Part Five - Uses of Cold
On Friday, at three minutes to five, Grace called Dana from Dulles Airport.
"Papadopolis," Dana answered the phone in her new office on the third floor of the research building. She handed Davenport, who was hovering over her, a purchase requisition to take to Dr. Barbara Buchler for signature. She had spent most of the week trying to find a company that had equipment to refurbish the new lab within a deadline of three weeks. She had finally found a German company that could deliver.
"Hey, Baby," Grace said in her deepest, sexiest voice.
"If you're snowed in, I'm going to kick that perfect little ass of yours >from here to Toronto."
"I was hoping for a spanking, actually."
"Say that when you're within spanking distance, Grace," Dana growled at her. "I am not amused. Aroused now, but not amused." She picked up a stack of techs' timecards that Davenport had placed in front of her three times that day and began signing recklessly. Then she tossed them in the outbox.
"I have a flight scheduled for first thing tomorrow morning."
"You planned this," the tech accused.
"I do not command nature, Sweety. And who would have thought it would snow like this in March?"
"Do you have a place to stay tonight?"
"The airline is putting us up at the Marriott. What time are they bringing Nate?"
"Jack said they should be here around six. They're going to pick him up from daycare and then feed him first. What the hell am I supposed to do with him?"
"You're the genius, Dana. You'll think of something. Besides, you did gr eat with my nephews."
"I was trying to impress your family and get into your pants then."
Grace chuckled. "I'm going to go grab a bite to eat and then take the shuttle to the hotel. I'll call you once I'm checked in to see how it's going. I love you, Dana."
"Yeah, yeah," the grumpy nano tech replied. "You'd better call me later."
"Are you sure you're up for this?" Minnie asked Dana. She hesitated and then handed over Nate, a small suitcase, a soft blue blanket, a stuffed whale, and Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham." Dana was feeling an awful lot like Uncle Buck.
"Oh, yeah, sure, no problem, we'll be fine," she heard herself saying. "Hey, Nate. Remember me?" She turned the small, dark-headed boy in her arms to face her, her strong hands gripping him by the pits, his short legs and heavy Lugz hiking boots dangling. He used a leaden boot to kick her in her right breast.
"Nate!" Jack said sternly as Dana bit her tongue and held the boy outside of striking distance.
"He's not usually so aggressive," Minnie explained, embarrassed. Dana handed the boy back to his mother and opened the back of the Jeep to place all of the boy's belongings within. Jack handed her the car seat, and she hooked and tied it to the seat.
She watched the trepidation in the parents' eyes as they looked over the small vehicle Grace had affectionately named but always spoke to in a whisper so that Dana could not hear.
"We won't drive much," Dana promised. Jack's monster truck was parked in the space next to hers, imposing and impressive in that big-wheels way. "We'll play at the beach, and I'm all stocked up on food and milk." Then she held out her arms for the boy again.
Jack peeled Nate's arms from around his mother's neck and handed him to Dana. With a shrill cry the boy protested and kicked, but this time Dana had enough distance, or so she thought. She tried to shake the ringing out of her right ear. While she was preoccupied with her aching eardrum, he landd a steel-toed, tiny boot on her healing hip, causing her to yelp.
"Hey, Little Buddy," she said softly through gritted teeth. "Next time you do that I'm going to drop you to the...." She pretended to let him fall and then caught him, causing his eyes to widen but wiping that evil little grin off his face. He seriously contemplated crying for a moment and then let out a large belly laugh when she smiled at him and let her long, dark hair tickle his face. While he was still giggling, she placed him in his car seat and restrained him.
"Hurry, go," she said, shooing the parents away. Minnie looked over her shoulder as Jack pressed her in the direction of the truck.
After Dana had a chance to eat a quick dinner of macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets, she and her new little friend sat down in front of the television, downloaded several Disney movies from the satellite, and set about getting to know each other's quirks. Dana liked the fact that Disney still told stories that were hundreds or thousands of years old, with a little taste--or distaste--of pop culture. Nate liked the funny animals. This version of Hansel and Gretel was quite interesting on many, many different levels. Nate didn't give two hoots about the levels. This is a kids' movie? Dana thought as the boy lay back against her on the couch, sans boots. They were getting along nicely as long as Dana got up and refilled his milk bottle every ten minutes and grabbed a new Corona for herself. Where he packed it away, she had no idea, until in the morning she found the cot he was sleeping on soaking wet and his diaper unable to hold the two gallons of liquid that had gone into him and since come out.
In the morning, Dana found taking a shower something of a challenge. She finally decided to barricade Nate in the bedroom and let him run rampant over Grace's collection, still in the box until Nate got to them, of once-cheap plastic Disney toy sets. After she took a quick shower, they settled down for Cheerios. He ate his dry, she ate hers--only a quarter of the bowl--with a banana and milk. Then he messed his pants.
"Grace, you'd better get home soon," she grumbled to herself as she tossed the diaper in a plastic bag, wrapped it and tossed it into another bag, then disposed of it in the outside garbage can.
She forwent the morning paper and settled in to play make-believe with him. The television ran what seemed like an endless loop of children's programs and cartoons.
By noon Dana was exhausted. She had played Ursula the Sea Witch--he, interestingly enough, insisting on being Ariel; Cruella De Ville--she got tired of the incessant barking really quickly; and the witch from Hansel and Gretel. They snacked some more. After lunch she tried the nap thing, but he would have none of that. Dana spent the afternoon waiting for Grace to call and teaching the boy how to dance to the soundtrack from "Zorba the Greek," for culture. By four they decided to brave the cold wind and spent an hour walking on the beach, tossing the ball for the dog while he chased seagulls. When that became boring, they hunted up sea shells, pretty rocks, and sea glass to offer Grace when she finally came home.
Eventually, Dana grew tired of keeping the boy from following the dog into the water and brought him into the house, his small body soaked, his booted feet kicking, and his not-so-little voice screaming bloody murder. During his bath, he peed in the tub, and she had to rinse it out and refill it with clean water. She dressed him in clean clothes while she washed the others, and made him a dinner of chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese, which he threw more than he ate. At six, Grace finally called from the air and said she had managed to get a flight and would be home by eight. Dana cried with joy.
Nate sat proudly as he rode high on Dana's shoulders while they wove their way through the Bardley International Airport terminal against the sea of commuters. They arrived at her gate a mere five minutes before the plane landed. A sense of relief and joy washed over the nano tech when she saw the small form of her deliverance walking toward them down the ramp.
"Hey, guys," Grace said as she smiled exaggeratedly and carefully hugged the big babysitter. Dana lifted the boy from her shoulders and handed him to her partner, opting to take the carry-on bag instead. Happy to hold something that didn't throw up, poop, or pee, she felt free at last.
Grace and Nate took right to smiling and talking, Grace's ease with people extending to even little people.
She's smiling now, but wait until she sees her Mulan set and the juice stain on the carpet, Dana thought, with a hint of devious pleasure.
The exhausted almost-two-year-old fell asleep on the forty-minute drive home. The two women barely spoke a word, Dana for fear of waking the boy, and Grace unsure of whether Dana was angry with her. When they finally pulled into the gravel drive and parked, Dana carried the sleeping boy into the house and placed him on the cot in the bedroom. She then went back out into the front room while Grace was in the kitchen, pouring two glasses of white Zinfandel.
She handed one to Dana. Dana took a sip, enjoying the easy bouquet, and smiled at Grace suggestively to let her lover know that there really were no hard feelings and that she had missed her. Grace smiled back, relieved, and stepped closer, and then...the baby cried.
Dana spent the next hour rocking the little man back to sleep while Grace unloaded her belongings and showered. By the time she returned to the room, Dana and Nate were fast asleep on the couch.
Carrying the fussy baby for the third time that night, Grace followed the stream of curses into the kitchen, where she found Dana making the bottle.
"What are you doing, Dana?"
"Making a bottle. What the hell does it look like I'm doing?" the tech said crankily.
"It looks like you're trying to put a nipple on a gallon of milk, Dana," Grace laughed. "How much do you think this kid can drink?"
Dana looked down through bleary eyes at what she was doing. "Shit! Shit! Damn!" she said and corrected her mental processing. She handed Grace the bottle and began to walk to the bedroom.
"Don't forget to put the milk away," Grace reminded her. Dana cursed some more, slogged back to the kitchen, and placed the plastic carton in the refrigerator.
Nate was up at the crack of dawn and insisted that Dana and Grace be present for the viewing of cartoons with him. Dana lounged on the couch, flipping through the channels while Grace made breakfast.
"We don't eat in the sitting room," Grace said firmly.
"We do now," Dana replied, setting up her breakfast on a tray next to Nate's in front of the couch.
"Dana," she warned.
Dana scowled, lifted the two plates of pancakes, eggs, and bacon, and set them on the dining table next to Grace's plate.
Nate began his screaming immediately.
The brunette returned to the living room, picked up the screaming boy, and sat him in the chair across from her, his head barely visible above the edge of the table. Dana looked over at Grace, pleading with her eyes.
"No," the doctor mouthed.
Dana heard the crack, saw the flash of light, and felt a sharp blow to her nose, all at once. Then her face was covered with sticky liquid. She looked around, a bit stunned, and finally caught sight of a juice glass coming to a rolling stop at her feet.
"Geez, Sweety! Are you okay?" Grace said, circling the table and placing a cloth napkin firmly against the bridge of the tech's nose. "You're bleeding," she whispered, looking down into watering blue eyes. The cut was beginning to sting from the acid in the tart orange juice.
"No, no, Nathaniel! We don't throw things," Grace rebuked the little brown eyes peeking over the edge of the glass table. He began to cry harder.
Dana retreated to the bathroom to clean up and bandage hernose, leaving Grace to deal with the latest temper tantrum. When she returned, Grace and Nate were sitting on the couch with their food trays, watching "Xerxes the Wonder Bear."
Dana did her best to deadpan, "I thought we didn't eat in the sitting room."
Grace answered with her middle finger.
The late winter storm that had crippled Dulles Airport had blown out to sea on a cross-country puff instead of traveling up the East Coast into New England. The weather on the Connecticut coastline was slightly warmer than the previous day, and the three people and one dog spent that Sunday afternoon casting lines off the slanted beach into the Atlantic Ocean in hopes of snaring dinner. Nate thought fishing was great, and Dana spent as much time as he could stand teaching him the art of casting. She made the mistake of telling him he was even better than Grace, and that earned her the other middle finger.
When Grace grew cold, she ventured down to the corner pizzeria and picked up dinner. Dana eventually dragged the snotty-nosed tyke into the house and readied him for evening pick-up. After dinner the wait began. Dana and Nate made forts with the cushions of the couch and played warrior and the sidekick, while Grace read her email concerning the forensic findings on the explosion and the OSHA reports. When she was completely depressed, she ventured over to the sitting room, where she found both the warrior and his sidekick sacked out and sprawled across the cushions strewn across the floor. Nate was lying facedown on Dana's chest, his head resting comfortably between her breasts, his arms dangling down her sides. They remained in that position until Jack and Minnie arrived.
Dana tried to wipe the sleep from her eyes as she climbed to her feet after the sleeping boy was gently lifted from her chest by his father. She could not help feeling that something was missing, kind of like the way that guy must have felt when the alien finally fell off his face but before the baby alien burst forth from his guts. Dana rubbed her belly in discomfort. She took a few minutes to resituate herself in the suddenly quiet, if disheveled surroundings, and then began to place the cushions back on the couch.
"Don't put them back yet," Grace said, catching Dana's arm and throwing the cushion she was holding back to the floor with her other hand. "Lit down," she commanded in a sultry voice.
Dana took one look at the forest-green eyes and sat down without question. A giddiness began to travel through her nervous system with the efficiency of light through an optical fiber.
Grace took her time moving through the room, flipping the televison on to Dana's favorite station--the pictureless Jazz station, turning down the lights, and then, finally, kneeling down facing her lover. "How's your back?"
"Perfect," Dana answered, looking around at the dimly lit room and taking in the smooth sound waves of Miles Davis' "Blue in Green."
"And your hip?" Grace slid forward into Dana's personal space.
"Fine," Dana answered. Oh, yeah, Baby! she thought as she felt the heat >from Grace transfer to her through the still air between their bodies.
"Really? When's the last time a doctor looked at it?" she asked, running her hands over Dana's legs to the tie that held up the blue cotton sweat pants.
"I can't remember," she gasped in reply.
"Tsk-tsk. You should arrange to see your doctor more often." She continued to stroke the tech's legs and hips through the soft fabric. "May I?" she asked in a deep, husky voice.
Dana gulped and nodded, knowing well that she would only be able to squeak out a "yes" if she tried to speak now.
Slowly Grace untied the pants and began to slip them down the hips, pulling the injured side far enough to expose the bright-red scar. She ran her nimble fingers gently over a mark which was turning blue from a recent bruising.
"Nate," Dana choked out an explanation to the questioning green eyes. Grace nodded and returned to her study of Dana's flesh. She looked first at the injury, and then she unabashedly allowed her eyes to wander up the strong muscles hinting through the tight white shirt. When she reached Dana's face, she saw how keenly her lover was aware of her.
Still holding her patient's gaze, the doctor bent over and kissed the bruised hip. Dana's body tensed with desire.
"Grace," she gulped.
"Shhh." Grace began to kiss a path across her lover's lower belly, slowly pushing the white shirt up the flat stomach, over the breasts. Dana groaned when the soft lips and tongue found her nipple. She then reached down and pulled the shirt over her head.
"Grace," she said a little more urgently this time..
"Ummm, what?" Grace murmured, her mouth full.
"Get off a second."
"I am, Baby, I am."
"No, I mean get off me for a second."
Grace groaned, released the hard nipple she was working, and rolled to the side. Dana lifted her butt off the pillows, reached underneath, and pulled out a plastic winged horse.
"Hey! That's my Pegasus," Grace said, snatching the white horse-thing out of Dana's hand. "You didn't get into my collection, did you?"
"Nope, I didn't."
Grace kneed her way over to the end table next to the couch and carefully placed her plastic toy down. Dana watched and prayed that she had not jeopardized her chances of a little much-needed attention.
Instead of returning to the cushions, Grace stood and walked into the kitchen.
"Aw, fuck a duck," the tech cursed quietly and fell back on the cushions, all hope lost. And then Grace returned with two Coronas.
"We need to buy some Sam Adams," the doctor said quietly, handing Dana a bottle and reclaiming her seat next to her lover. "Did I tell you how impressed I was watching you with Nate?"
"Impressed that neither of us ended up in the hospital?" Dana asked, taking a long, deep drink. "Ahhh, that tastes good."
"No, really. Kids take a lot of work and patience."
"No, just good planning. Like birth control."
"How come you can never accept a compliment?"
Dana shrugged. "When I do something spectacular I will. Right now, I'm just trying to be a regular, decent person." She took a long swig.
Grace studied her, wondering if the dark woman would ever view herself without self-loathing and disgust. "Is that what you think about what we're doing with this project, that it's just the decent thing to do?"
Dana finished her beverage and gave her a crooked smile, a nod, and a tiny burp. "Pretty much. We have the skills and knowledge, and we're making the best use of them."
"You call your genius a skill?"
"I'm no genius, Grace. I know how to solve problems by looking at the relationships between parts or systems. It's a methodology, or, better yet, an understanding, not a genius."
"If it's a methodology, then a computer would be able to develop the cure, but obviously a computer cannot do what you can. I swear, I've never met such a modest person in my life."
"That's because you hang out with egomaniacal doctors all day." Dana placed her empty beer bottle on the floor next to the chair. "I'll tell you what I am proud of."
"That you chose me to spend your time with."
Grace found herself nearing tears. Dana always made her feel like the desired, special one with her words and her actions. She served her breakfast, made her dinner, did her chores for her as favors, and always let her know that she cared about her on every level: comfort, safety, and pleasure. And Grace knew she was failing miserably at returning the love, always wrapped up in some project or her own fears of revealing her deepest feelings or emotional needs. She felt incredibly selfish--correction--was incredibly selfish. It was as if for the past two years she had been sleepwalking with tiny bursts of wakefulness when she would realize, but only for a moment, how truly wonderful what it was that they shared.
"My God," Grace said, as the realization dawned on her with succinct clarity.
"What?" Dana asked, suddenly concerned.
"I just realized something."
A worried look.
"I'm absolutely in love with you."
Dark eyebrows arched. "You just realized this now?"
"I mean, I know I really care about you, lo...love you, but this feels so much more intense, and...and...."
"Are we playing tag now?"
Grace giggled nervously. "No, I mean you're it for me. The end of the line, the one I want to spend forever with."
"Oh," Dana sighed.
"You don't sound very enthusiastic," Grace said, suddenly fearing that she was needing more than Dana could give.
Dana sensed the blonde's withdrawing. "It's just that I've known for a long time, Grace." She lay back and placed her hands behind her dark head. "I guess I'm a little disappointed because I thought you were right there alongside me when you dumped that police chick and sailed away into the sunset with me."
Grace thought back at how spontaneous and insane that had been and how good it had felt. "Is that when you knew?"
"Yep. But youknow what's really ironic?"
&q uot;No," Grace said, sipping her beer and looking down at the soft blue eyes.
"That you would ever use the word 'forever', being an atheist and all."
"I'm an empiricist."
Grace rolled her eyes. "Do you believe in forever and souls?"
"In some form or another. The basic law of the universe: energy is never destroyed, it only changes form. Matter is made up of energy, we are matter, so we are energy, so how can we be destroyed? You know, come to think of it, I could probably incorporate your atheistic--I mean 'empiricist'--belief system into my theory if I tried hard enough. That's what I think the spirit is. Yeats said energy was the soul of the universe."
"I would love to be convinced," the doctor admitted quietly.
"Really?" Dana glimpsed a vulnerability in her lover's eyes that she had never been allowed to see before. "Okay," she whispered, sitting up for the challenge, realizing how important this really could be. "You contend that religion, morality, and all that stuff that allows us to believe that there are these natural laws existing independently of our brains are actually only beliefs that exist only within our thoughts, our brains, our nerve cells. And what and how we believe things to be is determined by our genes or DNA, what lays down the physical links of our nerve structure. Which means that if I believe in God, it is not because God exists external to me but because a certain arrangement of my neurons, based on my genetic makeup, makes me think God exists. So to you, the existence of God would be driven by the order of chemical and electrical reactions taking place within my brain?"
"What drives a chemical reaction?"
A half-grin. "The desire for the electrons of one molecule to gain or share electrons of another molecule, filling their molecular orbitals, stabilizing themselves but gaining energy. Why do molecules try to gain energy?"
"It's intrinsic, Grace, the one, true, natural law that exists which has absolutely nothing to do with the way my nerve cells are linked. Why do species try to survive?"
"A genetic urge. The ones in the population without the desire to reproduce do not pass on their genes, and eventually that gene is weeded out of the population."
"You can't claim that's genetic."
"Yes, I can."
"Not unless you go back to the beginning of life, you can't. Because the very basis for any kind of action, thought, or impulse is driven by that one basic, intrinsic desire of electrons: energy, or the spirit. It is what has guided you to me and me to you. All of our choices leading to our relationship have been this electrical path that caused me to accept your help that Saturday night so long ago."
"Friday night, Dana."
"Yes. But what does this have to do with an afterlife?"
"We're already together forever, have been together in the past. We have shared our molecules, our energy, our spirit through taste and touch and breath. We will always be one now."
"Give me your hand."
Grace reached her hand to her partner. The warmth of the long fingers stroking her hand gave her the shivers..
"What do you feel?"
Dana turned the small, soft hand over and kissed the palm. "And now?"
A hot tingle erupted in Grace's body, and she could not speak.
"You need to trust me, Grace," she whispered and began to tenderly kiss her way to the inside of her arm. She scooted closer to her doctor so that their heat intermingled and warmed them both. Dana placed her hands on her lover's hips and lifted her to a kneeling position, turning her to face the couch. She placed a cushion in front of Grace. "Lean forward."
Grace rested her head on the pillow and Dana stretched the arms out above her resting head. She lifted up the long, silky hair from Grace's neck and began to taste the delicate skin on the back of her neck. Grace shivered at the sensation of moist heat and sucking against her sensitive skin. The tech let her hands run up and down the outstretched arms, slowly sliding to the front of Grace's shirt and unbuttoning it from top to bottom, slowly. Fingers brushed against her nipples and tickled down her stomach. Grace arched backward into the naked body beneath her, but the warmth was pulled away. Her shirt was removed, the cold air raising goosebumps across her flesh. And then a sudden rush of heat covered her, soft skin pressing against her. "Close your eyes," her lover commanded.
Grace did as she was told.
"Don't move." And then the warmth disappeared again.
Grace listened to the movements of her lover, wanting to know what was going on. She listened to the opening of the freezer and then the rustle of her return. She felt the warm hands return to her body, her relief and need revealed in a moan. Fingers worked the button of her pants and then slid the khakis over her hips and off her body entirely, her silk underwear quickly following. She needed to control this but needed to trust her lover as well. The confusion echoed through her body as a sudden jolt.
"God, you're sexy, Dana," she whispered.
Grace gasped at the sudden sensation of her back burning and then realized it was not heat but cold, ice cold, and it was running down the valley of her spine. A hot tongue began to lick and suck the same path. Grace squirmed in delight. Strong hands lifted her hips. More coldness was added to her lower back and then thoroughly warmed again. Her body was burning. And then she felt icy fingers touching her heat and reaching into her.
"Oh, God!" she groaned and jerked. A torturously long moment later a hot mouth was warming her again, stoking her heat. Her body began to move unconsciously with the fire, and quickly and uncontrollably she went over hard.
Dana finally released her lover after the shaking had subsided and covered her smaller back with her own body.
"Are you convinced in forever yet, Grace?" she whispered and nipped the back of the gracious neck.
"Mmm-hmmmm," she replied and opened a lazy eye. "Do I smell peppermint?"
Dana began to chuckle.
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