Valentine, My Heart Belongs to You
By Lynn Ames
Copyright © 2004
The water droplets bead on her shapely form, moisture clinging to her like a lover. She stands unmoving, her energy spent, her mind clear for the first time in days…
“Damn. Damn, damn, damn!”
Tyler McMasters banged her elbows on the desk, sinking slender fingers into honey blonde hair and growling in frustration. “I’ll never make deadline at this rate. It’s impossible.” She glanced up, catching her reflection in the glass of the custom picture frame that occupied the right hand corner of the solid oak desk. For a timeless moment she stared at her image as it mingled with that of the beautiful woman in the picture; unable to reign in the emotions that bubbled to the surface, she laid her head on her forearms and began to sob.
“Oh Mandy, I miss you so very, very much. I know we talked about this, and about me moving on with my life, but sometimes it’s just too hard.” Tyler touched her fingers to the sensuous lips that smiled back at her from the photograph; sliding her eyes slightly to the right, she spied the neat black type, stark against the white paper with black matting, and sighed. For what seemed like the millionth time, she read the words of the poem Amanda had written shortly before her death two years earlier:
Lost & Found
In those moments
When you feel lost
For if you are very still
And clear your mind
You will know
That I am right there
Holding you close
My love & warmth
Lighting the way home
You need only look
Inside your soul
Where I will always reside
That you are found.
~ Amanda Nichols
Tyler closed her eyes, imagining that she could smell her lover’s perfume as long, well-muscled arms encircled her shoulders. Without opening her eyes, she began to type:
She stands stock still, her energy expended for the moment. Her drenched clothing, what little of it there is, clings to her like a lover, hugging every contour. Pure, clean rain water sluices through her thick, dark hair and down her body. She is unmindful of the rivulets that run down her neck, mixing with the fine sheen of sweat and pausing to pool at the hollow of her throat before they continue on their journey. The droplets caress her well-muscled, mostly bare chest and soft, full breasts, flowing unimpeded until they reach the valley between her breasts, where they are halted by the barrier that awaits them there.
The writer smiled at the image, tears glistening on her closed lashes. “I will never forget you, sweetheart; never. Thank you for being my inspiration, as always.”
Opening her eyes and her e-mail program, she typed out a quick note:
“Tammy, here is the vignette to replace the paragraph on page 47 we spoke about. I hope you like it. The rest of the manuscript is coming along and I plan to have a completed draft to you on schedule. Take care, Jasmine Wordsworth.”
“Peter, get me Tyler McMasters on the phone.”
“Ms. Carston, you know she never responds to anything but e-mail.”
The editor of the Daily Star-Register sighed in exasperation. “ I am aware of Ms. McMasters’s preference for electronic communication, Peter. But I run this newsroom, and as long as her column appears in MY newspaper, she’ll take my Goddamn phone calls!”
Silence enveloped the usually bustling newsroom, every head turning as Samantha Carston stalked out of her office, through the maze of cubicles, and out the glass doors that separated the chaos of the news division from the quiet cadence of the rest of the building.
“Don’t worry, Peter, she’ll get over it. The storm usually lasts about fifteen minutes before peace settles over the land once again.” Now in his eighth year at the paper, Ryan Witherspoon was a veteran of his boss’s legendary fits of pique.
“I sure hope you’re right, because I’m not sure my nerves can take this.”
Ryan smiled, shaking his unruly mane of sandy brown hair. He’d seen it many times before: Carston went through more personal assistants than he had underwear in his drawer. “It’s not you she’s ticked at, kid. Lemme guess, it had something to do with our mysterious political columnist.”
Peter stared at him open-mouthed. “How’d you know that?”
“Stick around, kid. Nothing gets under Sam’s skin more than the fact that she can’t bend our esteemed Ms. McMasters to her will. No matter how many times she’s tried, Sam just can’t compel McMasters to talk to her. Heck, except for the artist’s sketch that accompanies her column, nobody here even knows what the woman looks like!”
“Then why doesn’t Ms. Carston fire her?”
Ryan let out a hearty guffaw. “Because, my dear fellow, McMasters is a political genius. No one, and I mean no one, knows the landscape like she does, and she isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. Politicians talk to her because they’re scared not to, and staffers know they can tell her things off the record and she’ll protect them.”
“Wait, you just said politicians talk to her…that means she must make appearances at the Capitol, right?”
“Nope, does everything via phone, e-mail and fax, as far as I know. Never anything in person.”
“So then she can be reached by phone.”
Witherspoon could see the young man’s mind spinning. “I know, McMasters’ll talk to the politicos, but not to her own boss. Hard to fathom, but it’s been that way since she started writing that column about a year and a half ago.”
“Yeah, really. And now, I’d better get my ass in gear and get out on the street before the Taz gets back. See ya around, kiddo. Good luck.” His laughter followed him out the door.
The subway was crowded at rush hour, business suits vying with ripped jeans for precious personal space. The shapely woman in the navy blue silk skirt and blazer scanned the train as she stepped inside. There were no seats left, so she selected a spot midway down the car, grasping an overhead handhold in front of a pretty young co-ed in a tight fitting sweater and faded denim pants. She had noticed the same woman, sitting in exactly the same seat, three days in a row now.
As the businesswoman reached up, she was bumped from behind, the contact forcing her hips to thrust forward. Before she could right herself, she felt warm, soft hands travel the length of her thighs underneath her skirt. Instantly wet, she bit back a moan. The hands, without question, belonged to the jean-clad woman seated in front of her. Although she knew she should move away, she found herself instead pushing forward, urging those magical fingers higher, deeper.
Glancing around, the businesswoman was astounded to realize that her obvious state of arousal and its cause apparently were transparent to the other passengers. Grateful for her fellow travelers’ obliviousness, she returned her attention to the fire burning in her groin.
With her free hand, she covered the fingers that sought entrance to her most private places, guiding them past her pantyhose, under the silk of her panties, and into the liquid warmth that awaited. With a strength she didn’t know she possessed, she managed to stay upright, rocking back and forth as talented digits swept across her distended clitoris, entering her in one swift motion, claiming her with a knowing touch.
Her orgasm, which was nearly instantaneous, sent an explosion of shockwaves through every fiber of her being. Fighting her natural urge to cry out, she bit her lower lip hard, drawing a trickle of blood, a fact she failed to notice. And then it was over. Just like that.
As the conductor announced her stop, the delicious pressure disappeared. Looking down, the businesswoman noted that not a single article of clothing was out of place. Was it possible that she had imagined the whole thing? Exiting the car, she chanced a peek backward; the last sight she saw before the doors closed was the young co-ed, lovingly sucking her fingers into her mouth, winking at her as she did so.
Tyler stood, stretching abused muscles that had been stationery for too long. She nodded to herself, pleased with the morning’s progress.
She had started writing lesbian erotica in college, the first time she had laid eyes on Amanda. It had been her own guilty pleasure. She had taken one look at that gorgeous senior with the coal black hair, soulful brown eyes, and ready smile and her imagination had taken flight. The course, The Politics of the American Presidency, fascinated Tyler, but Mandy captivated her.
By the time they actually had been introduced, Tyler had filled two journals with her musings. It had taken another year-and-a-half, however, for her to work up the courage to share the writings with her lover, and then only after a bitter disagreement.
“You should get this stuff published, T. It’s wonderful.”
“Yeah, wouldn’t my mother be proud?”
“So use a pseudonym; lots of lesbian authors do that.”
“Sure, what would I call myself?”
“Let’s see...I love the way you always smell like Jasmine, so how about that for a first name?”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Look at this face; do I look unserious to you?”
“Sweetheart, that’s not even a word.”
“It is now. You watch, it’ll be in the next edition of Webster’s.”
“Have I told you lately you’re crazy?”
“Yeah, crazy in love with you, Ms. McMasters.”
The words sent a thrill up her spine, as they never failed to do.
It hadn’t been until Mandy had been diagnosed with breast cancer three-and-a-half years later that Tyler had submitted her first manuscript to a publisher. The day she received the first printed copy of her book in the mail, the two of them had shed tears of subdued joy; Mandy died several hours later. Tyler sighed and shook herself to clear the memory.
“Enough of the maudlin for one day. Time for a good workout and run.”
Tyler headed west, into the sun, gathering its rays to her as if they provided her with life, itself. Less than half a mile later a stocky woman with flaming red hair raced out of a driveway, falling into an easy rhythm alongside her.
“Hey yourself, trouble.”
“Now, Ms. McM., why would you call me a thing like that?”
“Because it’s true?”
“Well, there is that.”
“At least you admit it.”
“I suppose it would be foolish to ask if you’ve stopped dodging your boss yet?”
“Tyler McMasters, you know that I am your oldest and dearest friend.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means there’s a lecture coming.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Any time you start a discussion by reminding me of our longstanding friendship, I know I’m in for ‘Trista’s discourse on everything I’m doing wrong in my life.’”
“Damn, I hate being predictable. Now, as I was saying, I’ve known you since nursery school, when you introduced yourself to me by smearing peanut butter and jelly in my hair.”
“You had to bring that up, didn’t you? It happened 24 years ago. Get over it already! AND, you deserved it.”
“ANYWAY, my point is that I have never, ever known you to run from anything or anyone.” Trista made a motion with her hand to cut Tyler off when she opened her mouth to respond. “I simply cannot fathom why you’d avoid this woman you’ve idolized, no, make that crushed out on, since you first saw her face on TV as a ‘woman to watch out for’ eight years ago.”
“It’s complicated, Trista.”
“So uncomplicated it for me.”
Tyler ran her hands through her hair, a gesture Trista recognized as a sure sign of discomfort or frustration.
“All right. When I first saw Samantha Carston, I was a single, impressionable, twenty year old college junior. Yes, I admit I was smitten. Heck, she’s beautiful, self-assured, talented, and intelligent; I was single and vulnerable at the time, who wouldn’t lust after such a woman?”
“It was more than that, and you know it. My God, Tyler, you were beyond impressed and bordering on obsession. You fashioned your career after hers.”
Tyler, lost in her recollections, ignored Trista’s last remark. “Then I met Mandy and fell in love.” Her voice faltered.
Trista reached out with her hand, lightly grazing Tyler’s forearm with her fingers. “I know you did, sweetheart.”
“One of the only arguments we ever had was about Samantha. You remember she was awarded an honorary degree at my graduation?”
“Remember? Heck, you must have told me a hundred times in the month before the ceremony alone.”
“Yeah, well, I must have told Mandy a hundred and fifty. It never occurred to me that she might get jealous. I mean, come on, Mandy was real and she knew how much I loved her. Carston was just a fantasy.” She shook her head sadly. “Mandy would joke around, tell me that I cared more about some stranger I’d seen on television and in newspaper clippings than I did about her. I never took her seriously…” Tyler’s voice trailed off momentarily.
“Mickey,” Trista resorted to her childhood nickname for her best friend. “It’s okay; Mandy knew how much you loved her. She knew you wouldn’t have traded her for anything, or any one; not even Samantha Carston.”
Tyler wiped a tear from her eye. “Anyway, the day of graduation I was all excited. It was the culmination of four hard years, I was looking forward to an incredible new job doing strategic analysis of emerging issues for the Senate Judiciary Committee…I could finally be on equal footing with Mandy.”
“You were always at the same level with her. What are you talking about?”
“Well, she was a year ahead of me and already out in the real world. She’d been working for House Ways and Means for a while and been in the rooms where important decisions affecting national policies were made. I never really felt that studying the theories in Political Science courses could measure up to that.”
“It’s okay, Tris; it was a long time ago, right?”
“I didn’t realize that Carston would be speaking at the ceremony until she was introduced; I thought they would just acknowledge her, hand her a piece of paper and it would be done with. My God, what an eloquent speech she gave. It spoke to my deepest beliefs; it was as if she reached inside me and touched my soul in some elemental place.”
“I just bet she did,” Trista mumbled, earning her a backhanded slap that nearly knocked her off her stride. “HEY, what are ya trying to do, break my leg? Then who’ll run with you every day, Miss Obsessive?”
“I’d make you follow along in a wheelchair.”
Trista was glad her little attempt to lighten the moment seemingly had worked. She hated how melancholy her one-time carefree and playful friend had become over the past three years since the onset of her girlfriend’s illness and subsequent death.
“When it came time to award the diplomas for the Poly Sci department and I realized that Carston was going to be the one handing them to the graduates…well, I practically froze. Getting that close to her, I could feel her magnetism. She was so powerful, so commanding. I’d never met anyone like her. For a split second, ours eyes met as she handed me my diploma, and...I know it sounds clichéd, but it was as if time stood still. Those eyes; those incredible, piercing blue eyes. It was like they looked right into my very being. It took my breath away.
“When we got home after the graduation party, I couldn’t wait to write about her. I told Mandy I was tired and that I was going to bed, knowing that she had a lot of work to do and would stay in her study so as not to disturb me. I took out my journal, closed my eyes for a minute, and when I opened them, the words flowed from my pen as if coming from somewhere else:
It was quiet in the library stacks today; she’d known it would be. The young woman selected one of her favorite compilations of Sappho poems, set it, unopened, in her lap…and waited. With her eyes closed, she extended her senses: the musty smell of old books and faded paper, the faint odor of the recently-cleaned carpeting, the whirring sound of the air conditioner cycling on and off, the distant hum of a computer hard drive.
There…the tread of footsteps, strong and self-assured. Long, purposeful strides cutting a swath through the rows, halting as they reached her stack. She smiled, still keeping her eyes firmly shut. The steps were unhurried, although not leisurely; this was not a woman given either to haste, or wasted moments.
“You knew I would come.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Yes; as surely as you knew I would be here.” The young woman opened her jade eyes, finally, to gaze into the bluest depths imaginable. In that one instant, she knew profound longing and an unquenchable thirst.
The look projected back at her reflected an abiding hunger and intensity the likes of which she had never known. The hand that reached down for her was strong, yet supple; the fingers long, graceful, tapered, and powerful. The lips that claimed hers were demanding, sensuous.
She stood on her tiptoes, burying her hands in silky strands of inky black, as her body responded forcefully to the assault on her senses. “Please...” The word was both plea and benediction. Palms cupped her backside, urging her body closer until they were connected all along their lengths. Warm lips grazed her jaw line, a skilled tongue darting out to outline her ear.
“Is this what you want? Or is it this?” The raven-haired beauty’s hands slid up the inside of her quarry’s thighs, fingers gliding across the seam of her jeans before returning to rest possessively at the V. Even through the denim fabric, the young co-ed’s arousal was evident.
“What’s that? I couldn’t hear you.” The words were breathed low and husky in her ear.
She couldn’t think; she could only feel, and want. Her back was pressed against the stack, hips thrusting forward in silent entreaty. In less than a heartbeat her shirt and bra were gone, her breasts exposed to the chilled air. Soft palms brushed over painfully erect nipples, followed by the counterpoint of sharp teeth and a warm tongue.
“Sorry, she wasn’t available today; you’re stuck with me.” The words rumbled through her, but her need was such that the humor was lost.
Hands continued on a journey downward, across the flat planes of the young woman’s abdomen, pausing to unbutton the fly of her jeans, before long fingers dipped into her wetness.
She gasped as the delicious sensation coursed through her, her mind and body protesting as the fingers were just as quickly removed. She watched spellbound as her tormentor brought the digits to her lips, sucking them lovingly into her mouth. When the dark vixen ran those same fingers down her own length, gathering some of her own moisture on her fingers and presenting them to the co-ed, it was more than the young woman could bear.
“I...I think I’m going to come.”
The older woman’s laughter was warm and rich. “No, not yet. There’s so much more. Hold on to it, baby. Hold on as long as you can.”
As a hand returned to her clitoris, the co-ed cried out. “I...I don’t think I can stay standing if you keep doing that.”
“Climb on me.”
“Wrap your legs around my waist and hold on.”
Without thought, the woman did as she was told, noticing as she did that her pants and lace panties had somehow disappeared.
Slowly, rhythmically, the slender fingers danced inside her, even as the older woman’s tongue captured hers in a parallel waltz. Within seconds, she was coming, the strength of the sensation making her dizzy. She held on, waiting for the moment to pass, surprised when the pressure inside her remained.
“Are you okay?”
She could only nod.
“Good, because I’m not done with you yet. I need you to keep your eyes open and look into mine; don’t break eye contact. I want to see the pleasure in those beautiful emeralds.”
She groaned as the fingers opened her wider, teasing her folds, brushing across still sensitive flesh. The sounds gained urgency as more fingers, and finally an entire fist, filled her so full she thought she would burst. Her tormentor paused for a moment, allowing her to get used to the feeling, before turning her hand slightly. The adjustment brought the older woman’s wrist into contact with her clitoris, sending her spiraling higher than she’d ever been before.
She held on tightly, her heels digging into the woman’s back, the solidness of the contact the only thing keeping her from flying away. As she struggled to focus, the intensity in the cerulean orbs made her heart beat even more erratically. Finally, what seemed like hours later, she was able to catch her breath, her heart rate slowing perceptibly.
As she unwrapped her legs, the older woman helped lower her gently to the ground, kissing her lightly on the lips, then the forehead. Those amazing eyes drank deeply of her hers, before the woman said, simply, “Thank you. You were very beautiful.”
Before she could even respond, the older woman was gone, not even the sound of her footsteps remaining. Gathering her clothes, the co-ed was startled to find the book of Sappho poems open to her favorite selection:
“you came and I was crazy for you
and you cooled my mind that burned with longing”
A note followed the poem in a bold, strong, hand; it read: “This is mine, too.”
“As am I yours forever more, whether I want to be or not.” The young woman’s mumbled words echoed in the stillness as she made her way back into the world.
Tyler let out a deep sigh; it had been a long time since she’d thought about what she’d written that horrible night. The hand on her arm startled her.
“Sorry, Mickey. Are you alright?”
“Yeah. I...I was exhausted after I’d finished the journal entry, and I fell asleep practically sitting up, with the damn thing still open on my lap.”
“Oh, yeah. Mandy came in; she picked the journal up with the intent to move it to the night table, but the words on the page caught her eye, and she couldn’t help but read.”
“Oh, Mickey, I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah,” Tyler nodded her head sadly, “Me too. It was pretty clear to her who I’d been writing about; an ugly scene ensued.
Tyler was awakened by the sound of sobbing and the slight vibration of the bed. Still somewhat disoriented, she opened her eyes to find Mandy huddled miserably, sitting with her back turned, on the side of the bed.
“What is it, sweetheart? What’s wrong?”
At the sound of the endearment, Mandy began to cry even harder.
Tyler reached for her, wanting only to provide comfort. Amanda rose so quickly, it knocked her off balance, and she fell backward onto the pillows.
Tyler struggled to regain her equilibrium, baffled by her lover’s behavior. She was starting to rise, when she caught sight of her journal, lying open in the middle of the bed.
A cold dread spread through her, turning the blood in her veins to ice water. “Mandy?” For a long moment, she didn’t think her lover would answer, then:
“Is this a description of a real event, or just wishful thinking on your part?” Her voice was cold and hard as steel, but underneath was an undeniable hurt.
Tyler had never heard that tone before, and it scared her.
“Neither; it’s just fiction.”
“Really? That’s a pretty vivid imagination you’ve got there, McMasters.”
“You should see some of my other stuff,” Tyler rejoined weakly.
“So, lusting after strangers is a regular occurrence for you, then?”
“No. Damn it, Amanda, let me explain.”
“This ought to be good.” The sarcasm stung.
“I never knew how much I wanted to write until I first saw you. Mandy, you awakened something in me, an irresistible urge to create, to find an outlet for my feelings. So I began to keep a journal, spinning erotic tales to match the fire I felt each time you looked my way. So far, I’ve filled two journals. Baby, you’re all the inspiration I need.”
“Is that so?” The flint was still there, but a hint of hopefulness had crept in, as well.
“Yeah,” Tyler moved to her lover, hesitantly reaching out to wipe a tear from her eye, “That’s so.”
Mandy fell into her arms, tears starting anew.
“Shh, shh. I’m so sorry, baby. I’m so sorry. I would never hurt you. Never.” Tyler rubbed circles on her distraught lover’s back. “It’s you I love. I swear.”
“It’s okay, T. I’m sorry if I overreacted.” She allowed Tyler to pull her back to the bed, where they made love until dawn, sleeping until noon, cuddled in the safety and security of each other’s arms.
The next day Tyler presented Amanda with her journals to read as a sign of trust.
“So it was okay in the end, Mickey,” Trista temporized.
“On the surface, yeah. But underneath, there was always a kernel of doubt. Then, the day that first book came out, the day Mandy...” Her voice thick with emotion, Tyler had to pause to clear her throat. “She said to me, ‘T., now you’re free to go find Samantha Carston, the woman of your dreams. Lucky you, and luckier her.’
“I can’t tell you how that made me feel. I went in the bathroom and threw up. Here was my lover, dying, and this stranger was still between us, all because, in a selfish moment, I allowed my imagination to wander instead of just being grateful for the extraordinary love I already had.”
Tyler turned to face her friend. “So, in answer to your question, yes, I’m still ‘dodging’ my boss, and I probably always will. It’s the least I can do to honor Mandy’s memory.”
Angry now, Trista stopped short in the middle of the jogging path, causing other runners to swerve to avoid her.
Tyler looked back to find her friend, hair flaming and eyes snapping, staring at her with hands on hips.
“Don’t you ‘what’ me, Tyler McMasters. Let me see if I’ve got this right, then. You have a fight with your girlfriend because she’s caught you fantasizing about another woman,” she raised her hand to stave off an interruption. “You kiss and make up, telling Mandy it’s her you love, which is true, to a point...”
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that you and I both know you were gone on Samantha Carston before Amanda ever entered the picture. Just because you loved Mandy, and I know you did, Mickey,” she looked at her friend, her eyes softening a bit to convey the truth of that, “You never really got over your feelings for Carston. Then, when Mandy dies with a parting shot that hits you right in the guilt box, you decide to shut yourself off from humanity for what...the rest of your life?” The last words were nearly shouted.
“That’s ridiculous. You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
“Don’t I? Don’t I, Mickey? If you don’t have a thing for Carston, then why did you spend six months after Mandy died trying to figure out a way to go to work for her. If she means nothing to you other than as a boss and a successful woman, then why won’t you face her? What are you afraid of, Mickey? Huh?”
Without another word, Tyler turned and sprinted away, her lithe figure disappearing around the next corner. Trista let her go, sighing and shaking her head sadly, “My friend, you are way too young, and way too beautiful, to throw your life away because you feel some misguided loyalty to a memory. I hope you realize that someday, I really do.”
When Sam left the office, she jumped in her car, a late model BMW Z3, and headed toward the river. It was what she always did when she was confused and confounded. What was it about this woman that always got to her? All of her life she had been singularly focused on her career: youngest White House correspondent ever, first woman editor, and the youngest at that, too. She had made it her business to distance herself from anything too personal, never bothering with friends or lovers of any permanence. They required time she was unwilling to devote. But this woman, this enigmatic, talented, gorgeous woman, was different.
“What is it going to take, Tyler McMasters? What do I have to do to get you to see me? Why on earth are you so hell bent on avoiding me???” She sighed, slamming her hand against the steering wheel. In truth, she had been asking herself the same question for the past eighteen months or longer, and still had no satisfactory answer.
Sam parked the car, jumped out, and strode purposefully toward the water. Reaching into her back pocket, she removed her wallet, slipping out a well-worn photograph and staring intently at it. Captured unaware, the young woman in the image radiated beauty, friendliness, and vitality. She was receiving her college diploma, the whole world waiting for her to take it by storm. As she peered up at the taller woman shaking her hand, her smile was dazzling. Sam found herself smiling back, even as she had that day. There was something about Tyler McMasters that just made you do that.
Looking out over the sea of expectant faces as she rose to address them, Sam’s eyes were caught and held by a gorgeous blonde in the middle of the crowd. Although she couldn’t tell from where she was on the podium, Sam could have sworn her eyes were the color of a lush forest. Mid-speech, she made the mistake of allowing herself to scan the crowd, looking for that face again. The lapse in concentration nearly caused her to stumble over her words and lose her train of thought. She admonished herself, got back on track and finished her remarks without incident.
When next she saw the entrancing co-ed, it was as she crossed the stage to receive her parchment. Sam gave a subtle nod to the newspaper photographer she had brought with her, who, understanding the gesture and knowing his boss as well as he did, snapped a picture just as the blonde reached her hand out to shake Sam’s.
“Thanks, Bob. Listen, make sure you get that young woman’s name for the photo credit, okay? She’s over that way.” Sam pointed to the left, where the co-ed was embracing a very pretty brunette.
“Sure thing, boss. Everything okay? You seem a little distracted.”
“Nah, everything’s fine, Bob. Nice job. See you tomorrow.” She walked off, turning her back on the scene, and headed directly for the parking lot.
That night she stopped by the paper to check on the run. If she were going to be honest with herself, she also wanted to see the photo Bob had taken and read the caption; it was on the front page of the Metro section. “Tyler McMasters, Political Science major, soon to be a staffer to the Senate Judiciary Committee, accepts her diploma from Samantha Carston, editor of the Daily Star-Register and herself a recipient of an honorary degree.” Sam stopped by the photography desk and picked up the original photo, putting it in her briefcase before leaving the building.
Running her thumb over the picture, Sam mumbled to herself, “I wish I knew what changed from that day to now. Heck, I’d give anything to know what changed between then and the next time I laid eyes on you.”
Sam hated Inaugural Balls, but attending them was expected of someone of her stature, so she reluctantly had donned a low cut, deep navy, floor length gown and three inch matching silk heels and hired a limousine for the occasion. Inside the ballroom the music blared, the bodies pulsed in time to the rhythm, and stilted conversations filled the air.
The newspaper editor made her way to the bar, looking for a glass of champagne. Her progress was slowed by acquaintances and would-be acquaintances all of whom wanted to say hello, or otherwise try to curry her favor. Taking the proffered glass from the bartender, she turned to survey the landscape, trying to calculate how long she would have to stay in order to be polite.
Just as she had decided that another ten minutes ought to do it, a flash of honey flitted across her peripheral vision. She turned her head to discover Tyler, standing some ten feet away amidst a small group of friends. It had been five years since graduation day, but Sam would have known her anywhere. She looked breathtaking, if pale, in a glittering emerald green gown that accented her figure and enhanced the jade hue of her eyes.
When their gazes met and held, Sam felt the spark all the way down to her toes, even as her mind registered the defeated, almost melancholy expression on the younger woman’s face. And there was something else there: guilt.
Abruptly, Tyler excused herself from her discussion, pivoted on her heel, and rushed from the party. Perplexed, Sam tried to follow, almost reaching Tyler as she slid into the back of a cab. Their eyes locked once more, but whatever Sam had seen in those verdant orbs just seconds earlier was gone, replaced by an emptiness that sent chills up her spine.
Tyler had seen her coming, had felt what Sam felt, and had run from it. Why? And what had happened to the radiant smile and dancing eyes that she remembered so vividly?
Sam had thought when Tyler took the job at the Star-Register a little more than six months later, she finally would get to know her; perhaps she’d been having a bad night the night of the Inaugural Ball. Maybe Tyler’s behavior didn’t have anything to do with her at all. Even as she considered the possibility, Sam discarded it. She knew without question that the younger woman had been running from her.
Why would such a woman want to come to work for someone, and then avoid her at all costs? She hadn’t even known when Tyler had interviewed for the position; she had been away when it had happened.
Sam shook her head; this was getting her nowhere. Flipping open her cell phone, she hit the #1 speed dial button.
“Samantha Carston’s office.”
“Peter, it’s Sam.”
“Oh, hi Ms. Carston. You’ve got a couple messages here.”
“Never mind that. Have you made any progress getting me a meeting with Tyler McMasters?”
“I got her voicemail when I called, and I sent her an e-mail telling her you wanted to see her.”
The hesitation in his voice was enough, but, a glutton for punishment, Sam felt she had to ask the question: “Did you get a response?”
“Yes, she said she was available via e-mail anytime you needed her to be, as always.”
The young assistant swore he could hear the growl right through the phone line. “All right, Peter. I’ve had enough; get me an address for Ms. McMasters.”
“Yes, right now; I’ll wait.”
Several seconds passed. “Um, Ms. Carston, she’s not listed in the phonebook.”
“Figures. Call Human Resources and have them get it off her employment forms. And yes, I mean now.”
Ten minutes later, armed with an address and a phone number, Sam was back in the car. Halfway to her destination, she began to question the wisdom of what she was about to do. Never in her life had she simply “dropped in” on someone. She mollified herself by pointing out that if she called ahead, she would only get Tyler’s voicemail or some other equally humiliating form of rebuff. She was still talking to herself when she pulled up in front of a row of condominiums in a middle-class neighborhood outside the city limits.
The doorbell sounded in the condo just as Trista was getting ready to leave.
“I’ll get it on my way out, Mickey.”
They had finished their daily run, and Trista had been proofreading a piece of Tyler’s last book chapter while the writer showered and changed.
Trista opened the door and stood dumbfounded. She had only ever seen pictures of Samantha Carston, and they certainly did no justice to the statuesque beauty standing before her.
“I...I’m sorry, I must have the wrong address.”
“Shh.” Trista put her finger to her own lips and winked. “Nope, you’ve found the mysterious Ms. McMasters,” she whispered, motioning with her head for Sam to come in.
Out loud she said, “Um. I’ll see you tomorrow for our run, right Tyler?” Trista had a restraining hand on Sam’s arm.
“You know you will...what’s going on Tris? Who was at the doo....r?” As Tyler came around the corner barefoot, without makeup, dressed in loose fitting pants and a long sleeve shirt, her hair still wet from the shower, she froze. The expression on her face, a combination of shock with a spark of desire, metamorphosed almost instantaneously to anger, even as her heart skipped a beat.
Sam stared back at her, momentarily stunned speechless by her raw beauty.
Trista, sensing a disaster in the making, interjected, “Tyler, aren’t you going to invite Ms. Carston in?”
Tyler shot her best friend a withering look. The last thing she wanted was this woman in her house. And how the hell had she come to be there, anyway? What right did she have...even as these thoughts crowded her brain, breeding won out. “Of course, please, come in, won’t you Ms. Carston?”
“Please, call me Sam. I’m sorry to barge in on you like this, but there seemed no other way to establish personal contact. You’ve patently ignored every message I or my assistants have left for you, as you are well aware. You really left me little choice.”
Seeing that there was unlikely to be bloodshed, Trista quietly let herself out the front door.
Showing her “guest” into her living room/office, Tyler said through gritted teeth, “Please make yourself comfortable. As you can see, I wasn’t expecting company; I’ll just be a few more minutes.”
“No problem, take your time.”
As Tyler disappeared down a hallway and through a door that Sam presumed to be her bedroom, the editor took the opportunity to look around. The place was neat and tidy, but homey and relaxed, too. The furniture was functional but stylish in shades of light brown and beige, the floors polished oak with oriental area rugs that contrasted nicely with the light-colored walls and furnishings. A gas fireplace along one wall was burning, adding a warm glow to the atmosphere.
The office portion of the open space was cluttered, in an organized sort of way, Sam thought. A large flat-screen computer monitor sat on a sturdy oak desk, the LCD lights of a USB hub and the hard drive neatly hidden underneath the desk’s L return. Papers covered every conceivable surface, and newspaper clippings and notes were taped to a hutch that surrounded the monitor.
Looking more closely, Sam noticed two items that caught her eye. One was a box-frame containing a book, hung to the right of Tyler’s desk. “Strangers in Lust,” by Jasmine Wordsworth. Hmmm. Interesting. The other article she was drawn to was a custom-framed photograph and poem sitting on the desk. The picture was an attractive snapshot of two people very obviously in love. One of them was Tyler, and the other was the brunette that Sam vaguely remembered seeing the young woman embrace at her graduation.
“Find something interesting?” Tyler’s tone was icy.
“Your partner is very lovely.”
“Yes, she was.”
Hearing the catch in Tyler’s voice, even as the columnist tried to hide it, Sam both was intrigued and chagrined. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up something painful for you.”
Tyler wanted to snap at her, wanted to tell her it was none of her business, but the sincerity behind Sam’s words and the compassion in her eyes stopped her short. “It’s all right. Mandy died two years ago; breast cancer. I still find it hard to believe she’s gone sometimes.”
Well, that explained some things. “My God, she was so young. I’m so sorry, Tyler. Is it okay if I call you Tyler?”
“Thank you for not kicking me out on my ass.”
Tyler, caught off-balance by the sheer honesty of the remark, simply smiled.
“I figure I had two factors in my favor: 1. You’re highly intelligent and therefore know that such an action would be pretty bad for your career. 2. You’re too well-brought up, and, even though you really, really wanted to give me the boot, you were hearing your mother in your ear telling you that just wasn’t done in polite society.”
Tyler shook her head, the blonde hair cascading over her shoulders as she did so. This woman was full of surprises, not to mention the fact that the mirth dancing in those beautiful baby blues made Tyler’s heart beat faster. She caught herself staring, and made a show of checking the time.
“I know you’re obviously busy, so I’ll make this brief: I have been very pleased with your writing to date. Your columns are timely, interesting, and give our readers an insider’s glimpse into the underbelly of politics. How’s that for an annual review?”
Tyler arched an eyebrow. “Okay, but surely you didn’t go to all the trouble of tracking me down merely to tell me that. You could have told me that just as easily in an e-mail.”
“See, I said you were astute. No, that’s not why I’m here...at least it’s not the only reason. There are two more, one professional, and the other personal. Which would you like first?”
Tyler laughed in spite of herself. “Let’s start with the professional.”
“Okay; I want to increase the frequency of your column from once a week to three times a week. It’s one of our most popular features, and I think you have enough material to cover at least that many inches of space. What do you think?”
“Three times a week????”
“Yeees, and I assure you a commensurate raise in salary...I’ll even throw in a real office with a door if you want one, though, given how often we see you now, I imagine that would be a waste of space.”
“Can I have time to think about it?”
Sam looked at her watch and chuckled. “Okay, you’ve got ten minutes.”
“And the personal issue?” Tyler’s eyes showed fear.
Sam leaned forward, clasping her hands together in front of her. Now that the moment had arrived, she was uncertain how to begin. “I’ve tried many times, Ms. McMasters, but I still can’t for the life of me figure it out. Why are you so determined to avoid me? What have I done to cause that reaction? And what can I do to fix it?”
As soon as the questions were out of her mouth, Sam knew she had made a mistake in asking. Tyler sprang up from her seat on the couch, face pale, eyes wild, her whole body visibly trembling.
“Tyler, it’s okay. Never mind. It’s not important; really, you don’t need to answer that.” She wanted to get up herself, to go to this distraught woman and offer comfort, but she didn’t think the gesture would be welcome. Unsure, frankly, what to do, Sam changed the subject: “And now on a completely different note, is it true that Senator Destry, king of the Congressional Christian Right, fathered a child by his black housemaid? While lying on sheets fashioned after the Confederate flag?”
In spite of her obvious distress, Tyler burst out laughing; not only at the absurdity of the image conjured by her boss, but also at the comical expression on Sam’s face.
Seeing color return to Tyler’s cheeks and hearing the lilt of her laughter was a relief. “Listen, I’ve taken up enough of your time. As I said, I’m sorry to have barged in on you like I did. Thank you for seeing me in spite of my rudeness. I have a plane to catch; time to make the quarterly report to the investors. I’ll just see myself out.”
Before Tyler could even respond, her guest was gone.
The blonde woman checked her ticket one more time. A free upgrade to first class all the way from Los Angeles to Reagan National in D.C. The day was looking up. Reaching her seat, she fumbled with the latch for the overhead bin, her diminutive stature making the task that much more difficult.
“May I help you?”
The low, seductive voice curled around her heart. Turning her head to answer, she came face-to-face with the most astonishingly perfect woman she had ever seen: a long, silky mane of black hair framed an angular face with high, chiseled cheekbones and startling blue eyes.
“Um, really, that’s not neces…”
“Please? I insist.”
My God, the woman had to be six feet tall, and flawlessly proportioned.
“Thank you, that’s very sweet.”
As the Amazon stepped into the aisle, her pelvis brushed against the blonde’s backside, sending shivers up and down her spine. Hands dropped to her hips as the tall stranger maneuvered herself past to pick up the carryon bag. Finally, as the Good Samaritan hoisted the luggage overhead, her breasts pressed against the blonde’s back.
“Okay?” The woman looked at her inquiringly.
“Um, yeah, that was great; thank you.”
They settled in their seats side by side as the plane rumbled down the runway, left the ground and climbed to cruising altitude. Shortly thereafter, the petite blonde nodded off.
She awoke temporarily when she felt a slight pressure on her right shoulder, to find the woman covering her with a blanket. Drowsily, she thanked her before surrendering once more to slumber.
She was having the most erotic dream; long, slender fingers were dancing up her left thigh, brushing closer and closer to her center. Instantly wet, she pushed forward, aching for more contact. Deft hands released the buttons on her slacks…pop…pop…pop, continuing upward to undo silk shirt clasps…swish…swish…swish. Warm palms grazed over responsive nipples, bringing them instantly to attention, thumbs and forefingers pinching lightly. She groaned, urging those delicious fingers to squeeze harder, faster; when they did, she gasped. Taking hold of one of the hands, she guided it downward, toward her throbbing clitoris, almost sighing with relief when the coolness of the fingertips slid across her heat. She was so wet, so hard, so ready. It seemed as real as if it actually were happening at that very moment.
When the scent of her own arousal filled her nostrils, the blonde’s eyes flew open. “Oh my God,” she breathed, instinctively aware that what she had thought to be a dream, wasn’t. Her glazed eyes were captured and held by the intensity of the sapphires that glinted back at her in the low lighting of the airplane cabin. Looking down, she realized she and the Amazon were covered from neck to knee by a single blanket. She opened her mouth again to speak, a question, a protest perhaps, but when those talented fingers thrust deeper, seeking to claim her completely, the sounds died on her lips, to be reborn in her throat as low, breathless moans. Desire and need overwhelmed any other considerations, and the blonde gave herself over to the sensations that turned her very being into a single, all-encompassing flame.
The petite woman’s breathing slowed and her heart resumed its normal cadence at exactly the moment when the flight attendant announced their descent into Reagan National. As she worked to straighten her clothing under the cover of the blanket, her companion smiled engagingly at her. Leaning over, the sultry siren purred, “Sorry, you looked chilly, I thought it was the least I could do to help you out.”
Clearing her throat, the blonde replied, “Thank you, I’m feeling much warmer now.”
“Happy to be of service.” The Amazon winked as she removed the blonde’s carryon from the overhead compartment, handing it to her as she made her way off the plane and down the Jetway, where she was swallowed by the crowd.
Tyler sat back, her body and mind quieted at last. It had been two hours since Samantha Carston had walked out the front door. She passed her hand over her face, biting down lightly on her knuckles. “Oh, Sam, whatever am I going to do to get you out from under my skin? I see you for the first time in years, talk to you for the first time ever, and it’s as if you’re all I’ve ever known.”
Sam reclined her seat in the first class cabin, the only area of the plane with sufficient leg room for her. From her briefcase, she pulled one of the three books she had picked up at Lambda Rising on DuPont Circle before heading out to the airport: “Lucky in Lust,” by Jasmine Wordsworth.
“Snappy title. No picture of the author, I notice. Hmm. Wordsworth, eh? Isn’t that original.”
Half an hour later she sat bolt upright in her seat, her eyes as big as saucers. Leaning forward, she read again the vignette on page 53:
When their eyes met across the crowded ballroom, it was as if all else ceased to exist. The people faded dimly into the background, and all that remained were two women, yin and yang, drawn inexorably together as if fate had decreed it.
The first woman was beyond stunning: tall, dark and dazzling in a low cut, deep navy, floor length gown and three inch matching silk heels, her blue eyes made even richer by the color of the dress. The other, her exact opposite: petite, light and pretty in a glittering emerald green gown that accented her figure and enhanced the jade hue of her eyes.
It was the dark-haired woman who moved first, crossing the room in elegant strides until she stood within touching distance of the object of her desire. Reaching out a hand to the petite blonde, she led the way onto the dance floor, sweeping her into strong arms. The two women twirled around the room as if the music existed only for them, their bodies melded together until it seemed impossible to tell where one ended and the other one began. When the song ended, the taller woman dipped her head, capturing the delectable mouth she’d been craving in a heart stopping kiss.
Separating only long enough to catch their breath, the blonde whispered reverently, “I’ve been waiting for you all my life, and now that you’re here, it’s even more than I imagined. Are you real, or a product of my dreams?”
“I am whatever you’ll allow me to be.”
“If I had courage, and believed myself deserving, I would allow you to be everything; more than that, I would give you everything.” But the ghost still stood between them, and her image could not be dispelled.
Her heart breaking, afraid that the look in her eyes would reveal the coward that she knew herself to be, the blonde fled, leaving behind her one chance at happiness and the other half of her soul.
Sam closed her eyes, envisioning Tyler as she had disappeared into the cab that carried her from the Inaugural Ball, and remembering the intensity of the spark that had passed between them moments before that.
“Tyler McMasters, perhaps it’s time for you to put that ghost to rest and come home.”
It was close to 7:30 p.m., nearly a week after her visit to Tyler’s house, and Sam was on the phone in her office trying to plug a huge hole in the morning edition. There was a knock on her door, which she studiously ignored.
“Damn it, Craig, don’t give me that line of bull. I don’t care what your source says, without a name, we’ve got nothing but conjecture.”
She had one hand sunk deep into her raven hair. Peter cautiously opened the door, his fear of her temper a palpable thing. “Mmmmsss. Carston? There’s someone here I think you’ll want to see.”
Sam ignored him. “NO, that’s not good enough, Craig! Get me something solid, something we can run with, something with attribution. Hell, this has the ear markings of an actual, honest to God exclusive if you could just manage not to screw it up!!!!!!!!”
The door opened a little wider, as Tyler gently put her hand on the assistant’s shoulder. He was shaking! She couldn’t believe it. Taking pity on him, she whispered, “It’s okay, I’ll take it from here.”
He looked at her gratefully. When the gorgeous blonde in the light brown pantsuit had walked into the chaotic newsroom heading directly for the boss’s office, all chatter had ceased and all heads had turned. Ryan Witherspoon actually had hung up mid-interview. As Tyler disappeared into Sam’s office, Ryan said, “Okay, folks, who had February 14, 2004 in the pool?”
There was a momentary silence until an older woman peeked her head up from the copy desk. “I did. Pay up!”
There was a good deal of grumbling, and someone muttered, “I’d have bet my life that she was never going to show up in person.”
“I don’t want your life, Bernie, just your five bucks.”
“Her sketch sure doesn’t do her justice, does it?”
“If we used her in our advertising, subscriptions would skyrocket!”
If Tyler heard any of this, she chose to ignore it. She stepped over the threshold into Sam’s space, closing the door gently behind her. Her boss had yet to look up.
“Craig, so help me God if you don’t come through this time I’ll bust you back to writing headlines!”
The sound of quiet laughter brought Sam’s head up. She locked eyes with Tyler, her surprise evident. Hanging up the phone, she said, “Has the world come to an end and someone forgot to tell me? Damn, we could’ve written the story, maybe had an exclusive.”
“Not to worry, I think some of your staff already has that angle covered.”
There was an awkward moment of silence as the two women regarded each other, both well aware of the strength of their feelings.
“Is...this a bad time? I know I should’ve called first, but...”
“Tyler, I always have time for you. Please, sit down. What brings you here?”
Indeed, why was she here? Surely she could have e-mailed. “I never gave you your answer before you left my house.” Gauging the expression on Sam’s face she hurried on, “I mean, about the two extra columns a week.”
“Oh, right. Have you made a decision?”
“I have. I think you’re right: I have more than enough material to write about, and it likely would attract more readers in our prime demographic to the late week editions, which is something I gather we need.”
Dark eyebrows hiked into an equally dark hairline. “Excellent analysis, Tyler. Yes, that was one of the main reasons I suggested the change. But you haven’t said you’d do it, yet.”
“Make me an offer.”
Sam felt the heat settle directly between her legs, then mentally slapped herself. “$2,000 per week, and a private office if you want one.”
“Done, but you can keep the office.” She smiled.
“I figured; just thought I’d throw it in.”
Sam looked expectantly at Tyler as the silence lengthened, sensing that there was more, and that it wasn’t easy for this very private woman.
“Um, I wanted to apologize for my behavior the other day. I’m sure you must be wondering what kind of nutcase I am.”
Sam held up a hand. Her voice a soft caress, she said, “Tyler, you don’t owe me any explanations. I had no business asking you what I did, and I can assure you that it won’t happen again. I certainly didn’t mean to hurt you, or cause you pain. I’m the one who should be sorry.”
Tyler sighed. “I’m glad you asked, believe it or not. It made me think.” She paused, suddenly aware of her surroundings. “Can we take a walk somewhere?”
“Absolutely.” Sam stood, gathering her suit jacket. Automatically, she reached for her briefcase, then thought better of it and left it sitting on the floor.
As the two women strode through the newsroom, not a sound could be heard, not even the rhythmic clicking of keyboards.
Once outside, Sam turned to her companion. “Where to?”
“This way.” Tyler began walking.
For a time, they were both quiet, content just to be in each other’s company. It was an unusually warm night for a February in Washington, and the stars twinkled brightly overhead.
“What a beautiful night.”
“Yes it is,” Sam replied, looking directly into her companion’s eyes.
Tyler couldn’t believe how nervous she was. “I want you to know that you haven’t done anything to merit the way I’ve treated you. In fact, quite the opposite; you’ve been amazingly tolerant of my eccentricities, giving me far more leeway than I deserve.”
“Tyler, you have incredible talent, and I’ve always found that the most gifted individuals generally have their own sense of style.”
Tyler laughed. “That’s certainly a very diplomatic way to put it.”
“You have a beautiful laugh. You ought to do it more often.”
To cover her blush, Tyler said, “Now you sound like Trista; you know, the redheaded Viking who let you in the other day.”
Sam chuckled at the description.
“She’s been my best friend since I was old enough to feed myself, and I love her to death...”
“But I’m awfully tired of hearing her tell me that I’m wasting my life holding on to the past.” Tyler stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and affected a broad stance. Clearing her throat she imitated, “Mickey...” She paused, pointing an accusatory finger at Sam, “Don’t you dare.”
“Me?” Wide-eyed innocence. “I wouldn’t dream of it...Mickey?” she mouthed silently.
“Okay, then. Ahem...Mickey, you’re too young and too beautiful to sit here cooped up honoring a memory. You can’t be afraid to embrace what the future has in store for you; you’ve got to stop running from your life.” She stood up straighter, suddenly self-conscious. “There’s more, but...”
“I get the basic idea.”
They had arrived at the Lincoln Memorial, the symbol of emancipation and freedom luminescent, backlit as it was against the clear night sky. For long seconds, they simply stood there, lost in the vastness of the edifice.
Finally, Sam turned to face her companion. Softly she asked, “Tyler, what does that have to do with me?”
Initially it didn’t appear that she was going to get an answer, as Tyler stared past her, unseeing.
“I loved Mandy, I really did.” The tears that glistened on her lashes spilled over and down her cheeks.
Without thought or hesitation, Sam drew the smaller woman into her arms, rubbing circles on her back while bringing Tyler’s head to rest underneath her chin. “I know you did. Mandy knows that, too.”
Still crying, Tyler leaned back slightly in the circle of her companion’s arms, seeking those iridescent blue eyes, needing the strength and compassion she knew she’d find there. She took a deep breath.
“But I’ve always known, even before Mandy, that you were destined to be the one great love of my life, the one person I would follow into eternity and beyond. For years now I’ve carried the guilt of knowing that even though I loved her, Mandy could never be to me what you were, and Mandy knew that, too.” Tyler hung her head.
“I was ashamed of that, and I’ve let it govern my very existence...until now. When you showed up the other day, looking perfect and irresistible, and I drove you away, I realized that Trista was right: I’ve been a fool.”
Tyler felt Sam stiffen, and gave her a squeeze. “I’ve thrown away every opportunity to know happiness because I believed I didn’t deserve it; that I’d somehow cheated Mandy of the kind of love she wanted and should have had with me.”
“Judging from the picture on your desk, the way I saw you embrace at your graduation, the few glimpses I’ve seen of the kind of person you are, and Jasmine’s writing...” Sam could feel the shockwaves the last comment precipitated radiate off her companion, “I’d have to say Mandy was a very lucky woman, and if she was as smart as I’m guessing she was, then she knew that.”
“How did you...” Tyler’s words were cut off when Sam reached down, grasped her chin lightly, and kissed her with a passion she’d never known.
“Tyler McMasters, I knew from the very first moment I saw you in the audience at your graduation that I’d lost my heart, and nothing, not the years, not my career, not your avoidance of me--none of that has made any difference.” She paused, gazing intently into her companion’s eyes. I love you, Tyler, with all my heart. Will you accept that from me, my heart and my love?”
“Yes. Yes, Sam, oh yes.” This time it was Tyler who reached up, pulling the taller woman into a searing embrace.
When finally they broke apart, chests heaving and bodies singing with desire, Sam asked, “How would Jasmine write the next scene, Tyler?”
Tyler laughed. “Jasmine is on her own. Tonight, you’re mine.”
As they made love long into the night, Sam leaned over and whispered, “Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.”
“Every day I spend with you will be Valentine’s Day, sweetheart.”