Part Two - Another effect of a force is to alter the state of motion of the body.
Two days after the pool-cue incident, the body of a woman was found less than a mile from the small cove where Grace had tended to Dana. The dead woman was a lady in her early fifties who had worked at a seafood restaurant near the local marina. She had been stabbed five times in the chest with a large, double-edged knife in an obvious act of rage. Still buzzing from the excitement of discovering the body the previous evening, Beth divulged all of the gruesome details to Grace over Sunday breakfast.
A few days later, over a rare dinner together, Beth described two forensic discoveries: the victim had struggled with her attacker, and preliminary genetic testing on skin taken from under the victim's fingernails showed that the killer was likely a woman. The police had also discovered a bag of bloodied clothing in a trash barrel less than a mile from the body. Grace found herself unable to finish her bisque after that surprising news.
She had not seen or heard from Dana since that evening, and when she drove past the beach she did not see the boat moored where she thought they had been. She did not know that the morning after they had met, Doc had pulled up anchor and sailed south, past the Carolinas, past Florida, and back to the warm, blue waters of the Caribbean, intending a two-month cruise.
By mid-September, five weeks later, the summer weather had cooled as quickly as the police leads. All they had to go on were a bloody T-shirt, gauze, surgical gloves, and fingerprints that did not match any known criminals in the FBI supercomputer databases. Beth was still pushing Grace to move in with her, and Grace was running out of excuses for putting off a decision.
The first crisp sensations of autumn blew through the coastal town from the northern forest on the second Saturday in October. Grace awoke late, a preference that she was able to indulge all too seldom. She felt a rare abundance of energy. She had not volunteered her time to the clinic that weekend because she had started to feel haggard. She needed the break, partly because of four consecutive seventy-hour weeks at the hospital and partly because her hopeful expectation that Dana would somehow show up at the clinic had not been fulfilled. She always went home disappointed. Grace wondered where the dark, enigmatic woman had sailed off to. She decided the murder must have spooked the ex-con with a self-proclaimed attraction to trouble.
After brushing her teeth and her hair, Grace decided to skip a trip to the gym. Instead, she opted to find Beth, who was probably at the park playing basketball with her partner. She liked to play after a shift to blow off the tensions of Friday-night madness. Grace rarely had time to play and was not as good as Beth or most of the others, but she loved the game. Dressed in gray cotton shorts and a blue sweatshirt, she grabbed a bottle of water and headed for the marina park where they played.
There were only seven people there when Grace arrived: Beth's kid brother Ben, Beth, Beth's partner Charlie, who lived nearby, and three faces Grace did not recognize; the seventh person was unmistakable. Hair pulled back from a deeply-tanned, regal face, Dana bounced a worn ball on the edge of the court and watched the others shoot around warming up. A black, floppy-eared dog was lying next to the metal bleachers that overlooked the court. Rip gave the approaching Jeep an uninterested doggie yawn that shook the compact ebony body.
"Shit!" Grace muttered, for more than one reason. Beth had noticed the Jeep as soon as it pulled up and was walking over to greet her.
"Are you gonna play?" Beth inquired with a thick New England accent. Grace could read in her expression how surprised the cop was to see her. Grace had not told her she had taken a break from the clinic.
"I was hoping to." Grace climbed to the ground and gave Beth a hug.
"Perfect. We were odd out--now we have eight." Beth led her by the hand to the court.
Dana was on the court now, and if she was surprised to see Grace she did not show it but concentrated, instead, on shooting and stretching her arms. Ben was watching the tall woman carefully. When he caught Grace's eye, he wiggled his eyebrows. He still had their secret. Such a good boy, Grace thought, grateful for his loyalty.
Beth decided they should start playing and set to the chore of choosing teams. She struggled to decide which team should get Ben and which should get Grace. In her eyes neither was very good. Dana decided for her, her first words of the morning to the group. She opted to take Grace on her team, stating that the newcomer looked fast, scrappy, and smart. That set the tone for the rest of the morning.
Beth did not like the stranger, especially when she had made Beth feel like a jerk about Grace, and also because she played so well. As her frustration grew, she began to miss shots. Touch fouls suddenly became shooting fouls. And calling a shooting foul was always a basis for a playground argument.
A particularly soft nudge by Grace against Beth's arm before the shot suddenly became cause for a heated debate between the two teams. The argument broke out mainly between Beth and Walter, a five-foot-ten man in his mid-thirties with very little curly, brown hair on top of his head but plenty on his chin.
"It's a friggin' foul, Wally," Beth complained. "I'm shooting."
"No way. It was before the shot, and she barely touched you."
Dana was holding the ball against her hip and waiting for the childish disagreement to play out. She watched Grace out of the corner of her eye. The cute blonde looked embarrassed by her friend, or possibly girlfriend? Grace was talking quietly to Ben, both trying to act indifferent toward the conflict. They both stole an occasional glance at Dana while the argument between the others escalated. The guards at the pen would have shot at the troublemakers if they had been playing in the yard; at least the game would have continued, Dana thought to herself.
"What do you think, Legs?" Wally addressed the tall, silent one with the ball.
Dana's dark side took hold of her mouth. With a sinister half-grin she offered her opinion. "I think it was a wuss call." Turning away from the suddenly angry affrontee, she shot the ball at the basket. The chink net clinked. Dana did not like the woman for many reasons, but not all were known to her at the time.
"It's my goddamned call to make," Beth spat angrily.
"Whatever," Dana replied, with a tone of boredom. "Are we going to play some more or stand around acting like babies?"
"Your ball," Beth spat at them and headed downcourt to defend the basket.
Wally chuckled deviously.
That small victory was the beginning of a much larger war. Every time Dana received the ball, Beth slammed her or swatted her in some manner. Dana knew she had brought it on herself. Basketball was known for turning mild-mannered commoners into trash-talking would-be assassins. Criminals behaved better on the courts than freebirds did, usually because a sniper refereed the games in the pen. Doc did not play often. When she did, there was usually a fight but not usually one with her in it.
After an elbow to the mouth and another to the nose, she grew agitated. Beth was taunting her, waiting for her to call a foul. She would not give the other player the satisfaction. When she failed to complain, the roughness of the game escalated. What irked the hothead even more was that Dana still made her shots and was winning.
"Game point," Grace, the official point guard of the winning team, called dutifully as she brought the ball downcourt. Beth was cursing diligently under her breath and above it too. Dana had cleared out to draw Beth out of the play. She knew her defender was close to rampaging. She could tell by the eyes, knew the look too well. Dana urged Grace to take it to the hole for the final point. Ben, a sound defensive player, if not a shooter, stopped her. She passed off to Wally, who took a wild shot that bounced high into the air. Unable to resist the draw of victory, Dana crashed the boards and snagged the rebound. Using a power dribble to the hole, she jammed the ball over Beth. As soon as she landed, the game won, Beth drove her forearm hard into her throat, knocking the tall champion to the ground.
"Game's over," Beth growled as she stomped away from the downed player. Rip was pulling at the black leash tethering her to the bleachers. She barked wildly, gagging at the pressure her strained harness caused against her chest and neck. Beth's teammates followed her, including Ben. Grace knelt beside Dana, who was sitting up holding her throat. She had a cut on her lip and above her right eye from the previous whacks, but the last one had been completely unexpected and had knocked her for a loop.
"You fucking bitch!" Wally yelled after Beth as he knelt next to his downed teammate. He started to chuckle but stopped when he saw that Dana did not appear to appreciate the laughter. "I'm sorry, but it was sooooo good to see her lose," he said.
"Sorry if I'm not sharing your pleasure." Dana's voice was strained. "But I do have to admit, the win was worth the fractured trachea." Dana looked into Grace's eyes for the first time that morning. Unfortunately, she saw no humor in them. Dana lost her own half-grin. They both looked over toward the cars where Beth was beckoning Grace to join them.
Their eyes locked once more before Grace stood and headed off to her friends.
What was I thinking? Dana chastised herself. Acting like a stupid kid. What did you think you were doing? God, you're such an idiot, she silently told herself as she stood and brushed the dirt off her clothes. She and Wally walked to the bleachers, where they both donned sweatpants and sweatshirts. Rip was still on alert, watching her friend's enemy warily, tail and head arched alertly. Dana tore protective wrist supports off her hand, which still had a couple of pins holding together previously-broken bones. The blue tattoo on her hand was now exposed. She heard an angry female voice and the sound of peeling tires. When she looked up, Grace was walking toward her with the first look of anger Dana had seen cross that face.
Heading to his own car, Wally patted his blonde teammate's shoulder knowingly. "See you next week," he said, and then jogged to his own car, a blue Caravan. Their other teammate, a quiet kid, no more than seventeen, was still shooting. Ashamed to have caused such a scene, Dana diverted her attention to the lithe figure pounding the rubber ball against the pavement.
When Dana felt the vibration from Grace walking down the bleachers toward her and then the jiggle as the younger woman straddled the bench next to her, she finally surrendered her attention to the young doctor.
Grace spoke first. "You're always bleeding when I see you." Dana reached up and wiped her brow and chin with her sweatshirt sleeve.
"That's why I always keep plenty of staples around the boat," Dana replied wryly.
Grace barely smiled. "How's the head?"
"Just not all the time," Grace said.
"Look, I didn't cause her to freak out like that."
"But what?" Dana had assumed defensive body posture, crossing her arms across her chest.
"But you could have diffused it. All you had to do was call one foul."
"No way!" she said stubbornly. "That's exactly what she wanted."
Grace sighed out her disgust. "You're just like her."
Dana shot Grace an angry look.
"Neither of you acted very grown-up." Grace crossed her arms, then consciously uncrossed them. Neither woman spoke for a long moment, but crystal-blue eyes searched green ones, hoping for a relenting to come.
"You're probably right." The one with the baby blues gave up first. She was rewarded with a forgiving smile that caused the strangest, most pleasurable sensation of warmth in her chest.
"So, you're into chicks?" Dana asked as she tied her shoe.
Grace laughed. "We call them women, Dana," she corrected, "and, yes, I've been into my share." She figured Dana had been exposed to women aplenty in York, and her simple ability to ask about it acknowledged that she could probably deal with Grace's preference. "Want to go grab some lunch," Grace offered, with a nod toward her car.
Dana looked around to see if someone was behind her.
"I mean you, Dana."
After a moment of utter shock, Dana answered her with a slow nod.
"I would give anything for a benedictine-and-bacon sandwich," Grace said, biting into her turkey club. They were seated in the back of a small deli on Main Street in South Milford. Dana felt too big for the table and chair they were sitting at. To make matters worse, the table wobbled. She could not eat her own sandwich, a grilled ham and cheese, until she had fixed the wobble by wedging a folded napkin under the table leg. Then she tasted her food.
"Mmmmmm, a cucumber-mayonnaise spread with bacon, lettuce, and tomato. Everything pales in comparison."
"Sounds interesting," Dana said sarcastically.
"Don't you have a favorite food?"
"Bread and water."
Grace did not laugh. She decided to change the subject. "You were pretty incredible on the court today."
Dana shrugged and continued to eat.
"Did you play in high school?"
Dana stopped mid-bite, then began to chew again. "I never went to high school. I went to York when I was fifteen."
Grace suddenly felt terrible.
"Yeah? What for?"
"--that I was normal? I wouldn't apologize for that, Grace. It's nice to be seen as normal. It gives me hope that not everyone sees me as a monster."
"Then why not let me think that you're normal and that you played basketball in school?"
"Because I'm a murderer, not a liar. I learned the game in the yard when I grew bored with walking in circles, not because I was trying to win a scholarship so that I could go to college.
"That's as good a reason as any," Grace decided.
"Grace, I won't want to talk about this."
"Okay, what would you like to talk about?"
"Can't we just eat?"
Grace nodded at her companion, suddenly aware of how she always felt obligated to fill silences. This was a change and felt a bit uncomfortable. She decided to concentrate on eating and actually found the sandwich enjoyable despite the lack of cucumber froth.
Grace and Dana sat side-by-side in the Jeep. It was parked in the beach parking lot close to the cove where Dana's boat was again moored. Neither had said anything other than short sentences related to payment of the lunch bill.
"What?" Grace turned to her companion, surprised at having heard a sound from her.
"My favorite food. It's asparagus."
Grace smiled at her for encouragement.
"My dad and I used to eat it by the bushel."
"It used to scare me because it always made my pee smell funny," Grace responded.
Dana chuckled, a deep sound.
"So, where have you been, Dana?" It was time to get down to business.
"The West Indies."
"Any sharks catch you this time?"
"Nothing big." Dana smiled, surprised the woman had remembered.
"I take it you removed the stitches yourself."
Dana nodded in affirmation. The light-sensitive lenses of the driver prevented Dana from seeing the green eyes that surveyed her.
"Any particular reason you came back to Milford?"
Dana could not lie. "Rip likes it here."
The dog's head suddenly appeared between the seats, a wet tongue flicking slobber in their faces.
"Yuk, Rip," Dana remarked, wiping the drops of drool from her cheek. Grace laughed and scratched behind the beast's ears.
"And it was my destiny," Dana added, eyes suddenly dark.
"Destiny?" Grace asked nervously.
"Oh, yeah. It was my destiny to come here today and whup your girlfriend's ass all over that basketball court." Dana half-smiled at the mild irritation that remark appeared to provoke.
"Lady, you have a dark side," Grace commented, shaking her head from side to side.
She doesn't know the half of it, Dana thought.
"Have you heard about the murder?"
I guess not. "A lady was killed down by the marina, that night we...met."
"No, I hadn't heard." Dana was brushing her legs nervously.
"The police found the bag with the gauze and your bloody shirt. They think it belongs to the murderer, that maybe the attacker was injured in a struggle."
"Oh, shit!" Dana looked up in alarm.
"Yeah, your blood and my fingerprints are all over that trash."
Dana rubbed her forehead in consternation. "My DNA is logged in the FBI computer." She was stating a fact Grace had already assumed. Since 2001 the DNA of all felons in the United States had been systematically collected and catalogued with the FBI. "How long have they had the shirt?"
"A little over a month."
Dana swore silently. "They should have the results any day." Dana was rubbing her head again, unable to look at the doctor. The fact that the labs had such careful testing procedures that took weeks to complete seemed to be the only good fortune so far.
"Dana." A soft voice. "Look at me," she pleaded. Frightened blue eyes locked with her.
"If you didn't do it you have nothing to worry about."
"If?" Dana was hurt and bewildered. "I thought I was with you."
"You were. Damn, I'm sorry--I chose the wrong words." Her voice was rising with the panic. "I'm nervous, for God's sake. Cut me some slack!" Grace looked away from the incredulous stare, and her eyes started to tear from frustration and the weeks of stress. "My fingerprints are all over the evidence too. And my fucking girlfriend is smack-dab in the middle of the case."
"We didn't do anything wrong," Dana reasoned, knowing her companion needed support. "Why didn't you tell her the truth about the trash?"
Grace wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "I don't know."
"That's not an answer. This is fucking serious, Grace!"
"I was afraid, all right? What if I had picked up some other person on the road and not you. I could have been that dead woman. Beth would have killed me if she'd known I picked up a stranger and followed her to a secluded boat."
"So you were afraid of your girlfriend finding out you were with another woman? Good God, Grace, this is my life you're screwing with!"
Grace sniffled. Dana knew she should not blame the woman for having to deal with Dana's legal vulnerabilities. She could not hate her for letting fear control her. But the problem remained; the law would believe what was most convenient. Grace was sobbing, the shame and regret more than Dana could bear to watch.
"Grace," Dana said, tentatively reaching for the woman's shaking shoulder. "It doesn't matter." She spoke reassuringly, smoothly. "Listen, I'll take care of this."
"How?" she asked with a sniffle.
Dana was dismayed to see the woman lacking the self-confidence which Dana had come to associate with her. The vulnerability stirred a protectiveness she had not allowed herself to feel for a long time. She had no answer yet but hoped that one would come soon. She knew one thing for a fact: she could not turn herself in to the authorities. She remembered the bar and the fury she had nearly unleashed before stomping out of the crowd. Too many witnesses could testify to her "agitated state." And her violent history--a con, with body piled upon body. And even if by some miracle they did sort it out, she would have to spend time in the clink during the process. She had promised herself she would never go back to that existence, not for one second.
"I'm assuming they failed to ID your prints?" she asked, trying to keep the despair from her voice.
"Not yet. I've never been printed."
"Good. If they haven't yet, they aren't going to. That means you're safe and I can run."
"No!" Grace growled through clenched jaw. "That's no life. They would catch you sooner or later. Maybe if we went together to someone other than the local police."
"That's not an option."
"Listen, there's nothing tying you to this other than a bag of bloody garments."
"I killed a cop once, Grace." Dana thought that should be explanation enough but seeing the question on the young face, she continued. "They won't give a cop-killer the benefit of the doubt. Never have." She looked at Grace's pained, innocent eyes, her self-loathing consuming her voice.
"Why did you kill him?"
Dana did not want to talk about it.
"If you don't tell me, I'll only imagine why, and that's not fair to you."
"I'm assuming drugs were involved, you were young, and--"
"No, no drugs. I've never done drugs." She was adamant. Grace waited for more, realizing that this woman had certain rules that she did not want anyone to think she had broken.
"After my dad...died, I was placed in a temp home, the cop's home." She left out the devastating details of her father's suicide and the subsequent rejection by her mother when the courts had asked her to take Dana into her new family. "It was a temporary home. A lot of kids passed through, mostly boys."
Dana swallowed, willing herself to go on with the story. "He abused some of us, some emotionally, others sexually. Usually the boys took the brunt of it because they would keep quiet. I'd been there a month, maybe a little longer. I was a little mixed up after my dad died." She paused, searching for the right words to describe the numbness that had consumed her after she found her father slumped on the floor, dead by his own hand. He had left no note or explanation for her, but she had known that the despair and pain he had held so closely had finally killed him. She had blamed herself for not saving him from it, for not bringing him enough joy.
She swallowed and continued the story. "I knew what he was doing to those boys. He was sneaking into their rooms late at night, and it sickened me. I was so confused that this could happen, confused about why my dad had left me like that. Nothing made sense to me at the time. I locked on to the need to set some kind of order--you know, the way you know things should be but aren't. I had to do something for them."
"So you killed him."
Dana smothered her face with her hands. "I stayed up one night listening to him creep around the house. He went into the boy's room next to mine. The kid wasn't quite twelve yet. Then I heard the whimpering start. I had a butcher knife I had taken from the kitchen earlier in case he...." The rest was self-evident.
"What about the boy?"
"He was too ashamed of what had been done to him to talk." In retrospect, Dana had figured that the newly revamped foster care system had played a role in the boy's silence. The state had spent over a billion dollars making the system safer for the children. Dana had sparked a political bomb with her metal butcher knife. She had killed the man, and the state's failure to protect the boy had gone against her in court as much as anything else.
Minutes passed in silence. Grace wondered if this woman would ever forgive herself. She placed her soft hand on the back of the downturned head. Her fingers ran over the raised scar for a moment, then through the silky, dark tresses.
"We'll get through this together," she whispered into the ear of the devastated woman.
Dana was trying to regain her self-control, hide the shame she felt. But the stroking of the woman's hand made her want to release her painful feelings.
"Together?" Dana whispered the foreign word. She had been on her own for so long.
"Do I speak in Greek?" Grace asked, a hint of bemusement in her voice. "You know, an adverb describing a relationship of one to another, mutually, reciprocally."
"You mean you want to share this problem with me?"
Dana looked away while she put her walls back in place where she needed them. "I don't share very well."
"I'm good enough at it for us both. Meanwhile, I want you to come home with me while we figure this out."
"Geez, you're forward."
"We need to work together on this, and knowing you, you'll take off on your own if I let you out of my sight. And besides, I always get what I want."
Dana smiled. "You don't have a clue about what you're getting."
Grace leered at her out of the corner of her eye as she climbed out of the vehicle. "I'm always willing to try new things. Now come on, let's go get you some clean clothes. You can shower at my place."
That was when Dana realized that she was the one who did not know what she was in for. She hopped out of the car and followed the fiery woman down to the dingy on the beach. Rip scurried after them, intent on being a part of the activity.
"By the way, Grace, I speak Greek fluently."
The young doctor's home was a former beach house which had been converted for year-round living. It had once been three streets from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Now the home was prime beachfront property. Shingles storm-worn to gray by wind and ocean spray gave it that charming look. A small crabapple tree in the front yard was beginning to turn orange. As she stepped out of the Jeep, Dana slid on a rotting apple that had dropped onto the gravel drive.
"Watch where you're walking."
Dana glanced at her new partner with irritation, then scraped the mess off her sneaker, using the edge of the tire. Dana heaved her black duffel bag and computer case out of the back seat. Rip had followed her new best friend, Grace, to the front door.
"Go sniff around, you fickle hound," Dana scolded the black dog as Grace played with the keypad entry for the door lock. Despite her small hands, she kept hitting the wrong key, and the door refused to open.
"You should get the big-button Fisher-Price version," Dana quipped.
A blush crept over Grace's face.
"Mind if I try?" Dana asked cockily.
Grace waved the way for her, but before she could recite the five-digit combo, Dana had pressed several numbers, and the door opened with a click. Dana moved aside for the smaller woman to enter, a look of astonishment on the ivory face. Dana wore a smirk as she followed her into the house. Maybe she could hold her own with the little doctor, until she ran out of tricks.
The front door of the house opened into a large sitting room decorated in bright yellows and greens, with pale blue wall-to-wall carpeting under a hand-woven Persian rug. The large, comfortable living area flowed into the dining area, which had a round, etched glass table and four upholstered hardwood chairs surrounding it. The dining area was separated by a white Formica counter that held a pile of newspapers and the cordless answering machine. Just beyond the counter was the tiled kitchen and a huge window greenhouse lined with exotic plants and flowers. To the right was the back door, which led to a deck and the beach. The bathroom sat between two rooms. The large bedroom appeared to be where Grace slept, with a queen-sized bed, still unmade, centered in the room. The smaller room seemed to be for storage, the only furniture an old wooden rolltop desk, with boxes of books and clothes piled around it. An ironing board leaned against the wall, collecting dust.
"The shower is here," Grace said, pointing to the bathroom. "I suggest you use it before you kill my plants. Right, babies?" she said, gently stroking a leaf of a mother-in-law's tongue.
"Are you saying that I smell?" Dana asked incredulously, letting her large bag thump against the floor in the middle of the living room.
"I'm sure you smell; we all smell. What I'm saying is that you stink when I smell you."
"I think I'm offended."
"'Offensive' is more like it."
"Just for that I don't think I will take a shower," she replied and sat on the floral couch, legs and arms folded across her large frame.
Grace ignored her and walked into the small kitchen area. She took out a bottle of water and tossed it at her guest. Then, with hands on her hips, she stated plainly, "No shower, no asparagus."
A smile crept to Dana's lips at the thought of asparagus. Oh, this lady was good. With that she removed some clothes, a towel, and a bag of toiletries from her duffel and went to shower.
The sexual experimenter in Grace would have liked to join her friend in the shower, but there was an invisible, yet tangible barrier around Dana. Grace's gentle platonic touches were always met with a tensing, and even the clinical touches had been met with trembling. She had experimented with comfortable distances when they returned to the boat to get the articles and had found that Dana seemed most comfortable when Grace was at least a meter away from her.
She moved the bag and computer into the bedroom to get it out of the way in the small living room. She had nearly tripped over it once while straightening the house. She was straightening the bedroom, having forgotten to make the bed before leaving to play earlier, when Dana entered the room, dirty clothes in hand, her raven hair wet and combed back, revealing her striking beauty. Grace stared, dumbfounded, at the woman standing before her.
"Grace, when I told you I had some intimacy issues before, I really meant it. I can't sleep in the same bed with you." Her voice was quiet, almost shy.
"Who said anything about sleeping?" Grace joked and finished making the bed.
Dana's ruddy complexion turned crimson. Grace noticed the look of terror on the flushed woman.
"I was only kidding, kiddo. I'll sleep on the couch." She wondered what kind of intimacy issues this seemingly impenetrable woman had, no pun intended--okay, maybe a little one.
"I'll take the couch."
"No, it's way too short for you." She snapped the top sheet across the bed and let it drift down onto the mattress. "You can wash your dirty things here," she explained, opening a folding closet door to reveal a small, stackable washer/dryer unit. "But wait until I'm done with my shower. Otherwise I'll get no hot water. So much for technological advances, eh?" Dana dropped her sweaty clothes into the washer basin. She realized now that she had a weapon against Little Miss Smart Ass.
Grace recognized the devious glint in her eye. "I mean it," she threatened. Dana held her arms out, declaring innocence.
She could not resist the urge to turn the washer on while the young doctor was showering. She pulled the knot back out after the walls started shaking from Grace's elbow pounding the tile. Heh, heh, heh, Little Miss Yalie has herself a little temper, Dana said to herself. After a quick tour of the house on her own, during which she stopped to admire the seashore watercolors dotting the walls, Dana found a telephone line in the bedroom and plugged in her laptop.
"What are you doing?" Grace had finished her shower and was towel-drying her hair.
Dana folded the screen down upon hearing the question. "Checking my mail."
Grace sat across from her on the bed, working the ends of her hair. "What do you do for a living, Dana?"
"I'm a sailor, remember?"
"No, you were an 'or something.'"
"You have a good memory."
"It comes in handy when I'm trying to differentiate vital organs from non-vitals."
"I'm a freelance nano physicist."
"Ooooh, a nano tech. Cool. Have you worked on anything I would recognize?"
"Probably." But Dana offered no other information.
Noticing her guest's reluctance to postulate further, she changed the subject. "I have to go to the grocery, and I would like it if you came along." She had moved to the washer and flipped it on, adding her dirty laundry to the soapy water. "I'll even let you squeeze a melon or two if you're good."
"You're quite a flirt, Dr. Wilson."
"We're leaving in five minutes, so hurry up with your mail." Grace left the room with a youthful spring in her step. Dana fell back on the bed, unable to determine why her heart was pounding.
Beth did not sleep after the loss at Marina Park. She was still seething from the humiliation, and on top of it, Grace had bitched her out in front of Ben for losing her temper.
"Chill, Beth, it was just a game," Ben offered guardedly. He handed her one of her own beers from the fridge. She took the cold bottle and opened it with her hand, then took his and opened it for him. He had noticed the silent exchanges between his sister's girlfriend and the tall, dark-haired woman. He also had driven by Grace's house that Friday evening a month earlier to make sure Grace had arrived home safely. When he did not see her car, he waited down the road until she finally drove past. That was at four-thirty, four hours later than he had expected. He had not mentioned it to Grace or Beth, but it had bothered him despite the fact that he knew it was none of his business. But now, with Grace staying behind and all of the other telltale signs, he was not so sure where his loyalties lay.
"Did Grace seem strange to you today?" he asked his sister.
The lean woman with short, cropped blond hair and large brown eyes shrugged. "She has been kind of distant lately."
"Yeah, like she's in Canada. I think she's seeing that convict," Ben stated before taking a swig of beer. Beth yanked the bottle from his lips, and beer dribbled down the front of his clothes.
"Hey!" he protested.
"The one who kicked our asses today in that game." He tried to blot the beer from his Nike shirt.
"How do you know she's a con, Benny?" She handed him a dishrag.
"Her tattoo." He grabbed his beer back from her.
Beth searched her memory but did not remember that detail.
"We ran into her at Sully's a month or so back. Grace stopped a brawl that night."
"Benjamin!" Beth exclaimed. "You never told me that!"
Now Ben was in trouble.
While the two were packing away the groceries into the refrigerator and cupboards, Grace initiated a conversation about nano technology based on what she knew was happening in the medical field.
"I have a friend who's the microbiologist on the cancer-cure nano project at Yale." She watched as her tall friend put the spaghetti noodles on the top shelf. That was going to be a problem later.
"Really. I was under the impression they weren't doing much work on that project."
"Well, yes, they're stalled."
"More like completely out of ethanol."
Grace leaned back against the counter and observed the woman who was bustling around her kitchen.
"You know, this would be a lot easier if you helped," Dana said, her face in a cabinet, trying to decide if she should follow Grace's lead and place canned goods with cake mix.
"I enjoy watching you move."
Dana's mouth went dry.
She really did like it. Dana was fluid, powerful, and efficient, even when it came to putting away the milk.
Dana folded up the last paper bag and handed it to Grace. "Does your girlfriend carry a gun all the time?"
"That's good to know."
"Why do you ask?"
Dana leaned forward and whispered, "Because she's standing at your front door."
Grace turned around to see Beth watching them through the oval glass.
"Cover your hand," Grace said as she walked over to unlock the door.
"Hello, Grace," Beth said coldly as she stepped into the house. Her eyes were glued to the tall, dark-haired woman. Beth was shocked that the woman was there. "I think you and I need to talk." Her eyes darted to Grace for only a moment despite the fact that she was speaking to her.
Dana allowed her blue eyes to latch onto Beth's dark ones long enough to relay the fact that she could be a threat.
My God, she sneered at me, Dana thought, a smile creeping to her lips.
When Grace caught the fire in Beth, she was not sure if she wanted to be alone with her.
"I need to find Rip anyway," Dana said, grabbing a gray sweatshirt.
"Prison gray looks good on you," Beth snapped.
Dana did not let that faze her. "We always wore day-glo orange," she replied as she opened the door and exited.
Dana walked to the edge of the yard and whistled for the dog. She waited a moment, looking down the gravel road for a sign of the hound. Grace's backyard was all sand, but the front was a patch of wispy grass and dead dandelion stems clinging to transplanted soil. She whistled again, this time with her fingers in her mouth. A second later the dog was bounding toward her, her coat gleaming from a dip in the water and her legs covered with sand.
"Come on, Rip, let's go for a walk," she said, leading the dog down toward a rock jetty. Rip followed for a few paces, then assumed the lead down the road to the dead end.
While her new friend was out for a walk, the young doctor had the serious business of extricating herself from her souring relationship and deciphering how that could compound the problem of the bloody shirt. Her instinct was to come clean, end the relationship crisply, and not hee-haw about it. However, like before, she thought too much about her actions and found that being a Kentucky girl made hee-hawing come all too easily to her.
"Your friend has an interesting mark on her hand."
"Want a drink?"
"I want an answer."
"Yes, it is an interesting tattoo."
"That's not what I mean."
"Oh, so you have a particular question in mind."
"Why do you have a stranger in your house, a...a...deviant?"
"Deviant? She's an ex-con, not a deviant. The prison system is for reforming people, not labeling them. Remember?"
"How long have you been seeing her?"
"I'm not seeing her, Beth."
"Bullshit, Grace. Ben told me you were. She's at your house. Duh, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. You think everyone is so stupid compared to you."
"I do not! And what does Ben know? That I stopped her from fighting a group of bikers at Sully's a couple of months ago."
"That you left early and didn't get home until five a.m."
"You had your brother spying on me? That says a lot about this relationship."
"You're the one who didn't go home. Now I know why you haven't wanted to move in with me. Tell me, Grace, you into bad girls now?"
Grace glared at her.
"And we slept together that morning too. Boy, that was slutty of you."
"I think you should leave, now."
"You think you're so civilized. Is she civilized, or does she take you like you're her bitch?"
"Shut up, Beth!" Grace shouted.
"Is that our problem, you like it rough?"
"You're a bitch, Grace," Beth said as she slammed the door behind her.
Dana was using the garden hose to wash the sand and dirt from the dark hound when the angry woman stormed past and then drove away.
When the dog and the tall ex-con entered the house, Grace was in the kitchen starting dinner.
"Stay off the furniture," Dana told the dog before meandering into the kitchen herself.
"Can I do anything?" she asked the bustling blonde.
"With Beth or dinner?"
"I'd better stick to dinner. I'm good at both chopping and basting."
Grace looked up from her roast, a sadness in her green eyes.
"I'm sorry it didn't go very well."
"You can help me with the potatoes," Grace said, offering a smile.
"I have never seen a person consume that much asparagus," Grace commented.
Dana smiled proudly. "Did you get any?"
"More than I wanted."
"There's still some on your plate."
"Please, take it."
Dana reached over and grabbed the long stalk, eating it one bite at a time until it disappeared.
"That is truly obscene."
"It's the only way to eat it. First you eat the bitter tip, then work your way down to the sweetness of the--"
"Okay, that's enough." Grace's face was bright-red. She cleared the dishes for them both and placed them into the dishwasher. Dana used a napkin to wipe the stray butter from her face.
"Hey, there, dog," Grace said to the resting beast lying on her side near the back door. Rip got up from her spot and went to the bathroom to drink out of the toilet. Grace heard the noise and went to drag her out, closing the door.
"That's disgusting, Rip. You know, Dana, you should get her a water bowl." Grace brought the dog into the kitchen and found a round Tupperware container, which she filled with water and set on the floor. "What does she eat?"
"She was eating garbage when we found each other. I don't think she's too particular. But usually I give her kibble."
"We didn't buy any kibble."
"Then garbage it is," Dana said with a half-grin. Grace looked at her angrily. "I'm kidding. I brought some with me." Dana went to the bedroom and pulled a five-pound sack of chow out of her duffel and brought it to the kitchen. "Do you have another dish?"
Grace dug into the cupboard and found a square dish, which Dana filled and placed next to the water. She put the dogfood bag on the counter.
"Can I help you wash the dishes?"
"No, Dana, you practically did all the dishes while you were cooking. Go turn on the tube and relax."
"I don't watch television. Turns your brains to mush," she said, gently tapping her friend's head with a finger several times.
"Then go listen to music."
Dana was sitting on the floor, flipping through the doctor's music discs, not liking what she saw. Grace had practically every Disney soundtrack, old Celine Dion, several unrecognizable groups that looked like they had sappy love-song tracks, going by the titles, and several discs of flute music.
"You haven't found anything yet?" Grace asked, stepping next to her. She had finished the few dishes and was drying her hands on a towel. Dana sighed.
"This one is good," Grace said, holding up a New Era label with a woman playing flute versions as a tribute to old Melissa Etheridge songs.
"Don't think so," Dana said, rolling her eyes, shivering, and placing the disc on the bottom of the pile. She shivered again at the thought of what it would sound like.
"You don't like New Era?"
"New Error is more like it. And flute music drives me nuts."
"What, a traumatic incident with a drum-and-fife corps as a child?"
Dana laughed. "No, for some reason the sound of a flute has always irritated me. Modern science cannot explain it."
Grace looked hurt.
"Sorry." Dana shrugged.
"What about these?" The doctorheld up a Celine Dion disc.
"Mushy love songs, ugh. Can't relate."
"What do you relate to?" Grace was becoming frustrated.
"Sass Jordan, 'Damaged.'"
"Never mind. Queen, 'Bohemian Rhapsody'?"
"Never heard of it."
"Nope. Any relation to me?"
A shake of the head.
"Oh, you like country?"
"Not Charlie Pride, Charlie Parker. Never mind."
"How about Hootie?"
"How about not? Grace, has anyone ever told you you're a bit..." she drew a square in the air with her fingers, making sound effects to emphasize each corner, "when it comes to music? I mean, none of these songs is actually performed by the composer, except for Hootie."
"You called me square!" Her face was red with anger. Dana froze. "Don't deny it. You drew a square in the air and meant that for me."
"Only in terms of music."
Grace flipped importantly through the rack and handed her a CD.
"Try this on." She handed her a Madonna disc.
"Let's try the radio," Dana said, handing the disc back to her. She was beginning to have real fun now.
Dana kept an eye on her hostess while she fiddled with the tuner. She was able to find a classic rock station which at the moment was playing an ancient Heart song.
"See? These people actually write the music they play. Gives it a whole new level of meaning."
"I'm not going to debate with you about music."
"That's because you would lose," Dana replied.
"Not likely." Resistance was futile. "The voice is an instrument, just as a trumpet or saxophone is."
Dana took the bait--hook, line, and sinker. "You cannot tell me that a person who writes the song doesn't convey much more than someone who is simply performing it?"
"Surely they can. Haven't you ever given someone a card that said exactly what you wanted it to say? But you signed it and handed it to the person yourself."
"You're comparing music to a Hallmark moment?"
"I won." A wide grin broke out across Grace's face.
Dana shook her head. "Have you ever played an instrument?"
"The recorder, in kindergarten."
Dana smiled. "When I play, I play for myself because it feels good. When it doesn't feel good, I won't play anymore. You can't compare that to a Hallmark card."
"My, my, that's a selfish attitude. I was always taught to share my gifts."
"From what I can tell, music isn't one of them."
Grace laughed. "What do you play, your armpit?"
"Ha...ha...ha...that is so funny."
"Really, what do you play?"
"A twelve-string Guild."
" ;What's that?"
"You should have brought it."
Dana gave her a tired look.
"Oh, that's right, you only play for yourself. Silly me. I bet you write your own music too."
"I fool around with songs. I wrote one about this square woman doctor who picks up bleeding convicts and goes to deserted boats with them. I'll play it for you sometime. I doubt it would hit the Top Forty and make it to your collection, though."
"What are you talking about now?"
"She didn't write her own songs, but she's kickin'." Grace started hip-hoppin' around.
Dana thought for a few seconds as the little blonde swirled around her. "Okay, I'll concede Tina Turner."
"Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin--no one could have meant the words the way she sang them even if they understood what she was saying--Billie Holliday, Mariah Carey, Madonna."
"Okay, okay. I concede. But Madonna is pushing it. And Mariah wrote her own music."
Grace beamed. "Want a beer?" she offered as she bopped into the kitchen.
Rip had finished dinner and jingled into the room, taking a seat on the couch.
"Get off there," Dana said, tapping her rump. The dog rolled off the couch, snorted, and curled up on the matching chair. Dana crawled over to the chair and repeated the herding. Rip finally settled for lying under the cocktail table.
Grace handed Dana the bottle of brew and slid down on the floor next to her. They sat with their backs to the couch, Dana sorting the music and Grace watching her, trying to figure out the categories she was using.
"So, have you figured out what we're going to do?"
"I was thinking that if you really wanted to, we could listen to Hootie."
"I meant about the DNA test."
Dana twisted to study her new buddy. She truly is beautiful, she thought to herself. The silky blonde hair hung loosely around her delicate oval face. Her light-green eyes were intelligent and friendly, and she had fine smile lines all around them. When she smiled at Dana, she made two dimples on either side of her mouth that made the taller woman melt. Dana felt a twinge in her stomach and had to look away. Her body had grown warm, for some unknown reason.
"I have an idea, but it's a long shot."
Grace noticed the rosy blush climb up her friend's cheeks, and her smile grew wider. She could not help herself, and she let her hand rest on the strong knee beside her. That grabbed Dana's attention, and her leg began to shake.
"It's okay," Grace whispered as she moved closer so that their faces were only inches apart.
"You just broke up with your girlfriend, and you don't know me very well," Dana said, inching away.
Grace removed her hand from the soft, worn denim.
Dana sensed that her new friend needed to feel connected to someone, overcame her survivalist instinct, and gently claimed the smaller, retreating hand. She replaced it in its original position on her leg. She left her own hand on top of it and squeezed the smaller fingers. She knew loneliness quite well herself.
Grace let her head rest on the round shoulder next to her. A moment of silence lapsed while they both acclimated to the touching. Dana nervously sipped her Coors from the long-necked bottle.
Dana awoke with a jerk, the loud clang of a storm door jostling her out of a deep sleep. Having insisted on sleeping on the couch, she had propped her ankles on the armrests, and the tendons in her knees were stiff from being locked all night. As she tried to bend them and sit, she cursed loudly.
The front door opened and slapped closed again.
"I told you that couch was too small for you," Grace said as she walked through the living room and threw the Sunday paper on the counter. She was dressed in gray shorts and a faded navy-blue Yale sweatshirt. Using the counter for balance, she began contorting her legs in what appeared to be methodical stretching.
Dana rubbed her face. Too much beer and too much talking had given her a headache.
"What are you up to?" she grumbled.
"I'm going for my morning run. Want to come along?" she asked, bright and chipper.
"Not unless someone is chasing me," Dana said, lying back down and pulling the blanket over her body.
"Don't you want to be in shape?" Grace said, throwing punches and karate kicks in the air at an invisible opponent.
"Not if I can avoid it."
"Suit yourself. I'll be back in half an hour," she said and bounced out of the house.
While the good doctor was busy sucking in car fumes and building up the lactic acid in her body, Dana took a long, hot shower, brewed a supremely strong pot of java, whipped up eggs with Monterey Jack cheese, jalapeno peppers, green chilies and Tabasco sauce, and sat down to read the paper. She was scrutinizing the weather and tidal times when the bedraggled jogger returned, her blonde hair dark and soaked with perspiration, her cheeks blotched with pink.
Dana looked up over her wire rims and the paper at the gasping woman. She returned to her paper.
"Yeah, baby," Grace gasped.
Grace pulled off the sweatshirt to reveal her dark-blue sports halter and a rippled stomach and strong back. She tossed the clothing on the floor by her bedroom and headed for the fridge for a bottle of water.
"Oooooh, eggs. Any left?"
"They're spicy," Dana warned and took a gulp of her coffee.
"I like spicy," she said, grabbing a plate and taking the other half of the eggs out of the frying pan. She sat in the chair next to her friend and began to eat.
"Doesn't exercise curb your appetite?"
"Only one thing curbs my appetite," she answered while stuffing her face.
"Let me guess--eating?"
Grace didn't bite.
Dana returned to her reading.
"Want to do the crossword?" Grace asked, reaching for the Literature section and a pencil on the counter.
"I'm not very big on words."
No shit, Grace thought. She was sitting on her chair, knees to her chest, pencil held between her teeth. Every so often she wrote, then replaced the pencil. Five minutes later she put down her pencil and paper.
"Done. What do you want to do now?"
"That was the 'Jersey Times.'" The "Jersey Times" had replaced the "New York Times" after the big wave removed Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Long Island.
"And your point is...?"
Dana's mouth hung open slightly. My God, Dana thought to herself, Miss Hyperextension was a freaking genius too.
Grace filled a mug with coffee. "Would you like some more?" she offered. Dana held her mug out blindly for a refill. Grace poured the remaining coffee into her cup.
"You are soooo welcome."
"Thanks," Dana said, guiltily pulling her nose from the stock market news, where her main interests were in the pharmaceutical companies and several chemical companies. "When you finish your coffee, we should probably head out."
Grace finished the hot java quickly.
"I'm done. Let me get cleaned up and rid of this uniboob look."
I kind of like the uniboob look, Dana thought, as the bathroom door closed.
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