See part 1 for disclaimers.
The Invitation, Part 2
"How long has it been?" Fiona rustled under the blue paper sheet and shifted her elevated hips into a slightly more comfortable position.
"Not twenty minutes," Keira replied, reaching out to stroke Fiona's arm. The artificial insemination procedure had gone smoothly, but not without discomfort. The doctor had left them alone, advising that Fiona lie quietly with her hips elevated for at least twenty minutes. Keira was planning on making Fiona lie down all the way home in the back seat of the car, and then for the rest of the afternoon. She always believed in increasing the odds whenever possible.
"How long has it been?" Fiona repeated, obviously in the mood for precision.
"Thirteen and a half," Keira answered more specifically.
"It hurt, Keir."
"I know, Fee."
"I know." Keira decided this wasn't the best time to remind Fiona of how much it would hurt to give birth. "Were you glad I was here with you?"
"Of course." Fiona smiled, abandoning her grumpy mood, and grabbed Keira's hand, bringing it to her lips for a gentle kiss. "But I want an ice cream. You promised."
"I did." Keira gently pulled her hand from her lover's grasp and stroked a soft cheek. "And you'll get one."
"From Seaburgh's Ice Cream Parlor?"
Keira nodded, a grin threatening to split her face in two.
It had been a seed, planted on a foggy morning. Or maybe planted the moment they had laid eyes on Seaburgh. And like the semen that were hopefully making a love connection with Fiona's eggs at that very moment, the seed had germinated.
Fiona had been planning on quitting her job anyway if she became pregnant. Her job was stressful on her body and, thanks to a psycho head chef, on her emotions as well. But they'd always assumed they would rely on Keira's steady income as an IT support manager until Fiona was ready to re-enter the job market. To give that up for a new business was insanity.
Except that the idea refused to be dismissed. It grew slowly as Keira and Fiona looked into the steps to start a new business, did a little market research, investigated the housing market in Seaburgh, sought out advice from friends and family, and juggled finances. Until the decision to move to a little coastal town in California and start a computer business as well as a family stood before them like a teenager asking for keys to the Toyota. Like children, ideas can grow up so fast.
Keira gazed at the future that lay before her. She knew she should be scared spitless, but the decision seemed so right. Now they just had to stand by and watch the pieces fall into place.
"Hey, Mr. Sperm," Keira said, leaning toward Fiona's abdomen, "buy her some flowers. I know from experience it works every time."
A week later, Fiona put in her notice after working a typically chaotic shift at one of San Francisco's top eateries. Keira met her at the door and ordered her to bed for an immediate back rub.
"So what did Chef Boyardee say when you handed in your resignation?" Keira asked as she kneaded Fiona's lower back.
"It's Chef Boiarden, as you well know. And as you also well know or at least can guess he threw a snit fit. Thank God I gave him the letter at the end of the shift. As it was, he refused to say another word to me. The next two weeks should be jolly."
"So he's definitely going to make you work the full two weeks?" Keira moved her hands up Fiona's spine.
Fiona nodded her head into the pillow. "He needs to hire someone who'll put up with his bullshit attitude. That's not going to be easy."
"Maybe you should just quit anyway." Keira worried that the stress of a raging head chef would jeopardize the little life that she hoped was growing beneath her hands.
"I can't burn my bridges or ruin my reputation like that." Fiona sighed, and then purred when Keira hit a particularly sore spot. "Especially if I go ahead with my plans for starting a restaurant in Seaburgh. I need the Bay Area restaurant establishment to be on my side, even that far away."
The restaurant had been another idea that would ensure that their long-term future in Seaburgh was solid. Fiona had played around with the idea of a café that offered food using fresh local ingredients and featuring local wines and beers. She intended on making it trendy enough to appeal to the urban crowd on a getaway visit to the coast, but relaxed and down-home enough to appeal to the locals. Of course the restaurant would have to wait until the baby was old enough.
"Well, I just want you to take it easy," Keira warned. "If you ever feel sick or dizzy or anything, tell Chef Boyardee you need to go home. And if he doesn't like it, he can fuck himself."
"I still don't understand how that's anatomically possible," Fiona said, smiling and rolling over. "But I'll be sure to tell him."
Keira sank into Fiona's open arms, cuddling up next to her and breathing in the scent of garlic and smoke. Fiona took great pains to get rid of the smell from her clothes and skin and hair after work, but Keira loved it because it was a part of Fiona. She took another deep breath and laughed when her stomach growled.
"You want some dinner?" Keira asked. "I was thinking of making scrambled eggs and toast."
"Not really." Fiona patted her stomach. "But for junior, I guess I better. I'll just grab a shower first."
Keira reluctantly let go of her lover, and Fiona got up, groaning dramatically.
"I'll only be a second," Fiona said. "Why don't you"
Fiona's words were interrupted by the angry words. Keira was paralyzed for a moment, trying to determine the origin of the sound. When she decided it was coming from inside the apartment building, and not the sidewalk or alley outside, she began to run to the front door.
"Keira, no!" Fiona cried, running to catch up.
"Let me in, you fucking cunt!"
This time, loud pounding accompanied the words.
"I just want to see what's going on," Keira said as she neared the front door.
"Don't get involved," Fiona said. "I'll call 9-1-1."
"Wait, it might be nothing." Despite her words, Keira waived Fiona behind her as she carefully opened the door and peeked out.
She could see the man on the landing one floor below. He was leaning heavily against the doorjamb, pounding on the door in a steady rhythm. Keira could see the door jump each time the side of his fist hit the polished wood.
"Come on, Babe." The man's tone changed to an annoying whine. "You know I love you. You gotta let me in."
The man kept up his pleas as Keira reviewed what she knew about the woman downstairs. Her name started with a J Joanne or Jill or Judy, something like that. She worked a normal 9 to 5 job judging by the hours she left and came home, but Keira had no idea what she did for a living. She lived alone, but a child visited occasionally, always accompanied by an older woman social worker or grandmother. Keira had filled in the blanks from the scarce facts: a mother who was only allowed supervised visitations must have done something very wrong to her child. The woman seemed to live a quiet, sedate lifestyle, other than very rare sexual encounters.
It was possible that the man downstairs had been a visitor the weekend before, when Keira and Fiona had chuckled at the thumping bed and gruff, barking sound the man made when he came. But neither Keira nor Fiona had seen him arrive or leave. He was just a voice in the night.
"Baby, look, just let me in so we can talk about this," the man begged. "I just want to talk."
Keira rolled her eyes. She pulled back, deciding that Jill/Joanne/Judy was thankfully impervious to his pathetic attempts to get her to open the door. But just as she started to push her own door closed, Keira saw the woman's doorknob slowly turn. She opened her mouth to call out a warning, but things happened so fast. The door opened, the man pushed it open wider while grabbing out for the woman, pulling her toward him and punching her in the face in one motion.
Blood flew from the woman's face, painting the cream-colored wall with a sweeping arc of tiny red droplets.
"Hey, let her go!" Keira screamed, then turned to frantically whisper to Fiona, "call 9-1-1. Now."
Fiona froze for only a moment, her green eyes wide with fright. "Don't go down there," she begged, then turned and ran for the phone.
Keira's shout had stopped the man from further violence, but he still clung to the front of the woman's t-shirt. Tears ran from the woman's eyes and blood and mucus ran from her nose, washing over the shirt and the man's hand and making her face look as if it was melting.
"No, oh please, oh please, no," the woman begged, over and over in a frantic, strangled voice.
"We're calling the police!" Keira called out. She held onto her door, her body twitching, sending signals to her brain to run and fight. But her brain told her body to wait, to obey her lover's command, to keep herself safe.
"Mind your own business!" the man shouted. He raised his fist again, but the far-off sound of sirens rose above the woman's pleading. The man paused, obviously trying to decide if the sirens were the police coming for him. Keira knew they probably weren't, but prayed to any gods listening that he'd be fooled. Fiona appeared at Keira's back and whispered that the police were on the way just as the man pushed the woman against the wall. She slid slowly to the ground, still crying and begging. "Fucking cunt! That'll teach you to fuck with me, Bitch!"
He spared another glance up the stairs, flipping his middle finger at Keira and Fiona, and then ran down the hallway. Keira listened to his heavy boots thump down the carpeted stairs and then heard the front door of the building slam shut. As the sound echoed up the stairwell, Keira finally moved to help her neighbor.
"It's OK," Keira said. She knelt beside the woman, watching the blood ooze out of her nose in a thick stream, and felt her vision tunneling. She bit her bottom lip and took some deep breaths.
"Here." Fiona appeared, holding out a wet towel. Keira reached to take it from her, but Fiona pushed her aside. "You'll just faint if you keep looking at it," she said gently. "Go down and meet the police."
Keira smiled her thanks and stood up. She watched as Fiona placed the towel on the ravaged face.
"OK, just calm down," Fiona gently murmured to the woman. "He's gone now and everything's going to be OK."
Everything's not going to be OK, Keira mused as she headed downstairs. But it will be for us at least. Once we can get the hell out of this goddamn city.
"I know you guys are gonna love this house."
Keira smiled, looking into the real estate agent's sincere black eyes, and crossed her fingers. Ed Scott was a giant of a man, with dark skin and short black hair, combed back to set off his rugged good looks. He was a Pomo, born and raised in Seaburgh, and had been telling Fiona and Keira loads of legends about the local area as he showed them from house to house.
"OK, I know I said that before," Ed said with a grin. "But this house is perfect."
His hands danced in the air, as if weaving his words into a basket. Keira knew that basket weaving was primarily a women's-only activity for the Pomo, but it wasn't unheard of for men to weave, and Ed certainly had the hands for it. She smiled at his sincere, dancing hands, trying to convey her thanks for his patience. They'd seen most of the houses on the market. None had been right too far from town, too close to the busy highway, too rundown, too modern the list of "toos" went on and on.
"This house just came on the market, but it's been vacant for years," Ed explained. "The old lady who owned it had been in a rest home for a dozen years or so. It couldn't be sold until she died. Of course, her estate doesn't want it."
"Her family doesn't want to live here?" Fiona looked as if not wanting to live in Seaburgh was a completely alien and incomprehensible concept.
Ed chuckled at her amazed expression. "I know you ladies have done everything you can to move here, but you're not exactly the norm. When fishing and logging were at their peak, people would be fools to move away. But all that's gone now."
"The white man over fished, over hunted, and over logged." Keira frowned. "And now they're leaving their old and poor, and the native residents, to their fate."
"Well," Ed said with a shrug, "I didn't want to offend either of you, but that about sums it up."
"Maybe we can do something about that," Fiona said. "Revitalization starts with baby steps. So let's see this beautiful old Victorian you've been raving about."
Keira held her breath, prepared to be disappointed, as they rounded the corner. When she saw the house, her breath exploded in an exhaled poof of air.
"Wow." That was all she could manage as she eyed the beautiful house.
"Wow," Fiona echoed.
"Told ya!" Ed replied with a smug grin.
The house had been built ten years before the Great Earthquake. But it had weathered the quake without any structural damage. Keira was planning on hiring an inspector to make sure of that, but looking at the sturdy bulk of the house, she believed the claim. The house was a dark brown, with black trim, in the style of the houses built around the turn of the century. To offset the darkness of the paint, stained glass adorned most of the windows. It wasn't as obvious from the outside, but Keira knew that inside the house the stained glass would paint cheery patterns on the walls and floor, moving with the sun throughout the day. The house was also brightened by a beautifully tended garden.
"Who's been keeping the yard so neat?" Keira asked.
"Mrs. Ager and her son," Ed said. "She lives down at the end of the street. She works on a lot of gardens in Seaburgh. Seems to be the only one who can get roses to bloom and thrive in this climate and sandy ground. I'll introduce you later on, if she doesn't end up wandering over on her own."
"Let's go inside," Fiona said impatiently. "I have got to see this house."
It was perfect. Keira made the decision before even setting foot in the house, though she didn't know why. Standing in the entryway, she felt an even stronger certainty. The feeling reminded her of playing the old party game when you were sent to search for something hidden and the other party-goers shouted "cold, warm, warmer, hot, oh so hot!" She was definitely on the "you're on fire" end of the spectrum. Of course, she didn't believe that life was a party game, so she forced herself to actually follow Ed through the house and listen to him point to all of the features.
Four bedrooms plus a living room, a formal dining room, a kitchen with Keira watched Fiona breathe a sigh of relief all modern appliances, a laundry room, an attic, and two full bathrooms. As they passed the staircase leading to the second floor, they peeked into a little room tucked under the stairs that would be perfect for a study. It even had a tiny window to let in fresh air.
"It's gorgeous, perfect, wonderful, and I think I'll die if I don't buy it," Keira said as she finished the house tour. "But there's no way we can afford it."
"Oh yes you can." Ed grinned at the suspicious looks on the women's faces. "The estate is asking $200,000."
Keira felt her lips moving, but nothing was coming out.
"That's ridiculous," Fiona said, voicing what Keira couldn't manage. "It's worth four times that much."
"In the Bay Area, probably," Ed agreed. "But this isn't the Bay Area. And besides, the estate needs the money. They can't afford to ask too much and let the house sit on the market for years."
"Well, I guess we'd better see the rest of the house," Keira said. "Then show us where to sign."
"Only thing that's left is the backyard. There's a garage with a workshop. I still need to ask about the tools. They may be part of the deal, but I'm not sure."
He led them out the back door. "No one's done much back here."
A large oak, its branches spread wide, and a large, flat rock were the only things that broke the expanse of green grass. "Go ahead and check it out."
Fiona immediately crossed the grass and sat on the rock.
"You better be careful," Ed said with a laugh. "That's a baby rock. Whenever a Pomo woman couldn't get pregnant, she sat on one of the baby rocks around the village. After sitting for a while and going through various rituals with her husband, she would conceive."
"Stay there!" Keira ordered, smiling enigmatically at Ed's confused look.
Fiona stayed where she was and Keira wandered to the oak tree, where something had caught her attention. She pushed some long grass aside and peered at an image carved into the bark.
"Look at this carving," Keira said. "It's a woman and a snake."
Ed came up behind her. "Ah yes, must be memorializing the legend of the woman who married a rattlesnake."
Fiona came over, and both women looked at Ed, indicating with their eyes that they wanted to hear another Pomo story. He smiled and then happily complied.
"The story is from my Pomo brothers to the east," Ed began. "It tells the tale of a girl who went to pick clover. A rattlesnake saw her and fell in love, and then followed her home. Before he got to her village, he changed himself into a handsome young man. When he entered her house, he announced to the girl's parents that he wanted to marry their daughter. They let him stay the night and in the morning he went home. He returned four days in a row, each time changing into human form before entering their house to court their daughter.
"On the fifth day, he came to the house, but didn't change into a human. He entered their house in his snake form and started talking to them as he had before. The mother heard the suitor's voice, but saw a rattlesnake sitting there. She screamed and ran away in terror. When the snake left the next morning, he took the girl with him, and she went willingly.
"After a time, she bore the snake four sons. Whenever the boys saw people from her village, they would coil to strike, but she'd tell them, 'no, you mustn't bite your relatives.' The children obeyed her, but eventually grew curious. They began to ask her questions like 'Why don't you talk like us?' and 'Why don't you look like us?' She explained that she wasn't a snake but a human being. Then they asked, 'Aren't you afraid of our father?' and she shook her head. And they realized that their parents truly loved one another.
"One day she decided she should go back to her parents and explain what had happened. So she traveled to the village and back to her house. She explained to her mother and father that it would be the last time they would see her and talk to her. Her parents were sad, but didn't know what to say. When she started to leave, her mother followed and grabbed on to her, weeping because she was so changed. The girl shook herself free from her mother's hold and then was gone back to Rattlesnake's house to live there the rest of her days."
Keira looked up at Ed as his story finished. His eyes gleamed, dark and pupil-less.
"Keira, I want this house," Fiona said. She reached down and traced the carving, running her finger along the coiled rattlesnake.
"Well, Ed, I guess you've just sold a house."
"Mom and Mamma." Keira listened to herself say the words, and then shook her head. She thought a moment and then tried again. "Mommy and Mother. No, I will not be a 'mother'. Mom and Keira? No, I won't be the lady who lives with Mom. I'm her mother too, damn it. Maybe I should just wait and let her decide what to call us. And who even said she's going to be a she?"
She smiled and stirred her tea, gazing out the front window. The sea was framed in the picture window. She knew the sun was rising from the orange glow on the ocean waves. She would have been able to see the sun if she was still in the bedroom on the other side of the house, but she'd given up on trying to sleep. Excitement made her nerves dance and she kept fighting the urge to hum or whistle. She'd wisely decided to wander downstairs for a calming cup of tea, leaving Fiona to sleep.
The day before had been the best of her life. Better than the day her parents had given her a pony. Better than the day she'd met Fiona. Better than the day of their commitment ceremony. In the morning they'd loaded up the final boxes into the U-Haul, handed over the apartment keys to the landlord, and driven to their new home. They arrived in Seaburgh to a welcoming committee of Monty, Mary, Ed, and a gaggle of other friends they'd already managed to make in Seaburgh. The day just got better when their welcome party was interrupted by a call from Fiona's gynecologist, who had received the lab results and wanted to pass on the good news before handing over Fiona's records to the local Seaburgh doctor.
"A baby." Keira felt a shiver pass through her body that was excitement, joy and terror all rolled into one. "Shit."
She leaned her face into her hands, feeling the smile against her palms. Her dimples made deep crevices in her face. She sighed, and then took another sip of tea, leaning back in the chair. She gazed out the window and wondered how many times she would look out that window, watch the pine in the front yard sway in the morning breeze, a newspaper delivery truck head up Ocean View, seagulls dip toward a fishing boat that slowly chugged out to the open ocean.
She listened to the new sounds that would soon be as familiar as the sights: the steady ringing of the buoy that marked the river's mouth to the north of town; the drumming of the waves as they crashed, in an endless rhythm, against the cliffs; the barking of a sea lion, who called out an early morning greeting to the town.
"I can't believe this," Keira said to the spirits who filled the room the people who had lived and loved in the house before her. "I just cannot believe this."
"Oh god." Fiona groaned as she stumbled out of the bathroom. "It's supposed to be morning sickness. Not morning, noon, afternoon, evening, and middle of the night sickness."
"Oh sweetheart, I'm sorry." Keira pulled back the covers and patted the bed. Fiona crawled back in and Keira wrapped her lover in a comforting hug. She held her gently for a moment, and then asked, "Is there anything I can get you?"
"A swift, painless death," Fiona mumbled.
"Anything other than that."
"I guess just being held is acceptable."
"I think I can manage that," Keira replied and held Fiona tighter.
Fiona burrowed her head into the hollow between Keira's chin and chest, murmuring contentedly. Keira felt her lover's muscles slowly loosening.
"Better?" Keira asked.
Fiona nodded, her curls tickling Keira's chin. "Much."
"Good. Now go back to sleep."
"Can't," Fiona said petulantly. "Too noisy."
Keira hadn't really noticed the noise, but when Fiona brought her attention to it, she realized just how loud the locals were being. She could hear laughter and people calling out greetings or something else, Keira couldn't make out the words. The faint strains of honky-tonk music floated in with the night breeze.
"I'll close the window," Keira said as she untangled herself from Fiona. "It's getting cold anyway."
When Keira was halfway across the room, a guttural scream froze her in mid step. She felt a tingle as the hair on her arms rose like a porcupine's quills.
"What was that?" Fiona asked, her voice a frightened whisper.
Keira looked back toward her lover, whose eyes gleamed in the moonlight, wide with fear.
"I don't know," Keira replied. "But it didn't sound good."
She stood still for what seemed an hour, then laughter rang out and someone cried, "Be careful." More people laughed and then Keira heard car doors slamming.
"Someone must have tripped or something," Keira said, finishing her journey to the window. She slid it shut, then peered outside. The town was full of the strange movements that characterized random evenings in Seaburgh: cars moving down from the hills toward downtown; lights from the bars gleaming in the night; fog creeping up from the sea, floating between houses and trees, thickening magically like sugar turning into cotton candy.
"It's so strange," Fiona said. "Has anyone ever said anything to you about the nighttime activity?"
"Like what?" Keira asked as she returned to bed and assumed her previous position, wrapped tightly around Fiona. "Like, 'Gee, Keira, didn't see you gettin' into a bar brawl last night. Boy, you missed a great party.'"
"It just seems like there are two different types of people here. I mean, I can't see Monty drinking all night. And I'm sure Mary is tucked into bed right now just like us."
"I do keep meaning to ask about it," Keira said. "But I always forget."
"Maybe we shouldn't wait for an invitation." Fiona yawned. "Maybe we should just put on our party clothes and join in the celebration."
"How 'bout we just stay in our nice warm bed and sleep?" Keira said, her body already taking heed of her suggestion. "My party days are over."
"Sounds like a plan, grandma," Fiona said sleepily.
Keira tried to make a witty comeback, but the words slipped away as her body sank into slumber.
"It's not white. It's egg shell." Fiona turned toward her partner and sighed dramatically.
"Well, it looks pretty damn white to me," Keira said, not yet ready to give up the teasing. "Anyway, how can they call it egg shell? Eggs are blue or brown and speckled or"
"Keira Evangeline Sterling," Fiona interrupted, holding up her paintbrush like a loaded six shooter, "I am going to make you speckled."
"Looks like you already did a pretty good job on yourself," Keira replied, pointing at the white spots against Fiona's teal blouse. "You've ruined your favorite shirt."
"No I haven't." Fiona's eyes twinkled merrily. "I've made it even more special. I'll always remember I got the paint on it when I was painting our baby's nursery."
"Well, I hope the kid likes white."
Fiona let out a strangled growl and Keira grinned, turning back to her half-completed wall. She knew they were planning on adding Winnie the Pooh stencils to the walls, and the white paint really did make the attic room much brighter, but she was having so much fun teasing her lover.
They painted on for a while in companionable silence. The spring afternoon was colder than normal and a light rain was falling outside. Earlier in the day, Keira thought she'd seen some flashes of lightning over the sea, but so far the electrical storm hadn't moved inland.
"I love this kind of rain," Fiona said. She painted carefully around the light switch. "It sounds like fairies dancing on the roof."
Keira listened to the pitter-patter of rain and hummed her agreement at the sentiment. She was glad the rain was falling straight down so they could keep the windows open wide for ventilation.
"Still, it could stand to be a little warmer and drier," Keira said. "I wanted the paint to dry so we could put a second coat on later tonight."
"If not," Fiona asked, "couldn't you take off early tomorrow? Mondays are pretty slow, aren't they?"
"Every day is slow," Keira replied, irritation in her voice.
"Things will pick up, sweetheart."
Keira shrugged and nodded, looking and feeling not at all sure. Her store had been opened for four weeks, and the initial influx of shoppers who were more curious than interested in computers had turned into a trickle of one or two a day, if she was lucky. The few that did enter her store bought cables or blank media items that were not going to keep her in business for long. She was trying to stay encouraged, working on figuring out the local market and what it wanted, but she was beginning to think that all of her research and work to set up the store had been a waste.
Fiona was obviously making an effort to stay upbeat, always offering a word of encouragement when Keira came in each night. Keira, in turn, tried to remain positive so as not to put too much stress on Fiona. There was so much acting going on, she figured they'd both be up for academy awards that year.
"I just wish " Keira's words trailed off as she tried to figure out what she wished. Her thoughts were interrupted by a thump on the roof, followed by scrambling and the sound of running feet.
"What the hell was that?" Fiona asked, standing up suddenly and spraying her shirt with even more paint drops.
"Don't freak," Keira said. She looked up at the ceiling and tracked the movement across the roof. "It's not your fairies. I've heard it before. I think it's a squirrel."
''That's a fucking big squirrel," Fiona said. Her voice was breathless with fright and she backed away from the open window.
"Fee, it's not going to jump in through the window." Keira chuckled but then grew serious when she saw Fiona's wide, panic-filled eyes. "Honestly, sweetheart, it's just a squirrel or a possum. I think he uses the roof as a short cut to get from the oak tree to the plum tree."
Fiona looked dubious, but her breathing did begin to slow. It picked up again sharply when a loud knocking echoed up the stairs.
"What was that?"
"It's the front door," Keira replied, trying very hard not to sound like a smart ass. "I'm pretty sure squirrels can't use a door knocker. Even fucking big ones."
"Don't answer it," Fiona whispered desperately.
"What?" Keira looked quizzically at Fiona. She could understand being startled at the sudden noise, but this was starting to get out of hand.
"I just I don't know." Fiona looked confused, but seemed to be calming down.
"I promise to look out of the peephole first," Keira said heading down out of the room. "If I see a huge mass of brown fur, I won't answer the door."
"Ha ha," Fiona replied, her voice sounding much more normal.
Keira ran down the stairs and, as promised, looked out the peephole before opening the door. Monty stood on the doorstep, his cap already off his head and in his hands. Keira smiled and reached for the doorknob. Right before opening the door, she felt a tingle move up her spine and brush against the back of her neck. She shook it off, cursing her susceptibility to pregnant women's neuroses.
"Hiya, Monty," she said, opening the door wide. "What brings you out on such a wet Sunday afternoon?"
"Computers," Monty replied, as if that explained everything.
"Hey, Monty." Fiona wandered down the stairs and moved beside Keira. "What about computers?"
"They're the devil's own torture implements. There's no denying it." Monty's face was red, and he turned his cap over and over in his hands.
"Well, you better come in and tell me all about it," Keira said, motioning for Monty to come into the house. "And put down your cap before you squeeze the life out of it."
Monty grinned sheepishly and shoved his cap in his back pocket. He scrapped the non-existent mud off his shoes and followed Keira and Fiona into the living room.
"I was just working on my memoirs," Monty began. "My wife convinced me to write up some of my funny stories from the war and the screen just went blue."
"Yikes," Fiona said, shaking her head sympathetically, "the blue screen of death."
Monty looked at Fiona with startled eyes, and then back at Keira. "There was some sort of message about hitting any key, but I wasn't sure just which key to hit. And I sure don't want to lose everything I was working on."
"Don't panic," Keira said. "Fiona was just being melodramatic. I can help."
"Oh, thank goodness." Monty sighed and pulled a handkerchief from his shirt pocket, wiping his forehead. "I worked all morning on that thing."
"Why didn't you just call?" Fiona asked.
"Oh, I'm not on the phone," Monty replied. "I don't like folks listening in on my private conversations."
Keira pondered that comment before remembering something her parents had once described.
"Monty," Keira said, "I don't think Seaburgh still has party lines."
"That's what they say." Monty narrowed his eyes, his face assuming the sharp features that reminded Keira of a hunting hawk. "But listen when you're talking on the phone next time. And just remember what I told you."
Keira caught Fiona's uneasy expression out of the corner of her eye and decided they'd had enough paranoia for the day. She decided to steer the conversation back in the direction of the safe and logical.
"Anyway," Keira said, "do you want me to explain what to do, or should I ride over to your place?"
"Oh, I'd have you over," Monty said, "but the wife's having a bad day today. She's taking a nap, so I don't want to disturb her. If you just write everything down, I'll take a stab at it. If it doesn't work, I'll drop by your shop tomorrow."
"Sounds like a plan." Keira walked to a little table by the sofa and rummaged in the drawer for a pen and piece of paper.
"Do you use the computer a lot, Monty?" Fiona asked as Keira began to scribble the directions for recovering files.
"Well, I write my stories," Monty replied. "And letters and such. The wife had us hooked up to the cable so we could go on the Internet. But aside from getting mail which is mostly embarrassing stuff about private parts I can't really figure out what it's all about."
"It's a shame someone doesn't offer some classes," Fiona said.
"There's a mess of classes offered at the community college in Fort Bragg," Monty said. "A bunch of us talked about car pooling. But it's awful far and folks don't like wandering too far north of town."
"Here you go, my friend." Keira handed the paper to Monty. "Read it over and let me know if it makes sense."
Monty did as he was told, his brow furrowing as he concentrated on the instructions.
"Well, it sounds like gobbeldy goop," Monty said with a grin. "But I think I can just about follow it."
"It'll make more sense as you do it," Keira replied. "Come by tomorrow if it doesn't."
"I will. Thanks again, young lady. You're a godsend to this community."
Keira smiled, wishing that the community felt that way. She and Fiona showed Monty to the door.
"Hope your wife feels better soon," Fiona called as Monty made his way down the path to the sidewalk.
"Stay dry," Keira added, noticing that Monty's battered Ford pickup was nowhere to be seen.
Monty put his cap back on his head and waved his farewell.
"He's right, you know," Fiona said as Keira shut the front door.
"Right about what?" Keira was already thinking about the second coat of pain.
"You are a godsend to this community."
"Right," Keira drawled. "I'll be the person who goes out of business the quickest. At least I'll provide people with a good laugh."
"Well, before you do that, how about giving a few computer classes?"
"Huh?" Keira stopped on the bottom step and tried to catch up on the conversation.
"Let me spell it out for you, my denser-than-usual sweetheart." Fiona chuckled. "Monty and several others want to take computer classes. But the classes are offered too far away. You know computers. You've taught training classes before. Do I need to go on?"
Keira felt the idea bloom inside her brain like a flower. She could almost see a bee landing on a lavender petal. Fiona looked at her, eyes raised in question. Keira felt excitement and hope quickening her blood.
Maybe owning a business in Seaburgh wouldn't be so bad after all.
Keira soldered the last component onto the motherboard she'd been building, then pulled off her safety goggles and stretched out her back. She surveyed her little kingdom, "Coast Computing", and sighed contentedly.
Not surprisingly, Fiona had been right about the computer classes. She had gone into work the next day and set up a small network of computers and then started to put some course materials together. Within the week, Coast Computing was offering classes in the basics: Windows, the Internet, word processing. She offered a class a day and fixed and sold computers the rest of the time. Once the locals started attending the classes which were as popular as she hoped they'd be more people began to realize what they needed and wanted from their technology. Her sales figures took a healthy turn for the better, and she stopped wondering if she'd made a horrible mistake by moving to Seaburgh.
The bell above the shop door jingled, pulling Keira away from her self-satisfied musings. She looked toward the entrance, but there was no one there. She wondered whether the wind had nudged the door, which had set off the bells.
"Good afternoon." The voice made her jump and she realized that the visitor was there after all, just out of sight from where she was bent over the motherboard. She stood up and realized that the problem was height. The boy was two feet shorter than the adult she'd expected.
"Hello." Keira smiled at the boy. She guessed he was about eight or nine. It was difficult to tell, but he seemed small for his age. The Giant's baseball cap he wore was too big, falling over his ears and low onto his forehead. Despite the gloomy day outside, sunglasses were perched on his narrow nose. He peered around for a moment before taking them off, shoving them into the back pocket of his baggy blue jeans. Keira idly wondered how many pairs of glasses he'd broken that way
"I've been meaning to stop by for some time now," the boy said. His voice was high-pitched and a little breathless, and he spoke very slowly, as if he thought about each word before deciding it was suitable. "I wanted to welcome you to Seaburgh as well as examine your wares. Computers are a " he hesitated even longer, " passion of mine."
"Well, thank you for the welcome." Keira smiled at the odd child, who nodded back and then threw up his hands in a gesture of consternation.
"Oh, forgive my rudeness," the boy said, moving toward the counter, "I welcomed you without giving you my name. I am Oliver Ager."
"How do you do, Oliver. I'm Keira Sterling." Keira shook the proffered hand. Now that Oliver was nearer, she realized how pale he was. Blue veins stood out in his arms and at his temples. Somebody needs to get out and play a little, Keira mused. The rest of Oliver lacked color as well. His hair, which stood out in thick tufts from beneath his cap, was white blonde. His eyes were the palest blue she'd ever seen.
"I believe you know my grandmother and uncle," Oliver said. "They are landscapers."
"Yes," Keira said. "I've spoken to your grandmother about maintaining our garden. She does a wonderful job."
Oliver nodded absentmindedly, his attention drawn to a flat screen monitor running a game simulation.
"Feel free to look around," Keira said, following his gaze. "That's a pretty fun game if you're interested."
Oliver raised a pale blonde eyebrow, his face a mixture of amusement and disbelief that she would suggest such a thing.
"I'm not interested in games," Oliver said. "But the resolution on that screen is amazing for an LCD."
"I've got a graphics card hooked up through the DVI connection," Keira replied, always eager to talk about her toys. "It's got perfect clarity down to eight-pixel fonts."
"Impressive." Oliver looked around the store. His eyes landed on the little area where Keira had set up her classroom. "I've heard about your computer classes. I was wondering if you were offering one in advanced Linux. I'd like to learn some new tips and tricks."
"Hmm," Keira mused, "a Linux man, huh?"
"Of course," Oliver shrugged. "It's a superior operating system."
And a dinosaur is a superior lizard, but it's still extinct. Keira bit her lip on the comeback she usually gave to Linux freaks, deciding it wasn't nice to bruise children's egos.
"Go ahead, say it." Oliver shook his head and sighed melodramatically. "I've heard it all before, trust me. But comparing it to Betamax video recorders or dinosaurs" he paused, looking directly into Keira's eyes "is not going to convince me that I should just roll over and accept the Microsoft juggernaut."
"I see your point," Keira said, trying to cage her thoughts as if Oliver was looking directly into her mind. "Unfortunately, I don't offer any Linux classes, advanced or otherwise. I guess I'm the real dinosaur."
"Pity," Oliver said with a shrug. Then he waved his hand and chuckled, the sound little more than a harsh cough. "Pity about the classes, I mean. Not about you being a dinosaur."
Keira forced a smile.
"You know, I have a brother-in-law who's a big Linux fan," Keira said. She felt an urge to appease the boy somehow. "I'm sure he'll visit at some point this summer. When he does, I'll see if he can meet up with you. You can curse Bill Gates and share tips over a pizza."
"I would be amenable to that," Oliver said, nodding his head, "should the opportunity arise."
"Great," Keira said, "I'll make sure Fiona reminds me."
"Ah yes, Fiona. Isn't she the pregnant woman with fiery red curls, always complaining about the wilted lettuce in the market?"
"That'd be her." Keira had warned Fiona not to complain too loudly in public. The pregnancy was making her lover grouchy, and Keira didn't want her partner to get a reputation for being Queen Bitch of Seaburgh.
"She's very beautiful," Oliver said as he pulled out his sunglasses and slipped them on.
Before his face was obscured, Keira saw a strange look on the boy's face. It reminded her of a man eyeing a trashy blonde in a biker bar. It was a look far beyond his years, a mixture of desire and arrogance as if he knew what he wanted and knew he would get it.
"Um th-thanks for stopping by, Oliver," Keira stammered. "Please come back anytime."
The boy smiled broadly, discolored teeth showing for a moment before he closed his lips over them.
"It was my pleasure, Ms. Sterling," Oliver said. "Thank you so much for the open invitation."
He moved to the door, opening it but pausing before departing. He gazed outside, like a surfer waiting for the best wave. After a few seconds, the moment appeared right, and he nodded again at Keira before letting the door close behind him. The bell above the door rang once, and then was still.
"He was a really odd kid." Keira was filling Fiona in on her mysterious visitor over dinner.
"He probably doesn't have many kids his age to play with. I rarely see children around town." Fiona munched on sourdough toast, one of the few foods that didn't upset her stomach.
"Well, he should definitely get out more. He looks like he's been in a dungeon for years."
"Maybe he has some kind of condition," Fiona said. "Allergic to sun or something."
"Maybe." Keira shrugged. "I'm telling you, kids these days have forgotten how to play outside. I was a total nerd when I was growing up, with my nose stuck in a book or staring at a computer screen, but at least I didn't stay indoors all the time."
"You said his voice was wheezy," Fiona pointed out. "Maybe he has asthma."
Keira twirled spaghetti around her fork. "Probably too many cigarettes. I could have sworn his teeth were tobacco-stained."
"I suppose it's possible," Fiona mused. "Just add him to the rest of the oddballs in Seaburgh."
"Aw, come on, there aren't that many oddballs in Seaburgh."
Fiona snorted. "Right, aside from the mysterious nighttime revelers, there's" she began to count off on her fingers "Monty's wife who suffers from some mysterious ailment and never leaves the house; Monty himself, who looks like he's this side of fifty but somehow fought in the Second World War; old Mrs. Jing who keeps bringing me incense and says stuff that sounds like it's right off a fortune cookie "
"An old woman who's probably dying of cancer, a man who's aged well and dyes his hair, and a woman who makes the best hot and sour soup I've ever tasted," Keira countered. "Yeah, real oddballs, Fee."
"OK," Fiona said, her eyes flashing, "what about the crazy woman in the library?"
"The one who smells of sage, wraps herself in a huge fishnet and holds up a giant crucifix whenever anyone walks too close?"
Fiona nodded, smiling triumphantly.
"OK, she's weird. But there were fifty people just like her back in the City's libraries. You never complained about them."
"I'm not complaining," Fiona said petulantly. "I'm just saying " Her voice trailed away.
"Just saying?" Keira prompted. But Fiona stayed quiet, munching her toast.
"Fee, has anyone in Seaburgh ever said anything to make you feel uncomfortable about being gay, living with a partner, having a baby?"
"No," Fiona shook her head. "Nothing like that. Just the opposite really. Everyone has been really supportive and loves to talk about the pregnancy, find out how bad my morning sickness is, what I've been eating, what I'm going to name the baby. Our relationship seems totally normal to everyone I've met."
"And this is bad because?"
Fiona sighed. "It's just that everyone I talk to knows everything about me the fact that I drink decaffeinated lattes, read the New York Times, like firm avocados. I feel as if the whole town is watching me and keeping some kind of log. It just freaks me out."
"That's just what small towns are like." Keira couldn't stop frustration from entering her voice. "Would you prefer it the way it was when we didn't learn our neighbor's name until we took her to the emergency room?"
"I didn't say that," Fiona snapped back.
"Well what do you mean then?" Keira's frustration was rapidly turning into anger and she held up her hand before the conversation got any further out of hand. "Wait. I'm sorry. I'm being a total bitch and I don't know why. Can we start this conversation over?"
Fiona hesitated, her mouth open to make another angry retort. She stopped, closed her mouth, and then sighed. "I'm being a bitch too. But I'm blaming it on raging hormones."
"You have an excuse then." Keira grinned. "I'm just a raging bitch."
"You said it, not me." Fiona grinned back.
"OK, so now that we have that established, tell me what you're thinking about Seaburgh. Are you sorry we moved here?" Keira tried not to wince when she asked the question, dreading the answer.
"No way," Fiona replied firmly. "I do love it here. And I'm excited about raising our child in a small town." She reached out and grabbed Keira's hand, running her thumb over her lover's knuckles. "It's just something I need to get used to. I've lived in the city all my life. This friendly neighbor stuff is new to me."
"Well, just know this: people stick their noses into your business because they care about you, as odd as that may seem. You grew up in a big family. Your parents and all your brothers and sisters were the same way, weren't they?"
"Yeah." Realization spread across Fiona's face as she thought about the issue from the new perspective. "I guess I can see that. When we were growing up, Maeve knew so much about what I got up to that I used to ask her what I should confess. I never thought that was weird at all."
"There, you see. It's the same thing."
"You're right." Fiona tugged on her earlobe, her gaze far off. "You know, I think I've read enough books on pregnancy to last me through a dozen kids. Starting tomorrow I'm going to do some local research learn about the history of Seaburgh, read back issues of the newspapers. Maybe if I have the same background as everyone else, I won't feel so out of place."
"You, my dear" Keira stood and hugged Fiona from behind her chair "are a genius. I knew there was a reason I loved you."
Fiona leaned backwards into the hug. "I thought you loved me because I was a gourmet chef and you couldn't even boil water."
"Actually, I love you because you're great in bed. The cooking and genius stuff are just nice extras."
"You were right," Fiona said with a grin. "You are a raging bitch."
Two days later, Keira came home to find Fiona in the little study beneath the stairs, huddled over a stack of thick, dusty books. Fiona was taking occasional notes when she wasn't chewing on the end of her pen.
"You're gonna get a blue tongue if you bite through the plastic," Keira said from the doorway.
Fiona jumped, nearly knocking over the mug of tea at her elbow. "Jeez Louise, you scared me."
"You're supposed to be reading history books, not ghost stories."
"Sometimes there doesn't seem to be any difference," Fiona replied.
"What do you mean?" Keira dropped her bag down in the hallway and entered the room, flopping down on a giant pillow in the corner. "Tell me what you've been learning."
"Well, I've been reading about Fort Ross and the Russian settlement. I found this letter translated from the original Russian. It was written by a young cleric named Boris Ivonavitch, written to his sister Natasha."
"Boris and Natasha?" Keira chuckled, then put on her best Moose voice, "Hey Rocky, wanna see me pull a rabbit out of a hat?"
"OK, I won't read you the letter, then," Fiona said petulantly.
"I'm sorry. I'll be good. I promise."
"You better be." Fiona wagged her finger at Keira, and then pulled the book closer. "So listen to this "
She bent over the book and began to read,
My Dearest Natasha,
I hope this finds you well. I received news of the birth of Nikolai, my second nephew, and I am pleased beyond measure. I know that Mama would be so happy that you named him after our dear father.
I am also pleased to tell you that things have improved slightly here in this otherwise godforsaken place, although I will be glad to leave it. I am still hoping to get a position back in Sitka, and if your husband has any pull in that arena, please beg him for me. I will be forever in his debt.
In any case, in the days since my last letter we were still plagued by the Dark Ones, who continued to prey upon the outlying camps and farms. As I told you before, they come in the night for the most part, although a foggy and gloomy day appears to suit their purposes just as well. Even though I camp in the bunkhouse within the fort walls, I can hear the Dark Ones. Once, on a particularly stormy night, I was sure that one was scratching at my very window.
And then, several weeks ago, we received a most welcome visitor Father Ivan Veniaminov. I was doing my best to maintain the spiritual livelihood of the camp, but I knew it wasn't good enough. Not with the eretiks at our very walls. Within moments of the Father's arrival, he identified the problem and began to organize baptisms and mass blessings. He also suggested that we plant garlic fields to the north and east of the fort. He had seen this work against a similar foe in the lands west of the Urals.
Father Veniaminov's stay was sadly far too short, but since his departure we have all seen a definite improvement. The Dark Ones have stayed away for a full cycle of the moon. I remain optimistic that we have seen the last of them, though some have whispered that they are biding their time until we grow slack and forgetful again, or perhaps storing up their resources for one large attack. If that is the case, I hope that I am far from this evil coast.
Pray for me, my dearest sister.
I remain your loving and devoted brother,
Fiona looked up from the book, her eye's meeting Keira's.
"Well?" she asked softly.
"Interesting," Keira replied.
"Interesting?" Fiona echoed. "Is that all you can say?"
"Very interesting," Keira said.
Fiona took a breath, knowing she was being teased.
"Vampires," she said softly.
"Uppyr, to be precise," Keira corrected.
"The Uppyr are the Russian versions of what we call vampires."
"OK, smarty pants," Fiona said impatiently. "Uppyr. This implies that Fort Ross was being attacked by vampires."
"Come on, Fee. 'The Dark Ones' were obviously the locals."
"I don't know " Fiona frowned, considering the words she'd read and the books she'd been studying all afternoon.
"The Russians were surrounded by a culture they didn't understand." Keira leaned against the wall, placing her arms behind her head. "Like everyone throughout history who encounters an alien culture, they demonized the locals instead of trying to understand them. Uppyr were the most frightening culture they knew, so bang the local residents become uppyr."
"I suppose that makes sense," Fiona conceded reluctantly.
"Fiona, if vampires had attacked Fort Ross, don't you think that might have warranted a mention in one or two history books? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall hearing about that in my fourth grade class on California history."
"You're not wrong." Fiona sighed. "But it's much more fun to read about instead of the accounts of the Russians raping the local women, selling their kids into slavery, and then just about annihilating the entire sea otter population in a few short years."
"Now those are the real demons," Keira said with a frown. "Don't tell me any more. I'll have nightmares."
Fiona smiled, but then grew pensive. She chewed on her pen, her gaze unfocused as she stared into history.
"Did you read anything in those books about James Dean's visit to Seaburgh?" Keira asked, trying to get her partner as far away from demons as possible.
"Hmmm?" Fiona asked, only a smidgen of her attention focused on the question.
"James Dean?" Keira replied. She stared at Fiona and waited for the green eyes to focus on her. "You know, the rebel without a cause, died young and left a beautiful corpse."
"What?" Fiona finally snapped out of it. "Oh yeah, 'East of Eden'. As a matter of fact, I found this great book about all of the movies and TV shows that have been filmed in the area."
"Cool." Keira stood up and stretched. "Why don't you tell me all about it over dinner."
"OK." Fiona stood and stretched as well. Her t-shirt lifted up with the motion, and Keira smiled when a slightly round belly was revealed. "I made soup and corn bread."
"That sounds perfect." Keira's stomach growled at the mention of food, and she hurried toward the kitchen. The warm room, full of the delicious scent of fresh food, banished all thoughts of uppyr from her mind.
"Don't go in there."
Keira stirred from a sound sleep, the words only registering after they'd nested in her head for a moment.
"I'm telling you the truth," Fiona said in her sleep-voice.
Keira turned to the bedside clock and waited until her eyes remembered how to focus. One a.m. She groaned and rolled over. Fiona's sleep talking had become more common since the pregnancy.
"There's a monster in the shed," Fiona said in a frightened whisper. "I've seen it."
Keira frowned. Monsters were different.
Someone has got to stop reading books about ghosts and vampires and other things that go bump in the Seaburgh night, Keira decided.
The discovery of the story of the Dark Ones seemed to have sparked Fiona's interest, and her study of local history had become fixated on local ghost stories. Monty had proven to be a source for even more spooky legends. Keira thought it was harmless, and if the locals liked to scare each other with fantastic stories of ghostly ship captains and killer fog, then Fiona was certainly beginning to fit right in.
"No, don't go in. Please." Desperation had crept into Fiona's voice.
Then again, Keira thought, if it means she keeps me awake with nightmares all night, I'm taking all those books back to the library first thing in the morning and telling Monty to start teaching her basic car repair.
"Please don't." Fiona began to thrash her arms, tangling them in the sheet.
"Shh," Keira soothed, "it's just a bad dream. Everything's OK." She stroked Fiona's arm, feeling a light sheen of sweat.
"No." Fiona flung her arm away from Keira's stroking hand and as Keira reached forward, Fiona clipped her on the side of the head.
"No!" Fiona cried.
Keira grabbed hold of the flailing arm and hung on, though her temple stung from the accidental slap. "It's OK, baby, I've got you."
Fiona stiffened in Keira's hold and a guttural scream burst from her lungs into the dark room. Her body followed the cry, sitting up and out of Keira's hold. Fiona flung her arms forward, desperately reaching to catch something or to stop it.
"It's OK," Keira said quietly but forcefully. She pulled Fiona into her arms once again. "Just a bad dream. You're going to be OK."
Fiona's entire body was rigid, but Keira hung on, whispering nonsense words and rocking her slightly. Finally, Fiona slowly relaxed, like a beach ball deflating.
"Sorry," Fiona murmured.
"It's OK," Keira whispered. "Just a bad dream. Go back to sleep now."
"Not a dream," Fiona said. And then she whispered, as if sharing a secret, "I've seen it."
As she listened to Fiona's breathing slow and deepen, Keira wondered what exactly Fiona had seen. And when.
"The room is wonderful," Siobhan said, running her hand along the crib that had just been delivered the day before and gazing at the Winnie the Pooh characters that danced along the walls.
Fiona's sister and brother-in-law Doug had finally been coaxed into paying a visit. Throughout the summer, Keira had been listening with mounting frustration each time Fiona begged her mother to come up for a visit. Other phone calls to family members had been the same. Keira couldn't understand why Fiona's family, who always seemed close despite Fiona's frustration with their attitudes, were dragging their feet when it came to visiting. It wasn't as if Keira and Fiona had moved somewhere objectionable. Apparently, the O'Reilly's didn't see an attraction in a rugged coast, redwood forests, vineyards, beaches, excellent fishing, or the hundred and one other things that brought the tourists streaming through Seaburgh.
"Man, it's quiet out there," Doug said as he looked out the window. The attic room looked out over downtown Seaburgh and out to sea. It was a sunny Friday afternoon, but as usual on a sunny day, the residents of Seaburgh were sheltering in their homes.
"It's a small town," Fiona said with a shrug. "Tourists usually outnumber locals, especially in the middle of the day."
"Still, there aren't any kids or anything." Doug leaned out of the window, looking through the neighborhood. "It's creepy."
Keira scowled at him. She had never really cared for the man, and ever since the night before the wedding, when she learned way more about his sexual prowess or lack thereof than she ever wanted to, she liked him even less.
"Doug," Siobhan said, catching sight of Keira's expression. "Why don't you go get the bag of baby clothes out of the car?"
"Ooh, you brought me baby clothes?" Fiona's eyes lit up. "Thanks, Sis."
"Well," Siobhan said with a smile. "I won't be needing them. Despite the fact that Mom and Dad had seven and survived, I think I'm sticking with two."
"Good thing I had a vasectomy then," Doug said before heading out of the room to retrieve the clothes.
Keira grimaced at yet one more piece of information she didn't need to share and wondered how many more she would have to endure before the day was out.
"I love the Winnie the Pooh stuff," Siobhan said. She pointed at the mobile that hung above the crib, the sheets, the stuffed animals, and the other decorations. "You know it is still Annie's absolute favorite. She would love this room."
"I'm so disappointed that they couldn't come," Fiona said.
"I know." Siobhan turned apologetic eyes on Fiona and then Keira. "They really miss their favorite aunties. But Doug's folks promised them two weeks in Disney World."
"Oh, even favorite aunties and a ton of chocolate ice cream wouldn't win out over Mickey Mouse," Keira said.
"We'll bring them up before the end of the summer," Siobhan promised.
"I'm gonna hold you to that," Fiona said. Keira could see the disappointment still shadowing Fiona's eyes. Not only had her sister and brother-in-law arrived without the little girls that she missed so much, but they had announced upon arrival that they could only stay for lunch despite having arranged a weekend visit. The excuse for that wasn't nearly as compelling as Disney World.
"I've got the clothes," Doug yelled from downstairs.
"Good," Siobhan yelled back. "Bring them up here then." She rolled her eyes and mumbled "men".
"You're gonna get sick of trudging up and down these stairs," Doug said when he arrived back in the room, out of breath and red-faced. "Especially when you have a kid."
"Not everyone's as out of shape as you are," Siobhan snapped.
Keira raised an eyebrow and mentally calculated how long Siobhan and Doug would remain married. She guessed another five years. At best.
"Why don't we go downstairs and have something to drink and nibble?" Fiona suggested.
"Sounds like a great idea," Keira enthusiastically replied, leading the way out of the room. She loved her baby's nursery, and didn't want any more bad vibes to be deposited there.
"The house is really beautiful, Fee," Siobhan said as she descended the stairs. "It looks kind of dark and spooky on the outside. When we drove up, it reminded me of the house in Psycho. But it's lovely and warm inside."
"The exterior color scheme is quite authentic actually," Keira said defensively. "The colorful Victorians that you see in San Francisco actually came a bit later."
"If you want to paint it a bit brighter, just let me know," Doug suggested as he reached the bottom of the steps and headed into the living room. "My brother just had his house painted and he got a honey of a deal."
"Thanks, I'll let you know." Keira decided it wasn't worth trying to explain to Doug that she was going to keep the dark exterior for as long as she kept the house. And she hoped that was forever.
"I made some sun tea," Fiona said, giving Keira an understanding nudge. "You guys get comfortable and I'll bring it through."
"No way," Siobhan said. "You're the mommy-to-be. Keira and I'll get it. You go sit in there and chit chat with your brother-in-law."
Keira smiled at Fiona's look of dread at the prospect of spending alone-time with Doug. She vowed to hurry back with the refreshments to spare her partner as many excruciating moments as possible.
Fiona had already set out the tea and glasses, and Keira filled the glasses with ice.
"Could you grab the plates in the 'fridge?" she asked Siobhan, pointing with her elbow as she poured the tea.
"Sure." Siobhan pulled a plate of hors d'oeuvres from the refrigerator and removed the plastic wrap that covered them. "Keira, is Fee doing OK? Really?"
"She misses her family," Keira replied bluntly. She was pleased when Siobhan's eyes dropped from her gaze, a sure sign of embarrassment and guilt.
"I know. I've been trying to find the time. I wanted to come up a few weeks ago, but " Siobhan's excuses trailed away.
"What about the rest of the family?" Keira asked. "You'd think we moved to Outer Mongolia or something."
"Mom and Dad are getting old," Siobhan replied defensively. "I don't think Dad should drive."
"I understand that, but Fiona has six brothers and sisters. We've lived here for four months. What's the deal?"
"There is no deal." Siobhan still didn't meet Keira's gaze. "It's been a busy summer for all of us and "
Doug interrupted her excuse, poking his head into the kitchen. "Got any beer, Keira?"
"Sure," Keira replied politely. "Check the fridge. Bottom shelf."
Doug glanced once at his wife before moving to the refrigerator and pulling out a beer. Keira opened a drawer and withdrew a bottle opener, handing it to Doug who opened his beer and took a long drink, draining half of the bottle in one swallow.
"Thanks," Doug said. "I'm not much of an iced tea kind of guy."
Keira suppressed a sarcastic comeback and placed three glasses of iced tea on a tray, picking it up and heading toward the living room.
"Fiona and I were just talking about who Junior was going to play with in this ghost town," Doug said, following behind after grabbing a second bottle of beer.
Keira brought tea to Fiona and saw the irritation and pain in her partner's eyes.
"There are plenty of kids here," Keira said. "Not to mention a school two blocks in one direction, a library two blocks in the other, and a playground at the end of the road that isn't covered in used condoms."
"There's soccer and Little League, just like where you guys live," Fiona added. "Of course, Junior will be able to play whatever she wants without sitting on a waiting list."
"We're not saying that there won't be challenges," Keira added, trying to stem the tide of antagonism that had suddenly developed. "Neither Fee nor I is used to life in a small town; it's taking us a while to get used to. But Junior won't know anything else, and I'm sure the benefits will outweigh any drawbacks."
"Speaking of Junior," Siobhan said, obviously happy to go along with the more positive direction of the conversation, "have you thought of any names?"
"I don't suppose Junior will work in your case," Doug said with a sneer. He downed his beer and started on his second.
"Actually, we're thinking Keira, Jr.," Keira dead-panned.
Doug nearly choked on the beer he was swallowing and Siobhan looked like she had just bit into the lemon that floated in her iced tea. Fiona rolled her twinkling emerald eyes.
It was going to be a long afternoon. But at least Keira had scored one small victory.
Sunny mornings were rare in Seaburgh, the town usually clad in shades of grey until the afternoon if the sun decided to battle the fog and clouds at all. Keira had grown to prefer the softness of mornings as she walked to her shop, so she found herself irritated as she walked to work one bright August morning. The wind, which had joined forces with the sun that day, seemed to push at her like an overly jovial uncle's slap on the shoulder. Even her hair irritated her, as it swirled around her eyes and stuck to the corner of her lips. She brushed it away, shoving it behind her ears.
"Shit," she said for nothing and to no one in particular.
It had been a long summer. Though her computer classes had been extremely successful, the interest was already beginning to wind down. Just about everyone in town who was interested in some level of computers and computing had taken a class, and they were all quickly reaching their knowledge limit. Though she suspected Monty and a few of the others would take just about any class she offered, it would be a struggle for both of them to get through a visual basic or database development class. So it was time to realize that the classes were not going to be a good source of income in the long run.
"God damn it." Her hair had escaped and flew into her eyes. She yanked at it savagely, brushing it back behind her ears.
The sun was shooting arrows of heat, and the wind did nothing to cool it. All of the colors around her were garish, hurting her eyes. Her feet dragged, feeling suddenly too heavy, and she tripped on a pavement crack, swearing again.
Finally, her anger itself began to irritate her and she turned her attention to why she was walking down the sidewalk spitting out expletives. Yes, her business was hitting another snag. But she had a little breathing space thanks to the classes, and a few ideas of how to branch out. So
You don't know what it's like for me, Fiona had shouted at her that morning.
The fight had been brief and settled quickly. Keira had soothed Fiona, helped her get over her mood for that moment at least. Keira loved Fiona so much that it made her head hurt, and every time she thought of the little life growing inside her partner, she wanted to do a cartwheel right down Main Street.
But living with a pregnant woman was driving her mad.
She knew Fiona felt cut off from her friends and family. Her sister Siobhan and her husband had been the only O'Reillys to visit all summer, and their promised return never materialized. As the days wore on with little contact with her family or friends from the Bay Area, Fiona's mood deteriorated.
Then again, everything seemed to send Fiona into a tirade burnt toast, a stubbed toe, dusty windowsills, a wet towel on the bathroom floor.
"I'm so fucking sick of it," Keira growled.
"It's a disgrace!" Faye Barker, who ran the stationery shop next to Coast Computing, stood in middle of the sidewalk. Keira almost barreled into her as she turned the corner.
Keira realized that Faye probably wasn't agreeing that Fiona was a disgrace. She looked curiously at the woman's scowl and then in the direction that Faye was staring.
Die in Hell
The words were spray painted in huge black letters along the storefronts of Coast Computing and Seaburgh Stationers. A pentagram was used to dot the "i's". The paint had run, and Keira idly wondered whether that broke the magic, before the irritation that had been percolating in her head all morning exploded.
"What the hell is this!?"
She glared at Faye and saw the woman flinch. Keira knew the power of her ice blue eyes when they burned with anger, but she didn't lower her gaze. She was enraged and didn't care that Faye was an apparent innocent bystander.
"What seems to be the problem?"
Keira turned at the voice, reluctantly releasing Faye from her penetrating gaze. Faye turned as well and both women stared unhappily at Ben Gillespie, the town sheriff.
"Graffiti, Ben," Faye said, shaking her head sadly.
"Probably kids from the north." Gillespie spat and then adjusted his belt, making sure his gun sat a little higher on his hip.
"The north." Faye nodded her agreement.
Keira had discovered that all evils according to the locals came from what was referred to as "the north". The north seemed to include anything on the other side of Las Cruces Creek, which opened into the harbor that marked the northern boundary of town.
"Happens once in a while," Gillespie explained to Keira. "Just bad kids letting off a little steam."
Keira looked at the words again. She thought about the graffiti that had become such a normal part of the Bay Area. That was gang tagging, marking territory, announcing an identity. Despite the nuisance, the graffiti that she was used to had a certain air of innocence. These words before her were different. They were violent and dirty and evil. They threatened her home, her business, her life. She would not allow her child to be raised in a place that tolerated such things. The words were a thrown gauntlet, and her palms itched to answer the challenge.
"We need to do something," Keira said. She looked around as if trying to find someone to fight.
"I'll give Seth Ager a call," Gillespie said. "He's on the town payroll for cleaning up this kind of thing."
"Thanks, Ben." Faye quickly retreated into her shop. She glanced out as she turned her Open sign, then disappeared into the shadows of her shop.
"I assure you, if we catch them, we'll prosecute them to the full extent of the law," Ben said. He spat again and crossed his arms over his chest. Keira watched his forearm muscles ripple and knew that she was supposed to be impressed. She wasn't.
"Well, they better hope that you catch them, then," Keira said. "Because I won't be that merciful."
"A week?" Fiona's voice was shrill and it pummeled Keira.
"Yes, a week." Keira kept her voice calm and reasonable, even though she felt like she was in the ring with Rocky Balboa. She huddled over her dinner, looking through her bangs at Fiona, who sat on the other side of the kitchen table. Fiona had stopped eating, her fork poised over her salad.
"The conference is three days," Keira explained, "and then I need to meet with some of my suppliers and buy some new equipment."
Keira had heard about a conference in San Francisco designed for small business people in technology. She had been toying with some ideas of how to branch out her business and was excited about exploring those and learning more. Fiona obviously didn't share her enthusiasm.
"And how much is this going to cost?" Fiona's voice reached an even higher octave and Keira wondered when someone would ring the bell so she could retire to her corner.
"I'll be able to write it off as a business expense," Keira replied, amazed at how pleasant she sounded. "Most of it anyway."
Keira put her fork down, her stomach suddenly not willing to accept any more of her dinner. She stood and put her plate in the sink.
"You didn't get enough to eat," Fiona protested. "Didn't you like it?"
"I ate a lot. It was wonderful." Keira rubbed her temples. "I've just got a headache."
"Look, I'm sorry." Fiona sighed and got up from the table, putting her plate on top of Keira's.
"It's all right," Keira replied, not really believing the words as she said them. God she was tired of this. Tired of keeping a smile on her face no matter how angry or depressed or critical Fiona became. She just wanted
"It's not all right," Fiona said, interrupting Keira's thoughts. Fiona reached up to run her fingers through Keira's thick black hair, scratching her nails against Keira's scalp. "I'm sorry."
Tingles of electricity raced across Keira's scalp. The shockwaves traveled through her body, quickening her pulse. And she knew what she wanted.
Her need didn't grow. It was simply there inside of her. An explosion of desire. She turned and put her arms around Fiona, pulling her close, bending down for a kiss. She pressed her lips hard against her lover's, feeling the ridges of Fiona's teeth under the soft skin. She tried to deepen the kiss, pushing her tongue into the crease between Fiona's lips, but Fiona pulled her head away.
"I need to clean up the kitchen, get these dishes done," Fiona protested. She pushed weakly against Keira's waist.
"I'll do them," Keira said. "Later."
Fiona had been avoiding sex for a while now. It was another thing that Keira was tired of. She wanted to make love to Fiona. She needed it.
Fiona hesitated, looking past Keira at the sink full of dishes, then over her shoulder at the plates and glasses on the table. "You don't want to do that. I'll"
Keira interrupted Fiona by smothering her words with another passionate kiss. Fiona's mouth had been parted to speak, and Keira pushed her tongue inside before it could be denied entry again. She thrust her thigh between Fiona's legs as her tongue danced and dove inside her lover's mouth. She reached her hands past the waistband of Fiona's shorts, clutching frantically at her ass.
Keira was on fire. Her sex pulsed with it. Her breasts throbbed with it. She needed to consume Fiona to put out the blaze that was burning out of control inside of her. She felt as if she could kiss her lover forever, but Fiona finally pulled away, breathless.
"I don't " Fiona gasped.
Keira watched Fiona's breasts move up and down, as she drew in lungfuls of air. Fiona's pulse point fluttered just above her collarbone, her blood racing through the vein that danced just beneath the surface of the smooth skin. Keira watched as a bead of sweat trickled over the milky flesh, disappearing below Fiona's collar. Keira reached out and traced the path that the moisture had taken and when her finger hit the soft cotton of the shirt, she grabbed hold and tore it apart, revealing the lacy bra underneath. She quickly removed the shirt and then the bra, her eyes feasting as more skin was revealed.
"Beautiful." The word came out as a growl, and she watched as Fiona's eyes widened, the pupils dilating with anticipation and desire, leaving only a small ring of emerald iris.
Keira bent down to kiss Fiona once more, but this time she let her mouth roam, trailing kisses across Fiona's jaw and down her neck to the pulse point. She felt the blood pumping beneath her lips, and the feeling sent a jolt through her already over-charged system. She burned.
Keira felt moisture through Fiona's shorts, where her thigh was still grinding into her lover's sex. She pulled away, reaching down to pull at the cotton shorts, taking them and the underwear beneath off in one frantic motion.
Her lover stood naked before her. Fiona's body had changed with the pregnancy. She had curves where before she'd been slim. Her belly was rounded with the small life that grew inside. Pale skin glowed with an inner light. She was perfection.
"So beautiful," Keira repeated. She reached out to cup a breast, feeling its heaviness, stroking the nipple with her thumb. Fiona drew in a sharp breath, closing her eyes and leaning into the touch. Keira smiled at her lover's reaction. She stroked and teased the breasts with her hands, but soon replaced fingers with her mouth, freeing her hands to roam lower. She trailed her hand through wet curls, and Fiona opened her legs to the probing fingers.
The burning was becoming an inferno. Each pounding stroke of Keira's heartbeat sent liquid fire through her veins. She pushed Fiona backward against the kitchen table. The remaining dishes were pushed aside, some falling to the floor, but Keira barely registered the noise of breaking glass. She needed to take Fiona. Claim her. Consume her.
Keira bent over Fiona. She trailed fingers through the soft, moist skin of her clit until she found her opening, and then pushed two fingers inside as she suckled at a hard nipple. She thrust her fingers in and out, hearing a gasp of pleasure as she began a pounding rhythm.
"Oh god," she heard, as if from very far away. And then, louder and closer, "more."
Keira replaced the two fingers with three, lunging faster and harder inside her lover. Her mouth trailed up from the nipple, searching for the spot where she could feel the beating heart. When she found it, she heard Fiona begin to whimper and she bit into the soft flesh, sucking with her mouth and thrusting with her hand, Fiona's rising cries feeding the flames until she felt as if she would explode.
Fiona screamed her orgasm, and Keira answered the cry, her own orgasm ripping through her prompted by the feel of muscles contracting against her fingers and the taste of blood on her tongue. The waves seemed to last forever as they crashed through her body, and she leaned over Fiona, their breath and sweat mingling.
Keira slowly returned to herself and looked down at Fiona, noticing the tears trailing across her lover's cheeks and dropping into her hair. And then she saw the mark that she'd left on her lover's breast.
"Oh my god," Keira whispered. "I'm sorry."
"No," Fiona replied, her eyes blazing resolutely. "I wanted it like that. Needed it."
"Needed it," Keira echoed in a whisper, and then leaned down to lick away the trickle of blood.
To be continued in part 3 of 3
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