Popping in quickly, "Anne are we ready for..." she lost her train of thought as she saw Riley standing next to Anne. "Riley?" How does she know where I work?

 

"Hi Lee."

 

Just as she was about to ask what Riley was doing here, Anne interrupted, "Funny story Lee."

 

Tilting her head to the side, "Funny how?"

 

"Did you know that Shelton is a stage name. This is Ms. Allen."

 

If it were possible for an Irishwoman to become any paler, Lee did at this moment. "Huh." Trying to gain some composure. "If you will excuse me for just a moment, I will join you two in the conference room."

 

Did she know who I was? I took her eating, shopping, dancing, we even fell asleep next to one another. Lee was not the sort of woman to panic. Far too much training was involved in her upbringing to allow that. She did have a sinking feeling though. Whenever she was doing business with someone, she made sure to know far more about them than they did about her. In fact, she could spell out every business deal Ms. Allen has made and declined over the last ten years. All of it was legitimate. She even went in to visit some of her business partners, pretending to be a potential client just to see the run of the operations. How on earth did she miss that Riley was in theatre. Gathering up her papers, she headed for the conference room. Taking a moment before entering, she cooled her mind. When doing business with others she usually took on a hard edged persona. Taking a breath she entered, head held up, chin parallel to the floor, shoulders back. She would not show that the earlier encounter unnerved her.

 

When she walked in, she saw Riley seated at the table. She stood upon Lee's entrance.

Deciding that formality was the way to go, "I asked Ms. Torres if I could speak to you alone a moment." Pausing before continuing, "Did you know who I was?"

 

The remark was not said accusingly or with malice. It was a simple question. It also answered Lee's question. Did Riley know who she was? Although Riley had an impressively practiced mask she wore when doing business herself, Lee was far more trained at reading people. It was obvious that she did not.

 

"No, I didn't."

 

Tilting her head slightly to the side, Lee assumed she was trying to assess whether she believed her or not. When a gentle smile appeared at her lips, Lee took it to mean she did.

 

"Well, at least I know we'll get along."

 

Lee smiled at the comment.

 

A moment later, Eva knocked on the conference room door. "Mr. Sono and Mr. Karman have arrived."

 

Looking to Riley to see if the discussion was finished, Riley nodded. Any further conversation would be held off until later. "Send them in."

 

 

 

It was an interesting meeting. Many of the terms had been laid out before. This meeting was just to formalize any changes that would be made to the agreement. Mr. Sono was anxious to get the contract under way. He was a good man. He knew that this contract would be excellent for the company. It would take them to places they could not reach before. It was the same for Lee. Although Lee had done an impressive job building this company, there was something missing. She believed that Riley's company and connections was it. Mr. Karman, however, remained unconvinced and continuously tried to throw roadblocks into the agreement.

 

"There is just no way that you can provide growth numbers like that."

 

Anne took the bait, "I thought you were a lawyer like myself, Mr. Karman, why don't we leave the arithmetic to the financial operatives."

 

"I don't have to be an accountant to know those numbers will never happen."

"And why is that," Lee interjected. "I have been running my company on this business plan for quite some time now and these numbers have always been achieved or exceeded? The economy is growing, the political system is favorable, and the market is appreciable to our efforts."

 

"Well it is an election year."

 

Anne was exhausted with Mr. Karman at this point. "And what politician in their right mind would decide to cause trouble for a company whose sole purpose to provide for the less fortunate in an election year." Mr. Karman's points did not even make sense.

 

"May we speak alone for a moment."

 

Lee nodded.

 

Mr. Karman turned to Riley. "Listen, I know the numbers look promising, but they are unrealistic. I believe this company is trying to help their own growth efforts by using your popularity with the people. It may work in the short term, but sooner or later, the growth will begin to recede. You are trying to keep moving forward. I don't believe this company could do it for you."

 

Riley turned to Mr. Sono. "And what do you think?"

 

"Respectfully, I disagree with Mr. Karman. These numbers, although aggressive, are sound. I agree that your popularity will help, but that would be additional to these numbers. I have looked at the business plan and went over many of the deals their company has made. All of them are sound deals that have helped them grow. I wouldn't throw away this opportunity."

 

Heading back to the table.

 

"I am inclined to agree with Mr. Sono."

 

"You are making a mistake."

 

Riley glared daggers at Mr. Karman for interrupting so rudely. Just as Riley was about to carve him a new one, Lee spoke up.

 

"And what would you do? Do you have a better plan for you company than the one Mr. Sono and I have planned out?"

 

"I do in fact. I was speaking with Mr. Dillon, a member of parliament, and he is also a philanthropist. Although smaller in scale, his company would be the best choice for you. I have looked through all his accounts and spoken to his accounting department. His record is spotless and he has maintained growth even through hard economic times. Moreover, he has been in business for more than thirty years whereas this company has been in business for less than five. He can say for sure that he has sound business practices. Now I know he cannot promise you numbers like the ones you are getting here. But his numbers are real. They are not cooked up numbers meant to entice you into making the wrong decision. Perhaps you should take a look at his business proposal's before signing on the bottom line."

 

"Mr. Dillon. I saw him on the news last week. He is becoming an old man."

 

"What does that have to do with anything."

 

"Nothing at all. He has been in parliament for some time as well. I have heard rumors though that this will be his last appointment. He plans to retire."

 

"I am still not seeing what this has to do with anything."

 

"He was standing next to Prime Minister Harper on the news. They were shaking hands."

 

"They are old friends. Does this have a point."

 

Lee smiled dangerously and changed the subject. "That is an interesting cologne you are wearing."

 

"Excuse me?"

 

"Your cologne. It is not usual. Did you have it made?"

 

"It is not mine. I bought it for my fiancé. She hugged me this morning. And yes it was made. It cost nearly five thousand dollars an ounce."

 

"It is quite pleasing."

 

Trying to be rude, "And you are quite pleasing yourself. Does your boyfriend not buy you such gifts?"

 

Lee simply continued to stare at him.

 

Everyone else in the room was just watching as the strange conversation was taking place. The only one who knew that Mr. Karman was in trouble was Anne. She knew how Lee worked. She was going for the kill. It was if she could see the wheels turning in Lee's head putting things together.

 

"The Prime Minister has not had an easy term. His popularity is at an all time low. I think he may have a challenge for the election."

 

"Prime Minister Harper is an excellent politician. I am sure he will win the day."

 

"Especially if Ms. Allen signs with Mr. Dillon."

 

Karman just stared at Lee dumbfounded.

 

"No doubt Mr. Dillon would love to help the prime minister get re-elected, as they are old friends. And you are right, I read a magazine article on top grossing companies in New Zealand. Mr. Dillon is quite a rich man. Naturally, he has more companies than just the one related to philanthropy. And Prime Minister Harper, his politics are certainly favorable to Dillon's private companies. It would be quite a relief to see Harper re-elected I'm sure."

 

"Well it is good to have friends in high places."

 

"And you being able to broker such a deal. I imagine that would put you in quite a good spot for next year's elections.

 

Finally understanding where Lee was going with this, Mr. Karman turned pale.

 

"How convenient for you that you would be in just the right spot to broker a deal with Mr. Dillon that would escalate his philanthropic company. In that article, it mentioned the growth of rate of his companies. The company you are mentioning is at the bottom of the list. By brokering a contract with Ms. Allen's company, its growth rate would be tremendous. No doubt, Mr. Dillon will then tell the news that not only is Prime Minister Harper and avid supporter, but also quite instrumental in helping the company carrying out its mission. And as you pointed out earlier, Ms. Allen is quite popular among the New Zealand population. As she is head of the company, her support for the contract would look quite favorably amongst Prime Minister Harper's election. And you, as broker of the deal would be instrumental in seeing it carried through. The news will no doubt know of your involvement, and once again Ms. Allen's popularity and support would be very useful to you if you ran for Mr. Dillon's seat when he retires next year. No doubt with Ms. Allen's support, and the fact that you are about to marry Prime Minister Harper's daughter, you would be a shoo-in."

 

Full of anger, Mr. Karman leaned dangerously forward in his seat. "Just who do you think you.."

 

Riley interrupted. "Stop talking."

 

Lee returned her attention to Riley. "Just so you are aware of all the facts. Mr. Karman is correct about one thing. Mr. Dillon is an intelligent businessman. If you joined with his company you would have a high growth rate as well. It is not what I am promising you, which I can assure you are not cooked numbers, but it will be high before it tapers off. I am offering an opportunity to grow beyond that."

 

Before Riley could stop him. "And what makes you so interested in this company. I have done research on you too. You have looked at many other companies, companies that have longer history and better standing than ours. Why did you choose us?"

 

Lee turned to Mr. Karman. "I chose this company because it has something I do not."

 

Mockingly, "And what is that?"

 

"A leader with a bright vision."

 

Mr. Karman rolled his eyes.

 

"I see things for how they are and not how they should be. Your company, and more specifically, Ms. Allen, has made it a point to see things how they should be and then expect it to be so. Decisions that could potentially harm her in one minute save her in the next. She is willing to take chances I would not. My growth is based on what I know people are cable of doing, but I never expect more. I take only what I know will work. To be truly innovative, I need someone who can see beyond that. Someone who can see people for what they can be and not what they are. Someone who can allow people to grow beyond their dreams. I cannot do that and as such I will always be limited. More to the point, she is intelligent. Despite the fact that she gives people opportunities I would not, she does not make poor decisions. I have not come across one decision that could have been disastrous for the company. As such, she is prudent. All the other companies I considered had vision that was far to naive or much too similar to my own. I think like me, surrounding myself with people whose vision is so similar to mine will not allow me to expand. Also, I have a marketing department full of young people who have dreams that are in the clouds. I need someone with a firm vision that is in between the two. Ms. Allen is that person."

 

"Ms. Allen, this is.."

 

"You're fired Mr. Karman."

 

"You can't fire me."

 

The look Riley was giving him brought him back to concrete realism. He was fired.

 

Standing to take his leave, he gathered up his belongings. With a last thought, "How did you know?"

 

"I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Harper this weekend at her birthday party."

 

Knowing his fiancé's taste included women, he had no doubt she would have noticed Leeland.

 

"The perfume," he summarized.

 

"Please extend my best wishes. Tell her this bee charmer says hello."

 

Mustering together all the pride he had left, he turned to leave the office. When Lee's gaze returned to Riley, she noticed that in the whole ordeal, Riley's pride was also hurt a bit for not being able to see through Mr. Karman herself.

 

"Forgive me."

 

Riley held up her hand. "Don't. Better to know the truth. I just hope this has not harmed our agreement. I can assure you that my people's sole interest is to help, not personal gain."

 

"Of course. I have no doubt."

 

Both Lee and Riley owned non-profit companies. The premise of each company was to help the needy in whatever ways possible. Lee's company was mainly responsible for setting up schools and building community centers for underprivileged communities. Riley's company generally helped set up clinics and teach free classes on health and safety.

 

Dealings aside, the contract basically set out terms on the best way to pull resources so that both companies could expand in the community. Name recognition for each company was high, and putting the two together would make it stronger than ever. Together, the companies could truly make a difference.

 

As such, the contract set terms on finance, marketing, human resources, deciding building contractors, building sites, and future planning. The contract basically had all the makings of a merger, without actually merging the two companies. These companies would map out a better future and see it built together.

 

"Well then, as far as I can see, you and I are in agreement. Minor details aside, I would like to begin immediately."

 

"Of course. I have one request. Although I am sure we will have no trouble coming to future agreements, I like to maintain a hands on approach. I would like a proxy to come in work in this office once a week. I am open to whomever you choose for the assignment. I simply ask that it be someone with the ability to make decisions. An office will be set up for their convenience."

 

"No problem, I understand. I am a hands on person myself."

 

As the meeting came to a close all the parties stood up to shake hands. Seeing Riley's hesitation, Anne spoke to Mr. Sono, "Let me escort you out."

 

Turning to Riley, she waved him off, "I will see you back at the office."

 

She watched as Mr. Sono and Anne retreated out of the office. Turning to Lee, "So you sign papers for a living huh?"

 

"As all good businesswomen do."

 

Riley laughed. "You know, I never did catch that first name."

 

Smiling softly, "Just Lee."

 

Somehow she knew she wasn't going to get the answer. One day. "I don't suppose you want to get that dinner later."

 

The look on Lee's face fell. Hesitantly, "I can't."

 

"You're busy of course, another time"

 

"No, I mean I can't."

 

Not liking the direction of this conversation, it took all of Riley's discipline not to argue.

 

"You may have noticed, people tend to be attracted to me. I stay away from personal relationships within the workplace. All personal relationships. I don't want anyone making suggestions that I am showing favoritism. It would undermine my ability to perform. Employees want an employer that is evenhanded. This company is important to me."

 

"Being friends with the business partner would undermine your authority?"

 

"You are an intelligent businesswoman and famous. As Mr. Karman pointed out, I researched your company. All of your business deals are quite clever... and kind. You have spent the last ten years of your life making this world a better place for no other reason than that you think it should be. You have many things you can be proud of."

 

Riley nodded.

 

"I don't."

 

For one small moment, Riley thought she saw pain in Lee's eyes. It was gone so quickly though, she thought she must have imagined it.

 

"This weekend. I cannot remember having such a good time." Lee found it hard to continue as she saw Riley smile at the comment. "But I will not jeopardize the well being of this company no matter how much I enjoy spending time with you."

 

Riley took a moment to absorb what Lee had said. Despite everything, Riley smiled, nodded, and then took her leave. Watching as Riley left the room, she wondered what was behind that smile. It was as if Riley knew something she didn't. Knowing that she wasn't about to get an answer, she focused her attention on the paperwork in front of her.

 

Apparently, Mr. Sono was able to find his own way since Anne was standing in the hallway. She no doubt heard the end of the conversation and was looking at Riley with a disappointed expression. Why does Lee do that?

 

"May I walk you to your car."

 

"I can find my way, but thank you."

 

"Please."

 

Acquiescing, the pair walked toward the elevator.

 

As they entered. "You shouldn't give up on Lee you know. I realize that she can be frustrating at times, but she really is worth the effort."

 

Riley smiled.

 

"So you spent the weekend together?"

 

This caught Riley's attention. "I don't think we should be discussing Lee's personal life."

 

"Of course not. It's just, I have never seen Lee take interest in someone the way she did you. I realize she has a tough exterior, but it just takes patience. Look at me for example. We have gotten close over the years mainly because of time. She gets use to you being around and then she expects you to be there. Just don't give up."

 

As the elevator doors opened, Riley stepped out, turned, and put her hand against the inner wall to keep the doors from shutting.

 

Taking on an serious demeanor, "You heard Lee, she declined." Then softening, "Still, if I had a dollar for every time I heard the word no, I would be nearly as well off as I am now. Besides, I have a really good feeling about her."

 

Then giving a tooth full of a smile, Riley allowed the elevator doors to close; Anne still inside.

 

Being the only one in the elevator Anne stifled a laugh thinking, watch out Lee, I do believe you have met someone more stubborn than you!

 

 

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Chapter 10: Just In Case

 

Contracts are always easier on paper than it is in real life, yet employees from both companies seemed to be intermixing with relative ease. New friendships and connections were made and all and all, the entire experience was going better than expected.

 

Knocking on Lee's door Anne popped her head in the office. It had been just a little over a month since the last papers were signed binding the contract between the two companies.

 

"Are you busy?"

 

"No." Lee said waving Anne into the room.

 

"Do you have time to look over these projections. Apparently, Mr. Sono likes to do projections monthly vs. the quarterly we're used to."

 

Personally, Lee thought projections that close together may be looking towards more short term goals rather than the larger picture. Still, as long as she could keep the company focused, it should not become a problem.

 

"Sure."

 

Handing the papers to Lee she commented, "I took the liberty of setting up the proxy's office next to yours."

 

"Thank you."

 

"So who do you think she will send?"

 

"Mr. Sono I imagine. We have a good working relationship. He would be the logical choice."

 

No sooner had the words left her mouth, Lee heard another knock at the door. Looking up, Riley was standing in the doorway, three coffees in hand.

 

"Hello," she said simply.

 

The look on Lee's face was priceless. After the conversation in the elevator, Anne knew Riley was up to something. She could have knocked Lee over with a feather.

 

Mischievously Anne asked, "Trying to bribe us already?"

 

Laughing at the comment, "What better way to get on your good side than with coffee?"

 

"Well I hate to break it to you, but I already liked you... I still want the coffee though."

 

Anne looked as though she was just handed a slice of heaven and began drinking the hot beverage eagerly. Lee had still not moved from her chair, she just looked on at the scene as though she were not even in the room. Afraid to move as though it would make her presence known.

 

Lee watched on as the two carried on a light conversation.

 

After a few drinks, "Well I will leave you two visionaries to it. Call me if you need me, I will be in my office looking over some contracts. Just across the hallway," Anne pointed for Riley's benefit.

After watching Anne retreat to her office, she turned to Lee and handed her the remaining coffee.

 

"Shall we get started? "

 

Lee nodded and took the coffee. "When I said someone with decision making capabilities, I did not mean it had to be you."

 

Smiling at the comment she answered, "Actually, I had every intention of sending Mr. Sono. However, he persuaded me that I was the best choice. According to him, he is the numbers guy while I am the direction. He mentioned that since you read numbers better than himself, he thought I would be better suited to coming. He said he would email his projections and should you foresee any problem he would be happy to set up a meeting with you or tag along with me. Anyway, he told me it would basically be a waste of time if he came since I was the one who decides which way we are going next. If you prefer, however, I can send him."

 

Lee didn't see any flaws in the argument; decisions would go faster through Riley.

 

"No, of course not," Lee said as she watched Riley take a seat across the conference room table. I just didn't expect it to be you."

 

Lee watched as Riley took out a lap top and began preparing for the meeting. Taking a drink from her coffee she just now realized that it was iced.

 

Continuing to look at her lap top intently, Riley whispered, "just in case."

 

End of part 1

To be continued...


Endnotes

 

(1) Nelly Furtado's song "Hey Man!"

(2)Nelly Furtado's song "Hey Man!" continued

(3) Mary J. Blige's song "I Can Do Bad All By Myself"

(4) La Femme Nikita. I do not remember which episode, but I remember distinctly this line. As it does not come from me I thought I should notate it.

 

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