See Chapter 1 for Disclaimers
THE BLUEST EYES IN TEXAS
Copyright 2000 By Texbard
(posted January 21, 2001)
A warm vague dream of sunshine and green grass slowly gave way to soft muted light and mint-colored wallpaper with tiny peach flowers etched on it. Kennedy blinked, momentarily forgetting where she was. Oh, yeah. Heidi's. She shifted, smiling as Carson's weight moved with her.
The paralegal was laying on her stomach, fast asleep, half-sprawled across Kennedy's upper body. The attorney studied blonde hair at close range and then allowed her eyes to wander further down, slowly taking in the welcome but unfamiliar sensation of waking up with Carson in her arms.
Her gaze stopped and dark brows furrowed. The covers had slipped down during the night, leaving most of Carson's body exposed. The frown soon gave way to a bemused smile. What the ...?
Carson was obviously wearing one of Heidi's oversized t-shirts, which had bunched up around her waist during the night. I should really stop looking at her, but geez ... who could possibly blame me? The paralegal was wearing a pair of black thong underwear, giving Kennedy a nice view of her shapely toned backside.
She finally forced herself to reach down and draw the cream-colored comforter over Carson's body. She continued to smile, allowing her mind to chase a few fantasies before she reined her thoughts back in. I am so bad.
The paralegal took a deep breath, opened her eyes, and lifted her head. Kennedy's bronzed face was peering back at her, a huge grin plastered across her features. Sleepy grey eyes crinkled up at the edges as the blonde smiled. "What you smiling at?" Carson reached up and gently traced full lips with one finger.
"Just thinking." She nipped at the finger.
"'Bout what?" The younger woman scooted up, placing one hand on Kennedy's upper chest, raising partway up so she could see blue eyes more clearly.
"'Bout the full moon that rose in this bed this morning," the attorney answered with a deep throaty chuckle.
"Full moon?" Carson tilted her head to one side, and felt a firm hand gently slap her on the behind through the blankets. She frowned and then her eyes grew wide, as comprehension dawned on her. "Oh dear God." She burrowed her face into a strong shoulder and felt long arms wrap loosely around her.
"I ... um ... didn't have any clothes with me last night .." Carson's voice was muffled against soft worn cotton. "... Heidi gave me the t-shirt, but I didn't feel like I knew her well enough to ask if I could borrow some underwear, so these were all I had. Had this stupid pair on with my cocktail dress that I wore to dinner. Not very comfortable, but I didn't want any panty lines. Pretty girly-girl, huh?"
"No." Kennedy breathed into a very pink ear. "Just pretty. Beautiful, in fact." She nipped the sensitive skin just below Carson's ear, and began to work her way down a strong jawline, smiling as Carson turned her head. "Bet I can bounce a quarter off that part of your body, too."
"Maybe." The paralegal pecked her on the lips. "But remember, I told you you have to be good first."
Kennedy answered her with a thinly-veiled lascivious grin. "Don't feel much like being good right now." She watched Carson turn bright red. "And you're very beautiful when you blush."
Long fingers threaded through short blonde hair, and the attorney drew Carson's face forward, capturing her lips in a series of escalating kisses. She gently probed her friend's lips, tracing them with her tongue, tightening her grip around Carson's body as she deepened their kiss. "God I love holding you."
Carson did some exploring of her own, her hand wandering up and down Kennedy's stomach and finally creeping under her shirt. She heard the attorney's breath catch, as her fingers found sensitive spots, and she broke off the kiss, studying her friend's face as her hand continued to map Kennedy's torso and chest. "You like that?"
"Oh, yeah." The attorney's pulse beat wildly. "A lot." She smiled, watching grey eyes that were absorbed with wonder. Kennedy swallowed and managed to form a coherent sentence. "Is this your first time to touch a woman's breasts, Carson?"
"I ... yes. First time for bare ones, that is." The paralegal wondered how many times she could blush in one morning, feeling the stinging heat flood her cheeks. "So soft ..." Her fingers brushed across hardened nipples. "... well mostly soft." She grew self-conscious and her hand stilled, but remained inside her friend's shirt.
"It's okay, baby." Kennedy drew her in for another kiss. "You don't have to be embarrassed with me." She kissed the younger woman again, and felt Carson resume her attention to her breasts. "Mmmm. That's so nice. First time in a long time anyone's touched them."
Kennedy's hands also began to wander, sliding under the blankets, kneading firm butt cheeks she could no longer resist. "So good." She mumbled into Carson's ear, before nibbling her way down a soft neck and nipping the hollow of her throat.
The attorney allowed herself to get lost in the sensations, the feel of silky skin under her fingers, the clean smell of the smaller body she held onto, the salty taste of her friend's skin, and the tiny whimpers that periodically escaped Carson's throat. She growled low in her throat and kissed the younger woman again, falling further and further into a place she didn't want to leave.
After a while, she became vaguely aware that her knee had somehow slipped between Carson's legs, and her hands had begun to guide her hips in a steady rocking motion against her thigh. She groaned and with great effort stilled her hands and drew them up to a more neutral position against Carson's back. She broke off the kiss and rolled them both over, burying her face into the blonde's chest.
"Not like this, Carson." She slid up a bit and tenderly kissed an inviting expanse of exposed neck. "Gotta stop."
Carson's let out several long uneven breaths, her body slowly floating down from heights that were almost reached. "Bad Kennedy." She finally managed to laugh. "Bad, bad Kennedy. No quarter-bouncing for you."
"Sorry, sweetheart." It was Kennedy's turn to blush as she heard the term roll off her tongue with extreme ease. "I'm ..." She smiled, brushing the backs of her knuckles across Carson's cheek bone. "... not sure if our hearts have caught up with our bodies, just yet." She paused, reaching higher to trace blonde eyebrows. "Although I think mine is very close."
"Mine too." Carson wrapped her arms around Kennedy's neck, pulling her down into a warm hug. "Thank you." She kissed the dark head. "That was really really nice, even if it wasn't the whole package."
"Mmmm. Yeah. Very nice." The attorney raised back up, hovering over Carson's face. "When we do finally open up that package for the first time ..." She smiled. And what a gift that will be, she mused silently. "... I really don't want it to be in Heidi's guest room. Wanna be somewhere all alone, where we can take our time ... no worries ... no interruptions. Just you ..." She stole a kiss. "... and me ..." Another quick kiss. "... and all the space we need, for as long as we need it."
She watched her friend's throat work, as she swallowed hard. "Hey." Kennedy flipped over on her side, propping her head on an upraised hand. She ran her fingertips softly up and down Carson's arm. "How are you feeling this morning? Has the Valium worn off?"
"Yeah." Clear grey eyes grew thoughtful. "Trying to figure out what to do. About my apartment, I mean."
"Oh." Kennedy sat up. "I called my older brother, Parker. He's probably already on his way here from Midland-Odessa. He's going to check your apartment for bugs, and run a diagnostic on your home computer to see if it's been hacked. If you don't mind, that is."
"You called him here just for me?" Carson sat up with her. "Kennedy, that's very sweet, but I feel badly that he's going to all that trouble just for mmpphhh." Long fingers pressed against her lips.
"No trouble at all where you're concerned. Besides, I pay him pretty well for his services." Her face grew very serious. "I'm in this too, Carson. They took my picture when they took yours, so as far as I'm concerned, whatever they're after may involve me as well. I'm not exactly a favorite among the more conservative members of my profession in this state."
"I don't know." Carson chewed her lower lip. "Seems to me like he was trying to blackmail me to get me to sleep with him. Although some of it seems pretty extreme."
"It does." Kennedy pulled her friend against her. "And that's what has me worried. My gut tells me there's more to this than just some middle-aged guy thinking with the wrong head." She felt Carson's body shaking with laughter against her. "What?"
"Wrong head?" The paralegal snorted. "Just never heard that one before."
"Oh." The attorney smiled. "How about 'anal-cranial inversion'?"
"Anal-cranial inversion?" Carson ran the words around in her head. "Oh." She laughed harder. "Polite term for 'head up his ass'." Her sides shook. "That one's even funnier."
"Glad you're so easily amused." Kennedy kissed her on the forehead. "'Cause we need to go rent about five or six hours of videos to watch while Parker sweeps your apartment. I figured you'd want to be there while he does it, and he may have questions for you from time to time."
"Guess we need to get going, huh?" Carson's face fell into quiet resignation. "Kennedy?"
"What, baby?" Long arms tightened their grip.
"I promise you that I really don't normally have an emotional crisis every time I have a date with someone." Grey eyes brimmed with unshed tears. "Most of the time my life is downright boring. I'm not crazy, really."
"Sweetheart, I believe you." The attorney caught a tear with her thumb. "Don't worry, Carson. I'm just glad I could be here for you."
The paralegal rewarded her with a trembling smile. "Me too."
It had been a long tense morning and now it was mid-afternoon. Because they were sweeping Carson's apartment for bugs, it necessitated that the only person who made any noise be Carson herself. They had decided after consulting with Parker, that in the event the apartment was indeed bugged, that she should simply appear to be at home alone puttering around. Due to her run-in with Nicholas Giovani the previous evening, anyone that was listening in periodically might be more apt to be listening to see when she would get home after the incident, and to see what she would do.
While Parker carefully and quietly searched the 850 square foot abode, Kennedy and Carson simply cuddled on the plush pale blue couch, watching videos and communicating by hand-written notes when necessary. He checked her balcony first, finding nothing. From then on, whenever he had questions for her he would come into the living room and motion them both outside. Each time they went out, Carson would talk to her cats so that it would sound like she was letting them in and out.
A pair of blue eyes and a pair of grey looked up with equal apprehension, as the tall man appeared in the living room, having finished the last part of the sweep. He spoke aloud inside the apartment for the first time. "Bug-free." Parker smiled, an expression that closely matched Kennedy's own smile. "Whatever these people are up to, they haven't invaded your home."
"Thank God." Carson sighed with relief and stood up. "Now what?"
"I ran the diagnostic on your computer, and it hasn't been hacked, either. Here." Parker handed her a list of various applications, each with a string of numbers and letters next to it. "I added a couple of different fire walls, and created a series of passwords to get into the different applications you use. These are temporary passwords. Sometime today I need you to log in and go in and change all of them so that you will be the only person who will know them. You need to change them to things that no one can easily figure out. No birthdays, no addresses, nothing like that. Use words that will only mean something to you and no one else. I've set it up so that each one will automatically give you notice to change them again every thirty days."
"Okay." Carson's brows furrowed as Parker gave her another list. "What's this?"
"Kennedy's been through this routine before with other clients." Parker gave his sister a knowing grin. It had become rather obvious that Carson was much more than just another client. "It's a list of precautions to take, and equipment you might want to consider getting if you don't already have it. A paper shredder, for example, so that you can shred that list of passwords, and any other identifying trash you throw out, such as all those credit card offers that come in the mail with your name and address already on them."
"I usually take those things to work and shred them." Carson looked at the list. "I don't have a cell phone. I don't have a private mail box, other than the one the apartment provides for me. I already have voice mail as opposed to an answering machine. What's this?" She held the list up so that Kennedy could see it.
"I need to draft a special order to your apartment complex that no workers or maintenance people, or anyone else is to enter your apartment unless you or I are present while they are here. You've got a good monitored security system." She gestured toward the keypad on the wall beside the front door. "But anyone could pose as a phone repair person or cable person, and a lot of the people that work in leasing offices would probably just bypass the alarm and let them in."
"Oh." Carson pursed her lips and studied the list further. "I can't call you on my cordless phone?"
"Nope." Kennedy casually wrapped her arms around the blonde's waist from behind, peering over her shoulder at the list. "It can be picked up by scanner. Same with a cell phone. We took a bit of a risk last night when you called me on mine, but since I was in Austin, I thought it was probably okay, plus we didn't discuss much that would have been useful to anyone."
"If cell phones are bad, why do I need to get one?" Carson looked up, first at Parker and then at Kennedy.
"For emergencies." Kennedy patted her hip. "Plus, I'm going to get you one in my name with an Austin area code, so that no one will ever know you have it. But you're gonna have to keep it with you at all times, and hidden at that, probably in your purse or under your suit jacket. If they don't know you have one, they won't be as likely to use a scanner to try to listen in. But it is for emergencies only, and you'll have to set it to vibrate instead of ring, so that it never makes any noise."
"Kennedy, I hate for you to do that." Carson frowned. "Seems like a lot of trouble."
"Hey." Kennedy pulled the paralegal more closely against her. "It's no trouble. I want you to be safe. Oh, and no more e-mailing me from the office. We're going to go get you a hand-held e-mail device for you to keep with you at the office. And at home and on the hand-held, you need to start sending me encrypted messages. It's easy to do. You just click a button and the e-mail program will do it for you."
"Gosh." Carson looked thoughtfully at the extensive list and then gazed over her shoulder into pale blue eyes for several seconds. So much stuff to do and remember. And it's gonna cost me a fortune. This can't be much fun for her, either. She could have anyone she wants, and she ends up with a problem child. Surely she's regretting getting involved with me at this point. She turned in the attorney's arms and pulled back slightly, idly brushing a piece of lint from the taller woman's shoulder. "Kennedy, can I speak with you privately for a moment?"
"Sure." At the lack of eye contact, the attorney heard warning bells go off, but managed to sound casual. "Parker, excuse us for a minute." She directed her friend into the bedroom and closed the door. "What's up?"
"Look Kennedy, maybe it's best if you get out of this now, before you're in too deep." The paralegal looked down at the floor. "Maybe you'd be better off with somebody who carries a lot less baggage."
"I didn't complain about all your luggage last weekend," the attorney tried to joke.
"You know that's not what I meant." Carson still didn't make eye contact. "Maybe I should just try to handle this on my own."
"I see." Kennedy sat down on the edge of the dark green and burgundy plaid comforter, and gazed out the window, her back to Carson. "Is that what you want? Honestly?"
"Honestly? I ... no." The blonde sat down next to her, her hands clasped tightly in her lap.
"Good." The attorney was flooded with relief. "Because I don't want that either. You wanna tell me what's really going on?"
"I live on a pretty tight budget." Carson continued to study her folded hands.
"Huh?" The attorney turned to regard her friend. "What does that have to do with anything? I don't care how much money you make, Carson. If you're worried about paying me, you hiring me was basically a formality to protect our conversations. I wasn't planning on charging you for representing you, anyway."
"It's not just that." Grey eyes looked up. "Cell phone, hand-held computer, renting a private mail box, adding extra locks to doors and windows, upgrading my car alarm, home paper shredder, paying for a reserved parking space downtown just so I'll be closer to the office ... that's all gonna add up. I don't know if I can afford all of it."
What a clueless idiot I am, Kennedy berated herself. Now what do I do? She reached over and took one of Carson's hands. "Carson, you and I met about three weeks ago. I'll be the first to admit that's not very long. And we still need to get to know each other a whole lot better. But I think it's safe to say that we trust each other, and we care about each other a lot, true?"
"Yeah." The blonde smiled. "True."
"I've already told you that basically money is not a problem for me." She ran her thumb back and forth across the back of Carson's hand. "I know you're independent, and you have a lot of pride. But please, baby, I care about you. Will you let me take care of those things for you?"
"I hate having to rely on you like that." The paralegal frowned. "I've been completely on my own for a few years now. I hate being beholden to you."
"Don't think of it like that." Kennedy shifted, so that her body was facing toward her friend. "We're very good friends."
"That like to kiss each other." Carson found her sense of humor.
"Yes." The attorney leaned in and pecked Carson's lips. "That like to kiss each other." Her eyes searched the paralegal's face. "Please, Carson. I just found you. For my own selfish reasons, I'd like to make sure you're safe. Want to make sure you're going to be around for a while. I hope we'll be spending a lot more time together."
"Me too." The blonde felt herself pulled into a tight embrace. "Okay. I'll let you help me out, but only with the things I can't manage to pay for myself."
"Thank you." Kennedy sat back, still holding on to both of Carson's hands. "Why don't you come down to Austin next weekend and we'll go shopping down there for the cell phone and the hand-held computer, and even the paper shredder. I'll put them on my credit card. Any of them you want to pay for yourself, we can go get cash and you can pay me without leaving a paper trail. That way none of it will show up on your bills, if for some reason anyone is checking those by hacking credit card records."
"Okay. Kinda creepy to think anyone would be going to that much trouble just to check me out. I feel like I'm living in a James Bond film or something." Carson grew thoughtful. "What else do we need to do today, besides go rent me one of those private mail boxes?"
"Parker would really like to take a look at your office, if we can get in undetected." The attorney looked out the window at the bright sun. "Maybe we could all go grab a bite to eat and then try to get in after dark. Are there many people that work up there on Saturday evenings?"
"Are you kidding?" Carson rolled her eyes. "Place is a freakin' ghost town on Saturday night."
"Good." Kennedy's brows furrowed. "Whatever Nick Giovani knows about you, he must have found out at your office or by following you around, since your apartment is clean. Your car was clean too, I almost forgot about that." Parker had also swept the Integra for any listening or tracking devices.
"So, to the mailbox place, and then a late lunch?" Carson stood up, holding her hand out to Kennedy.
"Yeah." The attorney pulled Carson into her arms. "Are we okay?"
"More than okay." Carson snuggled up against her friend, laying her head on her shoulder and closing her eyes. "Wish we could just stay like this and make all the rest of it go away."
Kennedy stroked Carson's back, absorbing the warmth of their connected bodies. "We will make it go away, baby. I'll make sure of it."
They chose a small restaurant in the Oak Lawn area, near downtown, a place that offered home-cooking, either healthy or grease-filled, depending on a patron's preferences. Kennedy immediately ordered grilled catfish and a selection of steamed vegetables, while Carson and Parker both chose the blue-plate special - chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, brown gravy, green beans, and jalapeno cornbread. Kennedy merely shook her head as they both poured a large quantities of sugar into tall glasses of iced tea.
"I knew there was a reason I liked you." The attorney sipped from a glass of water with lemon. "You have a lot in common with my favorite brother. And don't be telling Pete he's not my favorite. It's mostly because Parker and I are only two years apart. Pete came along when I was twelve. We've always suspected he was an accident."
"Pete. Parker. Kennedy." Carson buttered a slice of cornbread. "How come you didn't get a 'P' name like the others?"
"Well ..." Parker's face took on a mischievous expression. "... she could have been called 'Prairie Flower,' but Mama vetoed that." He received a wilting glare from his sister.
"Prairie Flower?" Carson giggled.
"Long story. The real reason her name is different is because our parents agreed before having children that he would name the sons and she would name the daughters," Parker quickly answered before Kennedy decided to kill him. "And before you get the wrong idea, it's not a patriarchal thing. It's simply that they discussed names early on and never could agree."
"Yeah." Kennedy nibbled at a slice of un-buttered cornbread. "Pa wanted to give all of us Comanche names and Mama wanted to give all of us Irish names."
"'Kennedy' I get." The paralegal frowned. "But I never knew 'Pete' and 'Parker' were Comanche names."
"They're not." Parker leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table, facing the two women. He was more than a little curious as to how they had met and become so obviously close, especially given the decided lack of any love life on the part of his sister for the past few years. He decided to withhold his questions for the time-being. "'Parker' is the last name of an ancestor who was white, and 'Pete' is short for 'Peta'."
"They named your little brother for an animal rights group?" Grey eyes twinkled with amusement.
"No." Kennedy playfully bumped her leg against Carson's under the table. "Have you ever heard of Cynthia Ann Parker?"
"Yeah." Carson looked wistful. "Daddy took Mom and me to Fort Parker a few times when I was growing up. He was famous for long Sunday afternoon drives. It was a day trip from here."
"Cynthia Ann Parker is our great great great grandmother." Kennedy squeezed an extra lemon into her water. "How much of the story do you know?"
"Mostly what they taught us in Texas history class in junior high school. I'm sure I read some stuff on those fort trips, but that was when I was fairly young." Carson shifted, casually pressing her leg against Kennedy's, smiling a little when the brunette pressed back. "Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnaped by Indians, married an Indian chief, and was eventually re-captured back by her family."
"Figures," Parker snorted in disgust. "No offense to you Carson, but you've been a victim of pale-face politics. Let me tell you the real story."
"I'd love to hear it." Carson sat back and listened in fascination.
Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnaped from Fort Parker, Texas, by Comanches when she was nine years old. She was raised by a Comanche couple as if she were their own, and became completely integrated into Comanche culture. They even gave her a Comanche name, Naudah, which means "someone found." She eventually married the chief of the Noconi Comanche tribe, Peta Nocona, which means "he who travels alone and returns." Noconi means "wanderer."
Cynthia bore a son in 1850, Quanah. She eventually had two more children, a son named Pecos and a daughter named Totsiyaa, which means "Prairie Flower." Around 1860, Cynthia Ann and Prairie Flower were re-captured by white soldiers and returned to her uncle, Isaac Parker, and his family. She tried several times to escape and return to what she considered to be her family, the Comanches. Prairie Flower died of smallpox and Cynthia Ann died of a broken heart, never seeing her husband Peta or her sons again.
Quanah Parker, Cynthia Ann and Peta Nocona's son, became a brave and respected Comanche warrior, and eventually became chief of the Quohada tribe of Comanches. He won many battles and participated in several treaties with the white men. He was the one who made the decision for the Comanches to go to a reservation in Oklahoma. He understood that if they did not submit, they would be hunted down and exterminated. The white men were slowly capturing their territory and were systematically killing off the buffalo, which were their main source of livelihood. After the battles of Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee in the northern plains of the United States territory, there was precious little sympathy for the plight of the Native American people.
Unfortunately, reservation conditions were horrible and the Comanches were given only about ten percent of the land they had originally been promised. Quanah later became a sheriff and a tribal court judge, and would often go hunting with President Theodore Roosevelt. He fought for the Comanches to keep what little land they had, but the U.S. government opened up the Oklahoma reservation to white settlers, and it became the last great land rush. Many settlers jumped the gun to squat on parcels of land before they were officially open to settlement, earning those squatters the name "Sooners."
Due to his place in history, Quanah Parker was the last great chief of the Comanche people. During his life, he never stopped searching for his mother. When he learned that she had died, he brought her body to Oklahoma and buried her on Comanche land. When he died, he was buried next to her. Quanah practiced the Comanche tradition of polygamy, and had many sons and daughters by several wives.
"There's a lot more history we could share," Parker finished the story, "but I'll save it for another time. If Pa had his way completely, I would be named 'Quanah,' and Kennedy would be named 'Naudah.' Mama told us she had to get him to compromise and name me 'Parker' instead. She didn't want any child of hers getting beaten up on the playground because of having a strange name. She gave in when Pa named Peta, but she immediately started calling him 'Pete,' and most of the kids at school never knew his real name."
"Yeah," Kennedy chimed in. "Mama is a true hot-blooded Irish woman while Pa is a pacifist. They both made sure we knew where we came from. Unfortunately for Mama, we look almost totally Comanche."
"Except for those blue eyes." Carson looked back and forth between pairs of equally vibrant blue orbs. "Those stand out from across a room. I should know." She smiled shyly at Kennedy. "First thing I noticed about you."
Parker saw his opportunity and paused in the middle of cutting his chicken fried steak. "How did you two meet, anyway?"
"I take it you accept your sister's lifestyle?" Carson had come to like the tall man during the day, many of his mannerisms and facial expressions reminding her of Kennedy, not to mention that he was physically the male version of his sister. He was polite to a fault and had treated Carson with nothing but respect.
"Yes." Parker gave her a gentle smile. "Our father taught us that love is love. It took Mama a little longer to come around. She was raised Catholic, although she had pretty much quit practicing by the time she met our father. I think she was mainly disappointed because she had dreams of seeing her baby girl in a flowing white gown doing an Irish jig at her wedding."
"Oh God." Carson almost choked on a green bean. "Now there's a vision."
"Don't go there." Kennedy teasingly slapped her friend on the leg. "I might have to hold you down and ..."
"And what?" Carson cut her off and raised a coy eyebrow, oblivious to Parker.
"And ... oh, never mind." Kennedy blushed dark red under her brother's amused gaze.
"Luckily I married right out of school and immediately had three kids within a six-year time-frame, so the pressure was off my baby sister here to produce grandchildren." Parker teased his sister.
"Kennedy could have children if she wanted to." Carson peered curiously at her friend. "Women are having babies into their forties these days. She has plenty of time."
The attorney was in mid-sip, and spewed water back into her glass. She wiped the back of her hand across her mouth and slid out of the booth. "I'm going to the ladies' room while you two discuss my reproductive future."
Carson was afraid she had mis-spoken, and looked up regretfully into pale blue eyes. One of them winked at her and she sighed with relief. "Okay, you do that. We'll have your future mapped out for you by the time you get back."
Kennedy leaned over and whispered into the paralegal's ear, "Darlin', as long as you're part of the topography, I don't much care what the rest of the terrain looks like." She watched the ear turn bright pink and stood, walking away with a noticeable swagger in her gait.
"I take it that whatever she said, she managed to get the last word in." Parker chuckled at the obviously-flustered blonde.
"Um ... yeah." Carson absently rubbed the side of her neck. "You could say that."
"She always does." Parker looked over his shoulder to where his sister had disappeared. He turned back around and studied Carson intensely. "So, one more time, how did you two meet? I'd like to get to know the person who can make my stoic sister smile like a little kid, and actually laugh at herself."
The paralegal smiled, and gave him her own version of their meeting, leaving out any details she thought were too personal, or that she thought Kennedy might want to share herself. Kennedy re-joined them and simply scooted back in next to the blonde, casually resting a hand on Carson's leg and listening quietly to her story. She occasionally nodded with approval on certain points, but never offered any commentary of her own. She didn't need to. As far as Parker was concerned, his sister's eyes said it all. She had fallen, and she had fallen hard, whether she was ready to admit it or not.
Carson stepped out of the elevator and peered up above the main entrance to the law firm. Just as Parker had suspected, there was indeed a tiny camera mounted above the facing that pointed toward the door. Carson had never noticed it before. She looked all around the ceiling area and sighed with relief as she noted that it appeared to be the only one, and it wasn't aimed at the elevators. She silently motioned for the others to follow her.
Kennedy and Parker exited the elevator and kept close to the wall, well out of range of the camera. Parker nodded toward the hallway that led toward the restrooms. There was another office exit door there, but it was locked from the inside. It was actually intended to be an emergency exit, but everyone in the office used it as a shortcut to the restrooms. They couldn't, however, re-enter the office from there unless the door was propped open. Which it often was.
The paralegal crept down the hallway on the pretense of going to the ladies' room, studying the ceilings and walls. There did not appear to be any cameras. She smiled and turned back around, giving the other two a big "okay" sign. She disappeared into the restroom and out of sheer paranoia, also looked around there for cameras. There were none. Well, at least they haven't stooped that low. Yet. After an acceptable amount of time, in case anyone were watching the main entrance camera, she exited the restroom and used her key to gain access to the main entrance.
Kennedy and Parker hugged the wall and quietly made their way to the emergency exit. After a few minutes, the door opened and Carson let them in. Parker looked around and could not see any other cameras. "Whew. Looks like their main security concern is just the front door. Which I don't blame them, especially after that incident out in San Francisco several years ago."
"Yeah." Kennedy appeared grave. A perturbed client had entered a law firm in a San Francisco high-rise, shooting seven people before turning the gun on himself. "Now what?"
"Same protocol. Carson scouts out the ceilings between here and her office, and then comes and gets us if it's safe." He gave the paralegal an encouraging smile. "You've done a great job so far."
"Thanks." The blonde's face was drawn with worry. She had already managed to sneak them through a side door of the building that was camera-free, which had taken some doing, timing her actions with the rounds of a security guard who was patrolling the building. They all knew her by now. She was famous for her weekend warrior attitude, but had never brought anyone with her when working weekends.
From the ground-floor lobby, they had taken the stairwell most of the way up the eighteen flights to the law firm's office space. However, the firm also had extra security measures built into their stairwell exits. They could be used as exits but not as entrances, forcing anyone who visited the eighteenth floor to use the elevator. Luckily there were no cameras in the elevators.
Carson flipped on lights and walked down the long hallway toward her office. As she suspected, the place was deserted. It was an odd sensation, she realized, that after five years it suddenly felt very strange and frightening to be at the office. She idly wondered how long Nick had been spying on her, who else was involved, and what other motives he might have beyond the obvious. Surely there's more to it than getting laid. Even an ugly little creep like him can afford a hooker. It would have to cost less than all the trouble he's gone to to check me out.
She turned down a shorter side hallway and unlocked her office. She turned on the light and studied the ceiling intently. No cameras. Thank God. She went back and got Parker and Kennedy, and they silently followed her.
Kennedy's eyes darted around, taking in the richly-ornate set-up, so different from her small workplace in Austin. This firm had money, and plenty of it, evident by the thick oriental carpeting, gold-leaf frames on classical paintings, and the rich mahogany and cherry wood furniture she could see in some of the offices. Even the secretarial stations had nicer desk chairs than she had, and all the computer equipment was state-of-the-art.
When they reached Carson's office, Kennedy and Carson waited outside while Parker did a cursory sweep for listening devices. They slid down to the floor, sitting side-by-side in silence, lest any noise they make be detected, if there were any bugs. Kennedy took Carson's hand and pulled it into her lap, idly squeezing it every now and then. Carson simply rested her head on the attorney's shoulder and closed her eyes, wishing her own personal hell was over.
After about thirty minutes, Parker poked his head out. "It's clear. Come on in."
Kennedy's eyes grew wide at the small but plush accommodations. True, the desk was wood veneer, but the desk chair and two guest chairs were leather-upholstered. In addition to the desk there was a matching computer table, a book case, a credenza, and even a small bar, although there was nothing on the bar but an empty water pitcher. "Geez, Carson, your office is nicer than mine."
"I'll trade you - my office for your salary," the paralegal sparred back.
"You wouldn't want my salary." The attorney grinned.
"It's gotta be better than mine." Carson watched as Parker took apart her phone.
"I don't draw a salary." Kennedy stood behind her brother, looking over his shoulder in fascination.
"Really?" Two blonde brows shot up, along with her already high esteem for her friend.
"Ladies, can we discuss your respective net worths later?" Parker's voice had taken on an agitated edge. "We've got some things to talk about here. Like the bug in your phone."
"Oh." Carson sat weakly down in her desk chair. "Can you remove it?"
"I could, but then they'd know you were on to them. They'd either replace it, or possibly fire you." He re-assembled the phone and took a seat in one of the guest chairs. Kennedy mutely followed him, dropping into the remaining chair.
"What about my computer?" Carson started to boot it up.
"Wait." Parker almost vaulted over the desk, reaching across and stopping her. "There's more."
Carson spun back around in the swivel chair, facing them, and dropped her hands into her lap. She looked down for several seconds, gaining her composure. "What?" Sad grey eyes slowly looked up.
"I don't need to run a diagnostic on your computer. We can simply assume they check your e-mail, your Internet site hits, and the documents you work on. Many companies do it, and they have a perfect right to do so." His voice grew very gentle. "Carson, do you see that little spiral-looking hole in the top of your monitor?"
"Yeah." Carson peered over at the large screen. "Speaker, right?"
"No." Parker fidgeted in his seat before meeting her gaze. "Camera. It was the first thing I noticed. Your speakers are in the sides of the monitor. That little hole is a camera that only works when your monitor is on."
"Camera?" The paralegal felt numb. "Do you know how many times I've changed clothes in here? How many times I've made snide remarks about Giovani to my friend Tamara? Oh God. No wonder they know everything about me. I spend about half my life in here. Do ... do you have any way of knowing where the camera is fed to?"
"Not without some further investigation. I would guess either somewhere in this office, or somewhere in Giovani's office. Didn't you say they office in this same building?" The tall man stood and began to pace around the room, finally leaning against the wall beside the door.
"Yes. Down on the sixteenth floor." Carson also stood and peered out the window, her back to them. "The seventeenth floor is shared space by them and us. Mostly used for storage."
Kennedy could tell from the set of her shoulders that Carson was about to cry. She cleared her throat and looked at her brother. "Do you still want to check out her boss's office?"
"Yeah." Parker took the hint from the frown on Kennedy's face. "End of this side hall, in the corner, correct?"
"Yes." Carson's voice was very small. "The big one with all the football and golf stuff on the walls."
"I'm going to go check it out." The tall man exited the office leaving them alone.
A heavy silence settled around them, broken only by the low hum of the air conditioning vent. Carson felt a warm body move in behind her, two hands landing hesitantly on her shoulders. "I've always liked it up here at night." The paralegal looked intently down at the street below and found her voice. "The lights are really pretty. Especially at Christmas. See that hotel over there?"
Kennedy moved in closer, pressing her body against Carson's back and resting her chin on her head. "Yeah."
"At Christmas they have these little white twinkle lights all over the front. They form this big beautiful star." Carson paused and tried to swallow the lump in her throat. "I always felt so lucky to have this nice office, and work for this place with all the nice perks and bonuses. My salary is okay. It could be better, but they've given me steady raises each year. I've made a lot of friends here. And now ..." She trailed off, feeling hot tears squeeze out of her eyes and trickle down her cheeks.
Kennedy felt the smaller body turn and she instinctively wrapped her arms around Carson, as the younger woman pressed her face into her chest and silently cried, dampening the cotton fabric of Kennedy's black polo shirt. "It's going to be okay, sweetheart. Hell, quit this place and get another job. You could walk out of here tomorrow and find another one easily. The paralegal market is great right now."
"But if I do that, they win." Carson raised her head and sniffled. "I'm in this now, Kennedy. I want to know why. And I want to know if I'm the only one, or if they're spying on anyone else."
"The answer to that question is yes, they are." Parker poked his head back inside, unsure if he was welcome or not. Kennedy motioned him in, not letting go of Carson. "Every computer monitor I've looked at has those little cameras, even your boss's. I'm guessing that he doesn't know about it. I can't imagine he'd allow it if he did."
"Where is your mainframe kept?" Kennedy rubbed Carson's back, feeling the tension in her muscles.
"It's down at the other end of the hallway, but they keep it locked most of the time." She stood up taller and grabbed a tissue from her credenza, dabbing at her eyes.
Parker grinned evilly and produced a strange-looking tool from his pocket. "Bet I can unlock it. This little baby has rarely failed me."
"Let's go." Carson led them to the room and sure enough, within minutes they were inside. Parker poked around, satisfied that of all places, this particular room had no security cameras. He eye-balled several different servers, including the main one, and found no receiving monitors for any cameras. "Strange." He frowned. "They have to be feeding somewhere, unless they're disabled."
"I can only hope." Carson watched Kennedy disappear under the table in the corner where the main server sat. She smiled briefly as the only part of the attorney in view was her feet and her behind, which the paralegal decided was shaped very nicely. She resisted the urge to go up and slap it. Not that she would have slapped very hard.
"Hey Parker," a muffled alto voice called out from under the table. "There's some cable under here that feeds into a hole in the floor."
"Really?" The tall man squatted down, peering underneath. "Well I'll be damned." He stood up and waited while Kennedy backed out of the small space. "Ladies, I think we need to go down to the seventeenth floor."
They took the stairwell and found that the stairwell door to the seventeenth floor was not locked. The hallways in the office space were dimly-lit with emergency lighting. Parker led the way, still keeping an eye out for cameras. He stopped and worked out in his head the location of the server room above them, and then turned down a narrow obscure hallway until he reached a room he thought was probably underneath it. He fumbled with the lock-picking device and after a bit of tampering, heard the mechanism inside the door click.
He opened the door and flipped on a light. "Holy shit."
"What?" Kennedy and Carson pushed in behind him. "Oh my God." Kennedy let out a surprised breath.
Carson simply stared at the wall of monitors in front of them. None of them were on, but each was labeled with a name. She slowly scanned them and her shoulders slumped. "Here's mine." She pointed to a monitor marked 'C. Garret.' "And here's Tony's." The one next to hers had her boss's name on it. "Oh. They have one on Tamara too." She found her friend a few rows down. A cursory look revealed that almost everyone in her firm was being watched.
"Shhh." Parker shushed them and flipped off the light, closing the door to a crack. "I thought I heard someone."
They stood silently in the dark, hearing the sound of their own breathing, and then footsteps far away at the other end of the hall. The footsteps came closer, pattering on the linoleum floor, along with an odd squeaking noise. The hallway lights came on and someone began to whistle. Suddenly, a loud noise right outside the door made all three of them jump.
The noise continued and finally Carson's brain focused. "Cleaning crew." She whispered loudly. The noise was coming from a floor waxing machine.
Parker quietly closed the door and turned the lock. He spoke into the darkness, the waxing machine noise now muted. "Let's hope he doesn't have orders to wax in here."
"I doubt it." Kennedy had managed to find Carson in the inky blackness, and had draped an arm around the smaller woman's shoulders. "We might as well sit down. He may be out there for a while."
They waited for what seemed an eternity, not speaking at all, until they heard the man leave. Then they waited some more to give him time to get out of the office. Kennedy finally stood and stretched, her muscles sore from sitting still for so long. "What time is it?"
Parker looked at his lighted digital watch. "Almost midnight. We've been in here for almost two hours."
"Can we get out of here now?" Carson also stood up.
"Yeah, I think that's a really good idea." The attorney took her hand and they followed Parker out of the office and back down the stairwell.
It was close to two o'clock in the morning by the time they got back to Carson's apartment. They had been halfway down the stairwell at Carson's office building when Kennedy had cursed softly and told them to stay put. The attorney had disappeared back up the stairs and Carson and Parker had waited for about thirty minutes, talking quietly and wondering what Kennedy was up to.
The brunette returned with a self-satisfied smile on her face and said she'd explain after they were safely in the rental car and back on the road. They drove Parker to an inexpensive hotel near the municipal airport, after he declined Carson's offer to let him sleep on her couch. The sensitive man knew that his sister and her new friend probably needed some privacy. Beyond that, he was anxious to catch the first morning flight back to Midland-Odessa, and salvage the remainder of the weekend with his wife.
On the way to the hotel, Kennedy told them that she had noticed in the hallway and then in the stairwell, that the leather soles of her boots were slipping slightly as they walked and then descended the stairs. Carson and Parker had not noticed it because they were both wearing rubber-soled sneakers. When Kennedy had stopped and looked at the bottom of one of her feet, she had noted a fine coating of wax on it.
She'd gone back to look at the freshly-waxed linoleum on the seventeenth floor. The maintenance man had started waxing the floor at the end of the hallway near the small room where the three had hidden, so that part of the floor was sufficiently dry by the time they left. However, when she'd gotten down low to the ground, she could see three sets of tell-tale footprints that faintly marred the smooth surface closer to the stairwell exit.
She had gone down to the next floor where she'd found the waxing machine and its operator. He was an older Hispanic man and she immediately began speaking to him in Spanish, apologizing and telling him that part of the seventeenth-floor hall needed to be re-waxed. A couple of hundred dollars in cash exchanged hands, and the man promised to re-wax it and not tell anyone of their conversation. She had actually stayed long enough to watch him haul the machine back up on the elevator and begin re-waxing.
Parker had thanked her and verbally chastised himself for being so careless. They all agreed that they were mentally and physically exhausted, and that a good night's sleep was in order. Parker hugged both women in turn and made a joke about his bill being "in the mail."
Now Carson and Kennedy entered her apartment and stood awkwardly in the middle of the living room for a moment. Carson watched as Kennedy sat down on the couch and tugged her cowboy boots off, tossing them on the floor before she sat back, sinking into the plump high-backed cushions. "Why don't you get ready for bed first, and I'll go after you." Kennedy motioned toward the back part of the apartment.
"Not necessary." Carson smiled. "I didn't get a chance to give you a proper tour, but I have two bathroom sinks, one in the actual bathroom, and one in the vanity area between the hallway and the bedroom."
"Oh." Kennedy slowly stood up with boots in hand, and retrieved her overnight case where she had stashed it next to the front door earlier that day. "I guess you use the vanity one?"
"Yeah." The blonde took her weary friend by the hand and led her through the living and dining area and into the small hallway. She stopped at the linen cabinet and grabbed a set of towels, handing them to the attorney and gently nudging her toward the bathroom door. "You go on in there."
Kennedy watched as Carson yawned, and then turned away, noting the tired set to the younger woman's back and shoulders. She closed the door and turned on the hot water in the sink, while studying the beginnings of dark circles under her own eyes in the mirror. I am so tired. She was bone-weary, and set about the task of getting ready for some much-needed sleep.
She washed her face and brushed her teeth, dimly aware of the sound of running water outside the door and across the short hall where the other sink was. Kennedy changed into her usual t-shirt and flannel boxers, and then took the time to polish her boots. She pulled out a rag and saddle soap from her bag, and carefully removed all traces of wax from the black leather, and then gave the boots a once-over with mink oil lotion to protect them.
By the time she was finished there was nothing but silence on the other side of the door. She stepped into the hallway and started toward the bedroom, and then stopped. Despite the previous night and the prior weekend, she wasn't sure if she was going to be on the couch or in Carson's bed. She felt uncharacteristically shy, and hoped very much that she would be sleeping with the cute blonde. Guess I'll just have to ask.
She moved on into the bedroom where a small lamp cast low light from the nightstand. Carson was sound asleep, one fist curled under her chin and the other hand tucked out of sight under her pillow. Kennedy studied her friend's face, which even in sleep bore the faintest set of worry lines across her forehead. Poor kid. Guess her world has been turned upside down. In more ways than one.
Kennedy sat down on the edge of the bed and carefully reached out, trying to smooth the furrowed brow. Two grey eyes fluttered open and Carson smiled weakly. "Hey. Sorry. I tried to wait up for you."
The attorney bit her lower lip. "Don't worry about it. I'm sorry I woke you. I ... just ... that is, I wasn't sure where I was sleeping."
The paralegal clasped the hand that was still stroking her head, and squeezed it. "Kennedy, why don't we just go ahead and assume that whenever we're together, we sleep together. I think we're comfortable enough for that at this point, don't you?"
"Yeah." The brunette smiled. "At least I hoped you felt that way too. I just didn't want to presume. Last weekend you had a nightmare, and last night you were on Valium. I thought maybe those were special circumstances."
"Maybe," Carson mused. "And maybe tonight is too because now I'm simply so tired I can barely move. I don't think tonight or either of those other two times, I was so out of it that I didn't know what I was doing. Or saying." She peered intently into uncertain blue eyes for emphasis, trying to convey words she was too shy to repeat.
Always. Want you with me always.
Her meaning was not lost on Kennedy, whose heart flipped over. She swallowed and gave her friend a crooked smile. "Well then. Maybe every time we're together, we can consider it to be special circumstances."
"I think we should." Carson moved over and pulled back the covers, making room for Kennedy to slip underneath. Once they were settled, she reached across and turned off the light.
The attorney rolled onto her side, facing her friend in the darkness, who was also laying on her side. She waited for her eyes to adjust, listening to the various night-time sounds ... the refrigerator humming on the other side of the apartment ... the tinkle of chimes on the balcony ... and the light even sound of Carson's breathing. She heard a low purring noise and laughed. "Is that your stomach, or one of the cats?"
Carson giggled and playfully swatted Kennedy on the arm. "That would be one of the cats, probably Allie. She likes to sleep on a blanket on the cedar chest over under the window. Roma is under the covers way down at the foot of the bed at my feet."
"Oh." The attorney had been introduced to the cats earlier in the day. She poked one foot down, locating the furry body, which moved slightly when she touched it. "Glad you told me that. I might've felt her in the middle of the night and thought your legs needed a shave."
"You know ..." The paralegal reached out, pushing at a toned cotton-covered stomach. "For someone who looked so tired only fifteen minutes ago, you sure are full of it all of a sudden."
"No, darlin', I'm just full of you." Kennedy scooted closer, draping one arm across Carson's waist and reeling her in. She felt the smaller body press into her, and Carson's arm wrapping around her own side, her hand lightly stroking Kennedy's back. They shared several long undemanding kisses, gradually winding down into a comfortable warm nest of tangled legs and arms.
"Hey." The brunette traced Carson's jawline. "Tomorrow you need to change all your computer passwords, and I need to get on there long enough to draft the no entry order for your apartment complex, but that's not going to take long. What do you want to do after that? I'm not leaving until Monday afternoon, so we have all day."
"Today was pretty much no fun at all, except for maybe the way we started the day ..." Carson smiled, her hand running up and down Kennedy's flannel-covered hip. "... and the way we're ending it right now. And I have a feeling this coming week is not going to be much better. I'm really ready to do something that will help me escape for a little while. I was thinking maybe we could go to the state fair. It started last weekend."
"Oh wow. That would be great." Kennedy smiled back at her friend. "I've never been, except to go to the Texas-OU game when I was in law school. We'd go to the game and then leave. I've never really walked around the fair grounds or anything."
Carson raised up on her forearm. "You've never been to the fair? You're thirty-two years old and a native Texan, and you've never been to the fair?"
"No." Kennedy pulled her friend back down onto the pillow. "Alpine is a long way from Dallas, sweetheart. We never made the trek up here when I was growing up. The New Mexico fair was actually closer, although we only went there once."
"I guess I took it for granted." Carson snuggled up to the taller woman, laying her head on Kennedy's shoulder. "We went every year, usually more than once. I'd go with my parents, and then when I was a little older, I also went with my friends on junior high and high school fair day."
"You got a day off of school just to go have fun?" Kennedy's voice was incredulous.
"Well ... yeah." Carson lightly traced the brunette's other shoulder with her finger tips.
"That's not fair. We were ripped off. We never got a day off for anything like that." The attorney sounded like a pouty little kid, and Carson giggled, picturing a full protruding lower lip in the darkness.
"Tell you what, honey ..." Carson slid up and kissed a very surprised Kennedy on the nose, unaware that it was the first time she had used a pet name to address the brunette. "Tomorrow I will make sure that you get the full fair experience. We'll look at exhibits, and go to shows, and ride rides. Look at all the animals and eat funnel cakes and corny dogs, drink beer and end the day with cotton candy and a Swissy-mouse balloon."
"Ugh." Kennedy groaned. "I'm getting a stomachache just thinking about eating all that junk food." She blinked. "End the day with a Swissy-what?"
"Swissy-mouse balloon." Carson smiled. "You'll see. I always got one when I was little, and it's sort of a tradition now. It's not the fair without my Swissy-mouse balloon."
Kennedy wrapped her arms around the smaller body, noting the surprising lack of tension in her friend's muscles compared to earlier in the evening. "Baby, if they make you that happy, I'll buy you a dozen of 'em."
"Mmmm." Carson closed her eyes, enjoying the closeness. "Nice thought, but it would be kind of hard to get that many of them home. One is enough."
"One it is, then." The attorney kissed the blonde head and closed her own eyes. "But we better get some sleep, or we aren't going to feel like doing anything tomorrow."
"Kennedy, it already is tomorrow." The paralegal kissed her friend on the cheek.
"My point exactly." She shifted, rolling onto her side and pulling Carson back against her in a spooning position. She tentatively slipped her hand under the younger woman's shirt, resting it against warm bare skin. "Is this okay?" She gently stroked the firm flat muscles.
"Yeah." Carson patted her hand. "It's really nice." She felt her stomach muscles flutter pleasantly at her friend's touch and realized that she wanted to feel that touch in much more intimate places.
God. Kennedy nuzzled the back of Carson's neck. Wish I wasn't so tired, 'cause I want so much more. She sighed internally. I guess good things really are worth waiting for. She felt a small hand come to rest on top of hers, joining her under Carson's shirt, and she smiled. "'Night, sweetheart."
They lay in silence, both slowly processing the stress of the day, anticipating the coming trip to the fair, and enjoying the growing comfort they felt in simply being together. Soon they were fast asleep, exhausted bodies winning in the struggle with over-occupied minds.
"Tell me again what's in these things?" Kennedy suspiciously poked a plastic fork into a funnel cake, examining it with a critical eye. The golden round pastry was the size of a paper plate and was actually quite pretty, it's criss-crossed sections covered in fine powdered sugar.
"Just think of it as a giant sugar-dusted donut." Carson grinned, taking a bite of her own cake with great relish.
"So it's basically white flour and lard that has been mixed together and then deep-fried in a vat of grease, and sprinkled with a large helping of white processed sugar." The attorney made a face.
"Yep." Carson took another bite, chewing and swallowing with pleasure. "Absolutely no nutritional value, but they sure do taste good. Come on. Try it."
The brunette took a deep breath and bit into a forkful of the crispy doughy concoction. She rolled the sample around her mouth and smiled. "Hey. That's pretty good. Almost melts in your mouth." She took another bite with much less trepidation. "Although I can almost hear my arteries congealing."
"I knew feeding you here was going to be a challenge." The paralegal grinned. "You being a vegetarian pretty much ruled out corny dogs, turkey legs, and sausage on a stick. Glad we found that fish and chips place."
"Oh, yeah." Kennedy's voice was playfully sarcastic. "Fried shrimp and french fries. That was a healthy choice."
"Well save some room." Carson poked her in the stomach.
"Why's that?" Almost fearful blue eyes looked sideways at the blonde.
"This is just lunch dessert. We get another dessert after dinner." The paralegal gave her a mischievous smile. "And it's even better than a funnel cake."
"Do tell." The attorney turned sideways on the rough wooden picnic bench, straddling it and facing Carson.
"Belgian waffles." The blonde nodded her head toward the next table. "See."
Kennedy peered over her friend's shoulder where two women were each attacking plates that contained waffles. Waffles that were covered in syrupy sweet strawberries and piled high with thick whipped cream. "Oh good Lord." The attorney groaned and covered her face with one hand. She held out her other arm toward Carson. "Why don't you just inject the cholesterol? It would be a lot faster."
"You are having fun, aren't you?" The paralegal took her friend's outstretched hand and squeezed it briefly, before releasing it.
Two blue eyes appeared from behind long fingers, and Carson was rewarded with a dazzling smile. "Yeah." The attorney looked around and then leaned forward, pecking Carson on the cheek. "Yeah, I really am."
"Thought so." She reached up and gently brushed her fingers across Kennedy's upper lip. "You had a little powdered sugar moustache there."
"Couldn't have that, now could we?" Wish she could've kissed it away. The attorney knew realistically that out-and-out kissing on the lips in the open, in a place that was half-full of traditional farm boys and the other half full of evangelical Christian families, was probably not a good idea. Still, the thought brought another smile to her face.
Carson read her mind and grinned. "I might have some powdered sugar at home." They gazed into each other's eyes for a long moment, absorbing new feelings that they were finally starting to acknowledge to one another.
It had been a good morning.
Kennedy woke up to find the other side of the bed empty and heard the sound of the shower running. A note was propped up on the nightstand indicating that juice was in the refrigerator, and the computer was already booted up and open to the word processing program so that she could draft the no entry order.
She wandered into the kitchen and located a glass, and then opened the refrigerator to find a container of fresh-squeezed orange juice from the natural foods market. She remembered what I like. That brought a smile to her face, as she helped herself to her favorite morning beverage.
She was sitting at the computer, working on her second draft of the order, when an exuberant paralegal came bounding around the corner. Carson leaned over, wrapping her arms around Kennedy's shoulders from behind, and kissing her on top of the head. "Hurry up. The fair's already been open for an hour."
She looked at the clock on the computer and then up at the blonde bundle of energy, trying to reconcile the early weekend hour with what little she knew of Carson's sleeping habits. "You always this cheerful after only five hours of sleep?"
"No." The paralegal tweaked her on the nose. "I'm never this cheerful in the morning, no matter how much sleep I've had, unless I'm really looking forward to the day, which I am."
The attorney had hastily finished up the order and saved it, and then taken a quick shower. Carson was ready to go by the time she stepped out of the tub. The paralegal leaned against the bathroom door frame, chatting away while Kennedy blow-dried her hair, brushed her teeth, and applied a liberal layer of sunscreen to her face. It had heartened her to see her friend in such a good mood, given the revelations of the previous day.
They snagged a quick breakfast at a diner near the fair grounds, where Carson had consumed several cups of coffee. They spent the first hour at the fair simply wandering around, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds that made up the happy hodge-podge of people. It was a beautiful day, with clear blue skies and temperatures that were perfect for shorts and a sweat shirt, which was what both women were wearing.
Everywhere they went there was music, be it carnival sounds from the midway where the rides were, to country music from amateur performers on an open-air stage, to Celtic music from one of the ongoing cultural dance demonstrations. Kennedy had stopped to watch some of the dancing, sparing a moment for some childhood memories of her mother playing Irish folk music on the stereo.
They toured the automobile building to see all the new car models, and listened to the military drum and bugle corps band play on the lawn immediately outside the automobile display. Carson had gotten teary-eyed while listening to the traditional patriotic tunes, and explained that her father had been in the Naval reserves. He had instilled a deep-grained sense of patriotism in her from a young age.
Throughout the morning they nibbled on various snacks, including candied apples and large dill pickles. Kennedy had finally begged for real food, only to be told that what they had been eating was about as real as it got at the fair. That proved to be true, as she consumed her fish and chips while Carson opted for a foot-long corny dog. At least apples are fruit and a pickle is a vegetable, sort of, she tried to console herself.
Now they were seated outside in a large picnic area, simply enjoying the brief pause in the whirlwind of activity. Kennedy slowly looked around, observing small children that ran around, harried parents that were doing their best to keep up with them, and a myriad of other people all wandering about the food vendor stands. Most of them were consuming items that for the most part, appeared to be absolutely vile to her health-conscious sensibilities.
Finally, her eyes came back to rest on her dining companion. She couldn't remember the last time she had simply relaxed, and let go of her regimented routine. Even more unbelievable was the rapid manner in which she knew Carson was claiming her heart. From the looks and comments the paralegal had been giving her all morning, as well as the night before, she was pretty sure the feelings were mutual.
"What do you want to do next?" Carson drew her attention fully to the present. "We could go ride rides."
"Sweetheart, if I do anything more strenuous than walk right now, that funnel cake and the rest of the fried food is going to come right back up." She patted her belly for emphasis.
"Ooo, yuck. No rides for you for a while. Well ...." The blonde studied her state fair map. "We could go look at the livestock."
"Alright." Kennedy swung her leg over the bench and stood, offering her friend a hand up. "Lead on, madame tour guide. Your knowledge of this fine establishment hasn't disappointed me yet."
Carson rolled her eyes and started walking, keeping hold of the warm hand. She observed Kennedy out of the corner of her eye, watching her first look down at their clasped hands in mute surprise, then look around, and then finally relax, as she realized that very few people were paying any attention to them at all. She felt the taller woman squeeze her hand slightly and she squeezed back.
The paralegal smiled up at her friend, receiving an ear-splitting grin in return. She suddenly realized that she had never been more proud to be seen with anyone than she was at that moment. I've waited my whole life to walk hand-in-hand like this, Carson mused silently. "Think this is safe?" She scanned the area for any unfriendly faces and held up their joined hands briefly.
"I would have said 'no,' given the large number of extended cab pick-ups with sports talk radio decals in the parking lot ... not to mention the mini-vans with 'my kid is on the religious school honor roll' bumper stickers ..." Kennedy also gave the people around them a second once-over. "... but for now, it seems that no one is fainting at the sight of two women holding hands."
"Maybe they think we're sisters or cousins or something," Carson offered.
Kennedy snorted, mentally comparing her tall lanky frame and dark hair and skin with Carson's short compact body, and fair features. "I don't think so." She reached across and playfully backhanded the blonde's mid-section. "Unless they're basing that theory on similar abs, and those are covered right now."
They continued to walk, and the paralegal made idle comments about various buildings and displays they passed. They traversed most of the grounds to reach the barnyard area, which was on the far side of the fair grounds from the food pavilion. Soon the mixed scents of lambs wool, cow manure, leather, hay, and grain reached their nostrils.
Kennedy inhaled deeply and peered into the first doorway Carson dragged her toward. "Smells like I'm back home on a day when we're downwind of the stockyards."
"Really?" The blonde stopped in front of a pen that held a mother ewe and two babies. "Was there much ranching where you grew up?"
"The more correct question would be was there anything besides ranching where I grew up." The attorney peered at the sheep, admitting to herself that they really were cute. "But it was all cattle. And some people dabbled in oil too. Just another way I was considered to be different. My parents ran a bed and breakfast on Main Street. Everyone else, for the most part, lived on huge spreads outside of town."
"But you were on the rodeo team?" Grey eyes looked up at thoughtful blue ones.
"Yeah." Kennedy followed her on through the maze of low stalls, carefully avoiding the animal droppings on the straw-covered floor. "Rodeo helped me fit in, and I love riding. I even did a little bit of bull-riding, but mostly I stuck with barrel racing."
"Bull riding?" Carson's voice rose an octave. "Isn't that dangerous?"
"Sure, but you gotta keep your wits about you after you're thrown off." She pulled up the edge of her cargo shorts a bit, indicating a long thin scar that ran across the top of her thigh. "This is from when I almost got gored because I panicked."
"A bull did that?" Carson studied the scar with wide eyes.
"No." The attorney chuckled. "Barbed wire on the top of the fence I dove over getting away from the bull."
"Oh." The paralegal reached down and traced the thin line. "Glad you got away."
It was a simple statement, really, but somehow it warmed Kennedy to her core, along with the gentle touch that accompanied it. She took a more firm grasp on Carson's hand. "Yeah. Me too. I might have missed some really good stuff."
Carson stopped in her tracks, looking up and absorbing the moment, feeling a similar gentle warmth spread throughout her being. "Between this weekend and last weekend, I'm starting to think of barns as some of the most romantic places in the world."
"My, my." Kennedy shook her head from side to side in mock admonition. "You are a city girl, aren't you?"
"Why do you say that?" The paralegal scowled.
"Darlin', sometime when you're in Austin, I'll have to take you out to the barn and show you just how romantic a big ol' pile of hay can be." Kennedy winked at her friend, well-aware of the implications of her words.
Carson felt the warmth increase, along with the flush that crept up her neck and into her cheeks. She looked down and kicked at the straw, grasping for a response. She felt long fingers prod her chin up until she faced a pair of concerned blue eyes.
"Hey. I was just flirting with you." The smooth alto voice washed over her. "I didn't mean to scare you, Carson."
"Didn't scare me." Blonde eyelashes fluttered. "I ... I think I'd like a tour of your barn ... sometime."
Kennedy opened her mouth. And then closed it. She looked around and then dropped Carson's hand, sliding an arm around her waist and pulling her close so she could whisper in her ear. "I'll give you the barn tour, sweetheart. But I'd prefer to start the tour somewhere a little more comfortable."
Carson smiled. "Okay." She maintained eye contact, while pulling back a bit and taking Kennedy's hand again. It was time to turn the heat down to a more tolerable public level. "Oh look." She pointed toward a large corral in the corner. "The baby animal zoo. Come on." She tugged on the brunette, dragging her into a pen of small goats, lambs, pigs, and chicks.
The attorney merely shook her head at the enigma that was Carson - one moment a very sensual woman, and the next a wide-eyed girl. The blonde sat down in the dry straw, and was immediately surrounded by several small furry faces, all hopeful for a treat.
Kennedy ambled over to the food pellet machine that was installed on the railing, inserted a quarter and filled a small paper cup. She walked back over and leaned down. "Here. Guess there are many ways to have fun in a barn."
"Maybe." It was Carson's turn to wink, as she accepted the offering. "But I have a feeling some are more satisfying than others."
Kennedy plopped down next to her, allowing their legs to touch. "Oh, I think you can be assured of that." She watched as several small animals clamored to crawl into Carson's lap. She quietly laughed, as she realized she was envious of them.
The high-pitched twang of the bow resounded, followed by the thunk as the arrow hit its mark. Kennedy stood back with a smug look on her face while Carson just stared at the target. "That's five bulls eyes in a row."
"Did I mention I was the state archery champion for three years in a row?" The brunette accepted another arrow and eyed the target again.
"No." The paralegal sidled up to her. "You failed to mention that, Miss rodeo queen, straight A's, full college scholarship, editor of the law review, water skiing diva."
Kennedy burst out laughing and lost her composure, dropping the arrow back down to her side. "You almost make those sound like bad things."
"Not bad." Carson grinned. "Impressive."
The good morning had blended into a great afternoon.
They rode several rides and ate yet another meal, although she had managed to find a stand selling veggie burgers and even got Carson to eat one. Then they'd shared a Belgian waffle and Carson had consumed a few beers while Kennedy stuck to bottled water. After that they took a walk around the pond that sat between several permanent displays, quietly talking about the week to come.
They didn't allow their thoughts to dwell on that for too long, and wandered back toward the midway, this time playing some of the games. Carson had surprised Kennedy with a mean side-armed softball toss that earned her a long stuffed purple snake after she nailed several stacks of heavy milk bottles. The paralegal had immediately draped the large toy around Kennedy's shoulders where it had stayed until she spotted the archery game.
Three arrows for a dollar was too good to pass up, especially since each bulls eye earned her a miniature stuffed animal. Three miniature stuffed animals could be traded for a larger bean-bag bear that was about ten inches in height. She was one bulls eye away from bear number two. She re-positioned her bow and squinted down the shaft of the arrow toward the target. With graceful ease, she drew back the bow and released the arrow, watching with satisfaction as it also hit the target dead-center.
She removed the arm-guard that was provided and accepted her bears. The first one was white with a little red heart on its chest, and the second one was multi-colored pastel tie-dye. Kennedy handed the bears to Carson and reached across, pushing blonde bangs out of her friend's eyes. "You know. I bet if you sat these little guys on top of your computer monitor at work, their legs would probably hang down in front of that camera."
Carson gasped quietly, and then with a bear in each hand, threw her arms around Kennedy's neck with reckless abandon. "You are the smartest woman in the world." She kissed her soundly on the lips and then rested her forehead against the brunette's upper chest. She felt two arms close around her, hugging her tightly, and snuggled in closer.
It was sweet and unexpected, and probably out of proportion, but she knew her friend was under incredible stress. If this moment provided her some comfort, then so be it. On-lookers be damned. The brunette gave a menacing stare to two would-be gawkers who moved hastily on after meeting her icy gaze. She had noticed several work stations at Carson's office with stuffed animals on display, and the idea had been slowly forming since the previous night. Now ... she looked over Carson's shoulder ... I need one more thing. "Baby, what's your favorite color?"
"Red," a muffled voice answered.
Kennedy slowly released her, and led her toward a balloon vendor. "Are these those Swissy-mouse things you were talking about?"
"Yeah." Grey eyes sparkled with child-like joy.
The attorney looked up at the large cluster of balloons, trying to understand what was so magical about them. She pulled a red one down to face-level and studied it. It was a balloon within a balloon. The inner red balloon was a mouse head, complete with mouse features on its face and large mouse ears. Surrounding the red part was another plain clear round balloon. She shrugged and retrieved her wallet. "A red one, please."
The vendor took three dollars from her and handed her the balloon. She turned and faced her friend. "Hold out your wrist." Carson complied and Kennedy tied the balloon string securely around her arm. "Wouldn't want it to fly away."
The paralegal hugged her bears tightly to her chest and then looked up at the balloon. A single tear escaped from the corner of one eye. "Hey." Kennedy stepped closer and brushed it away. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Carson sniffled. "Thank you."
"Just a couple of bears and a balloon," the attorney mumbled.
"No." The blonde took one of Kennedy's hands and raised it to her lips. "It's happiness. I know that this coming week is going to be tough. Maybe one of the toughest weeks I've ever had. I'm going to walk into the office tomorrow afternoon, after we deal with my apartment complex, and I am going to feel like a fish out of water. Every time it starts to get to me, I'm going to look at these little guys and smile, and then I'm going to go home and see this balloon, and I'm going to remember what a great day I had today."
A couple of bears, Kennedy mused. A couple of bears, and a silly-looking balloon just bought me a smile that would light up a room. She casually draped one arm across Carson's shoulders. "Didn't you say they have a parade around here somewhere? It's getting to be dusk."
"Yes." Carson grinned, wrinkling the bridge of her nose. "A killer parade, and then this really awesome fireworks display. And if you're up for it, after that they have a cool laser light show over in the football stadium. We need to go find good seats."
"I'm here for the full fair experience, remember?" Kennedy steered the shorter woman toward the main walkway, and they began scouting out a curb-side seat for the parade.
Continued in Chapter 5
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