Disclaimer : Characters and situations are all from my imagination.
Warnings : Sex and love between women
Feedback : Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2012 Geonn Cannon
Ari was in Dale's bed, pressed back against the headboard, and she hissed through her teeth. A moment later she said, "Oh... God ," and thrashed her head from side to side. "Stop. I can't take it anymore. Please, just stop. I'm begging here."
"It's not that bad." Dale picked up the remote and turned up the TV to drown out her boss-slash-girlfriend's whining. Ari lifted one foot in an attempt to block the screen with her sock. Dale put her leg across Ari's and pushed it down. "Stop it."
"Sorry, babe, but it's Twilight . It's not even one of the ones with a werewolf in it." Although, to be fair, she knew she would probably have a lot to say about those, too. She winced at another piece of horrific dialogue and gestured at the screen. "The shameful thing, the awful thing, is that Kristen Stewart is going to be best remembered for this. And not in a good way. Like how no one remembers George Peppard was in Breakfast at Tiffany's because he spent five years on The A-Team. She was good in that rock-and-roll movie. Why couldn't girls flock to see her in that? Hang posters of Joan Jett in their rooms like normal, well-rounded children?"
"You had a picture of Joan Jett in your bedroom, didn't you?"
Ari shrugged noncommittally.
"Besides, Runaways didn't have Edward Pattinson's smoldering glare."
"You're making my argument for me." She wrinkled her lip at the screen. She was in her boxer shorts and a faded baseball shirt as she usually did when she spent the night. They were both on top of the blankets, Dale eating her midnight snack of bite-sized chocolate chip cookies. She looked at Dale, first as an excuse to look away from the screen, but she soon became transfixed. She was still getting used to seeing Dale's face scrubbed of makeup, her hair sloppy and tied in a knot at the back of her head. She was in an oversized T-shirt that had fallen off her left shoulder, and Ari leaned in to kiss the exposed curve.
"Mm-mm." She shook her head and swallowed her mouthful of cookie. "You just want to have sex so you won't have to watch the movie."
"No, I just want to have sex. Ignoring the movie is a bonus."
Dale picked up one of the small cookies and pushed it into Ari's mouth. Ari narrowed her eyes in false anger and chewed as she retreated back to her side of the bed. Dale picked up the remote and was examining the buttons when the phone rang. She paused it.
"No!" Ari wailed, flopping her hands on the mattress as Dale reached for the nightstand. "We were almost at the end! It's nearly done ."
"Shush," Dale said. She looked at the face of her cell and her eyes widened. "Seriously. Shush. Don't-don't say anything?"
"Who is it? Your wife?"
Dale said, "Ari, seriously. Not a word." She opened the phone and answered the call. "Hi, Dad." Ari raised an eyebrow but remained silent and still. "No, it's not too late. I was just watching a movie. What's up? Oh. Oh. No, I just thought they usually had those things in... right. No, it's..." She looked at Ari. "It's fine. When will you be here? Sure. I'll see you then. It'll be great. Okay, Dad. You too. Love you." She hung up and pressed the phone against her forehead. "Uh."
"Who was that?" Ari asked. "Telemarketers?"
Dale sighed. "Uh, no. My father is coming to Seattle for a dental conference. Usually they do them in Las Vegas, but they decided for a change of scenery for this year. They're doing it here instead. So he decided to touch base with me, and he asked if he could stay with me for five days."
Ari grinned. "Cool. I get to meet your Papa?"
"Heh. Well. A couple of things before that happens. First, I'm not gay. Neither are you."
Ari furrowed her brow. "Really? Then what I did to you in the shower this morning was just weird."
Dale put her hands on her cheeks and then pushed them back into her hair. "No. See, um. I was already planning to move here for college when Mom died. He insisted I still go, even though I felt like I was abandoning him. And then when I dropped out, I could tell he was disappointed even before I told him I was going to live here. If I told him I'd also discovered I was a lesbian, I felt it would be one thing too much. So I held off. And then eventually it just got easier to not bring it up."
Ari realized that joking wouldn't help, so she rubbed Dale's arm. "Telling your parents can be the hardest thing you have to do."
"How'd you do it?"
"Well, I was pretty pissed at my mother by the time I found out. So I was happy to spill the beans. At the time I just wished it would be something more hurtful."
Dale sighed. "Well, I don't think he'd disown me or be angry. I just think that he's already dealt with so much."
Ari wanted to argue that he had a right to know who is daughter was, and that she was happy, but she kept mum. "Okay. So I'll just spend the night at my place while he's here."
"Thank you. And... ah... s-something else. You're not a private investigator."
"Mom died in a car accident. Dad was shell-shocked. He doesn't even drive anymore, really. He takes buses whenever he can, cabs, that sort of thing. He'll drive in an emergency. The last thing he said to me at the airport was 'Be careful. It's dangerous out there. Just be careful.' And if I tell him I'm working for a private detective, he's going to picture shootouts and car chases. Not to mention..." She gestured at her head, where her pulled-back hair revealed the scar where she'd been shot. "I've been in a few life-threatening situations. If I told him about it, he'd pay for me to move back to Pennsylvania without thinking twice."
Ari nodded slowly. "Okay. So what do I do?"
Ari laughed. "Risk assessment?"
Dale shrugged. "It was something he would think was worthy. I'm your secretary. We work for a tiny life insurance company."
"And you're fine with your father believing these lies?"
"I prefer it to getting a phone call every night, assuring him I'm alive and in one piece. I'd rather maintain the lie than deal with him constantly bugging me to move back home where it's safe."
"Well, there's nothing dangerous about being gay." Dale raised an eyebrow, so Ari amended her statement. "In this day and age, in this city, there's nothing dangerous about being gay. Why don't you tell him that?"
"He's a Republican. Like a Tea Party, 'that George W Bush really had some amazing ideas, pry the guns out of my cold dead hands' Republican. Telling him I like the ladies isn't a conversation I really want to have."
Ari laughed. "I'm sorry. I've just seen pictures of your father. He's a bald little dentist, right?"
"I'm trying to picture him with a big ten gallon Stetson and a Glock."
Dale smiled. "Those are his beliefs. He was raised that way. Traditional marriage, family values, evil liberals."
"And you came from...?"
"I'm thinking I was switched at birth."
Ari leaned in and kissed Dale. "I'll play along while he's here. In exchange, you have to agree to stop this damned movie."
"It's about to get good."
"I really doubt that, sweetie."
Dale picked up the remote and turned off the DVD. "Well, I'm still not tired. Maybe I should read a book."
"Well, I have a suggestion. But if we're both straight, you might not like it."
Dale raised an eyebrow. "I'm not straight until my Dad gets here. What do you have in mind, boss lady?"
Ari grinned and slid closer. They kissed, shifting on the mattress until they were in a more comfortable position. Ari lifted her head and brushed Dale's hair back. "You know, there is another way we could convince your father you're protected and we don't have to spend five days apart from each other."
Thursday morning was dedicated to "de-gaying" Dale's apartment. Anything and everything that might be a little less than heterosexual was being taken to Ari's apartment for safe-keeping. Dale took the lesbian romance novels off her shelf and placed them in a storage bin. She rearranged the other books so the gaps weren't evident as Ari came out of the bedroom. "The porn is all gone, but the mainstream DVDs are a little harder to categorize. Is a Cathy DeBuono movie inherently gay?"
Dale turned and looked at the box Ari was holding. "Uh, it is when she's on the cover sandwiched between two other women."
"Gotcha." She added it to the storage bin and looked around the apartment. "I think that's it. Everything else is open to interpretation."
"What everything else?"
"Well, you can keep your Ellen Degeneres CDs."
Dale shook her head. "In the bin."
"But she's mainstream!"
"Nope. Nothing that will make my dad wonder. Give him one clue and it's off to the races. In high school, he found out I smoked pot because I knew a Phish song. He's like a bloodhound."
"Or you're the sort of person who gets so anxious and guilt-ridden around her father that he doesn't have to be a bloodhound because the truth is written all over your face." She raised an eyebrow, daring Dale to refute it. She put her hands on the side of Dale's head and kissed her between the eyebrows. "Just relax. Be yourself. It doesn't matter what your job is or who you're dating. Dale Frye is an amazing person. Just remember that, and if he judges... well, who cares what he thinks?"
Dale sighed and then kissed Ari's lips. "I love you."
Ari smiled. "I love you, too. Now you have to leave to pick up your dad. I'll finish getting this place ready for him."
"If I did tell my father I was gay, it would only be to let him know I'm with someone as amazing as you."
Ari kissed the corners of Dale's mouth. "Sweet. Go. Don't leave the poor little dentist waiting."
Dale sighed and backed away. She gestured at the storage bin as she got her jacket and put on a cap. "Just um..."
"I'll put it in my car, take it to my place."
"Okay. Will you be here when I get back with him?"
"Uh... no. Kind of hard to explain why your boss is lounging in the apartment when you're not home. I'll just save the introductions until he's not jet-lagged."
Dale nodded. "Smart. See you later."
Ari waved goodbye. When Dale was gone, she looked around the apartment with a professional eye. If this was a stranger's apartment, someone a client had hired her to investigate, what would tip her off to the resident's sexual preferences? It wasn't enough to just hide evidence Dale was gay; she also had to hide the fact that she was in a relationship.
She emptied the fridge of her items. She took the coffeepot but left the mugs. There were two novels on the coffee table with bookmarks; Ari took hers away and left Dale's. The jacket on the back of the door was Ari's, and she slung it over her shoulder. When she was done, she looked at the accumulated items with some surprise. She and Dale had only been dating for three months. She was shocked to find she'd nested so much.
She took the items down to her car and took the props out of her trunk. She returned upstairs and went to work with the plan she and Dale had formulated.
"Was it a nice flight?"
Samuel Frye nodded slowly, as if testing the gesture. "It was okay."
Dale waited. She knew her father, and three-word sentences weren't--
"I sat next to this morbidly obese gentleman who would not stop talking about a family reunion from which he had just returned. If you dropped me at dinner with the Carbondale members of the Allen family, I would be able to identify them all in an instant. I tried reading my book, but... people aren't readers anymore. No one understands that reading a book is as important as... watching a football game."
She was amazed at how little he'd changed since the last time she saw him. His hairline was a lot closer to the crown, but it was still almost all black. His cheeks may have sunk a little, and he had lost a little weight, but not enough to alarm her. He wore his standard black suit, black tie, white shirt, and pressed slacks. He sat with his hands folded on his lap, and every now and then he would twist his head to the left and right as if checking to see if anyone had appeared in the backseat when he wasn't looking.
"You're clear to change lanes now."
Dale pointed without releasing the steering wheel. "It's two miles to my exit, Dad."
"Yes, but you get over now, you won't have to worry about some dumbass zooming up and cutting you off at the right time."
Dale turned on her signal and slipped over. "There."
"Was that so difficult? Is it so different over in this lane that you miss the other one?"
Dale smiled. "No, Dad."
He sighed and straightened his shoulders. "I hope you didn't go to any trouble. Cleaning and tidying up..." He shook his head. "A house should look lived in. People acquire debris. In public, yes, you should be considerate of others. But in your home, a little mess never hurt anyone."
"Wow. Where was this attitude when I had to clean my room every weekend?"
"That room was a pigsty."
Dale snorted and shook her head. "I've missed you, Dad."
"Missed you too, Small Frye."
Dale's smile widened. The nickname had been bestowed on her from birth, when he cradled her and told her mother, "At last, I'm not the smallest Frye in the room." She'd been taller than him since the tenth grade, but the name stuck.
When they got to her building, she let him get out of the car first. As soon as his feet hit the pavement, she locked the door and twisted in her seat. He tried to open the back door and then knocked on the glass. "Dear?" She ignored him and got his suitcase, banging her elbow on the ceiling as she hauled it forward and got out of the car. She stood up and lifted the bag in victory.
"I'm carrying your bag."
He sighed. "You don't have to resort to trickery."
"Oh, please." She started toward the stairs and led him up to her apartment. She could feel his eyes on her hand the entire way, wondering if he could wrestle it away from her. She mentally dared him to try it as she took out her keys and unlocked the door. He watched her and then inhaled sharply.
"Just the one lock?"
"It's a safe building, Dad."
He had his hands in his pockets as he walked inside. "Sure. They're all safe buildings until someone--" Ari came around the couch and planted herself on the carpet a few feet in front of him. "Dear. There's a wolf in your apartment."
"That's Tule. She's, uh, she's my security system."
"What breed is she?"
Dale looked at Ari, who seemed amused. "It's complicated. She's sort of a mutt."
"Well, it's true."
Ari huffed and stood up. She walked up to Samuel and stood in front of him.
"She's friendly. You don't have to worry about her biting you."
"I don't worry," Samuel said. "I deal with facts. And the statistics of dog-related attacks increase exponentially when factoring in the size--"
"Dad." Dale reached out and held her hand in front of Ari's face. Ari licked the fingers and then ducked her head. Dale scratched her between the ears and moved down to the scruff of her neck. Samuel was still tense, but he took his hands out of his pockets and gingerly touched Ari's head. She remained still, so he gave her and experimental scratch before he looked at Dale. "You named her Tule. After the song I used to sing you?"
"I guess she's not so bad."
"She's a doll. But anyone tries to hurt me, you can't believe how scary she can become."
Samuel raised both eyebrows and somehow managed to nod without moving his head more than a few inches. "Oh, I can believe it." He moved his hand away from her. "You keep a dog this size in an apartment like this?"
"I, uh, have a friend. With a yard. We sort of share custody. So if Tule disappears unexpectedly, th-that's where she is."
"Well. Okay." He pat her on top of the head. "Good dog."
With the introductions over, Ari went back into the living room and sat between the couch and coffee table. Dale looked at her and Ari managed to wink. Dale smiled and mouthed 'thank you' before she put down her father's suitcase.
"Are you sure you're okay with the couch?"
"Given the number of nights I've fallen asleep in my armchair, the couch will feel like a luxury mattress. If you try to give me your bedroom, I swear I will go get a hotel room. And I will sleep on the room's couch just to prove to you how little I care."
Dale laughed. "Point taken, Dad. If you want to rest before dinner, I can take Ari for a walk. I know you probably didn't get a chance to nap on the plane what with Mr. Family Reunion next to you."
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It wasn't large enough to be a yawn, but it was as close as he would probably get with his daughter in the room. "You know, that's not a bad idea, honey. I don't want to kick you out of your apartment--"
"Please. Okay. I'll take Tule for her walk, and we'll be back in about an hour. Sound good?"
He nodded. "Then we'll go to dinner. Nothing too fancy."
"Don't worry. My boss doesn't pay me enough to go anywhere fancy."
Ari head-butted Dale's hip.
"Are you sure she's your bodyguard?"
"Yeah. She just gets overexcited when I get out the leash and collar."
Ari straightened her neck and her eyes widened slightly. Dale winked at her and looped the collar around her neck. She fastened it loosely and then clipped on the leash. "Nap well, Dad."
"Thank you, sweetie."
She slipped the leash through her fingers until she gripped the loop on the end, and Ari obediently followed her out of the apartment. She looked at her father once more before she shut the door and led Ari to the stairs. Ari looked back and Dale narrowed her eyes. "Oh, hush. You know you like the kinky shit."
Ari huffed and pulled on the leash to force Dale to pick up the pace.
Ari waited until they were safely behind the closed doors of the office before she changed back. She rolled her shoulders as the last of her pelt receded and was replaced with clammy skin. She worked her neck from side to side and flipped her hair over her shoulders before she opened her eyes. Dale was sitting on the couch Ari was crouching in front of. She stood and stretched her legs, then took the robe Dale offered her.
"How was the ride home?"
Dale shrugged. "Typical of us. Not too much animosity, which was good. I can feel him gearing up for the entreaty to come back home. He's just gathering information right now. The size of my apartment, the neighborhood, the job market. He's biding his time."
"You make him sound like a supervillain." She dropped onto the couch and guided Dale's head to her chest. Dale curled against her and Ari adopted a cheesy British accent. "No, Mees Frye. I expect you to move to Pennsylvania. Mwahaha."
Dale snickered. "Did you need a rubdown?"
"No, I'm good. He seems like a nice enough guy."
"What do you know? Everyone loves a friendly dog."
Ari smiled. "If you need someone there to referee dinner, I'd be happy to extend an invitation. That's not weird, right? We're a two-person operation, so it's believable we would be friends instead of just boss and employee."
"Just don't act nervous about the truth. Ignore the truth. For now, for the weekend, just pretend this happened a few months ago and you and I aren't together yet."
Dale suddenly pushed away from her. "Miss Willow! I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to be so forward. I hope you don't think... oh, gosh! What you must think of me!" She turned away, her hand over her mouth.
"It's okay, Miss Frye. I was actually just thinking about extending your duties."
Dale looked over her shoulder and batted her eyelashes. "Whatever could you mean, Miss Willow?"
Ari pulled Dale across her lap and bent down to kiss her. Dale slipped her hand into Ari's untied robe and stroked her stomach, eventually pulling away to look toward the door.
"This isn't very professional..."
"I'm not a very professional boss. Now do you want that raise or not, Miss Frye?"
Dale laughed as she was manhandled, lifted and dropped onto the couch as Ari stretched over her. They kissed, and Dale's hands roamed under Ari's robe. Ari lifted her head as she unbuttoned Dale's pants and pushed her hand inside.
"It's going to be a very stressful weekend for you. So I'm going to do whatever I can to alleviate the pressure."
Dale closed her eyes and bit her bottom lip. Ari settled with her knees digging into the cushions on either side of Dale's body. She watched Dale's face as she moved her hand into position, three fingers between Dale's thighs and fitting perfectly against the crotch of her panties. Dale lifted her hips to meet Ari's touch but Ari pushed her down with her free hand.
"Sh." Ari kissed her and Dale surrendered. She raised her hands over her head, resting them on the arm of the couch. Ari circumvented Dale's underwear and teased Dale's sex. She turned her head, and Ari attacked her throat with lips and teeth until Dale was squirming uncontrollably. "Don't drag it out... just let yourself go."
Dale's eyes squeezed shut tighter and she pushed herself against Ari's hand. She dropped her hands to Ari's shoulders and twisted through her orgasm until, finally, she pulled Ari down and fitted their lips together in a soft, grateful kiss. When they parted, Dale brushed her lips over Ari's cheek and whispered, "Thank you."
"I enjoyed it, too."
"Not for... well, not just for that. For this whole weekend. You've been amazing."
Ari shrugged. "We support each other. That's how this thing works." She smiled and sat up. "You can pay me back later."
"I told Dad we'd be gone for an hour, so we have time." Her fingers roamed Ari's leg beneath the hem of her robe.
Ari grinned and picked up Dale's hand. She kissed the palm and said, "Later. If we're taking the weekend off, I want to make sure we have everything settled."
"Wise. I guess."
Ari stood and offered Dale her hands. She helped Dale stand, and Dale adjusted her pants before she went out into the main office. Ari, the robe swishing around her like she was walking through curtains, took a seat behind her own desk and turned on her laptop. She was checking email when Dale appeared in the doorway.
"Call forwarding didn't work again. We have a message."
Ari growled and looked at the phone at the corner of her desk. Sure enough, the message light was flashing. "I'm going to figure that out one of these days."
"It's easier than email."
"So you keep telling me, and yet..." She picked up the receiver and, despite the fact she was basically nude, tried to act professional as she punched in the code and listened to the recorded message.
"Yes, this is Abigail Scott. I'm calling about... ah." She cleared her throat. "I would like to hire you, if you're available. I'm available to meet this Friday, whatever time is good for you. Earlier, um, is probably better." She gave her cell number before hanging up. The mechanical voice told her it had been left the night before, so at least it hadn't been waiting too long. She dialed the number.
"Abigail Scott? This is Ariadne Willow of Bitches Investigations."
"Oh. Yes! Right."
Ari said, "Sorry for taking so long to return the call. We've been out of the office all day."
"No, it's fine. Thank you for calling me back at all. I wasn't sure if I was... well. Hiring private eyes. It's something television characters do. But I couldn't really think of any other way to accomplish what I need. I would like to hire you to deliver a message to my daughter, Emily."
"What kind of message?"
"Nothing complicated or dangerous. Ms. Willow, my daughter left home a few years ago. We never got along, and when my husband passed away we were just two people occupying the same space. I tried to connect with her, but I'm afraid I didn't do a very good job. We frustrated each other at every turn. One day I came home and she was just... gone. You have no idea what that's like."
Ari, who had pulled a similar disappearing act on her own mother, cleared her throat. "I may have more of an idea that you think, ma'am."
"I don't know where she went after she left home, but one of Emily's friends saw her earlier this week working at a club in Bothell. She was tending bar, and she looked healthy enough and in one piece, so I'm... satisfied. I am. As long as she's happy. I don't want to frighten her off, but I do want to let her know that I still love her, and my door is still open if she wants to at least come home for a visit. I chose your agency because of the name. I don't want Emily to think I've sent the police after her or that I'm making some sort of federal case out of this. Bitches doesn't sound... I mean, no offense..."
Ari smiled. "None taken." Her laptop was already waiting for a command, so she opened a file and poised her fingers over the keyboard. "I can meet you tomorrow so we can iron out the details. If you could bring a picture of your daughter and something she's worn--"
"Something she's worn?"
Ari winced. She always felt weird asking for that, but when it came to tracking people down, it was often vital to her success. "I know it's more than a little unusual, but it helps with the process."
"O-okay. Sure. I can bring one of her T-shirts."
After getting the information and dealing with the onerous matter of payment, Ari promised she would get on the case the following day. She hung up and tied her robe shut as she went into the front office where Dale was typing something. She paused and turned to look at Ari, who smiled.
"I got a case for tomorrow."
"You're going to leave me alone with him ?"
"Him is your daddy," Ari reminded her.
Dale nodded. "That's kind of my point."
Ari crossed the room and stood behind Dale's chair. "You'll do fine. Even if he doesn't know the details, he has to know you're an amazing, brilliant, beautiful, happy woman." She kneaded Dale's shoulders and bent down to kiss the top of her head. "Come on. By the time we walk back to your place, it'll be more than an hour since we left."
"Are you up for another transformation so soon? I could just say I dropped you off at my friend's house."
"I'll be fine. I'm abandoning you tomorrow, but for tonight I'll be there for moral support."
Dale sighed. "Thank you."
"Happy to do it."
She let go of Dale, stripped out of the robe, and knelt on the floor. Dale turned away, eyes closed, and ignored the sounds that Ari made as her body was twisted and contorted into new shapes. Popping, snapping, painful stretching noises. Ari's huffing and puffing changed timbre as they began moving through an elongated snout and a flattened pair of nostrils. Hands turned paws thudded to the floor.
Dale looked again and saw Ari's wolf form panting at her. She took the collar and leash off the coat rack and fitted it around Ari's throat.
"We'll have to try the leash and collar thing sometime when you're in human form."
Dale could have sworn the wolf waggled its eyebrows lasciviously.
Samuel insisted they eat in, refusing to let his daughter pay for an extravagant meal just because he was there. He helped her cook while Ari, still in wolf form, tried to get comfortable in the living room. It just wasn't happening. She was too accustomed to being human in Dale's presence. It was like wearing a work uniform to a party. She twisted her neck, shifted position twice, and tried several different spots in the hopes one of them would prove comfortable.
"I think your dog is getting cabin fever."
"No, she's just anxious."
"All that pent-up energy. She's going to be bouncing off the walls. One hour walking her isn't going to make up--"
Dale sighed. "Dad, I know. She runs around all weekend. She likes it here. Don't you, Tule?"
Ari lifted her head, barked, and made a point to stay in one spot for more than ten minutes. Samuel got something out of the fridge and then began scanning the kitchen floor. He glanced toward the balcony and then frowned. "Where is her food? Her water?"
Dale paused mid-stir. "Uh. She eats people food."
Samuel closed his eyes and shook his head. "Dale, that's not healthy for her. You know better than that."
"Just chili and, uh... turkey..."
He stepped out of the kitchen and retrieved his coat. "Dog food has nutrients that dogs require, and if she's going to be cooped up in here all week, then they're more important than ever." He cut off Dale's protest with a cut of his hand. "Honey, she seems healthy enough, but you don't want to wait until she starts needing help to start living healthy. Now I saw a market just down the street. I'm going down there to get some proper dog food. I'll be back before dinner is ready."
He was out the door before Dale could think of an argument to stop him.
Ari stood on her hind legs, forepaws on the counter. Her ears were standing straight up. Dale shrugged helplessly.
"What did you want me to say?" Her voice was low, just in case he was lingering outside the door. "You're the one who forgot to put out a decoy food dish. Now he's not going to be happy until he sees you eat."
Ari looked longingly at the food on the stove.
"No. I tried, but you're just going to have to suck it up. One meal. You've eaten worse."
Ari bared her teeth, and Dale reached out and wrapped her fingers around Ari's snout.
"Bad dog." She went to the fridge and took out a hot dog. She knelt down, and Ari stepped around the counter and plucked it from her fingers. After the hot dog was gone, she licked Dale's fingers and then her cheek. Dale squirmed.
"All right, stop it." She scratched Ari's neck and kissed the side of her head. "I'll make it up to you. I promise."
Make it up to me? You'll make up the fact I had to eat dog food ? That should be interesting, Miss Frye.
Dale took out two wide bowls and placed them on the floor next to the fridge. Ari stared at them with dismay.
The indignity. The humiliation... the horror. The horror...
"Will you be quiet?"
Ari bent forward and spit again, using her free hand to hold her hair out of the way. "You eat a bowl full of Puppy Chow and we'll see how many times you brush your teeth." She stuck out her tongue and scrubbed it with the toothbrush. She had already thrown up twice, and now she was nearly depleting their toothpaste.
"If he's paying attention, he thinks I've brushed my teeth four times in the past hour."
They were both whispering, standing in the bathroom that connected Dale's bedroom to the front of the apartment. The outer door was locked, and they could hear the television playing in the living room where her father was camped out on the couch. Dale had her back to the connecting door so she could hear if he was approaching.
Ari chugged another glass of water, swished it around, and then spit it out. She finally nodded that she was done, or had admitted defeat, and Dale ushered her out into the bedroom. She shut the door, locked it, and followed Ari to the bed. Ari was wearing pajama pants rolled down at the waist and a tank top that showed off her midriff. As she crawled into bed, Dale couldn't help but admire the curve of her rear end, sliding in next to her and drawing the blankets up over them both.
"Shame we have to be quiet."
"You'd really kiss me after watching me eat that dinner?" She leaned close and breathed in Dale's face. "You like that?"
Dale coughed and waved a hand in front of her nose. "Whoa. You're right. That is nuclear-grade minty."
They cuddled together in the middle of the bed, listening to the muffled sounds of the television coming from the other room. Ari stroked Dale's back and stared at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to take her. She was actually glad to have an excuse to turn down sex; in the past day she had transformed far more times than she was usually comfortable with. Dale had given her a quick all-over rubdown in the shower, but she was still sore.
"You ate dog food for me."
Dale's voice was soft, almost dreamy, but Ari knew she was awake. "Had to keep up appearances."
"You didn't have to be here at all. Thank you, Ari."
Ari kissed her forehead. "You'd do the same for me. All the nights I dragged you out of bed to come pick me up, I can have a few disgusting dinners. At least your dad got a brand that was mostly meat. Chicken. I would have eaten worse in college, if I'd gone."
Dale smiled. "Well, when we're alone again and we can be as loud as we want, I'm definitely going to pay you back."
"Can't wait." She pulled Dale closer and they settled together under the blankets.
The next morning, Ari and Dale shared the shower out of necessity and managed to keep the proceedings mostly chaste. Dale showed Ari that the shower massager had non-prurient capabilities by using it on the aching muscles of her neck and shoulders. Afterward Ari toweled off and slipped into the bedroom to transform. When they finally joined Dale's father in the kitchen, Ari was in her wolf form and Dale was dressed and ready for a day of father/daughter bonding.
Ari followed Dale into the kitchen, glancing at Samuel to see him watching her. If you think I'm chowing down on the dry dog food again, you're insane. He coughed and placed his hands on the counter.
"You know, that dog has been cooped up in your apartment all night."
"She likes sleeping with me."
Ari resisted the urge to wag her tail.
"Be that as it may, you should take her out to do her business, shouldn't you?"
Dale looked at Ari. Ari looked up at Dale. "Um. You know, I should probably do that. I should drop her off at Sara's house, anyway. Do you mind me abandoning you?"
"Don't worry about me. I'll get ready for our outing. While I was waiting for you to get out of the shower, I looked at the internet and found some places to go. It'll be a full day."
"Great. I'll just go get Tule's stuff."
Ari sat on the kitchen floor and looked up at Samuel. He looked back at her, glanced over his shoulder, and took a piece of bacon off his plate. He tossed it to her, and she snatched it out of the air. He smiled and winked at her as she chewed. "A little people food now and then isn't a bad thing."
Ari would have smiled if she could. Dale had snuck her a sandwich as a midnight snack, but it didn't compare to bacon. She was still licking her lips when Dale came back with a duffel bag slung over her shoulder.
"Okay. It shouldn't take too long. I'll be back in an hour or so. Come on, Ari."
Samuel said, "Ari? Your boss?"
Dale blinked. "Oh. Brain fart. I was thinking, uh, in the bedroom that we could have dinner with Ari tonight after you have your conference thing."
"Sounds good. Might not be until late."
"Ari's kind of a night owl anyway."
He nodded. "Okay. I'll see you in about an hour. Big day planned."
Ari followed Dale out of the apartment and looked back at her once they were in the stairwell. "Shut up," Dale said through her teeth, and Ari huffed in a canine equivalent of laughter as they descended the stairs.
At a lunch meeting with Abigail Scott, Ari got a photograph of the woman's prodigal daughter, a notepad-page of information, and a pink T-shirt that had unfortunately been laundered. She supposed she wasn't surprised, since the girl had moved out a while ago. It was too much to hope for something full of her scent. Ari waited until she was alone in the car before she sniffed it. Under the bleach and detergent smells, she picked up a vague hint of the girl's scent. Maybe it would help in the bar, maybe not. Either way, it was better than nothing.
The bar where Emily worked was called Beautiful Joe, and it was slow for a Friday night. She followed her nose through the mostly-empty lot until she found a car heavy with Emily's scent. She tried to look inconspicuous as she checked the backseat, but all she found was an umbrella, two folded jackets, and a microcosm of a landfill made up of fast-food containers. She didn't smell any contraband, so she continued inside.
Ari was dressed to blend in, choosing the T-shirt for a band she'd never heard of but Dale insisted was "in," and a pair of tight jeans. She took a position at the end of the car and spotted Emily almost immediately. She looked a little thinner than in the photo provided by Abigail. She and the other employees wore the same black polo shirt and tan khakis combination, but Emily had a green apron tied around her waist.
She eventually made it to where Ari was waiting. "Hey, girl. What can I get you?"
"I don't suppose you have apple juice."
Emily smiled. "Pacing yourself?"
"Something like that."
"I have a non-alcoholic local brew that doesn't taste like pisswater. Wanna give it a shot?"
"With an endorsement like that, how can I refuse?"
Emily grinned and poured her a mug from the tap. "Adventurous or trusting. Either way, you're gonna be a fun customer." She put the glass in front of Ari. "Let me know how you like it. Got a name?"
"I'll start a tab for you, Ari." Emily moved to the next customer and struck up a conversation.
Ari tested the beer and was surprised to find it was actually not bad. Ari watched her, deciding she could give Abigail a little more detail for her money. For the moment Emily seemed like she was doing okay, but the stress of a Friday night tending bar would show her true colors. She could afford the time. Dale's father would be in the conference until at least nine, so it would most likely be ten before they got together for dinner.
"Ari Krishna," Emily said as she came back. "How's the swill?"
"It's good. I think you undersell it so people will be pleasantly surprised."
"Ah, you caught me. If I tell people that it's a really great, amazing local brew, they look for reasons to hate it. This way they give it the benefit of the doubt."
Ari smiled. "Crafty."
"Gotta be crafty in this line of work. Let me know if you want to bump it up to alcohol. You look like you could use it."
"You're stressing about something, sweetie."
Ari was surprised. "Well. I'm meeting my girlfriend's father tonight. He thinks I'm just her boss, doesn't know she's gay, so..."
"Ooh, I can see how that would be stressful. Want some free advice?" Ari shrugged. "Don't try to win him over. Don't make yourself into the girl he'd love to see his daughter with. Just show him that you've already won over his daughter, let him see how much you care for her. Either that will win him over, or he's unwinable. Either way, your girl will be happy."
Ari smiled. "That's good advice. Thanks."
Ari lifted her glass. "Emily. Thanks."
"No problem." She moved off to answer a beckoning patron and Ari watched her go. She held a mouthful of the local brew in her mouth and considered the taste. Definitely good as far as non-alcoholic beers went, and for a local brewery. Hell, it was good period. She swallowed and pulled her lips back over her teeth. She might have to buy a few bottles and take them home. It would give her another chance to start a conversation with Emily and broach the subject of her mother. She had a feeling it would need to be brought up quickly before any goodwill she'd established evaporated.
Until then, she had her beer and a band was playing live music. She'd definitely been on worse jobs.
After an hour, and following a few more genial exchanges, Ari pulled out the pack of cigarettes she'd bought for the occasion. She tapped them on the edge of the bar to get Emily's attention. "Is there a place I can have one of these?"
"If you share, I'll show you myself."
"I hate smoking alone."
She actually hated smoking period. She'd done it before when she was on the streets, but that was mainly just to fit in and look tough. It was a good skill to have as a private investigator. People got more relaxed during their smoke breaks, and it could help create an artificial bond between two relative strangers.
Emily told her fellow bartender that she was taking a break and motioned for Ari to follow her. They went out through a door marked Employees Only, down a narrow corridor, and out into a back parking lot occupied by dumpsters and one stray cat which quickly vanished into the shadows. Emily took two milk crates off a stack by the door and put them on the ground, taking one for herself as she took a cigarette offered by Ari.
"You should come around here more often. You're great for business."
Ari frowned. "How so?"
"Guys are finishing their drinks faster to make an excuse to come up to the bar, hoping you'll notice them. Nothing helps sell drinks better than having a beautiful woman at the bar."
"Wow, so having two ..."
Emily grinned. "Eh, they're used to me. You're the mysterious newcomer. If you wanted to come back on another night, I'd cut you in on the profits."
Ari laughed. "Well, as much as I'd love to be a ringer, buying my drinks would cut into my profits."
"Hm." Emily exhaled a plume of smoke. "I wasn't going to tell you this until you reached for your wallet, but the guys who are refilling their drinks early and often? A couple of them have also bought your drinks for you."
Ari raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Mm-hmm. Right now you've actually got a surplus of, ah..." She closed one eye and tried to remember. "Three or four drinks."
"Wow. I should go out to bars more often."
"Yep. But if you're looking for tasty non-alcoholic stuff, they only sell what you're drinking here. It's a Beautiful Joe's original."
"I'll keep that in mind. It was as-advertised." She flicked the ash off her cigarette, hoping to get away with taking as few puffs as possible. "So, Emily..."
Emily coughed against the back of her hand. "Look, it doesn't have to be awkward. You mentioned your girlfriend earlier and you spend the whole night talking to me instead of the guys paying for you to get not-drunk." She laughed derisively at herself. "There's really no good way to just come out and say 'I'm straight, so don't bother asking me out,' is there? It sounds so narcissistic."
"I'm flattered. You're gorgeous, and if I was looking to check out that sort of thing, I would dream of doing it with someone like you, but--"
Ari held up her hand. "I-I wasn't going to ask you out."
Emily stared for a moment and then dragged off her cigarette. "Oh. So it does have to be awkward."
"No. It doesn't. I was just going to ask if you were... happy."
Ari sat up straighter. "My name really is Ariadne Willow, but... I'm a private investigator. I was hired by your mothe--"
Emily cursed under her breath and stood up. Ari stood as well, blocking her from going back inside without touching her.
"Hey, you don't have to run. If I wanted to grab you, I'd have done it the second we were out here, right? Your mother doesn't want me to force you back, and she doesn't want me to dig into your personal life. All she wants to know is that you're happy and safe. That's it. She also wanted me to deliver a message."
Emily's face had transformed into a stone mask while Ari spoke, but her eyes were dark. "Yeah? What's that?"
"She gave me the impression that when you left, the door closed behind you. No turning back, no going home. But she wants you to know that it's open. And it'll stay open. If you want to call her, or just have lunch sometime, she's there. I know what it's like to leave home and know the bridge has been burned behind you. There were times even when things were good that I wished I could just get some advice or have a soft place to land. Your mom wants you in her life, as much as you want to be in it."
Emily breathed deeply. "Is that it?"
"Yeah. I just had to deliver the message."
She looked down at her cigarette and took a final drag on it. "I'll think about it."
Emily looked at the door and then back at Ari. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't... come back inside. I don't mean to sound bitter or angry at this, but--"
Ari was nodding. "I misled you. I understand. The three or four drink surplus, go ahead and take that as a tip." She smiled apologetically and stepped around Emily to leave the back lot.
"Hey, Ari?" She stopped and looked back. Emily wasn't looking at her. "If you want to buy some of that non-alcoholic beer, you can come back during the morning hours. Ask for Charlie and tell him I told you it was okay. He'll sell it to you cheap."
"Thanks. And sorry."
Emily nodded slowly, and Ari left her by the back door of the bar.
After they were seated, Dale and her father skirted the edge of several topics of conversation: the weather, the Sonics (a team which, he was surprised to learn, no longer existed), Dale's health, Samuel's health, other diners, and the "old hometown." Dale couldn't resist smiling at the trip down memory lane, even though she knew it was a ploy to make her homesick enough to make a visit back. And then, of course, he could really start twisting the thumbscrews to get her to just make the return permanent.
She was about to abandon him for the bar when she spotted the hostess walking toward them with a woman Dale barely recognized in tow. Ari's hair was pulled back in a severe bun and she wore horn-rimmed glasses. She wore a black T-shirt under a cream blouse, and a light-colored skirt.
Ari the Actuary, she assumed. Or Actu-Ari.
The hostess delivered her to the table and swiftly disappeared as Ari took her head. "Hello, Mr. Frye. Sorry for my tardiness. I'm sure Dale was beginning to fear I wouldn't arrive at all. Without a text message to remind me, I could have simply forgotten about this meeting altogether. Fortunately your daughter makes certain I keep my appointments."
"Well, it's nice to finally meet my daughter's employer. Ms. Willow, is it?"
"That's correct. Well, Ari. Formality is unnecessary."
He smiled as the waitress, spotting the party was all present, made her way over. They ordered and Samuel leaned back in a position Dale remembered as his interrogation posture. "So, 'Ari.' You're quite a bit younger than I expected. I'm surprised someone of your age has the sort of successful business that can support a full-time employee."
Ari shrugged. "Well, in this day and age, all sorts of people need actuaries. Risk assessment is absolutely necessary in a world where every penny counts. Nobody wants to make a dangerous investment, so they come to us. Our main business comes from insurance companies, of course, but we have private clients as well. I use math to predict the future, and in an economy like this, many businesses are willing to pay for my information." She touched the side frame of her glasses with two fingers and adjusted them, glancing at Dale with a half-smile Samuel couldn't see.
God bless Wikipedia, Dale thought.
"Risk assessment," Samuel said with a smile. "That's a job I can get behind."
"It's a bit of a double-edged sword, in point of fact." Ari folded her hands in front of her. "When you force yourself to see the dangers in any given situation, it can make it somewhat difficult to... live. It makes you afraid. Sometimes dangerous situations don't work out, yes, but the thrill of taking a risk and having it pay off is--"
Ari pressed her lips together and retreated.
Samuel looked between them. "Is everything okay?"
Dale smiled. "Sure. Sometimes she just gets carried away. She doesn't know when to stop. Even though I appreciate it... her ramblings, I mean... I don't want her talking your ear off."
"She's right. I do tend to go on and on. I'd much rather hear stories about her youth."
Dale's eyes widened. "No, you wouldn't."
Samuel smiled, now conspiring with Ari. "Well, it's either that or I tell you about my very exciting dental professional conference." He looked at Ari. "Would you like to hear about when Dale was six and decided she was going to be a pilot?"
Ari rested her elbows on the table and folded her hands under her chin. "Mr. Frye, I would love nothing more."
Dale slipped the cloth napkin out from under her silverware and draped it over her face.
Oh, he was sneaky.
They were halfway through the main course before Ari realized what he was doing. By then the spiral was far too pronounced to safely survive. She didn't even have an ejector seat. She just braced for the impact that came after their plates were taken away and they were lingering over drinks. He was sitting up straight, his hands flat on the table in front of him.
"Ms. Willow." His return to formality wasn't lost on her. "Don't get me wrong because you do seem like a lovely young lady. But the fact is... I really don't think I like the idea of my daughter being locked up in business with you."
"Daddy," Dale said, warning dripping from each syllable. "Stop it."
He ignored her. "You're an actuary. Do the math. You're irresponsible and forgetful. By your own admission you wouldn't have come to this dinner at all had she not reminded you in a text message. You don't instill trust, Ms. Willow. I can see the future as you claim to. One day your business will go under, and I would prefer you not take my daughter down with you."
Ari couldn't resist. "If that happens, she'd have to run back home to you. That's what you want, isn't it? So why don't you just let me fail, if I fail, and get what you want?"
"That's another bad sign. I could sense you had a bit of a temper, but you've been holding it back. You're a volcano waiting to go off, and that will only hasten your company's defeat. And yes, I do wish Dale would come back home--"
Dale cleared her throat. "Dale is still at the table," she whispered softly, but both of them ignored her. She drained her water glass and then began fishing for ice cubes.
"--but I want it to be her choice. I don't want her to be forced back, because she would only resent it. And I refuse to have you turn my daughter into a failure. She had no reason to crash and burn with you. You need to let her go and allow the inevitable to happen. There's-- ahh! "
His shoulders hunched as the ice cube was dropped under the collar of his shirt to skim down his back. Ari tried to pull away, but Dale was too quick and repeated the move on her. It fell down the front of Ari's shirt, trapped by her bra, and sat coldly against her sternum as Dale dropped back into her seat.
"Can I speak now?"
"Ahh." Ari squirmed and shuddered. Samuel looked like he was being electrocuted in his seat.
"I'm not going anywhere, Dad. I'm staying here in Seattle, where I belong. And succeed or fail, I'm staying with Ari. She's not just my boss, she's..."
Ari became still, watching Dale, wondering if she would find the courage.
"She's my best friend." Dale seemed disappointed in herself, but she carried on. "She's the best friend I've ever had, and she was willing to lie to you all weekend because it would make things easier on me. But it'll be easier to just tell you the truth. Ari isn't an actuary, she's a private investigator. Her agency is called Bitches Investigations, and I'm her assistant. And yes, it's dangerous. And yes, I have been hurt once or twice working with her. But I keep going back because Ari and I save each other. We've done it from the moment we met. If I fail, it'll be because Ari's not in my life. And if she fails, it'll be because I'm not in hers."
The waitress approached. "Would you like to see the dessert menu?"
Ari reached down the front of her T-shirt, retrieved the mostly melted ice cube, and tossed it onto the table in front of her. The waitress stared at it, smile permanently etched on her face as she backed away.
"I'll just get your check."
Ari made the decision to retreat outside the restaurant, taking a visual cue from Dale that told her it was okay. She drove back to the agency and used her time to type up a report, which she would hand over to Abigail Scott alongside an oral report of what happened with Emily. She took off the blazer and glasses and let down her hair, her mind constantly drawn back to the scene between Dale and her father.
"She's... my best friend."
Ari couldn't blame her for it. The speech was courageous enough. It was a definite step in the right direction. And it wasn't a lie; at least Ari hoped it wasn't. Dale was the best friend she'd ever had, too.
She was still considering that when her phone rang. "Dale?"
"Hey. Come on over."
"As you. He's going to check into a hotel."
Ari's heart broke for her. "I'll be right there."
Twenty minutes later, Ari was holding Dale on the couch. "Why was that easier?" Dale asked. "I mean, having a dangerous job is as bad as being gay, right? It was just as horrible for him to hear. So why can I tell him that and not..."
Ari stroked Dale's hair. "The job is something you chose, so it's not a big deal if he rejects it. But being gay is a part of who you are. If he rejects that, then it's like he's rejecting you . There's no way to prepare yourself for that from anyone, let alone your father." She traced the shell of Dale's ear. "What will happen now?"
Dale sighed. "We had our typical blow-out, and it'll get forgotten tomorrow because sleep conquers all. It's like the reset button in our family. Say what you want, go to bed, wake up in the morning and ignore it ever happened." She sniffled. "But he'll still be at a hotel. We'll have dinner and he'll go to his conference, and then on Sunday I'll drive him to the airport to take him home. Wash, rinse, repeat for his next trip."
"Well, if you want me to go with you, as support--"
"Not to the airport. But if I need you during one of the lunches, can I?"
"I'm there." She kissed Dale's forehead, and Dale tilted her head up. Their lips met, and Dale rearranged herself on top of Ari. "You know," Ari said between kisses, "we're... alone in the apartment now... I believe you promised me a reward for being such a good girl last night."
Dale grinned. "Oh, that has to wait until we have all our toys back in one place. I have plans, Ariadne Willow. Oh, you better believe I have plans."Ari grinned and hooked her finger in the collar of Dale's blouse, pulling her back down. Ari smiled as they "settled" for just making out for a half hour or so. Ari could wait to get Dale's gratitude. She knew it would be worth the wait. But as soon as Samuel was on a plane back to Amish Country, she was going to make sure Dale's apartment got re-gayed as quickly as possibly.
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