THE BLUEST EYES IN TEXAS
Copyright 2000 by Texbard
Violence: Maybe some minor stuff. Interstate Highway 35 may get some abuse. Fishing might take place. Verbal encounters with homophobic rednecks and Southern Baptists are a possibility. Tequila will be shot. The English language, as all y'all know it, is fer dang sure fixin' ta take a lickin'. <G>
Sexual Content: Rated R. This story depicts a loving relationship between two adult women. If that gets yer britches in a wad, ya better high-tail it on outta here, 'cause this saloon ain't servin' ya.
Animals Named After Bards: All bards whose names have been given to animals in this story were contacted first for permission. It is meant to honor the bards, not disrespect them.
Setting: Mostly Dallas and Austin. In the mid-80's, Austin was a mid-sized city with a small-town flavor, mainly know as the state capitol and home of THE University of Texas. Today it is rapidly becoming the Mini-Me to California's Silicon Valley, with a thriving high-tech industry. The people are a wonderful blend of students, politicians, academics, techy types, southern stock, transplants, and former flower children. Immediately west of Austin is the beginning of the Texas hill country and a chain of five large lakes known as the Highland Lakes. It is also the U.S. home of Renee O'Connor.
Special Thanks: Skylark, Murphy, Lesia, LJ Maas, Liz Brock, Salina, Tazflyer, Thomas, Day, Betty Bradley, Stacia Seaman, Tanya Blakeley, Peace, DebK, Storybird, Susan, Alix Stokes, Advocate, Inspired Lor, TLC, MomBard, Sue Rice, and ALL the members of the Texbard list and the ex-Guard's/Bard's Village list who provided feedback and beta-reading during the draft stage. Also to the Texas Pups for your friendship. And to MaryD and ForevaXena for giving the story a home. Y'all rock!
This is my first uber. Questions/Comments/Suggestions welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org
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(Revised Version Posted December 21, 2000)
God blessed Texas
With his own hand
Brought down angels from the promised land
Gave 'em a place where they could dance
If you wanna see Heaven, brother, here's your chance.
-from "God Blessed Texas," Porter Howell and Brady Seals, copyright 1993, Square West Music, Inc./Howlin' Hits Music, Inc. ASCAP, as performed by Little Texas on their CD, Big Time.
"It's gonna be another scorcher here in Dallas-Fort Worth, but thank God it's finally Friday. The weekend is upon us. Woo-Hoo! Let's get it started off right with some of your favorite hot hits." The disc jockey's voice blared in her ear, and Carson pushed the cat off her stomach, rolled over, hit the snooze for the third time, squinted at the clock radio, and groaned as she dragged her poor tired body to a sitting position. Late again!
She slowly stood up and peered out the window from her second-floor apartment. She could tell just by looking that it was already hot outside. The little particles in the pavement below were shimmering in the blazing early morning sun.
Carson grinned briefly at the mother Mourning Dove who had been living in a hanging basket on her balcony for the past two years. The astute bird had determined that the balcony was a very safe place, and raised two or three babies there during each spring and summer season. Sometimes the dove's soft morning coos served as a kinder gentler alarm clock, that is if the pounce of a cat on top of her didn't startle her awake first.
The pool below her apartment looked so cool and inviting, but there was no time for a swim. There was no time for anything anymore. It seemed like her days consisted of getting ready for work, going to work, working, getting home from work, and preparing to do it all over again the next day. There was very little time for fun after all of that. Carson sighed.
It wasn't that she hated her paralegal career. She was just bored, and could practically do her work in her sleep. It was a trade-off for the seniority and perks she enjoyed at the mid-sized law firm where she had been employed since she got out of college. She had fallen into a comfortable rut.
She yawned and stretched, rolling her head around and hearing the vertebrae in her neck and back pop into place. She padded into the vanity area and peered into the mirror, noting the puffiness under her ... blue ... this morning ... eyes. Her eyes were an enigma, and could appear to be blue, green, or grey depending on what she was wearing or the color of the background behind her. They were, in fact, a combination of flecks of all three colors, along with some interesting golden speckles.
She raked her fingers through short unruly blonde waves and thought about what she was going to wear to work for casual Friday. Suddenly, a huge smile graced her face. I have a seminar today. Yippee! No stress until Monday.
Feeling much happier, she went to the kitchen and put two scoops of food in each of her cats' bowls. Roma, the fat and happy Calico, anxiously circled her legs, rubbing against her until the dry morsels rattled into the bowl. Once the bowl was full she immediately began eating.
Allie, the sweet silvery-white Chinchilla Persian was more content to follow Carson around to see what she was doing. Carson often wondered if Allie was anorexic, the petite cat ate so little. Every year the vet assured her that the five-pound beauty was absolutely healthy, and just naturally small.
"You silly girl, I'm pouring grapefruit juice just like I do every morning." She scratched the fluffy purring cat on the top of her head. "Yes, you're very sweet." She made kissing noises as the tiny feline rubbed noses with her in a ritual morning greeting. She had long ago given up on keeping the cats off the kitchen counter, or any other surface for that matter.
Carson half-wondered if she would ever live with anyone besides these two devoted cats. She loved them as much as she imagined she would love a child, but they were certainly not a substitute for human conversation and companionship. It had been so long since she had been in love, she couldn't even remember what love felt like anymore. When did life become so routine?
She finished the juice, poured a bowl of cereal, and went to open the balcony door so the cats could have a brief morning outing. She watched the weather report while she munched on the sugar-coated wheat squares, learning what the rest of the country was in for from Mother Nature for the day. Watching the weather was a secret fascination she had shared with her father. He had been a fire department disaster unit volunteer and had been to every major natural disaster in the state of Texas since the category five tornado hit Wichita Falls when Carson was in elementary school.
The local forecast was sunny and hot with a high near 100. "Oh, what a surprise," she murmured sarcastically and then hit the remote for the news to see what was going on in the rest of the world, check on the stock market, and learn which Olympians had won gold medals in Sydney overnight. Carson was not necessarily a huge sports fan, but the Olympics was the one time when she would sit and watch almost anything, including curling and rowing.
She continued to eat her cereal until only milk was left, and then dinged on the bowl with her spoon signaling the cats that it was their turn to come finish off the milk. With a quick shower and a minimal application of make-up, Carson smiled and pulled out a pair of khaki shorts and a polo shirt. Seminar attire.
She shouldered her briefcase, set the monitored alarm system, and went out to her red Acura Integra. After a quick stop for a large non-fat chai tea latte with a shot of espresso, she jostled her way through the tollbooth with the other million people heading south toward downtown Dallas at 8:00 a.m.
The Tollway was already moving at a snail's pace and she settled back in her car seat and pushed the pre-set buttons on the radio until she found a DJ that was not too annoying. Hot. It was already so hot. Summer was the hardest time of all to get up early. Why can't adults have the summer off like children do? She mused.
As she steeled herself for the drive to the conference center for the seminar, Carson wondered for the thousandth time what she was still doing in Dallas, Texas, working a boring job, staring at a computer screen all day under fluorescent lights in an over-air conditioned building. She missed so many days of the great outdoors cooped up in the tiny office that was her prison for at least a third of the time. At least I have a window. Of course that only makes me miss having a summer break even more.
A smile briefly played across her lips as she remembered three little girls galloping down the sidewalk playing horses. Funny, she hadn't thought of Meg and Diane in several months. Strange how two people could be your best friends and then later they could completely disappear from your life. Carson wondered what they were doing now, if they ever thought of her, and what they would think of her mundane, ordinary life. I wonder if my life will ever really begin?
Things just weren't turning out like they were supposed to. At twenty-seven, she still had no husband, no kids, and no house, and worst of all, she still didn't know what she wanted to be when she grew up. Nothing was as she had envisioned it would be at age twelve. But then, at age twelve, I didn't realize that maybe someday I would want a wife instead of a husband. Maybe it's a blessing that Mom and Daddy aren't around to watch me figure this one out.
Carson had lost her mother to cancer three days before her twenty-fifth birthday, the worst birthday of her life. She still associated her birthday with death. Her father died suddenly of a heart attack almost exactly a year after her mother passed away. She had spent the rest of that year settling her father's estate, going through her parents' house, and putting it on the market. The day it sold she felt a huge burden lift from her shoulders.
After months of hard work every weekend, she spent almost a year doing just the bare essentials, and did very little socializing, keeping to herself much of the time as she slowly began to heal from the grief of loss. Her mother had been her best friend, and her father, while not as close, had been a kindred spirit. She often described herself as the female version of her father.
Now she was starting to feel alive again, and was ready to move on to whatever life held in store next. She knew that there would still be some rocky times ahead, and that she would never completely get over losing her parents. But at the same time, she understood that someday she would wake up and go through a day where she didn't think about them, and when she might be able to watch a movie that involved death of a loved one, and not cry.
Her thoughts were drawn back to the present, as she approached the "toll-tag only" lane and whizzed on through the booth, thankful that her firm provided her with the handy little laser-read card that was attached to her front windshield. She watched all the people in the lane next to her fumbling for their quarters, and wondered why they didn't catch a clue. It wasn't like the tag cost anything extra, and it sure was a whole lot faster.
Several minutes later she found a parking space in the conference center garage and made her way up the escalator to the appointed meeting room. She moved to the back of the room and picked up a plate and perused the usual "continental breakfast" provisions, selecting a cinnamon-raisin bagel and some chunks of pineapple. She had finished her chai tea in the car, so of course a cup of coffee was in order. Carson and caffeine were very good friends.
She wandered to an end seat on the center aisle and set her plate down on the long table, before pulling the chair out and tucking herself into it, resting her briefcase on the floor against the chair legs. She smiled smugly at all the paralegals who arrived in business suits. Good grief. It's Friday and they're at a seminar. Who in the heck are they trying to impress, anyway? She noticed more than a few envious glances from the stuffed-suits, as many of them suddenly realized they could have dressed much more comfortably.
She took a peek at the seminar brochure, "Pro Bono Opportunities for the Paralegal," and read the bio for the speaker. Kennedy S. Nocona, Esq. Great. Another lawyer who will probably talk down to us and secretly harbor the notion that if we were intelligent, we'd be attorneys instead of paralegals. Why can't they get paralegals to lead seminars for paralegals? I get so sick of these men who think that because I didn't go to law school, and because I'm a blonde, that I must be sweet, stupid, and subservient. Ugghh.
She sighed and watched as a tall woman with shoulder-length black layered hair approached the podium. She was wearing a navy pants suit and had a very nice summer tan. The woman looked around and briefly locked eyes with Carson. Wow. Those are the bluest eyes I've ever seen. Wish I could look at her all day instead of old Kennedy what's-his-name.
"Hello." The woman tapped the microphone to test its loudness and then shifted it until it was a little bit closer, to accommodate her height. "I'm Kennedy Nocona and I'll be your speaker today. Let's talk about pro bono work, shall we?"
That's Kennedy? Carson chuckled. She had assumed the woman was there to introduce the speaker. Well, well. Caught by my own stereotypes. Kennedy Nocona was certainly no man. The blonde paralegal smiled and flipped open her laptop to take notes. It was turning out to be a really good day after all.
The morning flew by, and Kennedy was pleased that the seminar was going so well. The paralegals in attendance appeared to be actually paying attention, for the most part, instead of secretly reading magazines or playing on their laptops. Several good questions were raised and she even learned a few things herself, chiefly the URL's for some new websites that provided free legal research.
Pro Bono work, legal work performed free of charge, was a passion of hers, and she was of the opinion that most attorneys gave far too little of their time and privileged educations in helping those that cannot afford legal counsel. The seminar for paralegals was Kennedy's brain-child, and she had developed it with guidance and approval from the state legal education committee. As incentive, participants earned six hours of continuing education credit.
Paralegals, by training and education, could do almost anything an attorney is able to do. In fact, the only strictly prohibited activities were representing clients, accepting legal business, or setting legal fees. And of course there were rules against attorneys forming partnerships with non-attorneys. Kennedy felt the paralegal market was a vast un-tapped resource for voluntary legal work, and that if attorneys knew they were going to have assistance with pro bono activities, they might be more inclined to render their services. A good paralegal could do nearly all the pre-trial legwork on a case.
She watched the seminar registrants file out of the room for lunch, and made sure her hand-outs for the afternoon were in order. After a brief glance at her notes she headed toward the door herself, when her cell phone rang. She lifted it from her belt and flipped it open. "Kennedy Nocona."
"What are you wearing?" a sultry voice husked on the other end of the phone.
"Heidi." Kennedy laughed. "Where are you?"
"What's it worth to you, babe?" The voice, while still deep, took on a slightly less sensual tone.
Kennedy sighed internally. Her law school room-mate smoked a pack a day, and after almost fifteen years of the habit, Heidi's vocal chords had apparently suffered some damage, taking on a permanent hoarse rasp. "Hey, what do you mean 'what's it worth?' I thought you were taking me out to dinner tonight."
"I am, but then you are going to take me out dancing."
"Oh, come on Heidi. You know that's not my scene." Kennedy groaned.
"Maybe not, but it is mine. Besides, you're the best damned dancer in the state of Texas, in my opinion, and I only get a chance to benefit from your talents a few times a year. Just being seen with a good-looking babe like you does wonders for my reputation. Come on, please?" The overly-dramatic plaintive voice was typical of the woman, and Kennedy bit off a laugh.
"Okay. But remember I caught the red-eye on this morning, so I may not last for very long." Kennedy pulled her wallet from her brief case and tucked it in her suit pocket while she spoke.
"When do you leave to go back to Austin?"
"Dammit, girlfriend." Heidi attempted a full-fledged whine, but it caught in her throat. "I thought we were going to play all weekend."
"Sorry. I have a trial on Monday, and I need to get back. My clients called late yesterday. They want to meet with me one last time. We're ready to go. It's just a one-day small claims court matter. Landlord-tenant dispute, but I think they're nervous, more than anything. They barely speak English, and they are extremely intimidated by the legal system. So I promised I'd meet with them tomorrow night." Kennedy began to make her way out of the room toward the escalators that led down to the main level of the building.
"Fine." The throaty voice reflected mock-hurt. "You are staying at the Dupont, correct?"
"Where else do I ever stay?" Kennedy was fond of the historical old hotel, which was in the heart of Dallas' most populous gay neighborhood.
"Good point. Then I'll meet you in the Ivory Bar at 7:00 for pre-dinner drinks. Is that more your speed?" Heidi teased her stoic friend.
"You know it is." Kennedy loved the tiny intimate piano bar that was a landmark of the Dupont Hotel, even though she rarely had anything stronger than a seltzer water with lime.
"Okay. See you later. I need to get back out to the golf course. My clients and I just finished lunch, and we're ready to take on the back nine."
"I'm really sorry you have to suffer like that." It was Kennedy's turn to tease.
"Hey, I am suffering here. It's a hundred freaking degrees for Christ's sake, and I have to watch a bunch of fat old men try to one-up each other all day long."
"True. But at least you're not wearing a suit and you get to be outside."
"Whatever. See you at 7:00. And no whining about dancing. It's not an optional activity, got me?"
Kennedy could picture her adamant friend's hands on her hips as she spoke. "Got you." She reached the escalator. "Later."
Kennedy listened to her friend hang up on the other end, flipped the phone closed, and clipped it back onto her belt.
"Hey Carson. Sorry I'm late. I got hung up with one of the big-wigs and couldn't get away." A tall blonde-haired man made his way across the deli floor and sat down at the table across from her. "How's the seminar going?"
"Hey yourself. I figured as much. That's why I went ahead and went through the line. Sorry to start without you." Carson smiled secretively, as she poured a stream of Italian-Bleu Cheese vinegarette onto her salad. "Um ... the seminar ... it's .... interesting."
"You look like the cat that ate the canary, Cuz. What's up?" The man grinned and leaned closer to his cousin.
Carson's face grew more serious. "Gordy, you've known me since I was what? Three years old?"
"Well I would think so." Gordon playfully slapped at her arm. "Since you were three years old when I was born."
"True." She regarded the good-looking man thoughtfully. Gordon's father was born in Germany while his mother, Carson's mother's sister, was of Scotch-Irish descent. He had inherited the attractive combination of blonde hair, olive skin, and killer golden-brown eyes.
Gordon and Carson had always shared a camaraderie with each other, but grew much closer after Carson's mother died. Not only were they the only two of seventeen cousins to hold college degrees, they were two of only five of those seventeen who even completed high school. They clung to each other at family reunions, observing their other relatives with mixed amusement and bewilderment. A majority of the clan resided in various trailer homes scattered on the back of an aunt's lot near Tyler, Texas, working at odd jobs and waiting for their welfare checks to arrive.
Carson's and Gordon's mothers were born to a poor Southern Baptist preacher, who had also worked as a share-cropper to support his six children. Luckily for the pair of cousins, both of their mothers left rural East Texas behind for the bright lights of Dallas, and both had married stable men who were good providers for their families. And both of their mothers had insisted that education was the most important goal their children should strive for.
The cousins shared something else as well. Shortly after Gordon graduated from college with his finance degree, he hesitantly come out to Carson, and introduced her to his partner, Darren, with whom he had recently purchased a very nice home in Frisco, a suburb of Dallas. Gordon was a financial analyst with Yellow Rose State Bank, and worked in the main Dallas branch, which was located on the first floor of the conference center where the seminar was being held.
Carson had laughed ironically after that revelation, and then told Gordon that they were obviously living proof of the homosexual genetic theory. She then explained that she was pretty sure she was also gay, although she had never really had a girlfriend. That was almost three years ago, right after Carson's mother passed away. The two cousins met for lunch on occasion, and often hung out on weekends as well. When Carson found out she would be attending the seminar in the building where here favorite cousin worked, she immediately called him and made lunch plans.
"Gordy, are you going to eat?" She gestured toward the growing line of deli patrons at the other end of the shop.
"Well ..." The charming man smiled sheepishly. "I came down here to see if I could beg out."
"Oh?" Carson tilted her head to one side quizzically. "This better be good, Cuz."
"What if I told you the president of the branch came by my office about an hour ago and wanted to know if I could make a late lunch with him today?" Gordon sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest smugly.
"Only you." Carson shook her head back and forth and smiled. "So I take it you think this is a good thing?"
"I think so." Gordon relaxed forward, his forearms resting lightly on the table top. "He didn't look upset. Besides, I think if I was in trouble, lunch wouldn't be part of the deal."
"Good point." Carson stabbed a lettuce leaf with her fork and twirled it absently before popping it in her mouth. "Of course you can beg out."
"Thanks." The tall blonde man stood up and leaned over, lightly kissing his cousin on the cheek. "Are we still on for some boot-scootin' tonight?"
"I polished up the Lucchese's last night." Carson returned the kiss.
"It's a date then." Gordon winked at her and then paused. "Hey. Weren't you about to ask me something a minute ago?"
"Yeah, but it can wait." Carson spotted her seminar instructor emerging from the deli cash register line. "I'll fill you in tonight. Go spiff up for your lunch meeting."
"Great." Gordon beamed. "Darren and I will pick you up at 8:00."
Kennedy reached the bottom of the escalator and followed the steady stream of people moving toward the deli, the only restaurant in the thirty-story building. Construction on most of the roads surrounding the conference center made going out for lunch anywhere else more trouble than it was worth. She considered having Chinese food delivered to the room, but then decided it might take too long for the poor delivery person to park outside the sky-scraper and find the room.
She brightened considerably when she entered the deli and spotted the cute blonde from her seminar sitting alone at one of the tables. Maybe I can join her for lunch. She immediately chastised herself. Come on. For all you know she's married or something. Kennedy had checked for rings and didn't see one. Still ... her gaydar rarely failed her, and although there was nothing specific about the girl's appearance to tip her off, she just had this feeling that the blonde was a sister. Besides, for some reason, she was immediately attracted to the girl.
She made her way through the deli line, snagging a veggie burger, a banana, and a ginseng herbal iced tea. She emerged to find the object of her curiosity talking to a handsome blonde man. Her hopes fell even further when the man stood up and kissed the girl before he left. Hmmm. Guess I was way off my mark with her. Kennedy began to look around for an empty table and sighed when she found none. Guess I'll take this back up to the room and go through my notes one more time.
From across the room, Carson watched with disappointment as the tall brunette disappeared from the deli. I could swear she smiled at me more than a few times this morning. Maybe she's just extra-friendly to all her seminar participants. What am I thinking, anyway? She's drop-dead gorgeous. Even if she is gay, I'll bet she can have anyone she wants. Probably has a steady girlfriend. Or boyfriend. A dejected paralegal finished her salad and then attacked a roast beef sandwich.
Kennedy sat back in the low padded chair and let the soft piano music wash over her, steeling her nerves for the evening to come. She watched as Heidi lit one cigarette from the almost-burned down butt of another. Like Kennedy, Heidi was also tall, but she had short honey-colored hair and big hazel eyes. She had a wide smile and her usual over-baked end-of-summer tan. She also had the beginnings of tell-tale lines around her eyes, evidence of the toll smoking was taking on her relatively young skin.
"Heidi, how much are you smoking these days, anyway?" Kennedy gently probed her friend. "You do want to live to see your thirty-third birthday, don't you?"
"Oh. Pack a day. Maybe two during the really bad weeks." Heidi waived her cigarette in one hand, and downed the remainder of a bourbon on the rocks in one gulp, gesturing for the waitress to bring her another. "I'm fine. Besides, every time I try to quit, I put on ten pounds within a matter of hours, I swear. Not to mention how lousy I feel."
"That's because your body was probably going through de-tox." Kennedy sipped at her seltzer water.
"Look." The hazel-eyed woman took on a defensive stance. "My life is a lot more stressful than yours. I represent some of the most prominent brokers in Dallas. I screw up one single bit, and millions of dollars could go down the tubes, along with my career. I don't have the luxury of living off the interest from my cut from a huge judgment, like some people I know." She eyed Kennedy accusingly.
"Heidi, I do still work, probably as many hours a week as you do, and you know it." The brunette was sorry she had brought up the subject of smoking. It was an argument she always lost.
"True, but you don't have to work." Heidi accepted her third bourbon from the waitress and swirled it around before taking a sip.
"I'm sorry." The soulful blue eyes pleaded. "You're a big girl. It's just that I care about you. I don't want to see you get cancer or ... something."
"I appreciate that." Heidi's defenses lowered a bit, reading the genuine pain in Kennedy's eyes. "Tell you what, by the time I turn forty, I'll kick the cigarettes once and for all. I promise."
"Deal." Kennedy smiled. "I'll hold you to it. Why don't you tell me about this restaurant we're going to?"
"Oh." Heidi's usual bubbly demeanor re-surfaced. "The Purple Mango. You're going to love it. I swear. It has great vegetarian food, and gorgeous women come in all the time. Plus it's real close to the bars."
"Great." Kennedy sat back again, giving equal attention to the pianist and to her friend's description of the menu at the trendy restaurant.
"Oh God, Gordy." Carson stepped off the dance floor of the Bit N Spur Saloon to catch her breath. "You do know you're the only person I dance well with. You're such a great lead."
"Why thank you, my dear." Gordon grinned and released Carson's hand. Gordon was usually cheerful anyway, but at dinner he had informed Carson that at lunch, the president of his branch had invited him to join the officer training program at the bank. He was in extremely good spirits, keeping both Carson and Darren on their toes in turn.
They approached Darren, who was leaning over the rail watching the myriad of mostly same-sex couples spinning past them. Carson chuckled inwardly, as she realized that Gordon's face always seemed to glow whenever he looked at Darren.
The Bit N Spur Saloon was originally founded as a gay men's country and western dance bar, but when the only women's country bar in the city closed down, the women gradually began to claim a piece of the Bit N Spur as their own. There were occasional run-ins between male and female patrons, but for the most part the men had finally accepted the fact that the women weren't going anywhere, and reluctantly shared the dance floor with them. In return, the women put up with the almost-nude dancing male videos that constantly played on overhead monitors throughout the bar.
"If you'll excuse me for a moment, I'm going to dance with Darren." Gordon smiled at his partner and held out his hand.
"Fine. I need to rest for a minute anyway." Carson watched her cousin and his lover take to the floor. They were a cute couple, and Darren was always very nice to Carson, treating her like family.
The blonde observed the dancers, occasionally scanning the room to see if any of her friends had arrived. She hadn't specifically called any of them, since she had plans with Gordon, but many of her friends were Friday night regulars at the Bit N Spur, as well as Sue Ellen's, the girl bar down the street. Suddenly a tall figure caught Carson's eye, and she watched in amazement as Kennedy Nocona spun by with a cute little redhead in her arms.
The attorney was dressed to kill, in Carson's opinion, in black jeans that fit very nicely on her long legs, along with black cowboy boots, the kind with stitched scrolling and pointed toes. Carson approved, as she hated the boots most of the women wore, with their wide chunky rounded toes. Kennedy was also wearing a tooled-leather black belt with a tasteful silver buckle, and a long-sleeved starched white shirt that looked great against her brown skin. Not to mention the way it set off her very blue eyes. Carson slowly took all of this in during several passes around the floor by the attorney and her dance partner
Hmmmmm. Carson was both disappointed and glad at the same time. Glad that her instincts about the brunette's sexual orientation had been correct, and disappointed, assuming that maybe the redhead was Kennedy's girlfriend. The song ended and Kennedy escorted her dance partner off the floor on the far side of the room from where Carson stood. The paralegal momentarily lost sight of the tall woman, but as another song started up, she watched the woman take to the floor again, this time with a beautiful woman of obvious Hispanic descent.
Carson sighed and went to the bar to order a Mexican beer. She smiled at the bartender, who politely brought her the cold long-neck, garnishing it with a slice of lime. She tipped him and made her way back to the dance floor railing. Despite her friends' incessant complaints that they were treated badly by the bartenders at the Bit N Spur, that had not been Carson's experience. She had found them to be nothing but nice, and suspected her friends might have more than just a small attitude toward the men they shared the bar with.
She nudged her way back to her previous spot and saw Gordon and Darren fly by, waving to her in passing. She smiled and raised her beer bottle in salute. Then she watched Kennedy dance into her line of sight, this time with a tall light-haired woman. Geez. I guess she's a player. Not only can she have any woman she wants, apparently she can have every woman she wants.
Carson immediately felt a tinge of irrational anger. She had already fallen for a player once, and was determined never to do it again. Shelley, a good-looking athletic woman that ran on the periphery of Carson's circle of friends, had wined her and dined her, and had almost succeeded in getting her into bed, when Carson was tipped off that Shelley was giving similar treatment to two other women at the same time.
In some ways Carson was sorry she hadn't slept with Shelley, using her in return. Not that Shelley appeared to consider casual sex as being used. Carson knew she was attracted to women, she just hadn't actually had sex with one yet. Shelley was a striking girl, and it would be nice to have some experience. But the romantic in Carson wanted to wait until she had true feelings for someone before she slept with them.
She had had a few shallow physical relationships with men in the past, and found them to be unsatisfying on several levels. There was no emotional connection with the men, and the love-making, if it could be called that, had been totally for the men's pleasure, with little concern for Carson or her feelings.
Of course it would have helped if Carson had been attracted to the men in the first place. The things we do to try to live by society's standards. She was determined, above all, that she wasn't going to have any more shallow relationships, at least not when it came to matters of the heart.
Gordon and Darren appeared at her side, drawing her thoughts back to the present. "You ready for another round?" Gordon held out his arm.
"Sure. Darren, you want to finish my beer?" She held out the cold drink.
"Thank you." Darren took it from her, and suddenly Gordon was spinning her around the floor, making her laugh with giddiness.
Kennedy and Heidi leaned against the railing, watching the activity on the dance floor. Heidi lit a cigarette and drank yet another bourbon, while Kennedy nursed a glass of ice water. "Are you having fun?" Heidi elbowed her friend in the ribs.
"I suppose." The blue eyes idly surveyed the room with mild interest.
"Come on. You are a girl magnet." Heidi slapped her on the arm. "This is the first rest you've had since we got here. I've watched babe after babe come up and practically throw their panties at you for a spin around the floor in your arms."
"God." Kennedy rolled her eyes. "Thanks for that visual image."
"Glad to be of service." Heidi laughed. "Oh good grief. There goes another little hetero couple. I get so sick of that shit. I can almost read the personal ads they've probably placed. 'My girl-friend is bi-curious and we seek discrete lesbian or bi female for possible experimentation'. What a crock. Like we all know who the 'bi-curious' person really is in most of those ads. More like a male lesbian fantasy. And why in the hell can't they go to their own bars? They certainly have a lot more to choose from than we do, and it's not like we have a huge dance floor here to begin with, without them making it even more crowded."
"It's a free county," Kennedy remarked, although on a certain level she agreed with her friend. She followed Heidi's gaze and was surprised to see the blonde from her seminar, along with the man she had been talking to at lunch. She found herself irritated at the sight and then mentally chastised herself. Come on, it's not like you even had a conversation with her or anything. Let it go. Still, it was upsetting for some reason, to see the girl with her boyfriend, much less to see them in this bar.
"Hey." Heidi tugged at her arm. "Come on, they're about to play the Cotton-Eyed Joe."
Kennedy groaned and allowed herself to be dragged onto the floor for the traditional line dance. As the song went on, the tempo became increasingly faster, and along with it, the accompanying dance steps. The tall brunette was on the outside of a line of people, and much to her chagrin, realized the short blonde was at the end of the line directly in front of her. Her chagrin turned to surprise, as the blonde was suddenly whipped around by over-exuberant dancers, lost her balance, and fell backward. Without thinking, Kennedy reached out and caught her, breaking her fall.
"Are you okay?" Long arms lifted the solid muscular body of the smaller woman.
Carson slowly turned and looked up and over her shoulder, and momentarily lost her voice, as she realized just exactly whose blue eyes she was gazing into. "Um ... yeah. Thanks." She stood and turned around to face the attorney, and nervously brushed her jeans legs off.
Kennedy stifled a laugh. "No need for that."
"Huh?" Carson paused, her hands still resting against her own thighs.
"You didn't actually make contact with the floor, and the last time I checked, I wasn't dusty." She allowed an amused grin to surface.
"Oh. Yeah. Right." Carson blushed.
They were both oblivious to the lines of dancers that were being forced to detour around them. Kennedy's smile disappeared as she saw Gordon watching them. "So is your boyfriend going to be upset that I touched you?" Her voice was heavy with sarcasm.
"My what?" Two confused blonde brows rose. "Oh. Gordon?" Confusion turned to mirth. "He's not my boyfriend, he's my cousin. And even if he weren't, I'm not his type and he's not mine. We have the wrong body parts for each other."
Kennedy couldn't help but quickly appraise the body in question, mentally slapping herself at the thought that all the parts looked completely right as far as she was concerned. Carson had on blue jeans, black boots, and a sleeveless form-fitting black top that looked great with her blonde hair. This time a genuine smile appeared on the tanned face. "In that case, would you like to dance?" As if on cue, a mid-tempo waltz began to play.
"I ... don't dance very well unless I have a really good lead." Carson felt a tap on the shoulder and turned to see the tall woman Kennedy had been dancing with earlier.
"Honey, she's the best lead you could ever hope for. Just compare notes with all the women who have been throwing themselves at her all night long." Heidi had been directly behind Carson, watching the entire exchange. She grinned as Kennedy blushed.
Carson turned back and looked into the blue eyes again. It hadn't occurred to her that all the girls she had seen Kennedy with had approached her to dance, instead of the other way around. "Um. Sure. I'd love to dance."
"What's your name?" Kennedy politely held out her hand in a belated introduction.
"Carson. Carson Garret." The paralegal thought she might drown in Kennedy's eyes, which were studying her with great intent.
"Nice to meet you. I'm ..."
"Kennedy Nocona." Carson finished for her. "I was in your seminar today."
"I know." Long arms opened up to her and Carson found herself suddenly swept across the floor in the hands of an expert. Kennedy somehow managed to cue every turn, every spin, every nuance of the dancing, and Carson finally just relaxed and held on for the ride. "Wow, you're an even better dancer than Gordy." Blue-green eyes peered up at Kennedy in amazement.
"I guess that's a compliment?" the attorney questioned with a smile.
"Most definitely." Carson was disappointed, as the song ended.
Kennedy, however, did not seem inclined to let go of her. "Want to stay out here for another song?"
"Absolutely." Carson smiled. She shyly realized it was a slower song and then felt her breath catch, as the tall woman pulled her in close and leaned over a bit, until they were dancing cheek-to-cheek. Carson closed her eyes and simply reveled in the way they danced together, like poetry.
From the railing, Heidi looked on with approval. Shea, my friend. She mentally called her friend by her middle name, the one Kennedy had gone by during law school. That's the first time I've seen you ask a woman to dance in five years. It's time for you to move on and start living again. Don't know who the cute blonde is, but I owe her a big thanks. I haven't seen your eyes light up like that in a long time.
Much later, Kennedy unlocked her hotel room door and entered the suite, flipping on lights and shedding her clothing. As she took her white blouse off, she caught a pleasant whiff of perfume, and held it up to her face, inhaling the scent with guilty pleasure. Whatever that is, it sure smells good. Smells like her. She quickly washed her face and brushed her teeth, and called the front desk for a wake-up the next morning. At the last minute she picked up the shirt again and put it back on. She sank into bed, exhausted but completely happy.
Across town, much further north, Carson fell asleep with the words to the slow dance playing themselves over in her mind:
The bluest eyes in Texas,
Are haunting me tonight,
Like the stars fill the midnight sky,
Her memory fills my mind ...*
Oh, yeah. Truer words were never spoken. The paralegal mused, as she allowed pleasant dreams to claim her.
Kennedy opened the back door to her house and flipped on some lights. Two large furry figures came bounding into the room, practically bowling her over in their exuberance. They danced around her legs as she made her way to the living room to look at the mail. "Hey. Down." The dogs immediately obeyed her command, taking a submissive posture on the nubby Native American rug that graced the hard-wood floor. "Geez, you'd think I'd been gone for a month instead of one night."
It had been a long day. Her plane was delayed due to thunderstorms in central Texas, was then re-routed to Houston, and finally landed in Austin five hours later than it was supposed to. She caught the shuttle back to her downtown office where her red Toyota Four Runner was parked, snagged a very late lunch, and just barely had time to meet her clients at their home in far east Austin.
After two hours of going over everything with them concerning what to expect in trial on Monday, her normally fluent Spanish was getting a little shaky. Her grateful clients then insisted she stay for a traditional Mexican dinner. She accepted, despite the fact that she was still full from lunch. Declining the invitation would have been considered rude, given that the couple had no means by which to monetarily pay her for her services.
She was happy beyond belief to pull up in her own driveway with the prospect of simply relaxing for the rest of the evening. She dropped her overnight case and garment bag on the king-sized bed in the master suite, and traded her casual slacks and button-down shirt for a pair of grey jersey gym shorts and a white ribbed tank top.
She grabbed a bottle of sparkling water from the refrigerator and made her way to her home office to boot up the computer and check e-mail. Most of her paying clients were part of Austin's booming high-tech industry, and had no concept of communicating with her by any other means. She was in the process of drawing up articles of incorporation and by-laws for several new e-commerce businesses based in the state capitol, most of them located far north or far south of downtown Austin.
She quickly scanned a list of about a dozen messages, most of them SPAM, and then spied one from "A. Carson Garret." So, you go by your middle name. I used to do that. Hmmmm. She smiled briefly and opened the message. Oh, yeah. Forgot about that. Kennedy was disappointed.
It was not a personal e-mail after all. She had told the people in her seminar that had laptops with them to e-mail her the URL's for their firm websites. Carson's message was merely in compliance with her request, and had been sent to her during the seminar.
Well, A. Carson Garret, let's find out about your firm. And maybe something more about you. Kennedy clicked on the link and the home page for Howard, McIntosh & Moore, L.L.P. appeared on the screen. She found the "search" feature of the website, typed in "Carson Garret," and hit "find." After a bit of a wait, an article titled "Medical Issues in Insurance Defense," by A. Carson Garret, loaded onto the screen.
Nice to see they value their paralegals enough to feature them on their website. Kennedy read the article slowly, taking in the well-organized thought processes of her new friend. The article basically covered what the title said it would, outlining how information found in a plaintiff's medical records is used to build a good defense for insurance companies that were sued in personal injury lawsuits.
A quick review of the website revealed that the firm was mid-sized, with about forty attorneys, fifteen paralegals, and roughly twenty-five other support personnel. The firm's areas of practice covered a little bit of everything, including litigation, probate, bankruptcy, real estate, corporate law, and family law. It did appear to be an innovative place, as she read that one of the firm's goals was to have a paperless office with everything stored on computer. The firm did not have a traditional library, but rather had all its research materials on CD Rom.
The only partners in the firm were the three whose names the firm bore. Pretty sweet deal for those partners, living it up on the profits generated by the billings of thirty-seven salaried associates and fifteen billing paralegals. Kennedy mused to herself. Let's see ... Dallas. Bet all four of them live in either Highland Park or Bent Tree, and they all drive a Lexus, a Mercedes, or a BMW. And what about you, Carson? Bet they don't pay you even half of what you're worth to them. They never do.
The attorney clicked back to her e-mail messages and pondered them for a moment. She thought about the night of dancing with Carson, and the instant attraction she had felt for the girl when she first saw her in the seminar room. They had danced at the Bit N Spur until last call at two o'clock in the morning. Dancing and the loud music pretty much precluded a whole lot of conversation.
At last call, Kennedy had left Heidi securely in the temporary company of a friend at the club, and had walked with Carson back to Gordon's car a block away. The two of them kept several paces back of Gordon and Darren. They talked briefly, mostly about the seminar and the legal profession, things that in reality revealed very little personal information.
Still, when they reluctantly said goodbye, Kennedy had leaned in and placed a chaste kiss on Carson's cheek, and backed away with a smile, watching until the car disappeared from view. She had then returned to the club and walked the four blocks back to the Dupont Hotel with an inebriated Heidi, whom she put in a cab and sent home, after leaving Heidi's car keys at the front desk of the hotel, slipping the night manager a fifty dollar bill in exchange for the promise not to release them to Heidi until she came back the next day to retrieve her vehicle.
Kennedy's thoughts strayed back to Carson, remembering the sparkle in her eyes, the scent of her perfume, and the way her body seemed to fit perfectly against Kennedy's while they danced. She really knew so very little about the girl, but for some reason she could think of little else. She found herself wanting more time with the pretty blonde. Kennedy closed her eyes and released a long sigh. Been a long time since I felt like that about anyone. Angela ...
She closed her e-mail, shut down the computer, and made her way back into the kitchen. Why not? I'm at home and it's not like I'm going anywhere tonight. She pulled a bottle of pinot noire from the scrolled wine rack and blew the dust off the label, a 1990 selection from Hill Country Vineyards, a local winery. She located a wine glass in the back of the cabinet, dug through a drawer and found a cork screw, and un-corked the bottle, pouring herself a generous serving of the rich dark red spirit.
She padded out the back door and plopped down in the swing which hung from the screened-in back porch. The rain had long since blown over, and the night sky was almost perfectly clear, save a few wispy clouds. The air smelled clean and fresh, and had cooled down considerably from the hundred-degree temperatures of the past several days.
Kennedy looked around and surveyed her property, picturing it rather than actually seeing it in the darkness. It consisted of fifteen lake-front acres along the northern shore of Lake Travis, outside of Austin. Her house, while by no means a mansion, was a comfortable old-style ranch house, complete with an open screened dog trot hallway which split the house down the middle. On one side of the house were the living room, kitchen, formal dining room, den, laundry room, and a half bath. On the other was the master bedroom suite with private bath, two additional bedrooms, another full bathroom, and a fourth bedroom which Kennedy had converted into an office and library.
To get from one side of the house to the other, one had to briefly expose themselves to the outdoor temperature by cutting through the dog trot. The dogs, Murphy and Lady Jane, better known as LJ, slept in the open hallway when the temperatures were pleasant, which in central Texas meant they usually slept out there only in April and October. The rest of the year found them on the floor at the foot of Kennedy's bed. The nice thing about the split house was that at night, she could turn the heat or air conditioning way down on the unoccupied side of the structure, saving her a great deal on her electric and natural gas bills.
Her eyes tracked over to the double garage and the additional attached triple carport to the side. In the garage were her Four-Runner and her brother's used Honda Civic. Under the carport were a double horse trailer and two other empty trailers, one for a ski boat and one for transporting two waver runners. The ski boat and wave runners themselves were in the boathouse down on the water, along with a forty-foot sailboat.
Kennedy's younger brother, Peta, "Pete" for short, lived in a small efficiency apartment over the garage. He was a student at The University of Texas at Austin, majoring in girls, beer, and fraternity parties, and changing his major every semester. As if on cue, Pete emerged from the apartment, took the stairs down two at a time, and opened the garage.
"Hey!" Kennedy startled him, and she grinned as she watched him jump. Hidden on the dark porch, she had been undetectable. He turned to face her with a look of minor irritation on his face. "Did you feed the horses?"
In exchange for taking care of her two Quarter Horses, Kennedy gave her brother free lodging in the small apartment. As a by-product, she also basically gave him free meals, too. Even though the efficiency was fully-equipped with a kitchenette, most mornings, Pete could be found eating cereal at Kennedy's kitchen table. Evenings also called for a second visit if the tall woman was cooking for herself, which happened at least twice a week.
"Yeah. Fed 'em a little while ago." He fidgeted, waiting.
"Exercise them today?" She looked past the garage to the stable and practice ring beyond.
"MaryD and Missy are both due for new shoes next month." Mary's Dancer and Missy's Legacy, a bay mare and a white mare respectively, were both champion show horses and barrel racers. Kennedy had not taken them on the show circuit in the past few years, but both horses were still her pride and joy, along with Murphy, the male Border Collie, and LJ, the faithful guard dog. LJ, who was half Akita and half wolf, knew she was second only to Kennedy in the "pack" pecking order.
"I'm ahead of you, sis. I called the farrier today and booked him to come out on Wednesday next week after I get home from classes." The tall boy, man, really, stalked over and mounted the porch, swinging the screen door open. He moved closer and peered curiously down at his sister. "Is that a glass of wine you're drinking?"
"Yeah." She swirled the glass around and then took a sip. "You got a problem with that?"
"No." He shuffled from foot to foot. "No. Just ... not like you, that's all. What's up?"
"Does something have to be up for me to sit outside on a nice evening on my own porch and enjoy a drink?" Blue eyes gone silver in the sparse moonlight blinked back at him.
"No." Pete shook his head and then made his way back toward the garage. "I'll be out late."
"Figured." Kennedy watched him back the Honda out and then drive away toward the farm market road the property was located on.
She turned back to her inward pondering. You've got it all, Shea. She carried on mental dialogue with herself, using her more familiar middle name, the one by which her family and school friends all called her. But what good is it to have it all if you don't ever share it with anyone? And Pete doesn't count.
With quiet resolve, she gulped down the rest of the wine and went back inside to her office. She re-booted the computer and watched as her e-mail opened up again. Locating Carson's message, she clicked on it, clicked on "reply," and to her own chagrin, felt her heart racing slightly with nervousness. Good Lord, Kennedy, all you're doing is responding to an e-mail.
Let's see if I can turn this impersonal e-mail into something a bit more personal. She chewed on her lower lip and twisted a lock of hair around one finger, and then began to type:
Thank you for providing the URL to your firm's website. Great article on medical issues, by the way.
I had a really great time last night. Listen, if you're ever in Austin, please give me a call. Maybe we can get together or something.
The attorney re-read the response and sighed. Not the most eloquent I've ever been, but that seems safe enough. She hit "send" and then stepped out of the room and back across the breezeway to the kitchen to pour herself some more wine. She stretched out on the cushioned leather couch in the den and turned on the television, channel-surfing until she finally settled on a documentary about Egyptian mummies.
An hour later, sleepy from the unaccustomed wine, Kennedy shut off the television, locked up the "living' side of the house, and made her way back to the "sleeping" side of the house. As she passed her office she realized she had left her computer on. She sat down at the desk and noticed she had new mail. She quirked one eyebrow and opened it. It was from Carson:
Kennedy - Thank you for your comment on the article. I had a really great time last night too. And as a matter of fact, I will be in Austin a week from Monday. We have a week-long trial at the Travis County Courthouse. We'll be staying at the Barrington on Town Lake. I'd love to get together. - Carson
Oh my God. Kennedy rubbed her eyes and read the message again. Now what do I do? She pulled up her calendar and looked at the week in question. And then at the weekend immediately after. It was clear. Okay, Kennedy Shea, make like Nike and just do it. She paused for the briefest moment, her fingers hovering over the keyboard, and then she swallowed hard and began to type:
I know how hectic trials can be. Saturday, the day after your trial ends, I'm having some people out to my house on Lake Travis to go water skiing. I'd love for you to join us. You'd be more than welcome to stay Friday and Saturday night in one of my guest rooms. Let me know.
She hit "send" and held her breath. According to the time and date stamp, Carson's second message had been sent only ten minutes before she entered the room. She was guessing the cute blonde was still on-line. Sure enough, within minutes a third message popped up. Kennedy opened it and her eyes grew wide. The answer was exactly four words long: "Sure. Sounds like fun."
"Oh boy," the attorney spoke aloud, drawing the attention of Murphy and LJ, both of whom had been quietly following her from room to room. She spun around in her chair to face them, and two pairs of canine ears perked up. "I've got to plan a water skiing party. Hope my friends can make it with only two weeks' notice."
Two hundred miles north, Carson sat staring at her own computer screen in mute astonishment. What in the hell did I just agree too? She smiled a little. Come on Carson, it's not like she's an axe murderer, even if you don't know her very well. Besides, you haven't stopped thinking about her since you woke up this morning. A second more sobering thought wiped the smile from her face. Oh God. I need a new swimsuit.
The phone next to the bed rang shrilly, almost sending Kennedy through the roof. When her heart quit pounding quite so hard, she looked at the clock. "Two a.m. Damn." She usually turned off the ringer on the bedside phone, but had been so tired when she went to sleep, she accidentally turned the volume up instead of off. "Must be important to be at this hour."
She grabbed the cordless receiver and cradled it in the crook of her neck. "Hello?" She closed her eyes, hoping she could stay half-asleep.
"Where's my god-damned car?" Heidi's voice, while not slurred, indicated that she was in a painless state.
"Heidi?" Kennedy cleared her sleep-hoarse throat. "You didn't pick it up yet?"
"No." Kennedy heard the phone drop to the floor on the other end and winced at the clattering noise in her ear. "Sorry 'bout that." Heidi fumbled with the receiver. "No. I woke up with the hangover from Hell. Took a bunch of aspirin and drank about a gallon of water, and then went back to sleep. Didn't get up again until 7:00 p.m."
"Where are you now?" Kennedy switched ears and rolled to her side, supporting her head on her pillow and curling her arm underneath it.
"Just got home." Heidi paused to take a drag on her cigarette, and Kennedy heard the long breath as she released the smoke. "Susan and Mandy picked me up at 9:00 and we went to Sue Ellen's. I didn't even think about my car until they brought me back home and I noticed it wasn't in the garage."
"It's parked at the Dupont." The attorney chuckled. "Do you remember how you got home last night?"
"Last thing I remember is you leaving me at the Bit N Spur while you went somewhere with that little blonde." Heidi paused and then her voice took on a teasing note. "Hey. You didn't take her back to the Dupont, did you?"
"No!" Kennedy was indignant. "You know that's not how I operate."
"How am I supposed to know?" Heidi taunted her friend. "As far as I can remember, you haven't 'operated' at all for about five years."
"I'll ignore that, especially coming from someone who can't even remember a cab ride home." The attorney grinned sleepily and waited.
"Oh God. Tell me you did NOT pay to have my ass hauled home," Heidi practically wailed into the phone, causing Kennedy to hold the receiver about a foot from her ear.
"Yeah." The attorney chuckled. "You owe me twenty-five dollars in cab fare."
"Fine," Heidi huffed. "Add it to my tab."
"Tab's getting pretty hefty." Kennedy teased back. "I might have to extract it from you in a little pro bono work."
"Noooo. Anything but that," Heidi practically yelled, oblivious to her decibel level. "I don't have time for that. Let me know the total and I'll pay up."
"Just kidding." Kennedy was a little disappointed in her friend's reaction to her pet project. "Don't worry about it. I'd rather pay to send you home in a cab, than risk you driving home and getting in a wreck ... or something ...."
The air hung thick between them, even two hundred miles apart. Heidi sighed internally. You're never going to forgive yourself, are you Shea? Brief images of twisted metal and Kennedy's anguished cries played themselves out in Heidi's mind before she managed to push the dark thoughts down. "Hey." Her voice grew perceptibly softer. "Are you going to see the little blonde again?"
"Her name is Carson," Kennedy replied on a much lighter note. "And yeah. She's going to come visit me in a couple of weeks."
"Really?" Heidi immediately perked up. "Well that's great, Shea. Keep me posted, okay?"
"Sure." The attorney yawned, feeling her jaw pop. "Where would I be without you to give me eternal grief about my love life?"
"Somebody has to." Heidi laughed. Then her voice grew much quieter. "Um ... Shea ... thanks for taking care of me last night."
"No problem," Kennedy almost whispered, "That's what friends are for, right?"
"Right. Good-night, friend." Heidi swallowed.
"Night." The attorney replaced the receiver and laid awake, thinking about a certain paralegal, who was also two hundred miles away. After an hour she finally fell into fitful sleep.
Carson labeled the last box of files and handed them over to the courier, who had been patiently waiting for thirty minutes as she and her secretary, Rebecca, scrambled to get all the files and exhibits for the trial ready for delivery to the Barrington Hotel in Austin. It was Friday afternoon, and everything but their trial notebooks would be waiting for them when they arrived. The notebooks would be carried to Austin personally. Carson, her boss Anthony Moore, and one of the associates, Tamara Richardson, were all booked to fly out late on Sunday afternoon.
It had been a hectic week and she was looking forward to the Saturday reprieve from trial preparation, before the trial itself began. She still hadn't packed, much less been shopping for the much-needed swimsuit. She had come into the office early every morning, left to workout each evening at 5:30 p.m., and had returned each evening after the work-out to put in a few more hours.
Carson had a goal, and she was nothing, if not organized. She had no intention of working over the weekend and had made sure that every last detail was handled by 6:00 p.m. on Friday. Mission accomplished, she joined the rest of her team in the sports bar across the street from their downtown Dallas office building. They spent about two hours enjoying expensive drinks which Anthony Moore paid for with his firm credit card.
The paralegal ordered a shot of premium tequila, and so did Tamara Richardson. Tamara and Carson had become close friends after Carson deduced that the young attorney was a lesbian. She had hesitantly talked with Tamara about her own sexual orientation, asking many questions and looking for guidance, which Tamara had been more than happy to provide.
Tamara had been in a committed relationship with another woman for over twelve years, and had introduced Carson to her circle of friends. Carson had quickly become a part of the group, and had found herself more comfortable in the group of women than she had ever been with her straight friends. She would never be able to thank Tamara enough for taking her under her wing.
The two friends clinked their shot glasses, licked the salt from the rims, and downed the amber liquid in one gulp, quickly following it by biting down on a slice of lime. "Ahhhh." Carson set the glass down on the table just as her follow-up beverage, a Mexican beer, arrived. "That was just what the doctor ordered."
"Tired?" Tamara eyed her speculatively, noting that the paralegal looked more wired than weary.
"No." Carson sipped her beer. "Relieved to have the weekend free."
"I'd think you'd be looking forward to next weekend even more." The attorney grinned at her and watched Carson blush.
"Oh, yeah." The paralegal smiled. She had told Tamara about Kennedy and the plans for the weekend after the trial.
She and the dark-haired beauty had exchanged e-mails on a daily basis, and even talked on the phone one evening. They broke the ice by discussing their jobs, but quickly moved on to somewhat more personal matters. They talked a little bit about their backgrounds, discovering that they had traveled very different paths in life. They had not directly discussed their feelings for one another, and Carson could only speculate that since Kennedy seemed as eager to make contact a she was, that the attraction must surely be mutual.
Kennedy grew up on the outskirts of Alpine, Texas, the middle child and only daughter of three children. Her parents ran a large bed and breakfast that catered to the tourists that flocked to nearby Big Bend National Park. On the side, her father was an artist, creating oil paintings and pottery, which he sold in the local galleries. Alpine had gradually become something of an artists' colony, and Kennedy's father was one of the pioneers that encouraged the growth of that colony in the small far west Texas town.
Carson on the other hand, was an only child, born and raised in Dallas. Her father had managed the post office at the Dallas-Forth Worth airport, and her mother had been the business manager at Carson's high school. While Kennedy's childhood was spent exploring the mountains and valleys of Big Bend, Carson had explored the urban creek which ran behind her family's house. They laughed when they discussed this, Kennedy remarking that she had been warned every time she left the house to watch out for Rattlesnakes, while Carson had received a similar admonishment concerning Water Moccasins.
The paralegal was feeling a number of things, including excitement, nervousness, anticipation, and those familiar butterflies that seemed to dance in her stomach every time she thought about Kennedy. She looked at Tamara and sighed. "Thank God I've had the trial to focus on this week. Otherwise I think I would have been absolutely beside myself with nerves."
"You do seem to have it pretty bad." Tamara smiled at her. "Don't worry so much about what will or will not happen. Just think of it as a fun weekend with a new friend, and try to enjoy yourself."
"I know, it's just ..." Carson trailed off. As much as she was attracted to Kennedy, she also hoped things didn't move too fast. And she was terrified of revealing to the attorney that she had never had a physical relationship with another woman. What if my inexperience scares her away?
She had heard more than one of Tamara's friends talk about the fact that they did not ever intend to be someone's 'first' again. Each one in turn had related a bad experience in which some woman had been curious, used them, broken their heart, and then ran screaming back to the land of heterosexual relationships. Carson knew she wasn't going back. She wanted more than anything to move forward. Just not during her first weekend with Kennedy.
"Hey." Tamara read her friend's thoughts. "Carson, if it's right, it's right, and it won't matter to her about your past. Or lack thereof. If she runs away it's her loss. And if she goes the other way and pressures you ... well, let's just say she'd better not, or I think I know several people who would ride to your defense."
"Thanks." The paralegal smiled wanly and then grew sober, as she realized that she was being watched. Nicholas Giovani was the insurance representative for their client, and he would be going to trial with them in Austin. Carson couldn't quite put her finger on it, but the man just gave her the creeps in general. His eyes and face were insincere, and she didn't think she could trust him any further than she could throw him. He and Tony, her boss, were thick as thieves these days, and had many business meetings together. More than necessary, in Carson's opinion.
She briefly made eye contact with Nicholas and regretted it, as he smiled at her. "Carson, are you looking forward to the trial next week?"
"Sure." She gazed back steadily. "We're going to win."
"That's the spirit." Nicholas looked first at Carson and then back at Tony. "We'd better win. We certainly pay you all enough."
He joked a bit more, and Carson listened half-heartedly, the other part of her trying to figure out where to go swim suit shopping the next day. Most of the stores already had their fall and winter clothing on display. Maybe I'll find a bunch of suits on sale. She smiled and finished off her beer. "Well, I better get going." She rose up from her seat. "Lot's to do before Sunday afternoon."
"Oh." Nicholas looked disappointed. "Will I see you at the club tomorrow morning?"
Carson groaned internally. Her firm paid for its employees to have a membership at the most exclusive health club in town. Her favorite activity was spin class, a stationary bicycle class that she attended three times a week. It was held in a converted racquetball court and as a result, people could stop and look down through large glass windows at the class in progress.
Nicholas also had a membership at the center and more than once, she had caught him watching her during class. It always made her feel vaguely dirty, as if she were taking the class in the nude. She managed to smile. "I should be there at 8:00 a.m. for spin class, just like every Saturday."
"Good." Nicholas also stood in a nauseating chivalrous gesture. "Maybe I'll see you then."
"Maybe." Carson gathered her purse and brief case, and stepped away from the table. "See y'all Sunday evening at the airport, if not before." She nodded good-bye to Tamara and made her way back across the street to the parking garage.
Kennedy sat impatiently in traffic on Bee Caves Road, so close to the Barrington Hotel and yet so far. Carson had called her at 3:00 p.m. to inform her that the trial was over, they had won, and she was ready for Kennedy to come get her whenever Kennedy was ready. The attorney smiled. I've been ready for two weeks.
She had been working at home, and so had to make the trip all the way into town from Lake Travis. Friday afternoon rush hour was all that stood between her and what promised to be a nice dinner with a girl she was more than a little intrigued with. They had decided to eat the evening meal in the restaurant that was on the second floor of the hotel. It was famous for having the best fajitas in town, not to mention a romantic view of Town Lake from large floor-to-ceiling windows. Town Lake was really a river which cut through the middle of Austin, dividing the city into north and south sections.
Finally, traffic began to move, and within a few minutes Kennedy found herself turning into the hotel parking lot. She peered in the mirror on her sun visor, arranging a few errant locks of hair, applied a layer of clear gloss to her lips, and then got out of the car. She re-tucked her powder blue button-down shirt into her khaki slacks, and then took a deep breath, walking slowly toward the entrance.
She smiled, as Carson crossed the hotel lobby to greet her. They stood in front of each other for an awkward split-second, before Carson opened up her arms and they shared a brief hug. "How was the drive?" The paralegal smiled warmly at her friend. God, that shirt makes her eyes look so blue.
"Not too bad." Kennedy peered past Carson toward a garment bag, a rolling suitcase, and an overnight bag, along with a briefcase and laptop case. "Travel light this trip, huh?" she teased.
"I've been here for a week, and had to have a different suit for all five days." The paralegal placed her hands on her hips and mock-scowled. "Not to mention the proper shoes to go with the suits."
"I know. Just kidding you." The attorney bent over, shouldering the garment bag, briefcase, and overnight bag. "Why don't we go ahead and put your bags in my truck, and then come back inside?"
"Okay." Carson grabbed the handle on the rolling bag and retrieved her laptop, and they made quick work of stowing her luggage in the back of the Four Runner.
They went back inside the hotel and up the escalator to the second level. As they approached the maitre d', he greeted Carson like an old friend. "Ms. Garret, dining with us again tonight?"
"Yes." She smiled at the portly man. "Table for two, please, by the window."
"So, your party decreased greatly this evening." The man was used to seeing the paralegal with at least four other people - her boss, Tamara, Nick Giovani, and the owner of the Austin trucking company who was also a party to the lawsuit they had just tried. The maitre d' retrieved two menus and escorted them to the best table in the house.
"The numbers have decreased, but the quality of the company just multiplied." Carson grinned, first at the maitre d' and then at Kennedy, who blushed slightly.
"I see." He smiled and held out Carson's chair, and then left them.
"I'm sorry." Kennedy mentally kicked herself. "I didn't think about the fact that since you stayed here all week, you're probably sick of this restaurant. We can go somewhere else if you'd like."
"No." Carson reached out and briefly touched her friend's hand, noting how soft the strong-looking hand felt to the touch. "It's okay. I love this place. Lots of fond memories."
"Really?" Kennedy's skin tingled slightly as Carson's fingertips brushed across her knuckles. "Like what?"
"I went to school at UT. Didn't have a lot of money. My friends and I used to eat here every Saturday night. One serving of fajitas was big enough to feed two people, so the meal usually averaged less than ten dollars each." She looked dreamily out the window. "After that we'd go down to Sixth Street and go bar-hopping, only going in the places that didn't charge a cover. For the first three years, we were too young to drink, but we could always find a senior willing to sneak us some beers."
"Sixth Street?" Kennedy's brows furrowed. "Why not Gaby & Mo's?"
"What's Gaby & Mo's?" Carson looked confused.
"The only lesbian bar in town." The attorney chuckled.
"Oh." Carson blushed and looked down at her lap. "I ... um ... back then, I didn't ... um ..."
"Didn't know?" Kennedy's voice was very gentle.
"Yeah." The paralegal managed to look up and make eye contact. "Actually, I was up on Sundays in time to be in my choir robe at Hanover Baptist Church for the 11:00 a.m. service."
"No kidding?" A dark brow raised in surprise.
"No kidding." Carson smiled. "I guess you could say I lived sort of a double life."
"I guess so." Kennedy started to speak when the waiter interrupted them to take drink and meal orders. Carson immediately ordered a Margarita, while Kennedy requested a bottle of sparkling water. She then turned back to her new friend. "So, how did a Baptist choir girl end up hanging out on Cedar Springs in Dallas?"
"Long, sort of complicated story." The paralegal played with a package of crackers, not actually opening them or eating them. "When I was in high school, I was a Baptist poster child. By all predictions, I was supposed to be married to a preacher by now, barefoot and pregnant."
Their drinks had arrived, and Kennedy almost snorted her first sip of seltzer out her nose. "Oh God." She laughed. "That's funny."
"Yeah, I suppose." Carson sighed a little. "I started to rebel, just a tiny bit, my senior year of high school. Little things, like sneaking alcohol with some of my friends from their parents' liquor cabinets. By college I had two distinct sets of friends, my Baptist friends and my dorm friends. Even when I graduated and moved back to Dallas, I continued like that, going out with my work friends on Saturday night and showing up for church on Sunday."
"What changed?" The attorney studied her friend, noting a hint of sadness in her eyes, which were ... "Hey, two weeks ago, didn't you have blue eyes?"
"Probably." Carson smiled. "Why?"
"Now they're grey." Kennedy leaned closer. "Oh, they're really a little bit of green, grey, and blue, aren't they?"
"Yeah." The paralegal smoothed her charcoal-colored polo shirt collar. "It's the color of the shirt. My eyes tend to take on the color of either what I'm wearing or whatever is behind me."
"Cool." The attorney found herself getting lost in the eyes in question. "They're very pretty, no matter what color they are."
Carson blushed and looked down. And then looked back up. "You were saying?"
"Oh yeah." Kennedy blinked, the momentary spell broken. "What changed? I'm assuming from what you've said that you're not a Baptist anymore."
"No." Carson swallowed. "My mother died, and that changed everything."
"I'm sorry, Carson." The attorney reached across the table and took the smaller hand in her own, and squeezed it. "When did that happen?"
"Almost three years ago." Carson brushed her thumb across the back of Kennedy's hand. They both remembered where they were and slowly let go, leaving their hands resting on the table close together. "I had begun to question my religious beliefs anyway, but when Mom was ill, and after she died, the people that really came through for me weren't the church people, they were the people I worked with and the friends I had made outside the church. They were the real angels. The ones who made sure I remembered to eat, and let me sleep on their couches if I didn't want to be alone at night. All I got from the church people were sympathy cards. Nothing in person. I couldn't stomach the belief that those non-church people, according to the church I grew up in, were all going to go to Hell. I couldn't be a part of something that judgmental anymore. If God is love, how could he send anyone to Hell? I don't believe like that anymore."
"What about your sexual orientation?" Kennedy sipped her water. "Where does that come into play?"
"Oh." Carson took a long drink from the straw in her Margarita. "That. I think on certain levels, I've known since I was about sixteen. I just never did anything about it, because once again, there was that whole 'going to Hell' factor staring me in the face. It was easier to just try to date guys and fit in with what I had been taught was the right thing to do. Every time I started to question myself, I would push the feelings way down inside and try to block them out. Pretty difficult, considering I've probably always had a crush on one girl or another since I was eleven."
"So when did you finally break away from that and start dating girls?" Kennedy swirled her water around, guessing at the answer.
"Before I answer that, Kennedy, you have to know that I know I'm attracted to women. This is not a phase." Carson blinked hard, afraid she might cry if she were rejected right there during dinner. "I have been on some dates with girls. Even kissed some of them. And the kissing was very nice." The paralegal smiled. And then frowned. "But ... I haven't ... exactly ..."
"Been with a woman yet?" The attorney finished for her.
"No." Carson studied the tanned face intently. "Does that bother you?"
"That would be pretty hypocritical of me, considering I haven't had a girlfriend in over five years." Kennedy smiled and let her fingertips graze Carson's for a moment. "It's not exactly like I'm the relationship queen."
"Really?" Carson felt a huge weight lift from her shoulders.
"Really." Their dinner arrived, and the rest of the meal was passed in lighter conversation. Carson talked about all her old hang-outs when she was a student, and Kennedy shared with her some new places they might want to check out together sometime. Carson felt giddy inside at the thought that her new friend was already discussing future plans.
When they had finished eating and paid for the meal, Kennedy looked at her watch and then out the window. "Hey. It's almost time for the nightly bat migration."
"Oh, cool!" Carson stood up and looked out the window with her. "I haven't seen that in a long time."
"Let's go." Kennedy escorted her out the back door of the hotel, that led down to the foot path that ran along Town Lake for miles. The soft packed sand crunched quietly under their feet, and a light warm breeze blew at their backs.
The hotel was located right next to the Congress Avenue Bridge. Underneath the bridge was one of the largest bat colonies in the world, numbering over a million. The architects, quite by accident, had designed the underside of the bridge with all the nooks and crannies that were perfect for bats, almost like crags in an open-air cave. They couldn't have built a better bat habitat if they had been given blue prints for one. Each evening at dusk the bats migrated from under the bridge to go out on their nightly foraging run.
"There they go!" Carson exclaimed excitedly, just as the first group of bats emerged, creating a large black cloud in the sky overhead. A number of bat-watchers were lined up on the foot path and on top of the bridge as well. It took about thirty minutes for all the bats to fly away, and the two women watched as the small pockets of flying mammals moved further and further from sight.
When no more bats were forthcoming, Kennedy turned to her friend and held out her hand. "Wanna go for a walk with me?"
"Sure." Carson took the proffered hand. It felt like the most natural thing in the world, and her body was enveloped in a gentle warmth that made her happy beyond measure. They walked down the foot path in the other direction, away from the crowd. "Nice evening."
"Yeah." Kennedy idly squeezed the hand she was holding. It felt strong, yet vulnerable at the same time, and she suddenly felt very protective of this woman she was just getting to know. "I think we're supposed to get a cool front tomorrow night."
"What? Is the temperature going to drop down below ninety?" Carson quipped.
"Below sixty, from what they said on the news. But we should be fine for water skiing tomorrow. It's not supposed to blow through until early Sunday morning."
"Wow. And we're barely into Fall. Pretty early."
"Supposed to be a hard winter." She peered at Carson, observing the different shades of gold, yellow, and light brown in the smaller woman's short wavy hair. "Did you bring any warm clothes?"
"Oh." The paralegal chewed her lower lip. "No. Didn't even occur to me that I would need any. I packed for this trip a week ago, and it was close to a hundred degrees that day."
"That's okay." Kennedy smiled. "I'm sure I can find something you can wear, although it might be a sweatshirt that would probably come down to your knees."
"Works for me." Carson smiled back. "Long as I don't get cold I'm not going to complain."
"I'll make sure to keep you warm." Kennedy didn't realize how the words sounded until they were out of her mouth. The fearful look on her friend's face said it all.
"Hey." She made eye contact, willing the 'deer caught in the headlights' expression from Carson's features. "I didn't mean that the way it came out, okay?"
"Okay." Part of the timidity disappeared, and Carson took a deep breath, squaring her shoulders in the process.
They reached the First Avenue bridge and Kennedy steered Carson over closer to the water. A couple of sculls rowed by, as members of The University of Texas crew got in some evening practice. They listened as the coxswain shouted out commands from the bow of the boat, and the oarsmen dutifully pulled harder against the tug of the water.
"Listen, Carson ..." Kennedy turned to face the younger woman, and looked around to see if anyone was close enough to hear. Satisfied they had some privacy, she continued. "I'm not going to pretend that I'm not attracted to you, because I am." She was rewarded with a shy smile.
"But it's more than that to me." She lifted a soft hand and placed a single kiss on Carson's knuckles. "I feel close to you. Like, that's crazy, right? We barely even know each other. But I'd like to get to know you better."
"I feel the same way." The paralegal moved closer, until she could feel Kennedy's body heat radiating against her own skin.
"I kind of figured." Kennedy reached up and brushed the back of her fingers against Carson's cheek, sighing internally at the soft downy skin. "From the moment I first saw you, I felt drawn to you. And that's not a line. Look up my friend Heidi in Dallas and ask her if you don't believe me. I don't easily get into relationships. I really have been on my own for five years. But there's something about you ..."
Carson cut her off, softly pressing two fingers against Kennedy's lips. "I believe you. You don't have to explain. I want to get to know you better too, Kennedy."
The attorney wrapped the younger woman in a warm hug. It felt like coming home, somehow, and she noted once again how their bodies fit perfectly together. "Just didn't want you to think I'm crazy or something."
"If you're crazy ..." Carson's warm breath tickled Kennedy's shoulder through her shirt. "... then so am I."
Reluctantly they moved out of the hug and Kennedy studied the grey eyes at close range. "Carson, did you ever see that movie, 'A Little Romance'?"
"Isn't that the one with the boy and girl in Venice, who rent a gondola so they can kiss under the Bridge of Sighs at sunset?" Carson felt a sudden delicious shiver, as she looked up into the pale blue eyes.
"Yeah." Kennedy took both of Carson's hands and held onto them, gathering her courage. "The bridge was supposed to be magic, and if they kissed under it exactly at sunset, they would be in love forever."
"Magic?" The paralegal swallowed, and stepped closer.
"Yeah." Kennedy looked up to the bridge over their heads, and then across at the setting sun, which cast bright red-orange light along the surface of the water next to them. "Wonder if it's just the Bridge of Sighs, or if any other bridges might be magic?"
"Don't know." Carson felt herself being pulled forward, until she was in the attorney's arms.
"Care to test that theory?" Kennedy reached out and cupped the paralegal's face, and then leaned in, softly brushing her lips across Carson's. She smiled against Carson's mouth, and then made a more lingering contact.
Carson felt herself melting into the kiss, and was certain the bones in her legs had turned to mush. No kiss had ever been like this one, full of warmth and passion and promise. After a brief gentle exploration, they broke apart and she looked up at Kennedy's face. "Magic."
"Yeah." The sun sank completely out of sight, as Kennedy pecked her lips one more time, and then began to lead her back toward the Barrington. "Wanna go see my house?"
"I'd like that very much." Carson felt safe, safer than she'd ever been, and sensed that her new friend would never ever purposefully hurt her.
Much later, after a few detours for dessert and sight-seeing, they were driving out of the city toward Lake Travis.
*Lyrics by Dave Robbins, Van Stephenson, and Tim DuBois, Copyright 1988, WB Music Corp./Uncle Beave Music, as performed by Restless Heart on their CD, Big Dreams in a Small Town.
Continued in Chapter 2
For a photo of Austin's skyline over Town Lake at night, go here:
To check out the Austin bat colony, go here (note that newborn bats are called "pups" <grin>):
For photos of bats in flight, go here:
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