Part Six - Work (v): to bring to pass
Overnight couriers brought in batch after batch of nano machines grown in sister labs all over the United States in what seemed like finely organized order, yet underneath it was as chaotic as the pattern of turbulent cream cooling a cup of coffee. For twelve grueling nights and days each teammate involved in the project worked around the clock, knowing that this was their one chance. Catnaps were snatched on cots and couches—Grace pondered in a moment of pure exhaustion how she had ever made it through those 72-hour shifts of her med school days. They ate every meal from the cafeteria, milk from little plastic bottles, sandwiches wrapped in cellophane, pizza, fish sticks doused in tartar sauce, okra fixed in twelve different ways, pickles and Pop Tarts. Dana craved seafood gumbo and baked cod with dill so badly she dreamt of it when she wasn't too tired to dream. The doctors and medical technicians worked in shifts, bouncing from patient room to patient room with bags of plasma infused with nanomachines for intravenous feeds. On Wednesday Dana became a mechanic, repairing the overworked nano manipulators countless times until Friday when the German-based company flew over a technician to be permanently onsite. And despite the pain of sleep deprivation, it was the focus and purpose that kept the team strong and effective. And on the thirteenth day, and a 98.6 percent cure rate, it was time to take the bedraggled group of the nanoteam to their first post-triumph press conference.
At 3:45 p.m. Barbara Buchler took the podium in Clinton Hall and made her opening remarks, discussing the program's history, its talent, and its recent, ground-breaking achievement. After sufficient time in the limelight she introduced Grace to the group of reporters. First and foremost, the young physician wanted to credit and thank the staff for their hard work, diligence, and insight. Then she opened herself to questions. She went several rounds, discussing cost, projected future cost, and implications regarding the future of medical treatments, including genetic repair. She glowed with pride and the respite of completion. They were all feeling good, like those who, despite exhaustion, finish a marathon and feel joy.
"Don't you think that this is simply another example of exorbitant spending on reactionary medicine? Couldn't that money have been better spent preventing cancer rather than developing and unleashing a destructive technology that is likely—and has in the recent past been proven—to create worse diseases than the ones you are curing? Hasn't the hospital itself had a case of Beta virus within the past three years? And now you tell us that taxpayers are about to fund your genetic tampering? "
"What kind of asinine question is that?"
Dr. Wilson's and Dr. Buchler's heads simultaneously whipped to the right faster than a three-year-old can spill milk.
A faceless female voice in the middle of the crowd defended itself: "I asked Dr. Wilson to explain why the group is spending so much time and so many federal resources on treating cancer rather than on the more responsible practice of preventing it."
"That's like asking why a dog isn't a cat."
The reporters surrounding the outspoken reporter separated themselves from her. This drew the attention of all to a tall, lithe, and blondly attractive woman in her late twenties. She held herself defensively, yet proudly, unsure herself of the identity of the woman in the black t-shirt and blue jeans who had responded so bluntly to her questions. Once Grace overcame the shock of hearing Dana's voice, more powerful than she had ever heard it in a public arena, she smiled her support, because Dana was speaking up for her—well, sort of for her—and the project.
"I believe the question was directed to Dr. Wilson," Barbara Buchler declared, needing to control what was surely about to become a a political brouhaha.
Dana had tuned out Dr. Barbara Buchler long before. "First of all, this group of people have developed a cure for the plague of the 20th century and you're criticizing them because they haven't fixed the hole in the ozone layer or eliminated toxic waste. I mean, how else do you propose to eliminate cancer? You can eat all the bran and take all the antioxidants you want, but contaminants will still infiltrate cells, mutations will still be triggered, and cells will grow abnormally. It's a part of the life of cells, and change, and imperfection.
"Do you have any idea how many external causes there are? Ultraviolet rays, radiation from your television and computers, the rocks that the earth is made of, radiation from deep space that bombards our bodies all day and night from the time we are fetuses until we become dust. And then there are the million or so things that we ingest. You have pesticides in your water and bran, chemicals that are used for preservatives in gum and diet pops, caffeine, smoke from our campfires. Really, think about how preposterous your comment really is. What are you going to do with the millions of people who already have cancer, or will in the next few years—let them die so that people seventeen generations down the line might be cancer-free? Can't you see that they are two separate problems to solve? You have the future and the present.
"No one here said we had all the answers. It's simply a way to improve and save the lives of millions who yesterday had very little hope, if any, of seeing next year, next month, or the ripe old age of five. I think it's unconscionable of you to belittle the effort of these people and the promise this program holds for everyone. And keep in mind, we are all potential patients."
Silence. A slow murmur began to build. Dana stepped back into the line-up against the wall.
Barbara covered the microphone with her hand and vehemently whispered something to Grace, who was smiling at the rare and passionate eloquence while she appeared to argue back. Having realized what she had done, and a bit shocked at herself, Dana opted for the door. As she walked past her staff, Rachel Jones whispered, "Way to go, Batgirl."
Her crew looked at each other with amused confusion as their normally quiet, yet fearless leader exited stage-left. Grace followed, leaving closing remarks to Barbara. "Dana, stop!" she yelled down the hallway when she finally caught sight of her. Dana obeyed. The doctor trotted up to her. "What you said was wonderful. But why the hasty exit? I wanted to introduce you."
Dana began to walk away. Grace grabbed her arm to stop her.
"I know exactly what you were about to do, Grace. We agreed, no announcements about me."
""Why won't you take any of the credit? Without you, this would never have happened, and you deserve—"
"—Come on, think about the future of the project."
"I am, and you're a huge part of that."
"You have several competing research organizations dying to find a chink in your program. I'm a public relations nightmare: murderer and beta-virus creator now working on cancer killer. You'd lose your future funding, or me on the project, and who would want to test new cures, especially genetic ones?"
"People who are dying."
"It would destroy your credibility. Most people can't forgive like you do."
"People don't need to know about the Beta. No one knows about you and Reichertâ•œ."
"No, but someone would find out."
Grace wanted to argue but Dana would not have it. "Look, I'm a liability, on one hand, and an asset, on the other. As long as we respect the line we shouldn't have a problem."
Dana looked away, around, anywhere but at Grace. "I'm going to head home. Have fun tonight."
"You're really not coming?"
"I think it's best if I lower my profile after opening my big mouth in there. If we're lucky, Barbara has passed me off as an enthusiastic janitor."
"I'm not going either."
"You have to, Grace—it's expected of you. No one expects me to show up in an evening gown and schmooze Yale alumni and supporters for money."
"What are you going to do?"
"Sit at home and make myself crazy wondering what money shark is hitting on you or fantasizing about taking you home and having his way with you."
"I really wish you would reconsider."
"Dr Wilson!" Barbara's disembodied voice beckoned from down the hall. "There you are," she said as she bounded around the corner, practically knocking into Dana. She gave Dana her customary disgusted survey. "Ms Papadopolis, I appreciated your enthusiasm; however, please leave all future public statements to me and those qualified. I barely managed to rectify that situation."
Grace spoke up for her friend. "I don't think anyone could have answered that question better than Dana did. I thought her words were wonderful."
"Yes, well, we'll address this issue later, Grace. Right now we have several representatives from Pfizer and Merck waiting to talk. And I would prefer that you lead the discussions."
"What room are you going to be in?" Grace asked.
"Conference room A."
"I'll be up in a minute," the blonde replied and turned her full attention to Dana.
Dr. Buchler didn't seem happy with the fact that Grace wasn't leaving with her immediately, but she left anyway. She was too busy to argue.
They stood in silence for a few moments. Grace wanted to share the public Yale celebration with her, but Dana seemed convinced she could not partake. Grace wondered if Dana still felt undeserving of a celebration. It reminded her of how after poor simulation results Dana would wake from sleep, her body covered with a thin sheen of sweat, and mutter to herself, "I'm so sorry" over and over as she rose from the bed and paced the front room until Grace would come and drag her back to bed and make gentle love to her to remind her of who she was, at least to Grace.
"Don't listen to Barbara, Dana. She's a dumbass."
Dana shrugged. "I stopped caring about Babs a year ago."
"Still...." But it did not matter what she said. She knew Dana already hurt despite what the shrug said. "I'll be home early, " Grace promised, then planted a soft kiss on softer lips. She watched Dana close her eyes and squeezed a larger hand.
"Okay," Dana said to her after a moment of readjustment. Grace's kisses always took her away.
Upstairs Dana and her crew gathered in the meeting room as they did every day at 5:00 pm.
"Does anyone have a list of groceries for me to pick up?" Dana asked.
"Right here," Rachel answered, handing her a piece of scrap paper.
She was handed another list.
"Okay, does anyone need directions?"
Several hands were raised, and Rachel handed out little direction discs for automated vehicle navigation.
"Okay, who's in charge of making sure Dr. Wilson gets home from the gala? And, no, she will not ride with you, Rachel. You scared the shit out of her last time."
Rachel screwed her face up in disgust. "I have no idea what you're talking about.".
"We have it covered," Jack offered. "No one should have to ride with Rachel Jones."
"Then I think we're all set unless someone thinks of something else."
The group concurred, with happy mumbles.
"So do we all leave at once?" someone asked.
"That'd be kind of obvious, doncha think?" someone else said.
Dana hadn't really thought about that. A large exodus might cause political repercussions. Of course they would rather celebrate with each other with beer and steaks rather than at some stuffy contributors' banquet. This planning stuff was a pain in the butt. Grace would have known what to do or would have, at the very least, thought about it. "Umm, leave in small groups—people with last names, if you can remember them, starting with A to H first, then ten minutes later I through S, and then T through Z. Start around eight o'clock."
"What if you're hyphenated?" a voice asked.
"Hyphens go last because they're so damned confusing," Dana said. "And remember, this is casual, so I don't want any of you showing up in evening gowns or tuxes, and if you plan on getting sloshed, plan to stay."
Grace managed to slip away from Senator Drake, but when she looked around for a friendly familiar face, she was surprised to discover that her entire staff had vanished. She was relieved when she spotted Jack and Minnie at the punch bowl. When she started to chat, they mentioned immediately that they were about to go. She looked around at the stuffy crowd and felt the two weeks of exhaustion wash over her for the hundredth time that day and begged for a ride. They, of course, agreed.
"Ah ha!" Dr. Wilson exclaimed as they approached her small beach house. Cars lined the gravel road and music pounded from the back of the lit-up house. "Now I know where everyone went. This is great!"
She was met with smiles and laughs when she entered her house. She was the only one not dressed in jeans or shorts and t-shirts. She was also the only one without a margarita or beer in her hand. Rachel was busy at the blender and rectified the drink situation immediately. The bean counter, Davenport, was flipping burgers on the grill just outside the back door, and the deck was lit with tiki torches and bright, happy faces. Dana, in conversation by the bathroom, caught sight of her roommate dressed in a black, silk, swoop-necked, sleeveless sheath that clung to every small curve, and black silk hose and two-inch pumps. Golden hair was casually scooped into a loose bun, and teardrop diamonds sweetly dangled from small, sensitive earlobes. Dana began to work her way to the kitchen, where Grace waited. Five feet had never seemed so far. She was wearing a worn blue sweater vest and a blue cotton shirt, her feet comfortable in flip-flops and her long legs tan and luscious.
"You look gorgeous," she told Grace when she finally made it to the kitchen. "Nice dress. What do you have underneath it?" she asked, pulling at the edge. Grace removed the bottle of beer from Dana's hand and slapped the groping fingers.
"Get a room," Rachel suggested as she walked away and sipped a margarita.
"How much beer have you had?"
"Two or ten," Dana said. her eyes slightly glassy and a perpetual crooked smile lighting up her face. "I lost count somewhere near the blender."
Grace smiled. Dana was very drunk and very cute, and if she were dickish, she would take advantage of her right there. "I'm going to get changed."
"I can manage. You have guests."
Dana looked around and sighed. Her first party.
"I'll be right back." Grace squeezed Dana's forearm and then set out on a journey to her bedroom. Dana watched all the way until the door closed. When she turned to head outside to the porch, she ran smack into Margaret, the undergrad who had been shadowing her for the past month. "Hi."
"Hi." Her hand found Dana's hip. "I've been trying to catch up with you all night."
"Really?" Dana teetered a little.
"Yeah. Would you be interested in a walk? It's beautiful tonight."
"Mmm-hmm." She was thinking about her knees embedded in the sand between Grace's legs.
Margaret took the opening and slid closer, leaving no room between them.
"Uhh," Dana said when a hand settled on her hip.
Grace returned to the room and began to weave her way across the small house, chatting and finding another margarita in her hand. She wandered onto the back porch for some air. Dana was sitting on the porch rail close to a tiki torch, listening to Jack tell the story of how Nate had to listen to Zorba the Greek every night before bed. Dana laughed hard, knowing the boy would never be able to get that need out of his blood.
"What's this from?" the young woman asked, letting her finger slide across the large "V" brand on Dana's shoulder.
Dana looked at the long finger. "A shark bit me."
"And this?" A manicured finger traced a similar one on the thigh that disappeared under her shorts. Margaret let her brazen finger slide up under the cotton fabric and Dana almost fell backwards off the railing.
"Shit!" she said, catching herself but losing her Sam Adams. She looked across the porch, hoping no one had seen what had happened, and found Grace's green eyes watching in amusement.
"Are you all right?" the Yalie asked, a mischievous, vodka-induced look on her face. Her hand was now firmly situated on Dana's bare thigh. Dana gently picked it up and removed it from her leg.
A guilty chill shot through Dana along with the worry that Grace might have gotten the wrong impression, maybe even thought she was flirting with the girl. Then she looked down at her half-empty bottle in the sand and sighed sadly. What a mess.
"'I'll get you another." But before Margaret could slide off the railing, Grace was there, warm hands sliding up long, bare thighs to the edge of blue shorts.
She offered a fresh bottle to her roommate. "You have to be a lot quicker to please this one," Grace said to the undergrad. The fact that Grace felt brazen enough to PDA in front of her entire crew, leaving no speculation, surprised Dana, but she took the beer, with a contented smile.
"Dr. Wilson," Rachel's voice suddenly squawked from the amplifier behind their heads. A karaoke version of an old Kenny Rogers tune—pre-protein-diet—that Dana had heard once long, long ago on her mother's radio began to come from the speaker. "This one's for you." And Rachel began to sing, badly.
Grace rolled her eyes as Rachel crooned to her. "Yes, you, Doctor. You areâ•œyou are so beautiful...to me...can't you see? Yes, you are." She signaled for someone to turn down the music. "Dr. Wilson, now that at the ripe old age of twentysomething you and your crew have created the cure for cancer, what do you intend for your next project?"
"Fix the hole in the ozone layer?" someone yelled.
"No, much more difficult. My next project is to get our industrious Dana Papadopolis to actually wear a shirt to work that has sleeves on it."
"Some of us like that look," Margaret said loudly from the rail. Not a politically savvy move for her career, but then again, it was a well-established fact that bad sexual politics didn't affect Yalies the same way as they did the rest of the world, and if they were bad enough they might even help her to be President one day.
"Yes, well, you have made that painfully obvious tonight, haven't you, dear?" Grace said back, giving the young tech her best child-of-evil glare. Dana saw an uber Faith Wilson.
"Turn the music back on and sing, you drunken fool!" Dana yelled at the hacker across the stand-off.
The music started again and Rachel began to walk her way through the crowd, sharing the microphone with anyone drunk enough to join her.
"I want to talk to you," Grace said, leaning forward and rubbing her hands up and down the firm muscles of Dana's thighs in a proprietary manner. Margaret, who was sitting on the rail next to Dana, looked on a bit unhappily, but Grace refused to acknowledge her, her eyes burning into Dana's.
This is either really good or really bad, Dana thought, hoping it was only a seduction. Grace grabbed her lover's shirt front and led her between their co-workers, down the deck stairs, and toward the edge of the ocean, away from the people inhabiting her home, using her bathroom, and messing with the stereo settings. Dana stumbled in the sand until she managed to remove her flip-flops. Grace was barefoot in worn denim jeans and a man's v-neck white t- shirt and nowhere near intoxicated.
"What's the matter, Grace?" Dana slurred.
"You tell me."
"You don't like other women hitting on me in your own house."
"That's about right."
"She keeps flirting with me."
"She wants you."
Grace rolled her eyes.
"She's not a threat," Dana pointed out as quickly as she could.
"So why—" and then she was yanked down by the back of her neck, and her mouth was met with lips and teeth and tongue that tasted of Triple Sec and lime. She was being marked as territory, and for a moment Dana was glad that they were not dogs.
"Wow," Dana said with a head shake when her mouth was finally released. "What was that for?" she asked, touching her lips to check for blood.
"For what you said earlier."
"And to show that little hussy she has no chance of having you in my house."
"I don't think she had the house in mind. She wanted to go for a wa—" but she was cut off by a hand over her mouth.
"I don't need to hear details, Dana," she said. She looked at the porch full of partiers and then to Dana, who was looking very cute in the moonlight, absently gazing out toward the waves. She tried to remember the last time they had been naked together. Hooking her hands into the waistband of Dana's blue shorts, she tugged her closer. "Want to go for a walk with me, Papadopolis?"
" I think we'll be missed."
"I haven't had a minute alone with you in weeks. "
"So what do you say?" Grace held out her hand and began to walk backwards towards the north end of the beach. "You want to join me?"
Dana extended her arm, catching the tips of smaller fingers in her own, and allowed herself to be led toward the dark outline of the jetty.
"On one condition," Dana said as their bare feet left tracks in the soft sand.
"I can have you."
"We'll see. You'll have to catch me first," she said and tore off down the sand toward the darkness.
"Ah, shit!" Dana said, thinking that just maybe they were more like dogs. She broke into a run, her longer legs but too much beer putting them in a dead-even race. Dana began to force her soon-to-be conquest down toward the water. Grace tried using the solid sand to help her push ahead, but Dana was too quick, and when she hit the edge of the waves she tripped and stumbled face-first into the surf. Dana pounced in after her, pulled her out of the surf, and flipped her over her shoulder. She continued to wade deeper into the choppy, dark waves.
"Does this remind you of anything?" Dana chuckled and patted the wet, round ass situated next to her face.
"Don't you dare," Grace choked out, brine stinging her face and nose.
Dana waded out a little further and stumbled slightly on a rock. Grace panicked and dug her nails into Dana's fleshy back.
"Ow!" Dana yelped as she felt the piercing nails cut through her sweater. She shifted Grace down so that she was in front of her and could wrap her wet bluejeans around her waist. The water, as high as Dana's belly button, lapped persistently at them. Grace grabbed Dana's face and kissed her hard. She used her lips and tongue as an offering to Dana in exchange for safekeeping, and Dana held her tightly against the ebbing surge of the water. Grace's kisses became less about survival and more about need and want. She couldn't kiss Dana deeply enough or get enough of the taste of her mouth or the softness of the lips she was running her tongue across. Opening her own mouth wider, she reached in and traced the hard teeth, curving around and stroking the roof of a foreign mouth. She retreated and broke away slightly. "Give me your tongue," she gasped. And Dana, despite having captured Grace, gave it to her to be sucked hard and drawn in.
Dana struggled to the beach, wobbly from the raw need she held in her arms. Carefully she settled back into the hardened wet sand, Grace still wrapped around her tightly. Grace continued to kiss and hold her by the hair, devouring her with little bites and licks. She had planted her knees in the sand as she straddled the larger woman, and she pressed her wet jeans against Dana's thin shorts. Grace began to rock slightly as she pressed down. Everything was wet and coarse and raw. Dana slipped her hands under the wet t-shirt and slid her fingers across the muscles and ribs, across spots of warmth, and cooler ones where the wet bra was still in place. That had to come off, and despite the increasingly savage activities of their lower bodies, she managed to find the latch and free what had been imprisoned for far too long. She touched and lost her breath. Grace's skin was soft and supple, and her nipples were hard against her palms. They were like water.
"Touch me!" Grace growled into her mouth. She kissed her and then attacked Dana's collar bone. Dana couldn't think, yet her hands found the button of Grace's Levis, and before she could break for air, she had the jeans halfway down Grace's jerking hips. Dana pushed Grace's t-shirt up so it clung above round, pressing breasts and latched on with eager, rough lips and teeth.
"Harder!" Grace urged, her head thrown back. Dana subconsciously heard her and bit harder. She was rewarded with a moan. Grace's body began to move more quickly against the fingers that teased her, touching everywhere except right where she craved and needed, and then, just before she was about to beg for what she wanted, she was filled, quickly and deeply. She grunted ecstatically. Where coarse fabric had been rubbing, warm smooth skin stroked her, but Grace did not need gentle. She pressed herself harder into the touch, down and forward, again and again. Dana held onto Grace's naked hip with one hand while the other felt her growing hotter and wetter against her as fingers slid in and out.
"Oh, yeah, just like that!" Grace grunted. All Dana was doing was trying to keep her hand and wrist firm and steady against Grace's movements, but she'd take the credit anyway. She heard Grace's breath quicken and opened her eyes to look up, lips still wrapped around a nipple. Oh, yeah, she'd take full responsibility any day for the look upon her lover's face and the fine sheen on her body. Grace tightened around Dana's hand as the fingers pressed deeper, and when Dana rubbed her thumb across instead of around, Grace broke free, free from everything in a big vocal bang of "Mmmmm's." Slowly the movement of the hips stopped but not until Dana had felt and recorded in memory every bit of Grace's pleasure. Grace slowly fell against her.
"Kiss me," she quietly mumbled into Dana's neck, and Dana searched for the tired, whispering lips and kissed, softer now, and as lovingly as she could.
Dana leaned back into the cool softness of the white sand and sighed, a delicious weight on top of her. "I needed that."
"Really?" Grace said sleepily.
"Well, yeah...it's been a while since we touched, you know?"
"You know, all you had to do was ask."
"Couldn't you tell?"
"No." Grace was feeling lazy, and satisfied, maybe even cuddly. "I needed that too."
"I could tell."
Grace rolled off and onto her back. She looked up at the stars. "Tell me you love me."
"I love you."
Grace closed her eyes and felt that.
"You know, you're very girlish sometimes, Grace."
"What are you talking about?"
"Mmmmm...vulnerable...needy...sweet...it's not a bad thing. Just kind of hard to predict and understand, because sometimes you act all tough and in control and then WHAM! you turn around and get all soft and mushy."
"Yeahâ•œsometimes I wish there was a manual on how to figure women out."
"Dana, that's a sexist thing to say!"
"Well, so what? I could use the help sometimes. Like some days I say something and you're, like, all touchy about it."
"Like three weeks ago when you had that lettuce between your teeth and I told you. You got all mad at me for telling you, so then last week you had that black smudge on your face and I didn't tell you and you got all pissy at me for not telling you."
"Dana, you waited three hours after lunch to point it out."
"Not exactly something to cry about though, is it?"
"Not like you're not hard to predict."
"I wear my heart on my sleeve, baby."
"At least I'm not high-maintenance."
"And I am?"
"Don't you think so?"
"See, I'm trying to communicate and you're getting all emotional and defensive."
"No, I'm not!"
"No wonder I close up all the time."
"Stop right there. You were reticent long before I came along."
Dana rolled over so that she was half-covering Grace. "Kiss me!" she demanded.
"No," Grace said petulantly.
"Stop being girlish and give me what I want."
"Next thing I know you'll be saying I'm more emotional at certain times of the month than others."
Dana said nothing.
"Uh-uh, don't even go there." Grace tried to squirm away but Dana pressed her into the sand.
"You know, the thing is I like that you're a little girlish at times."
"Yes. It's a million times better than dickish, and it makes me think that maybe sometimes you need me and that I mean something special to you ."
"Of course you do. You mean everything to me."
"And it makes me think that you trust me enough to let your guard down a little around me, and I like that." A pause. "Everything?"
Dana smiled and then rolled onto her back to think about that. "I like that. Especially because that's what you are to me. I was doubting that, you know?"
Grace watched her as the knowledge settled in. "I like when you're girlish too."
"Heh. I'm never that way."
Grace cackled. "You cry at that Pokeman movie every time we watch it."
"Of course I do. Who doesn't?"
"And that Adam Sandler movie always makes you tear up." Grace rolled into a sitting position and watched Dana, relaxed, happy, and beautiful. Dana was smiling with a smile that was crooked, yet perfect.
"We should get back."
Dana looked over. "Why?"
"Because my butt is cold," Grace explained, slapping her wet jeans.
"Awwww," Dana complained. She loved the smell and feel of the sand and the perpetual sounds of the ocean.
They walked back to the bright orange lights of the dancing flames of the tiki torches. The laughter most likely had never ceased, although they had been too far away to hear it. As they approached, Dana became aware of the wonderful feeling holding Grace's hand gave her and the not-so-comfortable scratch of wet sand in her underwear.
"Hey, guys! Been swimmin'?" Rachel asked, fresh, salted margarita poised in each hand.
Dana slipped her feet into her flip-flops and began to climb the stairs behind Grace.
"Not really... why?" Grace asked.
"I thought maybe a shark bit Doc," she said, pointing to a large red and purple mark on Dana's neck, exaggerated by the orange and yellow wavy light.
"Nah, that's a chipmunk bite," Dana explained with a mischievous, lip-curled smile. She received a subtle elbow in the stomach.
While Grace went to change, Dana snagged a piece of barbecued chicken and a plate heaped with picnic salads. When Grace returned in dry khaki shorts and a navy shirt, she "borrowed" Dana's plate and sent her in search of more margaritas. When Doc returned with fresh Mai Tais, her plate was empty.
"Man, you ate my stuff," she protested and then quietly left to fill her plate again, this time staking out a place in the corner of the deck to eat. Rachel brought her a beer and took the seat next to her. A rare somberness had taken over her features.
"We did it, Doc."
"Nothing illegal, I hope."
"I'm serious. I don't know about you, but I've never felt better in my life."
"Enough booze can do that," Dana said with a mouthful of chicken.
"No, I mean about myself, being part of something that's not just for me. I wasted so much time when I could have been doing this kind of thing. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks," and she said it with such sincerity and perhaps even tears in her eyes, although she would never admit it, that Dana stopped mid-bite.
"You're welcome, Rachel," she said, placing a hand on her friend's. The moment passed as quickly as they could make it.
"You know you disappointed that undergrad?" Rachel said.
"Yeah, but my boss is pretty happy."
"She's still glowing, and so are you, for that matter." Rachel thought about her observation of her two best friends. She got up and began to move away. "You two are so sweet it makes me nauseous."
The party began to dwindle around four am. They had decided to mingle, bouncing into each other at random intervals. At some point Dana had changed into another shirt and sweatpants. At four-thirty Dana hunted down her roommate, who was talking on the deck to Davenport's girlfriend, a second-year English professor. She spoke in an affected nasal tone and exaggerated her words in just the right way to make it easy for Dana to mimic her. She had been off-limits tonight.
"So I explained to the poor boy, 'Double negatives in English are always positive, whereas, as you say, in Latin-based languages, such as Spanish, double negatives are a negative.' Then I explained, 'There is no language, especially English, where two positives make a negative.'"
"Yeah, right," Dana said, slipping her hands on the shoulders of her bed partner. She slipped into her affected rendition of the professor: "Excuse me for a moment while I borrow the physician here. We have a man dying of a splinter in the house."
"That was rude, Dana," Grace said once they were in the kitchen.
"That lady's a wooden puppet who doesn't move her mouth when she talks. And she's banging the dean of English behind Davenport's back. I hate that type." Dana led her to the couch, where a drunken biochemist was sprawled out, his right foot propped on a small, decorative, hand-tatted pillow.
"Splinterman, I have brought help"
"Oh, thank God!" the young scientist exclaimed.
Grace had been expecting a grander injury. Dana handed her her doctor's bag and then sipped at a beer and handed it to the injured. It was only a moment before the inch-long splinter was removed from his big toe. Grace looked at the bloody wood in the tweezers and passed it to Dana, who had wanted a look.
"I want to keep that," Splinterman asked as Grace cleaned and bandaged the wound.
"Knock yourself out," Dana said, handing him the sliver. Grace took her bag to the bedroom to put it away. Dana silently followed on her heels, unable to stop in time to avoid knocking Grace onto the bed when she bent to pick up a beer bottle from the floor.
"Dana, you're drunk," Grace said, rolling onto her back.
Dana climbed onto the bed next to her. "I am not."
Grace removed the beer from her hand and drank the rest herself., then placed the bottles down next to the bed. "How many are passed out on the lawn?"
"Two, maybe three."
"How many left on the deck?"
"Four, last I checked."
"And in the front room?"
Dana leaned out to look. "Just Splinterman and his gal, and they're getting it on, so they may be a while." She watched for a minute until Grace pulled her back into the bedroom by her shirtback.
Grace kissed her hard. "Get them to go home and I'll give you something to look at, sailor."
It took a moment for the meaning of the offer to diffuse through all the golden suds. But once it registered, Doc was gone, ushering the groping couple to their car and extinguishing the tiki torches on the deck. The last of the partygoers had left on their own. Dana left the bodies on the front lawn and locked up the house before returning to the cozy bedroom. She fell to her knees and looked under the bed.
"What are you doing?'
"Checking for stragglers."
"Dana, get your ass up here!" Grace commanded her drunken lover. Dana climbed directly from her knees to the bed. This time the place was going to be soft and dry. The bed was exactly where she had hoped to land Grace, all night, and now she had touchdown.
"I've never seen you happier."
"You make me happy, Grace," Dana explained, leaning forward for a kiss and forcing Grace backwards onto the bed. Dana stretched herself out on top of her, relishing the closeness. They kissed for a few languid moments, gently, warmly, and then Dana passed out cold.
November 1999 by Jules MillsContinued in Nano 8 - Illumination
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