See disclaimers in part 1

Comments/Constructive Criticism: I welcome all feedback. You can reach me at juleskurre@aol.com

Copyright 2000 by Jules Kurre

 

The Guardian

By Jules Kurre

Part 8

Chapter 7

At half past one, Keagan was engrossed with a manuscript that she had picked up from the unagented submissions pile on her assistant's desk. Although it was Becky's job to "screen" the manuscripts that came in, Keagan often intercepted them. Usually, the novels that came in without agents were from first-time writers. Often, the work was mediocre at best, and Keagan enjoyed trying to figure out ways for the writers to improve. Frequently, she found herself responding to a writer in more depth than her position required. Her job was to write a rejection letter, but she enjoyed the challenge of helping new writers. Some had even responded back thanking her for the suggestions, even though their manuscripts had been rejected. It was by no mistake that she neglected to tell Rudy about this activity.

Keagan blinked and looked away from the computer when she heard Becky's voice come over the intercom. "Keagan, there's an author on the line for you."

"I don't talk to authors, remember?" Since her employment with Tandem began, Keagan had very skillfully avoided dealing directly with authors. Becky was the ambitious type and didn't mind taking over that duty, so she delegated the job to her.

"I'm afraid you're stuck with this one, boss."

Why does she call me boss? I hate that. I am not a boss. "Becky, please don't call me that."

"Okay. How about hot stuff?" Keagan heard the flirtatious assistant laughing.

"I don't think so," she responded, rolling her eyes and sighing. "And just exactly why am I stuck with this one?"

"Rudy told me to give her to you. Her name's Wendy Thornberg."

"Oh, really?" Why would she do that? Who is this Wendy Thornberg?

"Yep. Apparently she mentioned that you had written a response to her submission and she interpreted it as meaning that we were going to publish her and--"

"What was the title of the book?"

"A Heart Conquered by Destiny, or--"

"A Love Conquered by--? offered Keagan.

"Wait!" both Keagan and Becky exclaimed at the same time. "Hearts Conquered, Love's Destiny!!!"

"What a god awful title," Keagan muttered. Becky laughed on the other end. "Oh, shit! And she talked to Rudy first?"

"Yes."

I think my memory's coming back. "Okay. Thank you, Becky." Keagan took a couple of long breaths and pushed the speakerphone button. "Um, Ms. Thornberg. Hello, this is Keagan Donovan. How can I help you?"

"I submitted my manuscript--"

"Yes, yes. I recall. Hearts Conquered, Love's Destiny. It has a lot of promise, good raw material to work with." Maybe if I flatter her, she'll be easy on me.

Wendy's voice was high pitched and squeaky. "Ms. Donovan--"

"Just call me Keagan, please."

"Okay. Keagan." The woman pronounced her name as if the long "e" in the first syllable went on forever. Like Keeeegan. "Keagan, the title is not Hearts Conquered, Love's Destiny, it's Hearts, Conquered, Love, and Destiny."

"Wow. You sure that's not the opening paragraph?" Keagan quipped before she could stop herself. "Of course, it wouldn't be a complete sentence, but--"

"Are you making fun of me, Keagan?"

"No, no. What was your question?" I will not make any more jokes, I will not make any more jokes, I will not make any more--

"When I spoke to your associate Ms. Whitman, she had neither heard of my book, nor that it was being published by Tandem. Why?"

"Um…because it isn't being published by Tandem?"

"Is that a question?" Squeak, squeak. Wendy's voice rose higher in pitch, the more agitated she got.

"I'm sorry if I gave you that impression, but I was only trying to help improve your writing. The content of your work is actually quite good. You just need to drop all that exposition and kill the title."

When Keagan heard the gasp that came from the other end of the phone, she was glad she didn't have the handset to her ear. "But, but you said--"

"I didn't send you a contract, did I? Look, if you make the changes I suggested, I'd look at it again and then who knows what could happen. All right?"

"I don't think so. I'm sending your email to Rudy Whitman to look over and she can decide what you did or didn't mean."

Keagan' s brow creased and she bit her lower lip. "Fine. She's the boss anyway, I just look over manuscripts."

"Well, I never!" said Wendy with a gasp.

"Maybe you should," said Keagan sarcastically. I didn't think people really said that, she thought. Before she could reply, she was treated to a final gasp, this one even more dramatic than the last, before being hung up on.

**********

Rudy sat back in her chair and laughed. "I don't see why you're so upset. I'm not the one writing ambiguous responses to unagented authors."

"You could have helped me out a little."

"Help you out? Out of a mess you never should have gotten yourself into? First of all," Rudy began as she pointed a finger at Keagan, "you--"

"Don't point at me. I hate it when you do that."

"Oh, sorry." She wished more every day that Sloane would begin executing her plan to get Keagan as a writer, because she wasn't much of an editor. She handled the technical aspects well enough, but when it came to dealing with authors, particularly temperamental ones, Keagan didn't do very well. "You know you're not supposed to look at the unagented manuscripts before the more familiar authors, secondly, when you do, you write them a nice letter rejecting them, and thirdly, you have to be nicer to these authors."

"I was nice."

"You were snippy."

"I was not."

"You were too."

"You weren't there!"

Rudy got up from behind her desk and stood before Keagan. "Maybe there's a way to settle this. I'll admit I'm wrong, if you can take me."

"Take you? Where?" Keagan's eyes widened. What was she talking about?

"I've been learning this really cool move in self-defense class. Wanna let me practice it on you?" Rudy's eyes filled with enthusiasm for her new activity.

"Sure," Keagan replied nonchalantly.

"Okay. You get behind me and put your arms around my shoulders, like you're attacking me. Hold on tight. Don't be easy on me. Pretend like you're really trying to restrain me."

"No problem," said Keagan with a devilish grin.

"Be serious!" Rudy warned, but as she turned away from Keagan, she smiled.

Keagan put her arms around Rudy from behind, drawing her in close. She held on firmly, but not tightly.

"That's good, but hold on tighter," said Rudy. Keagan tightened her hold a little, but found it hard to actually restrain her. The warmth emanating from the body she held close did nothing but distract her. "Rudy, I don't think I can do this--"

"Nah, nah. It's what I'm going to do. C'mon, help me out here." As Keagan reluctantly agreed, she placed her arms firmly and tightly around Rudy's neck and upper body. "Okay, great." Rudy was eager to demonstrate her new skills.

"Gee, I hope nobody walks in while were--Ah!!!" Caught off guard, Keagan reacted to the swift bite Rudy gave to her right arm. She instantly let go of the young woman. Rudy then hit Keagan's leg with the heel of her right foot causing her to bend over and giving her enough time to hit her in the stomach and bring her to her knees. Turning around, Rudy regarded Keagan who was still on her knees and breathing hard. "You okay?" She knew she hadn't hurt Keagan, just startled her.

"Oh, I'm fine," replied Keagan as she got to her feet. Not one to enjoy being bested, she walked over to Rudy and whispered into her ear, "You know, La Roux, if you wanted to get me on my knees, you didn't have to go to this much trouble."

Keagan enjoyed the light blush that colored Rudy's face. Just when Keagan had thought she'd won, though, the editor spoke up. "Oh, I know," she said in a low voice. "I've heard all about you."

"Oh, really?"

Rudy said nothing further, but merely smiled. "Now where were we? Your job is not to be reading over unagented first-time author manuscripts. That's Becky's job. She's your reader. You have to trust her judgment--"

"I do," Keagan broke in.

"She screens, you approve of her report or not. You send the rejection letter or arrange a contract. You're supposed to be editing and communicating with publicity, sales, and marketing."

Keagan shivered. "Communicating?"

"I know. Not your strong suit, but this is a job. You get paid to do this. This isn't some personal odyssey that you can't figure out how to wade through."

"I'm sorry, but that woman was really getting on my nerves."

"Don't be sorry. Just improve."

"I will. After doing this job, I have a whole new respect for you and your profession."

Rudy smiled. "I think the same of you writers."

Keagan looked away.

"Look, if you want to help writers, then teach, but if you want to edit, then edit. You can't have it both ways."

"Okay, okay." Keagan turned to leave.

"Keag?"

She turned back around. "And most importantly, if you want to write, then write."

Keagan nodded. "We can't always do what we want to do."

 

**********

Keagan buttoned up the denim shirt she was wearing and stepped out of her bedroom to see Brad

sitting on her couch playing with Grendel. "And you're still here why?"

Brad looked over at her. "Oh, you look good, girlfriend, but the denim's got to go. Those black jeans are sizzling, but I'd choose something that shows off your attributes a bit more."

"And you're still here why?" Keagan said, completely ignoring his comments about her state of dress.

Brad swatted playfully at the cat that countered with a swipe. It caught him on the arm. "Ow! You little cunt!"

"Hey, hey, hey…my cat is not a little cunt. You're just a bully and you got what you deserved!" Keagan walked over the couch, scooped up the cat, and petted her on the head. She put her ear to Grendel's back and heard the soft purring start. "There there, little beast. The scary man will be leaving soon." She set the cat down.

"But, that's why I'm here!" Brad protested. "I thought since you've got a hot date with Rudy, you won't be home tonight, so I could use your place to entertain. You know, it's hard having a roommate!"

Keagan wasn't in the mood for Brad's pouting, especially since she had been a bundle of nerves after leaving work that day. Meeting Rudy for dinner had seemed like a good idea at the time, but she was nervous. "You are not using my place to entertain one of your flings and I most certainly am coming home tonight. What do you think Rudy's going to do? Jump me the moment I get there?"

"Oh, no, that's not like her. Here's my prediction, being the man of the world that I am. You go over, you have dinner, and then you start to talk. Eventually, all the old feelings come flooding back like a dam--"

"Dams don't flood. They prevent floods."

"Shut up, girlfriend, until I make my point!" Keagan glared at Brad who smiled smugly, but affectionately. "All the old feelings come back, and she's on you like a bee on honey--"

"You mean like a fly on fly paper?"

"Ha, ha. You mark my words--"

"You're full of it."

"I'm telling you. You're going to get it tonight. Big time. That's why she invited you over…duh!"

"She just invited me over to talk."

"What do you think she's going to say? I'm really hot for you, come on over and party?" Brad snickered.

"You slut."

"Thank you," said Brad with a delighted smile, always appreciating a compliment.

"Look, I have to go, so you have to go."

"You don't trust me here alone?" said Brad with his most innocent look.

"No."

"All right, all right." Brad got up from the couch and headed toward the door, but not before hissing at Grendel who had been staring at him. The cat leaped forward and hissed back. "Oh, you're such a scary beast. Please don't hurt me!"

"Bye, Brad."

Stopping at the door, Brad's face turned serious. "I'm telling you, Keag. You need to tell her about your book. If she finds out from somebody else, it's not going to be good for you."

"All in good time," she told Brad as they headed out the door.

**********

"Thanks for bringing the wine," called Rudy from the kitchen. After Keagan had arrived at her place, she had been promptly escorted into the living room and told to remain there while Rudy got everything ready. Keagan's offer to help was quickly declined.

"Sure," she replied. "I thought you never cooked." Keagan leaned back on the couch and inhaled deeply the vanilla scent of the candle sitting next to her on the end table. It was a pleasant smell.

"Well, um, I'm making an exception this time." Keagan detected a hint of secrecy in Rudy's tone.

Hmm, methinks something is up. There's no way she could cook Chinese. Their culinary experience when they had dated consisted of three things: ordering pizza, going out for Chinese or fast food, or Keagan doing the cooking. The one time Rudy had tried to cook had been a disaster. In the midst of preparing Chicken Curry, she had abandoned the recipe altogether and ended up with a very clumpy, unappetizing Curry sauce.

While she waited for Rudy, Keagan took an opportunity to look at the apartment. Compared to her own, it was much more comfortable and lived in, but Keagan was struck by how nothing was out of its place; not a speck of dust anywhere, no stray newspapers, magazines, or the usual trinkets lying around that people tended to collect. Her eyes moved to the bookcases on the far wall. Every book was in its place. Indeed, every book had a place. She recalled that in Rudy's college apartment, she barely had room for all her books. She now, obviously, had plenty.

Keagan's eyes scanned through the books. She was surprised to see a copy of her second novel. "You read my second book?" she called to the kitchen.

"Yeah. I liked your first better, though. The second one seemed--"

"To be a rehash of the first one, albeit with different settings and characters."

Rudy poked her head out of the kitchen. "Um, yeah, actually. How did you know I was going to say that?"

"Believe me. There's not much you could say about my work that I haven't already said myself."

"Hmm." Rudy smiled and returned to the kitchen.

When they finally sat down to eat, Keagan was pleasantly surprised at the assortment of Chinese dishes Rudy had assembled. They started out with shrimp egg rolls and fried dumplings for appetizers with spicy Szechwan noodles and hot and sour soup following that. Keagan noted that the courses were all the ideal size: small enough to satisfy, but not too large to ruin one's appetite for the main dish. It was too perfect. When Rudy finally got around to serving the main dish, Lion's Head Casserole, Keagan was more than suspicious.

"La Roux, you have simply outdone yourself here tonight. I must admit, I had my doubts about your culinary abilities, but no longer." Keagan bit in with delight to her meatball, which was stuffed with ground pork, crabmeat, and mushrooms.

"You doubted me? Ha! That'll teach you!" Rudy got a smug look on her face.

"So, tell me about this." Keagan took a sip of wine. "How do you fix these?" Ignoring the alarmed look that Rudy gave her, she continued. "I've made Lion's Head Casserole once upon a time, but I've never been able to do anything this good. What's your secret?"

"Um, I just, ah, follow the recipe." Rudy smiled nervously and took a big gulp of her wine.

"Oh, you're much too humble. How'd you do it?" Keagan sat back in her chair and fixed an evil grin directly at Rudy. "House of Hunan? Pearl of Hunan? Sequel to Hunan? Return to Hunan House?" Keagan laughed.

"Hey, I'll have you know I went to a lot of trouble for this meal!"

"I'm sure you did. Making sure the delivery got here before I arrived, hiding the cartons in the kitchen so I wouldn't see them and suspect, keeping the food sufficiently warm. You've done a bang-up job I must say!" Keagan chuckled until she realized that her dinner date wasn't finding the situation at all funny. When she finally took a moment to study Rudy's face carefully, she saw hurt there. Uh, oh. Damage control.

"Go ahead and laugh. I knew I couldn't cook but since I invited you to dinner I wanted it to be nice."

"It was nice. It is nice. I'm sorry. I just wonder why you didn't tell me you ordered out. You know it doesn't matter to me."

"True, but I've changed." Green eyes looked at Keagan who tried without success to read the meaning behind them.

"I know." Keagan looked down at the table uneasily.

"So, how was the rest of your day?"

Keagan shrugged. "It was okay…as okay as any day can go, I guess. I'm not really cut out to be an editor, you know."

"Ya don't think?" Rudy was smiling again and this made Keagan feel more at ease.

"No, I don't think. I don't know how you do it. Dealing with all those authors. Some of them are great, but some of them can be such asses."

Rudy took her napkin off her lap and laid it on the table. "I know, but I'm pretty damn good at dealing with asses, I think. You just have to learn to treat every person a little bit differently. You have to tap into what makes each person tick and then respond accordingly. It's really not that hard if you think about it."

"Hmm. Then my problem must be that I treat everyone the same…and I never think about it."

"Maybe that's because you're too busy thinking about other things."

"Like what?"

"Like writing."

"I think about it. I just don't do it."

"I'm going to tell you a secret and if you let Sloane know I told you, I'll never speak to you again," said Rudy.

"My lips are sealed."

"You weren't hired for your editing skills. Sloane wants you as a writer in a bad way and she felt that if she at least had you working at Tandem, she could convince you to sign on."

"I know that." Keagan had been aware from the beginning that it was highly unlikely for a publishing house to hire in someone as an editor and not an assistant first.

"You did?"

"I'm not stupid, Rudy. A writer does not an editor make. I knew she had another agenda."

"So, why did you accept her offer?"

Keagan shifted in her chair and took a sip of wine. "There was something at Tandem that interested me," she said with a small smile.

"Oh really? And what was that?" Rudy asked, playing along. "Their 401k plan? Medical insurance? Stock options?"

"Actually, if you want the honest truth, there's this woman there I kind of have a crush on."

"That's a little unprofessional, isn't it?"

"Completely, but I'm sick of being professional."

"How can you be sick of something you so rarely practice?" asked Rudy.

"Maybe you should have been a comedian instead of an editor."

"True. Maybe then, I'd be more equipped to deal with you."

"I think you're equipped to deal with me just fine."

Rudy was growing impatient with the banter that she and Keagan so easily fell into. If given enough time, she was sure that the two of them could spend the evening this way without ever having a serious word pass between them. "Hold it," she finally said, raising her right hand for emphasis. "I asked you over here because I want to talk."

"So, let's talk." Dreading the coming conversation but accepting its inevitability, she followed Rudy into the living room.

**********

After they had settled onto the couch with cups of Earl Grey tea, Keagan spoke first. "Go ahead. I'm ready."

"You're ready? Oh, good, we wouldn't want you not to be ready," Rudy replied shortly. Taking a deep breath, she set her mug of tea on the coffee table. Since Keagan sat fairly close to her on the couch, she scooted down to the other end, and considered what she wanted to say.

"Rudy, I didn't mean to belittle your--"

"I know. I'm sorry. Let's try this again, okay?" Rudy tried to understand why she felt so irritated all of a sudden. It couldn't be that Keagan was wearing the same cologne she used to. Don't people change scents after four years? Of course, Rudy had liked that particular scent so why would it bother her?

Keagan gave Rudy a lopsided grin. "Okay."

Why is she looking at me that way? Rudy recalled a movie she had seen as a teenager. She didn't remember the title, but one of the characters talked about how you could be intimate with someone and not see them until you both were 80 years old, but the one thing you both would be thinking, the one thing above anything else you would remember, was that you'd had sex. Now I understand what that meant, she told herself ruefully.

"I'll make this simple," she finally said. "I want to know why you dumped me to go traipsing around Columbus and then New York City, taking up with every doormat that you could pick up for the night."

The grin on Keagan's face quickly faded to be replaced by the look of a woman who had just been slapped. "I didn't do anything in Columbus. I wasn't there long enough to."

"Oh, that's right. I forgot. You moved without telling me where you were going and then you swore all your friends at the bar to secrecy."

Keagan didn't respond.

"Well?"

"Well, what? If you had really wanted to find me, you could have."

"What in the hell kind of a thing is that to say?! What was I supposed to do? Chase you across the damned country?"

"It would have been nice." Keagan countered, as the frustration she felt continued to build.

"It would have been nice?! It would have been nice if you hadn't broken my heart. Do you know how--"

"I'm here now. Why do we have to talk about the past?" Keagan reached over and gently caressed Rudy's cheek.

Rudy's breathing picked up and she pulled her head away. "Don't do that," she said, wondering when it had been that Keagan moved closer to her again and why she had completely missed it.

"Are you sure you mean that?"

"Yes, I'm sure I mean that." Rudy paused. "We need to talk."

"Talking is overrated."

"Oh, really?" I would expect someone like you to say that."

"We could talk all night and not get anywhere." Keagan moved forward and placed her hand lightly on Rudy's thigh and when there was no protest, she rubbed it lightly.

Rudy looked away, offering up a nice view of her neck. "You know, you may have a point there."

Keagan whispered into her ear. "You think so?"

Rudy hid the embarrassment she felt at the obvious shiver that raced down her body in reaction to Keagan's breath on her neck. "Yeah, I think you just may be right about that." Rudy reached up roughly, grabbing the back of Keagan's neck and pulling her in for a kiss. After a few seconds, she pulled back and pushed Keagan onto the couch, climbing on top of her. Rudy took a second to notice the startled look on her ex's face, but quickly turned back to the business at hand by leaning down and kissing her lightly. This teasing went on for a few minutes, with Rudy alternating her kisses between Keagan's lips, neck, and collarbone. Every time Keagan tried to take it further, Rudy backed off.

"Oh," Keagan groaned in frustration. "What are you trying to do to me?"

"That remains to be seen." Rudy began a slow grind of her body, but her kisses never got too intimate. They made out like that for a few more minutes, until Rudy undid the first three buttons of Keagan's shirt and kissed her just above her breasts. "Let's go talk in my bedroom, okay?"

"Uh, huh," Keagan breathed, her mind not stopping to consider what was happening. She picked Rudy up and feeling strong legs wrap around her torso and lips attach themselves to her neck with repeated kisses, she took Rudy into the bedroom. They collapsed onto the bed with Keagan on top. Rudy wasted no time picking up where they had left off by planting kisses on Keagan's neck and collarbone. "Please, let me really kiss you," begged Keagan as her desire increased.

"Okay, but I get to be on top," said Rudy forcefully.

"Anything."

After they had switched positions, Rudy dove in for the kiss Keagan had been craving. It was wild, untamed and nothing like Keagan had ever remembered from her ex-lover; not that she didn't enjoy it. It was just different. She felt Rudy positioning her arms over her head near the headboard and squirmed. Even as Rudy's tongue moved in and out of her mouth, Keagan heard a jingling sound and felt something cold against her wrist. Opening her eyes, she saw Rudy holding a pair of handcuffs and preparing to use them to restrain her. Her eyes grew wide. "What…what are you doing with those?"

Still holding the handcuffs, Rudy undid two more buttons of Keagan's shirt and reached up to capture her mouth in another kiss. This time it was gentler. "Don't tell me you've never used anything like this?"

"Well, um…" Keagan looked away in distaste, not wanting to share such details with Rudy.

"Please let me. I promise I'll stop if you want me to. You can pick a safe word--"

"A safe word?!" This was just not like Rudy at all. "Where did you get handcuffs?"

"I dated a cop?" Rudy laughed at the shocked look on Keagan's face.

"You were never into this kind of stuff before."

"I told you I changed." She kissed Keagan again.

"Okay, okay. But I don't need a safe word." She obediently positioned her arms so Rudy could put the restraints on. After that was done, she laid sprawled on Rudy's bed totally at the mercy of her ex-lover. Rudy smiled triumphantly and tucked the keys to the handcuffs securely into her bra. Then she leaned down to Keagan and whispered into her ear, as she began buttoning Keagan's shirt back up. "Finally, I've got you exactly where I want you."

"Looks like it," Keagan panted, wondering why Rudy buttoned her shirt up. Didn't these things usually work better with clothes off?

Rudy backed up with effort. "First of all, I'm sorry I had to handcuff you."

"What?" First, she wants kinky sex, now she's apologizing? Is this some kind of role-playing thing?

"Let me spell it out for you. I didn't handcuff you for sex. There isn't going to be any sex."

"Why not?" Keagan asked, as the interchange quickly turned adversarial. She tried to move her arms to no avail.

For the first time in several very heated minutes, Rudy allowed her true feelings to surface. Keagan knew she was in trouble when she saw the unabashed look of anger on Rudy's face. "How could you think that you could just come over here and jump into bed with me? I can't believe you?! You wouldn't even talk to me!"

"Could you please take these off?"

"I thought you said you didn't need a safe word."

"Take them off!"

"No!"

"Take them off now, Rudy!"

"Sorry. You forfeited your right to a safe word. Therefore, I can keep the cuffs on you as long as I want." Rudy smiled smugly and sat down in the chair across from the bed.

"Why, you little--"

"Little what?"

"Little…um--" Keagan tried in vain to come up with a suitable name to call Rudy. "Sneak!"

"Ouch! That hurt."

"What do you want?"

"What I want is simple. I want us to talk. I want you to tell me what happened with us. I thought we had a good thing, but you ruined it. Why?"

Keagan quit struggling, knowing it was pointless to continue. "We did have a good thing. I…sometimes I don't know what to say to you."

"Is that why you'd feel more comfortable having sex than talking?"

"I'm not saying I'd be comfortable with anything, but that would be easier, yes. I'm sorry if you thought--"

Rudy reached into her bra and pulled out the keys to the handcuffs. She dangled them in front of Keagan, as a warning. "Quit apologizing and talk to me."

Keagan squirmed around in an attempt to position a pillow behind her back, which was starting to get stiff. Rudy made no move to help her. "All right. I'll talk. That is not how I envisioned kissing you." The blue eyes looked up at Rudy.

"You didn't really give me much choice."

"Oh, right!" Keagan snorted. "Like getting me all worked up and handcuffing me was the only option open to you!"

"If I could have skipped the getting you all worked up part, I would have, believe me!"

"Yeah, right. You enjoyed it."

"Ha! I did not enjoy it!" Rudy said haughtily.

"Yes, you did. I could tell, because when you're turned on, you always get this hazy look in your eyes…and you definitely had that look--"

"I did not! I do not get that kind of look!" Rudy responded indignantly.

"Oh yes, you do…you know…all, um…misty-eyed. I like it. I think it's kind of cute--"

"Keagan, shut up!" Rudy's voice rose slightly in an attempt to get back control of the situation.

"The thing that really convinced me, though, was that little sound you make, wayyyy in the back of your throat. Like this: ah…ah." Keagan was grinning now, knowing she was getting a rise out of Rudy.

"Let me ask you something. Just how long do you plan on being handcuffed, hmm?"

"I don't know. Hopefully until I say what you want to hear or you come to your senses and pick up where we left off." Keagan wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.

"Option number two ain't gonna happen, honey. So start talking or you'll be locked up all night." Rudy crossed her arms and sat back in the chair, as if she were settling in for a long movie; something like Roots and all its sequels.

"All night?" Keagan complained in a whiny voice. "What happens if I have to go to the bathroom?"

Rudy's face remained impassive. "Well, you figure it out. What usually happens when you have to go to the bathroom?"

"Eww…you mean you wouldn't let me free to--"

"It all depends on your response and how quickly you give it."

"All right. I--" Keagan wriggled her hands, still firmly restrained in the cuffs. "These are starting to hurt," she lied. "I don't suppose there's any chance of taking these off now."

"Not a chance in hell."

Since when did Rudy become so aggressive? What an evening this was turning out to be, Keagan thought. Who would believe it if I told them? Brad would, but he likes stories involving handcuffs. "Julie Andrews", she finally said in an apparent non sequitur.

"What?"

"In The Sound of Music. She says the beginning is a very good place to start, so here I go. If you remember, I didn't want to date you in the beginning. Scratch that. I did want to date you, but I didn't want you to know that. I figured you'd give up and I could go on my merry way." Keagan squirmed. She had an incessant itch in the middle of her back. "Damn," she muttered.

"What is it?"

"My back itches." Keagan sighed with irritation. She had managed to arrange everything she wanted to say in an orderly fashion in her mind and now this. The itch was interfering with her ability to concentrate.

Rudy got up without a word and approached the bed. "I'll get it." She scratched in the middle.

"No, it's uh, lower and to the right." Rudy did as she asked. "Okay, thanks. That's enough. Go back to your chair."

Rudy stopped scratching and stood up, noting the flushed look on Keagan's face. "What's the matter? Do I make you uncomfortable?"

"No comment. Now where was I?" Rudy sat back down, trying to rein in her own emotions. "Instead of going away you pursued me until you got me."

"Like you had nothing to do with it."

"Rudy, don't get so defensive. I'm trying here, okay?"

"Only because I'm forcing you."

"Then take the handcuffs off."

Rudy considered it, but it was clear to Keagan that she didn't like the idea. "How about I take one off?"

Keagan snorted at that. "I appreciate a woman who's willing to compromise."

Rudy approached the bed without another word and unlocked the handcuff on Keagan's right wrist. "Thanks," Keagan said, as her arm came down. She shook it out to get the circulation going again.

"You're welcome, now speak," said Rudy sitting back down. Her patience was beginning to wear thin.

"You and I were at the point in a relationship where you start to see the other person's faults. In the beginning, when you're first in love, you can't think of a damn thing wrong with the other person. It doesn't matter if people point it out to you, it doesn't matter if that person consistently shows you their imperfections. You don't believe it. You don't see it. Love is blind."

"As you know, writing had been the passion of my life up until I met you. All I ever wanted to do was write books." Keagan looked out the window. It was getting dark outside. "I was pretty obsessed wouldn't you say?"

Rudy recalled all the parties she had attended alone because Keagan had work to do. Many evenings Keagan had cancelled dates because she was busy and Rudy would have to make alternate plans. One time when Del had visited from New York, Rudy had arranged for him to meet Keagan but it never happened because Keagan was unavailable. "You weren't obsessed, you were committed to your art. There's a difference."

"But you did resent it, didn't you? All those times I wasn't around."

Although Rudy had been frustrated at first, she had accepted that Keagan wasn't the type of girlfriend who would be available every hour of every day. Rudy often rationalized that it might be the same if Keagan were a doctor or a lawyer. At that point in time, also, Keagan still worked her retail job for a living, so they had even less time together. She never complained about it. "No. I didn't resent it. I missed you, yes, but I knew that writing fulfilled you and I didn't begrudge you that. You didn't think that, did you?"

"No, never. That was the point. I wasn't being the lover you needed."

"No, no, no. Don't go there. That was up for me to decide."

"I didn't think I could ever be what you needed and I knew that with much more time, you'd come to see all of me, what I was, and you wouldn't like it. I knew you wouldn't love me anymore. I wanted to leave with you still loving me, if that makes any sense."

What? The only reason Keagan left was insecurity? "What did you think you were trying to be for me? My protector? My guardian? Saving me from the awful fate of being your lover? This is ridiculous, Keagan!"

"You never belittled my feelings before, La Roux. Why are you doing it now? You want the truth, I gave it to you." Keagan slumped back into the bed as much as she was able to, feeling tired.

"But, I thought you broke up with me because you didn't love me. Not--"

"I thought it was the best thing for you. I didn't think you were happy."

Rudy shook her head. This was not at all what she had expected Keagan to say. "I don't know why you'd think that."

"I could sense a dissatisfaction, a disappointment in you." She paused to collect her thoughts. "It's hard for me to describe it."

"Did you ever once consider talking to me about this? Before you made a decision that affected us both?"

"I didn't see any need to."

"Are you through?" Rudy asked when Keagan said nothing further. "Because I'd really like to have my say."

"Yeah."

"Would you like to know what my life's been like for the last four years?"

Keagan nodded. Her arm began to ache, but she didn't want to interrupt Rudy by asking her to take the other set of handcuffs off.

"It's been great. Really. I graduated from college with high honors, I dove right into my master's degree, got it in two years, and landed not one, but two jobs that I enjoy. I even got to move to the city that never sleeps. It's been terrific." Keagan detected a note of contempt in Rudy's voice that contradicted everything she said.

"You haven't been happy?" Keagan asked softly.

"I tried to be, but there was always something missing. All of my relationships since you have pretty much been disasters. Usually I get dumped, but occasionally I have the guts to do it myself. My last girlfriend dumped me when she found out I had a fling with Meg from the bar and do you know why I had that fling?"

"No, why?"

"I had just found out you were in town, I was feeling vulnerable, and she reminded me of you. I was drunk, too, but that's no excuse for what I did." Rudy looked embarrassed.

"Don't be embarrassed. I've done a lot worse things than that. Like picking up women who look like you." At the look of interest on Rudy's face, Keagan continued. "Since you and me, I haven't dated…" She paused and made the "quote" sign with her fingers to indicate that she used the term loosely. "I haven't pursued anyone that doesn't resemble you in some way; whether it's your hair, your eyes, your smile, your personality. Sometimes I'd get lucky and find all of those wrapped up into one."

"Is that why you went out with Gracie?"

"Yes, but even during those times when I'd come so close, I knew what I was doing was ridiculous and more than that, pathetic. I knew that nothing would last beyond a few maybe pleasant hours and I didn't want it to."

"It's kind of hard to go searching for someone special when you know in your heart that you've already found her, huh?"

"Yes."

"So if you regretted what you did, why didn't you call me?"

"I regretted it only for myself. I figured you'd get on with your life--"

"You figured wrong."

"I made a mess out of things, I know. I was pretty insecure back then."

"I just wish you had told me then, everything you're telling me now."

"Me, too."

"There was always a part of you that I couldn't touch. You were in your own world making up your own rules." Rudy liked the fact that for the first time since Keagan had come back into her life, they were connecting. "I don't know what to say."

"It's okay. I don't expect you to say anything. I know you don't love me anymore, not like you did. I made sure of that. We can at least be friends, can't we?"

"Yeah, we can be friends." A part of Rudy was disappointed at the question, but she didn't pursue it. There would be time for that later.

"Can you uh…" She motioned to the remaining set of handcuffs.

Rudy smiled shyly. Now that she had gotten what she wanted out of Keagan, she could take the time to feel embarrassed about what she had done. She turned around, dug the keys out of her bra again, and unlocked Keagan.

"That's better," Keagan said, rubbing her wrists.

"So, after this, do you still think I'm a fun date?" asked Rudy to lighten the tone of their conversation.

"Well, up until the handcuffs, I'd say yeah."

"Even if you're not getting any?"

"Like I said…up until the handcuffs…"

"Well, the handcuff incident is about all I can offer you this evening. I'm beat."

"So am I." Keagan stood up and stretched. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For asking me over. I'm glad we had this time to talk."

"Me, too." The room fell silent for a few moments. Set up or not, they had been physical with each other and they were standing right in front of Rudy's bed. "Let's uh, go back to the living room."

"But, why?" Keagan asked in a whiney voice, aware of why Rudy wanted them to leave the bedroom. "I like it here."

"I know," she said, not meeting Keagan's eyes. "That's why we're leaving."

Keagan obediently followed.

**********

"Good morning, Rudy," said Sloane. Rudy's boss normally didn't chat much in the mornings, so Rudy had been surprised to open the email requesting her presence in Sloane's office as soon as possible that morning.

"Hi, Sloane. What can I do for you?" Rudy sat down and munched on the donut Sloane had offered her, in spite of the fact that it made her uneasy. Sloane's practice of offering donuts before counseling was foremost in her mind. Oh, well. At least I won't be hungry when I get reprimanded. Wait a minute. I haven't done anything…at least, not anything I'm aware of.

Sloane held up her hand. "I know what you're thinking, Whitman. The donuts are celebratory, this time." Sloane paused, seeming to enjoy the fact that Rudy had stopped eating in mid chew.

Celebratory? "Celebrating what?" asked Rudy after the last swallow.

"You're on the list." Sloane couldn't hold back a smile.

Rudy's eyes widened in astonishment. "I'm on the list? I'm on the list? Not Mistaken Identity." Mistaken Identity was a book she had edited a year before that had recently been released.

"That's the one, kid. It debuted at five."

Rudy had known that the book was most probably the best one she had ever edited in her short career and that she had been lucky to get it, but she had never allowed herself to believe that it might make the New York Times bestseller list. "Five? Oh my god, that's great. That's…actually that's unbelievable!"

Sloane stood up and shook Rudy's hand. "Congratulations, Whitman. I think you're probably the youngest editor at Tandem ever to make the list."

Rudy's face finally broke into a broad smile. "Thanks, Sloane." Rudy tried to hide her excitement. She knew it wouldn't be a good idea to get too emotional in front of Sloane.

"What I'm really impressed with though, is that you picked out this manuscript and fought for it when the whole senior staff went against you. You have an instinct for good books."

"Thanks, Sloane." Rudy was relieved to hear Sloane's words, especially considering that only a few weeks before, Sloane had questioned her ability to handle a promotion. "Would you believe it if I told you that I actually used to make fun of the New York Times list back when I was in college? I used to refer to the books on the list as balderdash."

Sloane laughed. "Balderdash? Didn't the use of that word go out of style back in the mid-nineteenth century?"

"I hear it's making a comeback."

Sloane laughed. "Ah. I don't want to keep you, but I've got one more little thing to discuss with you."

"Of course. What is it?"

"I have a problem and thought you could help me out. My senior editor Dan Cortez, has decided to take a demotion. He explained to me that he feels he's at his best when not in a supervisory position and I agree with him. Unfortunately for me, that means I need to find a new senior editor. Would you happen to know of anyone here who's up to the job?"

Because of Sloane's deadpanned delivery, Rudy took a couple of seconds to decide whether Sloane was actually talking about her. Sloane had asked her advice on several other occasions. It wasn't something out of the ordinary. "Are you asking me?"

"Yes, Whitman. Do you want the job?"

Do I want the job? Hell, yeah, I want the job! "Thank you, Sloane. I accept." Rudy tried not to smile and kept her voice even.

"Jesus, god, Rudy! Aren't you the least bit excited?!"

The exasperation in Sloane's voice startled Rudy. So, it's okay to get excited in front of my boss? Or is this some kind of test?

"No, it's not a test! Whitman, lighten up! That's your first order of business as the newest senior editor. Congratulations, again." Sloane shook Rudy's hand again.

As Rudy shook Sloane's hand, she gradually broke into a broad smile. "Okay, I am a little bit excited. Thanks."

"And Whitman. Be done with work by 5:30 today. We're all taking you out for a drink."

Rudy mentally scanned through all the things she had to take care of that day. "That's nice, but I don't think--"

Sloane held up her index finger. "5:30. Not a minute later."

**********

Rudy could hardly keep from beaming as she headed down to Keagan's office. As she poked her head inside the door, she saw Keagan on the speakerphone. Uncharacteristically, she was dressed in faded blue jeans and a t-shirt. She had thrown a suit jacket over that, but was looking quite casual. Noticing that Keagan hadn't seen her, she watched her surreptitiously.

"So, she's out of the country? Damn. Until when?" Rudy could see the wheels turning in Keagan's mind as she attempted to arrive at a solution to the problem. "Greece, huh? I've always wanted to go there. I hear they have great omelettes." Keagan laughed. "Okay, then. I'll call the production department and reschedule the date. Can you call back Becky in a couple of hours? Okay. Bye."

Keagan whirled around in her chair and put her feet on the floor. "Hi," she said, noticing Rudy for the first time. "What brings you here?"

"I came for my bagels," said Rudy, hungrily eyeing the bag sitting on Keagan's desk.

"Is that all I’m good for?"

"No, you have other uses."

"Like?"

"Like getting authors angry, doing the exact opposite of what you're supposed to do as an editor, um, let's see…"

"Any positive use?"

Rudy's brow scrunched up as if she were thinking very hard to come up with something. "You do give a good shoulder massage."

"You think so, huh?"

Thinking it wise to change the subject, Rudy steered their conversation back to work. "I actually came to tell you something. First, there's a staff meeting at nine. Second, I'm on the list, and third, I just got promoted to senior editor." Rudy smiled.

"The list?" Keagan knew that editing a book that made the New York Times bestseller list did as much for an editor's career as it did for an author whose work made the list.

Rudy gave Keagan a big smile. "Yeah."

"That's great!" Keagan came around her desk to give Rudy a hug. They hugged for a few seconds. "You're really excited, aren't you?"

"Oh yeah." They parted, but still held on to each other. Keagan bent down to give Rudy a congratulatory kiss, when Rudy spoke. "Um, going a little casual today, huh?"

It was clear Rudy had spoken to establish a boundary and so Keagan backed away. "A little more than usual. My laundry room was packed last night and I didn't feel like going to the dry cleaners."

"Ah. You know what this means, don't you?" She smiled slyly.

"That you're my boss now."

"Uh huh."

"That's okay. I don't mind being under you," Keagan teased. Rudy slapped her on the arm.

"You're such an ass!"

"Might as well do what--"

"You're good at," Rudy finished.

"Wow, you're completing my sentences. Do you think we're soul mates?"

"I don't know. I suppose it could be argued we are. We do seem to keep finding each other."

"Ah, the idea of soul mates…so romantic!" Keagan stuck her finger in her mouth and mock gagged.

"You're right, it is. We couldn't be soul mates then, because if it's one thing you're not, it's romantic."

"I have my moments," Keagan complained.

"A moment, defined by Webster's unabridged dictionary as an indefinitely short period of time, an instant. So not anything to brag about."

"That's okay. I have enough other shining qualities to brag about."

"Oh, right. Such as your humility?"

Keagan nodded vigorously. "Actually, yes. As a matter of fact, I am one of the most humble people you will probably ever have the fortune to encounter."

Now, Rudy made the gag sign. "Misfortune," she said under her breath.

"I heard that!"

"Oh, did I hurt your feelings?"

"Oh, no. I don't let the petty mumblings of those who envy my endless array of vast talent to affect my emotions. If I did, I would never accomplish anything."

"Then why did you quit writing?" It was out like a shot before Rudy could stop it. She had just broken the number one rule: never turn the bantering honest.

"What?" Keagan was caught off guard.

"Why did you quit writing?"

"It certainly wasn't because someone hurt my feelings, if that's what you're trying to suggest."

"I'm not trying to suggest anything, except that maybe I'm tired of all this childish banter we so naturally fall into. Why do we do that?!"

"I don't know, Rudy, but I'm sure it's my fault!"

"I didn't say that--"

"You didn't have to. And by the way, if I choose to tell you why I quit writing, it'll be when I want to, not when you want to know!"

"Just like always. It's all about you. All about your insecurity, about your unwillingness to be open about your feelings, and about you not wanting to tell me why you quit something you as much as left me for!"

"I don't think we should be talking about this here." said Keagan.

"Maybe we shouldn't be talking at all! See you at the meeting!" Rudy turned around and left.

Keagan stared at the bag of blueberry bagels that she had left behind and picked up the phone, dialing Cheryl's extension. "Hi, Cheryl. Could you come down to my office for a second?"

**********

Rudy bit into the blueberry bagel and chewed vigorously as her green eyes flashed with barely controlled anger.

"I thought you said you weren't going to eat those today," said Cheryl with a knowing smile.

"I lied!"

"Boss, what's going on with you two?" Cheryl knew something was up when she had been summoned to Keagan's office to deliver Rudy's breakfast to her. When she had questioned Keagan as to why she wasn't bringing them herself, the associate editor had only shrugged and mumbled something about how cranky Rudy gets if she doesn't eat.

Rudy shook her head, dismissing Cheryl's question. "For starters, I need the Valenza manuscript, I need those three contracts that haven't been signed yet, as in on my desk in front of me, I need you to call Barclay and Lofton and tell them their checks are in the mail and make up some excuse as to why they were late, and I need you to call the inventory department and get me the latest sales figures for Deathtrap and Twice in a Row. Call Ricky from publicity and tell him I'm tied up in meetings until 2pm. I have to talk to Paula Seidman about her contract. She says that she did more work than she thought she would and now she wants a royalty in addition to the flat-fee. I don't want Ricky bothering me if I happen to be on the phone with Paula."

Cheryl quickly jotted down the things that Rudy needed. "Okay, boss. You want coffee, too?"

"Yes, thank you, Cheryl." Rudy's eyes roamed over her desk which she began straightening.

"Rudy, if you want to talk, I'm here."

"I know, but we have work to do now. Maybe later."

"Gotcha boss."

**********

Rudy and Keagan didn't speak to each other during the meeting. They sat on opposite sides of the room and although Keagan had tried to make eye contact several times, Rudy had rebuffed her each time.

At around two in the afternoon, Rudy decided to take a break and read her email. She had successfully renegotiated a contract with Paula that had taken nearly an hour. Rudy told Cheryl to hold her calls and prepared to sit back, relax, and catch up on her overloaded inbox. She had around 100 mails to go through and she scrolled down so she could pick through them in the order of importance. Near the bottom, she saw a mail from kdonovan@tandem. She had intentionally avoided Keagan all day. Even though her anger had subsided as the day went on, she wasn't feeling up to dealing with Keagan's evasive tactics and since she didn't feel like engaging in any more childish banter, she didn't see any reason to seek her out. As she looked at the subject header, which said simply, "I'm Sorry," something made her open it. She didn't know if the little sad face that Keagan had typed had anything to do with it and she didn't care. She looked at the time it had been sent, which was only ten minutes after they had argued.

Dear Rudy,

I'm truly sorry for our argument earlier. I take responsibility for being an ass as you rightly called me. It was unprofessional of me to allow it to escalate the way it did. I'm sorry for my evasiveness and I'm sorry for my childishness. Our bantering should be in fun only. It shouldn't be a mask for things we are too afraid to discuss or that I am too afraid to discuss. You're right when you say it's always about me.

KD

She writes so well, but when she opens her mouth…Rudy hit reply and began to type.

Dear Keagan,

I'm sorry for our argument, too. Yes, you were an ass, but you were not the only one who behaved unprofessionally. It takes two people to have an argument. I certainly accept your apology if you'll accept mine. About the bantering, I agree. About being afraid to discuss things, I'll say only this: if we have any chance at being friends again, you have to be willing to share things with me. I'm not saying you have to tell me every little thing, but friends share their troubles as well as the good times and you seem to have more of the former than the latter. I would like to change that, but you have to trust me.

Rudy

P.S. God, I hope Sloane isn't monitoring these emails!!!

Rudy sent the mail and waited for a few minutes, thinking there might be a response. When there wasn't, she gave in to a hunch she had and logged onto her scorchmail account. Sure enough, there was a message from the rival poet.

Dear Rachel,

Keagan was hoping I could get this message to you so you could give it to Rudy. I hope things are well with you and I do miss our mails, but words on a screen, although at times inordinately pleasing and mentally stimulating can't really compare to the feelings one gets when in the physical company of the right person. At least, this is what Keagan tells me. She tells me it's what she feels every time she's in the company of Rudy. So, although I regret that you and I will never meet and I do miss our correspondence, I am happy to relay this message to Rudy, with your gracious help. I am most certain that those two will meet in the real world, perhaps even within minutes.

Most Sincerely,

Kerry Devin

Rudy looked at her door, expecting Keagan to come busting through it and then she turned back to read Keagan's note.

Dear La Roux,

Since you had fears that Sloane would intercept our clandestine correspondence, I arranged an alternate form of contact. If you're reading this, then I succeeded in sending you the psychic cues telling you to check your scorchmail account (more evidence that we must surely be soul mates, in spite of the fact that if I do have a romantic bone in my body, then it must surely be one of the smallest ones).

I'm glad to hear that you agree with me that I am an ass. This is a positive thing because it means that we agree on something. And by the way, I do trust you.

Someday, I'll tell you why I quit doing something I loved to do. Until I do, I would respectfully suggest that we not bring the subject up again. It only seems to make us argue, and that's the last thing I want to do with you.

KD

Why can't she speak the way she writes? Because then, she wouldn't be Keagan. She quickly typed back a reply.

Stretch,

Will you please shut up and get down here?

Rudy

 

A minute or so after Rudy hit reply, Keagan's head peeked in the door. She had a little smile on her face, as if not quite sure if she was welcome or not.

"C'mon in, Stretch, and shut the door." Rudy got up from her desk and walked over to where Keagan was.

"I thought I told you not to call me that."

"You love it."

"I hate it!"

Rudy snickered. "The reason I don't want us to send personal emails to each other at work is because I'm your boss now. Nothing can go on between us…romantically. It would be unprofessional."

"Then I quit," said Keagan without hesitation.

"Don't quit until the end of the quarter. We need you."

"Besides those emails weren't romantic in the least. You said it yourself. I'm just not romantic."

"I guess that must have been some kind of accident or something, then."

Determined to get a reaction out of Rudy, Keagan leaned over and whispered into her ear, sending shivers all the way down her body. "Are you absolutely sure you don't want that kiss of congratulations you stopped me from giving you earlier?"

Although her body considered saying yes, her lips barely brushed against Keagan's as she spoke. "Absolutely sure. I've got stuff to do now. Could you please leave?" She backed away, smiling sweetly at Keagan.

Keagan smiled back, knowing exactly what Rudy was doing.

 

**********

Rudy was surprised when Sloane suggested that the editorial department take her out for a drink at The Mix. It was well known that it was a gay club and the only people that Rudy knew at work who were gay beside herself were Ray Faye and Keagan. Rudy took note of Sloane's strange behavior before they left. She had actually let her hair down and brushed it over to the side as if she was trying to impress someone. Ray nudged Rudy and whispered to her under his breath. "Looks like our boss has got a hot date or something," he said with a snicker. At that moment, Rudy spotted Keagan waiting for them by the elevator. Her ex had a grin on her face that quickly disappeared as soon as Sloane came over to join them.

At the bar, Rudy chatted for about a half hour with Sloane and the other senior editor, Cory Weathers. The conversation was work-related and gave Rudy the feeling that Cory considered her competition. Cory was ten years older than Rudy and expected to get Sloane's job one day, but since it was obvious how impressed Sloane was with Rudy, Cory was concerned about her own future prospects. That feeling carried itself into any conversation that she had with Rudy. Rudy was relieved, therefore, when Sloane excused herself and headed to the bar to say hello to Gracie. Rudy got up to get another drink, leaving Cory to talk to Dan. Before she could return to the table, however, she spotted her dad walking into the club.

"Hi, Daddy," she said, giving Del a hug.

"Congratulations, Rudy-Rudy. It's about time they gave my little girl some recognition!"

"Thanks, Dad. I told you you didn't have to come down here." Her dad had never gone to a gay bar with her.

"What's wrong with this place?"

Rudy looked around uneasily. It was only 6PM and there weren't too many people there. No music played and no one was dancing. At that point in the evening, the bar looked very much like any other bar. "Nothing, um…"

"Hey, I know this is a gay bar, honey. What's gonna happen? Are a bunch of your lesbian friends going to take the stage and have group sex? I hear that's what goes on in these types of places!" Del laughed.

"God, no, Daddy!" Rudy knew he was just joking around, but sometimes her father's outspoken nature embarrassed her.

"Lighten up, dear. I'm not an old stick in the mud like your mother."

"I know."

"Well, then," he said looking around. "Are you going to introduce me to your girlfriend or not?"

"I don't have a girlfriend. You know that."

"What about that Keagan? The girl who saved you from that pervert Neal?"

"She's, well she's…my friend from college."

"Uh huh. She looks pretty bored sitting over there alone. Why don't you introduce me to her?"

Rudy looked up at her dad with surprise. "All right, you've got me now. How do you know which one is her?"

"Easy. She's the one that can't take her eyes off you. Oh, she tries to make like she's not watching, but she's watching." Rudy quickly looked back to Keagan who turned away.

"Hmm," she said looking back to her dad.

"If I may say so, honey, she's quite the looker. Ya done good, daughter," he continued in his best imitation of a southern drawl.

"Oh my god," said Rudy with embarrassment. "C'mon," she said taking his arm. "Let me introduce you before you embarrass me any more."

Del chuckled as Rudy led him over to Keagan. She had been characteristically quiet, content to chat with Ray who sat nearby, but mostly keeping to herself. When she saw them approaching however, she stood up. "Keagan, this is my dad, Delbert Whitman. This is Keagan Donovan." They shook hands.

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Whitman," said Keagan with a smile.

"You too, and call me Del. I wanted to thank you for helping out Rudy with that nutcase editor, Neal Barr."

Keagan looked taken aback by the words of thanks. "Thank you, but I'd do anything for Rudy." She stated it matter-of-factly because it was true, not because she wanted to get something for having said it.

"Yes, I can see that."

"Would you like to sit down? Can I get you something, Del?" asked Keagan.

"Well, why the hell not? How about a bourbon." said Del, as he sat down next to Ray. As Ray introduced himself, Rudy pulled Keagan aside.

"What are you trying to do, impress the old man?" she asked with a smile on her face.

"Nope. Just trying to impress the young lady. If I have to go through her old man to do it, I will. I'll be right back." Rudy watched as Keagan headed to the bar.

When Rudy turned back toward her father, he was smiling. "What?" she asked in exasperation.

"Nothing, dear." Del knew better than to mention Rudy's personal relationship with Keagan when her co-workers and boss were present. "Ray was just telling me about your combative author."

"Which one?" Rudy snorted.

"I was telling him about Paula Seidman," said Ray. Knowing Rudy's dad was a lawyer, Ray thought he might enjoy discussing an author trying to renege on her contract.

"Ah," said Rudy, rolling her eyes. "That was an enjoyable one…not!"

"I'm sure you used your renowned verbal skills to convince her she was wrong in her demands," said Del.

"I did, Dad, but it was difficult. I've had a pretty long-term relationship with this author and for her to turn around and act so out of character was really jarring." At that moment, Keagan returned to the table with drinks for Del and Rudy.

"I bet it'll be hard for you to trust her again," said Del.

"Definitely. I probably won't be able to any time soon, but we have to work together, so I'll find a way."

"Um, enjoy your drinks. It was nice meeting you, Del." Keagan made a hasty exit.

"Thanks, Keagan," said Rudy as she took a sip of her drink and watched Keagan head back to the bar.

Ray left the table and headed in Keagan's direction.

"That was weird. I wonder why she just walked off like that," Rudy said to her dad.

"Maybe she heard what we were saying and thought we were talking about her."

"But that doesn't make any--"

"Let me tell you something, dear. I've been watching her watch you from the moment I came into this bar and more than that, I've been watching her reactions. When she got back to this table, there was a storm brewin' behind those baby blues and it didn't form until after she had heard me say that it would be hard for you to trust her again. She had no way of knowing we were talking about this Paula."

Rudy put her hand up to her mouth in thought. She looked over to the bar where Keagan was sitting next to Ray. The two appeared to be having quite an animated conversation. She shook her head slowly. "Hmm. You may be right. That'll teach her to eavesdrop."

Del chuckled. "She was hardly eavesdropping."

"I know. I was just trying to find a way to blame her for this misunderstanding." Rudy smiled ruefully at her dad.

"I can see that."

"And what's with you watching her? What's up with that, Dad?"

Del reached up and ran his hand through graying hair. "What's wrong, honey? Are you jealous that I'm checking out your hot girlfriend?" He laughed heartily.

"She is not!--"

"Not hot?"

"No…not my girlfriend!"

"Yeah, yeah, I know, but guess what? She was your girlfriend and anyone with two brains to rub together can see that she wants to be again. And for your information, I wasn't checking her out, I was sizing her up."

Now Rudy was really confused. "What do you mean, Daddy?"

"I was making sure she's good enough for my little girl, that's all. Because if not, I can introduce you to this great new intern at my firm--"

"Please, Dad. No more trying to set me up with men," Rudy groaned.

"No, no, honey. This one's a woman."

"Thanks but no thanks."

"Well, I know that! Your heart is otherwise occupied!"

"Daddy, thanks for caring, but there are things about Keagan and I that you don't know. She really hurt me. I can't just welcome her back with open arms now, can I?"

"And why not?"

"I have to protect myself, that's why not. I don't want to talk about this, Dad."

"Okay, dear, but let me tell you one thing. I often wonder what would have happened if I had tried harder with your mother. Maybe we'd still be together."

"Mom told me you were having an affair. That's all I know about it." Rudy had been ten years old when her parents divorced. Her father had never spoken about why and her mother had offered very little information.

"That was part of it, yes. The real reason I had an affair was because I was weak. It wasn't because I didn't love Beverly anymore, I just didn't know how to fix our problems. It was easier to turn to someone else for comfort, to validate everything I was feeling. I should have talked things out with your mother, but I was impulsive. Of course, being who she is, when she found out, she kicked me out of the house. That was it."

For the first time, Rudy saw her dad as a man, rather than just her father. "She can be very unforgiving."

"She's set in her ways." Del took a sip of his bourbon. "The point I'm trying to make is that being with someone is always risky, but hey, if ya don't try you'll end up all alone, right?"

"I know," said Rudy, drawling out her words. She knew her dad was right, but kept remembering how she felt when her relationship with Keagan ended.

"Okay, then. Unfortunately, I've got a meeting with a client at around seven o'clock, so I have to go." He downed the rest of his drink and stood up.

"This late?" asked Rudy as she stood up and hugged him goodbye.

"I leave my schedule open for my clients. That's what happens when you don't have anyone waiting for you at home."

Rudy knew that her father was far from lonely in spite of never having remarried. He was simply trying to pound his point home. "I get your point already, Dad."

"And well you should! You should learn from my great wisdom and experience." With one last chuckle, he was out the door, leaving Rudy to contemplate her next move with Keagan.

**********

"I despise that movie," Keagan said to Ray over at the bar, all the while keeping one eye on Rudy. Her colleague had brought up the taboo subject of writing and was currently focusing on screenplays.

"Good Will Hunting is what I want to write someday," said Ray with a dreamy look on his face.

"It's already been written," said Keagan.

"You know what I mean."

Although Keagan liked Ray, he was grating on her nerves in a big way. She noticed that Rudy was alone and that Meg had just come into the bar and had obviously spotted her. Keeping the two of them in sight, she responded to Ray. "Good Will Hunting…first of all, if you don't know anything about the flick, you'll think that it's about huntin' for good will!" Keagan pursed her lips disgustedly, took a sip of her drink, and continued. "Then, when you realize that the main character's name is actually Will Hunting, you're supposed to be all like, 'Wow, how clever!' I just felt like puking!"

"It is not a flick," said Ray with indignation, "It is a film."

"You say film, I say flick, let's call the whole thing off…" Her voice trailed off as she saw Meg sitting down next to Rudy.

"Keagan, you know I respect your opinion. What didn't you like about the film?"

"Okay, in a nutshell. Boy is born, boy is abused, boy is a genius, boy meets girl, boy has great therapist, boy leaves girl, boy has great envious friends, boy gets offered great jobs without having worked to earn them, boy rejects jobs, boy opens up to therapist, boy goes after girl…blah, blah, blah…the end, oh I'm so happy. Gag!"

"Doesn't that whole idea make you feel good, though?"

"That character has very little to strive for. He's been given an incredible brain that he refuses to use. He has a terrific girlfriend and an awesome therapist. Every good thing that he's given he throws away. I don't like him."

"Well, I think it's inspirational," said Ray.

"I could have written the same movie with one hand tied behind my back, a vulture picking at one of my eyes, a group of maggots nesting on my head with intentions to make my brain their permanent base of operations, and five Billy goats constantly butting my lower back and ass!" Keagan continued to stare at Rudy, who was still talking to Meg.

"Not having a very good day, huh?"

"It's just fine, I’m having a lovely day…evening now."

"Who's that woman Rudy's talking to?" asked Ray.

"I think she's a biogeneticist…she wants Rudy's genes," said Keagan, not totally letting on that her comment was facetious.

"She's a what?"

**********

"Hi, Big Rudy," said Meg, sitting down next to her.

"Meg, hi." Rudy hadn't seen much of Meg at all since their encounter a few months before.

"Can I keep you company? You look kind of lonely."

"Sure, but I'm waiting for my friend at the bar."

"Keagan looks like she's otherwise occupied."

Rudy looked to the bar and saw Gracie leaning over and whispering something in Keagan's ear. She looked back to Meg. "She should be over in a second."

"She seems to be more into the blonde at the bar if you ask me," said Meg.

"You think so?"

"Yeah."

"Well, I don't. They clearly don't have any chemistry." Rudy intentionally avoided looking at them again.

"They look like they have plenty of chemistry to me." Rudy finally glanced to the bar to see Gracie laughing at something Keagan said.

"Maybe sexually, but that'd be about it," Rudy shot back.

"What other kind of chemistry is there?" asked Meg, leaning closer to Rudy and leering at her.

"Exactly the reason why you and I are not going to happen again," said Rudy looking directly into Meg's familiar blue eyes.

"What's the matter with a little harmless sex anyway?"

"I just don't think that casual sex is harmless sex…at least not for me."

"You know, maybe if you'd take off those rose-colored glasses, you'd see that there are women other than your true love, Keagan, and those women would give you the time of day."

"Maybe she will, too," said Rudy in a small voice. She didn't like the way this conversation was going at all.

"But for how long?"

Rudy didn't have a chance to respond because Keagan had returned from the bar.

"It looks like our little group from work have all fled. Even Sloane left, although I think she might have liked to stay and talk to Gracie some more."

"Ah," said Rudy.

"Uh huh." Meg stood. "Okay, I know my cue. You sure you don't want to fight for her over a round of pool?" she asked Keagan, sarcastically.

"Well, I'll tell you Meg, Rudy is not the type of woman who wants to be fought over, so no. But if you'd ever like to play pool and I'm here, just holler."

"Oh, right. Like once you two get it together, you'll be coming to this bar anymore. Somehow, I think you'll have better things to do!" Meg walked away toward the bar.

Keagan sat down next to Rudy. "So, baby, would we have better things to do?"

"Like what? It's not like you and I have sex," said Rudy nonchalantly.

"Did I say anything about sex?"

"No, but you were thinking it."

"Was not," Keagan complained, with a slight smile that gave away the fact that she was. "In any case, the way I see it, making love is like riding a bike. You can stop doing it for many years and still do it to perfection. What do you think?"

"Like riding a bike, huh? I think riding a bike is a lot easier. First of all, you're in control. Secondly, you don't have to deal with the aftermath. Thirdly, you can go as far and as fast as you like without having to ask anyone how they like it!"

"What do you mean by the aftermath?"

"Sooo many complications once sex is involved."

"Oh, I know."

"Like number one: Trying to get your girlfriend to stick around."

Keagan didn't respond to that.

"Let me ask you something," Rudy continued. "What did you mean when you said it would have been nice if I had chased you across the country?"

"I didn't really mean that. It was just an emotional moment for me."

Rudy snickered in spite of herself. "An emotional moment?"

"I have been known to have those."

"So you were a little worked up when you said it. That doesn't make what you said meaningless or it wouldn't have come out."

Keagan sipped her drink. "You're right." She shrugged. "I guess I was just basically appealing to the very human part of all of us that wants someone to want us so much that they're willing to do something about it. To literally chase after someone. One of those Maslow needs."

"The need for love?"

Keagan raised her eyebrows and nodded, trying not to sound defensive. "Yeah, probably. So, I didn't mean that. I meant something else entirely."

"I see. Because if you really expected me to chase after someone who didn't want me anymore, then you didn't know me very well at all."

Keagan looked down. "Why don't you just face facts," she said, still staring at the floor. "I'm just a fuck up."

"But, you're one talented fuck up." At that, Keagan looked up to see Rudy smiling at her and shaking her head.

"Gee, thanks for the compliment."

"Anytime."

"So what do we do now?" asked Keagan, suddenly becoming unnerved by the silence between them. "It looks like our co-workers have abandoned us, so we're all alone."

"I can see that." It appeared that Rudy was very much enjoying Keagan's unease.

"So, how was Cory about your promotion?"

Rudy was amused at Keagan's feeble attempt to change the subject. "Kind of snippy, but I expected that. She's older than me and she's been doing this job longer than me. She has a right to be upset." In truth, Cory hadn't edited a book on the list in over ten years and her communication skills were lacking, but Rudy was reluctant to bash anyone behind her back.

"Why don't you just admit that you're better than her?"

"What purpose would it serve?"

"It would make you feel good?"

"There are other things that would make me feel a lot better."

Keagan raised an eyebrow at that, but didn't respond. She wasn't sure if Rudy was flirting with her or not and didn't want to push it. She asked Rudy if she could get her another drink and was surprised her by answer of "yes."

 

**********

 

Keagan and Rudy spent the rest of the evening together, discussing mostly innocuous things, but they both enjoyed themselves and it was nice to catch up. They sat in a booth and at one point Rudy surprised Keagan by lying back against her. Keagan tentatively put her arms around Rudy from behind and got no protest. Keagan knew the drinks were relaxing Rudy and that was probably why they were in such a cozy position but she couldn't complain. They had been sitting like that for some time, talking quietly, when finally the tenseness that Keagan had sensed in Rudy faded away and the young woman leaned in for a snuggle. Keagan still wore her leather jacket, which was open. Rudy laid her head against the T-shirt underneath, inhaling the comforting scent of her and listening to her heartbeat. Keagan brought her arms more fully around Rudy and nuzzled her hair with her mouth. "I haven't heard your heartbeat in four years," Rudy whispered.

"It sounds pretty much the same, although it does tend to speed up when you're around."

Rudy laughed into Keagan's chest, suddenly becoming aware of just how close her mouth was to what was beneath Keagan's T-shirt. The softness below it was affecting her body. "So, what happens if I take you back?"

"I make you happy again?"

Rudy laughed again and looked up into serious blue eyes. "I mean in the long run."

"I knew that."

"Are you going to stick around this time?" Rudy moved to put her head back down, but Keagan reached up to her face to stop her and their eyes met.

"Only as long as you want me to."

Rudy reached up and touched Keagan's lips. "That could be a very long time," she said. Keagan stared back and soon the moment was past. Rudy snuggled back into Keagan, not quite able to hide the smile on her face.

"It's getting late. We should probably go home," said Keagan.

"You're right." Rudy disengaged herself from Keagan and sat up. "I'll give you a ride home."

"That's silly. You live on the West side. Why should you drive me all the way home and then have to drive all the way back? I'll just take a cab."

"It's okay, really. I don't mind." They both stood and began zipping their jackets up. Rudy pretended not to notice the quizzical look on Keagan's face.

"La Roux, that's out of your way--"

"You sure are making it hard for me to invite myself back to your place. Meg would have been chomping at the bit by now."

"Hmm?"

Rudy reached up and mocked slapped Keagan on the side of the face. "I said I'm trying to invite myself back to your place and you're making it really hard on me!"

"You are?" Keagan looked very surprised. "I am?"

Rudy enjoyed the totally startled look she was getting. "C'mon, Stretch, let's go." Rudy grabbed Keagan's arm and led the way out of the bar. They both nodded politely to Gracie who waved goodbye to them. "I told you to drop that 'Stretch' stuff," was the last thing Gracie heard as they walked past her and out the door.

 

**********

"So, a student once asked you to show him your glottis? So what?" The two women sat in Keagan's living room on the couch, both having taken their shoes off and put their feet up on the coffee table. Rudy was regaling Keagan with tales of when she used to teach linguistics at the university.

"You don't know what a glottis is?" Rudy asked with amusement. "What kind of English major are you?"

"One that didn't take linguistics," Keagan replied dryly.

"At least you know that it's a linguistics term." Rudy giggled.

"Okay, okay, so why were you offended that he asked?"

"The glottis is the space between your vocal folds."

"Oh, in the mouth."

"Your vocal folds…they're wayyy back here." Rudy opened her mouth and pointed deeply down into the back of her mouth as far as she could.

"Oh, so it was something way in the back of your mouth that he asked to see."

"More like down my throat!" Rudy snickered. The student had only been joking, but the incident had caught her off guard. Keagan still looked a bit confused so Rudy continued. "It's way down here." She pointed to the middle of her neck. "There are two sounds in English that are made at the glottis. One you can hear really easily. It's the 'h' sound like in the words hi or hot. The other is called the glottal stop. That sound occurs before each of the vowel sounds in 'uh-oh.' Obstructing the air stream in the oral cavity makes the stops. Now, when--" Rudy stopped when she saw Keagan yawning. "Am I boring you?"

"I'm not really interested in glottal stops."

"Not even this glottal stop?" Rudy pointed to her neck again. Rudy laughed at the little smile Keagan gave in reaction.

"That one I could maybe get interested in."

"Maybe after you tell me one of the fairytales you wrote?" At some point during their evening together, Keagan mentioned that she had written a collection of short fairytales over the past four years. They were all unpublished and never would be, she had said.

"I told you they weren't really for other people. I just kind of wrote them to work some things out for myself."

"No glottal stop for you, then." Rudy crinkled her nose as she smiled and Keagan had a memory of the first time she had seen her do that.

"Okay, why not? This tale is called Surly of the Seas."

Rudy smiled like a little kid and moved over close to Keagan to settle in for the story. Keagan put her arm around her and Rudy laid her head on Keagan's shoulder. Neither one of them felt the least bit juvenile as they snuggled together for yet the second time that evening. "Our heroine's name is Surly," Keagan continued. Rudy laughed. "What's the matter? You don't like my girl's name?"

"No, no. It's lovely. Please go on."

"Thank you. I will. Like I was saying, her name was Surly and she loved a beautiful girl, no, woman, named Adeline. Even though Surly knew as sure as she knew her own heart that the only happiness she had ever felt was when she was lying in Adeline's arms, she left for a distant land."

"This is a lesbian-themed fairytale? There aren't many of those."

"No, there aren't. Now shush! You see, Surly was wise and she knew that eventually the fabled beast would come up from the depths of the earth and defeat her."

"What fabled beast?" asked Rudy.

"That's…from one of the other tales I wrote. Just accept that there's a fabled beast, okay?"

"Willing suspension of disbelief cap ON!"

Keagan reached over with her other hand and tickled Rudy lightly. "Behave yourself. You're not editor Rudy at the moment, all right?"

"Okay, okay!" Rudy stopped laughing.

"She knew she would face defeat and she didn't want to see the disappointment in Adeline's eyes when she died at the hands of the beast, so she left, knowing that being with someone the way she wanted to be with Adeline was not something she could do. She decided to do what she knew she was good at, instead." Keagan paused for a second to collect her thoughts.

"What? What was she good at?" Rudy asked impatiently.

"Fishing."

"Fishing?" That was not the answer Rudy expected.

"Yes. The only thing she ever really excelled at. Amazing, isn't it?"

"Go on."

"She became the best fisherman, woman, whatever, in the whole land of Splendorville."

"Splendorville?"

"Bear with me. I haven't thought of a better name yet. Like I was saying, she had plenty of money, lots of fame, and a lot of attention from women."

"Harlot!" said Rudy under her breath.

"What?"

"Never mind. Sounds like she had a great life."

"Yeah, she caught this really big swordfish and--" Keagan noticed Rudy's green eyes glaring at her. "Although she caught a lot of big fish, her life was empty. Adeline had weaved a fishing net for her and every time she used it she thought of her lost love. One day, a swordfish got caught in it and tore it to shreds. Devastated at the loss of the only tie she had to Adeline, she returned to the humble land of her birth--"

"Don't have a name for that either, huh?"

"Now just listen. I'm about to reach the exciting climax here."

"Wouldn't want to miss the climax," said Rudy as they looked at each other.

"No you wouldn't." Keagan winked. "She returned to find Adeline in the hopes that she had weaved another net and would give it to her to replace the one she had lost. The end."

"What? You mean Surly just walked back into Adeline's life and said, 'hey, you got another net and then I'm off to go fish again.' What?!"

"That's the end. You have to wait for the sequel to find out what happens next," said Keagan with a mischievous grin.

"You rat! I want to know what happened!"

"All, right, all right…geez. Surly stayed with Adeline, but kept on fishing. They were both happy together and they always had fresh fish for dinner which Surly dutifully cooked for her true love…yada, yada, yada…"

"Yuck! Fish every night?" asked Rudy. She liked fish, but not that much.

"No, not every night--"

"Wait a minute. Why didn't Adeline cook the fish since Surly caught it? It seems only fair."

Keagan smiled. "Oh, no, no, no. That would never do. Adeline was an awful cook. They needed the food to be edible, you see."

Rudy looked back up at Keagan. "Hey…" She knew she was being teased for her lack of culinary skills.

"So, can I check out your glottal stop now…as promised?" Keagan caressed Rudy's neck, her eyes on Rudy's.

In spite of their physical closeness throughout the evening, the move from Keagan was the first sexual one. "A deal's a deal, I guess," said Rudy with apparent reluctance. "Outside or inside?"

"Outside." Keagan leaned in and kissed the middle of Rudy's neck very softly and lightly. She could see Rudy's breathing pick up and was pleasantly surprised to feel Rudy's fingers move through her hair and encourage her on.

"Did you find it yet?" Keagan's answer was a muffled "no" as she kissed Rudy's neck again, still very lightly. This went on for a few moments as Keagan thoroughly explored every inch of Rudy's neck that she could reach.

When she finally pulled back, they were both breathing heavily. "Not yet?" asked Rudy.

"I'm afraid not."

"Maybe you should try the other option, then." Rudy felt Keagan's mouth gently meeting her own in a brief kiss. She couldn't help herself and giggled.

"What?" said Keagan.

"I don't think you're going to find it that way." She laughed again.

"I might have to use something more than my lips to find it, but if that's okay with you--"

"It's okay, believe me." Rudy kissed Keagan again, but this one lasted longer. After a few seconds, they parted. "Now?"

"Nah ah, not yet." When Keagan was sure that Rudy wanted to kiss her, she got bolder with her advances. They kissed deeply. "I thought you just wanted to be friends," said Keagan.

"Friends kiss." Rudy ran her fingers over Keagan's lips. Keagan reached for Rudy's hand and kissed the index finger now moving softly over her mouth.

"Not like that they don't."

They went back to kissing and eventually Keagan felt Rudy's hands pulling her T-shirt out of her pants and running her hands lightly along her back. When she felt Rudy's hands moving around to the front, Keagan regained her senses and stopped before things went too far. She moved back. "Hold on."

"What for?"

"This can't happen yet."

"Why?"

Keagan tenderly caressed Rudy's cheek and looked into her eyes. "Because I have to tell you something, and you're not going to like it one bit."

 

Continued in Part 9

 


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