DISCLAIMERS: See Part 1
DAY 5 - WEDNESDAY, MAY 12th
"Dummm-di-dumma-da-di-di-da-dumma-da…" Sarah hummed to herself as she exited her apartment.
"Sarah, hon, are you sure you didn't get lucky last night, 'cos, frankly, I can't remember the last time you were this chipper…" Kimberly said on their way to the Scenic Elevator.
"I'm just in a good mood today, Kimmie."
"Yeah, no shit. Well, I'm glad you finally came to your senses and invited Joy out on a date," Kimberly said and pressed the DOWN button.
"So, anyway, where do you want to eat breakfast?" Sarah said, stretching her aching back.
"How about doing a recon mission at the place you'll go with Joy?"
"The Torre Pendente?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"Well, for starters, I sincerely doubt they have pancakes," Sarah said with a cheeky grin.
"We can go over to the King afterwards… but thanks for caring," Kimberly said and nudged Sarah's side with her elbow.
"Where the hell's that elevator!" Kimberly said, quickly stepping out of Sarah's reach in case the taller woman decided that the nudge needed a payback.
Once they reached the lobby, Sarah and Kimberly began the long trek that would eventually take them to the Italian restaurant at the other end of the mall.
The entire duration, Sarah kept thinking about the very strange feeling she'd had in her stomach when she saw Joy stepping out of the bathroom, wearing a bathrobe that was several sizes too large for her petite, if fit, frame. Sarah couldn't quite come up with an exact name for that feeling, but she knew that it had given her a severe dose of the warm fuzzies - something that didn't happen often to her.
"Man, you walk like you got your trainers on the wrong foot," Kimberly suddenly said.
"Your legs are so stiff it looks like you've run the marathon."
"Well, some of us was actually physically active yesterday."
"Hey, I was active, too! While you were away, I took one of the aerobics classes for senior citizens."
"Get outta here," Sarah said and stared at Kimberly.
"No, it's true. 'Put your left foot up, then down…' Sooo corny, but a bit more my pace than that mental Dancerobics nonsense from Sunday."
"Gosh golly almighty, I wish I coulda seen that," Sarah said, earning herself yet another poke in the side. "Ouch! Man, if you have to poke me, can't you do it somewhere that doesn't ache?" Sarah continued and rubbed her ribs.
"Nuh-uh. Where's the fun in that?"
The Torre Pendente was the last restaurant before the fitness section of the mall and when Sarah and Kimberly finally got there, it was crowded almost beyond capacity.
"Well… okay. I sure as hell hope it's not this crowded tonight," Sarah said and looked at the sea of bobbing heads. She scratched her hair and then thrust her hands into her pockets.
"Don't forget we're on a recon mission. You go that way, I'll go this way," Kimberly said, spun around and disappeared into the crowd.
"Kimmie! Wait a min-" Sarah said, but it was already too late. After a few seconds, she shrugged and decided to brave the massive crowd.
As usual, it didn't look quite like the brochure promised, but all in all, it appeared to be a cozy restaurant held in a typical rustic Italian style. It was clear to see that it was much more upscale than most of the other restaurants in the mall, as the materials and fabrics used were visibly of a superior standard and the staff were all impeccably dressed and surprisingly polite.
Sarah almost missed the display with the menus, and when she saw the prices, she wished that she had. Even the most standard meals were expensive and some were in the triple-digit price range - including the veal Joy had talked about. Sarah sighed and began to feel sorry for her credit card. Even with the $75 gift certificate, it would get a severe workout on the date.
'I'd be satisfied with two brats and potato salad over at the King, but that would give Joy one hell of a crappy impression of me,' Sarah thought and sighed again.
Sarah suddenly spotted the maitre d' standing at the breakfast buffet and made a decisive cut through the line of people.
"I'm sorry, Sir. Do you have time for a question?"
"Of course, Miss."
"Do you think it'll be possible to get a table at once tonight, or is it necessary to make reservations?"
"At what time, Miss?"
"Quarter to nine."
"Oh, we're always quite busy then with people coming from the variety show. I'd reserve a table if I were you," the man said and picked up a small notepad and a pencil.
Sarah scrunched up her face and considered it long and hard - she finally came to the conclusion that she'd make sure this date was one she'd remember for a long time.
"All right, I'd like to do that, please. A table for two."
"Table for two at eight forty-five, noted. What name shall I put on the reservation, Miss?"
"… Sarah Michaels. Noted," the maitre d' said, making an entry in the notepad.
"Thank you, Sir."
"Thank *you*, Miss."
"There you are… where the heck did ya go?" Sarah said when she finally bumped into Kimberly.
"I've been looking for the menus."
"I'm way ahead of you, Kimmie. I've already made reservations for a table and everything," Sarah said and put her arm across Kimberly's shoulder.
"Great! It's kinda expensive, though… don't you think?" Kimberly said as they left the Torre Pendente and started walking along the central path, heading for the King's pancakes.
"We used the fifty dollars we got for the fire alarm on the drinks the other night, but how much of the big gift certificate did you spend on the helmet and stuff?"
"Uhhh… what are you talking about? I only got the gift certificate after the event…"
"No, not the one from yesterday - the one hundred dollars certificate the uber-cute Professor dug out of your ear… remember?"
"Oh! Jeez, I'd forgotten all about that. Oh yeah, I haven't used any of that. All right, Kimmie… thanks for reminding me," Sarah said and gave the shorter woman an almighty squeeze.
"You're welcome… now let's go chow down some pancakes."
"I'm restless," Sarah said and got up from the comfy chair. She checked her watch for the fiftieth time since breakfast and rolled her eyes when she saw that it was still only ten to twelve - meaning that she had nearly nine hours to kill before her date with Joy.
"No kidding. I'm surprised you haven't worn a hole in my carpet by now," Kimberly said from her laid-back position on the couch. She had her arms behind her head, using the armrest as a pillow. Her right leg was propped up on the top of the backrest and her left was placed firmly on the low coffee table next to the couch.
With a lazy sigh, she reached for a bowl of potato chips and brought it over. She put the bowl on her stomach and started eating noisily.
"Hey, Sarah, woulda mind handing me the teevee remote?"
Sarah looked at the remote - it was on the table, no more than twelve inches away from Kimberly's hand.
"It's right there."
"I can't reach it."
"There's nothing on, anyway."
"Will ya just gimme that remote!" Kimberly said with a giggle.
Sarah rolled her eyes and walked over to the table to pick up the remote. With a grin, she placed it across Kimberly's forehead and immediately stepped back so she was ready to catch any potato chips flying her way.
"Anytime, your Ladyship."
"Now slap your butt in the seat and let's watch the news at noon," Kimberly said and pressed a button on the remote.
"Ho hum, budget deficit, crisis in the Middle East, politician caught cheating on wife… same-old, same-old," Kimberly said and started zapping to get away from the news station.
"The Price Is Right, Wheel Of Fortune, Jeopardy… Jeez, what's up with all those damn reruns," Sarah said and got up from the chair again. She went over to the window and peeked through the curtains.
Kimberly zapped on, eventually landing on the in-house TruAmerica Channel.
'… on't forget! Thursday night is always Dance Night in the TruAmerica Prudence Hotel, Sports & Fitness Resort. Club Feelgood welcomes everybody to the weekly dance extravaganzas. This week, we have a special event for those of you who were teenagers in the 1990's: A world-class discjockey will perform a live set that promises to be a three-hour revival of the 90's where all your favorites are sure to be played. Club Feelgood opens at ten PM and it's located on the piazza in the Mall, opposite the Prudence Memorial Theater. Tickets are five dollars if you buy in advance, or fifteen dollars at the door.'
"Woohoo, that's where you're taking Joy tomorrow night!" Kimberly said and boogied so hard on the couch she nearly dropped the bowl of chips.
"You have got to be kidding! Me, in a dance club… get a grip, woman."
"No, you gotta go. It'll be great, I guarantee it."
"Hell-lo Kimmie, what part of I Can't Dance Worth A Shit don't you understand?"
"Oh, come on, Sarah. We used to go to clubs all the time back when we were teenagers."
"Yeah, but that was so we could get drunk and gawk at the cute girls. I've never danced," Sarah said and turned back to stare out of the window.
Soon, a potato chip came flying through the air, hitting Sarah right behind her right ear. She sent Kimberly a Death Glare, but it apparently didn't have much of an effect, because another chip soon followed the first one.
"It's not the dancing itself, stupid. It's the… the atmosphere," Kimberly said and ate the next chip instead of throwing it.
"Oh man, I guess I have to connect the dots for you… Swaying back and forth to the rhythm, holding the gal close, looking into her eyes, letting her run her hands up and down your macha arms, letting her rest her head on your broad chest… you know. The next best thing after sex."
"I wouldn't know," Sarah said and shuffled back to the comfy chair. The TV was showing an infomercial on the TruAmerica channel, but Sarah effectively zoned out. The things Kimberly had said churned through her mind and she couldn't help but imagine a scene where she and Joy were dancing closely. Even thinking about it sent a pack of butterflies hurtling through her stomach, making her squirm.
"D'ya think Joy would be interested in going to the Club?" Sarah said quietly after several minutes of absolute silence.
"I think she'd jump at the chance of going dancing with you, hon," Kimberly said, moving into an upright position on the couch. She put the empty bowl back on the coffee table and wiped her greasy hands on a napkin.
"I'm afraid she's gonna think I'm too pushy if I ask her out two days in a row."
"Noooo, come on. Enough with the insecurity, okay? Where's the tough gal I know and love?"
"She's on vacation with her best friend, who's constantly giving her a hard time even though she's supposed to be the moral support," Sarah deadpanned.
"And as your moral support, lemme tell you: invite Joy out to the Club. You won't regret it."
"Mmmm. I'll think about it."
"You do that," Kimberly said and leaned back in the couch. She switched off the TV, picked up a magazine and began to thumb though it.
"I need to burn off some energy. Do you wanna go down to the mall? We could check out the senior citizen aerobics class…?" Sarah said and rose from the comfy chair for the umpteenth time.
Kimberly chuckled and put down the magazine on the coffee table.
"Sure. Anythin' for you, darlin'."
Soon, they were back down in the mall, walking briskly towards the aerobics hall. Sarah had donned her Powerboxing outfit again, except that her favorite pair of sweatpants hadn't yet been returned from the laundry service, so she was wearing an old, washed-out pair instead. She adjusted her rainbow-colored wristbands and increased the tempo to a slow jog.
"Wouldya mind carrying my holdall, Kimmie?"
"No… what's up?"
"Time to rock'n'roll!" Sarah said and suddenly sprinted away from Kimberly who was taking things far more sedately. Kimberly waved her hand dismissively and slowed down to a pace that suited her better.
Sarah raced along the central path, turning heads left and right, or, in some cases, made people shake their head at her antics.
She flew past restaurant after restaurant and didn't slow down until she reached the piazza where the theater and the club were. She jogged around the fountain a few times in the vain hope that Joy would appear, but, unfortunately, the actress wasn't there. Sarah shrugged and continued towards the sports facilities.
Once Sarah reached the aerobics hall, she stopped running and leaned against the wall to stretch the muscles in her calves and thighs. She was still a bit sore from the mountain bike event, but the run had blown away some of the cobwebs in her head. She took a few deep breaths to calm down and then started going through an impromptu Powerboxing routine in front of the aerobics hall.
Suddenly someone whistled at her and Sarah turned around to see who it was. Two twenty-something men had come out from the basketball courts and were busy ogling her. Sarah almost expected them to start drooling at any minute, so she just turned around and ignored them. They whistled again, but seemed to lose interest when Sarah didn't respond and they were soon walking away.
Sarah rolled her eyes and snorted in amusement. Nine times out of ten she was bothered by guys, twenty-somethings were the culprits. Somehow, the fact that Sarah wasn't even remotely interested in them had a hard time getting past their hormones.
Sarah chuckled and decided to step up a gear. She went into a series of uppercuts, fakes and jabs and she was ducking and diving like a prize fighter.
Finally, Kimberly arrived at a sauntering pace with the two holdalls.
"Hiya," she said, looking over Sarah's shoulder at the large window into the aerobics hall.
"Hi. What kept ya?" Sarah said, stopping her routine. She reached into her holdall and found a towel to wipe off the sweat.
"I have no intention of getting a heart attack just yet," Kimberly said, still staring past Sarah.
"This coming from a woman who's just eaten a bag of chips all by herself… what the hell are you looking at?" Sarah said and turned around - and stopped with a jerk.
The entire senior citizen class were lined up on the other side of the window and they were all staring intently at her. When they discovered Sarah wasn't going to continue her routine, they started clapping at her, much to Sarah's discomfort.
Kimberly quickly stepped over to Sarah and lifted the taller woman's arm high in the air.
"Sarah Michaels, Ladies and Gentlemen!" Kimberly said loudly, making Sarah's discomfort explode into a bout of acute, debilitating embarrassment.
"Nooooo, lemme go, Kimmie," Sarah croaked through clenched teeth, but Kimberly held on tight.
The aerobics instructor Sarah had dubbed the Surfer Dude came out of the hall and put out his hand. "Wow, what a fab show, Miss. That was one hell of a bitchin' Powerboxing routine," he said, pumping Sarah's arm up and down.
"Thanks. You know it?"
"Sure I do, I'm one of the instructors. The regular instructor for the senior class is on maternity leave, so I'm just moonlighting."
"No shit?" Sarah said, completely forgetting all about Kimberly.
"Oh, no. Hey, you want a job?"
"Uhhh… no thanks, I already got one," Sarah said with a laugh.
"Man, that's too bad. If you ever need to earn a buck on the side, give us a call."
"Will do. Are you doing the high impact class today?"
"Yeah. Starts in ten minutes."
"Sounds good. Come on, Kimmie. Let's go sweat some," Sarah said and put her hands on Kimberly's shoulders so she could push the reluctant woman through the open door.
"Oh, yippee," Kimberly said in a slightly less than enthusiastic tone of voice.
"And that's a wrap for today, I'm afraid. You've been a great bunch o' people, but this is the fade-out. Remember to streeeeeetch your muscles and drink plenty of water. Your body will thank you for it," Surfer Dude said and showed the class how to cool down.
The thumping music slowly faded out and the class started gathering up their things. The instructor grinned broadly and sent a thumbsup in Sarah's direction - she returned the gesture and started wiping off her neck and arms with her towel.
"I hate you," Kimberly said and bent over so her lungs would work better - she put her hands on her knees and panted ceaselessly.
"I thought you loved me."
"No, I hate you. That was the…. first time I've ever… tried that Powerboxing nonsense… and it was also… the last time," Kimberly said. She had a hard time finding enough air to speak so the words came in short bursts.
"I don't know what you're talking about. This was just a regular high-impact aerobics class," Sarah said with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek.
"And why did the… instructor do the same moves you… did out front? Hell… I know when I've… been set up. Gawd, I need a beer. A big one. No, a cold one. No, a big, cold one."
Sarah took a long swig of water from her bottle and then presented it to Kimberly.
"You need more water?"
"No, I need a beer. I'm tellin' you right now, we're stopping at a bar on the way back," Kimberly said and threw her thoroughly soaked towel into her bag.
"Well, we better find a table down wind," Sarah said with a chuckle.
"But don't worry, Miss Slave Driver, I have just the right punishment for you. If I ever get back to my apartment…"
"Yeah. Until now, I've been at your mercy, but now you're movin' into my field of expertise."
"Beer drinking?" Sarah said and quickly evaded the drops of sweat Kimberly flicked at her.
"No," Kimberly said with an evil grin. She moved closer to Sarah and put a hand on the taller woman's shoulder.
"Now we're gonna decide on what you'll be wearing for your date," Kimberly said, breaking out into an evil laugh.
"Oh, joy," Sarah said and made a face.
A little later, Sarah and Kimberly sat down at a remote table in the Holger Danske Scandinavian restaurant and poured cold Carlsberg pilsner into two tumblers. Kimberly held her glass up against the light and marveled at the whiteness of the foam.
"Cheers, Sarah," she said and promptly chugged down half the beer in one gulp.
Sarah proceeded to take a much smaller sip of the cold beer and chuckled at the facial expressions Kimberly made as the strong, imported beer kicked in.
"Ahhhhh," Kimberly said and put down the half-empty tumbler.
"You know, Kimmie, I have to admit that the butterflies are beginning to flap their wings," Sarah said and started to pick at the label on the bottle.
"I haven't spent as much time with Joy as you have, but I'm quite sure you don't have anything to worry about, hon. She seems perfectly normal," Kimberly said and drained the rest of the beer.
"Well, duh. I was thinking more about me messing it up somehow. I just know I'm gonna say something stupid," Sarah said and put her elbows on the table. With a sigh, she rested her head on her hands and looked around at the other guests.
"Just be yourself. Everything's gonna work out beautifully," Kimberly said and patted Sarah's hand.
"Be myself. That's what I'm afraid of, Kimmie. I'm not good on dates, did you know that? Somehow, my dates and I always end up misreading each other. And then the women think I'm some kind of deadbeat, or moron… or just out to jerk them around."
"Oh, hon, don't worry so much. Just let it flow and everything's gonna work out. Trust me. And don't forget, you have one advantage over your usual dates."
"You already know Joy pretty well. I remember you telling me on a couple of occasions that some of your dates had a bit of a Dr. Jekyll/Miss Hyde thing going on."
"Yeah, no shit," Sarah said with a throaty chuckle.
"Have you thought more about inviting Joy to the club tomorrow night?"
"No. And I won't until after tonight. If it goes fine, then maybe. If not, then…"
"But anyway, what are you planning on wearing?"
Sarah groaned and took a long swig from the beer. "Clothes," she said and put down the glass on the table.
"Do you know what I'd find really sexy?"
"Cowboy boots, black jeans, a black leather belt with a bronze beltbuckle and a black muscleshirt with the words 'Butch4Life' printed in red on the front."
"Good thing I'm not dating you, then. I didn't pack any of those things. Well, I have this one…" Sarah said and pointed at her sweatshirt, "… but there's no time to get it washed."
"Well, it was just a suggestion," Kimberly said with a twinkle in her eyes.
"Yeah, 'just' a suggestion. Jeez, Kimmie, you log onto Fashiontipsforgrrrls-dot-com too often. By the way, I don't recall Ellen ever wearing such an outfit?"
"Oh, she does… on the special occasions," Kimberly purred.
"Too much information, buddy."
"No, here's what we're gonna do. As soon as we get back to the apartment, we're gonna empty out your travel bag all over the floor… and then I'll pick an outfit for you. How's that sound?"
"Kimmie, it's just clothes. Joy has already seen me in filthy sweatpants. I mean, what difference does it make?"
"Clothes Maketh The Woman, Sarah. Especially on a date."
Sarah shrugged and emptied her glass. "And there's no way out of it?" she said and wiped off her mouth on a napkin.
"The only way out is if you cancel the date," Kimberly said, leaning back in her seat.
"Not gonna happen. Okay. Let's go back and… and play house."
"Yeah… hmmm… this doesn't leave me much to work with," Kimberly said and crossed her arms over her chest. The contents of Sarah's travel bag had been dumped on the floor of her apartment and then separated into three piles labeled 'possibly', 'no' and 'hell no'.
"Didn't think I'd be needing a ball gown, ya know," Sarah said from her position in the comfy chair. She checked her watch again - a quarter to six. The butterflies in her stomach had increased to albatross-size and she was feeling decidedly uneasy. She shuffled around in the chair, crossed her legs at the ankles and adjusted her bathrobe so Kimberly wouldn't catch an eyeful.
"Man, you only brought one pair of jeans…"
"That I used for travelling, yes."
"With the Torre Pendente being such a high-class place, the white cotton shorts are out of the picture… hmmm… and you don't have any idea what Joy's gonna be wearing?"
"No. But she's got a room full of clothes she can choose from, so I'll bet she's going to look… riveting."
"In that case, the mission objective is to find an outfit that'll sweep Joy off her feet. Or at least give her a pleasant jolt right where it matters the most," Kimberly said and wiggled her eyebrows.
"Heh. You know what I say, Kimmie?"
"When in doubt, go for the classics."
"Blue jeans and a tank?"
"Close. Jeans and a T," Sarah said and got up from the chair. She reached down and picked up the pair of blue jeans and a fresh, red T-shirt and then disappeared into the bedroom.
Two minutes later, she returned, standing in the doorway with her arms spread out like she was on a catwalk. "What's the verdict, your honor?" she said and turned around.
"Nah, you look great. Are you gonna wear a bra?"
"Wasn't planning to."
"You should. You don't want to poke out one of Joy's eyes, do ya?"
"Smart-alec," Sarah growled, but went back into the bedroom to put on the aforementioned item.
"Pick a lacy one! Black!" Kimberly shouted, but Sarah just waved her hand.
"So, it's almost time. Did you brush your teeth? Zip your fly? Remember your wallet and your watch?" Kimberly said as she straightened Sarah's black locks.
"Yes, mom," Sarah said, rolling her eyes at Kimberly's predictable antics.
"… and deodorant… yep. What's it called?" Kimberly said, sniffing the air close to Sarah.
"Fits ya, killer. But did you remember the most important thing?"
"Uhhh… what's that?"
"A rose," Kimberly said and put her hands on her hips.
"Of course you're gonna give your date a flower. Man, Sarah, didn't they teach you anything at Butch School?"
"No one has ever given *me* a flower!"
"Perhaps not, but that's no reason not to give Joy one."
"All right. I can do that. What kind of rose?"
"Oh, man… a red one, of course."
"Where the hell do you want me to find a red rose now?" Sarah said and got up from the chair.
"There's a florist down in the mall. We've walked right past him a dozen times already. It's just before the piazza on the way to the Torre Pendente."
"Really? I haven't noticed…"
"No comment. But anyway… you're ready, Sarah. Have fun," Kimberly said and gave Sarah the kind of squeeze the taller woman usually gave to her.
Ten minutes later, Sarah - armed with a single red rose - stepped into the Torre Pendente and went up to the same maitre d' who had helped her in the morning.
"Good evening, Miss."
"Good evening. I've made reservations for a table for two. Sarah Michaels."
"Oh, that's right. Your table is over here, Miss," the man said and led Sarah to a quiet, cozy corner of the restaurant.
The small, square table was placed up against the far wall which was decorated with several classical paintings in golden frames. The table had been set for two and an intricately folded napkin had been placed on each plate. The maitre d' reached into his pocket and found a lighter that he used to ignite the candle on the table.
"Oh, I better tell you right away that I'll be paying with these two," Sarah said and showed the man the gift certificates.
"I see, Miss," the man said, making a small note on his notepad.
"If it's all right…?"
"Oh, of course."
The maitre d' found two menus and placed them on the table. He pulled out Sarah's chair and looked at her expectantly.
"I, uh…? Oh, thank you," Sarah said and sat down, blushing slightly over the fact that she hadn't understood what he wanted.
"Do you prefer garlic bread or olive bread, Miss?"
"Definitely olive bread!"
"Noted. Do you want a glass of wine before your dinner date arrives?"
"Uhhh… a glass of white wine, please," Sarah said and put the red rose on the table.
"As you wish, Miss," the man said with a grin as he eyed the rose. He nodded and left the table.
The red rose stuck out like a sore thumb against the off-white tablecloth, so Sarah tried to hide it behind a small menu card advertising a well-known brand of espresso. It still didn't work, so Sarah put it on her lap instead.
She checked her watch - eight thirty-eight.
At eight forty-five sharp, Joy entered the Torre Pendente and quickly spotted Sarah sitting at the table, sipping a glass of white wine. She took the long way round to make sure she approached Sarah from behind.
"Hi… oh, Joy!" Sarah said as she turned around. She came to a sudden stop when she realized how fantastic Joy was looking. The actress was wearing black shoes, black flared slacks and a black silk shirt with the top three buttons undone, allowing for a tantalizing look at the very top of her cleavage. Her tanned skin really stood out against the black silk shirt, the jade-green eyes and the white-blonde hair, and she appeared to be wearing just the tiniest hint of makeup.
"Omigod, you look…" Sarah said, but the vision left her speechless and she could only shake her head. Suddenly, her decision to only wear blue jeans and a red T-shirt seemed like the worst one she had ever taken and the butterflies all flapped their wings at once.
"Thank you. You look great, too," Joy said as she sat down.
Sarah kept staring at Joy's face for several seconds, until she snapped out of the trance and reached down to find the rose - which had disappeared.
"Oh, cra… I mean, oh, bother," Sarah said and pulled the chair back so she could look for the flower. The rose had rolled all the way over to the far leg of the table and Sarah had to get up to retrieve it. As she passed by Joy, she took a deep breath and had to do a double-take as she recognized the perfume.
"Hey, are you wearing Hornet?" Sarah said as she crouched down to find the flower.
"Yep. You too?"
"Yeah. How's that for a coincidence?"
"Fun," Joy said with a broad smile.
"Where's that damn… oh, here it is," Sarah said as she finally found the rebellious rose. She cleared her throat and stood up straight. "A flower for a flower," she said, cringing inside at the corniness of the line.
"Ohhhh! It's great. Thank you, Sarah!" Joy said and took the flower. She held it up to her nose and took a deep sniff.
"Oh, it smells great. How romantic," Joy said and her face cracked wide open in the sexiest smile Sarah had seen for years.
"I'm glad you like it. Now let's get something to eat. I'm starved."
"Number twenty-two, roast veal in mushroom sauce, please," Joy said to the waiter.
"Twenty-two, thank you. And you, Miss?"
"Oh, I'll have the same. Hey, I don't suppose it's possible to get mashed potatoes on the side, huh?" Sarah said with a grin.
"Mashed potatoes… no. I'm sorry, Miss. That's not possible. But you can have stir fried potatoes with a dash of oregano and thyme," the waiter said, leaving no doubt as to what he thought of the tall brunette's request.
"Right. I'd like that, thank you."
"Noted. And beverages?"
"Another bottle of this white wine, please," Sarah said and held up the bottle so the waiter could see which one it was.
"Noted. Thank you," the waiter said and made a few notes in his notepad. He nodded curtly and left the table.
"Hey, that went well. Now he thinks I'm an uneducated bumpkin," Sarah said as she watched the waiter walk into the kitchen with their order.
Joy looked left and right and then leaned across the table. "To tell you the truth, Sarah, I was thinking about asking the same thing," she said in a stage whisper.
"Yeah. Mashed potatoes are really underrated."
"Joy, did your meeting last night go well?" Sarah said, taking a long sip of the sweet white wine.
"Yeah, it did, actually. I managed to convince them to keep the Professor as the opening act for another two weeks."
"Good. I have to admit that your act was by far the funniest. It's not that the others weren't trying, they were just… I don't know… dull."
"I have a feeling it's the age difference, Sarah. The Galbraith Twins have been performing since before either of us were born. And they're really nice people backstage."
"I'm sure they are… but honestly, if they did the opening act, I don't think people would want to stay for the rest of the show. You grabbed everyone's attention the second you walked on stage."
"Thank you," Joy said, blushing gracefully. "This is a really nice place, huh?" she said, trying to steer the conversation into neutral territory.
"Yeah. But kinda expensive."
"Oh, you don't have to worry about that, Sarah. I'll pay my half of the bill," Joy said with a smile.
Sarah stared dumbfoundedly at Joy and felt her jaw slowly slip down her chest. Suddenly she realized that she was staring and sat up straight. "Uhhh… no. Thank you, but no. I asked you out, so I'm paying. And besides, I'm actually going to use the gift certificates and that's one hundred and seventy-five dollars right there. That covers the food. We can talk about the wine later."
"Oh, you shouldn't use your gift certificates on me. Can't we spli…"
"I'm paying," Sarah repeated, wearing a firm smile. This was the last thing she had expected - she had gone through a dozen different scenarios how she could mess up the date, but arguing over who should pay had never been one of them.
An awkward silence filled the space between them and Sarah couldn't come up with a single funny thing to say to defuse the situation, so they just sat there, as silent as the stone heads on Mount Rushmore.
Joy smiled shyly and picked up her glass. "Well, if it's that important to you, I'll gladly accept to be pampered," she said and took a small sip.
Sarah nodded and tore an olive bread in half. She put one half of it into her mouth and started chewing on the dry, tasty bread.
"Listen, Sarah… there's something I'd like to… errr… to ask you," Joy said and put her hand on Sarah's arm.
'Way to go, Sarah. We haven't even eaten yet. You should write a book… How to Foul Up a Date in World Record Time,' Sarah thought and prepared herself for the inevitable rejection.
"Sure?" Sarah said with a sigh.
"You're a little hard to read. Sometimes I think I have you all figured out, but then something happens and you change. I was wondering if… well, if you could maybe give me a few pointers so I didn't have to fumble around in the dark all the time?"
Sarah looked up and locked eyes with Joy. Of all the things she had expected to hear, that wasn't one of them. "Well…"
Suddenly the waiter arrived with their food and Sarah lost her train of thought. The waiter reached across the table and put down a plate in front of Joy and then Sarah.
"Here you go, ladies. Two roast veal in mushroom sauce with stir fried potatoes. And here's the white wine. Will that be all?"
"Yes, thank you," Sarah said and surprised herself by actually managing a weak smile.
"All right. Buon appetito."
"Thank you," Joy said and the waiter bowed and left the table.
Joy went to work on the veal, but Sarah had lost her appetite and she didn't feel like eating at all - instead, she picked up her fork and started pushing the potatoes around.
Sarah felt her insides churn, so she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. On one hand, she dearly wanted to tell the delightful woman sitting opposite her the things that she'd been holding back for years, but on the other, she was afraid of where it might take her. She leaned back in her seat and observed Joy as she ate.
The blonde woman's friendly features gave Sarah the impetus she needed and she took another deep breath. "Joy, I… I can't give you any pointers because… because I'm still trying to work everything out myself. The brutal truth is that sometimes… well, often, actually… I don't know how to react in unpredictable situations, or when they develop into something I hadn't anticipated… and then I just…"
"No, please, let me finish. And I guess whenever I enter that state of uncertainty, I feel like I'm losing even more control and then I end up doing too little or too much, or… or just the wrong thing altogether… and that always screws up everything."
"Oh, Sarah. I'm so sorry to hear that," Joy said and took Sarah's hands in her own.
"Yeah, well," Sarah said with a shrug.
"But I've seen the real you. And I *like* the real you, Sarah. You have to believe that. We talked so freely on the mountain bike event yesterday… don't you think we had a great time?"
"I had a wonderful time yesterday, but that wasn't in a romantic situation…"
Joy's brow furrowed and she cocked her head, appearing to be in deep thought.
"Sarah, I'm going to ask you a very personal question and if you don't want to answer, I'll understand," Joy said, speaking so quietly that only Sarah could hear it.
"Haven't you ever let go and allowed yourself to fall in love with someone? I mean, really fall head over heels in love with someone…?"
Sarah locked eyes with Joy again and she knew she didn't have to say more than what her eyes were already telling the actress.
"God… Sarah," Joy whispered shocked.
Sarah shrugged again and looked away, preferring to stare at the untouched expensive meal instead of at Joy's eyes and the look of pity she was sure the actress was sending her.
Joy got up from her chair and immediately stepped over to stand at Sarah's side. Without wasting a moment, she reached down and embraced the surprised Sarah in a crushing hug. "I never meant to cause you any pain. Please know that," Joy whispered into Sarah's ear.
The waiter came over to see if everything was all right, but a pointed look from Joy made him spin around on his heel and go to another table.
For the first time since she was a little girl, Sarah could feel tears sting her eyes, but she refused to give in to such trivial emotions. She couldn't believe how good it felt to hold Joy like this… or rather, to be held like this. It had been too long since she had last been with a woman and Joy's powerful presence soothed Sarah's soul - and at the same time, ignited a spark within her that she was afraid that Joy could feel through her skin.
"All right?" Joy said and took a step back. She was still holding onto Sarah's shoulders and she gave them a little squeeze when Sarah didn't answer at once.
"All right," Sarah said in a voice thick with the emotions she was trying to hold back.
"Thank you. Let's start over, okay? Your veal is getting cold and it's actually really good. It'd be a shame to let it go to waste," Joy said and gently thumped Sarah's shoulder.
Twenty minutes later, Sarah finished her meal and she leaned back in her seat more confused than ever. She still didn't understand how it happened, but she knew that sharing her problems with Joy had done her a lot of good, emotionally speaking.
They had talked on while Sarah had eaten, but it had only been inconsequential small talk and Sarah didn't know what to make of that. She felt like she had a serious chance with Joy - but she didn't know how to act on that chance.
Joy wiped off her mouth on her napkin and pushed away her plate. She picked up the bottle of white and poured more wine for both of them. "Speaking of awful dates, I've had some horrendous ones over the years, too," she said and took a long sip of her wine.
"Really? I find that hard to believe," Sarah said with a tired smile.
"Oh, you better believe it. Once, a few years ago, I was with a date in a restaurant very similar to this one, and she suddenly excused herself to go to the restroom. All well and good, right?"
"So far, yeah."
"Well, when she came back, she had a tell-tale smear of white powder on her right nostril, right here," Joy said and touched the side of her nose to show what she meant.
"Probably. In any case, she became so hyper after a few minutes that I just left her sitting there. I'm not sure she ever noticed I was gone."
Sarah chuckled and held up her glass. "Here's to hopeless dates."
"I can drink to that. And to dates with promise," Joy said and took a sip.
As they drank, they never took their eyes off one another.
"So, Joy… you asked me a personal question, so I hope you won't mind if I ask you one?"
"Of course not. Shoot."
"I don't think I've ever met a woman quite like you. You have both butch and femme elements in your personality and I was kinda wondering what you identified with the most?"
"Hmmm. That's a good question. I guess the bottom line is that I don't believe in labels at all. I'm just myself."
"I had a difficult time back in my teen years, though. I grew up in a small town you've never heard of in South Dakota, and let me tell you, there weren't many lesbians there. It took a lot of fast talking to fit in sometimes. Well, I guess everything worked out fine."
"Where do you live when you're not on the road?" Sarah said, putting her elbows on the table.
"Well, right now, my base is Los Angeles, but I'm not there much. Where do you live?"
"I was born in Frisco, but my family moved to a suburb of Columbus, Ohio when I was very young and I've never left. My parents are still there, too."
"Oh, you're a long way from home, then."
"Yeah," Sarah said and toyed with a corner of her napkin. She leaned back in her seat when the waiter returned to their table to see how things were going.
"Were you satisfied with the meal?" he said, flipping open his indispensable notepad and preparing to make a note of the answer.
"Oh yes, it was magnificent," Joy said - Sarah settled for nodding.
"Can I tempt you with something from our coffee menu?"
"Well… why not?" Joy said, looking at Sarah.
"All right. I could use a coffee," Sarah said, emptying her glass of wine.
Sarah and Joy were among the last guests to leave the restaurant and when they walked out into the mall, they found it nearly deserted as well.
"Did we fall asleep in there? What time is it, anyway," Joy said and tried to look at her watch.
"It's half past ten."
"I don't think I've ever seen the mall this empty. Suits me fine," Joy said and began to search for Sarah's hand. When she finally found it, she entwined her fingers with Sarah's long digits and held on tight.
Sarah felt very surprised, but when Joy looked up and flashed her a broad, genuine smile, Sarah surrendered to the sweet sensation and let the actress determine the pace - metaphorically as well as literally.
"The eleventh floor, please," Joy said to the TruAmerica employee manning the Scenic Elevator. He nodded and pressed 'eleven' on the display.
Sarah and Joy both turned around and looked out at the impressive vista. The desert was pitch black, but they could see a few bright spots of light in the far distance. The glass roof of the brightly lit mall quickly disappeared below them, leaving them in the relatively dim lights of the elevator.
They were standing very close and Sarah could feel her heart beating double-time. She knew this evening had been a pivotal moment in her life, but she was still too close to it to really understand what the implications might be.
The little bell in the elevator dinged and the doors opened.
"This is the eleventh floor, Miss," the TruAmerica employee said and Joy smiled at him - then she looked at Sarah with an unreadable expression on her face.
"Well… are you coming?"
"Sure…?" Sarah said and allowed herself to be led out of the elevator.
They turned the corner in the hall and went through the door with the frosted glass.
'Man, this hall still looks like it did on Sunday, but I can't believe how much everything else has changed…' Sarah thought as they walked down the hall, heading for Joy's apartment.
Joy stopped outside #1118 and turned around so she faced Sarah. She held the rose close to her face and took a deep breath, breathing in the exotic flagrance of the flower.
"That's funny, I thought you were in 1119?"
"That's my dressing room. This is where I live while I'm here," Joy said and let the rose bud glide over her cheek and down her throat, inching ever closer to the top of her cleavage.
"Oh," Sarah said, transfixed on where the rose was going.
"Sarah, it's been an… an interesting evening."
"No, hear me out, please. I can't tell you how glad I am that you trusted me enough to confide in me. I know that must have been hell for you," Joy said and put her hands on Sarah's arms.
"Are you doing anything tomorrow night?"
"Uhhh… tomorrow night? … I, uh… I might be…."
"There's a 90's revival show down at Club Feelgood and I was sort of wondering if you'd like to go…?"
"You're asking me out, even after the mess I made of tonight?"
"That wasn't a mess at all, Sarah. I had a good time. Honest," Joy said and gave Sarah's arms a big squeeze. Almost unnoticeably, she inched closer to the taller woman.
"Well… I have to warn you, I'm a lousy dancer," Sarah said with a shrug.
"No problem. I'll show you a few moves. If you'll let me, of course."
"Oh… sure. It's not until ten PM, is it?"
"No. That's when the doors open."
Joy moved even closer to Sarah and now Sarah definitely noticed it. Her breath hitched, but she was determined not to shy away from the blonde actress.
"Well… okay. See you at ten, then?"
"We have a date," Joy said and zeroed in on Sarah's lips with her eyes.
Suddenly the door to the hallway was flung open and a man and a woman walked in, arguing loudly over something.
With the magical moment ruined, Joy pulled back and inserted the keycard into the door to her apartment. "See you tomorrow?" she said as she opened the door.
"Yep. Tomorrow at ten."
"Can't wait. Good night, Sarah."
" 'night, Joy. Sweet dreams."
Even after Joy had closed the door, Sarah kept lingering in the hallway for a few moments. Sighing, she thrust her hands deep into her pockets and started walking slowly towards the frosted door and the stairs that would take her down to her own apartment.
DAY 6 - THURSDAY, MAY 13th
After having tossed and turned for what seemed like forever, Sarah rolled over onto her back and let out a long, slow sigh.
She reached across the bed and activated the light on the small digital clock on the nightstand - 1:39 AM. She sighed again and let her head fall back onto the pillow.
With a grunt, she moved the blanket away and swung her legs over the side of the bed. As she was sitting there, staring out into the darkness, she came to the conclusion that she wouldn't be able to relax enough to fall asleep until she had processed the myriad of thoughts churning on ceaselessly in her mind, so she started wading through the mess, searching for the thread that would unravel the rest.
'Sarah Madeleine Michaels, what is it you want?' Sarah's inner voice said in her ear.
"Want? I want Joy, that's what I want. Emotionally and physically. And I want her to want me. That's all. But just thinking about it gives me a rock-hard knot of fear in my gut. There are so many things that could go wrong," Sarah whispered to herself, thumping her fist down onto the mattress.
Getting off the bed, she walked over to the curtains to peek out, but all she could see was absolute blackness. Yawning, she went into the bathroom to find her toilet bag.
'Maybe this situation will resolve itself. She was about to kiss you when she was interrupted by those bickering people. You have to consider that at least.'
"I do. Gawd, how I wanted her to kiss me… to have her press her lips against mine…"
'If you want her so badly, why do you constantly behave so weird when you're near her?'
"Because I have never met anyone who triggers my fear of the unpredictable more than her. And that scares me," Sarah said, studying her image in the mirror above the wash basin.
'Haven't you been waiting your entire adult life to meet a woman like Joy?'
"Yeah. Now it seems I've found her. And that's exactly why I'm scared," Sarah said, pinching the bridge of her nose. She reached into her toilet bag and found a small vial of prescription sleeping pills.
She tapped on the glass of the vial until two pills fell out into her hand - then she changed her mind and put one of them back in the vial. She filled a small plastic cup with water and brought that and the sleeping pill into the living room where she put them down on the coffee table.
"I'm scared she'll say no, but I'm terrified she'll say yes," Sarah whispered into the darkness as she sat down with a bump in the comfy chair.
"Well… for starters our lives are so different. And then there's the age difference and…"
'Bullshit. It's only four years. Less than your parents. Haven't they had a great life together?'
"More importantly, if we're to have a shot at being happy, one of us has to give up her lifestyle. A long distance relationship never works. And there's no way in hell Joy's gonna give up her ca…"
'More bullshit. You get up in the morning, take the bus to work in a flippin' pencil manufacturing company, take the bus back, watch a Godawful two-bit movie while you're eating a nuked tv dinner, go to bed… repeat ad nauseam. What lifestyle? What life?'
"Oh, shut up. I still need to make a living."
'One of these days you'll have to face your fears. You'll have to accept that unpredictability exists. Love is an organic thing, you know that. Love can't be controlled. Sarah… do you know what the real problem is?'
"Yeah. I've been alone for too long and even worse, I've accepted it. That's it in a nutshell. I'm terrified of taking the leap. Combine it with the other thing and… I'm screwed."
Sarah let out a long, slow sigh and then ran her hands through her hair.
'Is it really worth it? All this confusion and heartache… is Joy really worth it?'
Sarah picked up the pill and the plastic cup. She swallowed the sleeping pill and took several swigs of water to chase it down. She got up from the chair and went back into the bedroom.
As she sat down on the side of the bed, one thought flashed through her mind.
"Yes, she is," Sarah whispered into the darkness.
"Sarah, hon? It's a quarter past nine. Are you awake? Your best friend Kimberly needs to hear all the saucy details of your date!" Kimberly said loudly and put her ear to Sarah's door.
Suddenly, Sarah opened the door and Kimberly found herself tumbling head-first into the apartment.
"'Morning, Kimmie," Sarah said, putting her hand on Kimberly's arm to help stabilize the excited woman.
"When did you get back last night? How did it go? What was Joy wearing? Did she like the rose? Did you kiss her? Hey, you look like shit…" Kimberly said and put her hands on her hips.
"Whoa… one thing at a time," Sarah said, pinching the bridge of her nose.
"Didn't you sleep well? Perhaps you didn't sleep at all?"
Kimberly started wiggling her eyebrows like a wannabe Groucho Marx, but Sarah gave her a dismissive shake of the head and turned away.
"I couldn't fall asleep. That's all," Sarah said and sat down in the comfy chair.
"When did you get back? I couldn't hear anything… not that I was listening, of course," Kimberly said while she was throwing herself onto the couch.
"I got back just before eleven."
"So no sex, then?"
"Hey, that's what all the young people do on first dates these days. So I've heard, anyway."
"We talked. I screwed up. Then we talked some more."
"You screwed up?"
"It's a long story and I don't want to talk about it."
"But if you talked some more later on, it couldn't have been too bad?"
"Sorry. So, how was dinner?"
"It was pretty good. We had veal in mushroom sauce. It was great. The wine was good, too."
"Good. Did Joy like the rose?"
"Yeah, she did. Thanks for that tip."
"Oh, you're welcome, buddy."
A very long beat. Sarah was silent, picking at a small abrasion she had on her hand.
"I'm guessing you didn't ask Joy out to the dance tonight?" Kimberly said and put her arm under her head.
"I wasn't going to, but she asked me. I said yes."
"Oh, that's great. That means she's interested."
"Mmmmhh," Sarah said with a non-committal shrug.
"Okay, Sarah, I'm gonna ask you a direct question and I want you to give me an honest answer. What's wrong?"
"It's nothing, really."
"Did you try to kiss her, but she didn't want it?"
"Hell no, Kimmie. We almost kissed, but we were interrupted."
"That's cool. But why the long face, then?" Kimberly said and sat up on the couch.
"Because I'm not… never mind."
"Oh please, Sarah, don't give me that shit."
"I'm just not sure about the whole deal. Okay?" Sarah said and got up from the comfy chair. She could feel a headache coming on so she went into the bathroom to find her toilet bag.
"Well, if you say so. Of course, I'd call that bullshit," Kimberly said loud enough for Sarah to hear it in the bathroom.
Sarah came out to stand in the doorway, leaning on the doorjamb. She chuckled when she remembered that she had used that very same expletive several times when she was debating with herself during the night. "Bullshit?" she echoed and ripped the top off a packet with headache powder before pouring it into a glass of water.
"Pardon my French, but yes."
Sarah chuckled again and used the butt of her toothbrush to stir the concoction.
"Look, Sarah, you like her and she likes you. Why don't you just see where it takes you?"
"Oh, Kimmie, I…"
"Let me tell you a story. C'mon, sit down," Kimberly said and patted the seat next to her. Reluctantly, Sarah walked over to the couch and sat down, still holding her glass.
"Okay. This all happened a long, long time ago in a neighborhood supermarket. One day, a beautiful maiden with ash blonde curls and goddess-like blue eyes walked down the…"
Sarah chuckled loudly and received an elbow in the ribs for it.
"Ouch… all right, all right…"
"As I said, a beautiful maiden was walking down one of the non-food aisles when she was suddenly and viciously attacked by a heavily armored shopping cart. She was lucky to escape serious injury, but she did get a bump on her ankle and a scrape on her knee."
"What happened then, oh fair maiden?" Sarah said and took a long swig from the glass of water.
"Ahem. That's beautiful maiden, actually. Jeez, I don't know how you can drink that stuff. It tastes awful."
"Yeah, but it works," Sarah said and took another swig.
"But anyway, said heavily armored shopping cart was controlled by a very pretty girl with hazel eyes and auburn hair, who, as it turned out, had just assumed residence across the street from where the beautiful maiden lived."
"Is there a point to all this…?"
"I'll get to that. Well, after a few weeks, the pretty girl and the beautiful maiden met again, in slightly less warlike conditions and they agreed on meeting for a cup of coffee some time. One thing led to the next and pretty soon, they moved in together. And when the two women discovered they shared a few common interests… ahem… the sparks really started to fly."
"Too much information, buddy. Again."
"All right, I'll cut to the chase. One day, the beautiful maiden asked the pretty girl a very important question and the pretty girl said yes. And now, four years later, Ellen and I are still together."
"Oh fer Chrissakes, Sarah! I'm telling you to go for it with Joy. You never know where lightning will strike. I met my gal in a supermarket, you met yours on a stage - but I can see the same look in your eye that I had back then. And still have, for that matter."
Sarah shrugged and started to get up from the couch - Kimberly grabbed her arm and forced her back down again.
"You can't deny you got the hots for her. Go for it… see where it takes you."
"You know, I think I came to the same conclusion last night," Sarah said and put the empty glass on the coffee table.
"Good. And just so you know… I'll be right there to check that you don't chicken out. Every time you see a shadow on the wall, it'll be me!"
"Yes, mom," Sarah said and wrapped her arm around Kimberly's shoulders.
"Sarah, one more thing… and please don't bolt. You said you screwed up. What happened? It couldn't have been too bad?"
"Oh, Kimmie… I really don't…"
"I almost, *almost* got us into an argument over who was paying, but Joy was totally calm about it, thank God."
"What was that all about? I know you didn't forget the gift certificates."
"No and I had already told the waiter I was using them, but Joy insisted that she'd pay her half of the bill."
"Well, I said that I was paying. I guess I said it somewhat strongly."
"And…?" Kimberly said, poking Sarah in the side.
"And, thank God, after a few terrifying seconds, Joy said it was all right with her."
"Hey, I think your needle's stuck, I better give you a bump," Sarah said and bumped shoulders with Kimberly. "Well, after that, we were still on friendly terms and we talked about… well, about a lot of different things."
"Jeez, Sarah. You and I have different definitions of screwing up. I thought you had gone fishing for a meatball down her cleavage, or something."
"All right, lecture over. Now let's go get something to eat 'cos I'm starved. And don't think I'm done grilling you yet. You still haven't told me what Joy was wearing," Kimberly said and stuck out her tongue at Sarah. She got up from the couch and smoothed out her T-shirt.
"Oh, she was…" Sarah fell quiet as she remembered how Joy had looked the night before. "She looked quite exceptional," she continued, flashing Kimberly a saucy grin.
Kimberly cleared her throat and put her hands on her hips.
"I want *all* the details, buddy."
Sarah got up from the couch and went over to the sideboard to get her wallet and her wristwatch. "Well, it's like this. She was wearing…"
"It just struck me that we only have two more days to go. Man, can you believe how time flies?" Kimberly said as she wiped her mouth on a napkin. She crumpled it into a little ball and threw it on top of the pile of dirty dishes - five plates, two glasses and an empty jug of milk.
Sarah was busy chewing on her last slice of French toast with strawberry jam so she just shrugged.
Kimberly pushed the tray further into the center of the table and leaned back in the seat.
"At least we've seen a lot of different restaurants. This place isn't too bad," she said and looked around at the Holger Danske restaurant.
"The Torre Pendente was much too snooty for my tastes," Sarah said and licked her fingers clean of jam.
"I'm surprised you didn't treat Joy to a couple of Brats."
"Trust me, Kimmie. If it had been my choice, I would've."
Sarah picked up a small crumb and threw it after Kimberly - who deftly blocked the projectile, making it fall harmlessly onto the table.
"So, what do you want to do today?" Sarah said.
"Well, according to the TruAmerica channel, there's a basketball exhibition slash charity game down at the courts at noon. The local women's team is playing a select group of TruAmerica employees."
"Gawd, the TruAmerica channel… those informercials make me wanna throw up," Sarah said and made a face.
"Yeah, well, I agree, but they do have interesting info from time to time."
"There's probably going to be a lot of people, but I suppose we could go down there and take a look at it…?"
"Well, we don't have to stay for the entire match. We could sort of drift in and out. It's not like we have anything better to do," Kimberly said, stifling a yawn.
"Yeah. If only it had been a Powerboxing exhibition by Master Lo Yee Ping himself. I swear, he moves so fast you can't see his arms."
Kimberly leaned her head back and let out a long, loud laugh. "Sarah, Sarah, Sarah… you and your stupid Powerboxing. When we get home, I'm going to make copies of all my Danielle Steel DVDs just to get you to watch something else than those mindless B-movies."
"Any babes in them?"
"Plenty," Kimberly said and got up from the table.
A few minutes past twelve, Sarah and Kimberly walked into the hall housing the basketball courts.
"Oh, crap, there's a sea of people here already," Sarah said as soon as she saw the incredibly large crowd.
"I can't even see the court itself. Have the players arrived yet?" Kimberly said, trying to jump up so she could see something apart from broad backs.
"No. Oh, wait a minute… I think they're coming now. Hey, they're gonna walk right past us," Sarah said, grabbed Kimberly's shoulder and turned the shorter woman around so she could see the approaching players.
A squad of TruAmerica employees carved a path through the excited spectators and Sarah and Kimberly ended up standing first in line to see the basketball players.
"All right, Go Team!" Kimberly shouted as the first of the tall, powerfully built women filed past her.
As they went past the packed spectator enclosure, the players waved and threw little trinkets out to the waiting crowd. One of the players came over to Sarah and held up a keychain with the team's logo. Sarah responded by smiling broadly and nodding her head slightly so the player could slide the chain around her neck without getting it caught up in Sarah's hair.
"Thanks!" Sarah said, making the player turn around and wink at her.
A few minutes later, the two teams were busy warming up and Sarah and Kimberly searched high and low to find some good seats.
"I swear to God, Sarah, more than half of those women were Sisters."
"No shit, Kimmie."
"Did one of them wink at you?"
"Lucky devil. Oh, two seats! Right there!" Kimberly said, pointing at two vacant seats not far from where they were standing. She threw herself ahead and managed to capture them before anyone else could.
"Over here, dahling!" she said loudly, earning herself a few sniggers from the surrounding spectators.
Sarah lumbered over to Kimberly and sat down next to her. "Great. We can see the whole court from here…" she said, trying in vain to get comfortable in the hard plastic seat.
"Hi, guys. We gotta stop meeting this way," a female voice said in Sarah's ear, nearly making her jump a foot in the air.
"Hi, Joy. You couldn't resist the basketball babes either, huh?" Kimberly said.
"Nope. Hi, Sarah."
Sarah put her arm across the back of Kimberly's chair and turned around so she faced Joy.
"Hi, Joy," Sarah said and gave the actress her most winning smile. Joy responded with a very similar one and Sarah immediately tapped Kimberly on the shoulder.
"I get it, I get it. Joy, come down here. Let's swap," Kimberly said and got up from her chair.
After the first quarter - that had ended 41-5 in favor of the professional team - Sarah lost interest in what happened on the court and began looking at Joy instead. She let her eyes drift slowly up the actress' lithe body, from her bare feet in sandals, past her tanned and well-shaped calves and thighs, the navy blue cotton shorts, the baby blue tank top and up to the shock of white-blonde shaggy hair.
Once Sarah's eyes had reached the top of Joy's head, she started to look away, but before she had time to do so, Joy turned her head and locked eyes with her.
Had this been at any other point in Sarah's life, even as late as the afternoon of the day before, she would've blushed like crazy and looked away instantly, but now she kept her eyes trained on Joy's jade-colored orbs. Sarah grinned guiltily and felt her stomach do a strange flip-flop when Joy reciprocated the grin.
Joy leaned in and put her lips to Sarah's ear to make herself heard above the raucous crowd. "Gotcha!"
"Guilty as charged, your honor. Caught me red-handed, too."
"This is boring. Come on, let's go outside and talk," Joy said, tugging at Sarah's arm.
"Okay. Hey, Kimmie, we're just gonna… uhhh…"
"I know. Don't do anything I wouldn't do," Kimberly said and gave Sarah a double thumbsup.
By the time they had forced their way through the throng of spectators, Sarah's ears were ringing and her feet were sore - more than one person had mistaken her trainers for the carpet. They walked across the central path, headed for the bench outside the aerobics hall.
"Man, that last dude musta weighed a ton," Sarah said and tried to curl up her toes to see if they were still attached to her foot.
"Somebody pinched my butt on the way out," Joy said, laughing out loud.
"What? How rude! Who was it? If we can find him, we can…"
"Calm down. It could've been anybody. I'll live," Joy said and put both hands on Sarah's arm.
"I hate to be in the middle of large crowds."
"Me, too, actually. Kinda funny once you think about it. If I don't have large crowds to my shows, I'm in trouble."
"Yeah. I'll bet that hasn't happened often?" Sarah said and crossed her legs at the ankles.
"Well, not often, but it has happened. A couple of years ago, I was in a travelling show. We were visiting a small town in Missouri but they apparently didn't like us or our sense of humor so they stayed away in droves. We only did two nights there and then we had to leave for the next town."
"Did you do the Professor?"
"No, it was more of an experimental show."
"Oh… I'm not good with those, either. I'm more of a… uhhh… an old-fashioned girl."
"Old-fashioned girls are cool, too, Sarah," Joy said and nudged the taller woman with her shoulder.
"Sure. How about a cup of coffee? I could use one."
"Coffee would be great. Say, Joy… have you ever been to the Sausage King?"
Ten minutes later, Sarah and Joy were sitting at a corner table in the Sausage King, sipping from two large mugs.
"This is great coffee. I didn't know European coffee tasted that different to our own?" Joy said, taking in the scent of the black liquid.
"It depends on how the beans are grounded. This is pretty good," Sarah said and took a long swig from the mug.
"Electronic music or rock'n'roll?"
"Oh, it's just a little game I play sometimes. Either-or, you know?"
"Oh, right. Well, I listen to whatever's on the radio. I don't have a large music collection, actually. Do you?"
"Not really. I have a handful of CDs in the van for the endless highways, but that's it, basically. Now go ahead, ask me a question."
"Uhhh… I don't know!" Sarah said with a laugh.
"It could be anything, it doesn't have to be smart."
"Okay, coffee or tea?"
"Both. Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon. Boxers or briefs?"
'What did she just ask me?' Sarah's inner voice said.
Sarah's eyes grew wide open and she started choking on a mouthful of coffee. Joy quickly jumped up, ran around the table and slapped Sarah's back several times.
"Gawd…" Sarah croaked, trying desperately to wipe spilled coffee off her chin with her hand.
"Sorry, that was cheeky of me," Joy said, still patting Sarah's back.
"We better stop playing, huh?"
"Nah, it's all right, I just have to find my other lung," Sarah wheezed, coughing hard to get all the liquid up.
"I'll behave, I promise."
"I can't believe you asked me that…" Sarah said, dabbing a napkin against a coffee stain on her T-shirt.
"Sorry. You didn't answer," Joy said with a cheeky grin.
"Uhhh… it depends on what I feel like wearing that day. I generally don't follow a dress code. Joy, I'm not really good at talking about such personal stuff, so would you mind if we didn't talk about things like my underwear…?"
"Of course not," Joy said with a chuckle.
Sarah put a finger inside the top of her T-shirt and held it out to get some cool air down her front. For no good reason at all, the temperature had suddenly risen several degrees and Sarah knew her face was redder than a lobster's rear end. When she looked at Joy, she saw a very cheeky gleam in the actress' eyes and she couldn't help but wonder what it was she was letting herself into.
"Hey, I'm really looking forward to tonight, Sarah. It's gonna be so much fun."
"Don't get your hopes up too high. The way I dance, you may not have two feet afterwards."
"How come you don't dance? You have such wonderful legs," Joy said with yet another cheeky grin.
Sarah leaned across the table and lowered her voice so only Joy could hear what she said. "You've been flirting with me ever since last Sunday, haven't you?"
"I thought you'd never catch on. I was getting worried that I was losing it," Joy replied in an equally quiet voice.
"Well, it took me long enough."
"When did you notice?"
Joy immediately covered her mouth with her hand to try to suppress the throaty laugh that threatened to escape her chest. She was successful to a certain degree - although she couldn't hold back a few chuckling sounds, she didn't laugh out loud in Sarah's face.
"O… kay…" she managed to say after a few seconds.
"Yeah, but don't worry. I'm playing with a full deck now," Sarah said, pushing her mug around the table.
"That's good. When do you want to meet tonight?"
"How about a quarter to ten at your apartment?"
Joy looked left and right in a very secretive fashion. When she was sure no one could hear her, she whispered, "Last question in the game: Underwear or no underwear?"
"Oh, God, Joy! You're killing me," Sarah said and clapped her hands over her eyes.
"Now I know how my mom felt at my prom," Kimberly said as she helped Sarah get ready to go to the club. She straightened Sarah's collar and smoothed it with her hand.
"That bad, huh?" Sarah said and promptly tugged the collar of the white long-sleeved shirt the other way.
"Nah. Are you nervous?"
"No. Amazingly enough, I'm not. I have a good feeling about tonight."
"That's when things go wrong."
"I'm just saying it as it is, Sarah. Things always go wrong when you're too relaxed. It nature's way of letting us know that we've been slacking."
"I'll try to remember that. And besides, I'll be… gulp… dancing. I have plenty of opportunities to screw up."
"Well, that's good to hear, hon," Kimberly said and patted Sarah's hand.
Sarah chuckled and moved over to the mirror to check herself out. Never in her wildest dreams would she have expected to be in such a position after a week at the comically named 'TruAmerica Prudence Hotel, Sports & Fitness Resort'.
"Yeah, you look fab. You're hot to trot. You're ready to be the boogie-babe. Do you know if they elect the Disco Queen? If they do, you're a shoo-in."
"Gawd, I hope not. I hate those stupid contests," Sarah said and adjusted her beltbuckle so it aligned with the zipper of her blue jeans.
This time, Sarah was going all out. It hadn't done her credit card any good, but she had decided to splash out on a very nice white denim shirt and a new leather belt with a large, yet tasteful, beltbuckle.
It had been years since she had bought clothes just to look good on a date, but she didn't want to revisit that sinking feeling she had felt when she was sitting in a dull, red t-shirt and Joy was looking like a bombshell.
Sarah buttoned the cuff links and tugged at the sleeves so they were in place. Then she opened the top button of the shirt and put her hands on her hips.
"All woman! And that's Woman with a capital Dub'ya!" Sarah suddenly said to her reflection in the mirror - that, unsurprisingly, didn't offer any other view.
"Whoa, calm down, Tiger. You're gonna bust the mirror if you keep sending out such high levels of estrogen," Kimberly said, holding up her hands.
"You know, Kimmie, I'm surprised that it didn't even feel odd to walk into the fashion boutique down in the mall… even though it's called Femme's Delight."
"They still don't know what hit 'em. Listen, are you only going to have one button open?"
"Two would look better… or even three."
"Hell, no. It stays at one."
"Two. Come on. It'll look sexy," Kimberly said and reached up to open the second button. She put her hands on Sarah's shoulders and pushed the taller woman back in front of the mirror.
"Yeah… I guess. Okay," Sarah said and looked at her reflection.
"Oh, my baby… you grow up so fast," Kimberly said and pretended to sob.
"Go knock her off her feet, killer. And afterwards, I wanna hear *all* about it," Kimberly said and gave Sarah a pat on the butt.
"Oh, wow, you look fantastic tonight, Sarah," Joy said when she opened the door to her apartment.
"Thank you. You look really great as well," Sarah said, looking at Joy's dark green jeans and dusty crimson spaghetti strap tank top that really brought out her well-toned shoulders.
"Thanks. I'll be right there, I just need to…" Joy ducked back into the apartment and took a blazer from a hallstand. "… grab my jacket. I'm ready."
When the clock struck ten PM, the doors to Club Feelgood were opened and the medium-sized gathering of people that had assembled outside were let in one at a time, all receiving a purple stamp on the back of their hand to prove they had paid the entry. Sarah and Joy were towards the back of the line, but it didn't look like there would be any problems getting in so Sarah didn't worry at all.
"Sarah, this time I asked you out, so I'm paying," Joy said, found her wallet and took out three ten dollar bills.
"Okie-dokie. According to the poster, the 'world-class' discjockey they promised us is someone called DJ Lenny. Never heard of him."
"Me, neither," Joy said and sought out Sarah's hand. Once she had found it, she started swinging her arm back and forth and Sarah felt herself being flooded with the warm fuzzies all over again. They looked at each other and started grinning.
'Careful, Sarah. You're about to cross the point of no return,' Sarah's inner voice said in her ear.
A little more than ten minutes later, the unknown 'world-class' DJ had begun his set and Sarah had to admit that he knew what he was doing. A lot of people were already dancing, but she and Joy were still sitting in one of the booths that lined the outer rim of the dance floor.
The club was very much like any other dance club - a mirrored ceiling so the multi-colored lights would be reflected off the spinning disco ball, a heavy-duty carpet on the dance floor and a raised podium at the far end of the room where the DJ was working.
Joy was boogieing along to the beat of the music and Sarah knew that she couldn't put off the inevitable much longer. She took a deep breath and leaned in towards Joy.
"Joy… care to dance?"
"I thought you'd never ask. C'mon!" Joy said and pulled Sarah out of the booth and onto the dance floor.
The moment they hit the floor, the DJ segued into La Bouche's Be My Lover and Joy *really* got on with it. She was shimmying, shaking, twisting, turning and five other things all at once.
Sarah just stood there like the Colossus of Rhodes, staring at the dancing sensation before her and marveling at how limber and just plain sexy Joy was. Sarah knew she was attracting attention to herself, so she started moving to the beat to the best of her abilities. Compared to Joy, she felt like a lump of concrete and moved with less grace than a fish flapping around on dry land, but after a few minutes, she forgot all about that and just let go.
Twenty minutes or so later, Sarah was on the brink of exhaustion, so she made her way from the dance floor and back to the booth she and Joy had been sitting in before. Just before she sat down, she noticed that while they had been away dancing, the booth had been occupied by a young couple who were snogging heavily.
Joy soon left the dance floor and quickly caught up with Sarah who was still searching for somewhere to rest her weary legs.
"Tired?" Joy said, shouting to be heard over the thumping music.
"Let's go sit down at the bar. I'll buy you a drink."
"Sounds good to me. Lead on," Sarah said and put out her hand. Joy took it and led Sarah towards the neon-lit bar at the far end of the club.
"Good evening. What can I get ya," the bartender said.
"Hiya. I'll have a Screwdriver. Sarah, what's your poison?"
"Uhhh… Pink Demon if ya have it."
"Pink Demon? Sorry, don't know that one," the bartender said as she began to mix Joy's Screwdriver.
Sarah tried really hard to remember what the drink had been called down at the place with the female bartender who was dressed in a pirate suit, but the loudness of the music impaired her thinking.
"What's in it?" the bartender said.
"Huh? Oh, Schweppes pink grape and vodka and the glass has a sugar-coated rim."
"Can't help you, I'm afraid. I don't have any Schweppes."
"Shit. Make it two Screwdrivers, then."
"You got it. That'll be twenty dollars."
"Here ya go," Joy said and handed the bartender two ten dollar bills.
"Thank you," he said and put the bills in the cash register. He quickly made the drinks and put them on the counter.
Sarah and Joy took their glasses and went over to a vacant booth near the bar. Joy slid in first and Sarah soon sat down next to her.
"You said you can't dance, but I thought that went really well," Joy said.
"Naw, that wasn't dancing. That was wiggling back and forth in a semi-circle. You, on the other hand… man, *that* was dancing."
"Gawd, I wish I was as limber as you," Sarah said and took a swig of the Screwdriver. She found that it was pretty good, if not quite as professionally put together as the three Pink Demons she'd had the other day.
"Don't you do that… what was it called, Power-something…?"
"… boxing. Powerboxing, yeah. But that's not the same. That's more a combination of aerobics, traditional boxing and martial arts. Hey, if you're not busy tomorrow, perhaps we could take the high-impact class together?"
"Oh, I'd love that," Joy said and took a long swig from her glass. She let her hand slip into the darkness under the table and casually let it fall onto Sarah's jeans-clad thigh. She clawed the thigh a few times and then turned to look at Sarah with a gleam of expectancy in her eyes.
Sarah's heart suddenly started beating so hard she was sure Joy could hear it over the thumping music. Her mouth went dry and she licked her lips to get them a bit moist in case Joy was going to kiss her - as if on cue, Joy leaned in and let her lips brush lightly across Sarah's. The sweet feeling caused the butterflies in Sarah's stomach to flap their wings but she was determined not to listen to them.
Joy pulled back and looked deeply into Sarah's eyes. Their faces were only an inch apart and suddenly the rest of the world just vanished. Joy's eyes flicked down to Sarah's lips - and then she moved in to claim those lips in a kiss that started gentle but soon turned fiery.
Sarah put her hand behind Joy's head to pull her even closer and soon, they were completely lost to the world. Initially she was surprised by Joy's ravenous appetite as it seemed the blonde woman was intent on devouring Sarah completely, but she soon let go and started to match the intensity of Joy's kiss.
Joy deepened the contact even further and began to probe Sarah's lips with her tongue. Finally convincing Sarah to open up, Joy entered Sarah's mouth and their tongues engaged in a fast, sensual dance that immediately created needy whimpers and moans in both Sarah and Joy.
All too soon, they had to break off the kiss to get some air and Joy rested her head against Sarah's forehead, purring contentedly.
"Wow…" Sarah croaked, very much out of breath. She moved her hand down from the back of Joy's head, onto her shoulder, then down her arm and finally ending up on top of Joy's hand that was still lingering on Sarah's thigh.
Sarah's entire body was humming with an energy she hadn't felt in years. Every single part of her tingled, and deep inside her, a fire had been ignited that she knew only one thing could extinguish.
"Mmmmmhh-wow," Joy repeated with a grin.
"It's been so long I was afraid I'd lost that skill," Sarah whispered, licking her lips.
The rest of the world slowly came back and they could hear the DJ announcing that the next twenty minutes would be for the people who wanted to dance close. Joy's eyes lit up and she grabbed Sarah's hands.
"Come on, Sarah. Please…"
"One moment," Sarah said, gulping down the rest of her Screwdriver.
Soon, they were swaying gently to Whitney Houston's cover of I Will Always Love You, with their hands on the other woman's hips and looking so deeply into each other's eyes that everything else became a distant, multi-colored blur.
Joy wrapped her arms around Sarah's waist and pulled her impossibly close. She slid her hands into Sarah's back pockets and gave the taller woman's buttocks a little squeeze - a gesture that made Sarah's eyes pop wide open for a few seconds. Sarah looked down and saw Joy's jade-green orbs sparkle in the dim light and once again she thanked all the lucky stars she could think of.
The song segued into the next, but Joy didn't seem to want to stop. She sighed and let her head rest across Sarah's chest.
For Sarah, Joy's hands on her butt and her face near her breasts added more fuel to the fire that was already brewing within her and she could feel her nipples begin to tighten. She moved her hand up to gently claw at Joy's hair and neck and she was rewarded by a blinding smile that did nothing to quell the flames.
The dance floor was packed with people kissing and dancing close, but Sarah didn't feel like kissing Joy in front of all those strangers so she gradually pulled her off the floor and towards the booths.
"C'mon, let's sit this one out," Sarah said as the song segued into the next one.
They quickly found a vacant booth and continued where they had left off earlier. After a minute's worth of passionate kissing, Joy took off her jacket and put it on the bench.
"Phew, it's hot in here, huh?" she said, fanning her face.
"Yeah… hot," Sarah said, too preoccupied with Joy to think about anything else. They started kissing again and Sarah's hands soon began to roam on their own accord. Suddenly, Sarah found herself gently kneading one of Joy's breasts.
Joy's breath hitched and she opened her eyes. Putting a hand on top of Sarah's, she casually removed it from her breast. "Not yet, Sarah… please," she said in a voice that was friendly, but firm.
Sarah blushed furiously and pulled her hand back like she'd been burned. "God, I'm sorry, Joy… I'm, I'm… so sorry," she said into Joy's ear and immediately moved back from the actress. She wiped off her brow and mentally slapped herself hard across the cheek.
"Perhaps we should go outside and get some fresh air?" Joy said and took her jacket.
"Yeah… I think that… would be fine," Sarah said, quickly sliding out of the booth and walking away.
With determined steps, Sarah walked across the dance floor, past the TruAmerica employee working as a bouncer and out of the club.
Once she was out in the mall, she put her hands on her hips and took several very deep breaths. She checked her watch - it was only two minutes to eleven. She sighed deeply and ran a hand through her hair, which was slightly damp after all the dancing and heated kissing.
'Dumb, dumb, dumb, you moron! Way to go, Sarah. You come off like some sex-crazed rabbit with a one-track mind. Jeez, what were you thinking… groping her boob in the middle of a club. If someone had tried that stunt with you, you would've kicked their teeth out. And everything was going so well up until then… Jeez!'
Sarah paced back and forth, most of all wanting to brain herself by thumping her head into the club's outer wall until her face was a bloody mess, but Joy arrived before she had time to do it.
"Joy, I'm really sorry. I was way out of line. Please accept my apology."
"Come on, it's all right. Really it is," Joy said and put on her jacket.
"No it's not. I got carried away and I did something stupid. Please forgive me."
"Well, sure I forgive ya. You were kinda eager there…" Joy said teasingly, poking Sarah in the gut with her index finger.
"Yeah. The eager beaver, that's me. I'm sorry I ruined it. Again."
"No, you didn't. Come on, Sarah, lighten up. Everything was just going a bit too fast, that's all. I had a great time."
"Hey, wasn't that my hands caressing your butt? Or my tongue in your mouth?" Joy said with a cheeky grin.
"Uhhh… yeah. On both accounts."
"Do you wanna go back inside? We both have the purple stamps, so we're allowed to go back in if we want."
"Well… I guess we could do that. The DJ isn't that bad, actually."
"No and the girl I was with was even better," Joy said and wiggled her eyebrows.
"You really think I'm a good kisser?"
"Hell yeah," Joy said and hooked her arm inside Sarah's.
Joy looked around to see if they were alone - satisfied that they were, she pressed Sarah up against the outer wall of the club, stood up on tiptoes and placed a quick kiss on Sarah's lips. "Just to prove that I'm not upset, or anything," she whispered in Sarah's ear.
"Mmmmm. I promise I'll keep my hands to myself from now on," Sarah said and gave Joy a quick peck on the cheek in return.
Through the wall, they could hear the DJ announcing that the next period would be up-tempo tunes and Corona's Rhythm Of The Night soon thumped out of the speakers.
"Perhaps we should stick to dancing for a little while… whaddaya say?" Joy said and started tugging at Sarah's sleeve.
"Well… all right. You got me," Sarah said and followed Joy back inside.
They showed their stamps to the bouncer and were let in without problems. The dance floor had filled up quite a lot for the faster tunes, but Sarah and Joy managed to squeeze in between the dancers and were soon shaking to the groove.
DAY 7 - FRIDAY, MAY 14th
"Gee, Kimmie, do you think you have enough pancakes there?" Sarah said when she saw the stack of pancakes on the plate that Kimberly was carrying down to their table in the Sausage King.
"It's only five. Long live the King," Kimberly said and sat down. She opened a small bottle of syrup and poured it all over the pancakes.
"I don't understand why you don't want some cereal instead. It's much better."
"For you, maybe. For me, nope," Kimberly said and went to work on the pancake at the top of the pile.
Sarah chuckled and dug her spoon into her Cornflakes.
"So, hon… what happened last night?" Kimberly said.
"Oh, a lot of things."
"Did you kiss her?"
"Uhhh… yeah," Sarah said with a telling grin.
"Good. What did she taste like?"
"That's a perfectly innocent question."
"No it isn't."
"Anyway. And you danced?"
"Oh, yeah, I danced. I wiggled my butt with the best of them… but, Jeez, you shoulda seen the moves Joy pulled. Oh, man, she was… hmmmm-hmmm!"
"That good, huh?"
Kimberly chuckled and started carving up her second pancake.
"Hi, guys. I knew I could find you here," Joy said and gave Sarah and Kimberly a little wave.
Sarah stopped chewing and just looked at the blonde woman. The images of all the kisses they had shared the night before came flooding over her and she felt her face grow hotter by the second. She licked her suddenly dry lips, disguising it by digging into her cereal. "Hi, Joy," she said around a mouthful of Cornflakes.
"Good morning, Joy. Did you have a good time at the club last night?" Kimberly said.
"Ohhhhhh yeah. It was… quite special," Joy said, looking directly at Sarah, who responded by blushing furiously.
"Mmmmmm?" Kimberly said and turned her head to look at Sarah. She bared her teeth in a cheeky grin that Sarah knew would spell trouble for her later on.
Joy stepped into the restaurant and suddenly Sarah noticed that the actress was limping.
"Hey, what happ…" Sarah started to say, but was then interrupted by a loud growl from Kimberly.
"Sarah Michaels! Did you do that?" Kimberly said, putting both hands on the tabletop.
"Huh… do what?"
"Please tell me you didn't do that… what did you do? Did your size sixteen boots break the poor woman's toes… her foot… her ankle… what?"
"Kimmie, I didn't do anyth…"
"You stepped on her, didn't you?"
"I did not!"
"Someone must have! Look at how much the poor woman is limping," Kimberly said, throwing her hands in the air.
"Well, the poor woman has a perfectly good excuse if she was allowed to get a word in…?" Joy said, stifling a snigger over Kimberly's uncharacteristic hissy fit.
"Please do," Sarah said, shaking her head slowly.
"It happens sometimes. I have slightly weaker ligaments on that foot, so if I overstress it, this is the result. Sarah didn't step on me, Kimberly."
"Oh… well, she could have."
"But I didn't. Thanks a lot, Kimmie!"
"Hmmm," Kimberly said and knifed the third pancake.
"Anyway… Sarah, as you can see, I can't go to the aerobics today. I hope that's all right?"
"Oh, sure. Do you want to do something else instead, or… or do you just want to have a day of mellow relaxation?"
"Well, I was planning on asking you if you were interested in going up to the rooftop swimming pool with me…?"
"Yes," Sarah said and pushed away the bowl of cereal before Joy had even finished the sentence.
"Well, you can eat up first," Joy said with a laugh.
"Oh… right. Have you eaten? We have plenty of room if you want to grab a quick bite of something. I've heard from reliable sources that their pancakes are great."
"Thanks, but I don't need much in the morning. A cup of coffee and I'm ready to face the day."
"Unlike some people," Sarah said, making a pointed reference to Kimberly, who had almost finished her third pancake.
"Oh, ha, ha. Anyway, sorry that I accused you of something you didn't do, Sarah. It was just the first thing that came to mind when I saw Joy was limping… I mean, knowing the weird moves you pull when you're trying to dance," Kimberly said, returning the favor with a wicked gleam in her eyes.
"Well, Kimberly, for your information, I thought Sarah was actually a pretty good dancer last night," Joy said, putting her arm around Sarah's shoulder. She leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on Sarah's left ear and then moved her hand up to muss Sarah's black locks.
Sarah knew that Kimberly's eyes were burning into her, so she looked down at the bowl of cereal, trying to get the last few Cornflakes up onto her spoon.
"Gosh golly almighty, I better make a note of that in my diary. I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that before," Kimberly said with a chuckle.
"Anyway, you wouldn't mind if we went up to the pool, would you?" Joy said, still holding on to Sarah.
"Hell, no. Go on, have fun. Sarah, don't forget to sit in the shadow."
"Yes, mom," Sarah said.
"Did you see the sign at the Holger Danske restaurant? At half past twelve, they'll be serving a Scandinavian smorgasbord lunch buffet. And that's where I'll be. I gotta sample a few of those cold cuts before we leave."
"I didn't see that sign…?"
"You don't see much, do you?" Kimberly said and stuck out her tongue. Joy chuckled and mussed Sarah's hair again. She looked at Kimberly and gave her a little wink.
Twenty minutes later, Sarah and Joy stepped out onto the sun deck of the high-rise and quickly discovered that they had the entire swimming pool area to themselves. The protective cover was still on the pool, so it looked like the TruAmerica employees weren't expecting any visitors so early in the day.
"Nice. No twenty-somethings here to gawk at us," Sarah said as she looked around.
"Well, except me," Joy said with a laugh.
"Uhhh… I meant guys. Looks like we'll have to take the deck chairs ourselves. Allow me," Sarah said and went over to the depository at the far end of the pool.
"Oh, you don't have to…"
"I insist," Sarah said as she took a white deck chair and carried it over to a small table overlooking the pool. "Here ya go, Joy. Have a seat."
"Thanks," Joy said, flashing one of her trademark genuine smiles. She limped around the deck chair and sat down.
As soon as Sarah had checked that Joy was safely seated, she went back to the depository and found another chair that she placed very close to Joy's.
"We're all set. Oh, no we ain't… I forgot something," Sarah said and got up from her deck chair. She ducked under the fringes of the parasol and found the trigger that would open it. With a firm shove, the large umbrella-like structure opened up like a blossoming flower, effectively blocking out the sun.
"Much better," Sarah said, dusting off her hands. She sat down in her deck chair and looked at Joy.
"Thanks again," Joy said. She reached out for, and found, Sarah's hand. Giving it a little squeeze, she then pulled it close so both their hands were resting across her stomach.
"Have you had problems with guys bothering you? You know, that thing you said about twenty-somethings?"
"Well… yes and no. Never anything major, but they always have a really hard time understanding that I'm not interested."
"Nah. Not really."
"I'm glad to hear it. I wish I had half the guts you have, though."
"Huh? Regarding what?"
"Well… that bikini you were wearing last Monday. Gawd…" Sarah said, grinning cheekily.
"I happen to like that bikini. Do you think it was too much?"
"… No. it was too little. You know, it's funny, but when Kimmie saw you in that two-piece, she didn't believe you were interested in girls," Sarah said, laughing out loud.
"Ha! I hope I convinced you otherwise last night…?"
"Uhhh… yeah," Sarah said, suddenly blushing all over again.
"Well, it's like I said the other day. I don't believe in labels. I do what I want to do and I wear what I like to wear."
"Even dresses or skirts?"
"Mmmmmhh, not really. I've done a couple of shows where the character called for a dress, but that was… weird," Joy said and started playing with Sarah's fingers.
"I'll bet. I'm glad we don't have a dress code where I work. If they forced me into anything uber-feminine, I'd quit on the spot."
"You said you're a secretary, but you haven't told me where you work?"
"Oh, it's just… it's nothing compared to what you do," Sarah said with a shrug.
"I'd still like to hear about it."
"Well, it's called BenCo Office Supplies. Basically, we make pencils and some other small things for offices."
"Hey, that's cool."
"No, it isn't. It's as dull as dishwater. I do the same things most every day. Filing, taking dictation, typing letters, you know… common garden variety secretary stuff. Sometimes I feel that the coffee breaks are the best parts of my day."
"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that."
"Well… it's a living. Last year, I started looking for something else, but then we had the financial crisis and all that shit. It's just too risky to look for a new job now."
"How about you? Are you going to be an actress for the rest of your life?"
"Well, that's hard to say, but it's definitely something I love to do. I've always been a performer… when I was a little girl, I was always in front of the mirror, holding a hairbrush in my hand and repeating comedy acts I had seen on TV."
"Oh… I can definitely see you doing that," Sarah said with a chuckle.
"Hey!" Joy said and tickled Sarah's hand.
"I meant that as a compliment."
"Anyway… what's in your immediate future, Joy?"
"Well, my last show here is on the twenty-ninth. Then on the thirtieth, I'll drive to my flat in L.A. for a few days of R and R and then on June fifth and sixth, I'll be in Sacramento, doing two afternoon shows in a senior citizen center."
"As the Professor?"
Sarah fell silent. She had always known that Joy wasn't working at the hotel on a permanent basis, but the realization that they'd soon be separated by most of the country still hit her hard. She started going through all kinds of permutations in her mind, but she couldn't come up with a solution that didn't require some sort of sacrifice by one of them.
'Get over it, Sarah. So this one wasn't for keeps. Big deal. You already knew she'd spell trouble. It's not like you haven't been here before. Cut your losses, file it under Experience and move on,' Sarah's inner voice said harshly. Sarah sighed again - there were times she wanted to throttle that inner voice of hers.
Sarah started pulling her hand towards her, but Joy wouldn't let it go. When Sarah turned her head to look at Joy, she was greeted by a pair of green, sparkling eyes that held promises that Sarah knew couldn't be fulfilled.
"Which reminds me," Joy said. "I have two free tickets for you and Kimberly for tonight's seven-thirty show… if you're interested?" - Joy's voice seemed to come from a million miles away.
"Huh…? Oh… sure."
"Now I can't guarantee that you'll be called up to the stage again, but I do have another little thing that you might be interested in," Joy said and let go of Sarah's hand. She dug into her shorts pocket and found a small piece of paper that she handed to Sarah.
Sarah unfolded the paper and stared at the few words and the two signatures that were scribbled on it. "This is a backstage pass? For me?"
"Yep. For you only. I hope Kimberly won't mind."
"Nah, she'll be fine. Thank you very much, Joy. I've… I've never been backstage to anything before," Sarah said with a sad chuckle.
"You're welcome. Once the show is over, come up to the stairs leading onto the stage itself. You remember those, right?"
"Well, if you wait there, I'll pick you up."
"Sounds great. Thanks."
Sarah looked at the backstage pass and suddenly found herself wishing that she and Joy hadn't hit off so well. 'Tomorrow is going to be a bitch of a day…' Sarah thought and got the shivers when the thought of leaving Joy behind entered her mind.
Once the doors opened to the Prudence Memorial Theater, Sarah and Kimberly filed in, trying not to get elbowed too much by the large crowd. The audience seemed to be even larger than the one they had been in on their first day and the noise level in the foyer was massive.
A TruAmerica employee, wearing the trademark cloned plastic smile, was standing in the door to the auditorium itself, collecting the tickets from the crowd. "Hello and welcome to the TruAmerica Prudence Hotel, Sports & Fitness Resort Variety Show. Your tickets, please," he said in a plastic monotone that had Sarah wondering if he was actually a human being or just some painted-up robot.
When Sarah and Kimberly handed him their free tickets, he gave them a funny look and signaled a supervisor to come and help him out.
An imposing, stern-looking matron in her late forties came over to the door and took a thorough look at the free tickets. She put the tickets on a clipboard and checked the serial numbers against a list she had.
"Is there a problem, Ma'am?" Sarah asked as politely as she could.
"One moment, please."
"I see. Really helpful, thanks," Sarah grumbled, prompting getting poked in the ribs by Kimberly.
"They're on my list. You may enter," the stern matron said and gave the other TruAmerica employee the two tickets.
The man quickly doodled on them with a ball point pen and then handed the tickets back to Sarah and Kimberly. "Row nine, seats one and two."
"Thanks," Sarah growled and pushed Kimberly through the door and into the auditorium itself.
"What the hell was that all about?" Kimberly said when they had found the seats.
"Don't know and don't care. I just wanna enjoy the show. Do you mind taking the inner seat, like last time?"
"No problemo," Kimberly said and shuffled over to the second seat.
Sarah sat down and stretched out her legs into the aisle. She got herself comfortable and crossed her arms over her chest with a grunt.
When the lights began to dim, Sarah started thinking about the many fun things she and Joy had done together during the week and the kisses they had shared the night before. Once again, she found herself thinking that everything would've been so much easier if Joy had been a dull, bow-legged simpleton with missing teeth and a bad skin condition instead of the gorgeous creature she actually was.
Sarah sighed and shuffled around in her seat.
Once the lights were nearly out, the heavy curtains were pulled apart and a single spotlight was turned on. Joy entered the stage to rapturous applause, carrying the table with the Professor LaQuizzle marquee. Sarah noticed that Joy was still walking with a slight limp and she briefly wondered if it would impede her when she was supposed to run back and forth across the stage later in the act.
Joy put down the table at the center of the stage and adjusted her top hat so it was on crooked. She ran a gloved finger across her mustache, clicked her heels together and bowed to the audience.
For reasons she couldn't quite fathom, Sarah could feel tears stinging her eyes as she watched Joy go through the act. She simultaneously cursed and blessed Joy for stealing her heart so effortlessly and she suddenly wished she hadn't accepted the backstage pass.
"Abracadabra!" the Professor said, expecting a dove to fly out of the top hat. The audience loved Joy's reactions and cheered wildly when she clutched her head in shock over the fact that a rabbit appeared instead of a dove.
Kimberly whistled and cheered along with the rest of the spectators, but Sarah just sat there like an alabaster statue, watching the act unfold with an unreadable expression on her face.
After Joy had given the rabbit to a stagehand, she came back to the table and reached into the top hat. "For my next trick… which I'm quite sure will be successful, as I've practiced it ever since I could walk," she said and held up the paper.
A thought suddenly flashed through Sarah's mind - what if Joy wanted to surprise her by magically picking her seat number again? Despite the fact that she'd be standing in front of all those people, Sarah wasn't sure she'd be able to maintain her cool, so she grabbed the armrests tightly, hoping and praying that Joy wouldn't pick her.
Several people laughed and Joy put her hands on her hips, pulling her patented look of outrage. "Ahem! I shall require an assistant. Will the person in… row four, seat seventeen please come to the stage!"
As someone ahead of her cheered and punched the air, Sarah let out a long, slow sigh and slid a bit down in her seat. A bright spotlight was turned on, shining a cone of light down on the person in four-seventeen.
The audience started cheering and a young man wearing a mismatched sweatsuit and neon-green trainers got up from his seat a few rows in front of Sarah and Kimberly. As he walked towards the stage, he turned around and waved enthusiastically to the other spectators.
"Aw shit, that woulda been fun to go up there again, don't you think?" Kimberly said, whispering into Sarah's ear so she wouldn't disturb the performance.
"Well…" Sarah said with a shrug.
The young man had reached the stage and quickly ran up the stairs.
"Welcome, son. What's your name?" Joy said, greeting the young man with a handshake.
"Hello, Kyle. I'm Professor Gemini LaQuizzle. I'm quite sure you've heard of me."
"Oh, yeah, man. I'm your biggest fan!" Kyle said, earning himself a loud cheer from the audience.
"Oh, really? How convenient, because you're to be my assistant for this next trick," Joy said, walking over to the table to pick up the foam brick. She turned to the audience and held up the brick.
"As you can see, this is a brick. A common, garden-variety brick, made of the finest clay in the country. Now observe, as my charming assistant here will shatter this brick against his forehead!"
The audience cheered and Kyle punched the air again.
"Yay!" he shouted.
"Perhaps it's something you do often?" Joy said, playing off Kyle's slightly manic appearance.
A smattering of laughter rippled through the crowd, but, unfortunately, the joke didn't register with Kyle, so he just nodded and laughed along with the others.
Sarah watched with mixed emotions as the rest of the sketch unfolded: the young boy running onto the stage, Joy throwing the foam brick and Joy being chased by the matron with the rolling pin.
Once the chase scene was over, the Professor came back onto the stage and stood next to Kyle. Sarah smirked when she noticed that Joy was now limping far more than before - the running had clearly aggravated her injury. Still being the consummate professional, Joy tried to disguise her limp by having the Professor drag and wipe his foot on the floor and by saying "Damn dawg!" in a growly stage whisper.
The audience responded by clapping and Joy pulled her look of outrage. The audience cheered more and Kyle started laughing at Joy. Sarah narrowed her eyes down to blue slits and felt like going to up the stage and beat the stuffing out of him.
"For my final trick, I shall produce a very valuable item from my assistant's left ear!" Joy said and stretched out her arms in a fashion worthy of an Emmy nomination. "Ah… HA!" she cried loudly and pulled out the gift certificate from Kyle's ear.
"How about that, Ladies and Gentlemen! A gift certificate worth one hundred dollars, valid in any of the restaurants, bars and fitness activities in the Mall! Congratulations, Kyle!" Joy said and held up the paper for people to see.
The audience cheered wildly and some started whistling, and Kyle jumped up and down in an obnoxious fashion. Just then, music started playing and Joy took Kyle's hand and raised it high in the air. "Please give a big round of applause to my assistant, Kyle!"
As the curtains started to close behind them, Joy put her arm around Kyle's shoulder and pulled him off the side. Jaime, the photographer, was waiting for them and it didn't take more than a few seconds to snap a few pictures.
The audience clapped and cheered at Kyle as he descended the stairs and returned to his seat.
Up on the stage, Joy bowed and said, "And remember! Professor Gemini LaQuizzle, Magician Extraordinaire shall return!" She turned around and fumbled directly into the heavy curtains.
Sarah sighed deeply and covered her mouth with her hand. She looked at Joy who was still trying to find the gap in the curtains. Finally, Joy pretended to give up and limped off to stage-right.
A knot was beginning to form in Sarah's stomach and she wasn't looking forward to meeting Joy backstage once the show was over.
"Oh great, here comes the jugglers," Kimberly said, bringing Sarah back to the real world.
"Yeah… can't wait for the Eberhardts, or for Wilfred's choir, either," Sarah deadpanned, shuffling around in her seat.
"No shit. The highlight of the day," Kimberly added and looked at the odd, unreadable expression on Sarah's face. She put it aside, deciding to grill Sarah about it later.
Once the choir had finished singing The Star Spangled Banner, Dave Metcalfe, the stage manager, came out onto the stage, clapping loudly at the members of the choir.
"Ladies and gentlemen, that was the TruAmerica Prudence Hotel choir and orchestra, conducted by Wilfred F. Zane. Let's give them a big round of applause!"
The audience responded by applauding politely, but nowhere near as enthusiastically as they had done for Joy's performance.
"All the cast and crew of the TruAmerica Prudence Memorial Theater wish you a good evening and a safe journey home. See you soon!" the stage manager said and waved at the crowd - who were almost uniformly ignoring him.
The lights started to come back on and within moments, everybody shot up from their seats, eager to quickly get to the exits so they could get a good seat in whichever restaurant they were headed for.
Sarah and Kimberly had to move out of their seats to allow the rest of the people in their row to leave, but as soon as the crowd started to thin out, Sarah sat down again.
"What are you doing? Aren't you supposed to go up to the stage?"
"I don't know if I want to. I think I'm getting a headache."
Kimberly's eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms over her chest. "Sarah, it's not often I lose my temper with you, but now I'm about to. What the hell are you sulking for? Huh?"
"I ain't forgettin' nothin', 'cos I know what's wrong. You're just a six-foot chicken. Look, you like her and she likes you. Why can't you just go up there and have a great evening?"
"Oh, come on…"
"Am I right, or am I right? Boc, boc, boc… boc!"
"Kimmie… don't make me come over there and kick your ass."
"Boc, boc, boc…"
Suddenly someone whistled at Sarah and Kimberly and they looked up towards the stage. Joy was standing in full costume at the edge of the stage, waving her top hat at Sarah.
"Sarah… if you chicken out now, you'll never forgive yourself. Trust me," Kimberly said.
"I know," Sarah said with a sigh. She got up from her seat and waved at Joy, who was still standing on the stage.
"If you end up spending the night with her, remember that we have to check out at nine-thirty to catch the plane, so we probably need to get up at seven-thirty," Kimberly said.
"Spend the night? No. That won't happen. See you later, Kimmie."
"See ya… chicken."
Sarah waved at Joy again and began walking towards the actress. All along the aisle, she could hear Kimberly going 'boc, boc, boc' behind her back.
"Hi again, Sarah," Joy said and smoothed out her mustache.
"Hello, Professor. You were great today."
"Thank you. What a dimwit I picked from the crowd, huh?" Joy said with a throaty laugh.
"Yeah. He coulda used a few more brain cells," Sarah said, keeping her hands in her pockets.
"Come. I want you to see my dressing room. You have the backstage pass, right? You need to show it to the security."
"Sure, I have it right here," Sarah said, finding the piece of paper.
"You have a security team here? Is that really necessary?"
"Well, I didn't say security team. But we do have security. Come," Joy said and reached out for Sarah's hand.
Without actually wanting to, Sarah put out her hand. As soon as their fingers entwined, Sarah felt like she'd been kicked in the gut… or stabbed in the heart, she didn't really know which. All she knew was that simply holding the blonde actress' hand sent a wave of the warm fuzzies crashing over her and she couldn't stop a slight shiver from racing up and down her spine.
Joy led Sarah up the stairs and behind the curtain. They were immediately met by an elderly man in an ill-fitting uniform that looked like it had come from Rent-A-Costume. His hair and mustache were white, his eyes were watery and all in all, he wasn't particularly intimidating.
"Hello, Mr. Fuller. This is the friend I told you about," Joy said with a smile.
"Good evening, young lady. I need to see your pass, please."
"Here it is, Sir," Sarah said and handed the security guard the piece of paper. He held it an inch from his face, moving his lips as he studied the note.
"All right. You may enter," he said and handed the paper back to Sarah.
"Thank you, Sir."
Joy led Sarah away from the guard and turned right to go into the wings. They walked past a series of dressing rooms until they reached one that had a large picture of Professor LaQuizzle on the door.
"Huh? What's that for?" Sarah said, pointing at the picture.
"Well… remember I told you that I was the only one younger than fifty-five?"
"Turns out that it's more like I'm the only one younger than sixty-five. And I've discovered that some of the other artists can't remember which dressing room is theirs."
"Ohhh, you're kidding!"
Joy opened the door and clicked on the light. She held out her hand and Sarah walked past her and into the dressing room. "I wish I were. After the five-thirty show last Tuesday, I walked in on June Eberhardt who had mistakenly taken my dressing room. She was preparing to go on and she was dressed in a sheer sarong… uhhh… she claims she's forty-nine. Well, I know first hand that she's gotta be a bit more than that. If you know what I mean," Joy said as she closed the door.
"Oh. Heh, heh. Yeah, well, it'll happen to all of us one day."
"Perhaps, but I've always thought that ballroom dancing would make you firmer," Joy said and found Sarah's hand again. She stepped very close to the taller woman and sent a look in Sarah's direction that didn't leave any room for misinterpretation.
"Joy… listen…" Sarah said, trying, and failing, to come up with something intelligent to say.
"What?" Joy purred.
The seductive tone in Joy's voice sent Sarah's mind into overdrive. Hundreds of conflicting emotions rushed through her head, but she couldn't decide on which ones to listen to - so she just ignored them all.
"Don't you want to kiss me?" Joy whispered, forcing Sarah to lick her suddenly bone dry lips.
"We need to t… uhhh… I… could you remove your mustache first… please? I've never, ever kissed anyone who was wearing a mustache and I'm too old to start now," Sarah said, mentally kicking herself in the rear end for coming up with such a lame excuse for not kissing Joy.
Joy flashed a wide grin and reached up to rip off the mustache. It didn't take her more than three seconds and then they were back to square one.
"How about now?" Joy purred.
Sarah knew she had her back to the wall, metaphorically as well as literally, and she knew she couldn't put it off any longer. She leaned down and claimed Joy's lips in a kiss that was designed to be simple and chaste - but that soon turned anything but.
Sarah's hands started moving on their own accord again and she put one of them behind Joy's head, pulling the actress impossibly close. Just like in the club, their tongues went into a frenzied dance that sent a wave of pleasure through Sarah and she was powerless to stop a sensual moan from escaping her lips.
After a little while, they broke off the kiss and settled for looking deeply into each other's eyes.
"Oh, God, woman… you don't know what you're doing to me," Sarah croaked, panting.
"I could say the same thing, Sarah," Joy whispered. She traced the outline of Sarah's lips with her index finger, finishing by moving it down Sarah's jawline and onto her neck.
Sarah licked her lips again and cleared her throat. She suddenly realized that they would end up in bed if they didn't slow down and that was definitely a wake-up call. She took a step back to survey the dressing room. "So, this is where you do your stuff, huh?"
Joy furrowed her brow, surprised by Sarah's sudden change of mood.
"Yes, it is. I go here to get dressed and to prepare for my performance."
"Oh, I thought you did that in your apartment?"
"I have all my spare costumes there. I'd never get here if I had to walk through the mall dressed as the Professor," Joy said with a laugh.
"True. I didn't think of that."
"I apply my makeup and stuff here. It's not too bad. I've seen worse," Joy said and looked around the nine-by-nine foot dressing room that was fitted with a large dresser with a mirror and a few drawers.
"Sarah, do you want to go back to my place and get a night cap… or something?" Joy said, sneaking her hand into one of Sarah's back pockets.
Sarah sighed inwardly, unsure of what to do. If she wasn't careful, this would end in tears - she chose the quick and easy way and slipped her mask into place. "Uhhh… no, I'm sorry. I have to get up really early in the morning," she said and turned around so Joy had to take her hand out of the pocket.
"Oh, come on. Just an iced tea…?"
"No, thank you."
Joy cocked her head and took a deep breath. "I thought we had gone past that. What's wrong, Sarah?"
"I'm leaving in the morning."
"So? Why would that mean we can't have an iced tea tonight?"
"It wouldn't, but…"
"Great. That's a deal then. Give me two minutes to get changed and then we'll go back to my apartment."
"No, Joy, please listen…"
Joy put her fingers across Sarah's lips which was as effective as putting a cork in a bottle. "No, you listen to me. There's nothing wrong with having a bit of fun. Sometimes you just have to take off your armor and… well, live a little, dammit."
"But you don't understand. That's exactly what I'm afraid of."
"No… taking off the armor. In twenty-four hours we'll be more than a thousand miles apart… and I don't want to get too… aw, hell. It's too late, anyway," Sarah said, slowly shaking her head.
"One iced tea and then we'll say good night. I promise."
"All right?" Joy said, combining a winning smile with a nose crinkle.
"Yeah. All right," Sarah said, chuckling quietly. No matter what she did, she'd never be able to resist the Nose Crinkle.
Joy unlocked the door to her apartment and pushed it open. "Enter my humble abode," she said and stretched out her hand in a welcoming gesture.
"Make yourself at home. I'll just grab a quick shower. It'll only be five minutes."
"Okay. You don't need to rush. It's not even…" Sarah checked her watch. "… a quarter past nine yet."
"I won't," Joy said and first walked into the bedroom to pick out a fresh set of clothes and then into the bathroom to prepare the shower. As she was closing the bathroom door, she peeked around the corner and shot Sarah a blinding smile that left the taller woman lost for words.
Eight minutes later, Joy came out from the bathroom, freshly showered and looking even more radiant than usual even though she was only wearing sweat pants and a T-shirt. She waved at Sarah who was sitting in the comfy chair reading a magazine.
"What's that you're reading?" Joy said as she opened the door to the small refrigerator that doubled as the minibar.
"Last month's edition of 'Her'."
Sarah held up the cover of the magazine so Joy could see it, but the actress had buried herself deep inside the fridge.
"Do you prefer peach or classic?" Joy said.
"Classic, please," Sarah said and put away the magazine.
Joy took two plastic bottles of iced tea and closed the fridge door with her butt. "Classic. Here ya go," she said, handing Sarah one of the bottles.
"Thanks." - Sarah immediately unscrewed the cap and took a long swig.
"I do have a glass you can use, you know."
"Oh… I knew that."
Joy went over to the couch arrangement and put two glasses on the coffee table before sitting down in the center seat. She kicked off her flip-flops and folded up her legs underneath her. "C'mon. Get over here," she said, patting the top of the backrest.
As Sarah got up from the chair and shuffled towards the couch, she took another swig from the plastic bottle. 'Perhaps I should fake choking on the iced tea…? Nah, that would look too suspicious,' Sarah thought.
Sarah put the bottle on the table and sat down on Joy's left. She casually turned her head to study Joy's features, but it didn't take her more than a few seconds to establish that Joy was looking so fine that it was impossible for her to look away - the actress had simply mesmerized her.
'Why, oh why couldn't we have met back home? Crap, this is my life in a nutshell. That's my future sitting right there, looking so damn fine my eyes hurt and I can't have her. Crap,' Sarah thought.
Feeling Sarah's eyes on her, Joy reached over to the table and poured Sarah's iced tea into one of the glasses. She took the glass and presented it to Sarah with a smile.
"Oh… thanks. Ya didn't have to do that," Sarah said, still gawking at Joy's profile.
"You're staring. It's not polite to stare."
'Busted!' Sarah thought and immediately looked away. She blushed furiously and tried to hide it by taking a long swig from the glass, but judging by the cheeky smirk Joy was sporting, she wasn't successful.
"Uhhh… sorry," Sarah said after a few seconds.
"No problem, but you know… I was thinking, why use your eyes when you could use your lips?" Joy said and leaned back in the seat. She took Sarah's free hand and started running her fingers slowly up and down Sarah's long digits, sometimes stopping to tickle the back of the hand.
Sarah took a deep breath and allowed the sweet sensations to take control over her again - until she saw another, very clear, vision of where this was headed.
"Yeah?" Joy purred.
"Can… can I ask you a question?"
"Can I borrow your bathroom? I gotta pee."
Joy furrowed her brow and stopped playing with Sarah's hand. "Of course. You know where it is," she said, putting her hands in her lap.
"Thanks," Sarah said and jumped up from the couch. In two steps, she was at the bathroom door, closing it behind in her in a hurry.
Sarah stared at herself in the mirror. She wanted to give herself a good slapping for acting like such a jerk to a nice girl like Joy, but at the same time, she knew that if she didn't leave now, they'd end up having sex… and if that happened, it would only make the separation worse.
Not that it was any better being in the bathroom - the room was still quite humid after Joy's shower and Sarah could clearly smell Joy's natural scent and the deodorant she was wearing. Sarah looked at the little shelf below the mirror and quickly spotted a small can of Hornet. She sighed and shook her head.
Sarah flushed the toilet to make it appear that she was done with whatever it was she was supposed to be doing and then opened the faucet to wash her hands and to splash some much needed cold water in her face.
'Sarah Madeleine Michaels… if this is how you treat someone who obviously thinks you're worth flirting with, you don't deserve better. Now go back to your crummy little flat and feel sorry for yourself for the rest of your life, you miserable git,' Sarah's inner voice said, ringing loud and clear through her mind.
Sarah sighed and wiped off her hands and her face on a towel hanging next to the wash basin. With a final look at herself in the mirror, she grunted and opened the door.
At the same time, Joy came out of the bedroom, carrying a small piece of paper and a notepad. "I just remembered that I still had a few business cards left. It's got my email address on it," she said, handing the small piece of paper to Sarah.
"Joyrichla@westmail.net?" Sarah said quizzically.
"Yeah. Joy Richards was already taken so I had to get inventive. LA is for Los Angeles."
"Oh, right. Of course. Is this the one that's used when you get booked for a gig?" Sarah said, still looking at the card. Deep inside, she knew exactly how this would pan out - at first, they'd mail each other once a week, then once every two weeks, then once a month and then… nothing.
"No, they usually mail my agent. This one's my private… uhhh, line. What's your email address?" Joy said, flipping open the notepad. She picked up a pencil and prepared to write.
"Well, I have two. The one at work is email@example.com, but the mails sent there will be monitored by our IT-nerds, so… my private one is firstname.lastname@example.org."
"Yeah, that's… actually, Kimmie came up with that one. It's obviously the first two letters of each word in my name, but 'ami' is also friend in French. Kimmie thought that would be fun," Sarah said and sat down on the couch, relieved that the conversation had turned to a more innocent subject.
"She's right. That's a great email address," Joy said and closed the notepad. She looked at Sarah with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes that immediately made Sarah uncomfortable.
"Speaking of Kimmie… there's something I've been meaning to ask you… have you and Kimberly ever been romanti…" Joy continued.
"Good Lawrd, no!" Sarah said and laughed out loud.
"I guess that was funny?" Joy said with her hands on her hips.
"You have no idea. Kimmie and I are just not compatible. If she says One, I'm sure to say Zero. We've always been like that, ever since kindergarten. And long may it last."
"She seems to be a very nice woman."
"Oh, she is. She's my best friend." - 'And she's sure to give me the Third Degree the entire drive back to the airport tomorrow,' Sarah thought.
Joy went into the bedroom to put the notepad away. When she came back out, she was holding the rose Sarah had given her in the Torre Pendente. She ran the bud down the side of her neck and began to slither closer to Sarah.
"Hmmm," Joy purred and crouched down in front of Sarah so they were at eye level. Looking deeply into Sarah's eyes, Joy put her hands on Sarah's knees and gently pushed them closer, creating a perfect platform for her to climb up on.
Sarah gulped audibly, realizing that she'd been put in the spotlight and that it was too late to bolt. Her mouth turned bone dry in a matter of milliseconds and when she tried to lick her lips, her tongue nearly got stuck on the dry wastelands.
Joy climbed up and straddled Sarah's legs. She gradually slid down the long thighs, eventually coming to a rest against Sarah's torso. When their breasts touched through the fabric of their T-shirts, it sent a shockwave of electricity through Sarah and she could feel her nipples grow rigid at once.
Their lips were only inches apart and predictably, it didn't take long for them to engage in a heated kiss. Soon, Sarah's hands slid under the hem of Joy's T-shirt and climbed up the actress' toned back, probing, touching, exploring… wishing that it was her front instead.
Joy broke off the kiss and started putting small, loving pecks on Sarah's eyebrows and cheekbones. "Sarah… it's not too soon now," she whispered.
It took Sarah a few moments to understand what Joy meant, and when she finally connected the dots, her heart started beating wildly. She took a few deep breaths, terribly unsure of what to do.
Joy climbed off Sarah's legs and ran her fingers seductively across Sarah's stomach. She winked and beckoned Sarah to follow her.
Sarah's heart and all her instincts screamed at her to follow Joy into the bedroom, but her fear won out. Her heart was beating so hard she could hardly hear anything over the rush of blood in her ears, but she knew she had to escape… and it had to be now.
"Well. Thanks for the iced tea and the free tickets. And the backstage pass and… and for making my week so enjoyable," Sarah said in a trembling voice as she got up from the couch. She ran a shaking hand through her hair, feeling sicker than she ever had.
"Hey, haven't you been paying attention…?" Joy purred.
"I guess this is g-goodbye, then."
The words hung in the air between them, acting like a bucket of ice cold water and creating a barrier that nothing could penetrate.
Joy's face fell and she looked down. She sighed. "Right. Goodbye, Sarah," she said quietly.
Nothing more needed to be said, so Sarah turned around and walked over to the door to the hallway. She put her hand on the doorknob, but didn't open it. Her heart thumped painfully in her chest, but she finally twisted the doorknob.
Sarah cast a brief glance back at Joy who was still standing in the middle of the apartment, holding the red rose. Joy's face read like an open book, showing the many emotions running through her; disappointment, sadness, pain and even a touch of anger among them.
Sarah stepped into the hall and closed the door behind her. A few tears escaped her eyes but she did nothing to stop them.
DAY 8 - SATURDAY, MAY 15th
"Hey, hon. I'm all set. My apartment is cleaner than it was when we arrived," Kimberly said as she stepped into Sarah's apartment.
To Kimberly's surprise, Sarah spun around on her heel and disappeared into the bedroom without even saying good morning. With an astounded expression on her face, Kimberly put her suitcases on the floor and closed the door to the hallway. Suddenly she noticed that Sarah's apartment was still a mess and she stopped to scratch her hair. "Uhhh… Sarah, do you need a hand?"
"No, I got it," Sarah said from somewhere inside the bedroom.
"All right. Anyway, I can't believe I've packed my stuff quicker than you. I don't think that's ever happened before. Remember that time at the summer camp back in '89 where you had packed everything the night before we went home? The camp commandant gave you a real dressing down for sleeping in your street clothes," Kimberly said and laughed.
"Look, Kimmie… less talking, okay? Please?" Sarah said, standing in the doorway to the bedroom.
"Sure. Man, you really look like death warmed over today. You should take better care of yourself… how much sleep did you get last night?"
Sarah turned around without making a comment and went back to work, trying to get her clothes stuffed into her travel bag.
With a shrug, Kimberly followed Sarah into the bedroom. "Come on, let me help you with that," she said and took the travel bag.
Sarah growled and yanked the bag back out of Kimberly's hands. "I told ya I got it," she said angrily, stuffing the white denim shirt into the bag with such force that Kimberly was surprised it didn't lose a sleeve.
"All right, all right… Jeez! I'm just trying to help!"
"I'll let you know when I need your help."
"Gawd, you're charming today, you know that?" Kimberly said and put her hands on her hips.
Sarah looked up and stared at the curly-haired woman. After a few seconds, she exhaled and shook her head. "I'm sorry for being such a bitch."
" 's all right. What the hell happened last night?"
Sarah sighed and rubbed her eyes. "That's a long, grotesque and just plain horrible story. I'll tell you in the car… when we're a million miles away from this place. That's it, all done," Sarah said, working the zipper on the travel bag.
"You forgot something."
"The drawer with all your underwear," Kimberly said, pointing at the bottom drawer in the dresser which was still chock full of clothes.
"I'll help ya. I'll go get a plastic bag for your panties and stuff."
"That's what friends are for, buddy," Kimberly said and patted Sarah on the shoulder.
"Mmmmm… all clear. We're done," Kimberly said after a thorough check of Sarah's apartment.
"Good," Sarah said, sitting in the couch. She looked absolutely miserable with ashen skin and black circles under her dull, bloodshot eyes.
"You haven't slept a wink, have you?"
"Uh-huh. That's what I thought. Are you sure you can drive?"
"Yeah. No problem," Sarah said and got up from the couch.
"Sarah… what the hell happened between you and Joy?" Kimberly said, stopping Sarah by putting a hand on the taller woman's arm.
"I'll tell you later. What time is it?"
"Quarter to nine."
"Okay, how about closing up here, take the bags down to the car and stow 'em and then take a final stroll through the mall?" Sarah said and turned around. "You know, to see the sights one last time…?"
"Well… sure. If you're up to it?"
"I wouldn't have asked you if I wasn't."
"Okie-dokie. Lead on, hon."
The morning air was surprisingly chilly and Sarah got goosebumps on her arms as she pushed the enormous baggage trolley along the sidewalk lining the parking lot. Kimberly only carried the plastic bag with the surplus underwear and she was whistling loudly to herself.
"Kimmie, do you have to whistle like that?" Sarah said with a sigh.
"Boy, you really are grumpy today," Kimberly said and stuck out her tongue.
"Oh, this is nothing… if you keep it up, I'll show you grumpy."
"Oooooh, tough gal."
Sarah drove the trolley down a slope and turned onto the lane where the white BMW was parked. She dug into her jeans pocket to find the remote for the car and pressed the small button. The car responded by blinking its hazard lights twice and unlocking the doors.
"Kimmie, hold the trolley while I unload it. The ground is uneven and there's no point in scratching the car."
"Good thinking, hon," Kimberly said and took hold of the trolley's handlebar.
Sarah effortlessly picked up the two suitcases and her travel bag and stored them in the trunk.
"I wish I had your strength, Sarah. You always makes it look so easy."
'Strength? I'm the biggest coward to ever walk the Earth,' Sarah thought. - "Yeah, well. I have to be good for something, right?" she said out loud and dusted off her hands.
"I'll just go and deposit the trolley and then we'll meet at the entrance to the Mall, okay?" Kimberly said with a grin.
"Sure. Three minutes. I'm just gonna clean the windows and stuff."
Kimberly gave Sarah a thumbsup and whistled loudly as she pushed the trolley back towards the high-rise.
Sarah bent down and reached into the trunk to get a kitchen roll and a bottle of GlassFriend. As she began to clean the windows, she couldn't stop looking up at the high-rise. She quickly found the eleventh floor and began counting the windows until she found Joy's apartment.
After looking at the windows for a few seconds, Sarah sighed and turned back to the car. Suddenly her sixth sense kicked in and she spun around - she stared intently at the apartment, and for a split second, she thought she could see a figure standing in the window.
The sun broke free of the clouds and created a reflection in the high-rise that forced Sarah to shield her eyes. By the time the sun had hid behind the next cloud, the figure was gone.
Sarah sighed and went to work on the BMW's windshield.
A few minutes later, Sarah and Kimberly walked through the sliding doors and entered the mall. Kimberly hooked her arm inside Sarah's and flashed a cheeky smile as they began walking down the central path. "I hope you've enjoyed your birthday present."
"Oh… I have, thank you. It's been… very special. An unforgettable experience."
"You know, I think this would be a really good spot to celebrate me and Ellen's fifth anniversary next year. I think she'll love it."
"I'm sure she would."
"Yeah, even though we're nowhere near as athletic as you are, Miss Dynamite, there's plenty of bars and restaurants for us to enjoy."
"And the theater and Club Feelgood, of course. Hey, did you and Joy have any problems the other night? I mean, were you bothered by anyone when you were dancing close and kissing and stuff…?" Kimberly said, emphasizing the last few words to coax a reaction out of Sarah.
"You were?" Kimberly said and stopped dead in her tracks.
"Huh? Oh… sorry, I zoned out."
"I'll say. So you weren't bothered?"
"No, no. Everything was cool."
"Do you even know which day it is?"
"Oh, ha, ha. Come on, I'll buy you a cup of coffee at the Sausage King," Sarah said and tugged at Kimberly's arm.
"… and maybe a pancake to go?"
"I thought you wanted to lose some weight?"
"Naw… that was last week," Kimberly said with a shrug.
"I'm going to have to go through a withdrawal program… man, what am I gonna do now I don't have regular access to these fab pancakes?" Kimberly said, munching loudly on two pancakes wrapped in a napkin.
"Make your own?"
"Nuh-uh, they're never the same. My cooking skills are limited."
They continued strolling down the central path until they reached the sliding doors at the far end of the mall. The fitness section hadn't opened yet, so they were the only ones there. Sarah walked over to the closed Powerboxing hall and pressed her nose against the closed doors. She put up her hands to block out the light and took a final peek at the only thing she didn't get to try out.
"Maybe next time, huh?" Kimberly said, putting her arm around Sarah's shoulder.
"Yeah. Well, whatever. We got our money's worth with the aerobics, right?"
"Uggh, don't remind me. My knees are still aching from that high-impact class the other day. Not to mention that dancerobics nonsense last Sunday. You know, I can still feel it in my abdominal muscles," Kimberly said and patted her belly.
"Hey, that's a good cue, actually. Did you ever get a first hand impression of Joy's fab set of abs?"
"Oh, look at the time. We better get back, Kimmie. We don't wanna be late for the plane," Sarah said and walked away - leaving Kimberly shaking her head in frustration.
"Good, there's no queue," Kimberly said as they entered the high-rise and went up to the reception desk. The closer they got to the desk, the more Sarah slowed down and soon she was only walking at a snail's pace.
"Uhhh… Kimmie, I think I… uhhh… forgot… uhhhh. There's something I need to do before we check out," Sarah said, fidgeting severely with her keycard.
"Oh?" Kimberly said and looked at her watch.
"It won't take long, I just need to…"
"I get it. Go on. You have fifteen minutes."
"Thanks. Would you mind holding my card?"
After handing Kimberly the keycard, Sarah made a beeline for the Turbolift to save as much time as possible. She only needed to wait for a few seconds before it arrived and she rushed inside and pressed 'eleven' as soon as the doors opened.
The Turbolift sent her skyward at a terrifying pace and just like the first time she had used it, she was dizzy once she got off.
She shook off the dizziness and quickly opened the frosted door to the hallway. She walked briskly towards #1118 and raised her hand to knock on the door. An inch before her knuckles made contact, she froze and closed her eyes.
'Get real, stupid. If you were Joy, would you open the door after being treated that way last night? Of course you wouldn't,' Sarah's inner voice said.
Sarah sighed… but knocked.
She knocked a little harder, but there were still no signs of activity coming from the inside.
"Joy? Joy, it's me. I just want to… to say that I'm really sorr… I just wanted to say goodbye in a proper way."
After waiting nearly two minutes, Sarah went down to #1119 and repeated the procedure with identical results.
She took a deep breath and then let out a long, slow sigh. Running a hand through her hair, she started walking back to the Turbolift.
"You shouldn't have left," Kimberly said as soon as Sarah stepped out of the elevator.
"Because not thirty seconds after you had gone, Joy came down on the Scenic Elevator."
Sarah's eyebrows twitched and she closed her eyes and groaned. "Did… did she say anything?"
"She was her usual polite self. She said 'goodbye' and 'have a nice trip' and that was it, basically."
"She didn't say anything about me?"
"No. She didn't even mention your name. Sarah, what the…"
"Which way did she go?" Sarah said and started walking towards the sliding doors, but Kimberly turned around, grabbed Sarah's arm and held on tight.
"That's not a good idea, Sarah. What the hell did you guys do last night?"
"We didn't do anything. Anything at all… No, you're right. It's not a good idea to follow her. Let's get this behind us. Where's my card?" Sarah said, pinching the bridge of her nose hard.
"Got it right here. I'll do the talking. You're too messed up," Kimberly said and walked over to the TruAmerica employee sitting behind the reception desk.
"You have no idea," Sarah whispered to herself.
"Good morning, I'm Rita. How may I help you?" the woman behind the desk said.
"Good morning, Rita. We're checking out. Rooms 811 and 812. Miss Lloyd-Warren and Miss Michaels."
"I need your keycards, please," Rita said, wearing the patented TruAmerica plastic smile.
As soon as Kimberly put the two keycards on the counter, Rita snapped them up and inserted them one at a time into a slot in a small machine on the desk. Two pieces of paper were printed out and Rita put them on the counter for Kimberly and Sarah to sign.
"Sign on the dotted line, please. Both of you," Rita said, smiling her fake smile in Sarah's direction.
Sarah went up to the counter and signed the papers, answering the receptionist's plastic smile with one of her own.
"I didn't even use the minibar," Kimberly said with a grin as she was signing the paper.
Rita checked the signatures and then tore the top cover off both papers. She put the originals down on her counter and handed Sarah and Kimberly their copy. "Here you go."
"Thank you," Kimberly said and put the copy into her wallet.
"The TruAmerica Corporation hopes you've had a pleasant stay. If you liked our service, please tell your friends and family," Rita said in a monotone, once again reminding Sarah of a robot.
"Actu-" Sarah started to say, but she was cut off at once by the desk clerk.
"The TruAmerica Corporation would also like to wish you a safe and relaxing journey home."
"Please don't drink and drive and please use your seatbelts. Many fatalities could have been avoided by using seatbelts."
"Also, please respect our state's speed limit. If you see a driver behaving aggressively or erratically, please inform the Sheriff's department. Please remember to pull over before you use your cell phone."
"We can only make the roads safe if we all co-operate. Thank you," Rita said with a beaming smile.
Stunned, Sarah waited a few seconds to see if Rita would continue the diatribe, but it soon became apparent that she was done. "Thanks," she said, unsure if she should laugh or cry over the receptionist's speech.
"C'mon, hon. Let's go home," Kimberly said, hooking her arm inside Sarah's.
Sarah started the BMW and reversed out of the parking space. She put it in Drive and crept out of the parking lot, remembering to respect the 10 mph speed limit. Once they reached the bar blocking the road, Sarah leaned out of the window and pressed the button.
When the bar rose, Sarah stepped on the gas, leaving the TruAmerica Prudence Hotel, Sports & Fitness Resort and all it represented behind her.
An hour later, Kimberly rubbed her hands on her bare arms, wishing like crazy that she had brought a jacket. "Sarah, hon, would ya mind turning down the air conditioning? It's freezing in here."
"No, I'm hot as hell."
"That's because you didn't get any sleep last night. I think we have a touch of ground frost on the dashboard. And look," Kimberly said and exhaled. "See?" she continued, pointing at the non-existent vapor from her breath.
Sarah grunted, but turned the air conditioning down two notches.
"Let's have some music, I'm falling asleep," Kimberly said and turned on the radio.
"Uggh, not today… please," Sarah said and rubbed her forehead.
"Just the news and traffic report, then?"
"Well… okay," Sarah said with a sigh.
Fifteen minutes later, Kimberly couldn't take the uncomfortable silence anymore and turned in her seat to face Sarah. "Sarah Michaels, it's time to fess up. I'm your best friend and I expect… hell, I demand to know what on Earth went on last night between you and Joy."
Sarah grunted, but kept quiet.
"Please don't stonewall me, Sarah."
Tears began to sting Sarah's eyes and suddenly, a single drop escaped her eye and trickled down her cheek. She hurriedly wiped it away with her hand, praying that Kimberly hadn't noticed.
"What the hell… are you crying? Okay, this isn't funny anymore. Please tell me what the flying flip went on last night," Kimberly said, putting her hand on Sarah's shoulder.
'Damn… she noticed,' Sarah thought. "Oh, it was…"
"I need to know whose ass I should kick. Yours or Joy's?"
Sarah turned her head and looked into Kimberly's eyes. Several seconds passed by and then Sarah sighed and looked back at the road.
"Definitely mine," she said quietly.
"Sarah, Sarah, Sarah… what happened? Did you find out she's really a guy? Or that she's into whips and latex and stuff?"
"Oh, Jeez, Kimmie!"
"Because if she is, I might consider giving her a ca… never mind. Well… I have a well-developed imagination and I can easily come up with inanities from now until New Year's Eve, but it would save us both a lot of time if you just told me what happened."
"I chickened out."
"Crap, Sarah… that's nothing. It's gotta be more than that. You didn't sleep at all and Joy didn't even mention you this morning, despite all the time the two of you have spent together this week. There's gotta be more to it than that."
"It was… it was probably more the way I did it."
"It was… nasty."
Sarah pushed down on the gas pedal and swept past an eighteen-wheeler. Once she was clear of it, she slowed down and went back into the right lane. "I don't understand myself sometimes, Kimmie. I just don't understand what the hell it is that's going on inside my head. I mean, I'm pretty regular, right?"
"Well, sure. You have a couple of quirks and idiosyncrasies, but we all do."
"Yeah, and all in all, in my own not-so-humble opinion, I'm no freak or psycho. And yet, I behave like one whenever… whenever someone like Joy is trying to reach out to me," Sarah said and thumped her hand down on the rim of the steering wheel.
"You shoulda seen her last night, Kimmie. I mean, Jeez… I'm talking sex on legs. I was sitting on the couch and she was straddling me…"
"Ooooh, go on," Kimberly said and poked Sarah in the side.
"… and we kissed again. Gawd, how we kissed. And the further we went, the more frightened I became. By the end of the… uhhh… first inning, if you know what I mean, I was petrified."
"Then Joy climbed off me and… uhhh… made her intentions clear."
"Let me guess. You bolted?"
"I bolted. I jumped up from the couch like the devil was on my tail, told her goodnight in the most impolite way you can imagine and then ran away like a… like a… like a fucking coward!"
"And you haven't stopped running yet."
Sarah turned her head to look at Kimberly. "No, I guess I haven't," she said quietly.
"Sarah, that was a crappy thing to do."
"What are you going to do about it?"
"If I had met Joy this morning, I would've apologized… I think. But now… I'm gonna keep running," Sarah said and prepared to overtake another truck.
"The hell you are. Listen to me, you big chickenshit… a woman like Joy only comes around once a lifetime and I'll be goddamned if I'm gonna sit idly by while you waste your life running away from someone who so obviously likes you!"
"Man, Kimmie, what was in those pancakes? Damn, girl!"
"Rusty nails, baby. Look, you know damn well that a woman can only handle a certain amount of bullshit before she walks away for good, and you're getting awfully close to that limit with Joy."
"Sarah, for Chrissakes, can't you see that you're treating her the same way *you've* been treated by all those airhead dates you've had over the years?"
"Goddammit, Kimmie, I know. But there's not a damn thing I can do about it."
"Well, duh… of course there is," Kimberly said and crossed her arms over her chest. She looked at Sarah, waiting for the penny to drop.
Sarah sighed and put her elbow on the windowsill. She pulled out into the fast lane and overtook three trucks running in a convoy. As they went past the lead truck, the driver gave them a long salute with the airhorns and Sarah wished she could trade places with the truck driver.
"I have to go back and apologize to Joy," Sarah said quietly.
"That's probably a good idea, hon. Actually, I think you should go down on your hands and knees and beg for forgiveness. If you don't at least try to get this mess sorted out, you'll regret it for a very long time," Kimberly said and put her hand on Sarah's thigh.
Sarah nodded solemnly. "I regretted it as soon as I left her apartment. But by then… it was too late."
"Well, maybe it was and maybe it wasn't. You'll only know when you're face to face with her. If she goes all ginzu on you, it was too late," Kimberly said and stuck out her tongue.
"Oh, well, that would certainly complicate things. But if it comes to that, I guess I had it coming. Sliced and diced," Sarah said with a sad chuckle.
"Yeah? More sage advice?"
"Not exactly. According to the GPS, there's a truckstop coming up in two miles or so. Would you mind stopping? I gotta pee," Kimberly said and shuffled around in her seat.
"Again? When will you learn to go before we take off?"
"The restrooms are clean if you need to go," Kimberly said as she walked back to the white BMW, drying her hands on a large wad of toilet paper. They had parked on a gravelly lot on the outskirts of the truckstop so they wouldn't be bothered by anyone.
"Nah, I'm good," Sarah said, leaning against the car.
"I hope you're serious about going back."
"I am. Of course, that means you'll have to carry your luggage yourself."
"I'll get a skycap. What about your plane ticket?"
"Won't be a problem. I'll get it rebooked."
Sarah turned around and put her hand on the doorhandle. Before she opened the door, she looked at the road that led back to the hotel.
"We're still thirty miles away from the airport and then I have 102 miles back again… hmmm… it's a quarter past eleven now… that'll make it almost half past one give or take. Plus the time at the airport. That makes it two o'clock. Shit, that doesn't leave me much time before Joy's off for the three-thirty show," Sarah said and thumped one fist into the other.
"Sarah, please think about yourself, too. You didn't sleep last night, remember. You look like shit now… you're gonna look positively awful before you get back."
"I only have myself to thank for that, Kimmie."
"I know, but…"
Sarah held a hand over her stomach - she could feel a knot of trepidation beginning to form and she already dreaded the return trip.
"Come on, let me drive the rest of the way to the airport. I've checked you out and I think I know which knobs and dials are which now," Kimberly said and walked around the front of the BMW.
"Well, it's all yours, then. The funny stick on the floor is the gear lever."
"Oh, ha flippin' ha. I do have a license," Kimberly said and got in.
A good forty-fives minutes later, Kimberly pulled up to the curb in front of the airport terminal and switched off the engine.
"This is only a drop-off zone, so we can't park here for more than five minutes," Kimberly said.
"It won't take us longer than that."
"Nah. So, I guess this is it… for now," Kimberly said and turned around in her seat to face Sarah.
"Well, all in all, I've had a great holiday and despite everything that has happened, I hope you've had fun, too."
"Mostly. But anyway, I've loved your company, Kimmie."
"Gawd, that's gotta be the sleep deprivation talkin'."
"Hell, no. You're my best friend. Look at what we did together… we ate Brats, we got drunk…"
"You got drunk. I only had two Cuba Libres, remember."
"Whatever. We went to a variety show, we did the aerobics classes… I had fun doing all those things."
"Uggh, you had to mention the aerobics…"
Sarah laughed out loud and punched Kimberly on the shoulder. "The next holiday is on me, okay?" she said.
"Really? I'd like to… uhhh… go on a Caribbean cruise, no, no, a Mediterranean cruise."
"Huh? Just like that? Damn, I shoulda said New Zealand."
"Can you get through the security checks without attracting attention to yourself?" Sarah said and quickly pulled back in case Kimberly would hit out at her.
"Oh, yeah, no problem. I didn't steal any towels from the hotel or anything. Not even a bar of soap."
"Well, that's good to hear," Sarah said and laughed again.
With a chuckle, Kimberly reached down and pulled the small lever that opened the trunk. They both stepped out of the car and went around the back.
"C'mon, let me get those," Sarah said and pulled out Kimberly's two suitcases.
"And there's a skycap," Kimberly said and whistled loudly at a man pushing a luggage trolley.
As soon as the suitcases were loaded onto the trolley, Kimberly turned around to face Sarah. She reached out and grabbed the taller woman in a bear hug that sent all the air rushing out of her.
"Gawd, I really hope it'll work out between you, hon. I really, really do," Kimberly said and put her hands on Sarah's arms.
"How long are you planning on staying?"
"I… don't know. If everything works out, then probably a few days. Joy has another couple of weeks on her contract at the Prudence Hotel. And if things don't work out, well…" Sarah said with a shrug.
"Well, in any case, keep me posted, okay?"
"Maybe I'll hear about you in the news… 'Woman Reduced To Pizza Toppings After Nasty Ginzu Accident. More at eleven.' "
"Well, if that's my destiny, I'm leaving you my entire collection of quality B-movies."
"Oh, gee. Thanks, babe. No, seriously…" Kimberly stepped back, suddenly at a loss for words.
"I know. And I will," Sarah said and returned the crushing bear hug from before.
"Uhhh! Short person in distress!" Kimberly said, buried deep underneath Sarah's strong torso and arms.
Sarah let go of Kimmie and took a step back. "See ya, Kimmie," she said and walked around the rear of the BMW.
"See ya, big gal," Kimberly said with a wave. Sarah returned the wave and then got into the car.
As Sarah drove off, Kimberly shook her head and exhaled slowly. "Man, if this doesn't work out, Sarah is gonna fall to pieces," she said quietly to herself.
Sarah drove over to the car rental company to renew the contract on the BMW. After a little sweet talking and a lot of paperwork and waving of credit cards, she was able to keep the same car and she soon drove out of the airport and turned back onto the Interstate. The quick and efficient car soon got up to speed and started eating up the miles that lay between her and the Prudence hotel.
When Sarah reached the truck stop she and Kimberly had rested at before, she decided that it was a good time to take a break, so she turned off the Interstate and went up the off-ramp. As she was waiting to turn into the truck stop, she could see that the gravelly parking lot had been occupied by three semis, so instead of going there, she drove between all the eighteen-wheelers to get to the central parking lot.
Once she found an available slot, she reversed the BMW into it and turned off the engine. To get a bit more comfortable, she moved the seat back as far as it would go and lowered the backrest a couple of notches.
Sarah let out a slow sigh and leaned back in the seat. Her stomach was rebelling against her and she put her hands on it to try to get it to calm down. The butterflies had made a comeback and they were flapping their wings harder than ever.
After a few minutes, Sarah decided that she needed something to drink, so she left the car and started walking towards the restaurant of the truck stop.
The restaurant was an anthill of activity with dozens of waitresses zooming back and forth between the kitchen and the tables, all carrying huge plates with greasy meals that completely ruined Sarah's appetite.
She quickly spotted a refrigerated soft drink vending machine in the far corner of the restaurant and shuffled over there to check out what they were offering.
The brands were all foreign to her, but when her eyes landed on a sodapop called 'Xtra-Caff Cola', she chuckled and dug into her pocket to find the dollar-fifty needed to buy it.
'I hope that's an apt name… I really need a kick up the backside,' Sarah thought and put the coins into the slot. She pressed the button next to the Xtra-Caff can and waited patiently for the vending machine to process her order. It didn't take long and she was soon able to retrieve the can from the narrow shelf at the bottom of the machine.
As she turned around, she noticed a sign hanging on the wall behind the counter - "Uncle Louie's Truck Stop - The Original Choke & Puke Joint."
Underneath it, an overweight man in his late fifties, no doubt Uncle Louie himself, was sitting on a bar stool next to the cash registers, generally looking gruff and unpleasant, and busy chewing on something that had once been a cigar. He had greasy hair, a three-day stubble and he was wearing a horrendously filthy undershirt - Sarah grimaced and quickly left the restaurant.
On her way back to the BMW, she cracked open the can and took several long swigs. She didn't particularly enjoy the taste, but it was as laced with caffeine as the label promised it would be, and Sarah definitely needed that.
She opened the driver's side door and reached in to put the can into one of the cupholders - when she had done that, she put her hands behind her head and stretched her back, resulting in all sorts of cracking and popping sounds from her spine. With a sigh, she got in and closed the door.
Once she had taken another long swig from the can, she moved the rear view mirror down so she could see herself.
"Wow, Kimberly wasn't kidding. I really do look like death warmed over," Sarah said out loud.
"… Or someone who's on the fourth day of a three day bender," she added under her breath before taking another swig of the Xtra-Caff Cola.
She looked at herself again and tried to imagine what the reunion with Joy would be like. As soon as she started thinking about it, her stomach protested wildly by contracting itself into a knot.
"Hi, Joy… I'm back. Oh, Gawd, what are you doing? Please put down that machete! Swoosh, swoosh, chop, splat, thump," Sarah said, chuckling out loud at her silliness. She emptied the can of cola and put it back into the cupholder.
"Hi, Joy. I'm sorry 'bout last night. I was a dickhead and I know it. I'd like to make it up to you somehow… Oh, Jeez, that's pathetic," Sarah said and shook her head angrily.
"Hi, Joy… yeah, I'm back. Please forgive me. Please give me a second… third… fourth chance. Crap."
Sarah covered her eyes with her hand and took a few deep breaths. She looked at herself in the rear view mirror and knew she had to be far more sincere if she was to stand any chance at all of convincing Joy to listen to her.
"Joy. I treated you very badly last night and I've regretted it ever since I left you. I know you have every right to throw me out on my ass, but please listen to me before you do. Please accept my sincere apology. I know I acted immaturely, but I was just…" Sarah's voice trailed off and she sighed again.
"Just so scared of you. Pathetic. I need to get my stupid melon checked," she added quietly.
She took the cool can and rolled it across her forehead several times. The lack of sleep had given her a slight fever and the knot in her stomach made her feel uncomfortable.
"Oh, well. Why walk to the hangman when you can drive," Sarah said and moved the seat forward until it was in the correct position. She adjusted the backrest and the mirror and then turned the ignition key.
When Sarah pulled up to the bar blocking the entrance to the parking lot, she got a major case of deja vu that sent her stomach into a series of backflips. With a sigh, she rolled down the window and reached out to press the button marked 'visitors'.
The bar rose and she drove slowly into the lot. She had to do two complete tours to find somewhere to park and in the end, she had to settle for a space in the very last row of the parking lot.
Before she dared to go anywhere, she had to spend a few moments convincing her angry stomach to settle down. With a groan, she got out of the car, locked it and then began the long trek to the entrance of the high-rise.
Sarah immediately recognized the TruAmerica employee working behind the reception desk in the lobby - it was Cheryl, the same woman who had greeted her and Kimberly a week ago. The last thing Sarah wanted was to get into an argument with a TruAmerica employee, so she walked as inauspiciously as she could around the edge of the lobby.
Once she reached the Turbolift, she pressed the button and took a step back to wait for it. Even though Sarah had every right to be there, she felt very awkward and even a bit like a trespasser, so when the elevator didn't arrive at once, she started looking over her shoulder at the reception desk to check if she had been spotted yet.
When the Turbolift finally arrived, Sarah hurriedly stepped inside and pressed 'eleven' on the small panel.
Less than twenty seconds later, the elevator came to a halt on the eleventh floor and Sarah stepped out and started walking towards the frosted door that would lead her to Joy's hallway.
The last few steps were the hardest for Sarah - she had a hurricane of emotions raging inside her head and her heart, and her stomach had tied itself into a rock-hard knot. She felt dizzy and even a bit lightheaded, but she forced her legs to walk towards the door to Joy's apartment.
With her heart beating so hard that the rush of blood drowned out everything else, she raised her hand and knocked on the door.
"Joy, it's me! Are you in there? I've come to a-apologize…"
"If you're in there, please open the door!"
Sarah tried knocking again, but still nothing happened. She briefly considered trying apartment #1119 as well, but the emotional strain had drained her of her last energy and she had to put out her hand and lean against the wall. With a pained groan, she slid down the wall, ending up sitting on the carpet. She pulled up her legs and rested her arms on her knees.
With a heartfelt sigh, she plonked her forehead down on her arms, wishing that the ground would just open up and swallow her whole.
A few minutes later, Sarah could hear the door at the far end of the hallway open, but she didn't have enough energy left to bother lifting her head to see who it was.
The unmistakable sound of Joy's golden voice spurred Sarah on and she looked up to see Joy standing in the middle of the hallway holding a pile of clean laundry. She was wearing a pair of khaki chinos and a dark red Route 66 T-shirt, and Sarah thought she had never looked better.
"You're back. Did something happen? Did the car break down?" Joy said, her voice holding just the faintest hint of warmth and friendliness.
Sarah couldn't remember any of the things she had prepared back at the truck stop and she was too tired to come up with any flowery prose, so she just cleared her throat and spoke her mind.
"No, I… I dropped Kimmie off at the airport and then I came back. I wanted to apo… I mean, I couldn't leave… I just couldn't leave you."
A few seconds passed by without any reaction from Joy, but then she put down the laundry on the carpet and took a defensive stance. "You must think I'm pretty goddamned gullible," she said in a tone of voice that jarred Sarah's soul with its harshness.
"No! No, I'm… I'm s-sorry for last night."
"Frankly, you damn well should be. I was ready to share my bed with you… I wanted to make love with you and that's *not* something I'm offering to every leggy brunette who happens to cross my path. And what did you do? You slapped me across the face and ran away. You really hurt me, Sarah."
"I'm sorry. I won't run away again."
"That's the third time you've told me that. And twice you've taken off."
"I'm done running."
Suddenly a door to an apartment opened and a family of four entered the hallway. As they walked past Sarah and Joy, a little boy tugged at his father's sleeve.
"Daddy, why is that lady sitting on the floor?"
"I don't know, Junior. Maybe she's tired?" the man said and opened the frosted glass door at the end of the hallway.
"Maybe she's just an asshole…" Sarah said quietly once she and Joy had the hallway to themselves.
Joy sighed deeply and put her hands on her hips. She shook her head repeatedly, almost like she didn't know what to do with Sarah. "Let's talk inside," she said and unlocked the door to her apartment before bending down to pick up the pile of laundry, leaving Sarah to get up by herself.
Joy threw her keycard in the basket next to the TV and went into the bedroom to unload the laundry. She was soon back in the living room, standing with her legs slightly apart and her arms folded across her chest. Her face was passive, telling Sarah to make the first move.
Even though Sarah's brain felt like a bowl of jello, she could easily read Joy's body language - the actress was upset, disappointed and even angry, and it scared Sarah almost as badly as when Joy had been playing the sexpot the night before, although for almost exactly opposite reasons.
Sarah's throat contracted and she coughed dryly a couple of times. "Would it be too much hassle if I had a glass of water and a headache pill before we… before I… start explaining?"
Without a word, Joy walked into the bathroom and found an Aspirin for Sarah. She went over to the kitchenette and took a glass that she proceeded to fill with water from the tap.
"Here," Joy said curtly as she handed Sarah the pill and the glass.
Sarah quickly swallowed the pill and then emptied the glass of water. Like she had done with the can, she rolled the glass across her forehead to try to cool down.
"You look terrible," Joy said and sat down in the comfy chair. She swiveled it around so she could look at Sarah who was still standing up.
"Sit down before you fall down."
"Thanks," Sarah said and sat down in the couch - just as her rear end made contact with the cushion, she remembered what had happened in that exact spot the night before and her headache turned from a dull ache to an incessant throbbing in a heartbeat.
"Sarah, I hope you understand how stupid you made me feel last night. As I said out in the hallway, I'm not in the habit of… of spreading my legs for just anybody, to put it bluntly."
"God, Joy, I…"
"I offered that to you because I felt I had finally made contact with you… with the real you. I could feel the real you when we kissed and I wanted to connect to that, body and soul. But you let me down. Badly."
"I… I don't know what to say to that… except that you're right. I'm a piece of shit and I know it," Sarah said and leaned back in the seat.
"You have some issues, Sarah, that's for sure. I don't know if I'm qualified to help you with them."
"I understand," Sarah said, suddenly feeling her insides sink into a black hole.
Joy shook her head and folded her legs up underneath her. "Sarah… my head is telling me to kick you out, but my heart is begging me to give you another chance. There's no logical explanation, it just does. But you have to promise me that you'll get some help to deal with your issues."
Sarah stared dumbfoundedly at Joy - the actress' words hadn't yet penetrated the fog in Sarah's brain but she got the gist of them. "I need to get my head checked, I know," she said quietly.
"Do you have access to a psychologist at work?"
"No… I doubt they even know what that is."
Suddenly the telephone rang and Joy got up from the comfy chair. "It's Joy … yeah, that's all right, Dave … no, I…"
The sound of the tumbler falling onto the floor made Joy spin around - Sarah had finally succumbed to the fatigue and the emotional strain and she had collapsed on the couch, snoring softly.
"Dave, something's just come up. I gotta go … Yeah, I'll call you later … Yeah, yeah, I'll get to the show in time … I really gotta go … Yeah. Bye."
Joy hung up and went over to the couch to help Sarah get more comfortable. She took off Sarah's trainers and moved her long legs up into the couch. It wasn't quite big enough for the tall woman, but with a little elbow grease, Joy was able to make her fit.
After moving the coffee table back so Sarah wasn't in any danger of hitting it if she fell off the couch, Joy went into the bedroom to find a pillow and a plaid for the soundly sleeping woman.
When Sarah finally woke up, it was already getting dark outside. She blinked several times and tried to focus on her watch. She couldn't quite see the small hands, but she thought it read eight thirty, PM.
She rubbed her face and sat up on the couch. The plaid fell down on the floor and for a few seconds, Sarah thought the entire day had been a bad dream. When she looked around the apartment, she realized that it wasn't her own, but Joy's - and then it all came flooding back to her.
Groaning, Sarah ran a hand through her sleep-tousled hair.
Sarah felt her bladder send out a distress signal, so she got up and staggered into the bathroom on stiff, weary legs. After taking care of business, she went over to the windows and pulled the curtains apart.
She checked her watch again - it really was half past eight in the evening.
"Shit, I've slept the entire day…" she said out loud.
She turned around and spotted a small letter lying on the coffee table. She went over to it and picked it up.
'Hi, Sarah. I have to go down to the show, but I'll be back at nine at the latest. I'll bring some food, as I'm sure you'll be starved. Joy.'
As if on cue, Sarah's stomach growled loudly and Sarah remembered that the only thing she had eaten the entire day was a quick bite of Kimberly's pancake - and that was more than ten hours ago.
Twenty minutes later, Joy unlocked the door and stepped inside.
Sarah was sitting in the comfy chair watching the news, but she turned off the TV as soon as she saw that Joy was carrying a large plastic bag.
"Let me help you with that," Sarah said and shot up from the chair.
"No, I got it. I bought some sandwiches and a couple of Cokes. I hope it's all right…?"
"Sandwiches? Oh, yeah, I could use a sandwich right now. They sure smell good," Sarah said, prompting a new growl from her stomach.
Joy chuckled and pulled out six neatly wrapped sandwiches and four cans of Coca-Cola from the plastic bag.
"Chicken, ham-and-cheese, cucumber, shrimps and eggs in mayo, roast beef and corned beef. I didn't really know what you'd like the best, so I just took one of each."
"Oh, I eat pretty much everything," Sarah said and cracked open one of the cans of Coke.
"All right. I'll take the chicken and the roast beef. You get the rest," Joy said and crouched down to find two plates and two tumblers in the sideboard.
"Oh, that's unfair…"
"I already had a few snacks down at the theater. And besides, you need it more. You're still quite gray around the gills."
"I didn't sleep last night," Sarah said with a shrug.
"Hmmm. Let's talk while we eat," Joy said, smiling almost reluctantly at Sarah.
Not long after, Joy unwrapped the roast beef sandwich and started eating. "Please try to explain to me what's going on inside your mind when you bolt," she said and wiped her mouth on a napkin.
Sarah mirrored Joy by unwrapping her cucumber sandwich, but then paused while she was composing her thoughts. "Well. A little voice in my ear tells me that-"
"You hear voices?" Joy said, stopping mid-chew to stare at Sarah.
"Uh, no… it's my conscience."
"Oh…" Joy said but kept staring at Sarah, just in case.
"Let me rephrase that… my conscience tells me that… that… oh, it's so hard to put words on my emotions. I think I'm just scared…"
"You're scared of me? Of me, who's a good five inches shorter than you?"
"Not 'scared' scared… scared of the commitment, of the intimacy, of… of revealing the person underneath the mask."
"But Sarah, we're talking just fine now. Why is it different when the situation turns intimate?"
"I don't know. I can't explain it," Sarah said with a heartfelt sigh. She took a large bite out of the cucumber sandwich and leaned back in the comfy chair.
"All right. Sarah… what are you planning on doing now?"
Sarah swallowed hard and locked eyes with Joy. "Well… I was… planning on… I don't know," she said and looked away.
"Staying here with me?"
"Yeah. I suppose."
"Do you think that would work?"
"I'm hoping it would."
"It's going to take me a little while to get back to the level of trust I had in you before last night, Sarah."
"But in the meantime… I guess you could stay here. With me," Joy said and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees.
Sarah looked up, the food forgotten. "Really?"
"Yeah. On one condition."
"Anything. I'll do anything…"
"I don't like to be used or toyed with. If you hurt me again like last night, I'll kick you out on your ass faster than you can spell your own name. There, I've said it. It's your choice," Joy said strongly, pointing her index finger at Sarah as she spoke.
"I'll never, ever do that again, Joy. I promise," Sarah said, feeling tears sting her eyes.
"That's all I can ask of you," Joy said and got up from the couch. She went over to stand in front of Sarah and pulled the taller woman up from the chair.
Suddenly pensive, Sarah didn't really know what was going to happen and as usual when she wasn't in control, she could feel a little flame of fear flickering somewhere deep inside her.
Joy put her arms around Sarah and pulled her into a loving hug. For the first few heartbeats, Sarah froze, but when she felt the warmth of Joy's body seep through her T-shirt, she let go of all her fears and just allowed herself to melt into the embrace.
Tears began to run down Sarah's cheeks and she let out a heartfelt sigh that effectively purged all the negativity she had kept bottled up inside her for so long.
"Are you all right?" Joy said, suddenly worried about Sarah's uncharacteristic display of emotions.
"I've never felt better," Sarah whispered, tightening her grip on Joy.
DAY 9 - SUNDAY, MAY 16TH
Sarah rolled over onto her back and stared at the patterns of light dancing across the ceiling. She turned her head to look at the clock - ten to eight, AM.
Next to her, Joy stirred with a moan and a throaty grunt. The actress yawned widely and reached out with her hand, searching for something to hold on to.
Sarah helped Joy's hand find a target by pulling it up to her lips and giving Joy's knuckles a gentle kiss.
"Good morning," Sarah whispered.
Joy yawned again, a gesture that made Sarah mimic her.
"Jeez, I better get up right away. If I stay here too long, I'll just fall asleep again," Sarah said, swinging her legs over the side of the bed.
"Oh, already?" Joy said, her voice muffled from the pillow she was resting her head on.
"Yeah. I have a busy day ahead of me."
"I know… but it's just so damn early," Joy said with a sigh.
Half an hour later, Sarah had showered and finished packing her things. As she sat down on the couch and tied her shoelaces, she couldn't quite fathom how different everything was compared to the day before.
'What a difference a day makes,' she thought and propped up her head on her arm.
She looked over at the bathroom where Joy was busy showering, and started thinking about the surprising events of the night before. Out of the blue, Joy had asked if Sarah wanted to share the bed with her - 'to sleep, no funny business' as Joy had so eloquently put it.
Sarah chuckled to herself when she remembered the expression Joy had on her face as she said it. Her blonde eyebrow had gone up and the corner of her mouth had gone down. All in all, at that moment, Joy was cuter than words could describe.
Sarah had felt a split second of trepidation, but she had accepted - and now she was glad she had. She had rarely felt more comfortable, even when Joy had turned over in her sleep and put her arm across Sarah's chest, just below her breasts.
With those pleasant images filling her mind, Sarah chuckled again and went over to the telephone. She dialed Kimberly's number and waited for someone to pick up the phone.
'It's Ellen, how can I help ya?'
"Hey, Ellen, it's Sarah," Sarah said and carried the cordless handset over to the windows where she looked down at the parking lot.
'Hi… so, what's that I hear about you managing to get two weeks' vacation out of one?'
"Ha, yeah, that's true."
'Are you still with… whatsername?'
"Joy. Yep, still here."
'Good. I hope you'll get the most out of it. I'll get Kimmie for ya. Hang on.'
"Sure. Nice talking to you," Sarah said, but Ellen had already put down the phone.
"Hey, Kimmie. What's up?"
'You're asking me? What's up with you? Are you still…?'
"Yeah, I'm still here," Sarah said with a laugh.
'How the hell are you, baby?'
"Oh, I'm doing fine. Real fine. Listen, I was wondering if you would come and pick me up at the airport later this afternoon? If the plane is on schedule, I'll land at four PM."
'Oh, you better believe I'll be there! And I'm gonna lock you in my car until you've told me everything. So you're going back to work now?'
"Yeah, I have to. Joy's going to do the show for another week, but I'd have to call in sick for an entire week, so… yeah, I'm going home."
"Well, I'm not really sure yet…" Sarah looked back at the closed door to the bathroom before continuing "… but Joy and I have arranged that she'll fly to Columbus on Monday, June seventh."
'Oh, that's so flippin' great, Sarah!'
"Yeah. And then she's gonna stay with me for a week. Just to see how we get along on a daily basis and stuff."
'Wow. So you're serious, then?'
"Well… I am, yes. And I think she is, too."
'Too cool, Sarah. Just too flippin' cool. I'm really happy for you. So, anyway, what's been going on, huh?'
"Well, this and that."
'Uhhh, Sarah, have you had any, you know, problems with… you know?'
"No, we haven't, thank God. She threatened to kick me out on my ass if I caused any trouble, so I'm keeping on my best behavior."
'Which can be rather charming, hon.'
"Aw, shucks, Kimmie."
'Have you had make-up sex yet?'
"Kimmie! You're fixated on that subject, you know that? Gawd, how many times have you asked me that now…"
'Is that a yes or a no?'
"Oh, get a grip, woman. I'm not gonna answer you!"
'Okay, that's a no, then. Well, I'm sure you'll get around to it eventually. Ellen and me, you know, we cleared that hurdle pretty quickly, and once we did…'
"I'm sure you did, but I don't wanna hear about it!" Sarah said and covered her eyes with her hand.
"Hear about what?" Joy said, wrapping a towel around her body.
"Uhhh… nothing. I'm talking to Kimmie," Sarah said, holding up the phone.
"Hi, Kimberly!" Joy shouted as she went into the bedroom to get changed.
"Kimmie says hi," Sarah said with a grin.
'So Joy's gonna swing by in a little more than two weeks from now, huh?'
"Yeah. Man, I can't quite believe it," Sarah said and sat down in the comfy chair. She crossed her legs at the knees and started playing with one of her shoelaces.
'Roses. You gotta remember a bouquet of red roses. That needs to be the first thing she sees when she sets foot in your apartment.'
"Good thinking. There's a ton of things I have to remember. I better make a list."
'I'll come over and help you get ready.'
"Thanks, buddy. I'm gonna need you help."
'Sarah… how do you actually feel about it?'
"Well, I'm… I still have an unusual sensation in my stomach, but this time it's happiness. I have a very good feeling about the whole situation, Kimmie."
After hearing those words, Joy peeked around the corner and sent Sarah a beaming, genuine smile that would have made Sarah's knees weak if she hadn't already been sitting down - as it was, Sarah felt her heart beat faster and she returned the smile.
'That's super, Sarah. Anyway, Ellen's kinda yanking my chain here, so… I'll pick you up at the airport at around four or so.'
"That'd be great, thanks. See you then, Kimmie. Oh, by the way, that chain comment… that was just a figure of speech… right?"
'Uhhh… yeah. Sorta. See ya later, Sarah,' Kimberly said and hung up.
Sarah let the cordless handset fall into her lap. She took a deep breath and then let it out slowly.
Joy came out of the bedroom, wearing a TruAmerica terrycloth bathrobe. She leaned against the doorjamb and started running a brush through her shaggy mop of hair. "So…" she said.
"I've enjoyed having you here with me, Sarah," Joy said and threw the brush into the bedroom.
Sarah wasn't ready for that, so she blushed and looked down. "Well, I've really enjoyed being here," she said quietly.
"We got off to a rocky start, but I'm glad I gave you another chance, Sarah. I've liked what I've seen. And besides, if there's one thing I've learned from my twenty years on the stage, it's that if the dress rehearsal sucks, the premiere is guaranteed to be fantastic," Joy said, moving closer to Sarah.
"I know exactly what you mean," Sarah said and got up from the chair. She moved over to the phone and put the handset on the base station.
"Mmmm. How long do we have until you leave?"
"Oh… slightly less than an hour," Sarah said after checking her watch.
"Mmmm. Plenty of time," Joy purred and stepped closer still to Sarah.
Sarah opened her mouth, but closed it again at once. She felt a pleasant buzz wash over her - one that held great promises, but at the same time carried certain obligations. She knew where they were headed and she also knew that it was the acid test of their young relationship. If she let Joy down now, she could literally kiss everything goodbye.
In a heartbeat, Sarah cast all her worries aside and closed the distance between herself and Joy to hold the shorter woman tight. She was rewarded by a beaming smile that was cut short when she leaned down to claim Joy's lips.
Even though they only had an hour, they didn't want to rush matters - instead they allowed the kiss to be a long and sensuous affair that ignited both women to the point of spontaneous combustion.
When they finally broke off to get some much needed air into their lungs, Joy pulled back slightly and lifted Sarah's T-shirt out of her jeans. With a grin, she let her fingers run gently up and down Sarah's long torso, probing and exploring as she went along.
Sarah instantly got goosebumps all over and she couldn't hold back a soft moan that seemed to spur Joy on even more.
With a wicked grin, Joy leaned in and began to nibble on Sarah's jaw and throat. Moving her mouth closer to Sarah's ear, she began to play with the earlobe by taking it between her lips and gently squeezing it. She flicked it back and forth a couple of times with her tongue and then moved back around to reclaim Sarah's lips.
During all this sweet torture, Sarah completely lost her ability to think. All she could do was feel, and every time Joy's lips or tongue touched her skin, a jolt of electricity shot through her body. When Joy started playing with her earlobe, Sarah could feel her nipples grow rigid in a matter of seconds and her center began to throb in a way it hadn't done in years.
As their tongues began a slow, sensual dance, Sarah closed her eyes and whimpered needily into Joy's mouth.
'If she keeps this up, I'm gonna come before I even get my pants off,' Sarah thought, but still went on with the kiss - suddenly, her eyes popped wide open.
Unsighted, Joy had moved her hand down to rest on Sarah's beltbuckle. In a slow, teasing motion, she moved her hand down even further and ran her fingers across Sarah's throbbing center, applying just the right amount of pressure through the jeans to make the already highly sensitive spot become almost painfully alert.
The sensation nearly sent Sarah over the edge and she grabbed Joy and pulled her close. She buried her head in the nook of Joy's shoulder and let out a trembling moan.
"C'mon," Joy said, reaching for Sarah's hand.
"Oh, Joy…" Sarah whispered. She took the offered hand and let herself be guided into the bedroom…
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