"If you think I'm gonna show all of New York my belly, you're out of your mind!"
Urvashi Patil stood behind her roommate, nudging a very low - cut skirt back in place. "You've got great abs, Sara, but you're not going to have them forever. I figure they'll last about 5 years. So use 'em before you lose 'em."
Sara Rawlston's mouth dropped open, and she glared at her friend. "I'm not going to lose them. I work out every day."
Urvashi laughed gently, resigned certainty showing in her dark brown eyes. "Time is always the victor, Sara. You're 40 years old, babli. Things will start to . . . " She seemed to ponder her choice of words, one of the many lovely character traits that Sara admired in her. "Soften," she said, her small smile showing she was happy with her choice. "You'll always be a marvelous - looking woman, but no one keeps a hard - body forever. You've noticed that all of the over - 40 fitness freaks on TV wear leotards instead of sports bras, don't you? I don't think they do that because they're cold." Her Mona Lisa - like smile softened sting of her words.
Sara tossed her head, sending her dark blonde hair cascading across her shoulders. She slid her hands through the strands, tossing it supermodel - style. "I'm special," she said, smiling. "So since I'll have a six - pack until I'm in my 80s, there's no need to flaunt it now." She pulled the skirt up at least 4 inches, then twitched her hips to settle it.
Undeterred, Urvashi tugged it down again. "You're single, you don't want to be, you're going to a huge Halloween party with hundreds of lesbians and maybians. Use what you've got."
"No more maybians for me," Sara said, her blue eyes flashing. "I will only date a full - fledged, non - confused, penis - averse lesbian. I've wasted too many years trying to convince women sitting on the fence to fall my way." She slapped her hands together briskly. "I'm finished."
"How many women have you tried to tip? I only know of one."
"Yeah, and she was a bad one." Sara shook her head, seemingly trying to dislodge the memory. "I spent 4 of my quality years with Lidia. And at the end I was still trying to get her to want to have sex. I've finally decided that women who want to have sex without my prodding are my new demographic."
Smiling broadly, Urvashi asked, "What will your new pick - up line be? 'Hi there, what are your five favorite things to do? Oh, really? Excellent! Cunnilingus and breast - sucking are on my list, too!'"
"Hey, that might work. Make a note for me, will you?"
"You don't need a note. You're a great catch, Sara. You're smart, kind, hard - working and you're not a deep well of unquenchable need."
"Am I a shallow well?"
Urvashi cocked her head a little and regarded her friend. "You have some needs that haven't been met, but I don't think they're unquenchable. If you're serious about meeting a woman who's truly available - you're well on the road to happiness."
The friends walked up to the series of tables set up along the entrance to the Chelsea Piers. "Sara Rawlston and Urvashi Patil," Sara said to the woman at the first table.
"'M' through 'Z' are at the last table."
They found their name tags and were handed blank tags to slide in front of them. "You can call yourselves anything you want now that you've checked in," the person who handed them their tags said. "Most people are using an alias. One that matches their costume."
"Cool." Sara took a marker and wrote 'Shena' on her tag. "What do you think," she asked. "Is that a good name for an Amazon warrior?"
"Not bad. How about 'Vashi' for me? I hate to confuse myself."
"You know I'm going to make the joke, so get ready." Urvashi smiled, waiting patiently. "You're the Ur - Vashi."
"I saw it coming, Sara. Doing the Times crossword puzzle with you for the last two years has given me a leg up."
Sara took her friend's hand and walked backwards, pulling Urvashi with her. "Let's go inside and find some good - looking dames."
"Okay. But remember." Urvashi took Sara by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. "Lesbians only. Repeat after me. Lesbians only."
Urvashi and Sara shared one drink before 'Vashi' the warrior set her saber on a shapely woman dressed as a leopard and disappeared. Sara slowly made her way around the huge tent, staying close to the exits to keep cool. She'd seen a few likely candidates, but no one had seized her attention. Being in costume made it a little hard to assess likely targets, but there was something rather compelling about the creativity many of the women had put into designing their look. As expected, some had spent less effort than they did to pick up the paper from in front of their doors in the morning. But the variety made scoping out the room interesting. Her work as a sociologist always led Sara to study people in any environment, but this party presented a particularly fertile field.
She'd had one brief conversation with a woman who wore a beautiful business suit, expensive but modest heels and a sleek aluminum briefcase. The woman seemed proud of herself for putting together her costume, saying she was masquerading as a mortgage banker. Sara admitted that she pulled off the look beautifully, but when the woman revealed her real career was as an attorney for a major New York law firm, her creativity points dropped to zero. Since her personality didn't make up for her lack of vision, Sara took her leave to continue her stalking.
She'd made three complete loops, pausing every few minutes to see if an interesting candidate was sporting a green dot on her name tag, indicating her availability. One woman had caught her attention each time, but someone was always talking to her. Sara hadn't been able to see her name tag, either, but this time the woman was facing her and she caught sight of her bright green dot. Unfortunately, the woman standing in front of her prey was gazing longingly at the whole package. The package was definitely gaze - worthy. The woman was tall, but not too tall, with mid - length dark brown hair that her tricorne hat failed to cover completely. The bright red tunic with white edging and a crisp white linen waistcoat compressed what Sara guessed were generously - sized breasts - a very compelling attribute in her book of desirable accessories.
The woman talking to the Redcoat seemed interested in getting that coat off and checking out those breasts first hand, and Sara's competitive instincts kicked in. She circled the pair, checking out the Redcoat from every direction. White knee - length breeches, white stockings and black shoes reflected the woman's desire for authenticity, which appealed to Sara. The way her ass filled out the pants appealed to her baser instincts. Redcoat wore a black mask, showing only her dark eyes. All in all, the total picture was intriguing, and Sara decided to get a little closer, just to see if the woman's inside was as attractive as the outside.
The pair was just a few feet from the bar, so Sara ordered a drink, blatantly eavesdropping. The Redcoat had an adorable English accent, a big plus considering Sara's interest in people different from her. The other woman, who Sara was already viewing as the enemy, had spent very little time on her costume, relying on her natural good looks and youth to ably pull off her "Spice Girl" look. But Sara found the outfit dated and uninspired, quickly dismissing her efforts as amateurish.
Redcoat was polite, but Sara didn't hear any true interest or enthusiasm in her voice. That could have been because she herself was boring, but Sara had confidence that the sharp - looking woman wasn't a bore. Her dark eyes shifted frequently, showing, to Sara, a restless mind. Sara moved a foot to her left, trying to get into Redcoat's line of sight. When she was properly placed she not - so discreetly winked at the woman, enormously pleased when she saw her prey snap to attention and return her gaze. Redcoat made a quick, surreptitious gesture, indicating that Sara should move to the nearest exit. Grinning, Sara slipped away, waiting impatiently for the faux - soldier to meet her.
In a few minutes the woman appeared, a full, lovely smile covering every part of the face that wasn't hidden by her hat or mask. Sara returned the smile, saying, "I'm not usually rude enough to wink at a woman who another woman's talking to, but you looked a little bored."
The woman's soulful eyes scanned Sara's body, slipping from her face, down her body, and back up to her eyes. "I was," she said, her accent subtle and definitely upper - class. "But I can feel my attention level rising by the moment."
"Good answer." Sara extended her hand. "I'm . . . " She looked down at her tag. "Shena." Laughing, she said, "I almost forgot my name."
Redcoat leaned over and sniffed delicately at Sara's drink. "How many of those have you had? It takes me quite a few to forget my own name."
"I know my real name. I just forgot my Amazon name. What's yours?"
"I don't have an Amazon name. But the British army knows me as Lieutenant Sheffield." She pronounced her rank in the traditional British manner, saying it "Leftenant."
"Nice to meet you," Sara said. "May I call you Leftenant?"
"Certainly. May I call you Shena?"
"Sure. But only my Amazon sisters call me Shena. My friends call me Sara."
Lieutenant Sheffield smiled warmly. "Let's assume we'll be friends, Sara."
"Fabulous idea. How about a drink?"
"Lead me," the lieutenant said. "I've heard your people are skilled at finding their way through dangerous territory."
"You don't have a thing to worry about." Sara patted the small, rubber daggers that hung from a low - slung belt.
The lieutenant let her eyes settle on the muscles that showed on Sara's shoulders, arms and belly. "I think your weapons are redundant. You look like you could wrestle anyone here into submission."
Sara winked at her again. "Time will tell, Leftenant. Time will tell."
After they'd shared a drink and gotten some small talk out of the way, the lieutenant made a suggestion. "Would you mind leaving the tent and going for a walk on the pier? It's rather stifling in here and the music's far too loud for me to hear you properly."
"I'd love to. We don't get many October nights this warm. Let's enjoy it while we can."
They left the tent, then walked a few hundred yards, the lieutenant striding knowledgably towards the pier. "You don't sound like a New Yorker," Sara said, "but you know your way around."
The lieutenant laughed softly. "You have a good ear. I'm not from New York, but I've lived here for five years. How about you?"
"By here, do you mean Chelsea?"
"Close. The West Village."
"Cool. I'm Chelsea."
"Odd. I thought your names were Shena or Sara. How many am I supposed to remember?"
"You're cute," Sara said, using the opportunity to bat her eyes and slip her hand around the lieutenant's arm. "And I love a woman in a uniform."
"I do, too. Especially a brief one," the lieutenant said, barely touching Sara's bare midriff with the tip of her finger. The women's eyes met as a riot of goosebumps broke out across Sara's skin, and she shivered noticeably. "You seem like a very sensitive Amazon."
"Very," Sara agreed. "But I should probably try to act cool and say I'm just chilled."
"Then I should act chivalrous and offer you my coat." The lieutenant gallantly removed her tunic, exposing a very authentic - looking blouse and waistcoat. She slid the jacket around Sara's shoulders, then kept her arm in place, subtly squeezing her. Another shiver ran through Sara's body, and once again the women's eyes met knowingly.
The late October night was warm enough to allow the women to sit outdoors. They chose a bench just past the outdoor roller - hockey rink, away from the Saturday night bustle of the piers. After just a few minutes, the other people departed, leaving them alone to gaze reflectively across the Hudson River at Hoboken, Weehawken and Jersey City. "We sit here and look at New Jersey and they sit there and look at New York. I suppose one always looks outward rather than inward," the lieutenant said.
"I suppose. But I've done a lot of navel - gazing in the last year. Of course, turning 40 made me take a long look at my life."
"Ahh. Major birthdays do tend to do that, don't they?"
"They do for me. They always have. I've made some course corrections around my 21st, 30th and now my 40th."
"Those other birthday decisions are probably fascinating, but I'm interested in your most recent change. What's on the agenda for your 41st year?"
Sara smiled, but even a passerby would have realized that her smile was mixed with a hearty dollop of rue. "Something I thought I'd resolved on my 21st," she said, "so you'll get two answers for one question."
The lieutenant shifted her body to press against Sara, then dipped her head and whispered into her ear, "You don't have to tell me if it's painful."
Sara rested her hand on the white - clad leg, squeezed it, then left it there. "I'm not going to think of it in that way. I have a new attitude, and it's a positive one."
"Well done. I'm glad to hear that."
Sara smiled brightly. "Thank you. It's taken me a while, but I finally know what I want - and what I don't want."
"You'd better tell me what you don't want, so I don't admit to having any of those qualities."
"No, no, no," Sara said in a singsong fashion. "That's another part of my resolution. I have to know what a woman wants, rather than tell her what I want and hope she agrees. I want full disclosure."
"Are you an attorney?"
"No. I'm a sociologist."
"Fascinating," the lieutenant said, her smile luminous. "I've always wanted to know a sociologist."
"You have?" Sara blinked in surprise. "No one has ever said that before."
"You've been asking the wrong women. I'm practically a sociolo . . . phile." She shrugged. "That wasn't the smoothest coinage, but I mean it."
"Yes, really. I love people who care enough about other groups and cultures and tribes to study them. Are you an academic?"
"No, I work for the city in the Mayor's office of planning. It's a good job. I like it."
"Good for you. Now tell me more about this duplicate birthday wish."
"Are you truly interested?"
The lieutenant gazed into Sara's eyes. "I'm rapt."
"Okay." She sat up straight and took a breath. "I've decided to take people as I find them. I will never again try to change a significant part of a woman's personality."
"Ooo . . . " The lieutenant nodded slowly. "It sounds as if you've tried and failed at just that."
"Several times," Sara said. "I think I've had a need to . . . " she trailed off. "No need to bore you with my amateur psychology. Let's just say that I've done that before, and I'm no longer going to settle for less than I need."
The lieutenant tightened the hold she had around Sara's shoulders. Leaning down again she murmured, "I'm happy for you. That's one of the benefits of aging. If you do it properly, you learn some lessons along the way."
"I've learned them the hard way."
"Sadly, that's the only way. I've learned a few myself."
"Any you want to share?"
"Sure. Share and share alike." The lieutenant looked a little uncomfortable, and she worked her jaw for a few moments before she said, "I've made some bad choices." She didn't seem inclined to continue, but just when Sara was going to prod her, she continued. "I got deeply involved with someone I didn't truly love, and I had a rough time with drink. It took me quite a few years to connect the dots and realize I drank to excess to numb myself." She looked deeply into Sara's eyes and added, "I learned one can never be numb enough to dull the pain of remaining tied to someone who loves you more than you will ever be able to love him."
Sara's heart sank. Her expression must have given away her disappointment, because the lieutenant touched her cheek and moved her face just enough to gaze into her eyes. "I learned that you can't use another person to sooth your soul. It took me much longer than I wish it had, but I finally learned to love myself as I am. As a lesbian," she added with fervor.
Mouth dry, Sara forced herself to ask, "How recent was this discovery?"
"It seems like a lifetime, but it was just over four years ago. I moved away and left the past behind. I've never looked back."
"Because you're afraid to?"
The lieutenant laughed. "No, not at all. I merely decided to separate myself from people who didn't support me. Friends, family . . . " She snapped her fingers. "Gone. I decided not to subject myself to negative influences."
"Has that worked?"
"Beautifully." The lieutenant smiled, the warm expression making Sara smile in response. "I'm at peace with myself."
Sara reached down and took the woman's hand. "That means everything, doesn't it?"
"I'm not sure if it's everything, but it's a lot. I've never felt better."
Laying her head on the slightly elevated shoulder, Sara asked, "So why doesn't a peaceful, beautiful woman like you have a partner?"
"I've been . . . looking," the lieutenant said. "But I haven't found the right person yet."
"You must not be looking very hard, Leftenant, because you'd be scooped up in a moment."
Laughing softly, the lieutenant said, "I've had a few offers. But I'm not interested in fooling around. I want a lover, a partner, a mate."
"Are those three people, or one?" Sara asked, her blue eyes twinkling.
"One. Definitely one. Now that I know who I am and what my needs are, I'm not going to compromise. I want one woman who I can shower with love."
"I almost never take a bath," Sara said, giggling playfully. "I'm strictly a shower girl."
The lieutenant leaned over once more, only this time she didn't whisper. She put her hands on either side of Sara's face and gazed into her eyes. "May I kiss you?"
Sara didn't answer. Instead, she slipped her arms around the lieutenant's shoulders and pulled her close. Their lips met briefly, then more intently. They kissed again, just a touch of Sara's tongue making the lieutenant open her mouth to receive her. As Sara's tongue slipped into her mouth, the lieutenant grasped her with an emotion - filled embrace, holding her nearly tightly enough to bruise. "I've been looking for you for years," she murmured, then shook with emotion as her voice broke. "I never thought I'd find you."
Stunned, Sara sat up a little, amazed that this stranger would express herself in that way. She was certain now that the lovely woman was one of those kooks who falls in love in five minutes, then spends the next five years hanging on for dear life. She wanted to run, or at least walk away, but she was being held firmly in the lieutenant's embrace, so she tried to gracefully extricate herself. "Wow, uhm, that's . . . really nice, but it's getting late and - "
Her speech was cut off, the next word hanging from her open mouth as the lieutenant removed her mask. "It's me," she said, tears running down her cheeks. "I've been looking for a woman just like you for the last four years. And now I have the real you in my arms."
"Megan?" Sara stared, slack - jawed. "How . . . what . . . ?"
"I can't believe I found you." She was crying hard, her shoulders shaking. "After all of these years."
Sara felt tears sting her eyes, too. She stroked Megan's cheek, almost smiling when she thought of the many times she'd touched and kissed the soft skin. "Where have you been, Meggie? What happened to you?"
Megan shook her head, looking disgusted with herself. "Are you sure you want to know?"
"Of course. Tell me."
Dropping her head, Megan took in and let out a heavy breath. "Six months after I dropped out I married a guy my parents' picked for me. We were together for ten years. Ten years! And in all of that time, I never - not once - lost my love for you. I used him horribly, but I've made amends as best I can and I've moved on. I'm a lesbian, Sara, there's no doubt in my mind."
"Oh, Megan." Sara dropped her head onto her former lover's shoulder. "I missed you so much, Meggie. But I couldn't live like you wanted to. I couldn't hide."
"You were right, Sara. You were right. You broke my heart into a million pieces, but you were right. Hiding with me would have destroyed both of us."
"I didn't do much better without you."
"Maybe you were waiting," Megan said, smiling hopefully.
"Does that mean . . . ?" Megan looked into Sara's tear - filled eyes. "Is there a chance . . . ?"
"Yeah," Sara said, her body shaking while she cried. "There's definitely a chance."
Megan's upper body lurched forward and she held her head in her hands, whispering, "Thank God, thank God."
Sara put her hand on Megan's back and rubbed it briskly. "Sh . . . don't cry, bunny."
Turning her head, Megan looked up at Sara, her lower lip quivering. "You called me bunny."
Smiling, Sara said, "I guess I did. Old habits, huh?"
"I always loved it when you called me that."
"I did too. You were my chubby little bunny." She grasped Megan and cried hard. "I missed you so much."
"Can we try again? Can we make it work?"
"There's only one way to find out." Shakily, Sara stood and took Megan's hand in hers.
Megan looked up at her, eyes filled with fear. "And that's what?"
"Start over. Get to know each other again. Date. And if what we had is still there - live happily ever after."
"Oh, Sara. Nothing would make me happier."
"Then get up and follow me."
"Where are we going?"
"I'm not sure." Megan stood and Sara wrapped her arms around her. "I'm not sure of anything. Hell, ten minutes ago I thought you were English!"
"You know I can do accents."
"Yeah, but I wasn't quite expecting you. After 20 years I don't think every good - looking brunette is you."
"I recognized you in a second. I knew you were my first, and I hope my last, true love."
"Let's make it happen," Sara said, taking Megan's hand as they walked down the pier and into the rest of their lives.