EXPOSURE

Parental Advisory Rating: L, AC & V

Break out those V-Chips, everyone!

Credits:

Directors: TNovan & XWPFanatic

Writers: TNovan, XWPFanatic and Tonya Muir

 

Scenes from Last Week’s Must read TV:

The request is made and she opens up to me. Our kiss is long, deep and passionate. God, she tastes good. No wonder Elizabeth flies across the damn country to have more of her. I’d crawl.

<cut to>

I can see up the slight slope surrounding the compound. There, on the ridge, are cops of all kinds and the National Guard surrounding the place.

Just fucking wonderful.

Well, if the ATF doesn’t get involved, we might survive this.

<cut to>

I nod toward the door. "If you still want airtime, I’m going to need gear from the van. Fresh tapes and batteries."

"One of my men will walk you out." He swings the barrel of the gun at Kels. "She stays here to make sure you don’t do anything stupid."

<cut to>

I turn and leave the room. When I hear the door close and lock behind me, my throat and heart drop right into my stomach like a rock. I hate leaving her behind.

 

Episode Ten: Skyrockets in Flight

There are a lot of people in this compound, but there’s only one that I give a good goddamn about. And these freaks had better hope nothing happens to her while I’m gone or they’ll learn how many ways I can inflict pain and exactly how goddamn good I am at it.

I’m walking in front of another gun-toting dumb ass with my hands up. No way in hell do I want to be mistaken for one of these crazies. I want to make it perfectly clear that I’m the victim here. I snort as that thought crosses my mind. Victim, riiiight. I’ve never been a victim in my life. I’m not even one now, but I may as well let them think I am.

As we step outside the building where they’re holding us, Head Nimrod, a.k.a. Scamp, joins us on the porch. "Okay, Tabloid." He grins at me. "That is what your little friend called you, isn’t it?"

"Yeah, and she can call me that all she wants, but if you do it again, I’ll take your lungs out through your nose."

"Watch it," he warns, his voice low and serious. "You’re walking out of here and blondie is still inside with me. If you’re not good, I’ll go back in there and show her what a real man can do for her."

The only thing that is keeping me from killing him right now is the fact that I know I’ll get shot and Kels will never get out alive. "It always comes down to fucking something over for losers like you, doesn’t it?"

"If you behave, she’ll be unharmed. If not, know that she will be cursing your name for leaving her behind, not mine." He leans back against the wooden railing, folding his arms across his chest, fixing me with a level stare.

My stomach rolls at the thought of him with his hands on Kels and I return his stare. "Stay away from her."

He smirks at me and waves his hand to the junior nimrod. There is a poke in my back as I am nudged down the steps. I watch the cops and National Guard watch me as we make our way up the slight incline, away from the compound, and outside the main gate. It clangs shut behind us. I now have guns pointed at my front and my behind. Suddenly, I’m ready to join my family on a march for gun control. Right now would be nice.

My companion, a disposable nimrod, apparently, since they have him accompanying me into the heart of National Guard-land, is plodding along behind me. I almost wish someone would shoot him for being stupid. But, the consequences to Kelsey aren’t anywhere worth quenching my frustration.

As I move toward the truck, Olson slides the door open and sticks his orange head out.

"Stop!" my guard snaps, suddenly panicked.

Little late to get spooked, dickhead.

Olson meets my eyes and waits for me.

I turn to my shadow. "Look, I need to give him the tapes we shot yesterday for editing, and I need to get fresh batteries and tapes. This is so I can do what Scamp wants. You wouldn’t want me to be unable to do his interview, do you?"

He squints, thinking hard.

I can smell smoke. Christ, he is as stupid as he looks.

"Fine. Don’t pull any funny stuff."

Riiiight. I’ll be sure not to do my Abbott and Costello routine.

However, I will need him to stay back so I can work my magic. I glance back over my shoulder to see if he looks gullible on top of it all. Okay, this should work. "You might want to wait here."

"Why?"

"Microwaves are bad for your umm…performance abilities, if you know what

I mean."

The look of horror on his face makes it clear that he does. "What about the guy in the truck?"

"Oh, that’s why we hired him for the job. He can’t get it up anyhow. Bicycle accident as a kid." I shrug, as if it’s no big deal. I hope to hell Olson doesn’t have a directional mike on me; otherwise, he’s gonna be pissed.

"Go ahead." He takes an extra step away from the truck. Can’t be too careful, you know.

Jesus, there’s nothing more dangerous than a moron with a gun.

I make my way to the open door of the truck. Olson is waiting for me inside; he looks terrible. "What’s wrong, kid? Didn’t you sleep?"

He shakes his head at my bravado. "How are you, Harper? Where’s Kelsey?"

"I’m okay. We’re okay. They kept her inside for an interview. Now, listen up good, I only got a minute." I slide the backpack off my back and start pulling out objects slowly. Don’t want Chicken Little to shoot me accidentally. I hand Olson the tapes we shot yesterday. "Give these to the cops. They’ll get a good idea of the layout of the compound. And we taped a murder. Assholes."

His eyes go wider still as he takes the tapes and sets them aside carefully.

"Now, when you hand me some new tapes, be sure to hand me the pinhead mike, transceiver and earpiece with them." The three items I’ve asked for will allow me to both send and receive audio signals without much difficulty.

He nods slowly, and turns to retrieve the items I’ve asked for. "How are you gonna wire yourself up?" he asks softly with his back to me.

I smile, enjoying the thought. "I’ll have Kelsey do it. If we have a moment alone. Just monitor the feed. I’ll go live as soon as possible." I draw in a deep breath, noticing that the air of freedom really does smell better. Damn, I am getting to be more and more like my parents every damn day. Soon I’ll be singing "If I had a hammer" and other folk songs.

Olson turns around and places the requested items in the backpack.

"Now some fresh batteries," I prompt.

He frowns. "They don’t have electricity in there?" He knows as well as I do that my battery pack has an a/c adapter. All I needed to do was plug it in and it’d be good to go again pretty quickly. Kinda like my sex drive, but I digress.

"They do. But not much brain power."

"Great. Idiots with guns."

"Is there any other kind?"

"Harper, any chance you bring these tendencies out in people?" He asks this in all seriousness. "I mean, there was that actor guy, and then that library lady, and now a cult …"

"I know. At least religion used to be safe from me. Lord knows, the Catholic church tossed me out on my ass years ago."

He chuckles. "Be careful. You’re the best education I’ve ever had."

"Hell, I know that, Jims. They don’t teach you a fuckin’ thing in film school." I am ready to go back, but it sure would be nice to take a weapon or two with me. "Hey, we still carry the Capstun?"

"Hurry up over there!" Shit-for-brains calls out.

"One second!" I reply, resisting giving him the finger.

"The pepper spray?"

I roll my eyes. "Just announce it out loud, kid."

"Shit! Sorry, boss." He looks like he might cry.

"It’s okay, Olson. Just slip it in the pocket of your jacket."

He does, but frowns. "Why my jacket?"

"Because Kels is cold." I hold out my hand for the bomber jacket. He bought one exactly like mine after we started working together. He’s a sweet kid.

"Tell her ‘hi’ for me."

I take the coat and fold it over my arm. I gotta remember to palm the pepper spray out of the pocket before they search it. If they’re bright enough to think to do that. "I will, Jims. You just watch your back out here. And no giving interviews. We cover the news, we don’t make it."

We look at each other for a long moment and then burst into laughter. "Yeah, right, Harper. Kick some ass."

"Will do, Olson. See ya in a few." I turn around to face the dipshit. Something in my gut tells me to get back to Kels and get back now. I move quickly and walk right past him to the gate. I look back at the moron who just now seems to register that I’m walking away from him. "You coming?" I quirk my brow at him. "Or would you rather take your chances with the cops?"

He juts out his stupid little jaw and motions with his gun. Great conversationalists, these guys. As I move back inside the compound, I can see that the women and children are being moved to a barn behind the house. God, I hope the cops are getting this from their vantage point. Climbing the steps to the building where they are keeping Kels, I hear the rotors of a helicopter and know at least the National Guard must have that information now.

Standing outside the door to our current accommodations, I try to wait patiently for dumbass to get the door open but he can’t seem to handle the gun and the keys at the same time. I could take the gun away from him, but that would only cause trouble. So, I snatch the keys instead.

"Stupid son of a bitch," I mumble as I open the door, dropping the keys to the floor outside the door. I step inside and close the door behind me. I’m not inviting him in. "Hi, Honey, I’m home," I call out.

I put my bag down and lift my head to find Kels with my Twinkie, licking the filling from … Oh God! What I wouldn’t give to be a little yellow sponge cake.

 

* * *

 

I hear the key in the lock. Instinctively, I know Harper is back. I can feel it, feel her. Given my current state, I have two choices: admit that I was worried about … eh … without her, or torture my partner. I know she’ll forgive me for torturing her; I would never forgive myself for admitting the other.

I pick up the Twinkies, remembering her comment about licking out the cream. I open the package and wait until I’m sure we’re going to be left alone. Then her eyes meet mine.

She thinks she can beat me at this game? I invented sexual frustration and have honed it to perfection over the years. After taking a small bite, I lick my lips and then take my finger and insert it slowly into the creamy center. I swirl it around, letting her see the effect of my finger on the spongy texture.

When I withdraw it, it is coated with the sugary nectar. I look at it for a long moment. Then, slowly, while watching her, insert it in my mouth. She groans and I can’t help but grin.

"Get everything you need?" I ask as I remove my finger from my mouth. Is that a slight tremor I see?

"Oh, don’t go there right now, Little Roo, especially with what we need to do," she growls at me as she steps forward.

I offer her a bite of the cake. "I’m sorry, Tabloid." She takes hold of my wrist and my eyes as she takes a long, slow bite. Oh Lord, well, we just might be evenly matched. "I … I needed to play a little, to break up the tension," I stammer.

"You call that breaking up the tension? Good God, woman, you’d kill a normal person in the bedroom." She drops her backpack to the ground and begins unzipping it. "Good thing for you, I’m not a normal person."

I chuckle as I pop the last of the cake into my mouth and bend down to see what she’s brought back. I recognize the transceiver, pinhead mike and receiver. "What are these for?"

She smiles. "Ah, thanks for finding those, baby." Before I realize what is happening, she stands up and drops her jeans to the floor. I am now kneeling by her backpack staring at a mile’s worth of leg ending in a white thong.

"I … I …" I am going to pass out. "I always figured you for a boxer gal," I manage finally.

She laughs, low in her throat. "I didn’t know you thought about me in my underwear, Kels."

God, more than you know.

She then pulls the elastic of the waistband away from her skin and I nearly faint. I force myself to not crane my neck to get a good look down. I also refrain from offering to help.

Next thing I know, she is putting the transceiver down the front of her underwear.

Okay, I think my Twinkie trick just got its ass beat. "What are you gonna do if they search you?"

"Anyone who puts a hand there uninvited, loses their arm at the shoulder. Because I’ll rip it off and beat them with it."

"I’ll keep that in mind."

She shrugs as she unrolls the mike wire. "Oh, you have an open invitation."

She plugs in the lead to the pinhead mike and runs it up under her shirt, lifting her T-shirt as she goes. I watch with avid interest as the tanned flesh is revealed. Damn. She has six pack abs to die for. She pulls the front of her bra away from her skin and slides the mike under it. Letting the elastic snap back, it holds the mike in place for her, she secures it with a small piece of tape as well.

"Can you give me a hand?"

"I’ll give you two," I mutter, giving serious consideration to that invitation.

She tsk’s and then spins around offering me her broad back. "Run the receiver lead up for me?"

I take the dangling earpiece and run the wire around her hip, holding it in place with my left hand as my right hand pulls it though the elastic of that thong and then up her spinal column. I hit the edge of her rolled up shirt, and have to lift it up and slide my hand under to continue my path.

"Want it under your bra?" She gives a nod and a grunt as my fingers slide under to move the receiver through. She’s so tall, however, that I can’t reach down from her collar and pull it out.

"Bend your knees," I husk, then quickly clear my throat.

"Okay, but, hurry, Kels, we don’t have time for you to feel me up right now. Later. After we get the fuck out of here."

"Stop flattering yourself."

"Stop rubbing yourself against me," she counters.

"I had to lean to keep my balance."

"Uh huh."

Finally, my hands stop betraying me and I grasp the earpiece and pull it clear of her shirt. The black lead wire blends in with her hair perfectly.

She takes it from my fingers and presses the small device into her ear. "Thanks." Turning around, she gives me another long look, then she leans in and does something I’m not expecting.

"You missed some," she says as she licks a bit of cream from the corner of my mouth.

Oh, I want to turn my head and kiss her senseless, but I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it. No matter how much my mouth and other parts of my body want to. I am not going to do it. No.

While I struggle with my now raging hormones, remembering the taste and feel of that kiss we shared in the closet, she drags her jeans back up her long legs, zipping them and then fastening the button. Her shirt is tucked in next.

I successfully resist the urge to lean into her breasts and whisper "testing, testing." I should get an Emmy for that restraint.

For her part, Harper seems completely unaffected by our game, having recovered from the Twinkie moment with her usual smug grace.

She’s just finishing up the prep on the camera and helping me with my mike when the door opens again. It’s one of the younger guards, much bigger than the last one. Tall and very meaty, he looks like a human wall. My guess is he would be our host’s attempt to intimidate my partner.

"Boss is ready ladies. C’mon."

"After you, Kels. Stick close as we go outside." She adds this last bit for our non-viewing audience.

"Oh, no problem there, Tabloid, trust me." I take a deep breath and adjust the mike one last time, remembering the feeling of her hands raising my shirt to put it in place. God, I’m reduced to this as foreplay. You know, it occurs to me that I used to put my own damn mike on, but I haven’t since we met.

Harper takes a moment to adjust and collect all our gear. She gives me a look that says ‘trust me’ and I know I do, with my heart and soul. She hands me a jacket that looks like hers, but by the smell of the cologne I know it belongs to Jims. Sweet kid, but he needs help with his taste in aftershave. I slip the jacket on, grateful for the extra warmth now that I’ve lost Harper’s. Stop it, Kelsey!

The human wall leads us down the hall and out to the porch. Jesus, there are cops and National Guardsmen everywhere. Even this idiot must realize he isn't going to simply make this go away. Scamp is standing there too, seemingly oblivious to the danger posed. I follow him as he leaves the porch for the front yard. I hear Harper right behind me. I watch as our host takes a deep breath, as he seems to survey everything around him. He’s far too calm.

Harper rigs him up with a mike and presses one of his goons into service, holding the antenna for her so we can broadcast back to the truck. Then Harper lifts the Betacam to her shoulder and winks at me, giving me another smile. Okay, I like that smile … a lot. Even Beth, whom I adore, doesn’t have a smile like that. And, certainly, doesn’t make me feel as safe as Harper does. Less sexually frustrated, yes; safe, no. Sometimes, actually, most of the time, safe is a hell of a lot more important.

"We’re ready. Are you?" I ask, as I take my mark where Harper has pointed to the ground as she begins rolling.

Scamp turns slowly and looks at us. "Are you really ready? Are you prepared to air to the entire nation the death that will most certainly take place here today because people refuse to allow us to live here in peace."

I fight to not roll my eyes, okay, Kels, be a professional. Instead of what I want to say, I say, "There are those who say that you have provoked this antagonism – that you would have been allowed to live here in peace if you had not deliberately encouraged the young men of this community to terrorize the local citizens. If that is true, then it suggests that you deliberately set up your own downfall. Why did you take such an aggressive course of action?"

"It’s important for people to know how corrupt our own government has become."

I hear Harper snort behind me and I can almost hear the Lewinsky joke rolling around in her head. I take another deep breath. "Risking the lives of more than a hundred and forty people being killed is going to prove how corrupt our government is? How so?"

"Men are no longer allowed to live as God intended. Free from the restrictions of a government that now has to control our every movement. From the moment we are born until the second we die, they know what we are doing."

Great, just great, a paranoid maniac with conspiracy delusions, this should be fun.

He continues as he looks at the law enforcement surrounding him. He knows they are closing in. "We are forced to register our children when they are born by getting social security numbers for them. Our young men must register for a draft to fight unjust wars on foreign soil. You have to register to vote. Provide ID to buy guns to protect your family. You work hard and the government takes money from your pocket and food from the mouths of your family to pay for its own decadence."

He takes a long, deep breath then turns to face me, giving me a long stare that starts very hard then softens just a bit. "Miss Stanton, do you believe that there are some things worth dying for?" he asks as he cocks his head at me.

Oh, I really don’t like the sound of that question, and I most definitely don’t like the look in his eyes. "My personal beliefs have nothing to do with this situation – my commitment is to report …"

"Well, perhaps this might help you get in touch with those personal beliefs a bit more." This last comment is delivered as he reaches around to his back and draws a very large hand gun, pointing it directly in my face. "Because your death will save the lives of those hundred and forty people. Too bad your government was willing to let you die."

I have those visions everyone talks about. My life, such as it is, flashes before my eyes. I hear a roar and my world starts spinning. There’s something in my eyes, burning and causing them to tear up, I can’t see. I feel myself stagger as my hands go to my face. Then I feel someone grab me around the waist, pulling me hard to the ground. I can’t breath, I can’t see and I know I need to get away, so I fight. Lashing out, my hands are pinned right away as I feel a body cover mine.

"Stop, Kels! Stop! Just lay still! I have you!"

I realize it’s Harper on top of me, covering my body with hers. I try to hold still as she has commanded, but the burning in my eyes makes me want to fight. I hear distant gunfire, people screaming, metal crashing, vehicles roaring into the compound, sirens, men running and yelling.

"Harper!" I’m shaking my head trying to force my eyes to see, but the burning is so intense. "I can’t see!"

"I know, baby, I know. Hang on. It’ll all be over in a few minutes! Trust me, we’re safe. Lay still. Stop fighting me." She whispers in my ear, "Please stop fighting me."

I try to relax as much as possible but it is so hard. As I do, her body tightens around mine holding me closer and she continues to murmur in my ear. "I have you. I have you."

Then I feel her pulled away from me. I’m left blind and alone, and the panic starts to settle in again. Someone grabs me and rolls me onto my stomach. Oh God! I’m gonna be shot in the head. But instead of a bullet, I feel handcuffs being snapped into place on my wrists pulled behind my back. "Harper!"

"It’s the cops, Kels, the good guys. Don’t fight them. Lay still. They’re doing this for their own safety. They’ll let us go when they get it sorted out. Just relax."

I can hear all kinds of things but none of it makes any sense to me. There is only one thing that does makes sense to me. "Harper, talk to me. Please talk to me."

"It’s okay, Little Roo…"

"My eyes…" I sob, overcome by the endearment and the pain.

"They’ll be okay, Kels. I’m sorry about that, it was my fault. It’s just Capstun. I used it on the big guy with the gun. The wind swept some of it back, catching you in the face. I’m sorry. We’ll wash it out. In the meantime just try to open your eyes."

"It burns."

"I know, but if your eyes tear up it’ll help wash it away."

Again, hands I don’t recognize are pulling me up. The only good point here is I’m leaned against a back I do recognize and I feel her take my hands. Getting used to the burning in my eyes, I take a deep breath. "What in the fuck just happened?" I ask as I grasp her hands.

"The police were setting up snipers to take our host down when he put the gun in your face. If my camera survived, you can look at the tape later."

"What do you mean if your camera survived?"

"I threw it at him after I used the Capstun."

"You threw your baby?" I am amazed.

"Adrenaline is a wonderful thing, Kels." I hear her laugh a little as she gives my hand a gentle squeeze. "And you’re worth more than the damn thing anyway."

 

 

 

A while later, sitting in the comfort of the truck I feel her hand cup my chin. "Okay, Little Roo. This may sting a little, but it will neutralize the Capstun. Ready?"

I nod as I feel her pry one eye open and spray something in it. Then she repeats the process in the other. I can’t help but pull away and shake my head. My eyes finally start cooling and stop stinging. As I lift my head and open my eyes, she smiles at me, wiping away the tears with a cloth. Funny, the last thing I saw when I thought I was going to die, is the first thing I see now when I know I’m not.

"Better?" She smiles as she continues to wipe the tears from my face. I just nod. "Good. You know when we get out of here, we’re all going out for a really expensive dinner on the company tab." She reaches around and draws a blanket over my shoulders. "After we get really drunk tonight."

"Are you okay?" I ask as I notice a row of scratches on her neck. I must have done that with my fingernails when I was fighting her. I reach out and run my finger over them. "I’m sorry."

She acts like it doesn’t hurt to have me do that. "Yeah, I’m fine. Just a scrape or two. Besides, I deserve it since you pretty much softened my fall. I want you to go to the hospital and get checked out."

"Glad I could help." I laugh a little, as Jimmy hands me a cup of coffee. "I’m okay, Harper."

"I’m sorry it’s not tea, Kelsey, but coffee is the best I could do," the kid says as his hand comes to rest on my shoulder.

I smile at him and his orange hair. I’m really glad to see it again. "It’s fine, Jimmy. Thanks." I sip the coffee, hating the bitter taste but enjoying the warmth it offers. "Do we have any idea how this went so wrong so quickly?" I ask Harper between sips.

"Apparently Scamp and his followers had arrived recently. They liked that Sam and the others were a bunch of tree-huggers, figured they’d be easy to take over. Assholes like that are always the same: unwilling to pay the price of leadership, so they steal someone else’s followers. Scamp was wanting his jerk-offs to get the town stirred up against Sam’s leadership. Then he would step in and ‘control’ the kids, and take over the compound. But, the kids went overboard yesterday and beat up one of the shopkeepers, and then we showed up, and his timetable was blown to hell. So, when he realized his plan wasn’t going to work, he apparently decided to kill us and commit suicide by cop. In his mind it was a more honorable death than being taken alive. He also knew that by killing you, it would make national news and basically it would be Waco all over again. Kind of a ‘the government over-reacted again and a lot of innocent people got killed’ thing."

"Including a well known TV personality." I shudder at the thought.

"Including a well know TV personality." She says softly as her palm comes to rest on my cheek. "I’m sorry I got you into this."

"No, don’t you be sorry. We came here to get a story and it went bad. You had no way of knowing and it’s not your fault. It’s a hazard of the job."

"Still…"

"Stop," I say again as I sip my coffee. "We’re all okay and that’s what matters."

"You are amazing, Little Roo."

"Nothing to it when you’re inspired, Tabloid." I glance around and see the camera lying in the back of the truck. "Did it make it?"

Harper looks to the camera and sighs. "I’m not sure, I haven’t even checked it yet. I’ll have it checked out at the station before we fly home."

"I’m sorry."

"Yeah, well, that camera and I have been together a long time, but," she looks down at me and smiles, "it was worth it."

Yeah. I do love that smile. I catch her eyes and decide to tease her a touch. "Hey, Harper, got any more Twinkies?"

 

***

 

"So." I fold my long frame into the piece of crap Ford rental and close the door, resting my wrists on the steering wheel. We’ve spent the last few hours down at the local police station, once again, signing witness statements and drinking bad coffee, all the while putting the story to bed. I look into the backseat where Olson is stretched out and half-asleep and then to my other passenger whose eyes are only still slightly bloodshot. They’re beautiful, regardless, and I could drown in those jade depths but I shake my head quickly. Back to the topic at hand. "Where to?"

"Hotel," my companions say simultaneously.

I roll my eyes and start the car. "After the hotel, you party animals."

"Uh," Jimmy speaks first. "I’m gonna stay in, call my parents. You know."

I can’t very well rib him for that, it was a frightening experience, and I need to call mine before they organize a sit-in protest on my behalf. So I turn my attention to Kelsey instead. "You gonna call your parents, too?" I ask, without a touch of teasing.

She snorts, looks away as if the scenery we’re passing is the most interesting she’s seen. "Nah. What do you have in mind?"

I raise my eyebrow but she misses it. "I don’t know. What is there to do in Nebraska anyway?"

Kelsey laughs and shrugs her shoulders. I think she’s as reluctant to be alone as I am. It seems like we’ve been together forever and it will be strange to be apart. "Maybe we could find a gay bar," I suggest, pulling into traffic.

She gives me a withering look. "What in the hell would I want with a gay bar, Tabloid?"

"Hmm." I look to Olson through the rearview mirror and he appears suddenly interested in our conversation. "Good point," I say and wink at her.

She shakes her head but she’s smiling. Somewhere along the line we made a truce of sorts and I’m glad. I always liked her; it’s nice to have the feeling returned. Besides, it bodes well for my future plans that involve her naked and screaming.

"Maybe drinking and dancing?"

Kelsey shrugs slightly. "Sure."

 

***

When I come down the hall, dressed appropriately in jeans and a fresh denim shirt, Kelsey’s door is slightly open. I knock on it as I push it inwards. "Little Roo?"

"Come in," she calls from the bathroom and I do, taking a seat on the edge of her bed.

I bounce on it slowly, testing the resiliency. Nice bed for a hotel, I muse.

Moments later, Kelsey emerges from the bathroom, pulling still damp hair back into a ponytail. She’s wearing jeans and a tight white shirt. She looks fabulous, though I admit to being biased.

"Okay?" she queries, looking for my approval. I nod.

"Better than okay, cher," I tease her, letting my Cajun come out.

She laughs, better able to take my bantering than before.

"You have a message," I tell her. Just now I’ve noticed the light on her phone is blinking.

Kelsey looks at me warily. "Is it from you?"

"Nope." I hold my hands up. "Not me." I scoot over so she can sit by the nightstand.

She listens to the message silently and angrily slaps the phone back into the cradle.

"Kels?"

She waves me off and returns to the bathroom. "I’ll be ready in a minute," she assures me but her voice sounds strained, like she’s on the verge of tears.

I jump to my feet but she’s already sealed herself into the smaller room. "Kels, come on. Is everything okay? I meant it when I said you could talk to me about anything."

"I’m fine." Her voice is muffled. "Give me a sec."

I know I shouldn’t. I know she deserves her privacy, but I’m worried about her. I also know she didn’t hit any buttons when she hung up the phone and I can probably retrieve whatever it was that sent her off in tears. I convince myself I’m doing it for her benefit and pick up the receiver, dialing the message retrieval number.

The voice on the recording is clipped and formal, sounding a bit like Kelsey did during our first meetings. It’s colder, though, than Kelsey’s tones could ever be.

"Kelsey, it’s your mother. I saw on the news you were in a bit of a mess with that silly job of yours. I just need to know if you can make that court date against your Father. It’s vital for my case that you be there. And if he calls, tell him to find his own damn witness. Let me know."

I’m stunned as I replace the receiver softly. That was her mother? Didn’t ask how she was or what happened? Didn’t appear to care that her daughter had nearly died? I’d spent a good twenty minutes trying to get my parents off the phone so I could shower, they’d been so worried about me and what they had seen. Kelsey’s mother didn’t care at all.

Suddenly, I feel sobered. I understand a little more about my partner and why she does some of the things she does. I wish I could show her what a family is supposed to be like; maybe I’ll take her home with me for Thanksgiving. Instead, I decide to show her what a friend can be.

"Little Roo." I knock on the door to the bathroom. "Let’s go turn this town upside down."

She’s quiet for a long time. "You listened, didn’t you." She sounds more relieved that I know than angry that I invaded her privacy.

There’s no reason to lie. "Fuck her, Kels. Come with me. She can stick her stupid court date up her tight ass and we’ll have fun without her."

Without a word, she opens the door and looks at me with slightly watery eyes. They’re bloodshot but I’m pretty sure it’s not from her recent tears and I feel a twinge of guilt again for the overspray.

I don’t say anything either, as I take her hand and tug her out of the hotel room. Omaha, here we come. Line dancing and cheap beer, sounds like a perfect night.

 

Scenes from Next Week’s Must Read TV:

<fade in>

When my brain decides it’s okay to function again, I become aware of several things at once. One, I am hung over. Not the "Please God, let me die" kind of hangover, but a "I can’t quite remember last night" kind of hangover.

<cut to>

One drink led to at least eight and that’s where the problems start.

<fade out>

 

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