The Deal

By M. Ryan

 

 

For disclaimers see Part 1

Comments are welcome! mryan12@hotmail.com

Part 11

Living and Dying By the Numbers

The silver medal was for second place; the gold pin was for low amateur. A lifetime of dedication was condensed into two shiny bits of metal and Laura rubbed a finger along one edge before snapping the boxes closed and dropping them into her tote bag.

The locker room was empty except for the clutter left behind by golfers eager to move on to the next stop where fortunes might be reversed on another course on another day. Laura tossed her damp towel into the laundry chute and gathered up the rest of her things. There was no next stop for her on tour, just another Monday in the newsroom and since there would be hell to pay on so many levels, there was no comfort in that.

Anxious to avoid the crowds out in front, she went out the maintenance exit of the locker room and down the back hall to the service entrance of the kitchen. The Awards Dinner was in full swing and the staff was busy with trays of covered dishes waiting to be served as Laura slipped out the back and on to the loading dock. No press, a nice clean getaway.

"She choked. I coulda made that putt." Two men were standing at the foot of the stairs smoking, their shirts marking them as tournament volunteers. Laura’s mouth tightened as she skipped down the steps and pushed her way past them, ignoring their stares and resisting the urge to comment. Quickly she crossed the pavement and vaulted over a low wall into the main parking lot. She took one last look back at the antebellum style clubhouse tying to etch her last impression of Cypress Hill into memory, certain that she wouldn’t be returning any time soon.

Nothing like making your failures as public as possible. Dallas is out in the open, I did choke on that putt, and let’s not forget that I tossed away the best thing in my life with both hands…In front of my Managing Editor.

Chris. The pain was suffocating and the bitterness of regret choked off any excuse she might have offered in an effort to assuage the guilt. Swallowing back something suspiciously like a sob she turned away, realizing that she would never be whole again and wondering how one could endure half a life.

He didn’t; he gave up. In that instant Laura understood her father.

******************************

Chris sat on the fender of the Jeep and waited. Dusk was still a couple of hours away and the day had yet to give up any of its sweltering heat. The ringing whine of the cicadas rose and fell in the typical soundtrack of a Mississippi summer. She was hot, tired, disappointed and hurt. But she had all the patience in the world and the time to practice it. The scrape of footsteps was her first warning that her vigil was coming to an end and Chris looked up to see Laura slow warily as she approached the Jeep. This is my version of waiting on the steps, can you tell?

"Where’s Charles?" It wasn’t what Laura wanted to ask, but it would have to do. Whatever else, she swore to herself, she would hear Chris out. I will not run.

"Lisa took him to the airport on her way out of town. She offered." Chris kept her sunglasses on, knowing that if she took them off she’d be surrendering an advantage. Laura held no such edge. Her eyes were the blue-white of some barely contained emotion.

"Keith and Jody?"

"Already gone. I was hoping you could give me a lift." Chris held her breath.

Laura looked down at her feet. "You should...You should’ve gone back with one of them."

Chris slid off the Jeep and held out the keys. "I wanted to go back with you. Just you." When Laura didn’t take them Chris closed her fingers around the keys and shook them like dice. "I told you that you’d never have a reason not to trust me. It was a while ago but you’re usually pretty good at remembering things."

"I said don’t make promises you can’t keep," Laura muttered.

"I didn’t." Chris moved closer. "I gave my word when I signed the contract. Before us, before I’d even worked with you for a week. There were no outs then, not for a top ten job and not for network."

Laura was silent but her hand tightened on the handle of the bag.

"You didn’t trust me and that’s what hurt the most." Chris’ voice was gently accusing. "I like where I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate being told I’m network caliber."

Laura breathed out a short laugh. A huge ego wrapped in the thinnest of shells. You should have remembered that. "You’re anything you want to be."

"So what happened?" Chris asked.

"I…" Laura looked around the parking lot. "This isn’t where I want to have this conversation, Chris."

"Tough. I have the keys and you really don’t want to go back to the Clubhouse." Chris sealed off the avenues of escape and repeated the question, "What happened?"

"I was afraid you’d leave!" Laura snapped as she dropped the bag and stuffed her hands in her pockets. "That’s all, afraid. Is that what you wanted to hear?" Frustration colored her tone as she started pacing. "If I’d known you existed when I was in Dallas, I would have made you an offer." Laura gave a brief grim laugh. "And Dallas. That’s out now too…The only thing that saves me there is that there were no criminal or civil charges filed and if it’s not on paper, it never happened…People can gossip all they want."

The floodgates were open now and Chris could just stand back and listen.

"…Corporate wise they can sit back and deny everything since part of the deal was that Roger and I don’t discuss it. Good ol’ Roger. He’s still grabbing my ass and I can’t do a damned thing about it. Then that smug network bitch smiles and tells me that contracts are bought out all the time and any station could use some spare cash." Laura turned away and savagely slammed the heel of her hand against the Jeep. "And I know in my gut that if you wanted to go, Art would take that deal no matter what I said." The Jeep absorbed another blow. "Sell you off like you were cattle…For a nice price." Laura spun to face Chris. "Y’all are acting like you’re best friends, and you don’t say anything…you don’t tell her you’re not interested, you don’t tell me you’re not interested."

As abruptly as the anger appeared, it was gone, leaving confused hurt behind. "I didn’t know you were just enjoying the stroke." Laura’s voice dropped and she brought the argument full circle. "I was afraid that you’d go and I’d never…" She stopped, appalled at where her lack of control had led.

Chris waited for Laura to finish but all she got was a half shrug, the one that Chris knew dismissed whatever emotion the tall woman was feeling but didn’t want to deal with. "You’d never what?"

Laura swallowed, aware that she’d given away too much and unwilling to back down for fear of never getting close again. She took a deep breath and brought both hands up to gently pull the sunglasses off Chris’s face to expose green eyes flecked warmly with gold in the fading summer sun. Will I be able to tell? Will I be able to see?

Chris surrendered her advantage and she heard the RayBans click as they were folded closed. The face she looked into was open and vulnerable, blue eyes studying her with an intensity that made her heart dip in her chest.

"I’d never have the chance to tell you that I love you." She winced inwardly, it sounded pathetic.

Great, Kaz. In a parking lot. Your timing is impeccable and you certainly win points for style. Lisa would be proud.

Chris gulped in astonishment, "Love me?" There was a rattle as she dropped the keys and they hit pavement. "You…" She blinked in wonder laced with doubt. "I didn’t think you’d ever see it...much less say it."

Laura couldn’t stand the disappointment and she twisted away. "That’s pretty insulting." She bent to pick up the bag, wishing for numbness instead of throbbing hurt. The cool touch of Chris’ hand on her arm made Laura jump and she schooled her expression into blankness.

"I didn’t mean it that way." Chris stilled Laura’s nervous hands with her own and brought them to her lips for a kiss before resting them against her heart. Breathing felt like such an effort but she reveled in the sensation anyway. "I can’t believe you beat me to it."

Laura’s jaw went slack. She had hope but little faith. "It wasn’t a contest."

Chris couldn’t stop the smile that spread across her face. "No, but I…You never cease to amaze me. Just when I think I couldn’t possibly love you more, you go and do something like this."

"How long?" It came out as an astonished whisper.

"The live truck I guess."

"Oh." Laura wished again for some skill in dealing with personal issues. Never too late to learn. "I’m just winging it Chris. I have no idea what comes next. I’m so sorry for what happened yesterday. I can apologize a million times but I don’t know how to ask you to forgive me.

"You just did." Chris wrapped her arms around Laura and buried her face in the hollow of the taller woman’s shoulder. "About that network thing?"

"Hmm?" Laura swallowed against the sudden fear.

"You’re not getting rid of me that easy."

Laura’s breathing hitched as she rubbed her cheek against soft blonde hair. Relief that she hadn’t spoiled everything seemed to be the only thing holding her up. That and the support of someone she knew was much stronger than she would ever be. "I want to go home. I’m so tired…please, let’s just go home." Chris smiled at the childlike plea and rubbed the back under her hands before disentangling herself from Laura’s body and bending down to pick up the keys.

"Home it is."

******************

The Jeep was easier to drive than Chris thought and the hum of its tires on the interstate was only mildly annoying. She looked over to where Laura was dozing; her head against the rollbar and her jaw still clenched even in sleep. There were things that they still needed to work out, but for the time being they were okay.

She pushes too hard. Chris rolled her shoulders to ease the stiffness, glad that they were almost home and put on the blinker for their exit. No secrets, she vowed and reached over to rub a hand along Laura’s thigh. "Hey, we’re almost there."

"Mmm." Laura rolled her head over and rubbed one eye. "Sorry I’m lousy company." She yawned and blinked. "You can go straight to your place, I’ll take it from there."

"Or you could just stay at my house." Chris licked her lower lip uncertainly. Sometimes we end up going back to the beginning.

"I’m good with that," Laura answered softly.

They unloaded Chris’ things and carried them into the house, dropping most of them just inside the bedroom door.

"I’m going to get a shower, I feel grungy." Chris slid an arm around Laura’s waist and pressed a kiss to a tanned shoulder. She got a weary nod in response.

When she came out of the bathroom later Laura was already asleep on her stomach, the covers pushed down to her waist. Chris stretched out next to her, gently pulling the dark hair away from her face and touching the strong jawline with the tips of her fingers. Laura shifted into the caress and Chris smiled at the unconscious movement. For the first time in her life, she knew that everything she was and everything she wanted were about to collide. She wanted medium market; not too big, no too small, the high profile job and Laura.

Chris lay awake and watched the other woman sleep. They hadn’t talked about golf at all and somehow Chris knew that Laura would have to come to terms with that on her own. Sharing pain was not part of the News Director’s nature but Chris would be patient. You can’t out wait me, Kaz.

*******************

Laura barely cleared the door of the newsroom before Janie was there thrusting a stack of telegrams ands messages into her hands. "Thank God you’re back. This place has been a madhouse and the phone hasn’t stopped ringing. The next time you decide to take over the golf world, could you please give us some advance notice?"

"Glad to see you too." Laura kept walking to her office as Janie continued to hand over packages and letters.

"Elly is picking up the folks from Target Research at the airport, their presentation starts at nine…I don’t envy you the two days of consultant hell. The book should be here tomorrow; Corporate won’t pay for the advances so don’t even ask. Anything else you need to know?"

"Where’s Keith?" Laura was dreading that meeting most of all.

"Went to get some breakfast, do you want to see him?"

"As soon as he gets here." Her desk was clean when she left a week ago now it was covered again. She glanced quickly through the messages shaking her head skeptically. Golf club manufacturers, agents, and requests for interviews dominated the pile, with a few congratulatory notes thrown in. It wasn’t supposed to happen this fast. Breakfast with the Mayor? She tucked the invitation into the corner of her desk blotter and twitched a little at the thought of more privacy lost. Well, if you do it right, they’ll just think you’re eccentric. How does Chris stand it?

"I brought you a Coke. That’s okay now, right?"

Laura looked up to see Keith standing awkwardly in the doorway. She smiled a little wryly, "Better than okay, thanks. Go ahead and close the door. What time did you get back last night?"

He pushed the door closed with his foot and brought the drink over to her desk. "About eleven. You were great, you know. I’m sorry the putt didn’t fall but you were fabulous to watch." He took off his glasses and started cleaning them on his sleeve. "Where do you go from here?"

She regarded him somberly, knowing that he wasn’t just referring to golf. "Nothing’s changed Keith, but everything’s different. I’m sorry that this will make things difficult here…we had some good chemistry in the newsroom and maybe that won’t change. I’d like to think that it’s not anybody’s business but I’m not na´ve. At this point I don’t care what anyone says about me, but I will not tolerate gossip about Chris." Laura took a deep breath, willing to call in every favor she was owed to protect the blonde reporter. "I’m asking you to keep this to yourself. You’re real close to becoming a news director somewhere, you might as well start learning to keep secrets now." She was uncomfortable with the request and the half-bribe.

"I can’t believe you thought you had to ask." Keith said mildly. "I’ll admit I’m not the most observant guy on the planet, or maybe I’ve just been selectively dense, but I knew something was going on." He rubbed his chin and quirked his eyebrow at Laura. "Are you two okay? I mean…" At Laura’s slow nod he broke into a grin. "You’re never anything but a pro in the newsroom Kaz. I don’t expect that’ll change. And Chris is…well, Chris."

Laura felt a surge of affection for the stocky young man and wondered what on earth she had done to inspire that kind of loyalty. "I don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few days. The research will tell us a lot, but the book’s got to come in with some numbers or everything we’ve done over the last two months is going to be called into question." If that happens, I’ll put as much distance between us as possible. You shouldn’t have to pay for my mistakes. There was so much at stake now. Before she’d only worried about herself or the station, never about the other fortunes that were tied to hers. She was wrong, everything had changed.

A tap on the door interrupted them and Elly stuck her head in. "They’re here. Are you ready?"

"Yeah." Picking up a legal pad and her drink she moved to the door. "Thanks Keith."

"It’ll be good news. I have no doubts."

That’s good because I have enough for both of us.

*************************

"Kaz, good to see you. I watched you play over the weekend. That was a helluva shot on 17." Dave Franco was a slick producer turned consultant that she had known since she worked in Austin and sometimes his ingratiating manner was more than a little irritating.

"Thanks. Art’s going to be joining us for the research presentation. Hi Marti…still glad to be off the Anchor desk?" The redhead was Target Research’s idea of the perfect on air personality; bubbly and sincere, someone viewers didn’t mind inviting into their homes every evening via the news. Laura couldn’t stand her. "Well Kaz, a week in Mississippi didn’t hurt your marketability at all. If you’re looking for an agent I could give you some names."

With a healthy cut for you, I’m sure. "No, I want to be a news director for a few more years." She met the numbers cruncher, Mark Jennings, and discussed a variety of topics as they waited for the GM to join them. Laura wasn’t surprised when Dallas came up.

"Oh come on," Dave said. "We all have a list of talent we’d like to pop…It’s the nature of the business."

"Speak for yourself Dave." Marti huffed.

"I can’t even count ‘em all on both hands." Elly said with a grin. The look the Talent Consultant shot at the Promotion Manager was pure venom.

Laura smirked but said nothing. It was easier to think about it now that the price for her lack of control didn’t seem quite so high. Now it was time to see if things were really going to work out. "Sorry I’m late." Five pairs of eyes turned to greet the General Manager as he stepped into the conference room. "Let’s get this show on the road."

Three ring binders were passed out and the power point presentation began. First Mark took them through the methodology of the research, then the market makeup and finally the results from the survey itself.

"As you can see, the viewer preferences for Channel 4 have declined significantly and we have grown quite a bit." It was good news, but Mark’s drone was making Laura sleepy. Art’s eyes were narrowed and he seemed to be absorbing every detail. One bar graph after another went up on the screen and she kept pace, turning pages in the binder as they went along. A year ago she would have been ecstatic with results like these, now she was chafing, anxious to get to the section on personalities. It’s like I can’t think about anything else. Us… work… the lack of time. Nobody ever told me how difficult this was gonna be. Okay, no one told me anything, but that’s not the point. How am I going to make this work when nothing is typical?

"I don’t have to tell you how important it is that this research remain confidential, especially this next section." Laura’s wandering thoughts returned to the conference room with a jerk and she cleared her throat as she leaned forward. Dave started passing out a thin booklet, its cover declaring it the long awaited On Air Personality Study. "If this were to get out then your talent would have a significant advantage when it comes to salary negotiations." Laura rolled her eyes. The hush-hush business bothered her; Talent had a right to know if they were any good and by the same token they had the right to know if they stunk. "Marti, it’s all yours."

"Thanks Dave. Boy, do we have some interesting stuff here." The bar graph went up on the screen and Laura blinked at the amount of red climbing past the mark that read eighty percent.

"Oh my god," Elly murmured in awe.

"That’s pretty much what we thought. Christine Hanson has eighty-four percent name recognition in this market, with only two percent reacting negatively. We’ve only seen that with weathermen, never with an anchor and certainly not one who just moved from daytime to prime. It seems you were right about her Kaz."

There’s your insurance Chris. Laura nodded slightly, "What about the others?"

Another graph went up. "They’re in the sixties with Michelle holding at fifty nine. That’s something you may want to look at later. Let me show you something else." The graph morphed into a chart. "Hanson hits over forty percent in viewer preference, and tops forty in the quality ranking as well. In short, you have a star. Give her lots of money and lock her in… or she’s gone."

Laura felt the dread again for just a moment. "No. She’s ours for three years." Mine as long as I don’t screw it up again.

"Will she stay after that?"

"I don’t know." Laura answered honestly. "Will those numbers hold?"

Marti frowned, "I don’t see why not. This is phenomenal for someone just moving to prime; I can’t emphasize that enough. I’d like to spend some time tomorrow with her, to get a little better feel of what we have here. She tests better than Kurt your meteorologist…That’s unheard of."

"And you were worried." Elly tossed a grin over at Laura. "Makes my job easier."

"Now this doesn’t necessarily mean a successful ratings book…" Laura recognized the disclaimer portion of the program. "Sometimes it takes a little while to show up." Marti continued to click through a variety of charts and graphs stopping to point out some trend.

Laura had half of her answers and she was almost giddy with relief. I was right. This is the payoff. Whatever else happens, Chris can fall back on these numbers and Target can get her a job in any market in the country. She did it…Chris made it work. Now if we can come through with the book.

*************************

The meeting lasted all day and then they watched the Five and Six. Their luck held and there were no serious glitches to be reported to corporate as proof positive that WBFC still needed the services of Target Research. It’s not hard to keep a job if all you have to do is say that someone’s not doing it right, Laura thought. Then you just skip away after you’ve wrecked a perfectly good news operation. They all ate dinner at a popular restaurant and by the time the evening was over, she’d had her fill of Dave and Marti’s verbal sparring and Art egging them on. Worn out, she climbed into the Jeep, hating the fact that the consultants would be there for another day.

Bet she’s on the swing. Haven’t seen her all day, unless you count watching her on the Six. Without hesitating Laura drove down the quiet street and pulled in behind Chris’ Volvo. For a second she debated not bringing the report then shook her head. No secrets, she decided and opened the door of the Jeep.

"What do you talk about in those marathon meetings and is there any food?" The voice came from the darkened porch and Laura followed it drawn irresistibly to the teasing sound; Chris was on the swing barefoot in cutoffs and a T-shirt.

"Mostly we talk about our plans to take over the world using the media to manipulate the masses. Then we have really bad sandwiches and carrot cake for lunch."

Chris’ peel of laughter was exactly what Laura needed to hear as she eased down on the swing tapping the rolled up booklet on her leg. "The Six looked good today…Glad to be back in the swim?"

"Mmm, yeah." Chris moved closer and rested her head on Laura’s shoulder. "Are we okay here or is it a little too public?"

"Well, could you turn on the porch light for just a minute? There’s something I want to show you." Laura waited while the blonde woman got up and reached inside the door to hit the switch.

"What’s that?" Chris tilted her head to read the cover of the report before lowering herself to sit cross-legged on the swing.

"This is an On Air Personality Study. We pay Target Research a good deal of money to do these extensive market research projects. They do the surveys and it helps us to see what areas we’re weak in and they make recommendations. Mostly what you and the rest of the station sees is their little quarterly visits that make us all crazy." Laura looked up and Chris nodded in understanding. "We don’t really talk to you about the research, we just try to shift the focus of our priorities."

"Who is we?" Chris asked.

"Management. Corporate, Art, Elly and me. What I’m trying to say is that y’all aren’t privy to this information. I could lose my job by showing it to you."

"Do you know your Texas accent gets thicker when you’re stressed? I don’t want you to get into trouble over some report." Chris’ tone was gently chiding.

Laura’s mouth tightened. "No, I trust you and I want you to see it…professionally and personally…And you need to see it for your own peace of mind." She flipped open the cover and started turning pages until she got to the chart she wanted. "Here."

Eighty four percent name recognition? "I don’t get it," Chris said in a puzzled voice. "Only eighty four percent of our viewers know who I am?"

"No Chris. Eighty four percent of the people in Burkett Falls and the surrounding areas know who you are. You test higher than any local anchor Target has ever seen. If we go through this," Laura turned to another graph. "You can see that you top forty percent in viewer preference. I’ve never seen that. Roger McNamara only hit thirty-six and he was the best I’ve ever had till now. And you’ve only been at this a month."

"So…" Realization was beginning to dawn on Chris.

"Here’s your protection." Laura said softly. "I’m not saying that you’re invincible, but regardless of how you choose to live your life, someone would have to think very long and hard before pulling you off the air." She hesitated for only a second before imparting one last bit of information. "By showing you this, I’ve given you the information you’d need if you ever had to file suit for discrimination. Now, past performance is not a guarantee of future success," Laura smirked at her own disclaimer. "But this is important Chris, you have all the power here."

"But what about the book?" Green eyes looked earnestly into Laura’s and the News Director smiled. "We’ll know tomorrow, but trust me when I tell you that if you get a numbers kick like this in a research project, the ratings book is going to be fabulous. Elly about wet herself."

It was almost too much for Chris to absorb. It felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. "Could you really get in trouble for telling me this?"

Laura snorted. "You could break us with the salary demand alone. This is what Jan Sheffield was seeing in Mississippi, Chris." She breathed out impatiently, "Aren’t you listening to me at all when I tell you that you can be anything you want to be?"

Chris looked down as Laura’s nervous hands played with the corner of the report. The News Director had just given her a powerful weapon that she could turn on the station and launch a career that could go as far as she was willing to let it. But Laura had done it knowing that she was risking her job and without asking for anything in exchange. Chris couldn’t decide which touched her more. "Okay."

"Okay, what?"

"Okay, thanks for telling me. I feel a lot better. Do I still get a ten percent raise next year?"

"Chris, don’t you…"

"No." Chris placed her fingers softly over Laura’s lips. "This couldn’t have been easy for you to do. As far as I’m concerned that’s it…subject dropped. I’m here for the duration of my contract at the salary we agreed on. Now in three years, you’ll probably have to cough up some serious cash. As far as the rest of it’s concerned, I still can’t hold hands with you in public and that hurts. But I have you here and now. That’s not too bad."

Laura felt the warmth spread from the center of her chest as Chris nestled into her shoulder. "Well, actually I can’t stay. Hey!" The swing rocked abruptly when the smaller woman sat up. "I’m sorry, but I haven’t been home in a week," she said apologetically. "I’ve got laundry to do and I have to iron."

Chris sighed. "I know, it’s just we never have any time."

"Look, they’re gone tomorrow. I’ll take you to dinner after the Six. Your choice, then we’ll go back to my place and you can plan to stay. That is, I’m asking you if you’ll stay, even if it’s a school night." Laura took one of Chris’ smaller hands into her own marveling at its strength and elegance compared to her tanned roughness.

"You’re on. Anywhere I want?"

"We’re gonna have Mexican again aren’t we?"

**********************

Laura was humming delightedly as she marked another line on the May Neilson Ratings book. The tiny print was making her eyes water but that was the only bad news, everything else about the book was a vindication of what she’d put the newsroom through over the last two months.

"Wouldja look at the men?"

"Hmm?" Laura looked up at the Promotion Manager who was pacing in front of her desk.

"Men are tuning in to the Six in droves…18 to 34, 25 to 54, all the demos we’re looking for. We already had the women, but damn!" Elly quickly flipped to another page. "Could you work some magic for the Ten? It’s not bad, but I want a twelve point turnaround next book there too."

"Everybody did a great job in May, your people too, Elly."

"We had a lot more to work with…Made a huge difference. Ah, the woman of the hour." Elly looked at her watch. "Hey Chris, how come you’re not on the set?"

"Because I’m having the consultant day from hell!" Chris glowered as she tossed her briefcase down on a chair.

"She spent the day with Marti, so Tom’s going solo." Laura supplied "Are they gone?"

"Yes, I just dropped their interfering little asses at the airport. You were locked up with all three of them for nine hours yesterday? Why aren’t you being held on an assault charge?"

"Because I’m learning to control my temper." She replied mildly.

"That’s my cue to exit." Elly grinned at the blonde anchor. "Thanks for saving my job, now I can go on vacation next week. Later Kaz."

Chris frowned thoughtfully. "You weren’t kidding about a management change if the numbers didn’t come in."

"No I wasn’t."

"So how was it." Chris gestured at the book in Laura’s hand.

"It’ll do." Laura couldn’t keep the grin off her face. "Art is ecstatic, Corporate is thrilled and Sales thinks we can make a buttload of money."

"So it’s good?"

"Chris, we had a twelve point share turnaround at Six. That’s worth about…" Laura shrugged as she calculated a figure. "…Two million a year. We kicked their asses."

"Good, ‘cause I’m really hungry and I deserve a big ol’ dinner."

"Bad day?" Laura hid a smile.

Chris rubbed her forehead. "It didn’t start out that badly…We did a makeup evaluation first, that was pretty easy…I look youthful and healthy…those were Marti’s words. I could stand to be more mature." Chris curled her lip. "Then we went on to hair. I am not going to try for a fuller look. If you want me to have that anchor helmet hair, you’re gonna have to find another anchor."

Laura didn’t say anything and her face remained expressionless.

"Then she asked me about my eyebrows…did I tweeze or did I wax? I told her I tweezed. Wrong answer! And we’re off to this beauty parlor to get my eyebrows waxed. Have you ever had your eyebrows waxed?"

"Uh, no."

"They paint on the hot wax with this little tiny brush, then they stick paper on it and rip it off…’rip’ being the operative word. It’s a little painful…You could get good information out of a prisoner of war using that stuff. So I’m lying there stunned, and they rub this greasy stuff on my eyes and hand me a mirror. I looked like Rocky Balboa after the fight."

"They look pretty good now." Laura said in what she hoped was a soothing manner.

"Sure, now they do. Then we went shopping. Wait’ll you see my expense report for this month. I got about eight new suits and a bunch of shoes. I never thought I’d say this…but I don’t want to go shopping again anytime soon. That woman is merciless." Chris flopped down on one of the chairs gracelessly. "Screw the network seduction, Laura. There is nothing like a consultant who wants to take credit for talent that tests well…That’s what she said, ‘Chris, we’re pleased with the way you were received by the viewing public.’" Her imitation of Marti’s delivery was dead on and Laura laughed.

Chris ran her tongue across her teeth and grimaced. "We had a session on finding my ‘comfort zone…’" Chris used her fingers to make quotation marks. "…And projecting it on air. The audience is supposed to join me in my ‘comfort zone.’ I’m not sure I want the audience to join me there, so if you don’t mind I’ll just keep doing things the way I’ve been doing them."

Laura smirked, "Whatever makes you comfortable."

"Mmm." Chris pressed her lips together. "She asked me about my personal life. Do I have a boyfriend, am I living with anyone…I said no to both questions and she asked, ‘Why? Good looking girl like you…are you gay?’" Laura’s eyes snapped up to meet the anchor’s. "I told her yes and asked her if she’d like to go out sometime. She laughed." Chris shook her head in faint amusement. "I didn’t lie, it’s not my fault she didn’t believe me."

"You are incorrigible." Laura murmured, wondering how she would have told Chris to handle the situation.

"Yes, well that’s why I make the big money. Take me to dinner Kaz, I’m starving."

***********************

"Why is it Little Kaz?"

"Hmm?" Laura rumbled as her hand played in Chris’s hair. She had almost fallen asleep with the smaller woman sprawled on top of her when she was nudged by the question.

"They called you that at the Open…Charles and Susan, some of the others. Was your Mom Kaz too? ‘Cause you’re not little." Chris nuzzled Laura’s neck and waited for an answer.

"No. Kaz was my Dad." She shivered slightly at the touch. "When I was little and I hung around the course with my Mom, I really hated my name so I’d tell everyone to call me Kaz, just like my Dad. So they called me Little Kaz." She opened one eye and peered down at Chris. "You call me Laura when you’re being serious or you’re trying to tick me off. I’m Kaz when you’re teasing, or when you’re angry and I’m always, always Kaz right…before…you…Ah, don’t stop."

Chris laughed and ran her fingertips across Laura’s belly to her hipbone before kissing her roughly. Pulling away she licked her lower lip where Laura’s taste still lingered. "I’m going to make you yell this time…so loud they’re going to evict you, then you’ll have to move in with me and we can do this every night."

Laura couldn’t suck in air fast enough. "That’s always a possibility," she gasped.

************

She was awake before the alarm went off. The feeling of Chris naked and wrapped around her was erotically decadent in her limited experience and she shivered against the instant arousal. Bless me father for I have sinned…It’s been thirteen years since my last confession and you won’t believe what I’ve been up to. Laura pushed the guilt away and regarded the ceiling as the new day’s light stole through the skinny blinds.

It was scary how easily Chris slipped in, Laura thought. The blonde woman murmured in her sleep and burrowed closer, if that was possible. For what seemed like the hundredth time she wondered why Chris would be interested in someone like her. Interested, hell, she said she loved me…Or is that just the appropriate response when someone says ‘I love you’ first? Laura sighed in frustration; sure she had missed some sign. Still fumbling along.

The phone rang and interrupted her musings and with a grunt of irritation she grabbed the receiver and sat up, gently trying to dislodge Chris as the sheets pooled around her waist. "Hello?" She swallowed to clear her dry throat.

Chris sat up and rubbed her eyes, catching the first part of the one sided conversation. "Oh good god, how?" She slid a hand up Laura’s bare back to her shoulder and felt it stiffen with tension.

"Okay, what time? Wait a sec." Laura clicked on the bedside light and grabbed a pad and started writing. Chris was getting more concerned by the second. "That’s 9:10, Delta flight 5927…I’ll let Keith know. Sure, I’ll tell ‘em." Laura hung up the phone, her mouth set in a grim line.

"What’s wrong?" A niggling fear was beginning to spread through Chris’ belly.

Laura looked stunned and she pushed the bangs away from her face before she answered. "Roger McNamara died yesterday of an apparent heart attack. That was Don Farmer. They want me to come to Atlanta this morning."

"Roger is the guy you hit in Dallas."

"Yeah." Laura willed herself to calm before she looked at Chris. "I swear to god this was never supposed to happen…I was going to get out first, but I needed three years."

"What do you mean?" Chris was confused.

"The deal’s on."

 

Concluded in Part 12

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