By M. Ryan
For disclaimers see Part 1
Comments are welcome! firstname.lastname@example.org
What Are the Chances?
The pedals on the stationary bike were already spinning at 70rpm but Chris pushed them even faster, increasing the uncomfortable burn in her thighs. The morning workout was a habit so deeply ingrained that the reporter could no more skip it than she could forget to eat. And since one was the reason for the other, it was probably a good thing that she stuck to the discipline.
It also gave her time to think. Some of her best story ideas came from these morning sessions when her mind was free to wander, or when someone approached her with a tip. The Information Officer for the Burkett Falls PD worked out at the "Y", as did the Fire Chief and her connection to them had proved valuable in the past.
The time expired on the bicycle workout, and she dismounted, wiping the seat and the handgrips with the towel provided. Wednesday was a slow day at the gym as the promises to live a healthier life on Monday gave in to the reality of a busy week, but by Friday it would be crowded again. The incline board was the last part of Chris workout, the sit ups and crunches her least favorite excercises and with a sigh she settled into the repetition.
Shes back today. Chris closed her eyes and conjured up an image of her boss. It had been a while since shed even thought about entering into another relationship, and even with the stop and go nature of this one, she was enjoying the warmth and the laughter, despite the obvious frustrations.
Chris loved people. She liked talking to them, drawing them out, and being with them. That said, she could be happy alone as well. There was toughness hidden beneath the layer of spontaneity and charm, it had carried her through the ultra competitive Journalism School at the University of Missouri, and now it was going to help her get through to Laura Kasdan
This is different, it isnt a crush anymore. It should have made her uneasy. Getting involved with someone at work, or even in the media in the same market, was on her list of things not to do, but things hadnt been the same since the Live Truck blew to hell, and took her resolutions with it.
Were not talking about the "L" word here, are we? Well, theres lust Havent been in lust for a while. That wouldve been Erica dont go there. That was another file marked cringe material.
Finished with the sit-ups, Chris shook out her arms and headed for the locker room to pick up her keys and bag. She went home to shower and change, stopping by the bagel shop on the way. An hour later she was on her way to the station, looking tailored and cool in a soft green skirt and jacket set, an off white blouse with a Chinese collar completing the outfit. Anchoring meant that there were no more dress down days for her. I miss wearing jeans to work. She only wore light makeup; the heavy stuff would come later in the day right before she had to go on the set.
Even though she was no longer required to attend the morning meetings, Chris still came anyway, figuring it was a lot better to have a say in the story you were assigned to, rather than have one dropped in your lap. Entering the newsroom, Chris played a game with herself to see how long she could keep from looking into the News Directors office for Laura, and felt like she was making real strides when she managed to unlock her desk and turn on the computer before sneaking a peek.
Laura was on the phone when the staff started trickling in for the meeting, one elbow on the desk supporting the hand holding the receiver. Her eyes flicked upward and met Chris as soon as the reporter cleared the door, a slight smile came and went, then it was all business and another newsday was underway.
She stood up from behind her desk, long fingers barely brushing the blotter and scowled, "We have a problem. Last night at ten, we reported that one of the women injured in yesterdays three car pileup on I-20 had died The problem is she aint dead." Lauras eyes swept the room and her displeasure was a tangible thing. This was the Kazmanian devil in full control. "Keith, how did that happen?"
The Managing Editor did his best not to squirm under the scrutiny. "The PIO, Police Information Officer called last night and said the Coroner confirmed she was dead It was actually a woman involved in another pileup on Saturday "
"Mark Norton made the mistake?" Her fingers were drumming now.
"No, Marks on vacation, it was his fill
She nodded once, "Okay, heres what I want: I want a report on exactly what was said by the PIO, what we said on air, what the actual facts are, and how we will air the correction, on my desk by noon."
"Why do you "
"When Mr. Poteet, the station attorney, comes to you in two years to depose you for the lawsuit thats been filed by this womans family, are you going to remember?"
"No you wont. But if I have a copy of the notarized report in my filing cabinet, you wont have to worry and neither will I." Laura dipped her hands into the pockets of her slacks and tilted her head. "We live in a litigious society and every newscast we air makes us vulnerable. A man in Jacksonville is suing us because we reported that he was charged with assault." She shrugged, "No big deal except we didnt report that he was cleared of the charges."
"What Im trying to say is that we have to follow up on everything. If its important enough to report that he was charged, its important enough to report that he was cleared. Its the ethical thing to do and it protects the station." Then Laura surprised everyone in the room by smiling wryly as she sat down behind the desk. "Im off my soapbox now. Lets go around the room."
The tension eased considerably as the reporters and producers pitched their stories, and by the time it was Chris turn they had several ideas and a few heated discussions. "Ive got a couple of things theres a rumor of explosions happening at gas pumps when people are using cell phones while theyre filling up, something about sparks being generated while the phone is in service. A guy at a gas station whos seen it spark says hell talk on camera, plus we could talk to some cell phone guys."
Laura crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair as though contemplating the idea, then said in all seriousness, " I think I speak for everyone here, and everyone at corporate when I say I dont want you anywhere near that story." The snickers started before turning into full-fledged belly laughs, and the blonde reporter blushed before joining in. Laura waved her had at one of the others, "Maria, why dont you get the information from Chris and check it out. Got anything else?"
"Well, a new government report is out, and did you know that homicide is the second leading cause of death in the workplace?" Chris imparted this information with a puzzled look, "Dont you think thats weird? What about accidents and heart attacks? And homicide is the number one cause of death for women in the workplace."
Keith pulled at his lower lip thoughtfully, "Mostly clerks in convenience and liquor stores right?"
"Mostly," she answered, "But not always. The phrase Going Postal has become part of our vocabulary, and even here, a woman was killed at the Martin Tire Plant when she got into a fight with another employee."
"So whats the angle?" Laura asked.
"We have metal detectors at schools, post offices, and airports, and after the shootings at Columbine, we hear a lot about how to keep our schools safe, but what can businesses do to make sure their employees are safe on the job when the very nature of a business means that you have to be accessible?" Chris paused, waiting for the verdict.
"I like it, "said Keith, "We could pack it for the Five and Chris could intro it."
"Sounds good," Laura nodded as they moved on. "The new Star Wars movie opens tonight at midnight and theyre already lining up at the Cinemark Rendally, you draw theater duty today. Get me some fanatics in costume a lightsaber duel would be nice." She checked her notes, "That should do it people."
"Oh, Kaz?" Keith cleared his throat, and Laura raised her eyebrows in question. "Congratulations on qualifying for the Open." The rest of the staff broke into applause and the tall woman blushed.
"Yeah, well, we still have two weeks of the book to get through before I can even start thinking about it. We cant afford to let up. Second place sucks, and dont let anyone tell you differently." The producers and reporters filed out as Laura picked up an envelope from her desk and opened it. "Kate, Keith, and Chris Could I see you for a second?" The three stopped and came back into the office. "Ive got some tickets to the Star Wars premiere tonight at midnight thought you might like to go."
Keiths face lit up, "Hey, howd you get those? Theyve been sold out for a week."
Laura gave a sheepish half smile, "Im one of the twenty most influential people in town. I think I can manage a few movie tickets. Theyre VIP seats, so you dont even have to get there early."
She gave out the passes and when Keith and Kate left, Chris lagged behind.
"You, me, Kate, and Keith? Thats some group date."
"Lisa and Trey too. I had six total, you dont mind, do you?" Nervous fingers flipped the corner of the remaining ticket. "Besides, itll give Kate a chance to spend some time with Keith outside the newsroom but without the pressure of an official date."
The reporters mouth fell open in astonishment, "I would have bet money that you didnt know about that." Kate and Keiths volatile working relationship seemed to be turning into something else, but neither had acknowledged or acted on the obvious attraction.
Laura smirked, "Oh, I know a lot of stuff that goes on out there, Id be a pretty rotten news director if I didnt keep up. You just think I dont know." She rubbed her chin, nervously unsure of what to say next. "So, I hope thats okay all of us going."
Safety in numbers? For both of us. "Sure, itll be fun." Chris turned to leave, then stopped, "Im happy for you about the Open, and Im really glad youre back." Then she was gone. Laura stood staring at the door, wanting to call her back and knowing that she couldnt.
Chris made some phone calls and set up two interviews before she started to outline where she was taking the story. Jason was her photog and he was taking care of some dubs, waiting on her word to go. Glancing up she watched Laura leave her office with a sheaf of papers, her black cowboy boots thumping across the floor. Just how did you reconcile the woman who could barely stand to be touched with the person who scrounged up six movie tickets so she could play matchmaker? Nothing will ever be easy with her, you know that, right? Taking a deep breath, Chris gathered her notebook and went in search of her cameraman.
"But I have to have those tripods, I cant move them to fourth quarter, I need them now." Arguing capital priorities with the Business Manager was an exercise in frustration since she controlled the purse strings and her decisions were final. "Those cameras are pretty heavy and two of the tripods were using are liable to collapse at any time. I dont want anyone to get hurt." Laura hoped that by mentioning the possibility of an injury, Phyllis would see things her way. She didnt.
"Kaz, theyre moving to fourth quarter. Cheer up, it couldve been the script printers, Im just tired of hearing you bitch about those." Phyllis closed the binder with a snap. "Its a corporate thing, I really dont have that much say in it."
"Well dont say I didnt warn you." Laura passed over a stack of purchase orders. "Where do we stand on the new camera? I know we filed for the insurance." Jody still wasnt shooting, so they werent short yet.
"Richards ordered it, I dont know about delivery." The Business Manager took the forms and arranged them in neat piles on her desk. "Check with him, I havent seen any paperwork yet."
Ah, the paperwork, Laura fumed. She hated that part of being a manager; the endless reams of faxes, invoices, and urgent messages, not to mention the constant battle to acquire needed equipment and the never-ending meetings. Next to that, dealing with the newsroom was childs play.
She returned to her office and dumped the stack of files on her desk, then opened her top drawer to pull out her copy of the News Department budget. Looking down Laura caught sight of an envelope and swore softly. With all that had happened Friday, she hadnt deposited her paycheck. With a snort she wished again that William-Simon Communications would move into the twentieth century and go to direct deposit. Oh well, the bank was right across the street from the station and it wouldnt take any time to use the ATM.
This damn machine is never working, and then the bank wants to charge you for using a real live teller. Chris resisted the urge to kick the stuffing out of the ATM, and resigned herself to waiting in line to cash a check. She left the glass cubicle and went inside the bank proper, groaning inwardly at the crowd already waiting.
Taking her place in line, she fished her checkbook out of her purse and uncapped a pen with her teeth. Her writing was barely legible and she frowned impatiently as she finished filling out the check. A twenty-minute wait for twenty bucks. Now thats high tech. More customers came in and joined the queue. "Whats taking so long?" Chris spoke to no one in particular, but the man in front of her turned around. "Dont you hate it when the ATM isnt working?" He grunted disinterestedly but she kept on, "They charge you two dollars for every teller transaction because they say it costs them more, but they wont make sure the stupid machine is working during lunch. I think its a scam." The man rolled his eyes and faced forward, sticking his hands in the pockets of his windbreaker. Kinda warm for a jacket, Chris thought.
"Well thats just great," Laura muttered as the automatic teller spit her card back and flashed an out of order message. Taking the deposit envelope and the rejected card, she went around the corner and into the bank where she got into line behind a woman she recognized as another station employee. Laura nodded briefly in greeting then settled down to wait, noticing a pale blonde head near the front of the line.
One of the tellers called for the next customer and the man in front of Chris walked over to the counter, his heavy work boots scraping on the tile floor. Im next, the reporter thought, good-natured patience winning out over frustration. Her attention was drawn back to the counter as voices were raised in some sort of disagreement, then pandemonium ensued.
"Everyone on the floor and nobody gets hurt!" Snatching up a canvas bag, the man in the jacket waved a gun over his head and barked the command. "Now!" Screams and gasps answered him as the crowd of bank customers began to drop to the ground.
Laura rolled her eyes in disbelief as she heard sirens and saw the cop cars pull up outside the glass doors. What kind of idiot robs a bank at lunchtime three blocks away from a police precinct?
Its on the scanners already. She looked toward the front of the line where she last saw her six oclock anchor as she started to comply with the gunmans request.
"On the floor! Now!"
Listening to police scanners requires the linguistic skills of an interpreter and the numeric recall of a military codebreaker. The constant squawking had the potential to drive even the most ravenous news hound insane. At Channel 8 the scanners were the domain of the Assignments Editor and Janie could tell what was going on all over the city while eating, talking on the phone, and riding herd on the reporters simultaneously. It was all stress all the time but she thrived on it.
When the call came asking officers to respond to an possible armed robbery in progress, Janie was all ready to write down the address and send a crew, but she stopped mid scrawl recognizing the address of the bank across the street from the station. "Jason! Terence!" Yelling at the top of her lungs she scurried down the hall to roust the cameraman and reporter to send them to cover the story unfolding on their doorstep.
Keith shouldered open the back door as he carried in a box full of lunch orders from the deli. "Whats going on?" he asked as Janie ran back to her desk.
"Robbery across the street Jason and Terence are on the way. The silent alarm went off, a teller mustve hit it."
Keith slid the box and its contents down on the nearest flat surface. "Chris was going to the bank, you dont think Oh shit."
"Oh fuck! You set off the alarm!" The agitated gunman spun around frantically trying to figure out a way to get out of the situation with his loot and skin intact. Settling on the only solution he could think of, ingrained from years of watching predictable television, he yanked Chris to her feet with panic driven strength. "I want a car and I want out or Ill kill her, so help me God!"
Chris winced when he jammed the barrel of the gun against her head just behind the ear, If I didnt have bad luck Id have no luck at all she thought again, wondering how she was going to get out of this mess. Looking down at the floor crowded with huddled bodies praying not to be noticed, she met the electric blue eyes of her boss, and felt a wave of relief so intense she thought her legs would buckle.
Fix this, Laura thought. Her mind chased down several possible scenarios, finally landing on the one that stood the best chance of success. Give him something and keep him talking. No one else seemed inclined to step up, and that was one of her people in danger. She took a deep breath and called out, "Wait a minute hey Im not gonna hurt you. Listen for just a second." The gun swung in her direction and one of the women on the floor whimpered fearfully. "Dont you know who that is?" Laura pointed at Chris, "Shes famous Shes on TV."
"Yeah, I seen her So what?" the gunman snarled.
She eased to her feet slowly so as not to appear threatening. "Look, I run the show over at Channel 8, you know Action News I can get a crew over here in no time put you on the air and you can get whatever you want. Once you control the media, youve got it made." Laura slid a glance to green eyes, trying to convey a message without a word. Help me out here Chris, sell it to him. "Youve got a card here to play, fella, dont blow it."
The blonde reporter stuttered as she tossed in her two cents worth, "Yeah, shes shes the boss, she could talk to the cops and get you what you want. The cameras would make sure of it. That way nobody has to get hurt." Chris jerked as the gun was pressed against her neck again. She took a shallow breath, not sure what the News Director was up to, but horrified by the journalistic hustler on display.
"Cmon, cmon Ill do it We need the ratings. Lemme make the call," Laura urged, her eyes glittering maniacally "They dont know whats going on, theyre liable to bust in here and splatter you all over the marble."
"All right! But she does it!" He tightened his grip on Chris arm, deciding that the petite blonde would be easier to handle than the tall woman with the big mouth. "Tell em they better not come in here or I start shooting!"
Oh hell. The plan to get Chris out of harms way hadnt worked. Anxiously she looked for some kind of edge. He doesnt have enough hands, Laura thought as she watched him push Chris to the counter. The robber was holding on to the money with the same hand he was controlling his hostage with, and waving the gun with the other. "No funny stuff or Ill blow your head off."
Chris was catching on, Distract and confuse him. Hes not the sharpest knife in the drawer. "Dyou want me to call the police first or the TV station?" She was still shaking, but felt like she was taking back control, inch by inch.
"TV No the cops first." With only slightly shaking hands Chris dialed the Police Information Office number from memory, wondering what the protocol was in a hostage situation. "Hey Jenny, this is Chris Hanson, listen, Im inside the Firstbank on Kirby Street Yeah thatd be the one Id really appreciate it if you could patch me through to whoevers in charge Ive got the gunman right here. Yeah, same old, same old." There was a long pause, "Mike? Okay." She held out the receiver, "Tell him what you want."
Good girl, Chris. He has to put something down to talk. Laura began inching her way forward, stepping around customers who were doing their best to shrink into the floor until she reached one of the posts connected to the red velvet rope designed to keep the customers in an orderly line.
The robber figured out he had a dilemma pretty quickly and snarled, pushing the receiver back at Chris with his gun hand. "Tell him I want them out of the parking lot, now! No cops within fifty yards of this place And I want a car tell him I want a car in ten minutes."
"Didja get that Mike?" Chris listened for a moment. "He wants you to let some of these people go "
"Fuck no!" He screamed, "Everybody stays! Ten minutes, or I start shooting!" He pushed Chris against the counter as he grabbed the phone with his gun hand and slammed the receiver down. The robber was bordering on hysteria, his head frantically jerking from side to side trying to maintain his dominance over everyone in the bank. Chris tried to ease away, but he grabbed her wrist and pulled back, turning to face the tall dark woman. "Now, she can call your guys," he told Laura. "Tell em what I want. Tell em the cops better not fuck with me go on!" Chris picked up the phone again and dialed, her eyes nervously going back to Lauras.
"Keith, ah, its Chris could you get a camera over to the Firstbank across the street Theres a robbery in progress and the gunman wants to talk "
"Chris, thank god! We thought you might be in the bank."
Chris resisted the urge to laugh, "Sorry, I hate to be the one to tell you, but my lucks running true to form and were about to get an exclusive, so could you send someone over?"
Keith felt a jerk in his gut that was becoming all too familiar when dealing with the blonde reporter. "Oh no Kaz isnt here, I cant how oh Christ."
"Kaz wants you to send someone." Chris put her hand to her forehead, "Shes in here Keith.
"Im on my way." Keith hung up the phone and bolted to the door. "Chris and Kaz are in the bank Get Live 2 out front as fast as you can and get the mast cam cranked up. They are not doing this again without me!" The door closed with a thunk and Janie was left behind as the scanners continued to crackle around her.
"Cameras on its way." Chris set the phone in its cradle wincing when the gunman shoved her forward in front of him so that he could approach the windows. Using the reporter as a shield, he peeked out and relaxed slightly as the police cars pulled away from the front of the building. "Okay, now were gettin somewhere." He turned around, moving away from the windows, waving the gun menacingly. "Everyone stay down...you too!" He pointed it at Laura with a sneer, "Especially you."
Well this isnt good. Laura sank to her knees, her back against the counter. All around her the other hostages were getting restless and the muttering was getting louder. "Ya know," she said, running the risk of irritating the robber into shooting her, "Theyre probably not gonna let that cameraman come in unless you let some of these folks go Sort of as a sign of good faith."
"You talk too damn much." The man huddled next to Laura hissed, "If youd shut up, maybe wed get out of here in one piece."
"Hey, Im trying to get you out of here."
"Just shut the fuck up!" The gunman trembled with rage, swinging the gun erratically as if he didnt know where to point it. Near the breaking point, he panted in frustration at the situation that had spiraled out of his control. At the end of the counter, the phone began to ring and he started for it, pulling Chris behind him, unwilling to let her go as though she alone would provide him protection, not understanding that she was the reason for what happened next.
Its now or never. As angry feet stomped by where she knelt, Laura snaked out a long arm and grabbed an ankle. Yanking as hard as she could, she sent him sprawling, the gun skittering away from his reaching hands. Scrambling to her feet Laura tackled him as he tried to stand and chase after the firearm.
What the hell is she doing? Chris stumbled after the gun, kicking it into the corner near the vault. She turned just in time to see Laura stand to pick up a post still attached to a red velvet rope and swing it like a club down on the struggling gunman. "Just stay down and I wont kill you!" He didnt obey, so she swung again. "Dont say I didnt warn you." This time he lay still. Standing over the man, her chest heaving with exertion, Laura looked up through a dark tangle of hair and smiled crookedly at Chris, "Remind me never to follow you into a bank. Are you okay?"
Oblivious to the others around them Chris shouted, "Were you trying to get us killed?"
Laura let the post clatter to the floor. "Call Mike or whoevers in charge, tell em to get in here." Walking carefully to the corner she bent down and picked up the gun. Flipping the cylinder open she gave a short bitter laugh. "Son of a bitch didnt have any bullets."
There were twenty-eight people in the bank, including the employees and all of them had to be interviewed by the police. Chris account was detailed and precise as she formed the skeleton of her story while answering the questions. Resisting the urge to tell the officer, What she said, Laura told her side of the story in a clipped even tone that didnt differ from the reporters version.
Told they could go, Chris stayed behind with Jason to get some interviews and B roll, her story on violence in the workplace coming together in a way that no one had anticipated in the morning meeting. Laura marveled at the transformation, Chris was the quintessential reporter again, doggedly chasing down the details from the others involved. Shaking her head in wonder, Laura and Keith headed back to the station.
"How do we handle this, Kaz?" Following Laura into her office, Keith was still fighting back his disappointment at arriving on the scene too late to do anything but make sure all their bases were covered.
"How does she do that?"
"Shes like a trouble magnet Dan Rather wishes he had that kinda luck." Laura sank down into her chair and stared wide-eyed at the Managing Editor. "Everyday is an adventure, cars, live trucks, tornadoes, bank robberies, you name the disaster, shes there."
"I dont think "
"Dallas was peaceful compared to this!" She waved a hand emphatically, "I have to remind myself that I wanted it I wanted a reporter who would be there when the shit hit the fan I just had no idea that it was gonna happen all the damn time." The explanation did nothing to ease the worried frustration.
Keith shrugged, "She is what she is." At his words, Laura felt an ache in her chest, unfamiliar and intense. Ah Chris, what have you done to me? She closed her eyes to gather the professionalism that was her stock in trade, and clenched her jaw tight before looking up again. "What do we have and what are our options? Get Kate and Rob in here, lets figure out a way to make this work without making it look like something out of the National Enquirer."
Keith took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Are we gonna release your name? I mean how do we say our News Director beat the living shit out of the alleged gunman without sounding like, well "
"Dont you think Beat the living shit is a little strong?" She sighed, "I know. It wouldve been a good story, but I had to fuck it up by getting involved. Were supposed to observe, not participate Theres gotta be a way to make it work."
In the end there wasnt. Channel 4 and 12 both reported that Laura Kasdan tripped and subdued the armed man, and even though it was just a reader and they showed no video, the point was inferred: Channel 8 manufactured their own news. Kate and Rob tried to tone it down, but it was still sensationalistic...great for ratings but lousy for credibility. The other stations also reported that several of the customers caught inside the bank were considering legal action against the bank and Channel 8. All in all it was a pretty disastrous news day.
Sometimes youre the windshield; sometimes youre the bug. Laura hung up her headset in the control room as Chris and Tom were wrapping up their chat out. Both the Five and Six had been painful to watch even though the bank story only took up less than a minute at the top of each cast. Welcome back, Kaz.
Returning to her office, Laura shut down the computer and loaded up her briefcase before catching sight of the movie pass tucked in the corner of her desk blotter. Forgot about that. She had planned for a rare night off from practice to unwind, and the movie seemed like a good idea. Now Laura wasnt so sure.
"Youre not getting out of it." Chris walked in, pulling out her earpiece and wrapping the cord around her hand. "This is a once in a lifetime movie opportunity, the ticket stub alone will be worth money to collectors."
Laura looked up, her eyes rueful. "Im sorry about your story And I wasnt trying to get you killed."
"I know that." Her green eyes softened, "It all seemed pretty unreal when it was happening. All because of a busted ATM."
"Chris, if anything had happened to you, I "
"So how do you wanna work this?" Lisa Tyler swept into Lauras office followed by Kate and Keith, "Get something to eat or what?" Unaware that she had interrupted anything, the Production Manager flopped down on a chair, stretching her legs out in front. "We could meet at Dennys at about nine, eat a few Grand Slams and make to the theater by eleven."
Laura gave herself a mental shake, readjusting her focus. "Sounds like a plan, but could we post mortem this newscast first? Id like to bury this one."
For Chris, nothing on earth smelled as comfortable as Dennys. The bacon and coffee aroma made her think of Sunday mornings after church and laughing with her family. Remembering what it was like to wait tables for large groups, she wouldnt let the others harass the waitress, instead she organized the order to make it as easy as possible, slapping Keiths hand when he tried to play with the condiments, and refereeing an argument between Lisa, Trey and Kate over
which Star Wars movie was the best.
"The first ones not the best, but its the most important." Lisa was emphatic. "Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, The Abyss frankly all the really big sci-fi blockbusters dont happen unless George Lucas makes that first movie and forms ILM."
Laura was quiet, but not withdrawn, preferring to let the conversation ebb and flow around her, mixing with the clink of glasses and the sounds coming from the kitchen. "You okay?" Chris voice came from a point close to her ear.
"Fine." Laura felt a hand on her knee and the muscles of her thigh jump at the contact. Chris smiled sweetly and gave a short brisk rub. "Relax, its just a movie with some friends. Dont get worked up about it."
"How do you do that?" Laura murmured, feeling waves of calm emanating from the smaller woman.
"Its a gift." Chris said, tongue firmly in cheek as her eyes sparkled merrily, and she turned to Kate to ask her about something. Laura studied the blonde womans profile, watching her laugh with abandon and gesture to make a point. Most of the heavy on-air makeup was gone, making her appear even younger. The casual charisma was overwhelming, thought Laura, you couldnt help being drawn to the laugh or the warmth. She could have anyone she wants. Anyone at all.
"So I get to see the lair of the Kazmanian devil, hmm?" The movie was over and it was close to three oclock in the morning. Somehow Laura found herself inviting Chris over to her apartment. You were going to do it someday anyway, and at least its pretty clean right now. Laura lifted a wry eyebrow as she unlocked the door and pushed it open, gesturing for Chris to go first.
The blonde reporter didnt known what to expect, except to hope for another piece to the puzzle that was the tall dark News Director. A narrow kitchen sported a breakfast bar that opened up to the living room where all kinds of bookshelves lined the walls filled with newspapers, magazines, books, CDs, and videotapes. A large TV sat next to a stereo rack and a Beta deck next to that. A somewhat battered couch and recliner dominated the middle of the room, and a beautiful oak secretary stood sentry against one wall, open with a laptop computer on the desktop. It was an eclectic room that spoke volumes about its occupant.
Laura crossed her arms and watched Chris wander through the small room, as though waiting for judgement to be passed. The smaller woman stopped at the secretary, drawing a finger across the satiny finish of the golden wood. Green eyes looked up into wary blue ones and smiled, "It suits you."
"Its pretty minimalist."
"Oh, I dont know about that, you seem to have everything you need. Can I see the rest?"
Laura flexed her hands nervously, "Theres just the bedroom " she stopped when Chris raised her eyebrows. "Oh hell, come on."
Flipping on the light, Laura stood back as Chris entered. There were more bookcases, more books and tapes and golf clubs everywhere. A nightstand sat next to the bed, a stack of books on top with more on the floor next to it. "No TV in here?"
"I work in television, I dont want to watch it on my off time," came the dry response, "Want something to drink?"
"Sure, do you have some ice tea?" Chris followed Laura out and into the kitchen.
"Just for you." She opened the refrigerator and pulled out two pitchers, setting them on the counter, then reaching for ice and two glasses from the cabinet. Chris settled on a barstool to watch Laura pour, and smiled slightly when their fingers touched as she took the glass of tea.
"What are you drinking?" Chris asked in mock horror as Laura dispensed the purple contents of the other pitcher into her glass.
"Grape Kool-Aid. I know, it looks disgusting."
"Because its cold and its sweet, and it doesnt have caffeine. I keep trading one addiction for another."
"Yeah, but Grape Kool-Aid?"
Laura took a long pull, draining half the glass. "Dont knock it, till youve tried it."
"Ill take your word for it." Chris slid off the barstool and carried her glass into the living room and Laura followed her, switching off the kitchen light, leaving only the dim lamp on next to the sofa. "What are all these tapes? Theyre not movies."
"Newscasts, stories, shows I produced News wonk stuff from the days I actually did the journalism thing."
"Did you ever report?" Chris knew it was stupid, but she had forgotten that Laura didnt just start out as a news director.
"Very briefly, I wasnt very good. You can stop the interview any time now."
Chris set her glass down and reached for Lauras hand. "Cmere. Ive wanted to do this all day." There was a slight hesitation from the taller woman before Chris wrapped arms around her in a gentle hug and rested her head over Lauras heart "I was scared today," she confessed. "Stuff happens to me all the time, but Im never scared. Today I just "
Laura felt the smaller woman hiccup back a sob and moved her hands across Chris back. "Shh, I wouldnt have let him hurt you, I swear." She rested her chin on the blonde head, feeling a sense of contentment she was quite sure shed never known, and wishing it would last forever. What happened to dont need, dont want?
Chris gave a light squeeze and pulled back, her eyes glittering in the dim light. "Where to now Laura?" She dropped her arms almost apologetically, "Im sorry, no pressure."
"Dont Youre fine. Im sorry about today. I wish Id sent you on the damn cell phone story."
"That mightve been worse," she chuckled as she sat down on the sofa and looked up. "What else is bothering you?"
Laura closed her eyes briefly. "When I was in Austin I mustve thought of a hundred things I wanted to tell you and now I cant think of a single thing. Thats not really like me."
It was quite an admission coming from the dark woman, and Chris tilted her head curiously. "There is one thing I wanted to ask you, and I want you to think carefully before you answer, okay?" Laura nodded. "Why are you so much more bothered by idea of making love, than the idea of being gay? It doesnt seem very consistent."
Dark eyebrows furrowed as Laura considered the question. "You always make me out to be more complicated than I actually am. I have no family to approve or disapprove of my choices, and I try not to make assumptions about myself. Youre the first person Ive ever been interested in physically, intellectually and all points in between For me, that makes a label seem pretty insignificant."
"But what about sex?"
"Oh that." Lauras smile was self-mocking. "Physical intimacy would be the ultimate invasion of privacy, dont you think? And you said so yourself, Im the classic introvert Add to that workaholic tendencies and an overwhelming need to maintain control, and you have a recipe for what was that Lance called me? Oh yeah, an asexual frigid bitch."
Chris considered the information carefully and stood up. "Its not an invasion if you invite someone in."
Lauras breath was shallow as Chris moved closer. Pushing aside years of denial she reached tentatively for the woman she wanted to be with more than anything else in the world. Green eyes never wavered from her own as she asked in a low murmur, "Will you stay?"
Chris closed her eyes, willing strength to come from somewhere that wasnt clawing her with need. "No. I wont." Laura stopped breathing at the apparent rejection and her eyes clouded with confusion. Then Chris went on, her voice low and slowly seductive, "When we make love for the first time, itll be when we have plenty of time, not when we both have to be at work in five hours." Taking Lauras hand she kissed the palm, tracing a pattern with her tongue. "Youll feel things youve never felt before, and wonder how you ever lived without it." Chris leaned forward pushing aside the collar of Lauras blouse and laid a line of kisses along the prominent collarbone as the taller woman shuddered. "And youll need me, the way I need you now." One hand skimmed up a muscled arm to caress an angled jaw, softly touching, almost tickling before sliding around the strong elegant column of Lauras neck and pulling her head down to barely touch lips, "And youll want me. Youll ache with wanting me."
The kiss was invasive and rough, filled with the promises of sensations to come and doing nothing to disguise the raw emotion felt by the smaller woman. This was not a gentle exploration, but an act of possession, searing in its intensity. Before Laura could react, Chris broke it off, replacing her lips with gentle fingers. Gasping at the absence of contact, but the overload of feeling, Laura opened her mouth but nothing came out.
"Shhh. You were right about the grape Kool-Aid. It kinda grows on you." And with a smirk, Chris left the apartment, closing the door softly behind her, leaving Laura swaying in the middle of the living room.
Damn, shes good.
Chris gave the eyebolt a final twist using a screwdriver as a lever through the large hole. Climbing down from the ladder she looked at the porch swing she was installing, and tried to figure out the best way to hang it. It was Saturday, and after spending the morning and most of the afternoon umpiring little league baseball games, the only thing she wanted to do was sit on her porch and sip a beer. Chris saw the swing when she stopped at Home Depot and couldnt resist it.
"Can I help you with that?" Dave, her neighbor, leaned over the rail and offered his assistance. "It needs to be level, Ill hold it up while you hook the chains."
"Id appreciate that. Julies flower beds look really nice."
"She works hard on em." He grunted slightly as he lifted the swing. "This is a nice one, youre really going to enjoy it."
"I think so." Chris set the hooks, climbed down and stood back squinting to see if it was even.
"Looks good." Dave said and Chris smiled at the clipped neighbor-speak. "Can I get you a beer? Its the least I can do."
"Nah, gotta get the fire going. Barbecue night." She watched him amble back across the yard, grateful that she got along with the couple next door and wondering if kids were anywhere on the horizon. It was a quiet neighborhood, and Chris was comfortable with her house and the street she lived on. Just two miles from the station, the location was perfect.
Chris heard the phone ring inside the house and she went to answer it, pleased to hear the low voice on the other end and smiling at the jump in her chest. "Howd you play?"
"I putted well sunk a few long ones. Didja work some good games?"
"No, it was kinda hard today. Some parents were pretty obnoxious it got ugly."
"Im sorry Bet youd feel better if I brought you something to eat."
"Thats a given, what did you have in mind?" Chris opened the fridge and pulled out a beer, twisted the cap off and flipped it into the trash.
"Peter told me about this rib place thats supposed to have real Texas barbecue. I have to go by the station to check the rundowns, but I could pick some up and be at your place in an hour or so."
"Sounds like a plan. See you in a bit." Chris hung up the phone and let out the breath she hadnt realized she was holding. Itll be great. Well sit on the swing and eat ribs. Ill get hot and bothered, take an icy cold shower and lay awake all night. Just another Saturday night on the Chris and Kaz show.
She was sitting on the swing when the Jeep pulled up an hour and a half later. One leg was tucked under her and the other was moving her back and forth. The warm day had given way to a cooler dusk, and Chris inhaled the clean smell of early summer and lawns being watered as she watched the tall woman walk toward her carrying several bags that added to the aroma surrounding the porch.
Watching Laura walk was becoming one of Chris favorite guilty pastimes. It was a rolling stride that spoke of an unconscious animal grace and watching the long legs eat up the sidewalk, she tried to decide if it was the motion or the package that made it enjoyable. Both, all of it, everything. Chris smiled as Laura stepped up to the porch, green eyes narrowing speculatively.
"What?" the News Director asked with good-humored irritation
Chris shook her head, grin still in place, "Just looking." The ever present Khaki shorts exposed long tanned legs and well-worn leather sandals, but instead of a polo shirt she wore a crisp button down dress shirt the color of her eyes, with long sleeves pushed up past her elbows.
"This is new, I like it." Laura lowered her tall frame down on the swing and placed the bags on the porch near her feet. "Wearing white is probably not a good idea when youre gonna eat barbecued ribs."
"Always the practical one." Chris shifted to face Laura, the gauzy white material of her shirt following the movement, falling in waves to baggy white cotton shorts and offering glimpses of pale gold flesh. "Whatd you bring me?"
Teasing green eyes fastened on Lauras and the dark woman sucked in air uncertainly. Are we still talking about food? "Uh, potato salad coleslaw beans I think." She felt disconnected from her body, the flooding emotions so unfamiliar that she wondered exactly where she was.
"Cool, Ill get us something to drink." Chris stood up and disappeared into the house, leaving Laura in a haze on the still moving swing. Youre a mess, Kaz. Two days of being virtually ignored by the reporter, no phone conversations, and just a casually issued invitation to maybe do something on Saturday had taken its toll. Thirty-six holes of golf had helped, but not much. She wasnt kidding about aching.
"Ive got root beer No caffeine, right?" Chris reappeared with a stack of napkins and two brown icy bottles.
"Root Beer and Ribs, you could almost be a Texan."
"Hey, Ill have you know that thirty Tennesseeans died at the Alamo We oughta be honorary Texans anyway." She settled down on the swing and started digging in the bags to unwrap the steaming barbecue. "This smells fabulous." Plastic forks were laid out and Chris got to the business of eating. The smaller womans appetite was legendary at the station, and Laura was constantly amazed at the amount of food she could put away.
"Youre not eating." Chris observed, licking some sauce off her thumb.
"Sure I am, my eating habits just pale in comparison." They continued the meal in companionable silence, Laura picking at it, and Chris devouring hers.
"Its gonna take a week for me to get this stuff off my hands." She used a napkin to wipe off more sauce and took a sip of Root Beer. "But its worth it." Sighing she wadded up the last of the trash and stuck it in a bag. "What are you doing tomorrow Oh, lemme guess Golf, golf, and more golf."
"I am nothing if not predictable." Lauras tone was dry. "Sunday means softball for you, I guess."
"Yep, were playing Channel 12." She put an elbow on the back of the swing and reached for a tendril of dark hair to twist around her finger. "You could come out and play too."
"Maybe." Laura felt the pull and a tingle where Chris finger brushed. "I uh, have to practice." She could feel her skin flush as the smaller woman leaned in closer. An exotically floral scent tickled her nose and she closed her eyes halfway.
"Why?" Chris asked as she slid questing fingers across a strong jaw and then down the line of Lauras throat.
"Because the mechanics of my swing have to be maintained Oh hell." She gave in to the need to feel Chris mouth under hers and bowed her head, tracing lips with the tip of her tongue and begging for entry. The taste and feel was becoming more familiar, the wave of heat was not.
I will not lose control. Chris battled and held on to a thread of her sanity as a delicious sweetness coursed through her body. This isnt possible, not from just a kiss. With an abruptness that made her gasp, it ended, and she was left blinking at blue eyes. "We What You are dangerous."
"Im sorry " Laura gulped.
Oh god, not again. Chris closed her eyes in pain.
"This is kinda public Could we go inside?" Laura was breathing heavily as she stood up and pulled the blonde woman to her feet.
"Inside?" Chris whispered, "Are you sure?"
Laura swallowed. "Oh yeah." Chris searched behind her back and fumbled with the door handle, stumbling over the threshold as she pushed it open. She drew the tall woman inside and enfolded her in another kiss and their bodies crushed together. Her hands moved to broad shoulders, and she felt hands move across her back reaching under the loose shirt to finally come in contact with more intimate flesh.
"Bed?" Chris said against the side of Lauras mouth.
"Now." Was the answer as Laura moved to nibble lightly on the blonde womans neck. They bumped down the walls of the hall still kissing, hands racing to acquaint themselves with the feel of each other. Breaking apart, Chris gasped as they finally fell through the door of the bedroom.
Somehow they made it to the bed and Chris pushed Laura back against the pillows, stopping the frantic pace with her hands against the tall womans shoulders. "Slow we have time."
"I dont know how to " Embarrassment flickered across Lauras face. "This is all new to me." She gave a shy half smile and Chris felt her heart swell.
"Sokay, well just go nice and slow." She leaned down to place a kiss in the hollow of a tanned throat. "As slow as I possibly can." She unbuttoned the top two buttons of Lauras shirt, "For as long as I can." Lips followed the trail of buttons as they were undone down to the edge of the khaki shorts. Chris pushed the fabric aside exposing creamy white skin that contrasted sharply with the tan of Lauras arms. Chris eased herself up until she covered most of Lauras body with her own and looked down into blazing blue eyes smiling softly, "What do you want?"
The world moved quickly for Chris as Laura grasped the smaller womans hips and spun her so that they were lying side by side. For a while Laura didnt answer. She touched the white fabric of the other womans blouse, and after looking into green eyes for permission, began to remove it revealing a golden expanse of smooth skin. "I want you to make me feel everything."
Chris nimble hands proceeded to do just that. Clothes were removed and flesh slid against flesh, creating friction that inflamed already heated senses. When Chris slipped her knee between the tall womans thighs and followed it with an insistent touch, Laura gasped, fighting to breathe. There isnt enough air. A warmth like nothing shed ever felt before began curling up from the center of her body, and she arched into Chris, her hands grasping a strong back as a blonde head burrowed into her chest.
When her release came, Laura didnt cry out, instead she fought for control through the blinding explosion of passion, clenching her jaw as shuddering tremors wracked her body. Slowly the world returned to normal, and as Chris tried to ease back, Laura gave a slight squeeze. "Dont go."
The blonde woman looked down into blue eyes awash in passion and felt a wave of something so intense she almost wept. She chose me. She could have had anyone on earth and she chose me. "Im not going anywhere." She murmured.
Laura looked up at the ceiling and swallowed. So this is what all the fuss is about. Turning back to Chris she gave a lopsided smile. "Nobody told me." she whispered as a pleased grin spread across the younger womans face. A thought suddenly occurred to Laura and her brow creased in consternation. "What about you, I can "
"Sshhh, its okay." She kissed Lauras forehead gently, smoothing the dark bangs.
"No its not. I want to make you feel too. Show me how." Laura took the initiative, drawing a finger down the center of Chris abdomen and watched the surface ripple in response. Fascinated, she became more adventurous as Chris played willing instructor to her tentative explorations. The blonde woman was all firm muscle and feminine grace, an even tan covering her body and the more Laura touched and tasted, the more she wanted to give to Chris.
"Tell me " Laura ground out catching Chris earlobe between her teeth.
"Youre doing fine Jesus, Kaz!" Inordinately pleased, Laura felt well manicured nails dig into her back as Chris bucked against her, breath hissing through clenched teeth. Panting slightly, she held the smaller woman until the shaking subsided, feeling a calm wrap around the two of them. Recognizing an unfamiliar peace she turned and offered up another part of herself to Chris with a smile behind the words, "I guess you can call me Laura."
Chris chuckled lazily. "I kinda like Kaz for special occasions." And she pulled Laura into a slow deep kiss.
All her appetites sated, Chris wrapped herself around the taller woman, the fingers of one hand still lightly stroking the hollow of Lauras throat. Reaching down, Laura pulled up the comforter to cover them both. Deep even breathing told her that Chris was close to sleep and she tightened her hold.
You are in big trouble. One addiction for another, huh Kaz?
Continued in Part 8
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