The Near Occasion of Sin
Susan X Meagher
The little ball of white fur leapt so high in the air that he did a complete somersault before landing on his tiny paws. Rachel and Sarah regarded him with pure joy. "I'm sorry it took so long to convince me," Sarah said. "We should have had a dog from the very start."
Rachel put an arm around Sarah and hugged her tightly. "We've got one now, and that's what's important. I just wish you could go with us to the dog park. I think Toby would feel safer if both of his mothers were with him."
Sarah pulled away and regarded her partner skeptically. "I can't tell if you're being serious. Are you?"
There was always going to be a chasm of difference in the way they regarded Toby. Sarah was very happy they had him, but she was never going to put him in the same category that Rachel did. It was hard to convey to her how much the little dog meant to Rachel, but over time Sarah would come to love him more than she already did. It was inevitable. "Yes, honey, I am being serious. I want him to know that we're both there for him when situations might frighten him. Going to a big park full of dozens of dogs has to be a little intimidating for a guy his size. How would you like it if everybody at work was 12 feet tall?"
Sarah gave her an indulgent smile and pulled her close for a kiss. "I don't think it's exactly the same, but I take your point. And I think Toby is smart enough to find either of us if he needs backup. Give me a call when you're at the park and I'll make sure to answer."
"I'm calling your cell phone, so make sure you turn it on."
"I promise I will."
They kissed again, then Sarah turned and walked out the front door. Rachel looked down at Toby's questioning brown eyes and said, "She said goodbye to you, buddy. She just said it silently."
The dog park was huge even to Rachel's eyes. She could hardly imagine how it looked to Toby. But the second they got out of the car he was straining on his little leash, pulling with all of his seven pounds to get into the enclosure. The park was big enough that the city had thoughtfully separated it into two parts; one for large dogs and one exclusively for small. There was no doubt they would head for the small.
Rachel was more nervous than she would have admitted. Toby was just four months old and hadn't spent much time around large groups of dogs. They had to go through double gates to make sure that no dogs escaped, and Toby was beside himself with excitement as they went through the simple system.
Rachel had read a lot of books about how to safely indoctrinate a puppy into a group, and as soon as they got inside she took off his lead and let him explore for himself. There were around a dozen dogs on this sunny afternoon and every one of them took off for Toby as soon as they saw him.
Rachel laughed nervously when Toby hurled himself onto his back and let all of the other dogs sniff him in every inappropriate way imaginable. But after a few seconds he got to his feet and started sniffing back, making Rachel secretly proud. One older dog didn't appreciate the intrusion and snapped at him harshly. Rachel fought her urge to pick him up and protect him. All of the books said it was best to let the dog figure things out for himself, and she was determined to follow the experts' advice.
Toby wouldn't let the older dog alone, and every time he got near she growled and snapped at him. His owner approached, scowling at Rachel. "Your dog is annoying mine."
Certain that she had misheard, Rachel said, "My dog is annoying yours ? Mine is only four months old and could fit into my pocket. He's just saying hello to your dog who's snapping at him."
"My dog doesn't like other dogs to sniff at her. If yours can't behave you should put him on a leash."
Rachel stood there for a second, trying to decide whether to leave or put Toby on his leash. The irascible owner walked away, joining a clique of other dog owners who were all sitting on lawn chairs and looked like they'd been there for several decades. Another woman came up, offered a friendly smile and said, "I see the welcoming committee got here before I did."
Her dark eyes were filled with good humor and Rachel felt she could be frank. "What in the heck was that? She said my little puppy was annoying her dog."
"That's Lynne. She thinks she runs the dog park and everything else, for that matter. She's complained about everything from the kind of grass we use to the size of the parking spaces. I'd stay away from her and her evil little dog if I were you."
Rachel took a moment to assess her companion. She wore a bulky khaki jacket that said "St. Louis County Park System" over the breast. "Do you work here?"
The woman extended her hand. "Yeah. I'm Samantha Ford. I'm a Ranger for all of the county dog parks, but I spend a lot of my time here because this where we've had the most problems and it's our biggest park."
"I'm Rachel Barclay, and if you couldn't tell, I'm a new dog owner. That's Toby," she said, pointing at the little white fluff ball who was running around the park like a greyhound.
"Toby is adorable! Is he a Westie?"
"I'm not sure. We got him from the shelter, and they're guessing he's Westie and poodle or something else small and white.” She paused, “What problems have you been having? I don't want my little man getting hurt."
"To be honest, if I were you, I'd stay out of the small dog park. The bigger dogs are more laid back for the most part. Sometimes we get gang members coming in with Rottweilers and pit bulls, but, other than that, the big park is more chill. My guy, Bailey, is over there right now." She pointed at a very cute little black dog that was dashing around saying hello to everyone. "Why don't you get Toby and we'll head over there?"
"Are you sure? This is the first day the vet said he was sure his inoculations would protect him."
Samantha laughed, "What do you think bigger dogs have that little dogs don't? Toby will be fine. I'm familiar with just about every dog here today, and they're all friendly." She rolled her eyes in the direction of the grouchy woman who had spoken up earlier. "Except for Jezebel. She's a real bitch, in every sense of the word."
Samantha was 100% correct. Most of the bigger dogs didn't even bother with Toby, and the ones who did seemed as interested in Rachel as in the little dog. She and Samantha walked slowly around the three acre enclosure, saying hello to dogs and owners. It was a great way to learn who was friendly and who was less so, and also a great way to spend time checking Samantha out. At first, the newness of the whole experience had blinded Rachel to Samantha's beauty. But now that she had time she could hardly keep her eyes to herself. Samantha was a knockout. The fact that she might have still been in high school was something that Rachel tried to ignore. But hormones were hormones and hers told her brain that she should somehow figure out a way to procreate with this gorgeous creature.
Rachel had spent a lot of time thinking about how lesbian attraction worked. Since lesbians didn't tend to use each other's DNA it didn't make much sense to immediately go for the youngest, most physically attractive specimens. But it didn't seem that the lesbian libido knew that the sex lesbians had was purely for pleasure. Hopefully lesbians wouldn't evolve to the point where libidos were indifferent to the sex drive. That would take a lot of the fun out of the whole experience.
Sarah knew that Rachel took a very avid interest in looking at other women and it didn't seem to bother Sarah in the least. They'd been together 17 years, through thick and thin, and their stable home life was all the evidence Sarah seem to need to know that Rachel was hers alone. She'd never seemed as interested in looking at other women, but then Sarah was more mature in many ways, in Rachel's opinion. Nonetheless, Rachel was thinking about how she would describe Samantha when she got home later that night. Sarah always got a kick out of the huge amount of detail that Rachel could pull out of her memory bank to describe her latest crush.
She wasn't sure how she would describe Samantha. It wasn't just her looks, which were fantastic. There was something naughty about Samantha that increased her attractiveness tenfold, and that was hard to describe. There was just something in the way her eyes twinkled that said she'd be up for a very good time. Yes, that was hard to describe well, but awfully fun to experience.
Rachel was almost home when her phone rang and she saw Sarah's picture on the device. Embarrassed, she hit the microphone button and immediately said, "I screwed up, babe. I met a cute girl at the dog park and I forgot to call you."
Sarah's understanding laugh sounded through the phone. "I thought you were going there for Toby's sake."
"I wasn't looking for girls, really! But a cute young kid works at the dog park and she came over and talked to me after somebody gave me a hard time about Toby."
"Is that person still alive?" Sarah's fiendish laugh filled the car. "I can't imagine anyone getting away with insulting our little prince."
Rachel pulled up in their driveway and Toby started dancing around, jumping between the seat and the floor, anxious to get out and inside the house. "We're home now baby. I stayed at the park longer than I should have, so I've got hours of work left. Do you want me to fix anything for you for dinner?"
"No thanks. I'm already starving, so I'll pick up something on my way. How about you? Can I get something for you?"
"Nope, I'm all set. Hurry home. We'll tell you all about our first day at the park."
"I'll be home by five at the latest. See you soon."
Rachel hooked Toby's leash on and said, "we've got a load of work to get done, buddy. Put on your thinking cap."
The rest of the week was typical for March, cold, blustery winds, a little bit of sleet mixed in and generally not fit for man nor beast. It still got dark fairly early so Rachel took Toby out for a long walk before Sarah got home each night. Everyone was wishing for spring to finally arrive, and on the following Monday it seemed like it might. Rachel finished up a conference call and switched her phone to forward to her cell. It was still cold enough to need a fleece shirt and jacket, but it wasn't raining, and she didn't need gloves, which was a big improvement. As soon as she jingled Toby's leash he started leaping around the house. Once doing a complete somersault, which made her laugh like a maniac. They got in the car and drove to the park and she was, not so secretly, pleased to see Samantha and her little dog Destiny walking around the big dog park.
Trying not to look too obvious, she and Toby didn't make an immediate beeline for them. As though Destiny had remembered them, she came dashing across several acres to greet them both enthusiastically before running back to Samantha to tell her who had just arrived. By the time Rachel got over to them she was still smiling. "I feel like we've been greeted by the official welcoming committee. It's good to see you both again." Assuming that Samantha met dozens of people, she reminded her, "Rachel and Toby."
Samantha smiled, showing movie star perfect teeth. "I remember both of your names. How are you guys doing? I haven't seen you at the park lately."
"We've been good. I hate to bring Toby to the park when it's been raining a lot, since I hate to wash more than I need to. If I just take him for a walk in the neighborhood I only have to dry him off."
"You should've done what I did and gotten a black dog," she said, snickering. "I've had white ones in the past. I learned my lesson the hard way."
Knowing that she probably looked like an idiot, Rachel gazed down at Toby with undisguised fondness. "I wouldn't care if I had to take him to the hairdressers every day. I'm crazy about him."
Samantha started off in the direction of a dog who had just come into the park and was being greeted aggressively by some of the other dogs. "Come with me," she said. "I want to know more about you."
Grinning dumbly, Rachel followed right behind her, just like a faithful pet. The new dog and his owner handled the aggressive greeting just fine and told Sam they didn't need any help. So she and Rachel continued to walk around the park, following their dogs who seemed to be becoming good friends. "So, what do you do?" Samantha asked. "How are you free at this time of day?"
"I work for a big textbook publishing company. My office is about a half hour from here, but they encourage us to work from home. So I can set my own hours as long as I'm available for meetings and conference calls." She grinned. "It's a pretty sweet job. How about you? Is being a Park Ranger a full-time job?"
"It would be, but I'm not a real park ranger. They needed one person to go around and keep an eye on things. I only get paid for twenty hours a week, but that 's just enough to give me a little money while I'm in school."
Please let it be college. "Where do you go?"
"That's cool. I should have gone to a community college. I would've saved thousands in college loans."
"Its a two year school but I've been there three years...full time." She grinned, her peppy enthusiasm making her admission seem charming. "If I can pay attention and get my GPA up a little bit I'd like to transfer to SEMO. How about you? Where did you go to college?"
"I graduated from Mizzou about 100 years ago."
Samantha laughed, showing those gorgeous teeth again, not to mention the adorable way her eyes crinkled with her smile. "Yeah, right. Are you married or anything?"
Technically, no, they weren't married. You couldn't legally be married in Missouri. But after seventeen years they were definitely "or anything." But, there was something that stopped Rachel from explaining the truth. Normally she was careful about coming out to people. You never knew when someone would give you a hard time. Instead, she answered the half of the question that was clear. "No, I've never been married. I don't have kids either. Except for Toby."
"I'm single too. I broke up with my boyfriend right after Valentine's Day. He was such a jerk," she said, her dark eyes turning fiery. "He completely blew off Valentine's Day and then acted like I was too demanding when I gave him a hard time about it. I think he just wanted me to break up with him so he didn't have to bother."
It was hard to imagine finding someone more attractive than Samantha, but maybe she was secretly a psychotic nag. She sure didn't look it, though. "His loss. Maybe you'll find a better class of guy at SEMO."
"If I ever get there," Samantha said dramatically. "I've never been great in school. But I don't have anything else in mind, so I might as well stay as long as my parents will pay."
"I was kind of like that when I was in school. It wasn't until I was a junior that I figured out I had an aptitude in IT. So I changed majors and did a lot better. What will you major in?"
"Probably exercise science. I could make a decent living as a trainer if I get the right certifications."
Hard to imagine who wouldn't want to see Samantha in tights. She could make a decent living just walking around a gym and charging people to look at her. "You'll do fine as long as you really like what you do."
"Tell my parents that, will you? I got a 25-year-old brother who's still living at home and a younger sister who's having trouble getting out of high school. My parents are about ready to move and not tell us where they're going."
Sarah probably wouldn't think it was a good idea to take in a border, right? "You'll figure out what you like to do and your parents will be incredibly proud of you."
"My mom said she just wanted me to get out of high school without a baby, so I'm already a success." She flashed that smile again, looking so young and fresh and playful that Rachel wanted to fall to her feet and beg to follow her home. But that definitely wouldn't go over well with Sarah. She was absolutely sure of that.
Rachel was hard at work, totally involved in a deadline that she couldn't put off for another day. But when Sarah came home she forced herself to stop and act interested. In fact, she generally was interested in Sarah and in what she had to say. But when deadlines were hanging over her head it was much harder to be engaged. So she made herself get up from her computer and go into the kitchen, jumping up to sit on the counter while she watched Sarah dish out her dinner.
"What have you got there?"
"Nothing very good. I went to that place that has all of the prepared foods but the only thing that looked good to me was macaroni and cheese and spinach salad. What did you have?"
"I made myself some stir-fried chicken and vegetables. I'd be happy to make extra for you next time."
"No, not if you're going to put chicken in it."
Rachel didn't comment. Sarah had been a vegetarian since high school and she'd gotten more inflexible with her diet as the years had gone on. But from Rachel's perspective Sarah's diet wasn't very healthy. Nonetheless, discussions about diet were never helpful for either party. It was a lot easier to have a happy relationship if you kept many of your opinions to yourself. "What if I made stir-fried vegetables, put aside a portion for you, then finished mine by adding chicken?"
Sarah turned from putting her macaroni on a plate before she microwaved it and looked at Rachel for just a few seconds. "That's really thoughtful of you. But you'll probably change your mind when you stop and think about how few vegetables we both like. The sentiment's the important thing though." She walked over and put her arms around Rachel and burrowed her face against her breasts. "You're at the perfect level. Tell me about your day."
"Nothing too exciting. I've got that deadline that's hanging over me like an anvil, but I still managed to take Toby to the park for a couple of hours."
Sarah pulled away and as she turned Rachel could see one eyebrow lift in question. "A couple of hours? How can you manage that?"
"I can't, but you know how easy I am to distract. Samantha was there and she introduced Toby and me to a bunch of new people. We all started talking and before I knew it it was dusk. I'll probably be up all night."
"I'm sorry, sweetheart, but you needed a break. It was good for you to get outside for a couple of hours. So did you meet anybody nice?" She put her food in the microwave, turned it on, then leaned against the opposite counter.
"Kind of. People mostly just talk about dogs, but I met another woman who's in IT and works from home so she can avoid having to pay a babysitter for her five-year-old."
Sarah gave her a look that was a little hard to discern. She looked questioning, but when she finally asked her question it sounded very spur of the moment. "Do you talk about your personal life with your new dog friends?"
"Sure. Well, not very much, but Lindsay, the one who's in IT, and I talked about a few things."
The microwave beeped and Sarah moved to it. As she took out her dish she asked, "Have you come out to anyone?"
Oh-oh. She's not asking about anyone, she's asking about Samantha . Her laugh sounded nervous even to herself. "You know, I haven't. I'm not sure why, I guess it just hasn't come up."
As was her usual habit, Sarah stood by the sink to eat her dinner. Just before she put a bite of spinach into her mouth she said, "Do you know the relationship status of the other people you met?"
Suddenly the back of her head itched very badly and Rachel had to give it a rough scratch. "I guess I do. I've got to get better about coming out, but I just don't like to deal with it."
"You don't have to, honey. I was just wondering." She took a bite of her mac & cheese, blowing on it to cool it. But as she did she gave Rachel a look that seemed like an assessment. Not a very good one, either.
As soon as Sarah was finished with dinner she went into their bedroom and put on her pajamas. Rachel wasn't sure where Sarah got the humongous plaid flannel sleepwear that she wore every chance she could, but she hoped they didn't have any more of them. She liked for Sarah to be comfortable, but these were as unflattering as clothing could get. Unaware that she was being judged, Sarah went into their den to watch TV. Toby, the little traitor, followed along right behind her and jumped up next to her on the sofa leaving Rachel to work alone at her desk.
She knew it was immature, but she was a little perturbed at Toby.
The next day at the park she and Samantha walked around the perimeter nodding and chatting to everyone they encountered. They didn't encounter many people since it was drizzly and cold, but Toby and Destiny had become very fond of one another and they chased and tackled each other with abandon, neither one noticing the weather was as gray and gloomy as it had been in February.
It was the kind of day that made a woman's nose run and Rachel had to keep reaching for tissues. Her knit gloves kept sticking to the tissue so she had to keep removing them before blowing her nose. Samantha pointed at her hand and said, "That looks like a wedding ring. Is it?"
It certainly made it easier to come out when you don't have any option. "It's more of a commitment ring, since I'm not allowed to get married in Missouri."
Samantha gave her an absolutely blank look that lasted several seconds. Rachel was afraid she was going to scream and run away but then it dawned on her that Samantha had no idea what she was talking about. Samantha was clearly a ten in terms of looks and personality but it had become obvious her mental powers were nowhere near her physical. "Why not?"
It was impossible not to laugh, but she didn't want to offend. So Rachel tried to disguise her laugh by clearing her throat. "I'm in a relationship with another woman, and gay people can't get married here."
Samantha blinked a few times. "Sure they can." Another pause. "They can't? I mean, you can't? Why not?"
"Uhm, some people don't think gay people should be able to live, much less marry. Are you really surprised by this?"
"Well, yeah. Why would anybody care?"
"You don't know anybody who dislikes gay people?"
The look of innocence on her face was truly precious. "No. Why would it matter?"
For the first time, Rachel put a hand on the young woman, squeezing her muscular feeling shoulder. "Boy, I hope everybody your age feels the same way. Things would be a hell of a lot easier for people like me and Sarah."
Rachel might have trouble getting that GPA up, but there was definitely something to be said for the innocence of youth.
Later that evening Sarah stood in front of the sink laughing while Rachel told her about her conversation with Samantha. "She really said that?"
"Yep," Rachel nodded. "She didn't know anybody who had a bad thing to say about lesbians, and she could not understand why it was anyone's business."
"That sounds adorable. She seems like a nice kid, Rach. I'm glad you've got somebody to pal around with."
"You should come by. When it gets a little warmer and daylight saving time starts I could go later in the day."
Sarah put her dish in the dishwasher and walked past Rachel on her way to the bedroom. "We'll see, honey."
Rachel watched her walk away. If she specifically asked her to, Sarah would come with her, but if she didn't make a point of it it would never happen. Sarah wasn't lazy by any means but once she was finished with work for the day she wanted to put her feet up and watch TV. There was nothing wrong with that, but Rachel couldn't help feeling a little lonely. She'd thought that getting a dog would give them something to do together, but the fact that it took 17 years of begging should have clued her in that Sarah was going to be a reluctant participant in the social aspects of dog ownership.
Bad weather once again made Toby and Rachel stay close to home for a few days. She found she really missed the camaraderie, and Toby seemed a little bored on their walks. On Friday it finally cleared enough to make the trip to the park. Destiny was playing with another dog, but she stopped immediately when Toby entered the enclosure and they ran full tilt at each other and then jumped up on their back legs, almost chest butting each other. Samantha and Rachel approached from their separate directions, both of them laughing. "Destiny has been asking me where you two have been," Samantha said.
"We're both very delicate. We don't like to get muddy." Destiny went running off to play with the dog she had been engaged with and Toby followed along, trying to join in. "In only a couple of days Destiny has a new buddy?"
"Oh, that's Brandy. They've been buddies forever. Brandy's mom has her shift change all of the time so she doesn't get to come as often as she wants to. So, how are you? How's Sarah?" She grinned, charmingly. "I remembered her name."
"Good job. Sarah's good. She's working on a big project that's been taking up way too much of her time, but it should be over in a couple of months and we can see a little more of each other."
Looking genuinely interested, Samantha said, "Just a little?"
How much to reveal to a stranger? Was Samantha a stranger? She didn't feel like it. "Yeah, probably just a little. We're an old married couple, you know. When you've been together a long time you each get into your own things."
"You aren't married. You can't do that in Missouri." Samantha looked very pleased with herself.
"We're married in our hearts. That's the important thing."
"That's kinda cute. What things get to be separate for you old people?"
Ignoring the tease, Rachel said, "Like... Sarah likes to watch TV, and I'm not very fond of it. Well, that's not exactly true. I like TV, but I don't like reality shows. She likes reality shows, but she doesn't like the science channel which is the only one I really like. Oh, I like the history channel too."
Giggling, Samantha said, "That sounds like my dad."
"Hey! I'm not like a guy just because I'm a lesbian."
Sarah gave her a look that almost seemed flirty. But her personality was so exuberant and she seemed so sincerely excited about almost everything that was hard to tell if she was in fact flirting. "I'm only 21, but I'm not a kid. I've met a lot of gay people, so I know what they're like." Her big grin was back. "And you seem like my dad."
They all stayed until it was dark. Samantha and Rachel were the last ones to go to their cars. Both Toby and Destiny stood in their respective backseats, little paws on the window trying to get out. Rachel waved and closed her door, but Samantha signaled to her to lower the window. She called across the parking lot, "Tell Sarah not to leave you alone so much. Gay or straight you've got to keep an eye on a woman as pretty as you are."
She would never admit it to anyone, but just those words felt like someone had hit her in the spine with an electric charge. It felt fantastic and rare, very, very rare.
It was finally warm enough to not only go to the park without a coat, but to be able to bring a lawn chair. After walking around for an hour or so she and Samantha would sit down and chat. In reality, Rachel was spending far too much time at the dog park, but since she had started working at home she found that she missed her coworkers. Not enough to actually go to the office of course, so it was nice to have someone to talk to in the way that you talk to coworkers. Samantha wasn't yet as close as any of Rachel and Sarah's dear friends, but she was very easy to talk to and seemed truly interested in not only Rachel but just about everyone else at the park. She knew who was having a tough time, who was currently out of work, which dogs were having health problems and which dogs and owners to avoid.
They were talking one afternoon in late April when Samantha said, "Do you think it's too late for me to start playing around with other women?"
Trying not to fall off her chair, Rachel spent a moment composing her expression. "Too late? How could be too late? You're practically a newborn."
As she often did when teased, Samantha reached over and grabbed a hank of Rachel's hair and tugged on it firmly. "I am not! But by the time I get to a real college I'll be too old to live in a dorm. I think that's where girls hook up."
"That wasn't true for me, but even if that's common there are plenty of other places. Don't they have a gay and lesbian group at Forest Park?"
Samantha looked as though her eyes would pop out. "I'm not gay!" She laughed so hard she seemed poised to tumble to the ground.
"Why is thinking you might be gay the funniest thing you've ever heard?" It was hard to keep the annoyance out of her voice.
"Oh, don't be mad." Samantha reached for Rachel's hand and held it for just a few seconds. "I was just thinking about how much I like... well, I'm definitely not a lesbian. But I like girls, and this is the time to play around, right? As you keep reminding me I'm really, really young."
"Yeah, yeah, you are young. And if you want to experiment with other women you should go for it."
Samantha rolled her eyes. "I'm sure my parents would appreciate that. I don't have any privacy you know. I share a room with my sister, and I have to call my mom if I'm going to be out past two." In a unusually sarcastic voice she mimicked, "It's my house and my rules."
"You can go to a bar and meet a woman and be home before two. You can even do that legally now that you're twenty-one. And I bet a lot of the people in the gay and lesbian group at Forest Park aren't full on lesbians. Why don't you check it out?"
"I did check it out, and the people who were at the meeting I was going to go to were about as full on lesbians as you can be." She made a face. "They weren't for me. I actually thought you might know somebody you could introduce me to."
It was hard to disguise being so completely tongue-tied, but Rachel tried to look as though she were just considering names. "No, I can't really think of anyone. Everybody I know is either in a relationship or too crazy to recommend." She made a dismissive gesture. "Besides, my friends are close to my age."
"That's the other reason I didn't like the group at Forest Park," Samantha said, her eyes taking on that intensity that made Rachel uncomfortable every time she saw it. "I've always liked people older than I am. When I was seventeen I was dating a 30-year-old guy."
Rachel gawped. "Thirty? My mom would've killed me!"
"Mine wanted to," she said, eyes dancing merrily, "but he was actually a pretty good influence. He was a teacher, so he was always on me about getting my homework done."
"A teacher? A teacher should have known better." Rachel hated to hear how adult and judgmental she sounded.
"He wasn't teaching at my high school anymore." That grin returned. "I think he transferred just so we could get together."
Rachel sat there for a moment trying to take in all of this information. Even if she'd had single friends she didn't think they'd be mature enough to keep up with Samantha.
Rachel and Sarah went to a Cardinals game with their friends Bob and Cliff that night. Even though they had hours together, including a half-hour trip each way in their car, Rachel found herself not mentioning what Samantha had told her, even though Sarah had asked if anything interesting had happened at the dog park. She wasn't sure why she didn't mention it, other than it was private. If Sarah wanted to come to the park and get to be friends with Samantha then she could learn all about her on her own. Other than that, it seemed wrong to disclose Samantha's inner desires-even to Sarah.
On a lovely Saturday in early May, Sarah and Rachel spent the better part of the day planting annual flowers around their house. Toby was content to just be with them, but his only exercise was running to the end of his lead whenever a car or a person came down the street.
Around four they went inside to clean up for the day. They were both dirty and their nails were caked with soil. As Rachel bent over to take off her boots Sarah gave her a hard slap on the butt, making her jump up and protect herself with her hands. "Ouch!"
"Oh, did I hurt you?" They were standing right against the back door and Sarah pressed into her. "I can kiss it and make it better."
Sarah didn't make the first move very often, and she almost never did it in the afternoon. Weekend mornings were their time, and she hadn't shown any interest that morning, so she must just have been playing around. "Yeah, I'll hold you to that." Rachel kissed her on the forehead and finished getting her boots off. "I'll gonna put my sneaks on and go to the park. Why don't I stop and get us a veggie pizza on the way home?"
When she stood up she saw the quickest flash of something...irritation, or was it disappointment? Then it vanished. "Sure. Pizza would be good."
It was getting late when she and Toby reached the park and only the stalwarts were still there. The gate was supposed to be locked at dusk, but since Samantha had a key everyone knew the chain wouldn't be attached until she left.
Rachel and Toby rushed over to their friends, with Rachel waving in the gloaming. "Hi," she said, when they arrived. "We were working outside all day and Toby and I barely got here."
Curiously, Samantha said, "Why doesn't Sarah ever come? Did you make her up?"
"No, she's real." They started to walk while she considered what to say. "She loves Toby, but she's not much for small talk. I don't think she'd be interested in walking around and talking to people, and she thinks Toby can get his exercise from a long walk."
"Does she take him for a walk?"
Embarrassed, Rachel shook her head. "No, not often. We've been on a few together but she didn't want to get a dog and I had to promise to get him his exercise, which I'm totally fine with."
"Hmm. I always wonder what makes people be in relationships. Just seeing people when it's fun seems better."
"Well, it is," Rachel said, laughing, "if all you want is sex and good times."
Turning, Samantha shot her a look that pierced the dusk. "Relationships aren't about sex?"
"No, no, of course they are..." Now she'd done it. How to get out of this one? "But when you're first together you have sex a lot more often and it's...I don't know...kinda dangerous." She shook her head, annoyed at her inability to articulate her point. "Not dangerous, but each time is unique since you don't know each other well. Know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I do. That's the point. Once you know everything about the other person it gets boring. That's why I'm not ever going to get married or anything like that. I like the thrill of sex with new people."
They walked quietly and Rachel found herself fantasizing about Samantha going at it like gangbusters. "Don't you miss it?" Samantha finally asked. Her tone wasn't just curious. There was a note of sorrow in it.
Feeling a lump in her throat that the darkness helped hide, Rachel said, "Yeah, of course I do. But you can't have everything in life. It's no fun to be alone for months or years just because you can't find a new person to have sex with either."
"But..." Sam paused, then continued in a rush. "Isn't that a pretty shitty reason to be in a relationship? Just because you might be lonely? I'd be lonely if I was with someone who didn't like the same stuff I did."
That was about as blatant as a person could be. How dare she! "Look, Samantha, relationships are complex, just like people are. You can never tell what goes on inside one unless you're in it."
"Yes, you can," she said, sounding angry. "My mom and dad didn't have anything in common. Before they got divorced they were barely speaking to each other, and not because they were angry. They were bored," she insisted, saying the last word like a curse. "I'm never going to let that happen to me."
"You don't have to. But you also don't have to live alone and hope to meet someone at a bar."
Samantha's usually sunny smile showed again. "I don't have much trouble meeting people. The world is full of guys who are dying to hook up."
Good luck with that . Things that work to perfection when you're young and pretty eventually fall flat. Not many single mature women go home happy from a bar.
On the way home, Rachel stopped at a farmer's market where she could carry Toby and not be called out by the owners. They arrived home with a bag full of vegetables and hopes for a fun night, but her smile dimmed when Sarah said looked at her expectantly and said, "Uhm...where's the pizza?"
"Oh! I thought it would be fun to cook together. I got every kind of vegetable, the ones you like and the ones I like. We can make a stir fry or a risotto or something easy."
"But Rach, you promised me pizza. I've got my mouth all ready for it." She looked at her watch. "By the time we get this all prepped I'll be starving."
With her shoulders slumping, Rachel pulled out her phone and dialed their favorite local pizza place. "Hi," she said when the line was answered, "Delivery for Barclay. Large veggie with extra cheese."
Sarah had just gone to bed, and Rachel was trying to make herself pay attention to the spreadsheets she was creating. Toby was sleeping with his head resting on her foot, and they both started when her phone chirped. "Hello?"
"Hi, it's Samantha. Am I bugging you?"
"No, you're not bugging me. What's up?"
"Is Sarah up? I don't want her to hate me before we even meet."
Chuckling, Rachel said, "She's in bed, but even if she weren't she wouldn't hate you. She doesn't mind if I talk on the phone when she's up."
"I wouldn't like that if you were my girlfriend. That's why I waited until I thought she'd be asleep." Her laugh sounded just a little flirty. "Of course, if you were my girlfriend I'd drag you to bed with me."
Images of being dragged to bed by Samantha flooded her mind, and it took a moment for her to realize she was supposed to talk. "Uhm, we used to go to bed at the same time, but since I started working from home I've been staying up later and later. I'm really a night owl."
"And Sarah's not?"
"No, she never has been. We used to drive to work together and every morning she'd try to get me up earlier than I wanted. She used to bring me coffee and lure me into the bathroom by putting the cup right under my nose." Those were darned good times. It seemed like they used to laugh more back then. Had it only been a year or two?
"You'll think I'm crazy but I wanted to talk you into going out with me tonight."
" Tonight? "
"Yeah, granny. It's only ten. Come out with me. My friend Brianna was supposed to go, but she got a better offer."
Samantha was standing on the other side of a very big line. Crossing it would definitely have repercussions. But...just helping out a friend didn't have to be such a big deal, did it? "Uhm..."
"Come on. My mom's driving me crazy tonight. I've gotta get out of here and I hate to go out alone."
She had no idea what made her make the offer, but Rachel heard herself say, "Come over here. We can have a drink and hang out for a while." She sat there feeling her skin tingle, hoping for and dreading Samantha's response.
"Nah. I want to go to a bar or a club. I guarantee you'll have a good time if you go with me. Please? "
"I don't think I can. I've still got some work to finish up anyway."
"How would you have done it if I'd come over to your house?"
Damn good question! "I guess I didn't think it through." She laughed nervously. "Just goes to show how much I'm looking for an excuse to stop working."
"I gave you a good one," she said, almost singing.
"Yeah, and I appreciate it, but I can't."
"Okay. No biggie. Will I see you tomorrow?"
"Yeah, if it doesn't rain we'll be at the park as usual."
Rachel clicked off, wondering what had just happened. It was impossible to tell if Samantha was asking her out or if she really just wanted company. And when had she started calling her Rach? It sounded odd, but also kinda cool. She sat there for the longest time, letting the conversation loop around in her head, trying to get her feet back on firm ground.
A few days later they sat in their lawn chairs watching their own and everyone else's dog play. "Hey, I'm taking a class where they talk about different life cycles and stuff like that."
"What class is that?" Rachel asked, looking puzzled.
"Some sociology thing. Anyway, they said that women hit their peak sex drive when they're in their late thirties or forties. Is that true? I mean, you're around that age, right?" For the first time she actually looked a little skittish to ask such a pointed question.
"Yeah, I'm middle aged." She smiled wryly.
"I didn't mean that. You're really young looking. I was just wondering about the sex drive thing. Do you think that's true?"
"Mmm, my guess, and it's just a guess, is that it'd be hard to trust that data. Most women have kids and maybe the kids are grown or at least teenagers by the time a woman's in her forties. Not having young kids would probably make them more interested in sex and more able to be spontaneous."
"So...you're not going to answer, or what?" Her grin was wide and playful, making even the most impertinent question go down smoothly.
"Okay, I'll answer." She thought for a few seconds. "I'd say I had a stronger sex drive when I was your age than I do now."
"Really," Samantha said, looking fascinated. "I wonder why?" She fidgeted in her chair, leaning close. "If you could have sex whenever you wanted...no restrictions or anything...how often would you have it?"
"Yeah. What would make you really happy?"
"Ooo...I guess I'd like it about three times a week."
"And you don't get that?" Samantha looked both amazed and doubtful.
Unable to keep from laughing, Rachel shook her head. "No, I definitely don't get that."
"Sarah won't give it up?"
Suddenly defensive, Rachel said, "It's not all about her. I could ask for sex more often, but you get into habits and ways of relating. It's hard to explain, but we've settled into a pattern that seems to work."
"So...how often do you get it? Twice a week?"
"Some weeks. But we sometimes go for weeks without, then we'll have it every day for a while. It all evens out." Sometimes. Well, it used to.
"But not to three times a week."
"No, but I'm fine with it. How often do you want it?" This wasn't the most intelligent line of questioning, but it seemed harmless enough. It was like those late nights in Columbia where they'd sit up till all hours of the night and no one had any secrets.
"I guess three or four times a week would be good for me too. Every other day sounds sweet." She looked happy just thinking about it.
"I hope you get that. But try not to have jobs or kids or anything else that gets in the way."
"I won't ever be too tired or too busy to not want to have sex every day or two. When you meet someone you're really into and he or she is into you, there's nothing better!"
It sure would've been nice to have the kind of sexual energy Samantha had, but you couldn't have everything. Damn it .
A few nights later Rachel was working at her computer when Sarah came into the room and stood beside her. Just before Rachel looked up to ask what she wanted Sarah put a hand on her neck and tickled it gently. "Hey, guess what's on?"
Rachel turned her chair around to look up into her partner's face. "I have no idea. Why don't you tell me." As she said this she grasped the billowing fabric of Sarah's flannel pajamas and pulled her down onto her lap.
"There's a brand-new episode of "How To Make It," on and I thought you might like to watch it."
Rachel took a quick look at her computer. "Are you going to bed already? It's only eight o'clock."
Placing a gentle kiss on her lips, Sarah said, "No, I'm not going to bed. I want to watch it with you." Another quick kiss followed. "Is that so strange?"
Rachel sat there for a second, trying to decide how honest to be. Uncharacteristically, she said exactly what was on her mind. "Yeah, it is strange, but I like it." Sarah got up and took Rachel's hand and they walked into the living room, with Toby following along. They sat down on the couch, finding themselves very close together. "This is nice."
The program came on and Sarah put her arm around Rachel shoulders. They sat like that for a few minutes, then Rachel started slumping down until she was taking up most of the couch, with just her head on Sarah's lap. "Why don't we do this anymore?" Sarah asked.
"I guess we just got out of the habit, but it's a really good habit." She turned a little and nuzzled her face into Sarah's thigh, then turned over and met her eyes. "I read something the other day about how long-term couples sometimes have honeymoon periods. Do you think we ever have those?"
Sarah started idly playing with her hair, focusing more on the long dark strands then Rachel's eyes. "Yeah, we have."
Knowing the answer, and hoping Sarah knew it too, Rachel said, "Are we in one now?"
A flash of sadness covered Sarah's face. "No, honey, we're not in one now. The last one I really remember is when you started working from home. That was a really good one, and it lasted for a few months."
"But that's been two years. Do you really think it's been that long?"
"I do. But I'm not sure how we fell into it and I'm not sure how we fell out of it."
A heaviness seemed to settle over her entire body and Rachel felt tired, nearly exhausted. The show was back on and she turned her head to watch it, feeling almost lonely despite Sarah's gentle touch.
After Sarah went to bed, Rachel went back to work and got a lot of things done. She hadn't noticed that Toby wasn't next to her, but when she looked in the bedroom he opened only one eye to determine if she needed anything from him. Sarah was lying on her side, with one knee raised above the other. Toby was lying right between her legs, looking very happy in his cocoon. Rachel squatted down at the foot of the bed and spoke to him softly. "I'm not giving up my space cuddling next to her, so don't even think you're taking over. She might be your other mama, but I had her first."
She reached down and picked him up, not wanting him to wake Sarah, and knowing he needed one more trip outside. They stood out in the small backyard and Rachel looked up at the sky, watching the stars. Sarah knew a lot about the constellations and one of their first dates ended with them sitting on the steps of Rachel's apartment building, looking at the stars for what seemed like hours. Why didn't they do that anymore? Did you have to just settle to stay in a relationship? It seemed like a terrible fate, but something nearly everyone she knew went through. You eventually got tired of settling and you broke up. What a lousy way to design humans.
They finally had a warm day. It was so warm that everyone wore T-shirts, and some even had on shorts. Rachel had a definite bounce in her step when she entered the dog park that afternoon and she perked up even brighter when she caught a load of Samantha who was wearing a very tight fitting T-shirt that hugged her body all the way down to her low-slung jeans. Even though they'd spent many weeks together neither of them had ever gone without a jacket and this was the first day that Rachel could fully appreciate the glories of Samantha's breasts.
She knew she had always been most attracted to breasts, but they had never been a deal-breaker for her. But there was nothing wrong with Sarah's, they were good reliable B- breasts. But Sarah's were over twenty years younger and over twenty percent bigger, which any unbiased person would have to admit made a very good combo. She tried not to stare as Samantha jogged the last twenty-five yards, fantastic breasts bobbing. "Hi," she said, feeling more tongue-tied than usual. "Nice day, right?"
"Really nice day. Ten more degrees and I'll get to put my bikini on and start work on my tan."
"Those were the days. I had a friend in high school whose family had a houseboat up on the Missouri and we would lie out and roast." She laughed, shaking her head. "Now Sarah won't let me out of the house if I don't have sunblock on."
"A little sun won't kill you."
They started to walk around as they always did, with Rachel saying, "a little of anything isn't too bad. But I definitely overdid it with the sun. I've had a lot of precancerous growths cut off my arms and shoulders. You might want to consider that before that bikini comes out of your dresser."
"They'll figure out some way to fix all of that stuff by the time I'm your age." She flashed that mischievous, happy grin and Rachel considered that she was probably right. What a luxury it was and what a gift to assume that someone else would fix all the problems that might pop up in your life. But it was a gift you didn't realize you had when you had it.
The sun was still warm on them at six o'clock, and they sat on their lawn chairs watching most of the regulars leave for the night. The people who showed up late were the ones who just got home from work and needed to take Fido to the park just so he wouldn't drive them crazy the rest of the evening. They didn't know any of these latecomers, so it was as though they were alone.
Toby and Destiny lingered by the front gate saying hello and goodbye to everyone who came and went. They were talking about nothing in particular when Samantha dropped a bomb. "Hey, have you guys ever had a three-way?"
Rachel started to cough, hacking so loudly that Toby ran over to see if she was all right. Once she got her breath back he ran back to the gate to help Destiny. Samantha was trying not to snicker, but it was obvious she thought Rachel's discomfort was funny. "Where in the heck did that come from?" Rachel finally said.
"I just wanted to know. I met a girl at a club downtown and she said she and her boyfriend were looking for somebody to join them in bed. I've been thinking about it, but I'm not sure I'd like it."
"How does knowing if I've done it help you?"
Samantha obviously hadn't thought that through, because it looked like she was racking her brain to think of an answer. "I don't know. You just seem like you could give me good advice."
"Well, that's a different thing. If you just want to have fun with two people who also just want to have fun I don't see there's any harm in it. But I probably wouldn't do it. It's hard enough to know one person well enough to trust having sex with them. I couldn't handle having to figure two people out."
"So, you've never done it." Samantha looked vaguely triumphant to have figured this out.
"No, I never have, and I don't think Sarah has either. We're pretty white bread."
Looking positively serious, Samantha said, "you could always change that. Maybe doing something different would put a charge in your relationship."
"Yeah like dynamite," Rachel said, chuckling nervously. The thought of having Samantha in her bed was beyond tempting, but she couldn't figure out where Sarah would fit into the equation. Something about a one plus one plus one didn't quite equal fun.
"Have you ever asked her?"
"No, I've never asked her if she wants to go to a dungeon either, but I don't think she does."
"Think about it," Samantha said, her expressive eyes dancing with delight.
Like I could think of anything else .
Rachel's hands were shaking when she got into her car. There wasn't a doubt in her mind that Samantha was proposing that they consider sleeping together. The only open question was if she really wanted Sarah to be included.
For weeks, even months, Samantha had seemed like a very pretty girl rather than a woman. She was ebullient, fresh-faced, enthusiastic and as friendly as a puppy. But as they'd gotten more comfortable with each other it had become clear why her mom had been worried about her getting out of high school without a baby in tow.
Samantha was not only very sexual, she was very aggressive. And even though she wasn't very sharp in some areas, she seemed very cagey about people. Manipulative wasn't even too strong a word.
Normally, someone with those qualities would have been off-putting. But Samantha was so damned pretty she should have been illegal in most states. She had every physical trait that Rachel had ever wanted in a woman, and they were all in one package. This was, without a doubt, a once in a lifetime opportunity. She wasn't getting any younger, and she figured her "sell-by" date was about over; at least when it came to college-aged women picking her up. But she'd never cheat on Sarah. And that made the whole thing very dodgy.
They had a good, if predictable, sex life, and even suggesting adding a third party could screw that up permanently. But Sarah was remarkably analytical about most things, and didn't tend to get upset about small slights. But this was a big one. Having your lover suggest that you weren't enough in bed...well, that was just plain bad.
Rachel finally started her car and drove home slowly, the myriad considerations buffeting her brain. When they reached the house she sat in the driveway, still thinking. Some time later a horn honked and she turned to see Sarah approach. Toby had been fast asleep in the backseat and she couldn't even guess how long she'd been there. This had really gotten to her, and she had to lock it in the vault until she'd had time to process it fully.
They went to their usual stations after a quick dinner of their respective leftovers. But Rachel couldn't concentrate on work. She could vaguely hear the TV and she finally gave up and went into the living room. Sarah smiled up at her and patted the sofa cushion. "Are you gonna join me? It's the show about the wives in New York, and I know you have a special hatred for them." She was unrepentant about her cultural choices, and Rachel had always admired that about her.
"Yeah, I thought I would. I'm not getting anything done, so I might as well sit with you, huh?"
"That's a very good idea, honey. Sit with me for a while and you might get inspired after watching insipid people act like spoiled brats."
"I'd go into the office if I wanted to see that," she teased, sitting close and leaning against her partner. They watched in silence, since Sarah really did care about the details of her shows. Rachel spent a few minutes being appalled, then got past the surface stupidity and started paying attention.
At the end of the show she sat there, ideas bouncing around in her head. "That Barbie-doll lookalike was being ridiculous!" she heard herself say. "Her husband should kick her to the curb!"
Smiling sweetly, Sarah said, "It's easy to get involved, isn't it?"
"Well, yeah," she sputtered. "They have kids together and she's not even trying to act like a spouse! You don't just get things handed to you, you've got to work for them! And the husband is at work so much the kids barely recognize him. What's the point of being in a relationship if you're not going to be...intimate?"
"You're very sexy when you get so passionate about things." Sarah put her hands on Rachel's face and tilted her head so they were nose to nose. This close, Rachel could look deeply into Sarah's eyes, seeing not just interest and attraction, but something much more. The things you could never, ever have from a quick fuck. She saw...love. The love they'd nurtured and tended for so many years. They kissed, feeling the usual things; softness, warmth, a hint of promise, the possibility of sex. But there was something more this time. Sarah's kiss was more intense, more forceful. It was like she was making a claim, and it filled Rachel with pleasure.
"Let's go to bed," she whispered.
Sarah pulled away and gave her the sexy smile that always sent her heart racing. "I'll wait for you to take Toby out."
Rachel got up and took her hand. "He can wait. I'm in a hurry." Laughing, they chased each other into the bedroom, after banishing Toby to the floor where he stared at them balefully.
Later, Sarah gazed at Rachel lazily. "Toby's been really good, you'd better take him out. I hope you've saved one more sweet kiss for me when you come back to bed."
Rachel started to get up, but she paused and sat on the edge of the bed, looking at Sarah speculatively. "I've got a proposal for you."
Seeming to sense the seriousness of her mood, Sarah sat up and scooted over to put her arms around Rachel's bare shoulders. "What is it, honey?"
"If I went in with you in the morning, would you be able to leave by two or three?"
"Yes," Sarah said, not waiting a beat.
Meeting her eyes, Rachel asked, "That's it?"
Sarah gave her a gentle squeeze. "That's it."
"No argument? No complaint?"
"None. If you want to do that, I'm very happy to give it a try."
Rachel moved so they could see each other's eyes without turning. "But you'll have to work at home for a little while every night."
"And you'll have to get up early and deal with all of the b.s. at the office. So what?"
She'd been inexplicably nervous, but she could feel her body start to relax. Now it felt like they could be playful again. "Will you do whatever I ask if I give you a good orgasm?"
Sarah squeezed her roughly and tossed her back onto the bed. "I guess it depends on the orgasm." Her expression turned serious again and it looked as though there were tears in her eyes. "I'd do anything for you, Rachel. Anything in the world."
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Rachel lay there, looking into Sarah's lovely face. Sometimes her beauty caught Rachel by surprise, and this was one of those times. It was like looking at a familiar mountain that inexplicably caught your eye. "Will you go to the dog park with us?" She'd had no idea she was going to say that, but it was necessary. Without question.
"Of course." No questions, no additional comment. Did she know? There was one way to find out, but did they really have to talk about everything? Some things were probably best unsaid, and this seemed like one of them.
"How about tomorrow?"
Looking at her with what felt like a fierce kind of loyalty, Sarah said, "I'll go right now if you want to."
Rachel wiped the tears from her eyes. They were saying everything while saying so little. "Toby likes the afternoons, and he's the boss."
Rachel took Toby out for his final bathroom break, then got back into bed. She was fairly certain Sarah was awake, but she didn't move or react to Rachel's joining her. "Hey," Rachel said quietly.
"What is it, baby?" She extended her arm and Rachel cuddled into her body.
"I think we should find another dog park. What do you say?"
"If you think we should...we should."
They hugged from chest to knees, lying so close not even air could get between them. "I love you. Very, very much."
"I love you too. Now let's get to sleep, or we'll never make it in to work at seven." She kissed Rachel tenderly. "I know you're making a sacrifice to get up so early."
"There's nothing in the world I wouldn't do for you, honey...or for us."