By DE Salsbury
This is my first posted uber story, so please be kind and feed the bard. The main characters have a striking resemblance to a certain pair that are near and dear to all of our hearts but the story and situations are completely mine. No infringement is meant.
Love/Sex: This is an alternative fiction story. It depicts a loving relationship between to consenting adult women. If thats not your forte I suggest you read something else.
Language: Im a potty mouth, I admit it! And therefore a few of my characters have that tendency. If this disturbs you, read no further!
Violence: Most assuredly there will be some. Afterall, one of the characters is an ex-bounty hunter and Im sure there will be some related in this story sooner or later. Ill try not to be too graphic but you never know what the scene may need.
Acknowledgements: This is for my loving partner who always said I could do this! Shes been nagging me for years to put something out there and let others read what I write. So this is for her. Also, to my supporting best friend, Ty-guy who kept telling me I could do this and just to get on with it! Id also like to thank my beta readers for taking the time to read this and helping me make sure the story was consistent and there arent too may blinding grammar errors!
A soft rap at the door pulled Louis out of his contemplation of his lover Bens latest sculpture. He looked towards the door and sighed. "Now who could that be?" He strode across the parquet floor towards the oak front door of the loft.
He grabbed the brass knob and swung the door open, but the sight that greeted him dashed the foul mood and banished the hot retort. "Lauren, darling! How good to see you!" he grinned swinging the door wide and beckoning the petite strawberry blonde in. "What brings you to my doorstep at such an ungawdly hour?"
"Hi, Louis," she smiled as she stepped across the threshold. "Sorry for coming by so early, but I was hoping to catch Ben before I had to dash off to class." She followed Louis across the loft towards the kitchen.
"Oh? And why is that, my dear?" Louis asked over his shoulder as he entered the kitchen and walked over to the cappuccino machine. He flipped on the machine and placed the cup of milk in to steam. "Is there a problem with your apartment?" He opened a glass-fronted cupboard and placed two cups with saucers on the slate countertop.
Lauren perched on a stool and watched Louis go through his usual routine. He did this every time she came to visit. Hes quite the hostess. She had to smother a grin at the thought. "Umm, well it seems my kitchen sink is backed up again. I tried Liquid Plumber and all that, but nothing seems to work."
Louis quirked an eyebrow at her. "So, you failed plumber 101 in lesbian training?" he joked crossing his arms across his chest.
"Umm, guess I missed that one." She looked down studying her hands and trying to control the blush she knew must be covering her face.
Louis watched this with amusement. He loved to tease the young woman and she was so easy. He turned back to his latte preparations to give Lauren time to collect herself.
"Well, I do believe that man of mine is hiding in the office," he said as he coated the inside of the cups with chocolate. "He is rather handy, I must admit. Im sure hed be more than happy to take a look at your sink for you."
"Thanks, Louis," she answered with relief. She knew Louis was just teasing her. He always did. Must be the Queen in him. The man just is not happy unless he makes me blush at least twice a visit. Wonder what the next one is going to be?
Louis finished the lattes and with a flamboyant twirl set the cups down before Lauren on the breakfast bar. "Your latte, my dear," he grinned and took his own cup for a delicate sip.
Lauren smiled and took a sip of the latte. She moaned in delight. "Oooh, Louis! You could do this professionally!"
He preened at the compliment. "Well, I couldnt be a native of Seattle if I couldnt make a decent latte now could I?"
Lauren laughed. "I guess you have a point there."
Louis leaned against the bar and studied his young tenant. She is truly striking, but what is that outfit shes wearing? Country hick? Lauren was wearing a light blue t-shirt with a blue & green plaid shirt over it buttoned halfway up, sleeves rolled halfway to show off muscular forearms, and tucked into a pair of faded 501 jeans. Her hair, well the best way he could describe the fly away short reddish-blonde mop, was Meg Ryan on a bad day. A very bad day. No jewelry for this ensem? Tsk. Tsk. He glanced down at her feet and had to suppress a gasp of dismay. Cowboy boots? The girl is actually wearing cowboy boots? Oh my god!
He shuddered involuntarily.
Lauren watched Louiss assessment of her outfit with amusement. It was a constant source of disagreement between them. He allows bemoaned the fact that just because she was a lesbian didnt mean she had to dress so atrociously. She argued that it was comfort not style she was going for.
"Well, Louis, whats the verdict?" she asked setting her cup down and throwing her arms wide and looking down at her attire.
"Oh, girl. This is simply terrible," he wailed throwing his hands up in dismay.
Lauren laughed. "Oh, I dont know, Louis. I think I look rather cute."
"Cute?" he grimaced, "Cute? Is that really the look youre going for?" He shook his head as he came around the bar and grabbed her hand to pull her from the stool. He placed her in front of him and began to circle her surveying the outfit from all angles.
"Yeah, cute," she grinned watching Louis with mischief dancing in her green eyes.
He tsked and shook his head. "No, no my dear. Cute is out. You need to be hot and sexy to capture the eye of the women around here!" he announced coming to stand before her. He pointed a finger at her and gently poked her in the chest with each point, "The women around here do not want the innocent farm girl. No! They want a seductress. A woman who can light their fire, yes? A woman who wears leather and makes them swoon with desire by just walking across the room!"
Lauren laughed and playfully grabbed his finger. "Oh Louis, you have got to be kidding me! Can you really see me in leather?" She looked down at her lithe 54" frame doubtfully.
Louis appraised the woman before him. "Hmm, yes," he said pulling his finger away from her and placing his hands on her hips. "See? You have very nice hips and a flat stomach," he patted her abdomen with his hand. "And you have great legs. Hmmph, tho you constantly hide them in these awful jeans!" He slapped her thigh to emphasis his point. His hands trailed up her arms and came to rest on her shoulders. "Nice arms, gorgeous shoulders! And what do you do? Hide them, thats what! Under flannel of all things!" he shook her gently by the shoulders and stared into her eyes. "And why is this, hmmm? You should be wearing mini skirts and something off the shoulder."
Lauren blushed at the assessment of her body. It was very clinical, very gay man to be exact. "Umm. Im really not looking to catch someone, Louis. I have enough on my plate with my school and my job. The last thing I need is the complication of a relationship."
"Relationship?" Louis scoffed his eyes going wide. "Who said anything about a relationship? I am merely stating that you are doing the women of Seattle a great disservice by hiding this gorgeous little body of yours!" He tossed his hands up and began to pace.
Lauren rolled her eyes. Oh great, hes pacing. Here comes the tangent from hell! I better see if I can head this off. "Um, Louis?"
" .you lesbians! Everything has to be a relationship with you! Why cant you just enjoy the eye candy? Hmm? Not to mention an occasional roll in the hay! But, noooo! Its relationship or nothing!" Louis ranted as he paced and swung his arms up in disgust.
" .just go out and show off the package! Nothing wrong with a little ego stroking! And believe me, girl, youll get plenty of stroking," he pointed at her for emphasis.
She blushed. A hit and score. Thats two, guess he filled his quotient. Again. "Louis!"
Louis stopped in mid rant and turned to look at her. "What?"
"I really need to get to class sometime today. Do you think you could go see if Ben can come look at my sink?" she pleaded.
Louis just stared at her. He had been into a full blown rant and it took him a couple of moments to come back down to earth. He shook himself and replied in a more normal voice, "Of course, my dear. I think hes in the office. Ill go check."
Lauren let out a breath as she watched Louis stride down the hall towards the office in the back. That was quite the little show. Maybe he has a point. She shook her head and closed her eyes. No. I dont need the complications. She sighed and sat back down on the stool, leaning her head on her right fist. It would be nice to have my ego stroked. She giggled. It had been a long time since that had happened. Sure shed gone out with her friends to the clubs. And had even danced but she sighed again. But she had never felt that spark. She was waiting for that special someone who would make her see feel alive. She thought she had found that once. She shook her head. Best not to dwell on that! Its ancient history, Lauren. Get over it! She closed her eyes to fight down the surge of tears that always came with the memory. No, not today. She swallowed and forced the memory back into its dark hole in her mind.
Ashlin could hear the phone ringing as she attempted to get the door unlocked. "Damn it! Come on!" she swore as she struggled to juggle the bag of groceries and get the key to turn in the stubborn lock. Finally the key turned and she dashed across the living room to grab the phone on the 5th ring.
"Yeah?" she asked breathlessly.
"Ash? Is that you?" a deep baritone asked.
Ashlin rolled her eyes as she tucked the phone under her chin and strolled towards the kitchen to put the groceries away. "Who else would be answering my phone, Benson?"
A long silent pause. "Oh, yeah, guess I didnt think about that," he replied sheepishly.
"What do you want, Benson?" she asked getting impatient. She walked into the kitchen and plunked down the bag. She opened the fridge and began putting items away. Now where is that crazy mutt of mine? She wondered gazing around the kitchen.
"We were wondering when your flight is coming in on Friday. You havent called so I figured I better call and find out."
Ashlin paused with the beer halfway to the fridge and swore under her breath. Damn, I was really hoping he would have forgotten about this by now. She set the beer on the top shelf. She eyed it speculatively and then shook her head, No, 9 a.m. is definitely to early to have a beer. She sighed and closed the door.
"Ashlin, you promised," he whined.
Ashlin stuck her tongue out at the phone as she took a walked over to the sink and got a glass of water. The beer still sounds like a better idea, she grumbled to herself as she took a healthy swig. Especially if I have to deal with Benson and his damn ideas. She sighed in frustration. She had promised him though. Damn. "Umm, I havent made arrangements yet." She winced knowing the outburst was coming.
"What?" Benson boomed. "What do you mean you havent made arrangements yet? You do realize that today is Thursday dont you? How the hell do you expect to get a flight out this late?"
Ashlin held the phone away from her ear and waited for Benson to calm down. He went on in the same vein for a good 10 minutes. She set the phone down on the counter and finished her water absently listening to her cousin vent his spleen. She set the glass in the drainer and pushing the phone farther down the bar, set her arms on the counter and rested her chin in her hands as she glanced around the sunny kitchen. She had to admit she had done a lovely job on it. The kitchen faced the back of the house, the French doors and floor to ceiling windows allowed the sun to bathe the room. The doors led to a private deck with a hot tub. It was very romantic setting with a breath taking view. Yeah, too bad I dont have anyone to enjoy it with. She grumbled to herself. Her gaze returned to the interior of the room and settled on the solid oak table and its four butter leather captain chairs that sat in front of the doors. She had had them specially made to accommodate her long frame and was rather pleased with them. The table sat on a beautiful Persian rug that had been a gift from a grieving family after she had apprehended the shit heel that had tortured and murdered their 16 year old daughter. Her mood darkened at the thought.
"Ash? Ash? Are you listening to me?" Benson questioned after his tirade had been spent. "Ashlin!"
Ashlin was pulled out of her dark thoughts by Bensons insistent chattering and quickly picked up the phone. "Yeah, Benson. Im still here."
"Well?" he asked irritated.
"Well what?" she sighed as she left the kitchen and headed back into the living room.
A deep sigh. "How are you getting here and when do you think youll arrive?"
"I thought Id drive over tomorrow," Ashlin answered as she flopped down into her favorite recliner and pulled the lever to recline. She looked up at the ceiling and watched the ceiling fan swirl the dust motes.
"Youre going to drive?" he asked horrified.
She smirked. "Yes, Benson. Im going to drive. Some people do that."
"But, but its like 1000 miles!" he exclaimed in disbelief.
"Not quite," she smiled, " but close."
She could just imagine Ben sitting in his leather office chair with his mouth hanging open in shock. She waited for him to continue and through the phone line she heard the office door open. "Say hi to Louis for me," she said absently.
"Honey? Lauren is here and " Ashlin heard Louiss voice and the sound of Bens chair spinning around and his startled yelp.
Ashlin laughed. She closed her eyes and could just picture the scene. Her big muscular cousin squealing like a schoolgirl as his diminutive lover came into the room and stared at him in bewilderment. She wiped the tears from her eyes and sat back to listen, smothering the occasional chuckle.
"Holy shit, Louis! You scared the hell out me!" Ben stated clutching his chest.
"Im sorry, honey, but I just wanted to let you know Lauren is here and is having a problem with her sink," Louis apologized coming up to Ben and kissing him gently on the cheek.
"Oh, okay. Just give me a minute to finish up here," Ben replied trying to slow is racing heart.
"Dont forget to say hi from me," Ashlins voice echoed from the forgotten phone in his hand.
"Oh yeah," Ben mumbled and turning back to Louis said, "Ash says hi."
Louiss eyes lit up. "Oh! Say hi back! When is she getting here? Is she bringing that dog of hers? Is she going to stay with us or has she made other arrangements?"
Ben reached up and clapped a large hand over his lovers mouth. "Ill ask. Now go back to Irish and tell her Ill be out in a minute." He waited for Louis to nod his acknowledgement and then removed his hand. With a smile he turned his lover around and gave him a gentle pat on the butt to get him moving. "Now scoot."
Louis gave him a mock scowl over his shoulder as he walked out of the room, pulling the door closed behind him.
"Oh Benson," Ashlins voice sang out from the receiver. "Yoo hoo?"
Ben placed the phone back to his ear and replied, "How did you know Louis was there?"
"I heard the door open."
Ben stared at the phone. "You heard the door open?"
"How? I didnt even hear the damn door and Im sitting right here!" he shouted slapping the desk for emphasis.
Ashlin chuckled. "I have many skills."
"Ha, ha. Okay whatever," Ben muttered. "Louis says hi, by the way. He wants to know if youll be staying with us and if you are, and I quote, bringing that dog with you?" Ben grinned. He loved the border collie mix, but he knew his lover would have a fit if she brought him with her. He could hear Louis now, Just look at all this hair! Ill never get this place clean!
"Well, I was thinking about it since I know how much Louis loves him, but I guess I could drop him off at The Manor and have my brothers watch him for me instead," she replied with a smile evident in her tone.Ben grinned. "That may be a good idea, cuz. You have probably just saved my marriage."
Ashlin laughed. "Well, we couldnt jeopardize the marriage of the only Gray in this generation to settle down! It would be open war on the home front!"
Ben joined in the laughter. "I thought Davis was finally serious about one. What was her name? Judy?"
Ashlin rolled her eyes at the thought of her brother, "No, Judy was last month. I think this months Tammy or some such. I have serious doubts about that boy. I think mum is destined to be without grandchildren."
"Hey, theres still hope! Theres you and Graham," Ben offered.
"Oh yeah right. Graham is more interested in his computer than the opposite sex. And Im a little too interested in the same sex!" she chuckled.
"Hey, just because youre gay doesnt mean you cant have kids, Ash," he said seriously rocking back in his chair and looking at the last photo taken of the 8 cousins all together. It was taken at The Manor shortly after Ashlin had come home. It predated Louis, but not by much. Parker was the oldest and his brother. He stood in the back of the pack towering over the others at 67" with his typical serious look firmly in place. His twin sisters, Bailey and Taylor were next standing arms linked in front of Parker laughing at something that was said by their uncle Harrison. To their right stood Benson with his arm slung over Ashlins shoulder both wearing matching crooked grins. Sitting on the ground at their feet came Everett, his baby brother and Davis, Ashlins younger brother both on the verge of wrestling with one another. And to Ashlins right was the baby of the family, Graham in his wheelchair. Ashlins arm rested possessively across the back of his chair and Graham beamed up at her with open adoration. Graham was the only cousin who hadnt inherited the blue-black hair and blue eyes. He had the look of his father, blonde and hazel eyed.
"What was that, Ash?" Ben pulled his mind back to the moment. "Sorry, I just floated off there for a minute."
She sighed. "I said, I really dont see myself as the mothering kind. Not to mention that I havent exactly found the right woman to be the mother of my children yet!"
Ben laughed. "Okay, okay. I see your point. So, when do you think youll get here?"
"Probably around 6 or so. Ill call Davis and see if hell meet me halfway so I dont have to go all the way down to The Manor. If he cant, Ill go tonight and head out from there early tomorrow morning," she replied starting to plan out her trip.
"Sounds good. I really think youre going to enjoy the show, Ash," he said excitedly. "You are planning on bidding on something arent you?"
"Of course, Ben," she said in an exasperated tone. "Dont I always?" a pause. "Besides, even if I dont see anything to my liking Im still planning on writing you a fat check."
"Oh, Im sure there will be something to your liking. But I wont turn down the check since it is for a good cause," he paused. He wasnt sure how to ask the next part. He mulled it over for a moment and decided blunt was best. "You are going to bring your guitar right? I mean we are selling your cds and one of the things up for auction is an autographed set by you."
Ashlin sat back in her recliner. She hated performing in front of people and Ben knew it. She had agreed to autograph the damn things just to get her cousin off her back but there was no way she was going to be the center of some hoopla. "Ben " she warned.
"No, no, Ash, Im not asking you to perform. I swear!" Ben was quick to reassure her. "I was hoping to get a private concert though."
Ashlin let out a breath in relief. "Benson, you promised Id be unanimous at this shindig of yours. I dont want a bunch of attention, you hear me?"
Benson gulped at the tone. He could just imagine her blue eyes slitting and going cold. "Yes, I know. I swear no publicity." I better tell Louis! Gods know what hes done. Hopefully he hasnt already advertised that shes going to be here. Might as well order the coffin because shell kill me if he has. "Ill make sure of it."
"You better, Benson. And you better pray Louis behaves himself too!" she warned with steel in her voice. "I will not be made into some publicity stunt for his gallery. I agreed to come because youre my cousin, but if he pulls some shit like he did last time "
"No, no, no! He wont! I swear," Ben was quick to reassure. He damn well better not or I may have to kill him myself.
"Okay, Benson. Ill be there around 6 or so on Friday."
"Will you be staying with us?"
Ashlin thought about it for a moment or two. "I dunno, Benson. Does it include meals?" she teased.
"Sure, cuz. As long as you promise to stay out of the kitchen!" Ben joked back. "I dont want any repeats of last time!"
"Oh come on, Benson!" Ashlin argued, "How was I suppose to know that you couldnt cook an egg in the microwave?"
Ben choked back a laugh and rolled his eyes. "Ash, you can cook an egg in the microwave you just have to take it out of the shell first!"
"No one ever told me that!" she pouted.
"Are you sure were related?" Ben asked with mock seriousness. "How come youre the only one in this family who absolutely can not cook. You must break your dear mamas heart!"
"You have no idea, Ben," Ashlin grinned. "I think mum gave up on me after the tuna incident."
"Ooohh yuck! I remember that!" Ben shivered.
"Yeah, well I guess Ill see you Friday."
"Sounds good," Ben chuckled. "Dont forget your guitar."
"Yeah, yeah," Ash said dismissively. "See you then."
"Bye, cuz. Drive safe."
"Will do. Bye."
Ben hung up the phone and just sat staring at it lost in thought. Ash, my dear, you need someone in your life. How long are you going to keep yourself isolated up there in nowhere land? How long are you going to punish yourself for things that are no longer revelant? Youre not that person anymore, cuz. You need to move on. He sighed as pulled himself out of his musings. He was glad he had gotten her to agree to come for the charity show. He didnt think hed ever get her back her after well at least she was coming. He pulled himself out of his chair and walked out of the office in search of his lover and Lauren.
"Hey, Irish, what seems to be the problem?" Ben asked as he strode into the living room.
Lauren looked up and smiled as he came into the room. Ben was well, huge. He stood at least 65 and literally filled a doorway with his bulk. He had long blue-black hair that he wore in a ponytail and a neatly trimmed beard. His eyes were a deep blue that twinkled with good humor and a ready smile graced his lips. He had on a maroon short-sleeve silk shirt tucked into tan chinos and he looked fabulous. As usual. Louis wouldnt have it any other way.
"Hey, Ben!" she greeted him as he leaned down and gave her a peck on the top of her head. "Its my kitchen sink again."
"Oh? I thought we got that taken care of last month," Ben said as he settled himself next to his lover on the leather loveseat across from her.
"Yeah, so did I. But its backed up again and nothing Ive tried has worked," she explained throwing her hands up. She studied the two lovers now sitting side by side. Talk about day and night! Ben was the epitomy of manly. Tall and muscular with dazzling blue eyes and thick black hair. He had strong chiseled features that were accented by the neat beard he wore. On the other hand, Louis was fare to the point of being pale with receding pale blonde hair and a clean-shaven lean face. He was a slim man, standing about 58" to his lovers 65. He looked down right petite next to Ben. His eyes were slate gray and usually had a glint of mischief hiding in their depths.
"Okay, Irish. Lets go take a look," Ben said and giving Louis a quick kiss on the cheek, he rose from the couch. "Ill be back in a little while to help you move the sculptures downstairs, hon."
"Take your time. I still need to figure out where Im going to put them," Louis said making a shooing gesture to the two of them. "See you later, Lauren."
"Bye, Louis. Thanks for loaning him to me," she said with a wave and a wink as she stood.
"Okay! Were going," Ben laughed and headed for the door.
"Thanks, Ben. I hope Im not inconveniencing you?" Lauren asked as she followed in Bens shadow. "I know youre real busy getting ready for the show and all. I dont want to take you away from that for my crummy sink."
"No, Irish. Its not a problem. I mean, you are my tenant and this is what landlords are supposed to do. Or at least thats what I learned from watching too much tv in my youth," Ben replied with a grin as he held the front door open for her.
"Okay, if you say so," she grinned and led him down the hall to her door. She pulled out her key and unlocked it.
As the door swung open, Ben heard the glorious sound of his cousins music. He cocked his head to listen better. Hmm, yes, its her gaelic one, he nodded to himself. One of my personal favorites. I wonder where Irish found it? "Nice choice of music."
"Do you like it? Louis gave it to me last week to listen to," she gushed happily as she walked into her tiny studio apartment. "Its very inspiring."
That sneak. "Yes, I do like it very much. And I better, since its my cousin doing the playing," he replied stepping into the studio.
Lauren whirled around and stared at him with her mouth hanging open. "Your your cousin?" she squeaked.
Ben eyed her thoughtfully. Hmmm, maybe Louis was on to something here. "Yep, didnt you read the name on the cover?"
"Umm, yeah. Its Ash Gray, kind of a weird name. I thought it was the name of a band not a person," she said a blush coloring her cheeks.
"Nope. Its definitely a person. In fact, Ash is planning on coming to the show this weekend," he informed her watching her closely for her reaction. He was not disappointed.
"Really? Do you think I could meet him? That would be so great! I mean, his music is magnificent and what?" Lauren stopped in mid gush at the look on Bens face.
Him? She thinks Ash is a guy? Oh boy! Is she ever in for a surprise! "Umm, nothing. Sorry. Id be happy to introduce you to Ash." He decided it was time to change the subject. "So, lets look at that sink shall we?"
Lauren totally forgot about Bens suspicious behavior when he uttered the word introduce. "Really? Youll really introduce me to him?" she asked jumping up and down and clapping her hands.
Ben laughed at her enthusiasm. "Yes, yes, I promise to introduce you!" He held up a finger in warning. "But you have to promise to be discrete. Ash doesnt want any publicity. My cousin is coming here as a favor to me not to sell more cds."
"I promise, Ben," she said seriously crossing her heart. "I wont breathe a word about it."
"Good," he said with a nod. "Now, lets look at that sink."
"Okay," she said and turning headed towards the back of the studio where the kitchen was nestled.
Ben followed her looking about the studio. He had to admit that Irish had done quite a good job decorating the small space. To the right of the entryway was the living room. Lauren had a love seat and papa san arranged around the coffee table in front of the fireplace that shared the wall with the front door. It was a cheerful space with plants and little knick-knacks carefully arranged. To the left was her work area. She had an l-shaped desk with her computer and bookshelves above. Hmm, whats this? This is new. He wondered as he stepped over to an easel set up next to the desk with the canvas facing away from him. I didnt know she painted his train of thought totally derailed as he came around the easel to see the painting. His jaw dropped and he stared. Oh my GOD! He couldnt believe what he was seeing. He reached up and rubbed his eyes and looked again. Nope, still there.
"I tried all the usual stuff and nothing seems to have made a dent. I even tried to plunge it, but that just brought the water back up into the other sink so both of them had water standing in them " she stopped when she sensed that Ben was no longer behind her. Now where? She turned and looked for him. She spotted him standing at her painting. Oh no! She felt the panic rise and struggled to keep her legs under her. She took an unsteady step towards him and then began to run.
"Ben! What are you doing?" She practically screamed coming up behind him.
Ben jumped straight up in the air and whirled around. His eyes were as big as saucers as his gaze met terrified green. "Im sorry, Irish. I I just saw the easel and wondered what was on it I didnt mean anything."
Lauren stared at him, green eyes flashing with angst. "Thats pri private, Ben," she cried her shoulders slumping and the tears starting to fall.
Ben stared at her perplexed. "Hey, Irish. Shh, its okay. Im sorry," he soothed wrapping his arms around her and pulling her into a hug.
Lauren stiffened and then relaxed into the big man. She struggled to get her emotions under control. Ben was her closest friend here. What did it matter if he saw the painting? She had planned on showing it to him any way, she just hadnt gotten up the nerve. "Im sorry, Ben. I didnt mean to jump all over you," she apologized giving him a squeeze and stepping back. "I was going to show it to you anyway, when I finished it."
Ben looked at the young woman trying to gauge her emotional state. She wouldnt meet his eyes and that worried him. He reached out and gently cupped her chin and lifted her head. When green met blue he said softly, "You never told me you were an artist too, Irish."
She blinked in surprise. "Im Im not. I just do that to relax. You know, sometimes things just come to me and instead of drawing it with words well, the canvas is sometimes a better medium," she answered with a deprecating shrug.
He stared at her in disbelief. "Not an artist?" She nodded. "Have you really looked at that?" he asked pointing to the painting.
She nodded in confusion. "Of course Ive looked at it, Ben. I painted it."
Ben shook his head in disbelief and gripping her shoulders led her over to stand in front of the painting. He stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders and leaned down to whisper in her ear, "Look again, Irish and tell me youre not an artist."
Lauren looked up at him and with a shrug, turned her attention to the painting. She had to admit it was the best piece she had ever done. It was a quasi-historical piece. It was a picture of a battle between the celts and the roman legions. The sky was red and black from the smoke and fire and you could just make out struggling warriors fighting through the smoke in the background. In the front was a woman. A warrior woman dressed in scarred and blood soaked leather armor. She had a battered round shield with the emblem of eternity painted in red in her left hand held low to her body. In her right gauntleted fist she held a bloody sword aloft. At her feet were bodies. Lots of bodies all dressed in the roman centurion armor. Laurens eyes rose to her warrior womans face and felt the shock of electricity that always came when she gazed at the chiseled features. The warrior had long raven black hair that the wind blew around her face. Her cheekbones were high and a sensuous half smile graced her full mouth. But the most mesmerizing thing about her face was her eyes. They were the color of the sky and piercing. Lauren swore those eyes looked right into her soul. She shivered.
"What do you see, Lauren?" Ben asked softly not wanting to break her concentration. He had felt the shudder as Laurens eyes settled upon the face of the woman in the painting. He had felt the same way, because he had seen those eyes before. Oh yes, he had and with that exact look.
"I see " she whispered and swallowed nervously.
"You see " he urged.
"I see vengeance," she said with a cold finality.
Ben felt goosebumps rise on his flesh at her tone. "Vengeance?" he asked softly.
Lauren shook herself and broke the gaze of the warrior. "Yeah, I call the painting Vengeance," she explained stepping away from Ben and then turning to meet his regard.
"Oh," he replied nonplussed. He looked at the painting again and could see where she got the name. For a minute there though he could have sworn she meant the woman but no. "So, youre not an artist?"
"Nope," she shook her head in denial.
"Uh-huh," he said not convinced. "So, who did you use for the model?" He was really curious. How she had gotten the likeness it was uncanny.
"Model?" she questioned confused by the sudden topic change. "What do you mean?"
"For the woman," he said pointing to the woman in the painting. She turned and looked at it again. "Who did you get to pose for you?"
Lauren laughed. "There was no model, Ben. She came out of well, out of a dream if you must know." She shrugged and looked back to meet his dumbfounded gaze. "Ben? Whats wrong?"
"A dream?" Ben mumbled. "You saw her in a dream?"
"Umm, yeah. Silly huh?" she lowered her head sheepishly and scuffed her foot across the hardwood floor.
"No, not silly. Just surprising," he reassured her staring at the painting once more.
"Surprising?" she looked up at him and saw that he was once more staring at her painting. What has gotten you so spooked, Ben? Youre acting really strange.
Ben tore his gaze away from the painting and smiled at Lauren, "Yeah, Irish, surprising! Shes just so real, ya know?" He shrugged his shoulders and lifted his hands in a helpless gesture, hoping he had alleviated Laurens suspicions. He knew he was acting weird, but the likeness had really thrown him for a loop.
"I guess Ill take that as a compliment," she grinned.
"You should!" he readily agreed. "So what was the inspiration? The dream?"
Lauren nodded her head slowly and gazed at the painting without really seeing it. A faraway look fell across her features. "Yeah, a dream. Its kind of hard to explain. I had them since I was oh I dunno I guess 16 or so Im scared and hiding from the Romans and then this woman "
Her entire face lit up as she described the dream. Hmm, interesting. Ben waited for her to continue but saw that she was lost in the image in her mind. "And then this woman " he prodded gently.
"Oh! And then this warrior woman comes up over the hill with a blood curdling yell descends upon them! Its amazing, Ben. She cuts through them like butter and the whole time shes . laughing," she said this last part barely above a whisper. She shook herself, pulling herself out of the memory of the dream and gave him an embarrassed shrug. "Thats her," she stated simply pointing at the painting. "I had the dream again last week. I guess listening to your cousins music brought it back. I hadnt had it in quite awhile and I just had this driving force to paint it. So I did."
"Hmmm, wish I had such vivid dreams! It would make my sculpting a bit easier!" he laughed with a shake of his head. A thought jumped into his head and before he thought better of it, he blurted it out, "Hey, Irish! You got to show this to Louis! Im sure he would love to show it in the gallery! I bet we could even get it into the show for this weekend!"
Lauren was stunned. "Show? My painting?" She shook her head. "I I dont think so, Ben. I mean the shows for real artists and well its kind of private. I mean Im flattered and all but Im not a professional like you and "
"Its for charity, Irish," Ben interrupted caught up in his enthusiasm. "There are a lot of amateur artists in this show. And believe me, your piece is the best Ive seen!" Ben reassured her. "Please, Irish? Lets get Louis and let him decide."
Lauren struggled with the idea. One part of her wanted to keep this part of her private, but the other part was flattered by the praise. "You really think Louis will think its good enough?"
Ben nodded, clapping his hands in glee. "Oh definitely! Its fantastic! Louis is going to cream his shorts!"
She laughed at the sight of her big friend acting like a five year old at an amusement park. "Okay, Ben. If Louis thinks its good enough, I guess Ill let you show it." A frown crossed her face. "But dont I have to set a minimum bid or some such? Oh Ben, I have no idea how to do that!"
"Dont you worry. Well let Louis do that. Im sure hell set a fair price," he stated patting her shoulder. I have a feeling this ones going to go for a lot! Louis is going to lose his mind! I better warn him not to say anything about the resemblance though. Thats my little surprise. "Why dont I run and get him and he can take a look while I fix your sink?" he glanced at his watch, "You better scoot or youll be late for your 10 oclock class."
Lauren looked at her watch and blanched. "Oh! I gotta hurry if Im going to make it!" She dashed over to her desk and scooped up her laptop and shoved it into its carry bag along with a couple of books. "Youll lock up when youre done?
Ben rolled his eyes. "Of course!"
"Thanks, Ben," she grinned. "I wont be home until late because I have a study group. Tell Louis Ill make you guys dinner sometime this week, okay?"
"You know I never turn down a meal!" Ben said rubbing his stomach.
"See you tomorrow if not sooner," she called over her shoulder as she headed out the door.
"Study hard, Irish!" he called to her retreating back.
The door clicked shut and Ben was left in the studio alone with the haunting sounds of his cousins music flowing over him. His eyes were drawn once more to the painting and he felt the goosebumps rise. "Shit, Irish. That is truly spooky," he whispered staring at the painting. He shook himself out of his trance and strode across the studio on a mission. He was going to go get Louis and bring him back to see the painting if he had to physically drag the man back here. "Hell, Ill just throw him over my shoulder if he gives me any lip," he growled as he headed down the hall.
Ash hung up the phone and sat back in her chair. Well, guess Im going to Seattle. She grimaced at the thought. She hadnt been back there in 3 years and the last visit had not been all together pleasant. She sighed and closed her eyes snuggling down into her chair. Ill just go to the art show on Saturday night and then come back Sunday. A thought came to her and she sat bolt upright. No! Benson wouldnt drag me out of the loft! She sat back. Oh yes, he would. That man loves to dance and for some ungodly reason hes decided that Im the perfect two-stepping partner. Just because I live in Montana! She smiled at that. Well, it was true. She was a kick ass dancer and wasnt afraid to show off a little. Of course dancing means clubbing. And clubbing means women women looking at me like starving sharks! Great, just great. She closed her eyes and threw her arm over them for good measure. Not that she minded the attention per se. In fact, usually she enjoyed the open admiration that she got, but lately she had been feeling a bit raw. I dunno if I could handle that right now. But then I may not get a choice. Especially if Louis starts in on me. The image of Louis as a bantam rooster flooded her mind and she laughed out loud. Okay, enough of this! I gotta call Davis and then get packed.
She sat up and looked around the room. Now, where is that damn mutt? She shook her head and reached for the phone just as it rang. She jumped and then picked it up.
"Hey, sis, its Davis," the bass voice boomed.
Ash pulled the receiver away from her ear and looked at it. "Jesus, Davis! You dont have to bellow like Im in the back forty!"
"Sorry," came the slightly quieter reply.
"I was just getting ready to call you and ask if youd take the mutt for the weekend." Ash stood up and began to pace as the thought of the trip began to run through her head. She really was not looking forward to this. Her stomach was queasy at just the thought.
"Oh? Where ya going?"
"Seattle." Her voice was flat with no emotion. She ran her free hand through her hair in a trademark move of frustration.
Ash stopped her pacing and stared out the window at the late morning sun. "Yeah, I promised Benson Id come to that damn charity art show theyre putting on this weekend."
"Yeah, oh. So, will you watch the mutt?" The sky was an iridescent blue with puffy white clouds billowing above the pine trees and was really quite spectacular. Too bad she was too distracted to really enjoy natures show. She shook her head and waited for Davis to say something. "Well?"
"Oh! Sorry. Actually thats why I was calling. I already got him with me. I came by this morning and picked him up because I told Paula how great he was at playing Frisbee and she wanted to see for herself."
The boy is babbling. "Wait. Hold on a minute." She raised a hand in a halting gesture. "You say you have him with you?" Well, that explains why I didnt get knocked over by the holy terror when I was dashing for the phone earlier.
"Um, yeah," came the sheepish reply.
"Oookay and who the hell is Paula?" Ash began pacing again. She strode over to the end table and spotted the note her brother had left. She scanned it quickly then tossed it down and continued her pacing.
"Didnt you get my note?" She grunted and he took that as a yes. "Shes my girl, sis. I think youll like her well, I hope you will but not too much! This ones mine, you hear?" He warned.
Ash could just see him shaking his finger at the phone in warning. She rolled her eyes and grinned. "Sure, sure Davis. Besides I havent stolen a girl from you since high school."
"Yeah, well I kind of would like to keep this one around for awhile," he paused and then continued in a soft voice. "Im taking her to The Manor this weekend to introduce her to Ma and Pop."
Ashlin eyebrows shot up at this little announcement. Hmm, must be serious about this one. Maybe mom will get her grandchild after all. "Okay, Davis, I get it. Hands off. I promise to behave when you introduce us." I mischievous gleam entered her eye and she just couldnt resist teasing him. "Davis has a girlfriend! Davis has a girlfriend!" she sang into the phone.
Davis groaned. "Well at least I have someone who wants to stick around!" he snapped and immediately wished hed swallowed his tongue.
Ashlin froze at the comment. She felt the wave of rage and despair descend upon her and just didnt have the energy to fight it. Her legs trembled and she finally collapsed onto the rug with her head bowed, the tears streaming down her face unchecked.
Dead silence greeted his barb. He waited. Nothing.
"Umm, Ash? You still there?"
"Hey look. I didnt mean that. Im an idiot, you know that," he frantically apologized.
No answer, just the sound of his sister breathing into the phone. He wasnt sure but he could have sworn she was crying. Damn, I am such an idiot! I need to learn to keep my big mouth shut! He punched himself in the side of the head and tried again. "Im sorry, Ash. Really. Umm, Ill take care of the mutt and you just call when you want to come get him or Ill bring him up to your place, okay?"
Ash choked back the despair. Trying desperately to regain her composure. "Fine."
Davis sighed in relief when she finally answered. "Okay, then. Have fun in Seattle. Say hi to the boys for me. Umm bye."
Ashlin clicked off the phone without another word. She lowered the phone slowly and just stared at it. Rage enveloped her and she threw it across the room. It smashed against the stone fireplace and sent plastic shrapnel flying. "Damn you," she choked. "Damn you!" The second one came out in a howl of rage. She leapt to her feet and ran out of the room. She yanked the door open and ran down the steps and just kept on running.
The cold fall air hit her like a wall as she dashed out of the house and pounded down the path. She sucked in a sob and ran faster. Running was the only thing she knew of that would help her banish the memories. She ran until she felt her heart would explode and then ran some more.
It was nearly dark when she stumbled over something in the path and fell gracelessly to the ground. She landed flat on her stomach, legs splayed, gasping for air. Her entire body was plastered in sweat and the cool evening air was causing her to shiver. She didnt care. Maybe she would be lucky and get pneumonia and die. The pain would go away then.
She wallowed in self-pity as her breathing finally came back to normal and her head cleared. With effort she rolled over onto her back and stared into the evening sky. Shit! What time is it? She wondered as she looked up into the darkening sky. She pulled her arm up in front of her face and after a couple of tries with fatigue shaky hands was able to push the button to illuminate the time. 5:45 winked at her. She let her arms flop back down. Shit! I dont think Ive had a tear like that since she shook her head in denial. She lay like that lost in dark thoughts as she watched the sky darken to rose and purple and the stars begin to peak out.
"Now, where the hell am I?" she asked aloud looking about. She never noticed where she was going when the rage took over. She just let it consume her and went along for the ride. She studied the darkened silhouettes of the pine trees around her and finally spotted the split rock to her left. Ah ha! A landmark! She limped over to the rock and peered at it through the gathering darkness. "Okay, Im on the north side of the rock, so that means I need to go west to get home." She nodded her head in agreement with her deduction and wearily began her slow walk home. She had run for over 5 hours or so. A new record. Lord knows how long I just laid there before checking the time! Damn, I gotta stop doing this! She shook her head in disgust. Surprisingly she was only a couple of miles away from her home. Must have run in circles.
She limped into her yard a couple hours later and the motion lights blinked on startling her. She looked up and sighed with relief to see her house. She dragged herself up the stairs and through the open front door. Good thing I live in the back ass of nowhere! Someone could have roobed me blind. She shook her head and closed the door behind her.
She trudged up the stairs and into her bathroom. She turned on the shower and began to strip off her sweat sodden clothes. When Id get that? She wondered inspecting the deep purple bruise that covered most of her right thigh. She sighed. She never felt any pain until it was over. She was definitely feeling it now. It felt like someone had been beating on her with a baseball bat. Probably have bruises all over. Serves me right. She threw her clothes into the hamper and climbed into the hot shower.
A couple of hours later she was dressed and finishing up the last of her packing. She glanced at the clock on the nightstand and saw it was just after 10. "Might as well get on the road. I sure as hell am not going to sleep tonight," she muttered out loud slinging her bag to her back and heading downstairs.
She walked to the front door and paused with her hand on the knob. Damn. I guess Ill bring it. She turned and strode across the dark living room into the room she had set up as a mini studio. She flipped on the light and her gaze settled on the 12 string guitar sitting in all its glory in its stand. She sighed. Music used to bring her such joy, but now now it was all melancholy. Her last album had been gaelic ballads and had been so mournful she was sure it would never sell but it had been her biggest hit to date. She shook her head. Theres just no telling what people will buy. She hadnt made it for others. She had been trying to exorcise her own demons and the music had helped.
She grabbed the hard case for the guitar and packed it up. She snapped the latches and sat back on her heels surveying the room. She hadnt recorded anything in almost 3 years. Not since that debacle the last time she was in Seattle. She just played for herself now. And occasionally for family if she was in the mood. There were three other guitars sitting in their respective stands and a mandolin that she had been playing around with. On impulse she grabbed it and packed it too. Maybe she would have time to fool around with it this weekend. The rest of the room consisted of various hand drums hanging on the walls and sitting on shelves. Plus the baby grand piano that had been a gift from her father for her 16th birthday. He had beamed with pride when she had showed such skill in music as a child. He had been very supportive and encouraged her by buying her instruments and lessons when she wanted them. I guess Granddad must have given him the money. Lord knows he and ma dont have it. He had been devastated when she ran away from music and everything else 10 years ago after She stuffed the memory down not wanting to bring it into the light once more and give it power. She left it for the nightmares that were sure to come. She had found her way back to music and was slowly rebuilding her skills and trying to forget others.
She shook her head to banish the unwanted memories. She picked up the two cases and flipping off the light with her elbow made her way out of the house to her extended cab truck. She opened the passenger door and carefully secured the instrument cases in the back. She threw in her duffel of clothes and slammed the door. She walked around the front of the black truck and opening the door slid inside.
She took a steadying breath and started the engine. She absently turned on the stereo and made sure the cd changer was working. She flipped on the lights and backed out of the drive. "Well, here goes everything," she announced as she put the truck in drive and headed towards the highway.
Lauren barreled down the stairs and flew through the back door of the building. She ran around the side of the building and made her way down the street to the coffee house on the corner. I hope Rachel waited for me! Rachel was her only real female friend in the city and was her usual ride to class. They had met in a creative writing class their sophomore year and had been friends ever since.
She slowed to a jog when the coffee house came into view trying to catch her breath. She glanced around the outside tables but didnt spot the curly blonde head she was looking for. Must be inside. She wove through the tables and opened the door to be welcomed by a blast of pure heaven. The smell of fresh roasted java! She inhaled deeply as she scanned for her friend. Finally spotting her at a table in the corner flirting with a beautiful Latino. She made her way through the crowd and as she got near she met Rachels chocolate brown eyes.
Rachel held up a finger and then returned her attention to the Latino woman whos back was to Lauren.
She watched in fascination as Rachel flirted. Rachel cocked her head in a listening manner and then through her head back to laugh at some comment the woman had made. She laid her hand on the womans and patted it gently as she leaned back in to whisper something in her ear. I wonder what shes saying? Guess I can ask her when shes through. Rachel stood and slung her bag over her shoulder. She leaned in and kissed the woman softly on the cheek and handed her something as she walked passed. The woman turned with a beaming smile to watch Rachel walk away.
"Hey, girlfriend! Where have you been?" Rachel asked as she came up to Lauren and punched her lightly on the arm.
"Sorry, Rach. Ben was looking at my sink and I kind of lost track of time," she apologized with a grin. She nodded towards the still beaming woman and asked, "So, whos your new friend?"
Rachel looked at her blankly for a moment and then laughed. "Oh her?" she lifted a thumb to point over her shoulder. Lauren nodded. "Her names Rosa. Shes warm for my form, dont ya know." Rachel did a little shimmy dance as she hooked her arm through Laurens and pulled her through the crowd.
Lauren laughed. "You are incorrigible!"
"Too right!" Rachel winked and tossed her mane of blonde curls over her shoulder. "I gave her my number. Im sure shell call."
"Youre sure, huh?" Lauren eyed her friend and bit back a grin at the look of utter confidence on her face.
"Of course!" A look of surprise crossed her face. "They always call, Laur. Always."
Lauren shook her head. "I dont know how you do it, Rach. You simply amaze me."
Rachel stopped dead in her tracks and Lauren stumbled to a halt and looked at her questioningly. "You could do the same thing, you know," Rachel said in a serious voice looking her friend up and down. "You have a bod to die for!"
Lauren blushed to the roots of her hair and gave Rachel a gentle shove. "Oh stop! I have nothing on you, girlfriend."
"Untapped potential," Rachel stated as she began walking again towards her car. "Thats what you are, my friend. Abso-fucking-lutely untapped!"
"You sound like Louis," Lauren remarked following her friend to her car and walking around to the passenger side.
"Well, hes right." Rachel studied her friend over the hood of the car. "You just need well a different wardrobe would help."
"Now you really sound like Louis!" She rolled her eyes adding a shrug for emphasis.
"Hmm, I think after class we need to go shopping." Rachel unlocked the car and dropped into the drivers seat. Lauren climbed in beside her and fastened her seat belt. "Yep. I think its definitely time to work on your image."
Lauren eyed her skeptically. "Whats wrong with the way I look?" She gestured down her front.
"Nothing if youre going out to milk cows or some such nonsense." Rachel shook her head sadly. "No, I think you need something that will show off your potential." She eyed her friend critically. "Maybe something in leather."
Lauren burst out in laughter. Rachel stared at her in surprise at the outburst but soon caught the giggles. "What?"
Lauren wiped the tears from her eyes and looked over at her friends face and burst out again. "Oh oh stop. My sides hurt from laughing."
"Well, then tell me whats so damn funny." Rachel started the car and pulled out into traffic. She glanced occasionally over at her still giggling friend waiting for her to get control of herself enough to answer the question.
"Okay," Lauren giggled and then cleared her throat. "When I went over to the boys place this morning to ask Ben about my sink, Louis gave me his usual fashion critique."
"Bet he wasnt impressed with todays ensemble." Rachel shook her head.
"You would be correct. In fact he was horrified!" Lauren grinned at the memory of the look on Louiss face. "He went into a full blown rant. In fact he called me a farm girl and informed me that the women of Seattle were not looking for that!" She bit back another fit of giggles and grabbed her aching ribs.
"And?" Rachel prompted impatiently.
"He said I needed to show off my body. That I was denying the women of Seattle by hiding it behind jeans and flannel."
"Ha ha. He said I should wear something off the shoulder and " Giggles erupted once more. Rachel eyed her and motioned for her to continue. "And leather!"
"See? Its official. The fashion committee has decided that you, Miss OShea, need to wear leather!" Rachel shouted and drummed a beat on the steering wheel.
Lauren blushed and fought to suppress her giggles. "I think not. Im perfectly comfortable in my 501s thank you very much."
"But you would look really hot in a leather mini. You have such magnificent legs!" Rachel gestured to her thighs and winked.
"Oh stop!" She playfully slapped at Rachels questing hand that was attempting to squeeze her thigh. "If I didnt know better I would say you were getting fresh!"
Rachel gave her a sultry smile. "Well, if you werent like a sister to me, I just might!"
Lauren blinked. "Wh what?"
"Im just kidding, Laur," Rachel let her face relax into a gentle smile. "Relax. I do believe my dance card is full for now."
She returned the smile a bit shakily. That had scared her. Why? It was just Rachel goofing around. She knew Rachel didnt think of her that way. They had fooled around when they were sophomores and decided they would make better friends than lovers. Lauren had been glad. She really, really liked Rachel, but not like that. I guess telling Ben about the dream shook me up more than I thought. And I didnt even tell him the good parts!
"Yoo hoo, Lauren? You still with me, babe?" Rachel shook Laurens shoulder gently. She had seen the glazed over look take over Laurens face and figured she was deep in thought about something. She was used to her spacing out and just sat back and drove the rest of the way to the university humming along with the radio.
"Huh?" Lauren blinked and looked around. They were in the university parking lot. "Damn, guess I zoned out on you again. Sorry about that."
"Its okay," she grinned. "Im used to it. So, want to tell me where you went?"
"Oh,um, sure," she stalled for time by unfastening her seatbelt and gathering up her things. "Ben saw my painting when he came by to fix my sink."
Rachel eyes went wide. "Really?" Lauren nodded as she fiddled with the strap on her bag. "And? What did he say?"
"He wants to show it to Louis."
"Really? Thats great." Rachel bounced in her seat, then stopped when she saw the look on Laurens face. "Isnt it?
Lauren shrugged. "Yeah, I guess so. He thinks Louis will want to put it in the show this weekend."
"But?" She eyed her friend with concern. She could tell Lauren was uncomfortable about something.
"I dunno, Rach," she looked up and met understanding brown eyes. "Its kind of personal. I dont know if I want to share it with anyone."
Rachel sat back and thought about it for a moment. "Well, I can understand that. Did you tell him who she is?"
Lauren nodded slightly and whispered, "Yeah, kind of." She looked back down at her hands and made a conscious effort to still them. "I told him I saw her in a dream, but I really didnt go into any details. He acted really weird after I said that though. He had thought I had used a model or some such."
Rachel turned sidewise to face her and reaching out took her hands in hers. "Weird, huh?" Lauren nodded. "Weird how?"
She shrugged. "I dunno, just weird. He just got the strangest look on his face and then he got all excited about me being an artist and wanting to show it to Louis."
"Hmm, interesting." Rachel rubbed her chin in thought. "So, what do you want to do?"
Lauren lifting one shoulder in a gesture of no comment.
"Cmon, hon. Its not like hell force you or anything. If you dont want to show it, then dont."
Lauren stared at their clasped hands and then raised her eyes to meet the concerned look of her friend and tried to explain. "He was just so excited, Rach. He really thought it was good. He called me an artist, if you can believe that!" she chuckled. "Besides, the show is for a good cause. One that I dont mind supporting."
She studied her friends face. Deciding she was being honest, she tossed in the next hazard. "Okay, so youll let Ben and Louis show the piece in the show this weekend." Lauren nodded in agreement. "What if someone buys it?"
The idea took a minute to sink in and then her eyes went wide. "Oh my god! Someone could buy it!" Rachel nodded seriously. "And then and then it would be gone wouldnt it? Id never see it again."
"Yep. Thats what usually happens when someone buys something. Think you could handle that?"
"I I dont know," Lauren cried leaning back against the door. She hadnt thought of that. But of course thats what the show was all about. Selling art in a silent auction to raise money. Duh, Lauren. "Maybe no one will want to buy it?"
Rachel snorted. "Yeah right! I know if I had the cash, I would! That painting is fantastic, Lauren!"
"What should I do?" she asked in a small voice.
The look she gave Rachel nearly broke her heart. She swallowed audibly and gave Laurens hand a gentle squeeze. "Look. I really think you should show the piece." Lauren began to shake her head in denial and Rachel held up a hand to forestall her. "Now wait, let me finish." When Lauren nodded her acquiescence she continued. "Why dont I come over with my equipment and take some photos of it? We can blow them up and make some really gnarly prints of it. Then, you could keep the original and I bet Louis would be more than happy to sell limited edition signed and numbered prints!" She smiled smugly at her solution.
Lauren thought about it. It was the perfect solution, if Louis would agree to it. She really didnt want to part with the original. A lot of her heart and soul had gone into that painting and the thought of some stranger having it made her stomach ache.
She smiled at her friends impatience. "I think you are absolutely brilliant."
"But of course!" Rachel sat back and buffed her fist on her chest.
"I guess now I just have to convince Louis of the idea."
"Mention dollar signs and exclusive rights to show and youll have him wrapped around your little finger," Rachel suggested with a knowing wink.
"You are soo bad! But soo right!" Lauren laughed and turned to open the car door. "Come along, my supra genius, were going to be late for class."
"Yeah, yeah," Rachel waved dismissively as she collected her things and locked up the car. "Lead on, McDuff."
"Hey! Is that a crack about my ancestry?" Lauren accused with her hands on her hips.
"Heaven forbid!" Rachel gasped clutching her chest and staggering back.
Lauren laughed. "Goofball."
"Exactly. Now come on!" Rachel grabbed Laurens hand and sprinted across the parking lot pulling her friend along with her.
Lauren grinned and let her friend drag her along. She always knows how to cheer me up.
The two friends dashed across the quad and ran up the stairs into their classroom just as the last bell rang. They flopped down in their seats and grinned at one another as they set up their laptops to take copious notes on todays lecture.
"All right, Ben! Im coming! You dont have to pull my damn arm out of the socket," Louis complained as his over anxious lover dragged him down the hall to Laurens studio.
"Im sorry, Louis," Ben apologized slowing his pace a bit, "You just have to see this painting. You will not believe your eyes!"
Louis rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his silk clad chest waiting impatiently for Ben to get the door open. "Sure Ben. Whatever you say. Its not like I havent been looking at fabulous art for the past 15 years or anything." Ben gave him a reproachful look, which he ignored. "No, no Im sure our little Irish waif is some kind of artistic savant who just happened to be living under our very noses for the past 2 years and we just never realized it." Ben got the door open and stepped aside motioning Louis to go ahead of him. Louis step forward and continued his tirade. "Shes a writer, Ben. Ive read her stuff the same as you and I admit its damn good. But an artist?" he snorted at the very idea. "Come now, Ben. Surely we would have known."
Ben just shook his head and followed his lover into the tiny studio. Louis glanced around the room and then turned to Ben with an upraised brow. "Well? So where is this Rembrandt? Hmm?"
"Its over here, Louis." Ben led his lover around the easel. Louis gave him a look and then turned his attention to the painting. Ben smiled and waited. He watched as Louiss entire body stiffened when his gaze fell upon the painting. Louis leaned forward from the waist to get a better look and cocked his head to one side. "Well, Louis. Whats your verdict?" Ben asked in a bored voice.
Louis swallowed. "Um isnt that?"
"Yeah, I thought the same thing," he agreed coming to stand next to his lover and look at the painting again. Louis looked up at him quizzically. "I asked Irish what her inspiration was for her," he waved at the warrior in the painting. "She said shes been seeing her in her dreams since she was 16 and finally decided to put it on canvas."
Louiss eyes opened wide and his mouth made a perfect O. Ben nodded sagely. "Are you telling me that that," he waved towards the painting, "came out of dream?" Ben nodded. "No models or pictures or anything?" Ben shook his head no. Louis stared at his lover for a full minute and then whirled to study the painting once more.
"You want to hear something else thats kind of creepy?" Ben whispered not wanting to break the silence.
"Hmm?" Louis murmured absently stepping closer to the painting and reaching out a hand then pulling it back.
"Irish had the cd you gave her playing when we came in."
"What cd?" Louis asked lost in his contemplation of the painting as he once again leaned in closer for a better look.
Ben shook his head. "The cd you gave her of Ashs gaelic ballads."
It took a moment for Bens words to filter through his concentration. When they did, he shot up from his crouch so fast that Ben jumped. "What?" Louis turned with an incredulous look on his face. He strode over to his lover and reached up and tugged Ben by his beard until they were eye to eye.
"Louis that hurts," Ben grumbled but didnt pull away.
"Are you telling me that you came into this studio and Ashs music was playing?" Ben nodded slightly with a grimace since Louis had a death grip on his chin hairs. Louis studied his lovers face intently. "So, did you faint dead away when you came around that easel and stared right into Ashs face or what?
Ben grinned. "Just about!"
Louis chuckled and releasing his lover stepped back. "That," he pointed over his shoulder, "is truly a remarkable likeness of your cousin, Ben. Are you sure Laurens never seen a picture of Ash and just thought it was " a smirk crossed his face, "her dream woman?"
Ben shook his head. "Positive. Shes never been in the office and thats where the family photos are." A chuckle rumbled. "You want to hear something funny?"
Louis eyed his lover suspiciously as he leaned back on the stool before the easel. "Sure."
"I asked her about the music when we came in. I was wondering where she got it and thats how I found out you had given it to her. She said how she absolutely loved it and wanted to know what I thought." Louis motioned impatiently for him to get on with it. "I told her I better like it since it was my cousin doing the playing. You should have seen her face, Louis! I thought her eyes were going to bug right out of her head!" A full blown laugh welled out of the man as he rocked back on his heels. Louis raised an eyebrow and Ben quickly contained himself. "Sorry. I asked if she had read the name on the cover and she said that she thought Ash Gray was a name of a group not a person." A small smile played across Louiss lips at this little tidbit. "But heres the funny part. She thinks Ash is a man."
Louis grin turned wicked. "I take it you did not correct her in this fallacy?"
"Nope. I told her that Ash was coming for the show and she practically swooned! I told her I would introduce her to my cousin if she wished." Bens eyes twinkled with merriment at the idea. Oh boy, was she going to just die!
"You are an evil man," Louis stated pointing an accusing finger at his lover.
Ben pointed to himself and innocently said, "Who me?"
"Yes you! And I love you for it!" Louis grinned hopping up from the stool and wrapping his arms around his lover. "This is going to be sooo good!"
Ben returned the hug and kissed the top of Louiss head. "Oh yeah, Irish isnt going to know what hit her! Not only is Ash her dream woman come to life but she plays the music that has totally enthralled her!"
Louis giggled into Bens broad chest. "We have to make sure to keep them apart until the night of the show. Ooh, this is going to be just delicious."
Ben agreed with his lover. "Um, Louis, please tell me you havent advertised the fact that Ash is going to be at the show."
Louis stepped back and looked up at his lover. "Why?"
"Well, if you have, I hope you look good in black because Ash will kill me."
"Dont worry, dear. I havent said a word," he crossed his heart and held up three fingers. "Scouts honor."
"Uh-huh." Ben was doubtful to say the least. "Not one flier or poster or anything?"
"Nope not a one." Louis gave him his best innocent look.
Ben narrowed his eyes. "You didnt go and post it on that damn gossip mongering email list of yours did you?"
Louis paled noticeably. "Well, um I might have mentioned that your dear cousin was coming to visit. And that she just happens to be named Ash " He quickly stepped back out of Bens long reach.
"You didnt?" Ben asked horrified.
Louis gave him a pathetic look and a small nod.
"Damn, Louis! All of Seattle knows by now! That bunch of queens couldnt keep a secret if their lives depended on it!" Bens voice rose to a roar as he threw his hands up in dismay. "Ash is going to absolutely kill me! Ill never get her to visit again after this! Jesus fucking Christ, Louis! Do you think at all? I thought after the last little incident you would have learned!"
Louis shrank back from Bens anger. He knew his gentle lover had a temper, but it was rarely shown. Of course, messing with his family was always a sure way to bring it out. "Im sorry, Ben. I was just so excited she agreed to come. Please, honey, calm down."
Ben glared at his lover. "Calm down? You want me to fucking calm down!" Ben bellowed striding forward and grabbing Louis by the shoulders and giving him a violent shake. "What the hell did you think you were doing? Ash is fragile right now. She has been for quite some time now and I finally convince her to come down off that damn mountain and you have to go and do this!" He shoved Louis away from him and stormed into the kitchen. He knew he needed to reign in his temper. If he didnt he was afraid he could really hurt Louis right now.
Louis stood there stunned. Ben had never directed his temper at him and he was shaken by the force of it. He swallowed and raised a hand to his forehead to wipe the sweat from his brow. He looked at Bens broad back and noticed that the big man was shaking and had his fists clenched so tightly they were white. Oh god, I have to fix this. Question is how? Louiss mind whirled frantically trying to come up with something, anything to calm his gentle Ben down. A plan began to form and he cautiously walked towards the fuming back of his lover.
"Ben?" he asked quietly.
"Not now, Louis," he replied through gritted teeth. He stared at the clogged up sink and he found himself inexplicably thinking of ways to unclog it. He shook his head at the thoughts.
"Honey, I think I know how to fix this." Louis offered gently. When Ben didnt hush him or tell him to go away, he gained back some confidence. Since Ben seemed to be listening he continued. "The show is only open to the general public in the afternoon. The night viewing for the auction is by invitation only, right?" Louis saw Ben nod imperceptibly, "So, all we have to do is keep Ash away from the afternoon viewing and shell never know that a bunch of horny lesbians were drooling all over my beautiful parquet floor hoping to get a glimpse of her. Besides, no one even knows what she looks like, honey," Louis stepped into the kitchen and gently began to rub his lovers back. "Shes never had a picture published of her and as young Lauren so aptly proved, most people who listen to her music thinks shes a man."
Ben quietly listened to his lovers argument and grudgingly had to agree with him. He felt the last of his anger dissolve with Louiss gentle touch on his back. He sighed. "All right, Louis. Youre probably right."
Louis smiled in triumph but quickly wiped the grin from his face when Ben turned to look at him. "But know this if Ash is hurt in any way by your actions, its over."
He was speechless. He stared at his lover and saw that he meant what he said. He felt his heart constrict painfully. "All right, Ben. I promise, Ill do all in my power to make sure Ash is not hurt. I swear." He choked back a sob. "I dont want to lose you!"
Ben watched stoically as Louiss face collapsed into tears. He knew his ultimatum had hurt Louis, but damn it, Ash was family! He just wouldnt be able to live with himself or Louis if he allowed Louiss scheming to hurt her again. "Fine. Then you better make sure shes not hurt." Louis covered his face with his hands and nodded. Ben felt his resolve begin to crumble at the sight and finally pulled Louis to him. "Ssh. Okay now, thats enough. Well make sure nothing goes wrong." Louis nodded into Bens silk covered chest as he clung desperately to his lover. "Besides, we have the perfect distraction."
Louis looked up with confusion at his now smiling lover. "We do?"
"Mmm-hmm," Ben nodded and leaned down to brush his lips gently across his lovers. "Irish."
Louiss face lit up at the pet name for Lauren. "Oh yes, I had almost forgotten about that."
"Good thing you have me around to remind you of these things."
"Yes, it most certainly is," Louis paused studying his partners face intently. "I hope Ill have you around for many years to come."
"So do I," Ben agreed squeezing Louis close once more and then releasing him. "Now, off with you! I have a sink to fix!"
Louis laughed and slapped him playfully in the stomach. "Fine, you go ahead and be butch. Im going to go play with my decorations." Louis turned and sashayed across the studio towards the door. He stopped once more to look at the painting and shook his head in wonder. "Truly uncanny. I definitely want this in the show, Ben."
"Irish said we could if you agreed it was good enough." Louis stared at him. "Yeah, the kid has no idea how fantastic that is." He gestured towards the painting. "You need to set a minimum bid for it. She was real worried about that."
"Im sure I can do that. No worries, hon," Louis assured. "I have a feeling this is going to be the hit of the show!" Dollar signs danced before his eyes and he licked his lips in anticipation.
"Uh-huh. Well. Let me know what you decide on." Ben replied watching is lover become animated at the thought of the show and the expected money to be raised. "This shouldnt take long. When I finish, Ill bring down the 3 remaining pieces for my exhibit," Ben said returning his attention to the problem of the sink.
"Okay, hon. Ill come looking for you if you havent materialized by lunch. Toodles," he opened the door and was out the door before Ben could reply.
Ben just shook his head and glared at the sink. "Hmm, I think Im going to need the snake for this one. Better go get my handy dandy tool chest." He nodded and headed back to the loft for the tools he would need.
Lauren ran across the quad in the late afternoon hoping to catch Rachel before she left. Her study group had cancelled so she was free for the rest of the day. She ran up the steps and made a bee-line for the coffee shop knowing that was the most likely place to find her java-loving friend.
She scanned the crowd and finally spotted Rachel at a corner table once again flirting with an attractive woman. That girl just never gets enough! Shes a god damn chick magnet! Lauren watched her friend in action as she made her way through the crowd. When Rachel looked up she offered a small wave and cocked an eyebrow in question. Rachel nodded and she continued over and flopped down in the seat across from her.
The woman that Rachel had been flirting with gave her a perturbed look, but quickly smiled when Rachel introduced them. "Sandy, this is my friend Lauren. Lauren, Sandy."
"Hi." Lauren leaned back in her chair and smiled.
"Hi, nice to meet you," Sandy said scooting her chair closer to Rachel and draping an arm possessively across the back of her chair. Lauren struggled not to laugh at the sight but it was a hard battle.
"So, what are you doing here? I thought you had a study group this afternoon?" Rachel asked, completely ignoring Sandy and her behavior.
"Oh, they cancelled on me. So, I thought Id take you up on your offer of shopping." She watched as Sandys face turned beet red at this. Ooh, the little green monster rears its ugly head!
Rachel clapped her hands. "Oh goody! Shopping!" She looked at Sandy and patted her hand gently. "Sorry, babe. Im going to have to take a rain check on dinner. This is a shopping emergency!" She pointed at Lauren.
Lauren was sure Sandy was going to spontaneously combust. Her face had gone a most unnatural shade of red and her whole body had gone rigid at Rachels announcement.
"Um, Im going to go grab a latte." Lauren quickly stood and grabbed up her bag. "Ill meet you at the car, k?"
"Sure, babe. Right behind you," Rachel waved as Lauren walked off.
Lauren was about ten feet away when the expected explosion occurred.
"What the hell? Youre ditching me to go off with with her?" Sandy growled.
"Yep. See you around, babe." Rachel stated standing and gathering her things. "Shes a good friend." She looked down at Sandy and gave her a pitying look. "Besides, I dont date possessive women." That said she turned on her heel and followed her friend out of the building.
They met up at Rachels car and with very little discussion decided to head to the mall for the aforementioned shopping.
"Okay, first thing we have to decide is what kind of look you want to go for," Rachel explained leading the way into the crowded mall.
"Um, not something too radical, okay?" Lauren pleaded following in her friends wake.
"Oh, Laur, you are absolutely no fun!" Rachel wailed giving her a pitiful look.
"Sorry, but I just dont think Id be comfortable baring it all, okay?"
Rachel turned to eye her friend. "Okay, fine. Well go for the elegant casual look, okay? Nothing too racey."
Lauren nodded her agreement and followed Rachel into the first clothing store.
After two exhausting hours and many arguments later they both agreed on a couple of outfits. Rachel personally thought they were too conservative, but Lauren was adamant in her denial of the leather mini and spaghetti strapped silk top that she had first picked out. They finally decided on a simple emerald green camisole type blouse and tight black jeans. Rachel had really wanted Lauren to go for a skirt but Lauren had just shook her head no and agreed to the "paint tight" jeans instead.
They made their way out to the car with their purchases discussing tomorrow night. "So, you are going to go out with me Friday night, right?" Rachel queried as she popped the trunk and tossed her purchases in.
"Like I have a choice?" Lauren stated throwing her bags in with Rachels.
"Well, no. But I will let you choose where we go, okay?" Rachel made her way around the car and unlocking the door got in.
Lauren let an evil grin cross her face as she rubbed her hands together. She made her way to the passenger door and got in. "Really? I get to pick the place?"
"Didnt I just say so?"
"Anyplace I want to go is okay?" Lauren asked eyeing her friend.
Rachel turned and stared at her and then understanding dawned. "Oh no, Lauren! Not that!" Lauren nodded gleefully. "Youre going to drag me to that shit-kicking club again arent you?"
"Yep!" Lauren agreed with an amused chuckle.
"Ack!" Rachel pulled at her hair in mock dismay. "The things I do to make sure you have a social life!"
Lauren laughed. "Yeah, youre a real sweetheart."
"Dont you know it! Well, you have to promise me a dance at least," Rachel said as she started the car and backed out of the space.
"Dont I always?" Lauren queried, sitting back and enjoying the light banter.
"Yeah, but since you seem destined to torture me with that caterwauling you have to let me lead," Rachel smirked.
"Okay, fine. I hate leading anyway," she quickly agreed.
Rachel saw the smug look on her friends face. "Why do I have the feeling Ive just been had?"
"Because you have, dear!" Lauren grinned happily. "I knew youd hate the club and demand a dance or two and then more than likely youd want to lead. So, I just waited for you to give me the ultimatum so that I could happily agree! I really do hate leading. Its much more fun to be led, because then your partner has to pay attention to everything going on and you can just enjoy the dance!"
"I see " Rachel muttered as she pulled out of the parking lot and headed back towards Laurens place. "So, when do you want me to come over with my stuff?"
"Huh?" Lauren looked at her blankly.
"You know, to do the prints of your painting," Rachel explained.
"Oh that!" Lauren thought about it for a moment or two. "Well, I guess I should probably ask Louis if he even wants to show the piece first."
"Oh thats a given. Next!"
"Okay, Miss Confidence and agrees that prints would sell."
"Oh, theyll sell all right! Question is how limited do you want them to be? That and how many I can get done in only 2 days!" Rachel answered with a dazzling smile.
"How many do you think you could get done?"
"Depends on when we start."
"How about tonight if Louis agrees?" Lauren asked her brow crinkling as she thought about the logistics of the whole thing. Did she really want to do this?
"Sounds good. I dont have anything planned for tonight since Sandy played little Miss Possessive today." Rachel replied shaking her head.
"Oh, sorry. That was probably my fault." Lauren reached over and gave Rachels knee a reassuring squeeze.
"Not your fault, cupcake." Rachel smiled. "You probably saved me a world of trouble. I hate it when they get all possessive and needy on me." She shivered at the thought.
"One of these days, Rach, youre going to meet someone special and hope they are all needy and possessive when it comes to you!" Lauren wagged a finger at her.
"Gods forbid!" Rachels eyes went wide in mock horror. "What would my fan club do then?"
Lauren punched her lightly on the arm. "You are so bad!"
"Yep," Rachel agreed with a smug smile.
"Okay, when we get to my place why dont you come in with me and well track down Louis and find out what the verdict is. If he agrees to our little scenario, you can go get your stuff and Ill whip something up for dinner. Deal?"
"Oooh, dinner?" Rachels face lit up. She rubbed her tummy in anticipation. "Yummy!"
Lauren laughed at her antics. "Okay, goofball, lets get this show on the road."
They rode the rest of the way to the building talking about their respective days at school and their plans for Friday night. They pulled into the parking lot at a quarter to six and parked. They joked around as they made their way into the building.
"I bet Louis is still in the gallery. Lets try there first," Lauren said over her shoulder as she headed down the hall to the door that led into the back of the gallery.
Rachel followed. "Sounds good."
Lauren cracked the door open and peeked around the corner.
"No. No. No! Not there! There. God save me from muscle bound imbeciles!" Louiss outraged voice floated back to the two young women in the doorway. They shared an amused grin as they stepped into the back of the gallery. They stood back against the wall so they were hidden in the shadows and leaned back to watch the show.
CONTINUED IN PART 2