See Chapter 1 for Disclaimers
THE BLUEST EYES IN TEXAS
Copyright 2000 By Texbard
Important Note to Those Who Read Chapter 1 Prior to December 21, 2000: I had to revise chapter one, mostly to make names of businesses generic. I also changed a few people's names. Sorry for all you Austin and Dallas lovers who were getting a kick out of all the familiar places, but it had to be done. Nearly all the business names have either been dropped completely, or changed to ones I made up. You might want to go back and scan it again, paying attention to names and places. Now, on with the story ...
(posted December 21, 2000)
The long driveway leading up to the house was dark, save for the faint starlight overhead, and closer to the house, the soft yellow glow of the porch light, which illuminated the front steps in a pale arc. Carson peered out of the windshield at the structure, realizing that the bottom half up to window level was actually forged of logs, and above that was rough-cut pale stone. As they maneuvered around the curve of the driveway behind the house to the garage, her mouth flew open.
"Oh wow. What a great house!" She turned and looked at Kennedy. "It's a dog-trot house, isn't it?"
"Yep." The attorney smiled. "Very good. Most people don't know what it is, and frankly, a lot of them just think it's plain strange."
"Oh, no." The paralegal's eyes were still wide with wonder. "It's wonderful. I've read about them, in history books and old western novels."
"You ever read 'Texas' by James Michener?" Kennedy pressed the automatic garage door opener, and pulled the Four Runner under shelter.
"Yeah." Carson smiled. "Bought it in hard-back when I was in school."
"You finish it?" The attorney put the truck in park and turned off the ignition.
"The last part, when it reached modern days, that was pretty tough to wade through." The paralegal un-buckled her seat belt and opened the passenger door. "But yeah, I finally finished it."
"What did you think about all that stuff about the Indians?" Kennedy eyed her friend with curious speculation, as they met around back of the truck and she opened the hatch door.
"Oh God." Carson winced. "I have a pretty strong stomach. I have to, with what I do. I look at pictures of accident scenes on a regular basis. Even dead people. But I gotta tell ya, when they got to that torture scene, where they strung up that priest ... ewwww. I read it, but I was twitching from sympathetic pain."
"Twitching, huh?" Kennedy chuckled and retrieved Carson's rolling bag.
Carson blushed. "You know what I mean."
"Yeah. Just giving you a hard time. So, which of these do you need?" She indicated the five bags in the rear of the truck.
"The rolling one, you've got. Also the overnight bag, and the lap top." Carson picked up the other two and Kennedy closed the truck door, and then the garage door, after they stepped outside.
As was her habit, the attorney made her way toward the back door of the house, which was actually more of a side door off the kitchen. She was greeted at the porch landing by a small furry bundle that rubbed furiously against her legs. "Hey Spanky." She bent down and scratched the fat tabby cat behind the ears. "Haven't seen you in a couple of days. You been out in the field chasing mice?"
"Meow?" Spanky purred loudly and moved from Kennedy's legs to Carson's, giving both women equal attention.
"Hey. That's unusual." The attorney fumbled with the door keys and then unlocked the door, pushing it open. "He usually doesn't like new people right away."
"Don't you know by now, Kennedy?" Carson teased. "I'm special."
The attorney paused, and appraised her friend for a long moment. "Yeah, I guess you are." You sure are. She added silently.
As soon as she flipped on the lights, two pairs of large furry paws planted themselves against Kennedy's chest. "Hey. Down." The dogs immediately obeyed, until they saw two things. Carson and Spanky. Pandemonium broke loose, as the dogs barked first at the paralegal and then at the cat in turn. They knew better than to attack either one. "Cut!" Kennedy yelled, and both dogs dropped to the brown tiled floor.
Spanky walked right up to the subdued canines, twitched his tail, and hissed one time, loud and long. Then he simply turned tail and waddled out of the room in a most dignified manner, taking his time as he went. The dogs whimpered in frustration.
They had learned the hard way that the only smaller creatures they were allowed to chase were rabbits and snakes. LJ had had one unfortunate encounter with a porcupine, while Murphy had once found himself on the receiving end of skunk spray. And Kennedy would not tolerate any taunting of the cat.
Carson burst out laughing. "Well I guess I know who really rules this house."
Kennedy chuckled with her. "Actually, I'm the alpha, and LJ is the beta, if there is such a thing. But Spanky ... he's ten years old, older than either dog. I've had him since my first year of law school. Yeah, Spanky owns the house. He just lets the rest of us live here."
"Which one is LJ?" The paralegal dropped her bags on the floor and eyed the dogs respectfully.
"Here." Kennedy grabbed Carson's hand and led her to the dogs and knelt down, with Carson following her lead. "Let me introduce you. The larger one, Lady Jane, LJ, is a four-year old Akita/Wolf mix. Got her out in Alpine when she was just a pup. Someone had a litter they had brought down from Canada. And Murphy is a five-year-old ..."
"Border Collie." Carson sighed, her eyes taking on a faraway look. "Smartest dogs on earth. I had one growing up. Used to follow me around everywhere. Named him Ben that bear on the television show."
"Oh." The attorney smiled, ruffling Murphy's head. "I used to watch that show every week."
"Hmmm ..." The paralegal looked at her friend, studying her face more closely. "Hate to tell you this, but I watched it in syndication every afternoon after school."
"Oh." It was Kennedy's turn to look at Carson. "Um ... how old are you, anyway?"
"Twenty-seven." The paralegal grinned. "And you?"
"Thirty-two." Thank God I'm not robbing the cradle. She studied her younger friend. Well, not too much, anyway. "I'm an old lady."
"I don't think so." Carson couldn't help but reach out and trace the corded muscles of Kennedy's forearm, which was peeking out from the rolled-up sleeve of her button down. "You look pretty healthy to me."
Kennedy captured the finger and playfully nipped it, watching Carson blush. She released the smaller hand and stood up. "Healthy enough to haul these bags into the guest room, at any rate." She offered her friend a hand up, dragging Carson to her feet. "Here, let me give you the tour."
She led her friend through the kitchen, which was a large country-style room, with a center island and large windows that looked out toward the lake. It was well-stocked with lots of coppery pans, and towels and counter tiles in shades of royal blue and white. From there they made their way into the formal dining room, which bore a six-person sturdy oak dinette that could be expanded with a leaf to seat ten. Through the dining room was the formal living room.
"Geez." Carson stopped and looked around with great approval. "Looks like someone took the North Tribe catalog and dumped it in your house."
"You're actually familiar with that catalog?" Two black brows shot up.
"Oh, yeah." The paralegal smiled, her nose crinkling and her eyes shining brightly. "I drool over it all the time. I joke that if I ever win the lottery, I'm going to buy a house and furnish it completely from North Tribe."
Kennedy coughed. "Um ... that's what I did."
"You won the lottery?" Carson's voice rose an octave, ending in a squeak.
"No. Well, not exactly." The attorney hedged. "No, I furnished this house from the North Tribe catalog, mostly. Along with some odd pieces and artwork I picked up back home in Alpine, and at a few flea markets here and there."
"I see." Carson slowly panned the room, taking in the unfinished woods, the dark brown buttery-soft leathers, and the wooden paneling. One wall was greyish-white rough-cut stone from floor to ceiling, and in the center was a fireplace that appeared to be open on the other side into the next room, which was the den. A mostly brick-red southwestern-style rug covered the floor between the couch and the fireplace, small bits of navy blue, dark green, and cream-colored designs woven through it in interesting patterns. Over the mantle was an oil painting of several Native Americans on horseback. "This is nice." She moved closer to study the work, which was done in vibrant primary colors.
"I'll tell the artist the next time I see him." Kennedy smiled and moved in beside her. "He's my father."
"Your father painted that?" The paralegal looked up at her friend. "He's really good."
"Yeah. I think I'll keep him." She grew sober, appearing almost melancholy. "There was a time when I didn't want anyone to know I was related to him, but by the time I got out of school, we had both learned to appreciate each other. Do you and your father get along?"
"Um ..." Carson bit her lower lip. "He's deceased too, Kennedy. Died of a heart attack the year after my mother died."
"Oh God." I am such an idiot. I can't believe I didn't ask her about her parents before tonight. "Carson, I'm sorry. And you're an only child?"
"Yeah." The paralegal looked down at the floor for a moment. I have to make her feel better about this. It was a paradox, that at this point, most of the time, Carson was fine discussing her parents. It was her friends that felt awkward or bad about it. "But I have a very large extended family."
"That's good." So young to have been through all of that. Kennedy swallowed, and moved toward the door that led to the dog-trot hallway. "Um ... let's put these bags away and then we can come back out here."
"Okay." The paralegal followed, and then stopped dead in her tracks. "Hey. What did you mean by 'not exactly?' How do you 'not exactly' win the lottery?"
The attorney groaned internally. "Tell ya what. Let's get you settled, and then we can go out in the den and I'll explain. How's that?"
"Works for me." Carson followed across the dog-trot, sniffing the warm breeze that blew through, taking in the scent of cedar and lake water. Nice. They made their way into the other side of the house and down an indoor hallway. After depositing Carson's bags in a guest room, they stepped back into the hallway. "Kennedy, where's the bathroom?"
"Right here." The attorney motioned to a door across the hall from Carson's guest room. "Why don't you get cleaned up, or whatever you need to do, and I'll go rustle up some drinks for us in the kitchen. I have a bottle of pinot open, is that okay? I have other stuff too. Some gin and tequila, and my brother keeps a supply of beer in the refrigerator at all times."
"Pinot is fine." The paralegal furrowed her brows. "Your brother?"
"Lives over the garage."
Carson washed her hands in a white old-fashioned pedestal sink and then dried them on a navy-blue hand towel that was adorned with whimsical brown bears. She took in the huge claw-foot tub and chuckled, as she noted that modern water jets had been added to the interior of the enamel monstrosity. After fluffing her hair, she made her way back toward the den.
Kennedy looked up and smiled, and patted the leather cushion next to her on the over-stuffed couch. She had been watching the Weather Channel, and immediately hit the mute button. "Looks like we're still safe from the cool front until tomorrow night."
"Good." Carson accepted a glass of wine and sat down, kicking her shoes off and tucking one leg underneath her. "So ..." She took a sip and swirled it around her mouth before swallowing. "'Splain." She noted the somewhat pensive look on her friend's face and wondered if she was prying. "That is ... if it's not too personal."
"No. No, that's okay." Kennedy played with her glass, not really drinking from it. "I ... it's almost embarrassing sometimes. Do you remember that Global Oil - Tejas Gas anti-trust suit down in Harris County, several years ago?"
"Boy, do I." Carson relaxed back into the comfortable cushion. "What was the judgment amount, a billion dollars or something like that?"
"Three point five billion, to be exact." The attorney studied her wine with way too much interest.
"I ought to remember, I drew up the final judgment papers." Kennedy paused, waiting for her new friend's reaction.
"You what?!" Carson almost choked on her wine.
"I ... um ... my first job out of law school was as an associate with the Houston firm that represented Tejas. We ... won." She finally sipped her wine, tentatively at first, and then she took a large gulp. "It was the very first case they put me on. I worked almost twenty-four seven on that case for at least a year. Hardly ever saw my apartment or the light of day. Even though I was just an associate, they treated me like a partner when it came time to divvy up the profits."
"Oh, wow." Carson was doing the mental arithmetic in her head, assuming the typical firm cut of a third of the judgment. "Jackpot."
"You could say that." The attorney looked around her home, a product of those profits. "While I by no means got the largest cut, I got enough to be very comfortable. I remember walking back to my tiny little office. It didn't even have a window. I had lived, eaten, breathed, and slept in that room for so long, I could hardly remember what life on the outside was like. I hated it."
"So you moved here?" Carson gestured about the room with one hand.
"Not right away." Kennedy sighed. "I immediately asked for an office with a window and begged for a lighter workload for a while, which they were more than happy to give me. I basically won the Tejas case for them, behind the scenes, even though I didn't actually try it in court for them. I helped make a lot of people very very wealthy. After I got my profit-sharing check, I partied my butt off for about a year, in between working eight to nine hours, five days a week. But the weekends were mine. I made sure of it."
"How did you end up in Austin?"
"Some things happened, and I took a long hard look at my life." The attorney gazed across the room studying some small framed photos on a shelf. She couldn't really see them clearly from where she sat, but she had all the faces memorized. Good times with good friends. "I had always wanted to come back to Austin someday. It's where I went to law school. I love it here. So I found myself this piece of land, an architect, and a good accountant, and packed up and moved here. I started my own firm and built this house, and there you have it."
"I figured it was your firm." Carson smiled. "I remember the name on the brochure from the seminar, 'Nacona and Associates.' What kind of law do y'all practice, anyway?"
"Well ..." Kennedy finished her wine and retrieved the bottle from the coffee table, pouring herself another glass. "Our paying clients are mostly hi-tech companies and e-commerce businesses. I handle their corporate records and filings. It's easy, profitable, steady work, and it just keeps growing. On the side, we represent all kinds of people who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford good legal counsel. Immigrants, migrants, poor single mothers, AIDS patients, that kind of thing. We use the profits from the corporate work to pay salaries and finance the pro bono stuff."
"Wow." The paralegal gave her friend an admiring glance. "That is so cool. I haven't met many attorneys like you." In fact, none like you. She amended silently. "Guess that explains your passion for pro bono work."
"Yep." The clock on the mantle interrupted them, chiming out twelve strokes. "Wow, is it that late?"
"Well, we did make that detour for cheesecake." Carson teased. When they left the Barrington, they had both talked about dessert. From there, they ended up at another more historic downtown Austin hotel, which was known for its chocolate cheesecake, among other things.
"And then we walked up and down Sixth Street for a while." Kennedy smiled. She had greatly enjoyed the walk, holding Carson's hand the entire time, any disapproving gawkers be damned. It just felt right, somehow, to hold the smaller hand in her own.
"Yeah, we did." The paralegal had enjoyed the walk just as much as her new friend had. "Hey, Kennedy ..." Carson started to ask what had happened in Houston, but at the last minute, thought better of it, and switched course. "What kind of name is 'Nacona'?"
"Comanche." Kennedy stood up and stretched. And then yawned.
"Comanche?" The paralegal peered at the pale blue eyes. "You're Comanche? How'd you get those blue eyes?"
"Why lass, me mother's Irish, don't ye know." The attorney effected a temporary brogue.
"So that's how you got the name Kennedy." Carson chuckled.
"Kennedy Shea, iffen ye don't mind." Kennedy continued with her banter.
"Kennedy Shea." The paralegal liked the feel of the name as it rolled off her tongue. "I like it."
"Glad to hear it." Hope I hear her calling it out some night. Kennedy's eyes grew wide at her own thoughts, and she mentally slapped herself. "Listen, it's late, and we have a pretty active day tomorrow. How about we go to bed, and I save my genealogy story for tomorrow night?"
"Okay." Carson also stood up, a yawn threatening to split her jaw in two.
Kennedy quickly deposited the wine glasses and the remaining wine in the kitchen, and then led Carson back through the dog-trot. LJ and Murphy were both snoozing outside the master suite door at the end of the hallway on the other side of the house. As they reached the guest room, the two friends stopped and looked at each other for a brief awkward moment.
"Hey." Kennedy finally found her voice. "I'll see you in the morning, okay?" She leaned in, taking Carson in her arms, and they shared a sweet kiss, which lasted a bit longer than either woman had intended. The sound of a car driving up caused them to break apart.
"Who's that?" Carson licked her lips, tasting a faint hint of pinot the attorney had deposited there.
"My brother." Kennedy smiled. "He's home early, for him." She pecked Carson's lips one more time. "I'm right down there at the end of the hallway if you need me for anything."
"Okay." The paralegal suddenly felt shy. "'Night, Kennedy."
They both entered their respective bedrooms, changed into night clothes, and crawled into bed. It was a while before either woman fell asleep. They were both pre-occupied with thoughts of each other.
Carson bobbed up and down in the water like a cork, the snug-fitting life vest keeping her from sinking any further than chest level under the surface. She held onto the triangular rope handle in one fist, and waited as the first ski was tossed to her. She smiled as Kennedy leaned way over the back of the boat, making sure to send the long fiberglass ski to her with a slow gentle glide.
It came directly to her. She didn't have to scramble at all to catch it. That's considerate. Carson had almost been popped in the face with a swiftly-propelled ski during several past trips to various lakes around Dallas. She stopped the ski with her outstretched hand and looped the rope handle over her wrist, using both hands to tug the ski onto her foot, adjusting the binding to a proper fit.
"You sure you want the second one?" The attorney tilted her head in question, studying the wet blonde head and slightly sunburned face several yards behind the boat. "You can try to slalom if you want to."
"No." Carson looked down at the murky water and shook her head negatively, and then looked back up. "That's okay. I've never really ... well ... I just don't want to slow things down or anything."
"Okay." Kennedy wrinkled her brows, working on a puzzle, and then sent the second ski back to her new friend. She watched as the young woman quickly donned it, and then settled back in the water, knees bent to her chest, ski tips up, the rope floating between the two skis. Once she was satisfied Carson was in place, she moved back to the driver's seat and started the motor. "Keep a close watch on her."
"Chill out, Shea." Heidi peered at the attorney from behind the latest in designer sunglasses. "She's been doing great back there all afternoon, jumping both sides of the wake, and everything. I'm guessing she's got a lot of experience in this arena."
"I know that." Kennedy's voice was a bit more sharp than she intended. "I just don't want to leave her in the water for too long after she goes down. It's getting crowded out here."
"True. Although she hasn't fallen very much. Mostly she just eventually lets go of the rope because she's tired." Heidi opened the ice chest between the two seats and grabbed a beer. She started to pop the top when Kennedy cleared her voice.
"You know the rules." The low alto voice took on a no-nonsense tone. "When you start drinking, you're done skiing."
"Yes ma'am." Heidi saluted with her free hand and opened the can. "It's getting late, my back and forearms are killing me, and I'm done."
"Fine. No whining later that you want to ski just one more time. And you just forfeited the job of watching Carson." Kennedy shifted gears, and the boat began moving forward. She glanced back to the other two passengers, Valerie, one of the attorneys she had hired when she first started her Austin firm, and Valerie's partner, Serena. "Val, keep an eye on Carson and let me know when she signals for speed or turns, or if she goes down."
"Sure." Valerie turned to the side, tucked her wavy dark hair behind her ears, and gave the paralegal in the water her full attention. "She's up, just riding between the wake right now, taking it easy .... no ... there she goes. God, she gets some air, doesn't she?"
"Yeah." Kennedy grinned, not turning around to watch, but rather keeping her eye on the lake ahead of them. "She sure does."
Carson's compact muscular frame was perfect for jumping the wake. She would drift along and then suddenly she would lean hard, zooming across the wake, and then she would quickly lean in the opposite direction, duck down, and go flying airborne back over both sides of the wake at once, landing in a neat tuck, never wobbling as she made contact with the water. The lithe blonde continually jumped back and forth with an endless supply of stamina. Kennedy had turned the throttle over to Valerie or Heidi several times during the afternoon so she could watch the little dynamo in action.
The paralegal's skiing form wasn't all that was drawing the attorney's attention. Carson's form in general was enough to make her lose her concentration if she wasn't careful. It had been a great day, so far.
It was sunny with a few high cumulus clouds and a constant light breeze. The temperature had dropped steadily since mid-morning. It was around 4:00 p.m., and she judged it to be in the upper eighties. The cold front was coming, but in Austin the word "cold" was a relative term, especially in late September.
Kennedy had woken up early that morning, as was her habit, and made a breakfast of waffles, fresh fruit, and vegetarian bacon. She left the doors between the sides of the house open on purpose, and the tantalizing scent had been enough to draw Carson out of bed and into the kitchen. Breakfast preparation had gone a little slower after that, mostly because the attorney kept pausing to talk to and observe her dining companion, who was clad in her night clothes, a pair of clingy waffle-weave shorts and a white t-shirt that gave a hint of the assets underneath.
She decided her new friend was absolutely adorable, especially first thing in the morning before she was fully coherent. Their only crisis arose when it became apparent that Carson needed caffeine in order to truly function, and there was none to be had. After breakfast, they threw on some more presentable clothing, went into town, and got Carson a latte, along with a bag of ice and a few other supplies needed for the day's outing. Then they went back to the house to get ready to ski.
Kennedy chuckled to herself. Carson's first appearance after her morning shower would be etched in her mind for a long time. Kennedy was already down at the boathouse, checking ropes and gas levels, and a myriad of other things she always inspected prior to any day of skiing. She was squatting down on the dock, re-coiling a spare rope, when she looked up to see her new friend making her way toward her, picking her path down the slope of the back yard.
A number of things caught the attorney's attention all at once. Carson had a distinct little hitch in her hips when she walked, which Kennedy found quite intriguing. Along with that, the young woman had one of the most fit bodies she had ever seen, complete with the proverbial six-pack of abdominal muscles.
The paralegal wore a royal blue athletic swim top, and a pair of matching royal blue board shorts that hung low around her hips, revealing a very cute navel and a slender waistline that made Kennedy's heart skip a few beats. When she drew closer, the blue of the swimsuit brought out the blue in Carson's eyes, which twinkled at her warmly for a split second before they disappeared behind a pair of very sporty mirrored shades.
Kennedy shook her head, returning to the present. "I am in so much trouble," the attorney muttered under her breath.
"You say something?" Heidi sipped at her beer and frowned at Kennedy.
Did I say that out loud? Good Lord I am in trouble. "No. Nothing."
"Uh-huh," the smug voice taunted her, and Heidi slunk down lower in the seat, stretching out her long legs and propping them up on the side of the boat. "So, where did she sleep last night?"
"Heidi ..." Kennedy let out an exasperated breath, still watching the water. She held up her hand high and rotated it in an exaggerated circle, glancing back for a split second to make sure Carson knew they were about to turn around. "In the guest room."
"How about tonight?" The tanned woman laughed, her raspy voice ringing out across the water.
"Remind me again why I invited you down here this weekend?" Kennedy executed the wide turn and began heading back toward her own private dock. She decided the lake was moving beyond crowded to dangerous, and too many boats had come way too close to them in the past hour. In all likelihood, this would be the last really warm weekend until early spring, and everyone that owned a boat for several counties around had come out to take advantage of it.
"Because you luuuvvvv me so much." Heidi pursed her lips and made kissing noises into the air. In response, Kennedy shifted up onto her knees, turning slightly away from her friend, and threw her weight into one hip, indicating exactly which part of her anatomy Heidi could kiss. "Well that was rude." The bemused woman sipped her beer, teasing back.
"Yeah, well, you deserve it." She began to gradually slow the boat down as they reached the dock. "And the answer is the same as my first one, 'in the guest room'."
"Uh-huh." Heidi finished off the beer, tossed the empty can into a trash bag, and retrieved another one.
Carson felt the boat slow down and dropped the rope, gradually sinking into the water in slow motion. She removed the skis and began kicking toward the boat. As she neared it, a large splash of water temporarily blinded her. She sputtered and wiped her hand across her face, and then opened her eyes to see two pale blue ones peering back at her at close range.
"Hey." Kennedy smiled and moved even closer. "Wanna learn how to slalom?"
"Oh." The paralegal chewed her lower lip pensively. "I don't know, Kennedy, I've never been able to get up, and I hate for everyone else to have to wait around while I fall over and over again."
"Everyone else says theyre done." The attorney had quickly polled Valerie and Serena, both of whom stated they were tired, and content to ride for the remainder of the afternoon. Heidi was preparing to leave the boat for a lounge chair on the dock.
"Really?" The Carson perked up. "Do you think you can teach me?"
"I can try. We'll stay right here in this cove where there's no boat traffic." Kennedy moved in behind her, taking the ski that didn't have a back foot cup, and shoved it toward a swimming Heidi. "Hey. Take this and set it on the dock."
The tall woman caught the ski and then hoisted herself up on the wooden structure, setting the ski down and removing her swimsuit top as she walked toward the lounge chair. "Woo-hoo! Time to get rid of my tan lines," Heidi yelled, right before she peeled off her bottoms as well, and stretched out face-up toward the sun. The little cove was private, and no other boats ever came up unless they were invited or lost.
"That's all well and good, but don't blame me if Pete comes home with a car-load of little frat boys and they all get an eye-full." Kennedy shook her head in mock-dismay.
"If they haven't seen it before, they don't know what it is. If they have, it's no big deal," Heidi quipped, and then dropped back down into the chair.
"She's incorrigible." The attorney turned her full attention to the cute blonde in front of her.
"I think she's hilarious." Carson felt a warm body press up against her from behind, as a pair of long arms circled her waist under the water, just below the edge of the life vest. "Um ..." Coherent thought momentarily fled, to be replaced by a legion of raging hormones.
"Which foot is your dominant ski foot?" Kennedy spoke into a pink-tinged ear.
"Huh?" Warm breath sent pleasant chills down Carson's spine. "Oh. Um ... my right one."
"Place that one in the front cup of the ski, and just let the other one drop back behind you." The attorney used her arms to keep her friend steady while the paralegal complied with her instructions.
"Now, grab the rope and let it fall to the left of your ski." One hand came out of the water, as Kennedy gestured toward the equipment. "Get the ski tip up, just like with two skis, and tuck your right knee in. When the boat starts to pull you up, drag your left foot behind you. Drag it until you feel completely stable on the ski. Then slowly bring your left foot in and tuck it into the back foot cup. Use the back foot to kind of dig in and keep the ski tip up, and use the front one to direct the ski tip if you want to turn. Your first time up, you might want to just stay behind the boat and get used to the way it feels."
"You make it sound and look so easy." Carson sighed. Kennedy's preferred method of slalom skiing was to start on the dock, jumping into the water and landing on one ski as the boat pulled away. The tall woman spent most of her time cutting back and forth, leaning almost sideways and creating a continual wall of water that was sometimes up to three times Kennedy's height. It was an awesome sight to behold, both the woman and her skiing ability.
"Nah." The attorney momentarily tightened her grip around her new friend's waist. "It took forever before I could get up on the slalom and stay up. The first several times I never even left the wake."
"Oh." Carson turned slightly and smiled. "Maybe I can do this after all."
"Sure you can." Kennedy took advantage of their closeness, and quickly kissed Carson on the lips. "Kiss for luck." She reluctantly let go of the paralegal. "Val is going to drive the boat and I'm going to sit at the back and help you out verbally as much as I can. Just remember that the boat has to start out faster to get you up on one ski than on two, and once you're up, it has to keep going faster than you're used to on two skies. So brace yourself, lean back a bit, and don't let it pull you into a face plant."
"Okay." Carson's lips tingled pleasantly, and she shook her head to clear it. She watched the bronzed body swim back to the boat. God she is gorgeous.
The tall brunette wore a short black swim-tard, just like the ones some of the Olympic swimmers had worn in Sydney. It was a simple scooped tank style on top in front, with straps that came together in a single t-strap between her shoulder blades in back. The legs of the suit stopped at mid-thigh, and with her shoulder-length black hair slicked back wet, Kennedy had an overall sleek athletic appearance that Carson knew she would never grow tired of looking at. The paralegal was convinced that Kennedy was the most beautiful woman on Earth. Lucky me. She smiled. I'm pretty sure she likes me. A lot.
The attorney got back in the boat and turned around with a big encouraging smile. "Ready?"
Carson gave her an 'okay' sign, and braced herself, as the boat engine turned over. She watched as the slack in the rope rapidly disappeared, and suddenly she was being pulled forward. She gritted her teeth in determination, and tried to remember all of her friend's instructions.
Okay. Tip up, arms braced, knee bent. Now what? Oh ... She had been dragging in her tucked position for a few yards, when all of a sudden the momentum shifted, and she was standing on the ski. Her left foot was still dragging in the water, but she was up. That's a miracle all by itself, she mused.
She let herself get comfortable with the different sense of balance on one ski, and then tentatively began to slide her left foot in behind the right one. Each time she tried to find the back foot cup, she began to wobble and let the foot drag back again. Finally, she settled for letting it rest on the back of the ski, but not in the cup itself.
"This is great!" She yelled to Kennedy, giving the attorney a joyful grin.
"All right!" The attorney gave her a big 'thumbs-up' and then pumped her fist in the air.
Carson simply stayed behind the boat and rode around until her hands became tired of gripping the rope. Reluctantly, she let go and sank into the water. The boat pulled around and Kennedy helped her back in, giving her a quick congratulatory peck on the cheek. "You did fantastic!"
"I had a good teacher." They locked eyes, and for a moment the rest of the lake faded away.
Oh, Carson, there are so many other things I'd like to teach you. Kennedy forced herself to focus, and glanced at Valerie and Serena, who had been observing the subtle exchange with great interest. She looked back at Carson. "You wanna go again?"
"No." Carson stepped back a bit, suddenly aware they were being watched. "I'm really tired. I think I'll stop while I'm ahead."
"Okay." Kennedy patted her on the arm and helped her out of the life vest. "Hey, Val, I'd like to go one more time, if you don't mind driving."
"Sure." Valerie waited until Kennedy had put on the life vest and was situated on the dock with the rope in hand, ski on, and her leg dangling down in anticipation. Once the attorney was ready, the boat took off.
"She's like poetry, isn't she?" Carson sat at the back of the boat next to Serena, both women watching while Kennedy showed off, slicing through the wake and leaning in.
"Yeah." Serena regarded the young woman curiously. "She seems to be a natural. I know she didn't learn to ski as a child. They don't have many large lakes out in West Texas."
"True." Carson saw an evil grin appear on Kennedy's face. "What's she up to?"
Serena laughed, as Kennedy signaled for the boat to turn in, so that they'd pass close to the dock. The red-head yelled over her shoulder at Valerie, "Time to buzz the tower."
"Oh boy." Valerie turned the boat toward the dock, bearing down on it until the very last minute, when she turned back out. This whipped Kennedy around in a high-speed circle. The attorney leaned way over, creating a high arc of water, which liberally sprayed the entire dock and boat house.
"Hey!" A drenched Heidi sat up in the lounge chair. "Not nice, Shea! Not nice at all!"
Murphy and LJ, who had both been napping in the sun at the end of the dock, also stood up. They shook their coats out, which sent more fine mist in Heidi's direction, resulting in several expletives from the irritated woman. Both dogs barked furiously at the retreating boat, and Murphy even jumped in, attempting to chase it down. He eventually gave up and swam to shore, laying back down in the sun to dry.
Kennedy threw her head back and laughed loud and long.
"She's rather pleased with herself, isn't she?" Carson chuckled.
"She's been in a very good mood for the last two weeks." Serena watched, waiting for Carson's reaction.
"Two weeks? Why? What happened ... oh." The paralegal blushed and looked down at her lap.
"Carson." The red-head hedged a bit. "Maybe it's none of my business, but we've never seen her like this. Val met her when she first moved to Austin and Kennedy hired her. I met her two years ago when Val and I got together. I know you two haven't spent a whole lot of time together, but ..."
"But what?" Carson was glad she had put her sunglasses back on. She knew her eyes would give away far too much at this moment.
"She's usually very serious. Methodical. A damned good attorney. She practices law with her heart as well as her head. But she lives her personal life like a damned monk. She's one of the most disciplined people I've ever known. Healthy diet, daily exercise, meditation when she gets too stressed. She's very driven and very focused." Serena paused, deciding what to say next. "I don't think she's really had fun in a long long time. Having this weekend to look forward to has been really good for her, that's all."
"Been good for me, too," Carson mumbled. She looked up and smiled at the pair of hazel eyes gazing back at her. "Thanks for sharing that with me. It means a lot."
"You really like her, don't you?"
"Yeah." The paralegal felt that annoying blush creeping up her neck again. "Yeah, I do."
Kennedy had dropped the rope while they were talking, and the boat circled around to pick her up. She got back in and wrapped up in a towel. "Getting chilly." Goose bumps appeared on Carson's skin for a different reason, as the attorney plopped down next to her and casually draped an arm across her shoulders.
The dark-haired woman smiled at her new friend and reached down, brushing her hand over Carson's upper thigh. "Cold, darlin'?"
A brief smile played at Carson's lips when she heard the small term of endearment. "No." I'm anything but cold right about now, she mused silently.
Kennedy looked up at the sky. The clouds were starting to build up, and a few way off in the distance had taken on some darker edges. "Why don't we all get showered and changed, and head back across the lake for some burgers? I think the front is coming in. I'm about done skiing for today."
"Sounds like a plan to me." Valerie re-started the engine and headed for the boat house.
Carson sat at the table next to Kennedy, happily munching on a cheeseburger and home fries. She washed it down with occasional sips from a tall frosted mug of lite beer. They were near the water at a colorful little dive that catered to the boaters. Several slips lined the edge of the floating outdoor barge, and they had motored across the lake in the ski boat to get there. On warm summer days many patrons simply sat down at one of a dozen picnic tables in their swimsuits, but tonight most of the diners were clad in at least shorts and a t-shirt, and many had on long sleeves in deference to the dropping temperature.
"How's that shirt working out?" Kennedy tugged at the sleeve of a rather large burnt orange university sweatshirt she had loaned to Carson, since the young woman had not packed any warm clothing.
The paralegal peered down at the sleeves, which they had rolled several times over, and grinned. "Fine, thanks." The shirt came almost to her knees, almost completely obscuring the denim shorts she had on with it. A pair of high-top sneakers and a baseball cap rounded out the casual ensemble. Without make-up, Carson could easily have passed for one of the university students that populated the area.
Valerie and Serena sat across from them, and between the four, they had managed to keep up a steady stream of easy conversation. Serena was the only one who was not part of the legal profession. She was a literature instructor at the university, and was bemoaning the fact that classes were back in full swing and her summer break was long over.
Heidi had chosen to drive on back into Austin. She was staying at a hotel near Sixth Street and all the clubs, and had plans to meet up with some of her former law school friends later in the evening. She had tried in vain to get the others to go out with her, but all of them begged off, claiming complete and utter exhaustion after the long day of skiing.
"So Carson ..." Valerie paused to chew and swallow a bite of burrito. "What was your trial all about?"
"Guy sued a trucking company because he claims he got run over by a cow and was too badly injured to ever work again."
"What?" Serena chuckled. "Run over by a cow? How does he say that happened?"
Carson found the facts of the case to be amusing too, and she giggled softly. "Claims he was loading cattle and one of the cows rebelled, turned around, ran back down the loading ramp, and bowled him over."
"So how'd you win?" Kennedy joined in, curious as to the role her friend played in the trial.
"Well," the paralegal drawled. "There were several things working against him. First of all, his medical records just didn't support his claims. Secondly, his ex-girlfriend claims he wasn't even on the job at the time he says he was. She says he was shacked up with her at the local hourly motel. The ex said he was trying some strange positions he got out of a book. We suspect he may have injured his back that day straining himself in bed and was too embarrassed to admit that to a doctor, so he made up the cow story instead."
All four women burst out laughing. Carson caught her breath and continued, "But the best part is the undercover video we have of him running, loading his pick-up, climbing a ladder, and doing all sorts of things he says he can't do."
"Who caught him on video?" Valerie asked.
"I did." The paralegal smiled broadly. "Sat in my car with a video camera with a good zoom lens about two houses down from where he lives. Even followed him around for a couple of days. He never saw me."
"Idiot." Kennedy rolled her eyes.
"Yeah. But I think what really drove the final nail in his coffin was during trial itself, when the court clerk caught him changing a flat tire on his truck in the courthouse parking lot." Carson finished off her burger and fries, and accepted a second beer from the waitress. "After that things went downhill from there. The judge allowed us to swear the clerk in as a late witness. Didn't take long to get the jury to see things our way."
"Are all of your cases personal injury?" Valerie had cut her teeth on that particular area of the law, and recognized that Carson was probably down-playing just how much of the leg-work she actually did on the cases she worked on.
"Mmmm." The paralegal pursed her lips and thought. "Used to be, but now I'm also getting more into some regular general business litigation, and some boundary law issues, mineral rights versus surface property rights, that sort of thing."
"Do you enjoy it?" Kennedy studied her friend closely. She had gotten the impression from several e-mails and conversations that Carson merely tolerated her work.
"It's a means to an end." The paralegal chose her words carefully.
"Meaning?" Two black brows rose in question, as Kennedy pursued her line of questioning.
"Meaning they pay me fairly well, I have great benefits and perks, and I'm willing to put up with a little boredom and a little BS in exchange for all of that. I'm fully vested in my 401K matching funds, and I get almost a month of vacation, now that I've been there for five years." She sighed. "But no, I don't really enjoy it anymore. It's no longer challenging."
"What would you do if you could do anything you wanted?" Serena asked. She enjoyed her work, despite the lower pay. Of course having her summers free helped.
"Gosh." Carson smiled. "Travel. Write. Work with animals. Maybe mentor a couple of children."
"You write?" Serena and Kennedy both asked in unison.
"Yeah." The blue-gray eyes took on a faraway look. "Poetry. Stories. Mostly sci-fi fantasy stuff. Wizards, warriors, dragons, space ships. Mindless junk, I suppose."
"Sounds fascinating to me." Serena smiled. She could tell from Kennedy's face that the attorney felt the same way. "I'd love to read some of your stories sometime."
"Me too." Kennedy sensed a melancholy mood in her friend, and decided to change the subject. "So, what are y'all doing tomorrow?"
"Yard work." Valerie insisted.
"Awww, Val," Serena almost whined. "Tomorrow is supposed to be really nice, in the seventies. I was hoping to get outdoors and do something."
"And yard work would be ...?" The dark-haired woman teased her partner.
"You know what I mean." Serena pouted. "What are y'all going to do?"
"Well ..." Kennedy rested her hand on Carson's forearm, which lay on the table top. "Carson's plane leaves around 7:00 p.m. tomorrow night, so I was thinking we might take the horses and go for a long ride."
"Oh." The paralegal's face lighted up. "I love to ride horses. Haven't been in a long time."
"That settles that, then." The attorney whipped out her credit card, as the waitress brought the tab. "Y'all ready to head out?"
"Yeah." Valerie and Serena both stood up. "We need to get home."
Soon they were motoring back across the lake to Kennedy's house.
Kennedy emerged from the master bedroom suite, wearing a pair of comfortable old sweats. The temperature was still dropping, and small white caps had developed on the lake during the return trip. She ambled toward the den and paused in the doorway, taking in the tranquil scene before her. Carson was stretched out on the couch with Spanky laying in the middle of her stomach. LJ and Murphy were both reclining on the floor directly below her.
I have a feeling in a popularity contest with the animals, I just might lose to her. She chuckled. Not that I blame them. What's not to love? Did I just say 'love?' Well, I didn't say it, but I thought it. Oh God. It's just way too soon to be thinking like that. I don't even know her middle name. Oh. I do know her middle name. I don't know her first name.
At that moment, Carson stirred and opened her eyes. She blinked in confusion and looked around. "Oh. Sorry. I must have fallen asleep."
"'S'okay." Kennedy made her way around the couch. "Been a long day. But a good one."
"Yeah." Carson smiled and gently nudged Spanky to the floor. She sat up and winced. "Oww."
"What's wrong?" The attorney peered at her in concern.
"I think I sunburned my back and shoulders." She rolled the part in question and grimaced. "Oh, yeah. Definitely."
"Hold on." Kennedy got up and disappeared into the kitchen, returning with a large bottle of clear aloevera gel. "I keep it in the refrigerator. Nothing feels better on a burn than cold aloe."
"That sounds great." Carson stopped and suddenly felt shy. "Um ... could you?" She peered over her shoulder down her back. "I can't reach very well."
"Sure." The attorney sat down next to her and waited while Carson turned her back. The paralegal slowly removed the sweatshirt, leaving her clad in her shorts and a thin cotton tank top she wore underneath.
Kennedy un-capped the aloe and paused. "I need to lift your shirt up, if that's okay."
"Oh. Here." With her back still turned, Carson reached down and pulled the soft material over her head, holding it in front of her chest. "That should work."
The skin on her shoulders was bright pink. "Oooo. You are burned. What level of sunscreen were you wearing?" Kennedy rubbed some of the gel between her palms so it wouldn't be quite so cold on first contact.
"SPF eight, I think." The paralegal jumped slightly when Kennedy's fingers touched her back, the cool gel a shock to her sun-heated skin.
"Sorry. It's cold." The attorney marveled at the smooth skin underneath her fingertips. So soft. Wonder if she's that soft everywhere? She shook her head. Gotta stop thinking like that. "SPF eight, huh? Well no wonder you're burned."
"I wanted to get a tan." Carson pouted, even though Kennedy couldn't see her face.
"You have beautiful skin." The words were out before she even thought about it, but she continued, "You don't need a tan. Geez, what's your secret, anyway? Your back is a soft as a baby's behind."
Carson giggled. "Well, I've never had it described quite like that. Baby oil. I slather on baby oil after every shower, before I dry off. The water and oil form an emollient that soak in and keep your skin soft."
"I see. I'll have to try that." The mental image of the pretty blonde covered in baby oil was not helping things, and Kennedy forced herself to think of something else. "Carson, what does the 'A,' your first initial, stand for?"
"Annie." The paralegal smiled. "After my paternal grandmother. I was her only grandchild and she spoiled me rotten."
"That's a pretty name." The attorney continued applying the gel, moving lower down her friend's back.
"Pretty, but too sweet." Carson closed her eyes, enjoying the innocent contact. "I like my middle name better, it's stronger."
"Yeah, I understand that. That's why I go by my first name now." The older woman sighed. "Somehow 'Shea Nacona, Attorney at Law' just didn't sound serious enough. But growing up, everyone called me 'Shea'."
"You want me to call you that?" Carson turned her head to look over her shoulder.
"Darlin', you can call me whatever you want to." Kennedy gave her a charming smile.
"I think I'll stick to 'Kennedy,' then." The paralegal turned her face away again, so as not to strain her neck. "It's how I think of you. It would feel kind of strange to switch now."
"Wouldn't want you feeling strange." The attorney patted Carson's lower back gently. "There. All done."
Carson pulled the tank top back over her head, and then the sweatshirt, and turned around. "Thanks. Feels a lot better."
"We need to put some more on in the morning." Kennedy sat the gel down on the rough-hewn coffee table and settled back against the couch cushion.
"How about you?" Blue-grey eyes studied the long frame next to her. "Are you burned?"
"Nope." The attorney's eyes twinkled. "My pain can't be fixed with aloe. My lower back is killing me. It takes a lot of stress on the slalom. Not to mention the rest of my back and shoulders are screaming at me from constantly holding onto the rope."
"Oh." Carson surveyed the room. Her eyes came to rest on the thick bear skin rug in front of the fireplace. "Lay down. Over there. On your stomach."
Two black brows shot up. I know she doesn't mean that the way it sounds. Kennedy chuckled. "Your wish is my command, my dear." She rose up slowly, and stretched out languidly on the soft rug. "I just might fall asleep here."
"That's okay." Carson sank to her knees next to her. "Now, don't take this the wrong way, but I have to straddle you to do this properly."
The attorney's eyes flew open. "What, exactly, are you planning to do?" She grinned. Not that I wouldn't be game for almost anything she has in mind right now.
"I'm gonna give you a back rub." The paralegal crawled on top of her friend and settled down, seated against Kennedy's backside.
"Are you any good at it?" The alto voice took on a slightly sultry tone, not too suggestive, with just a hint of playfulness.
"I've been told I'm very good." Small hands crept beneath Kennedy's sweat shirt. "I'm not getting fresh with you or anything, but the shirt's too thick to be effective if I massage you from the outside."
"No complaints here ... oh ... my ... God." Black eyelashes fluttered closed as Carson began to knead her lower back muscles. "You should buy insurance on those hands."
The paralegal chuckled and carefully pushed Kennedy's sweat shirt further up. Her eyes feasted on the smooth reddish-brown skin beneath her hands. The older woman had very well-defined back and shoulder muscles. "You must work out a lot."
"I could say the same thing about you." The attorney mumbled, too overcome by pleasure to open her eyes.
"Yeah about four days a week." Her hands slid higher and she leaned to one side, working on Kennedy's mid-back. "Mostly spin class, a little kick-boxing, and some weights. And the crunch ball. It's the best thing for your abs, ever."
"Well you're certainly a testament to that." Kennedy chuckled. "I lift a lot of weights, ski, swim, run, that kind of thing. My office is close to the Town Lake trail, so sometimes I go down there right after work, or at lunch if I have enough time."
"How far do you run?" Carson began working on the tiny muscles around her friend's shoulder blades, eliciting tiny whimpers of both pleasure and pain.
"Usually eight to ten miles." Kennedy jumped, as a small thumb dug into a knot. "Wow. That one is radiating down into my arm and fingers."
"Hmmm." The paralegal dug in harder. "Trigger point. Is it starting to feel numb?"
"Yeah, a little." Blue eyes finally opened. "Where'd you learn massage?"
"Partly from drill team in high school. We were always in pain from one routine or another, and all the girls used to take turns trading back rubs. That should have been one of my first clues about myself. I think I enjoyed it a little bit more than the others." Carson released the trigger point and gently rubbed it with the heel of her hand. "I go to a chiropractor every now and then, and he always has a therapist do trigger point massage on me first. Otherwise I'm not relaxed enough to get a good adjustment. He says I have rocks in my neck and back instead of muscles."
"Your job that stressful?" Kennedy rolled over as she felt her shirt pulled back down in place. She tucked her hands behind her head and peered up at Carson.
"Mmmm." Carson was still straddling her friend, just across the front of her hips instead of the back. She felt a tiny twinge of embarrassment and then pushed it aside. Kennedy seemed perfectly comfortable with her there. "Not my job. Well, sometimes my job. Life is stressful sometimes, Kennedy."
"How so?" Pale eyes grew sad with sympathy, and the attorney reached up, squeezing one of Carson's hands.
"Just ... I'm on my own, you know?" The paralegal frowned. "Gets a little hard sometimes. Hey." She realized how morose she sounded. "It's not that bad. I don't get headaches or stomach ulcers. I carry all my stress in my neck and shoulder muscles, that's all. That's why I need the chiropractor and the massage therapy."
"I sometimes get migraines." Kennedy could tell Carson wasn't ready for her to probe any further about being alone. The poor kid was an orphan for crying out loud. That was enough explanation. "Not very often. Usually after a big case is over, ironically enough. It's like I finally relax and the tension releases in the form of a killer headache."
"Uggghh." Carson shifted, stretching out on her side next to her friend. "I don't deal well with headaches at all. Glad I don't get them very often."
"Nope. No fun." Kennedy gazed softly at Carson, who was looking back at her mere inches away. She could feel the chemistry between them. She watched as Carson swallowed, the muscles in her throat moving slightly. One hand involuntary reached across, and her fingertips traced a sunburned cheek. She felt Carson lean into the contact, and she scooted closer to her new friend, also rolling to her side. "Your eyes are really pretty against the sunburn. They've got this vibrant stormy color to them right now."
"Eyes the color of the sea before a storm." Carson smiled. "My father used to describe them that way." She felt the long fingers trace lower, along her jawline and then they reached back, threading through her hair and pulling her face forward.
Their lips met, nibbling softly, not demanding, not insisting. Just a slow gentle exploration between two souls who were growing more and more comfortable with each other. Carson sighed quietly and felt one hand come to rest on her hip, pulling her even closer. She complied and then whimpered, as Kennedy deepened the kiss, tentatively exploring her new friend's mouth.
The attorney reluctantly forced herself to break off. "Mmmm." She smiled and kissed Carson again, first on the forehead and then on the end of her nose. "You're pretty good at that, you know?"
A blush was her answer, as the paralegal merely ducked her head, tucking it against Kennedy's shoulder. This feels good. Carson nuzzled Kennedy's neck and wrapped one arm around her waist.
"Hey." The attorney kissed the blonde head. "You okay?"
"Yeah." Carson slid up until they were face to face again. "Just thinking how nice this feels. And thinking that I probably should go to bed. I'm really tired, and if I stay here much longer, I think we'll fall asleep like this."
Would that be such a bad thing, Carson? Kennedy silently wondered. She knew it was too soon to take things any further, but Carson was right. Laying there wrapped in each other's arms on the thick rug did feel good. Damned good, as a matter of fact. "Yeah, this does feel nice. Very nice." She was rewarded with a shy smile. "But you're right. I'm beat. Plus we need to rest up for riding tomorrow."
"Can't wait for that." Carson slowly sat up and stretched.
"Me neither." Kennedy allowed her friend to help her up.
They made their way to the other side of the house. After one more lingering kiss, they separated and began to get ready for bed.
Carson lay in bed, her mind racing a million miles ahead of her body. It was all so new and wonderful. I've never felt like this before, I don't think. It's like I want to be close to her all the time. She had dated guys and had crushes on many of them. But the depth of her feelings for Kennedy went much further than anything from her past. She felt like she was entering uncharted territory. Maybe she and I can explore and conquer it together. She continued to ponder her feelings but finally, tired muscles won out, and she drifted into a deep sleep.
Down in the master suite, Kennedy simply curled up with her pillow and floated away on a cloud of pleasant dreams.
A loud clap of thunder woke her up, and Kennedy blinked into the darkness. Too dark. She turned toward the nightstand and the constant green glow of her digital clock radio was missing. Power's out. She cocked her head and concentrated. There. The low hum of the back-up generator reached her ears. It was programmed to kick in if power went out, but it only supported the other side of the house where the refrigerator was.
She fumbled by feel alone until her fingers found the flashlight that she kept in the nightstand drawer. Satisfied she had light if she needed it, she settled back down into the pillow and closed her eyes. Weird. It wasn't supposed to rain. The clouds were supposed to blow over. Oh, well. The heavy drumming of the downpour on the roof almost lulled her back to sleep when her eyes popped open. Carson.
There was no flashlight in the guest bedroom, and even if there were, the younger woman wouldn't have known how to find it in the dark. And it was dark at night out by the lake, even with power. There were no street lights on the farm market road and the nearest neighbor was much too far away to provide any extra illumination. Should I wake her up just to give her a flashlight? Yeah, I probably should.
She sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Brrrrr. It was cold in the room. Damn. Her furnace ran on natural gas, and shouldn't have been effected by the lack of electricity. However, she had turned the thermostat way down in mid-spring, and it usually took a few hours to warm up the entire house after it sat idle all summer. Guess I better go turn that up, too. This'll be a first. She didn't typically need to heat her house until late November.
She grabbed the flashlight and padded out of the room and into the hallway. Wonder where Murphy and LJ are? The dogs were missing from their usual spot at the foot of the bed. She retrieved another flashlight and two blankets from a storage closet just outside the master suite, and then shone her light on the hallway wall until she located the thermostat near the door that led to the dog trot. As she adjusted the temperature setting, a cold wet nose nudged her bare calf.
"Yahh!" Kennedy jumped and almost dropped her armload of supplies. She looked down. "Murphy? What's going on boy?"
The dog whimpered and nudged her on the leg. "Okay, just a minute." She checked the thermostat one last time. "What's wrong? Your water bowl empty or something?"
She started to go into the office where she kept the water bowl for that side of the house. Murphy bit down on the hem of her flannel boxers and gently tugged on them, trying to drag her further down the hallway. Her eyes had begun to grow accustomed to the dark, and they grew wide as she saw LJ keeping vigil outside the closed guest room door.
"Hey." She knelt down and ruffled the guard dog's neck. "What's wrong?" LJ nudged her hand and then licked it. The large dog stood and scratched at the door once. Carson. Oh God. Maybe she's sick or something.
She slowly turned the door knob and eased the door open, grimacing at a small creak in the hinges. She poked her head inside and peered over at the still form in the bed. Asleep. Maybe I should just leave the blanket at the foot of the bed and not wake her up after all. Wonder what's up with the dogs?
Kennedy tip-toed across the room and set the flashlight on the night stand. Then she carefully spread the blanket along the foot of the bed. She stepped back. Then forward again, and pulled the fuzzy wool cover over the sleeping woman. As she turned to leave, she heard a sniffle and stopped. She heard it again and spun back around, moving swiftly yet quietly back around to the side of the bed that Carson was facing.
"Carson?" She whispered, getting no answer. "Are you okay? Come on, now. Don't play possum. I heard you. Are you crying?" She sat down on the edge of the bed and reached out, resting her hand on the blonde head. "Are you feeling bad or something? Did something scare you?"
"No." The forlorn voice quivered. "I'm fine."
"You don't sound fine." Kennedy leaned closer and flicked on her flashlight, directing the beam so that it didn't shine directly in the younger woman's face. She could see the tear tracks on Carson's cheeks and her heart leaped into her throat. "Baby, what's wrong?"
"Just a bad dream." Carson sniffled again. "I'm awake now. Thunder woke me up. Probably a good thing."
"You wanna talk about it?" Long fingers brushed through short blonde waves in a comforting motion.
"No ..." Carson hesitated. Am I ready to dump all of this on her? No. I'm not. "Could ... could you just sit here for a minute and talk with me?"
"Sure." Kennedy's hand moved lower, coming to rest on her friend's shoulder. "Anything in particular you want to discuss?"
"Um ... is the power out?" Carson made a conscious effort to steady her voice. "I noticed the little night light over on the wall went out."
"Yeah. Storm knocked it out. I was bringing you a flashlight." The attorney flicked the beam from her own light toward the night stand so that Carson could see the other one. Then she clicked hers off, hoping the darkness might encourage her friend to talk about whatever was troubling her. "I turned the thermostat up. It's a lot colder than it was supposed to be. I was bringing you a blanket, too." She patted the wool surface under her hand.
"Cold?" Carson pushed the blanket down and touched the cool skin of Kennedy's leg. "Oh. I'm sorry. Here I am asking you to sit in the cold with me just because I had a little nightmare."
"It's okay," the attorney reassured her. "I don't mind. Really."
"You ... you could crawl in here with me, if you want to. Just talk with me for a little while." She drew the covers back a bit, indicating the space next to her. "It's ... pretty roomy. What is this, a queen-sized bed?"
"Yeah." Kennedy hesitated. "You sure?"
"Please." Carson patted the mattress.
Kennedy moved around to the other side of the bed and lifted the covers, sliding underneath and pulling them up. She was cold. To her surprise, Carson snuggled up to her. "Here, Kennedy. Let me help you get warm. You're freezing."
"Not freezing. Just a little cool is all." And at this rate I'm going to be toasty warm pretty damned quick. "But thanks."
Quiet settled around them, both women lost in separate thoughts. A sad voice broke the silence, and the brunette realized that Carson had snuggled up to her seeking comfort. "Kennedy, do you think that sometimes, when you're very close to someone, that even after they die they can communicate with you?"
"Yes." The answer was completely confident. "At least according to my father they do. He's into shammanism. He's taught me a little bit about it. We definitely believe the spirits of the dead sometimes try to get important messages to us. Does this have anything to do with your dream?"
"Yeah, sort of." Carson sighed and flipped onto her back, her hand still keeping contact with Kennedy's arm. "It was a tornado dream."
"Tornado dream?" The attorney tried to make a connection between tornados and communicating with the dead.
"Ever since my mother died, I have one about once a month." Her fingers idly traced a pattern against Kennedy's forearm. "I'm always trying to escape one."
"That sounds pretty scary." Kennedy turned on her side to face her friend. She reached out and smoothed Carson's hair back.
"No. It's really strange." The paralegal closed her eyes. "In the tornado dreams, even though I'm afraid, I always know that it's not going to get me."
"Oh. That's good." The attorney peered into the darkness at her friend's face. "Why the tears?"
Carson opened her eyes and sighed. "At the end of the dream, my mother is always there. Sometimes she's with me while I'm running from the tornado. But at the end of the dream, she always tells me that she's okay. That everything is going to be okay. Just makes me sad, that's all."
"Baby, I'm sorry." Kennedy watched the dam burst, and fresh tears spilled down her friend's cheeks. "Come here." She pulled Carson into her arms and gently rocked her. "What do you think she's trying to tell you? That she's in a better place and not to feel badly about her being gone?"
"Maybe. At least I think that's part of it." Carson shivered, despite the warmth of the arms that held her. "Sometimes I think she's forgiving me."
"Forgiving you?" Kennedy felt the younger woman shift, until her back was turned. She was surprised when Carson deliberately pulled away from her until they were no longer touching. "What does she need to forgive you for?"
"Kennedy, I killed my mother." Carson's voice shook with grief.
Kennedy felt all her hairs stand on end, the prickly sensation sending a rush of adrenalin flooding her system. Okay. Calm down. Carson is not a murderer. She doesn't even have that in her. Get her to talk until she makes sense. "I thought you said your mother died of cancer." The attorney watched her friend's back, warily studying her body language. Carson was curled up in almost a fetal position, and Kennedy prayed she wasn't about to hear some bizarre murder confession.
"She did." The small voice quivered, and Carson took several gulps of air to steady it.
"Carson, if she died of cancer, why do you say that you killed her?" Kennedy hesitantly reached out, lightly touching the trembling back in front of her.
"She ... um ..." The paralegal paused, forcing back tears that she knew would render her speechless. "She was really lucky. She was sick for about nine months, but she didn't really have much pain. And she was completely lucid. Up until the last couple of days before she died."
Kennedy moved closer, until she was wrapped around the younger woman from behind. She felt the small body shaking. "I can't imagine what that must have been like, to lose your mother."
Carson sniffled and then continued, "We had to put her in the hospital. Daddy checked her in and he had the home health service come get the hospital bed and all the other equipment that was at the house. I know he did it because insurance wouldn't pay for it after she checked into the hospital, but that's how I knew she wasn't coming home. Part of me had known she was dying, but part of me never gave up hope that somehow she would be cured."
Oh, Carson. Kennedy's heart broke for her friend, and she felt tears stinging her own eyes. "I think it's only natural to have hope for the survival of someone you love."
"Maybe, but when I saw them haul that bed away, I knew she didn't have much time left. Daddy started calling friends and family, telling them that if they wanted to see her, they needed to hurry. When I wasn't working, I was at the hospital. And sometimes I did things I knew I needed to do. It's strange how logic sometimes takes over in situations like that. I thought of the stupidest things. Like that I needed a haircut. And that I needed new black shoes to wear to the funeral I knew was coming."
Long fingers gently caressed Carson's back, moving up and down in a continual motion. "That must have been really hard."
"Actually, I was numb, more than anything. My mind didn't want to accept the inevitable." The younger woman continued to shake, and she unconsciously scooted back, burrowing herself against the warm body behind her. "My ... my mother reached a point where she couldn't talk anymore. She would write me little notes. They were hard to read because her hands shook. Finally, on her last day, she slept most of the time. I went by the hospital several times but she was always sleeping when I got there. So I gave up and went home. On the way home, I stopped and bought her one of those little tablets that you write on with a stylus, and then you can lift the film and clear it. I thought that might make it easier for her to write notes. I was so stupid. Like I thought she would still wake up and be able to communicate with me."
"That wasn't stupid." The low alto voice was very soft. "That was a daughter who loved her mother very much, and never gave up on her."
"Late that night, something made me call the hospital. The nurse told me my mother had woken up and asked for me. So I got dressed and drove up there. She was asleep when I got there, but I stayed. The other bed in her room was empty, so I sat there. The nurse told me that she had been in a lot of pain whenever she was awake. They had given her medication, but the side effect was that it made her sleep a lot. She said that earlier that afternoon, my father had gotten to see her when she was awake." Carson buried her face into the pillow for a moment and then re-surfaced. "The nurse ... she said that sometimes people who are dying will hang on until they get to see someone they love one last time. She said she thought Mom was holding out long enough to see me."
Kennedy kissed the blonde head and closed her eyes tightly. "You were her baby, Carson. Of course she wanted to see you."
"Yeah." Carson's voice caught in her throat and she cleared it. "She woke up and I went and sat down next to her. I told her I loved her. She wasn't able to talk, but her eyes looked very clear. I could tell she was completely coherent. I could also tell she was in a great deal of pain. I asked her if she wanted the nurse to get her something, and she shook her head yes. So ... I went to the nurse's station and asked if they could give her any pain medication. They ... they told me that they could, but that she was very weak, that any medication would probably put her to sleep. They meant that she would go to sleep and that she would probably not wake up again. They told me to think about it and let them know what I wanted to do."
Oh God. What a burden you bear, my friend. Kennedy felt the first tears rolling down her own cheeks. "So what did you decide?"
"She ... she was hurting so much, Kennedy. I ... it was past midnight. I was fried. I hadn't slept in days. I'd been sick with worry about her. I ... I couldn't let her suffer. They told me that she probably wouldn't make it until morning anyway. So ... finally ... I told them to give her the drugs." Carson's chest felt tight, and she took in great gulps of air. "I ... I held her hand and watched her. I'll never forget her eyes, Kennedy. She kept looking at me. I know what death looks like. I've seen it. She always had the most beautiful blue eyes. And they went dark and vacant. Those eyes will haunt me forever. That's how I knew she was gone. So ... I got the nurse and she confirmed it. Then I called my father. It was about three o'clock in the morning. He came up there. I ... I never told him about that last dose of painkillers."
Kennedy heard a low keening noise and realized it was coming from Carson. It gradually grew into a constant wail, as the small body she held wracked with violent sobs she was afraid would break the younger woman in two. "Hey. I've got you." She held on, rubbing her hand up and down Carson's arm. "Let it out, baby."
"Oh God, Kennedy. I killed my mother." Carson felt like she was going to throw up, and she swallowed hard several times until the sensation passed.
"No ... No." Kennedy forced her friend to roll over, and she sat partway up, pulling Carson against her and rocking her. "You listen to me. You didn't do anything wrong. It's not like you asked them to overdose her on painkillers, Carson, right?"
"R ... right." The paralegal sniffled and burrowed her face into a comforting shoulder.
"She was in pain and you asked them to give her medication for it. People are forced to make decisions like that all the time. I'm just sorry you had to make it. Especially when you were there at the hospital all alone. You did not kill your mother. You just stop believing that, baby. You were an angel of mercy for your mother." Kennedy rubbed her friend's back. "I hope ... when I reach the end of my days ... that I have someone like you in my life. Someone who will be unselfish enough to let me go a little bit earlier, if it means I can go in peace instead of in pain. What would be most humane thing to do, Carson, to let her suffer or to let her go to sleep in peace?"
"Sl ... sleep in peace?" Carson hiccuped and accepted a tissue from her friend. She blew her nose and sat back, gazing into a pair of pale eyes that reflected nothing but compassion. "I never told anyone about that night before. Do ... do you think those dreams are my mother trying to forgive me?"
"Carson ..." Kennedy sighed. "There's nothing for her to forgive, do you understand that?"
"Part of me does, yes." She sank back down into the pillow. "But part of me wonders if I did the right thing. If maybe she wouldn't have preferred to die coherent, even if it meant being in pain."
Kennedy lay back down on her side. "I think ..." She gently caressed Carson's cheek. "... all those dreams you're having. That's not your mother trying to forgive you. That's your mother trying to tell you that you did the right thing, and not to feel guilty anymore."
"You think so?" The tiniest note of hope colored Carson's voice.
"I know so." Kennedy paused. Should I even ask about her father right now? "Um ... Carson, can I ask about your father?"
"What do you want to know?"
"Well. You said he died of a heart attack about a year after your mother died." The attorney moved her hand from her friend's cheek to her hair, idly combing her fingers through it. "How did you find out about that?"
"Oh." Carson drew in a long shuddering breath. "I was out shopping all day with a friend. I got home and there were all these vague messages on my answering machine. All these people I knew were trying to reach me, but none of them would say why. Finally, the last message was from the Dallas police, leaving a number and telling me to call them. I was terrified. I thought Daddy's house had been broken into, or he had been in a car wreck, or something. It never occurred to me ... Anyway, I called, and they told me he had died of a heart attack. One of his friends got worried when he didn't show up for breakfast. He always had breakfast with his buddies on Saturdays. They drove by the house and Daddy's truck was there, so then they called the police and an ambulance. Just ... no one knew how to find me."
"So let me get this straight." Kennedy felt irrational anger. What kind of people leave messages like that on an answering machine? "You were alone when your mother died, and you were alone when you found out your father had died?"
"Yeah." Carson felt like crying again, but realized she literally had no tears left. She rolled over onto her side with her back to her friend. "Yeah. Um ... will you stay here with me until I fall asleep?"
"Of course I will." Kennedy scooted up against Carson's back and tentatively rested her hand on her hip.
"Sometimes, I like to think that they're up there, looking out for me. Other times ... I don't know what I believe anymore." Carson settled back against the long frame behind her and felt her body beginning to relax. "All I know is I'm really tired of being alone."
Two lips brushed across the back of Carson's head. "You don't have to be alone anymore, if you don't want to be."
"I don't." A few more tears escaped, but this time they were much less painful. She reached down and pulled Kennedy's hand from her hip, dragging it around until it was pressed against her stomach. She planted her own hand firmly on top of it, holding it in place. "Will ... will you sleep here all night with me?"
Kennedy kissed her head again, and then tightened her hold around Carson's waist. "I'll be here in the morning when you wake up."
"Thank you. For listening to all of that."
"Thank you for trusting me enough to share, Carson."
Kennedy felt the smaller body gradually go limp, and listened, hearing soft breathing that deepened and evened out. How long have you been holding all that inside, my friend? Almost three years? Must have been long overdue to get it all out. She sighed heavily, and finally allowed herself to cry silently for several minutes, sparing a moment for her own demons.
She hadn't a clue how to deal with someone that had lost a parent. Hell, I have no idea if I said the right things or not. I guess I must've done okay. She's asleep. That has to be a good sign, doesn't it?
She chuckled at the irony of the situation, finding the thinnest thread of humor in a bleak situation. Well. I did tell Heidi that Carson was sleeping in the guest room tonight, didn't I? Just never thought I'd be sleeping in here too, perfectly content to just hold on to her. Heidi would never understand this. I don't understand it myself. It was a desire that went beyond the physical. A need to care for her new friend, and protect her, and do her best to see that Carson never felt all alone again.
Sleep, baby. I'll hold onto you all night. She regarded the warm body in her arms, and suddenly realized she didn't ever want to let go. I think you've got me for a lot longer than tonight, Carson. A whole lot longer than just for tonight.
She nuzzled her face against Carson's neck, and allowed the peace to settle over her. As she fell asleep, the storm passed, dwindling down to the gentle patter of cleansing rain against the overhead shingles.
Continued in Chapter 3
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