The next morning Alex felt certain about the decision she had made the night before. In some ways, she felt rejuvenated, as if a piece of her that was askew was back in place. She felt a new self-confidence. Her new feelings were reflected in her mood which was duly noted by Sally upon Alex’s arrival at the office.

"Good morning, amiga! Any messages or things of importance worthy of my immediate attention?" Alex asked as she bounced past Sally into her office.

Her curiosity aroused, Sally immediately grabbed the messages and followed Alex into the office, shutting the door behind her. "What the hell happened last night? Get some?"

"No my friend. I didn't 'get some' as you so crudely put it. It's not what you're thinking in that gutter mind of yours," Alex answered with a laugh as she sat in her high backed black-leather executive chair behind her desk. "I just came to realize a few things about myself which I don't like and which I plan to change."

"Like what?" Sally probed, handing Alex the messages.

"I finally realized what you and countless others have been trying to point out to me for over a year now. I'm not a very good hermit and I have to live life instead of hiding from it."

"Bravo! To what do we owe the honor of this awakening to reality?"

"Let me just say that I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my past, present and future and I didn't like what I saw. I can't change my past, but I sure as hell can change the present and future. Now, could you do me a favor and get Ginny on the line for me?"

"Yes ma'am!" Sally answered with a mock salute, which from a woman of Sally’s stature could be rather intimidating. "Oh, you're supposed to be in Mr. Cribbett's office at 9:30 to discuss the new biography that's being published? There's apparently the threat of a libel suit already. The file is underneath your briefcase, on top of the desk," she added as she walked out of the office.

Settling down to work, Alex put her briefcase on the floor and began to review the file in front of her. A few minutes later she was interrupted by a buzz on the phone alerting her that Ginny was on the line.

"What's up Al? Sally sounded like she was hiding something."

"Nothing, I was just wondering what you and Isabel are up to this evening."

"Why? You want to come over and keep us company so you won't be lonely?"

"Ouch! Low blow! Aren't we being cynical? No, I do not. Just the opposite. I thought maybe we'd break the rules and go out on a week night."

"Oh my God! Do my ears deceive me? Are you asking us to go out to a bar? On a week night no less?!" Ginny teased in fake disbelief.

"Yep, and before you insinuate that I did lewd things last night, as my assistant did, I will tell you why. I have decided that isolation is not for me and I'm ready to take the world head on."

"Good for you! Give me the specifics later because I'm due in with a client in about two minutes. Wednesday night out is dead, so why don't you come over for dinner and we'll talk. I may have a surprise for you."

"What surprise?" Alex asked hesitantly, wondering what her friend was up to this time.

"It wouldn't be a surprise then, would it? If, per chance, there is one, you'll see then. How about 6:30?"

"Fine. I’ll see you then. Bye." It's amazing how seemingly small decisions can affect a person's life, Alex thought to herself. When she hung up the phone and went back to work, she felt happier than she had felt in a very long time.

* * *

Driving in a city like San Diego can be a nightmare for tourists because of the spider web maze of highways. Being a native, however, Alex maneuvered masterfully through the traffic in her dark grey Honda Accord, promptly arriving at Ginny's house in La Jolla at 6:30 sharp. As she walked up to the door carrying Izzy's favorite wine, she noticed an unfamiliar Porsche in the driveway. Subconsciously, she was alerted to Ginny's surprise. Consciously, she thought nothing of it and rang the doorbell.

"Hi cutie! Come on in," Izzy greeted her with a hug as she opened the door. Izzy, short for Isabel Johnson, was as stunningly attractive as her lover. Dressed in beige pants and a light green and yellow blouse, her blond hair, blue eyes and light complexion made her look much younger than her 41 years.

"Gin's in the kitchen preparing I don't know what. She scooted me out from helping her about twenty minutes ago. I took care of everything else when I got home. Here, let me take this," she offered, taking the bottle of wine from Alex.

"So, do you know anything about a surprise that Ginny mentioned to me?" Alex asked as she followed Izzy toward the kitchen.

Izzy stopped and was hesitant to answer. "Well, I suppose I should warn you. That would only be fair. When you called and told her you wanted to get out more she decided to try to play matchmaker. So . . . ," Izzy paused and then blurted, "she thought that it would be 'nice' to invite another friend of ours as well."

"That little shit. I should've known she'd be up to no good and pull something like this."

"Don't be angry with her. She's been wanting to introduce you two for a while, but you were hell bent on not meeting anyone and she respected your wishes. You know that we both love you and just want to see you happy. If we can help, that's even better. Now, her name is Stacy King. She was an editor at Padre right before you started there, but moved onto greener pastures. She's 35, has no kids, is as sweet as can be, and is absolutely drop dead gorgeous. There, you have all the pertinent background info. And be nice. I know how you can be when you’re nervous or angry, or both as the case may be."

"I guess I should thank you for the warning, but don't leave me alone with Ginny. I may kill her," she teased through her gritted teeth, not at all pleased with her friend's surprise.

When she walked into the kitchen, Alex saw that Izzy's description of Stacy’s beauty was completely accurate. Stacy was standing against the bar on the other side of the kitchen, drinking a glass of wine and laughing at one of Ginny's bad jokes. Her long light brown hair was pulled back into a French braid. She was wearing designer jeans that complemented her 5-foot 8 inch athletic build. Her outfit was topped with a baby blue Polo shirt, which set off her steel blue eyes. It was hard for Alex not to appreciate the natural beauty that stood in front of her.

"Well, at least someone laughs at my jokes," Ginny said to the two newcomers as she dried her hands.

"That one was so bad it was hard not to laugh," Stacy teased.

"Alex Barton, this is Stacy King. Stacy, Alex. Stacy was at Padre before you joined up," Ginny introduced the two, unaware of Izzy's warning to Alex.

"Hi," Alex said shyly, letting her jaw unclinch. As the two shook hands, Alex felt a jolt of warmness go through her body. Not a sexual feeling, but a calming one.

"Hi yourself. Ginny tells me that you've worked your way up the ladder and are General Counsel now."

"Ah, yes, you seem to have the advantage over me there," Alex smiled while at the same time shooting a cold glance at Ginny, who quickly ignored it, busying herself with cooking. "I just got lucky. If Ginny hadn't left, I'd still be a low level peon."

"Sorry." Stacy acknowledged the look Alex threw at Ginny and looked at Alex as if to say, ‘Hey, I’m almost in the same boat you are. I understand.’ "I know how that goes. If I had stayed at Padre, I'd still be editing obituaries, so to speak."

"Can I get you a glass of wine Alex?" Izzy interrupted, hoping to diffuse the tension in the room.

Alex nodded her head, taking the glass Izzy offered. Despite her anger at Ginny, as she looked into Stacy’s blue eyes, she knew she couldn’t be angry at the goddess that stood before her. She was so taken with this new woman that she didn’t know what to say. It had been a long time since she had to make social small talk with a woman she just met. It was easy at business parties because the other guests typically discussed publishing or legal issues. Now, however, she was in a position where her personality and her very persona could be judged by whatever words came out of her mouth. Her nervousness caused her mouth to become dry just thinking about it. She quickly sipped from the glass in her hand, hoping the alcohol would calm her.

Sensing Alex's uneasiness, Izzy suggested they go sit out on the patio. The four women took their glasses and went outside to sit in the warm rays of the setting sun. After noticing how their two friends slowly began to relax in each other's presence, Izzy and Ginny excused themselves to finish preparing dinner.

Alex knew what her friends were planning and could've killed them for it. 'Leave the two alone to get better acquainted,' she thought to herself. Alex was uncharacteristically shy and she didn't know what to do or say. After what seemed like eternity to Alex, Stacy finally broke the silence.

"Beautiful sunset. Before I moved to California for college I didn't know that nature supplied such a wondrous sight," she commented, gazing at the sunset and taking a sip of wine.

"Where are you from?" Alex was finally able to speak.

"Chicago. They do have sunsets there, but not like they are here. There's something about actually seeing the sun set over the ocean. How about you? Where are you from originally?"

"Here. Born and raised."

"My god! A true native. Did you go to college here as well?"

"Yeh, UCSD for undergrad and law school here as well. I wanted to go to Berkeley or Santa Cruz but never got around to transfer. Something always seemed to come up. More wine?" she offered pouring herself another glass to try to ease her nervousness.

"Sure, thank you," Stacy answered holding out her empty glass. "This is very good stuff."

"Izzy's favorite. I got so used to buying it for them that I seem to automatically buy it for myself as well."

"It's well worth it."

Silence uneasily settled over them. "Do you write as well?" Alex finally asked.

"Well, I thought I could in college until I was rudely awakened by a professor whom I highly respected. He told me that I didn't have the 'right stuff'. Not believing him, the foolish child I was, I attempted to make it as a writer, but all the publishers and magazines I submitted my work to apparently agreed with him. Not wanting to starve, I took a job at Padre. It was still small so I was able to move up to an editor at a fast pace. The rest is history."

"I always wanted to be a writer, but I guess I chose eating to starving as well." Alex replied almost whimsically, staring toward the sky.

"Really?" Stacy asked inquisitively, shifting in her seat to face Alex. "Did you ever try? Have you ever submitted anything?"

"When I was about ten years old, I wrote a children's book and thought it was a masterpiece. I typed it all up on my old Underwood and illustrated it myself. I sent it to every publisher and children's magazine I could get an address for. All were impressed by my initiative, but not my talent," Alex laughed, turning toward Stacy.

"Ever try anything else when you were older?"

"Not really. I just concentrated on academia." Alex took a sip of wine amazed at herself for being so open with this stranger. There was something about the woman that made her feel comfortable to share things about herself so freely.

"When did you decide to become an attorney?"

"Well, I was also interested in politics and justice as well. I knew that even if I wanted to be a writer, I'd have to support myself until I sold something. So I felt I could have the best of both worlds by getting my law degree and writing in my spare time. But as time went by, the dream of being a writer faded away, and I concentrated on my legal career."

"Well, if you ever decide to write again, I'd like to read it," Stacy offered sincerely. She was also amazed at the ease she could speak to this woman she only just met, despite the initial feeling of discomfort. Dealing with prima donna authors taught her to abandon her shyness, but she saw how inhibited Alex was and was surprised with how willingly she offered information about herself when asked. She sensed that this was unusual for Alex, but was pleased that Alex could discuss herself so easily.

"Ladies, dinner is served," Ginny announced popping her head out of the patio door. Alex and Stacy stood up and joined their hosts in the dining room, where they sat across the table from each other. After they devoured Ginny's salad and rigatoni, Alex offered to help Ginny clean off the table and prepare coffee while Izzy and Stacy went into the living room. Impatient to hear Alex's reaction to her 'surprise', Ginny cornered Alex as soon as they walked into the kitchen.

"Well, what do you think of her?"

"And you call yourself my friend! I could kill you for doing this to me. Jeez Ginny! You know how uncomfortable I am around strangers and then you go and put me into a corner . . . You bitch," Alex teased affectionately. Then more apprehensively she asked, "What did you tell her . . . about me?"

"I told her I had a friend coming over and invited her to join us for dinner. Don't worry, I didn't tell her anything other than what you did for a living. You still haven’t told me what you think of her," Ginny pressed for more information.

Alex started to giggle. "Cute. God I feel like a teenager just starting to date for the first time. She seems very nice. It was strange though while we were talking outside when you and Izzy so conveniently hid in the kitchen."

"How's that?" Ginny asked, pouring the coffee into four mugs.

"Well, after the initial awkwardness, it was really easy talking to her. I told her a few things that most people don't know about me."

"Like what?"

"About my writing when I was younger. Not too many people know about my hidden dream."

"I guess including me. But it's nothing to be ashamed of cutie. We’ve all had dreams. Mine was to be a ballet dancer. Unfortunately, or fortunately as the case may be, I had two left feet and the grace of a grizzly bear . . . Well, are you going to ask her out?"

"Moi?" Alex teased. "I'm not that brave yet. Anyway, we just met. Please Gin, leave things as they are, no more matchmaking, okay? I know I want to change my life around, but not so quickly."

"If that's the way you feel, but you should ask her out if you want to . . . Okay, I promise," she said as they carried coffee out to the two other women.

* * *

The following morning Alex was distracted as she prepared for work. She debated with herself whether or not to call Stacy and ask her out for dinner. ‘Shit,’ she thought, ‘She's intelligent, attractive, what harm would it do? All she could say is no.’ But it was that possibility that terrified her. It had been so long since she asked a woman out on a ‘date’. Although she used to be a master, she now felt like an apprentice. ‘For all I know she's dating someone and just wanted to spend some time with Ginny and Izzy last night.’ By the time she pulled into her parking space at work she resolved to wait a day or two before deciding whether or not to call. But when Sally handed her phone messages to her, she saw that her internal dispute was unnecessary. A message to call Stacy King awaited her.

She sat at her desk contemplating when she should return the call. She knew she was being foolish, but it had been a long time since she had gone out with anyone. But, on the other hand she thought, she had made a promise to herself to change things. She hesitantly picked up the phone and dialed the number on the message slip. Alex almost hung up as she waited for the call to go through. Before she could, she heard a voice come on the line.

"Stacy King."

"Stacy, this is Alex. I’m returning your call."

"Alex, hi. How are you today?"

" Fine, I think. A little too much wine last night."

"Yeh, I know the feeling. I was a little slow getting up this morning myself," Stacy laughed.

"I'm not catching you at a bad time am I?" 'Shit,’ Alex thought to herself, 'she's the one who called me first. I'm starting to sound stupid.'

"No, not at all. Nothing urgent."

There was a long nervous pause before either knew what to say. Stacy finally broke the silence.

"Well, I called to see if you were free this evening, and if you were, if you'd like to go out to dinner. I know it's short notice, but I thought I'd give it a shot anyway."

Not wanting to appear too anxious, she told Stacy that she'd have to check to see if she had any late meetings. Knowing she didn't, she paused briefly before accepting the invitation.

"Good. What's a good time for you?" Stacy asked, pleased with Alex's positive response.

"Is seven okay?"

"That's fine. How about I pick you up? Or would you rather meet somewhere?"

Alex gave directions to her house and both ended the conversation looking forward to seeing each other later that evening.

Alex had difficulty concentrating on her work for the rest of the day. Sally noticed how distracted she was, but knew her boss well enough to know that Alex was in no mood to either answer questions or be teased. Alex was thankful that Sally was intuitive enough to know when to leave her alone. By 4:30 she knew her nerves wouldn't allow her to accomplish any more work, so she left the office early and went home. She knew that the next day Sally would barrage her with questions seeking an explanation for her unusual behavior.

Alex painstakingly began to prepare herself for the evening. Not knowing where they were going, she changed outfits three times before finally deciding on blue dress pants, a powder blue silk blouse and flat pumps. Putting on her shoes she hoped she wasn't overdressed for wherever Stacy had chosen. After she finished getting ready, she had a couple of glasses of wine to calm her unsteady nerves while she waited. Feeling the effect from the alcohol, she knew that she needed food before she got too drunk.

At seven o'clock sharp the door bell rang. Taking a deep breath she stood up and went to answer the door. Opening the door, she saw Stacy was dressed similarly in tan colored dress pants and a brown blouse.

"Hi, come on in," she invited. Stacy thanked her as she walked inside. "Have a seat. Would you like anything to drink? Wine, soda, beer?"

"A glass of wine would be fine," Stacy accepted, sitting on the couch.

Alex walked into the kitchen and poured Stacy a glass of wine, also refilling her own. Carrying them into the living room, she hoped that this glass would finally calm her nerves without complete inebriation.

"Here you go," Alex offered, handing Stacy the glass and sitting on the opposite end of the dark gray couch.

"You have a lovely home. I wish I could get my decor to match like this," Stacy complimented, looking around the room. When Alex bought her house, she decided to decorate it as she had decorated her office. With her love of art deco, the decor in some ways resembled the movie set in a film noir. Her house was carpeted in dark gray Burber. The furniture was a mixture of black cast iron and maple colored wood. Throughout the house she placed marble and silver pieces of furniture from the 1920's and 1930's.

"Thank you." Alex answered shyly, never knowing what to say when she received a compliment.

"I hope you like seafood. I took the liberty of making 7:30 reservations at this little restaurant in La Jolla."

"That sounds fine, I love fish."

"Maybe we should go, so we aren't late." Stacy suggested, anxiously looking at her watch.

"We have time. It’s just a few minutes to La Jolla from here. Why don't you finish your wine?"

"I'm fine. It's so nice out I thought we'd take the beach route to enjoy the great weather."

"Sure. Just let me grab a coat and I'll be set." Alex took their wine glasses back into the kitchen and grabbed her coat off of the back of the chair at the kitchen table. "All set," she said walking into the living room where Stacy was standing.

When they walked out to the car, Alex was at first surprised to see a bright red Porsche Cabriolet convertible with the top down sitting in her driveway, but then recognized it as the car she subconsciously noted at Ginny and Izzy’s the night before. Seeing Alex's initial reaction, Stacy shrugged and commented that the car was her one weakness, explaining that it was her dream car and that she had to have it no matter what.

The short drive to the restaurant was beautiful. With the top down, Alex felt the warm rays of the sun on her face as she admired the coastal scenery they passed. She tried to make idle chit chat so that they wouldn’t travel in total silence, but felt her conversational skills were lacking. She was relieved when they pulled up in front of the restaurant. At least eating was an excuse not to have to speak. But could she eat? She wondered. The butterflies in her stomach were rather aerobic and she felt her nerves replaced any appetite she could have had.

After they were seated at their table, Stacy suggested a bottle of wine to which Alex readily agreed.After ordering the wine, the two studied the menu deciding what to order. Stacy suggested the sea bass and when the food server delivered the wine and took their orders, Alex followed her advice. The food server walked away leaving the two sitting in a nervous silence, neither knowing what to say.

"So, pardon the cliche, but I know so little about you. Tell me about yourself." Alex asked, surprised to hear her own voice.

"Well, as I said I'm from Chicago. Dad is an accountant and mom was a teacher. I grew up in upper middle class suburbs with all the other privileged brats. I always loved to read and write and was the editor of the class paper. When I decided to go to college, I chose Cal Berkeley because of the radicalism and the flower children. My parents were proud that I was accepted at such a prestigious university, but were horrified when I actually chose to go. They wanted me to go to Northwestern so I would be safe from the hippie freaks. My parents are ultra conservative when it comes to politics. I, on the other hand, have always had much more liberal leanings. But I needed an escape from the home front and going to Berkeley was my rebellion from my parents," she paused, taking a sip of her drink and looking into Alex's hazel-blue eyes.

"You know," Stacy continued, "I was wondering about was something you mentioned last night. You mentioned something in passing about growing up gay and being seventeen. When did you come out?"

"Officially, at sixteen, but I knew I was gay when I was at least twelve and I played the games until I was fifteen. Even though I was in love with a girl and we had a quasi-physical relationship, I still went out with guys. At sixteen I finally came to terms with what I was and decided to come out. It wasn't as simple as I often make it sound. It was really rough."

"Anytime coming out is rough. I was twenty-one when I fell in love with my roommate. I thought I was sick. Denial always seems to be the first reaction. It's like you said, play the games to convince yourself you're not perverted. When that doesn't work, then there's the struggle of admitting that you’re gay and doing something about it. If the homophobics could only realize what a psychological struggle and trauma it is, maybe they would have a bit more compassion and respect for us," she noted refilling their glasses.

"How true. So, what happened with your roommate?"

"She got engaged to a frat guy and married him after we graduated. Nothing ever happened between us, no matter how much I wanted it to," she smiled at the fond memory of her past desire.

Alex sipped her wine as she studied her dinner companion. She usually didn't like talking about personal things, but wanted to hear more about the vibrant woman sitting across from her. "Yeh, that sounds familiar. When Mary, my first, and I were 'friends', we did everything together. When we spent the night at each other's house, we always slept in the same bed. I'd just lay there and fantasize, wanting something to happen."

"Did anything?"

"Not really. Once, when she was really drunk and I was feeling no pain myself, there was a feeble attempt at making love, but she passed out. Nothing was said about that evening for a long time."

"What happened? Did you stay close or never speak to each other?"

Alex waited until the waiter placed their salad plates down and left before answering.

"Well, we stayed friends for a while and she played with my emotions knowing damn well what she was doing. I went to Europe for a couple of weeks and when I got back things weren't the same. I finally told her to go to hell. Her family moved away a few months later and I didn't see her for about 2-3 years, then I ran into her at Gypsy's. We began seeing each other, but I knew it wouldn't work. Last I heard she was in San Francisco, weighed about 300 pounds and was dating some guy," Alex concluded, taking a bite of her spinach salad.

"Mine never got that far. In fact, never that close. My first wasn't until about a year later. I became good friends with this woman I worked with and we became really close. You know that aura of sexual tension that develops?" Alex nodded in acknowledgment. "Well, it got so thick that you could cut it with a knife. It got to the point that if something didn't happen, both of us were going to go crazy," Stacy laughed.

Alex laughed as well. She knew all to well about that tension. Being completely alone for the last year, there had been a lot of that tension and many cold showers.

The rest of their dinner went smoothly. They finished the bottle of wine and felt its effects. After dinner, Stacy suggested that they go out dancing and Alex agreed readily. Both were feeling more at ease in the other's presence, not wanting the evening to end.

When they reached "Flicker’s," the bar was beginning to fill. The bar was expansive compared to other women's bars in town. Decorated in modern art nouveau, the walls were padded in light pink and lavender, with maroon carpeting. A feature which the clientele appreciated, was the manner in which it was divided. A long bar lead to the dance floor in the back, with two rooms behind the wall of the bar area where the women could sit and talk and not be bothered by the loud dance music. As they walked in, they entered one of the rooms to the left. Stacy moved quickly to claim an empty table.

"It's starting to get busy. This place gets packed on Thursday nights. We're lucky to get a table," Stacy observed. "Based on what you've told me, I take it you don't get out to the bars too often."

"Nope. I've been in a self-imposed exile for the last year. I've been in here once or twice since it opened last July. Ginny and Izzy dragged me out against my will."

"A self-imposed exile?" Stacy asked inquisitively.

"Yeh. I have what you may call an unusual history of relationships," Alex stated noting Stacy's raised eye brows. She paused, torn whether to continue her explanation, embarrassed with the truth of her past. But she didn’t intend to ever replay that scenario again. She had learned her lesson. Better to tell her and let her be judgmental now rather than later Alex decided. "Well . . . I was a mistress for ten years. When we finally split, I had no desire to get involved with anyone in any manner. I basically became married to my career. Really boring stuff," she paused, trying to soften her admission while also debating whether she should admit that this was her first date in over a year. She studied her fingers, nervously running them around the rim of her wine glass. In their short time together, however, she felt she could trust Stacy, which was quite unusual for Alex. She was usually very guarded and kept her wall up, not allowing others to see the vulnerability underlying the confident facade. "To be honest with you Stacy, this is my first real date in a year," she finally admitted, shyly looking up to see her companion's reaction.

"You're kidding." Stacy looked at Alex in disbelief as Alex shook her head that she was serious. "Well, I guess I feel privileged to be the one to break your solitude." Raising her glass, she added, "A toast, to a beautiful lady for granting me the privilege of spending the evening with her." She looked into Alex's eyes as they clinked glasses together.

"And to you, for making me feel comfortable and for spending time with me," Alex responded embarrassed.

As they placed their glasses down on the table, the Pointer Sisters’ "Jump" began to play. Stacy asked Alex to dance. The two wormed their way onto the crowded dance floor, finding a spot toward the middle. Alex was impressed with how sensually Stacy moved to the pulsating beat of the music. As she watched Stacy, she felt the long absent feeling of desire stirring inside of her. She quickly tried to oppress it, not wanting anything physical to happen between them so soon. She was over one night stands. Been there, done that, she thought. But she couldn’t deny the lust and primal urges that raged through her body when she looked at Stacy.

They continued to dance to a few more songs, until they became too tired to go on. Breaking through the crowd back to the table, they sat, each immediately taking a drink and refilling their glasses from the carafe sitting on the table.

"Whew! It felt good dancing like that again," Alex panted, wiping the sweat on her forehead with a napkin.

"You dance well. You obviously used to dance a lot," Stacy complimented.

"Thanks. When I was in high school and college, I used to go dancing at the bars every Thursday night and on the weekends. My friends used to laugh at my energy. You, however, dance much better than I could ever hope," she answered, returning the compliment.

"Naw, I used to be the same way. I was glad when disco came in because dancing to rock-n-roll and punk music gave me shin splints," she laughed. "So, we know all about when each other came out and our careers. Tell me about your family." She changed the topic, wanting to know more about her companion.

"Oh, quick change of subject," Alex laughed. "Well, I'm the youngest of five girls and my sisters are much older. My folks had a business here in town. Two of my sisters are married and each have a son and daughter. The rest of my sisters are single. That's it in a nutshell."

"That was short and evasive, Counselor. What kind of business did your parents have?"

"An electronics store. They retired two years ago. One of my sisters bought them out. It's doing all right, but I send them on vacations to help repay them for what they've done for me. They put me through college and law school."

"That's great. Are you close to your family?"

"Well, I guess that’s relative, pardon the pun. Closer than some, but not as close as others. I’m not best friends with any of them, but we always periodically check in with the others and spend time on holidays together. How about you? Siblings?"

"A brother and a sister. I'm in the middle. My brother's a doctor and my little sister's a housewife. There, I can be brief too," she teased as a slow song began to play. Summoning her courage, she asked Alex to dance. Taking Alex's hand, Stacy led her to the dance floor where she loosely put her arms around Alex’s waist. Alex put her arms around Stacy's neck and followed her lead. Although Alex was a few inches shorter than Stacy, their bodies fit well together.

The two moved slowly to the beat of the music, each feeling tingles of excitement run through their bodies as they clung tight to one another. It felt too surrealistic to be reality. It had been so long since Alex experienced such feelings that she thought it was a dream. When the song ended and the next came on, the two continued to hold each other and sway to the slow, rhythmic pulsations of the music. Their lower torsos seemed to become one as desire shot through both of them. Stacy finally pulled back and looked into Alex's glittering eyes.

"You're beautiful," Stacy whispered as her lips lightly passed over Alex's. Alex was receptive, tightening her grip around Stacy’s neck, pressing her body more firmly against Stacy's. The two danced as one clinging to one another until the music stopped.

They walked back to their seats hand in hand. Based on Alex’s admission, Stacy felt hesitant to continue their physical closeness. "Alex, I know it's been a long time since you've gone out or have been involved. I hope you don't think I've been too forward. It's obvious that I like you, but I don't want to push or force you into doing anything that you don't want to or are not ready for. I'm sorry if I have so far," Stacy apologized, looking into Alex's eyes.

Alex paused a second and then took Stacy's hand into her own. "Stacy, you haven’t pushed me into anything. I enjoy your company and I like you too. That's very sweet and considerate to be concerned with my feelings and I thank you. I'm a big girl and can take care of myself. If I do or say anything, it's because I want to," she responded tenderly. As she finished, she leaned across the table and kissed Stacy gingerly on the lips.

"Mmmm, lady, you're something else. I don't know why, but I feel like I should treat you with kid gloves." Stacy smiled lustfully.

"Don't. My reaction to my past relationship was as big of mistake as putting up with it as long as I did. I don't deserve nor do I need any special treatment because of it. Now, don't take me wrong, I don't mean to sound indignant or anything, it's just that I've been protecting myself for so long that it's time for a reality check. If this evening is a true reflection of what can be real, then I've been hiding way too long."

"Good. Another toast," Stacy said as she raised her wine glass, "To a beautiful woman who is full of wonderful surprises and, hopefully, filled with many more."


To be Continued in Chapter 3

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