Disclaimers - Nope… none. These are my characters, it's my hometown, it's my made up not quite real but not quite fictitious company, and it's my insanity to be writing this on Christmas Eve.


A Present Under the Tree

By Melissa Good

The boat bobbed lightly up and down in the gentle surf, the brass riggings clanking softly in the easterly wind. The sky was mostly cloudless, just a few puffy white intruders drifting across it, sending elongated shadows across the blue green water as the sun tilted down towards the west.

The deck of the boat was draped in various types of scuba gear, two regulators hung neatly to dry out, along with webbed belts, buoyancy vests, net bags, and wide, duck webbed fins nestled in the well in the center. On the front of the boat, two figures were sprawled, soaking up the late afternoon sun.

"Dar?"  Kerry kept her eyes closed, as she yawned a little.

"Mm?" Her taller companion merely grunted an answer.

"You know, there's something really off kilter about spending the day before Christmas in my bathing suit, getting a suntan on the Atlantic Ocean."

"Yeah?" Dar lifted one eyelid, exposing a crystal clear blue eye and peered at her.

"Yeah…Christmas is supposed to be about sleighs, and ice skating on the lake, and Jack Frost nipping at your nose..  sweaters…static electricity.. you know." Kerry sighed. "I don't think I can do Christmas at 85 degrees."

"Ah. Not cold enough, huh?" Dar replied, opening her other eye and sparing her blond lover a droll glance. "I think you Northerners are nuts… out there singing in below zero weather…slipping on ice, crashing on the highway, having to have your driveways plowed…suffering with dry heat…" She spread her arms out, then let them drop to the soft deck pad they both were sprawled onto.

"No.. no.. you’re missing the point.. " Kerry objected. "Christmas has to have snow… and cold weather… ice on the lake… snow draped on the roof like in the movies…your nose has to tingle..it's part of the season."

"Okay.. no problem.. here you go.'" A huge handful of shaved ice landed on Kerry's midsection. "How's that?"

"Yeeeeooowww!" The blond flipped over, brushing her stomach off and reaching for a towel. "Dar!!" She yelped indignantly. "That was cold!"

"Wasn't that the point?" The dark haired woman asked, reasonably. "You were just complaining it was too hot, weren't you?" She bit off a grin as eyes the color of the surrounding ocean suddenly were less than a foot away, narrowing calculatedly. "Uh oh."

"Uh oh is right, you.. " Kerry scrambled for the ice chest, and grabbed a double handful, managing to get a good sized portion down Dar's back as she attempted to roll out of the way. "Ah ha… gotcha."

Dar chuckled as she stood up and shook herself off, then stretched lazily. "Well.. it's time to go in anyway.. sun's going down, and I have three status reports to review."  She extended a hand down to her friend. "I've been putting that off long enough…c'mon… it's getting a little breezy out here."

"Oh yeah." Kerry accepted the hand up. "It might go down to 80 degrees if we're not careful… that'd be dangerous."  She slid up next to Dar, and ran a hand over the taller woman's body, encased in a striking white bathing suit. "I like this one." She complimented her companion. "Is it new?"

Dar padded over and stowed the cooler. "No.. actually, it's an old one I came across when I was emptying out that chest of drawers the other day." She said. "Found some other stuff I'd forgotten I'd even had.. and some of the things Aunt May left here when she passed on." 

"Mm…. Well, it's nice, and I like it." Kerry stepped carefully around the end of the bow, and made her way down to where the steps lead to the cabin. "I'm going to put some dry clothes on…I think I have seaweed in places seaweed really has no business being."

The dark haired woman chuckled. "Make sure you didn't collect any cuttlefish in there again…you scared me half to death when you screamed from that last week." She let her eyes wander over her lover's slim form. "You look pretty nice yourself, by the way."

Kerry paused on her way down the stairs, and threw a glance over her shoulder. "Thanks… but if you're trying to butter me up so I won't pull any surprises on you tomorrow, forget it." Her green eyes twinkled mischievously. "Birthday girl."

One dark brow rocketed skyward. "Oh brother." Dar muttered. "I'm in deep trouble.. how did I let myself get talked into this, anyway?"

"What.. the party, having a birthday, or putting up with me?" Kerry asked innocently, then she came back up the stairs and relented. "I won't do anything horrible, I promise."

Dar took her hand off the throttle control, as she listened for the anchor to finish retracting, and gently cupped Kerry's chin, lifting it and kissing her with sincere passion. "Do your worst." She murmured, gazing into the sea green eyes. "But remember… paybacks are a bitch."

"Ooo… what are you gonna do to me?" Kerry crooned teasingly.

"Mmm… cross dressing full body stripper in the office?" Dar offered, with a full smile.

A momentary pause, while Kerry blinked. "Uh.. you wouldn't… do that… would you?"

Dazzling smile.

"Yikes." Kerry laughed, then leaned forward and kissed her. "Don't worry… I've got nothing planned that will rate me that." She reassured her companion. "I was thinking more along the lines of making your favorite dessert for the party."

"Ah." Dar forgot about the controls, and found more interesting things to explore on the burgundy-suited body in front of her. "I don't know that I have a favorite… " She nuzzled Kerry's ear, and heard the soft sound of approval that trickled from the blond woman's throat. "Well.. not that you could serve at a party, anyway."

"You saying… " Kerry paused a moment to let her breathing catch up with her. "I'm better than Death by Chocolate?"

A low, seductive chuckle answered her,  as Dar slowly eased her left strap down her arm, and ran a delicate finger across her sun-warmed skin. Kerry smiled at the answer, as she nibbled her way up Dar's neck, taking a slow backward step towards the tiny bedroom and drawing the taller woman along with her.

Dar went willingly, already working her other strap down, her hands warm against Kerry's damp skin. She returned the attention, easing the thin fabric over Dar's broad shoulders and tugging it down her body, running her hands over the taller woman's powerful back.

The quilt's warmth surprised her, as Dar caught her around the waist and boosted her up, joining her on the soft surface in one smooth motion, never letting up her nibbling.  The windows in the cabin were open, and a rich, warm breeze came in, bringing to her the salt smell of the ocean and brushing lightly over her bare shoulders as a lone gull called overhead.

"Still think we need snow?" Dar's voice purred into her ear, as the strong hands slid over her hip and down her thigh.

"Nu uh." Kerry pushed her companion gently over on to her back, and started a slow exploration downwards, starting at her collarbone, tasting the sea's richness on her body. "Wouldn't wanna try this up north."

The sunlight painted rich golden stripes across them,  in the fading sun of a tropical winter's day.


"Well." Kerry leaned against the console, now dressed in a pair of sweatpants and an overly large polo shirt. "I always wanted to see the skyline at night from this angle."

Dar sucked wryly at steaming cup of coffee, courtesy of the boat's small galley. "Lucky I have a position locater on this thing… we drifted a lot further than I thought we would."  She aimed the boat northwest, roaring through the utter darkness of an Atlantic night. "Teach me to remember not to pull the damn anchor up and get distracted."

Kerry muffled a laugh. "I've never heard that many curse words strung together at one time, let me tell you."  She peered ahead into the darkness, spotting a colorful string of lights. "Is that downtown?"

Dar shaded her eyes. "Yeah… that's the damn Centrust tower… " She identified the tall structure, kitted out in blue lights with white bulbs interspersed to imitate ornaments. "And I can see the Metrogonowhere from here."  The people mover, which traversed a downtown that nobody actually lived in was lined with rainbow neon.  The rest of the skyline came into view, tall buildings brilliant with lights.

"Is it still the Centrust tower?" Kerry inquired, enjoying the sight. "I think they went bankrupt, didn't they?"

"Yeah, yeah.. " Dar watched for the southern buoy. "I forget what it is now.. it's changed three times since then.. but I still remember it as the Centrust tower."

"Oh.. there's Bayside… wow.. it's really lit up." Kerry pointed. "Is that a tree on top of the Hard Rock?"

"It's something." Dar replied, with a chuckle. "Hang on.. I'm going to make the turn up Government cut."

Kerry obligingly slipped her arms around the taller woman, hugging her close. "Okay.. I'm ready." She announced, feeling the chuckle go through Dar's body, and the warmth as she circled Kerry's shoulder with one long, sweatshirt covered arm. "It's nice to have a couple of days off, huh?"

It certainly was, Dar reflected, steering the boat into the channel and heading for the island her apartment was on. First time for everything, I guess.. she mused. Prior years had seen her in the office even on Christmas, toasting the holiday with the grumpy cleaning staff who were forced to work. She'd brought eggnog last year, and it had actually turned out to be a little bit fun, coaxing smiles from the immigrant workers who hadn't expected to see any of the office staff in.

Not this year. They'd left work at five yesterday, and didn't have to be back until eight Monday morning, and she'd found herself looking forward to it even with it being her birthday, and having a threatened party thrown for her.  "Yeah… I'm having a pretty good time.. you?" Dar answered, with a grin.

Kerry nodded, stifling a yawn. "Very much so….even if I have to settle for palm trees with strings of pink flamingo lights on them."

Dar cut speed as she entered the marina, and steered between the concrete docks with casual skill. "Hey.. palm trees are naturals for lights." She pointed at the long row of the bushy topped trees that lined the drive coming into the marina. Someone had painstakingly woven tiny white lights between all the fronds on all the leaves. "See??"

Kerry peered. "Hey.. that's not bad looking, really." She sighed. "I like our tree, though."

A real one. Dar had insisted that if she was being coerced into getting a tree, it was at least going to smell like a pine tree, and not like extruded plastic. So they'd gone out, and found one of the seven zillion tents scattered around selling the darn things, trucked from North Carolina packed in snow, and picked out a Douglas Fir a little taller than Dar herself was.

She docked the boat, and they made their way up the winding path towards the condo, waving to various neighbors that Dar hadn't even known she had before the genetically friendly Kerry had started spending most of her time with her.  A soft strain of Christmas carols were playing over the island wide loudspeaker system, gentle hymns that chased them from tree to tree along the path, and Dar found herself humming.

"Sorry.. I didn't catch that?" Kerry bent her head closer. "Did you say something?"

"Um.. no.. I was just.. " Dar flicked a hand at the speakers. "Humming along.. .I like that one." She put a hand on Kerry's back as they walked up the path to her door. "I think there'll be roaming carolers around tonight… you interested in listening?"

The blond woman gazed up at her. "Roaming carolers? Jesus.. I had no idea they knew what that was  down here… sure.. I love listening.. say, Dar??"

"Yes?" Dar opened the door, and stood back to let her enter.

Kerry took a breath, suddenly a little nervous, knowing she was going into choppy waters. "I know you're not a religious person.. but would you like to go to a service tonight?"

The dark haired woman paused, and studied her. "I thought you said there wasn't any of your brand around here?"

"There aren't… really.. I… but my old pastor at home gave me the names of a few he thought I'd be comfortable with.. one's over here on South Beach." She paused. "It's.. not very formal."

Dar cocked her head, and considered that. "You mean it's no big deal if we go and hold hands?" She asked with typical bluntness, holding back a grin at the blush which colored Kerry's neck and face.

"Something like that, yeah." The blond woman muttered. "Um.. never mind.. it's kind of a dumb idea." She hitched her gear back to her shoulder. "I'm going to put up a wash of this stuff.. want me to get yours, too?"

"Kerry?" Dar caught her arm, and swung her around so they were facing each other. "Your.. faith is important to you, isn't it?" She ducked her head to make eye contact with the suddenly bashful woman. "Kerry?"

Reluctantly, the green eyes tipped up to meet hers. "I guess it's kinda silly, huh? After all, the scriptures say God turns his back on people like.. me."

Dar sighed soundlessly. "Kerry, no god worth his salt would turn his back on a loving heart like yours."  She gently rubbed a thumb against her friend's cheek. "I'd be glad to go with you." A tiny smile edged her face. "You're going to have to poke me when I'm supposed to stand up or whatever, though… I don't know much about it."

Kerry gave her a crooked grin. "I think I can do that.. it's not that hard, this kind.. not like we were going to Catholic Mass, or something."

"I watched that on TV last year." Dar commented. "The Pope one. It confused the hell out of me."

Kerry laughed, more at ease. "Yeah… I watched that too, the repeat after we got home from the late service…it's quite a circus."  She let out a relieved sigh. "Okay… well, it's not until eleven, so… you up for dinner?"

"After eight hours diving?" Dar snorted. "I could eat the couch for dinner, if you put a little A1 on it." She glanced outside. "It's beautiful tonight… could I coax you into joining me on a little outside table up at the Mansion?"

"Ooo… starlight, candelight, and you…. I think I can twist my arm." Kerry laughed. "On the single condition that you let me pay."  She raised a finger at Dar's protest. "Ah ah… remember our deal."

A sigh. "Okay."  Dar grumbled. "But the champagne's on me."

"Deal." The blond woman relented cheerfully. "C'mon.. I don't think sweats and polos are the dress code up there for Christmas Eve."

"Certainly not if you're wearing my polo shirt." Dar laughed. "But if you just add a belt to it, you could call it a dress, and that'd pass." The shirt hung almost to the blond's knees.

Kerry stuck her tongue out at her friend. "I like when they fit like this, and none of mine do."

"Well…. " Dar drawled. "Now I know to buy your shirts two sizes too big, and you'll be happy."

"Not the same." Kerry replied, a little shyly.

"No?" The dark haired woman inquired.

"They don't smell like you." Kerry admitted, looking up at her through fair eyelashes.

"Oh." Dar felt the blood heating her face. She cleared her throat. "I see."  She had a sudden, inexplicable feeling of déjà vu, but was fairly certain no one had ever expressed a preference for wearing her clothing due to the smell before. "Well then."

Kerry sighed contentedly.


"So… you sure this is appropriate dress and all?" Dar deftly directed the Lexus off the ferry, and through the terminal parking lot. "I'd always thought of church as being a lot more formal.. you know, hats, floral arrangements, that kind of thing."

Kerry brushed a pine needle off her crisply pressed shirt, which was tucked neatly into a pair of dark Dockers, and surmounted by a festive, embroidered vest featuring running reindeer and holly wreathes. "Well, I called the pastor there.. and he tried to get away with the 'whatever you feel comfortable in' line. But I didn't go along, and I told him if I showed up in a bathing suit with a Santa hat on, and everyone laughed, I wasn't going to be very happy."

Dar laughed. "Oh my god.. I'd have paid to see that."

"Dar." Kerry gave her a look. "Anyway, he said most people wore jeans or chinos, and something other than t-shirts, one or two people wore dresses or suits, and there's one guy who comes in a reindeer outfit."

"With antlers or without?" The executive asked, seriously. 

"Dar." The blond woman laughed.

"Sorry.. must have been those five glasses of champagne." Dar apologized. "Not to mention that Grand Mariner cake… wow."  She exhaled a little. "I feel like I'm going to explode."

"Mm… tell me about it." Kerry rolled her head to one side, and regarded the dark water stretching away from the causeway they were on. "Should I be driving?" She gave her companion a concerned look. "You seemed okay."

"No.. it's all right." Dar shook her head. "I don't feel it.. I just tend to run off at the mouth when I've had a few glasses of anything."  She gave her friend a light shrug. "Sorry."

Kerry patted her arm. "It's okay.. I think it's really cute." She confided. "Turn left up there, and it's three blocks down on the right hand side."

"I know." Dar muttered, as she navigated through the very busy traffic. "Jesus, it's a mess down here."

Kerry regarded her lover out of the corner of her eyes, approving the deep green sweater she'd put on over a collared shirt, which was tucked into her black slacks. The sweater was plain, but had pretty embroidery around the neck and cuffs, stylized birds chasing each other around and around in bold, clear colors. "I really like that sweater." She commented, reaching over to trace the embroidery. "It looks really good on you."  Snug, but not too snug, in fact. She mused.

"Thanks.. you look pretty hot yourself." Dar commented casually. "Here we go." She pulled into a small parking lot adjacent to an old fashioned, two story concrete building. The back half of the structure seemed to have been converted into a church, based on the stained glass windows, and that part faced the sea. "Must look nice inside during sunrise."

"Mm.'" Kerry agreed, feeling a little nervous now that they were here. Was this such a good idea? She really had no idea how to act, given the open nature of the church, or what kind of beliefs or services they'd have. The pastor had mentioned music, and when she'd told him her own denomination, he'd said she'd feel comfortable, but… She exhaled.

"You okay?" Dar studied her.

"Yeah… " Kerry folded her arms across her chest. "I've just never…um… this is really stupid, but I've never been in a place where mostly everyone was gay before."

"Oh." Dar chuckled. "Relax.. just act normally… they don't stamp your forehead when you go in." She got out of the car and twitched her sweater straight, then she waited for Kerry to join her. "You're going to think everyone's looking at you, so just relax, because they are. "

"Comforting. Thank you." Kerry nodded, sighing.

"Just think of what it was like for you the first couple days at work." Her companion reassured her.

"You've been down here… to South Beach before, I take it." Kerry inquired, as they started to walk across the lot, joining a small stream of others.

"Yes." Dar answered readily. "I used to cruise some of the bars down here in my younger years." She returned the appraising glances they were getting from some of the other attendees.

"Did you take your high school ring of then, Grandma?" Kerry poked her gently. "Listen to you.. 'in my younger years… yeah, when we had to walk to school uphill, both ways.. "

"Kerry.. " Dar put an arm around her and leaned closer. "Being a Miami native means you never, ever have to walk to school uphill." She reminded her. "Unless you live under the highway overpass."

They laughed, and entered the building, nodding at the tall young man who was courteously holding the door open for them.


It was weird. Kerry found her eyes flicking here and there, her eyes absorbing the collection of assorted couples and singles assembled in the chapel. That, at least, was mildly familiar, being roughly square, with a raised platform at one end, and rows of pews stretching across the floor. The pews were donated from various building projects from other churches, she noticed, and in one case, a temple. They were a mixture of woods and sizes, but no one seemed to mind. Missing were the typical Bibles, but there were hymnbooks, and she took one, thumbing through its well-worn pages to see old favorites and some she didn't know.

She and Dar were sitting about mid way on the left hand side, and as the room filled, she watched her lover's alert and interested eyes watching everything.

Of course, half the room, the female half,  was also watching her. Kerry felt a mixture of pride and consternation at the veiled, and in some cases, not so veiled looks of lust directed at her companion, but Dar seemed oblivious.

Or maybe not. She felt a warm arm slide around her shoulders as Dar leaned closer, on the pretext of studying her hymnbook. "So. What's that?"

The pastor's arrival interrupted her somewhat meandering description of basic holiday services, and they both turned their attention to the man. He was of medium height, with sandy brown hair and pale colored eyes, about their age. He gave everyone a friendly smile, then launched into a short sermon.

It was…interesting.  Kerry got the gist of it being a plea for more tolerance in the world, and she felt it probably was better off directed outside this room, since everyone in here seemed pretty darn tolerant to her. But she appreciated the sentiment, and he made several good points about how people who are persecuted tend to turn their anger outwards, and practice the same kinds of discrimination they themselves suffer.

Then three people got up, two men and one woman, and read some original poems they'd written. Kerry liked them a lot, and also the fact that they were contributing something of themselves to the ceremony. That seemed to her to be a good idea, and something other churches would be better off adopting. Sometimes the over usage of the old traditionals without infusing new blood made a church… well…  she remembered being somewhat bored as a teenager in her own church, feeling that the people in charge really didn't have a handle on what was going on in her world.

These people had a handle - their works spoke of the lonely feeling of standing out in a crowd, of having family turn away from you, and the last, spoken by a short, owlish looking man with horn rimmed glasses and a buzz cut, was about what it felt like to be told that God hated you.

Kerry felt that one, but in a way it helped to hear it, because she understood she wasn't alone. She wondered briefly if someday maybe she'd have the guts to stand up there and mumble a piece of her own, then decided it would be a cold day in Hell first.

Dar leaned over, after the man finished. "That wasn't bad."

"Mm." Kerry agreed softly.

"Stuff you write is better." The dark haired woman confided casually.

Kerry felt like an icicle had suddenly grown in the pit of her stomach. "What?" She put a hand on Dar's arm, and gripped it. A suspicion formed and she felt her heart lurch. "How did you know?"

"Uh… " The blue eyes opened wider, in consternation. "You.. you left a couple pages on the printer, I didn't… um.. "  The crowd was rustling, as the choir arranged themselves up front, and she glanced around. "I'm sorry. .I didn't realize you… uh… " It was very obvious to her that Kerry was very, very upset. "Kerry, I'm sorry."

Very slowly, she released the death grip on Dar's arm. "No… no.. It's my stupid fault… I left them on the printer." She got out. "That stuff is so personal.. I just… " Then she stopped talking, and her brow creased. "Wait a minute…you liked it?"

Dar let out a very relieved breath. "Yeah.. that one about the wind was great." She agreed enthusiastically. "And there was kind of a long one… um.. "

Kerry ducked her head. "That was about you, yes." She peeked at her lover, who was definitely blushing. "You really liked it?"

Dar nodded, then straightened as the pastor resumed his podium. "I guess we've got something to talk about when we get home, eh?"

"Yeah." Kerry smiled. "I guess we do."  She felt a quiet happiness lighten her mood considerably, and she  turned the hymnbook over to the page he indicated. "Okay… this is simple. They sing, you sing." She instructed Dar, holding the book up. "I like this one."

They stood up, and waited for the choir to finish the first section, then joined in when the pastor indicated. Kerry started to sing, then stopped, as a crystal clear voice soared up from right next to her. She felt her jaw drop, and she turned to look at Dar, who was trying very hard not to start laughing. "Jesus!"

The chorus ended, and the choir started up again. "Something wrong?" Dar inquired, a definite smirk on her angular face.

"You can sing!" Kerry whispered incredulously. "I mean, not just sing, but like… that sounded incredible."

A light shrug. "Yeah.. well, I guess we both have hidden talents then, hmm?" Dar commented loftily, as she put her hands behind her back, and gazed around the room. Some of their neighbors were giving her interested, sideways looks, and she lifted an eyebrow at them.

The rest of the hymns went by in a blur, and before she knew it, Kerry found herself in a log jam of people all trying to get out of the small building, and into the cool night air. Hands stopped them, though, and she found herself being introduced to a rapid succession of faces, male and female, most of whom seemed friendly, and they received quite a few invitations to coffee, conversation, and in one case, a psychic reading on the beach.

Everyone seemed fascinated by Dar, who assumed her business face, all cool attention, and brisk politeness, until the pastor caught up to them, and offered a hand.

"You're new." He stated frankly. "Or is this just a convenient place to catch a service?"

"Um… actually, I called here earlier… asking about the church." Kerry answered, a little hesitantly.

"Ah.. bathing suit and Santa hat.. I recognize your voice." The man smiled, and then gave her a wink. "Honey, you could have showed up like that, and I guarantee nobody would have minded a bit." He shook her hand. "I'm David Argnot… the pastor, plumber, and all around handyman of the church."

That forced a chuckle from the mildly embarrassed Kerry. "Nice to meet you.. my name is Kerry.. and um… " She nodded her head towards Dar, who was fending off the choir mistress, a striking redhead almost the same height as the executive. "This is my friend Dar."

Hearing her name Dar turned, and regarded him, her pale blue eyes standing out with startling clarity. "Nice to meet you." She held a hand out.

He blinked. "Anyone ever tell you you've got fantastic eyes?" He took her hand and shook it gingerly. "Not to mention a killer voice."

Dar gave him a brief smile. "Thanks… that was a nice speech you made."

"Ah.. it was nothing." He grinned. "You should hear me when I don't have a major worldwide holiday to deal with… speaking of which… services are on Sundays, in the late afternoons, in case I hadn't mentioned it."

"Late afternoons?" Kerry had to laugh, used to crack of dawn ceremonies at home.

"We're hedonists, and don't pretend otherwise." He told her solemnly. "I have a standing reservation with a beach, a blanket, and a picnic basket on Sunday mornings." He rocked back and forth. "So.. how about it? You guys be back?"

Dar gave him a crooked grin. "Depends.. do you serve refreshments?" Her eyes twinkled with amusement.

His brows waggled. "What..do  we look like Catholics to you? All that wine and cheese.. whoops.. wafers… " He took some joshing from the nearby listeners. "Nah.. just kidding… we usually get together after the service for some coffee over at the café across the street… they're used to us invading, and they make a killer seven layer dip."

"You should drop on by." The choir mistress urged. "There's lots of good talk, and stuff… we have a great time." She turned as a short, chestnut haired woman came up, and rested her chin on the redhead's shoulder. "Right, Anne?"

"Sure." The woman agreed. "As long as it involves orange juice and spanking."  She gave Dar and Kerry a wicked grin. "Whoops.. I'm in church.. sorry about that."

Kerry had no idea if Dar liked, disliked, or was thoroughly freaked out by the group. "Sure. Sounds like fun." She finally said, figuring she could drop by on her own, at any rate. It was strange, and not at all like what she was used to, but…the people seemed pretty nice, and she liked the pastor, who definitely had a good sense of humor.

"Great… we'll see you guys next week, then." Pastor David smiled at them, and exhaled, loosening his collar. "Hey.. surf's up.. who's up for some midnight swimming?" 

They edged their way out, and into the emptying parking lot, under the twinkling stars of a clear tropical night.  Kerry waited until they were in the car before she cleared her throat. "Um.. that wasn't meant to agree on your behalf, by the way.. I know… I mean, it's kind of a weird place.. don't feel like you're obligated in any way to go back." She explained. "I can just go back by myself.. maybe talk to some of those people.. two of the women are from the same denomination I am, so.. "

Dar ran a hand through her dark hair, and backed the Lexus out of it's spot, then she reached over and laid an hand on Kerry's arm. "Kerry, you know I love you, right?"

"Um… well, yes." The blond woman agreed, hesitantly.

"Have you ever seen what piranha can do to a cow, in under a minute?" The taller woman inquired, turning onto the main street.

Kerry's brows knit. "What in the world does that have to do with anything?" She asked. "And.. yes, I saw that Animal Planet special, thanks." She made a face. "They almost ate Crocodile Man's parts."

Dar stopped at a red light, and turned to her. "Good.. because that's what that crowd would do to you… if you went back there alone." She grinned, and chucked Kerry's chin. 'They know an innocent when they see one."

"I am not an innocent." The blond woman protested, then she paused. "Am I? I thought they were nice… they seemed okay."

"They were very nice, and I'm sure we'll find some great friends there." Dar reassured her. "But you gotta know the ground rules first, understand?"

Kerry thought about that for a minute. "Oh." She chewed her lip. "You mean the social side of things… yeah, they've got that in our church too, but it's different." She reflected. "They tend more to quilting circles."

Dar muffled a chuckle. "Well, I'm sure some of what this group does involves a quilt, at some point." She muttered. "But it was a nice service.. I'm glad we went… did it make you feel better?"

Kerry leaned back. "Yeah.. it did… maybe it's just the going through the motions thing, I don't know…but the poetry was good, and I liked his sermon.. and that choir is not bad." She reflected. "It was really different, but I enjoyed it."

"Good." Dar gazed out the window at the now thinned out traffic.

They drove in silence for a bit, then Kerry glanced at her watch. "Hey.. it's after midnight."

"Yep.. it's Christmas." Dar commented, as she turned onto the ferry terminal road.

"It's your birthday." Kerry gently corrected her.

The Lexus stopped at the loading ramp, as the deckhands started moving the surface down to meet the just docking ferry. "So it is." Dar leaned on the steering wheel, and regarded the choppy water. "I can't believe I'm thirty years old."

"Given what you've accomplished, I can't belive it either." Kerry admitted. "I feel so inadequate."

Dar blinked at her. "What?"

"Well, Jesus, Dar… you're only two.. okay, three years older than I am.. and look what you've done already.. I mean, you're a vice president, you've got a great career, this fantastic lifestyle… you're gorgeous.. you're successful… " She threw up her hands. "It's incredible."

Her friend regarded her seriously. "I never considered it like that."

Kerry half smiled. "I know."

Dar's cell phone rang, and she sighed, then pulled it out and flipped it open. "Yeah?"

"Good morning, Dar." Mark's voice sounded annoyingly cheerful. "Merry Christmas."

"Yeah yeah.. what's wrong?" Dar growled.

"Nothing." The MIS Chief drawled. "I was just calling to wish my favorite corporate shark a happy birthday."

Dar drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, and gave her blond companion a suspicious look. "And just how did you find out it was my birthday, Mark?"

Kerry peered innocently out the window. "Gee… look at that moon, will you?"

"A bird told me." Mark replied, the grin very evident in his voice.

"Uh huh.. is this bird about five foot six, with blond hair and green eyes?" Dar inquired wryly.

"Sorry, Dar.. that's secured info." The MIS chief clucked at her. "Anyway… you have a good birthday, okay?  I'll see you tomorrow, at your.. uh… Christmas party."

Uh huh. "Thanks, Mark…. I'll remember this." Dar threatened, getting a wicked chuckle in response, before Mark hung up.

Kerry was still peering out the window, apparently fascinated by the reflections off the waves.

Dar reached over and tickled her ribs, making her jump and squeal. "Little bird, huh?"

The cell phone rang again, and Kerry muffled a laugh as Dar sighed, then answered. It. "Yeah?" A pause. "Oh, hi Duks… yeah, thanks… I appreciate that… un huh… nope… what? Oh.. sure… hi Mariana… thank you… no, well, if I have to tell you, okay.. it's thirty." A longer pause. "Stop whining.. it's not my fault… okay, yeah, I'll see you guys tomorrow."  She hit the disconnect, as the ferry docked on the island. "What did you do.. send out a message to MIAHQUSERS ALL?" She demanded.

Kerry whistled softly under her breath. The cell phone rang again.


Soft strains of Christmas music intruded itself into Dar's dozing mind, and her mind sleepily identified the song as Oh Tannenbaum as she nudged herself a little closer to consciousness. The other thing that was poking her was the smell of pancakes and biscuits. 

"Mm." Her eyes opened, noting Kerry's conspicuous absence, which pretty much coincided with the delicious scents that now had her stomach growling. She rolled over and stretched, extending her arms out and yawning, as the morning light snuck through her blinds, and laid stripes across her bare body. She spared a glance down her length, tracing her recently reemerging abdominal muscles with an idle finger. The workouts with Ken and the almost nonstop swimming, diving, and climbing she'd been doing with Kerry were having an unintended effect, but she wasn't about to complain.

She took a deep breath, detecting the positive scent of the fir tree in the living room, and she remembered the piles of presents tucked under it, all neatly wrapped. God, she'd had fun wrapping up Kerry's… she hadn't played with tinsel and ribbons in years, and she'd gone a little overboard, making little colorful curls and bows. With a grin, she hoisted herself out of the waterbed and padded to the dresser, donning a t-shirt and her flannel boxers. A trip to the bathroom to brush her teeth and splash a little water on her face, then  she poked her head into the living room, hearing a soft humming coming from nearby.

Dar followed the sound, ending up in the kitchen next to a busily flap jacking Kerry, who was dressed in her favorite Tweety bird nightshirt, with her hair twisted back off her face. "Good morning ." Dar greeted her, with a smile, finding it hard to imagine what was like, only two months before, when all she'd have walked out to was the utter quiet, and sterility of loneliness.

Kerry leaned back against her, and tilted her head back, returning her smile. "Happy birthday." She kissed Dar gently. "Merry Christmas."

Dar glanced over her shoulder at the griddle. "Is that my present? I'll have birthdays every week, in that case."

"Chocolate chip pancakes, Eggs Benedict, biscuits, and that godawaful library paste you insist on eating." Kerry agreed. "It's almost done… go on out on the porch and let me bring it out."  She'd only just been argued out of insisting on serving Dar breakfast in bed, curtailed only by the taller woman's demonstration of just how impossible it was to eat in a waterbed.

"Grits." Dar replied, nibbling her ear. "Not library paste.. you just have to add enough stuff to it so it so they taste like something." She protested. "It's kind of like potatoes.. a delivery mechanism for butter, salt, and maple syrup."

"Right." Kerry gave her a push. "Go on… here, take some coffee with you.. I just put it in the carafe." 

Dar took the pot, and two cups, and ambled out onto the porch which was drenched in sunlight, and washed with a freshening, cool breeze from the northeast. It was cool enough for the sun to feel good as it warmed her skin, and Dar took a seat, propping her bare feet up on the stone railing, and regarding the blue waters that extended to the horizon before her. Above the beach, a gull soared, banking on long narrow wings in search of a tasty meal. The breeze ruffled Dar's hair, and she smiled in pure, animal satisfaction at the beauty of the day, and how good that made her feel.

The sliding door opened, and Kerry maneuvered her way out with a large tray, setting it on the table and looking out at the water with a smile. "Wow.. nice day."

"Yeah." Her dark haired companion readily agreed. "You sure about this snow thing?"

Kerry pushed a lock of hair back behind an ear, and poured two glasses of very orange juice. "Well.. " She handed one to her lover. "I'm starting to consider alternatives."

They shared breakfast, except that Kerry refused to touch the grits, even at Dar's insistent coaxing. "Sorry… sorry… I just can't… they look too gross, Dar."  She laughingly refused, taking seconds of eggs instead. "Leave me in peace with my hollandaise sauce, please."

"You could put that on the grits." Dar replied, undaunted.

"No." Kerry waved her off with a fork.

"What about if I put chocolate on them?"

"NO…. ugh.. look, I don't force you to eat broccoli, do I?" Kerry complained.

"Yes, you do." Dar replied. "In fact, you sneaked it into the soup the other week, and thought I wouldn't notice."

The blond grinned. "Whoops." She opened her mouth. "Okay.. one tiny taste."

Dar scooped up a forkful of the breakfast cereal, and placed it on her companion's tongue, with a wry chuckle.

Kerry mouthed the substance, then paused thoughtfully. "Dar, all I taste is butter, salt, and maple syrup."

"Yes, thank you." Dar smiled. "Now, what's wrong with any of those?"

"Nothing." Kerry leaned over and took another forkful. "Share."

They wandered inside after breakfast, and settled in the living room, where the tree nestled quietly in one corner, it's twinkling white lights and bright ornaments livening up the room considerably. Kerry stretched herself out on the couch, and pillowed her head in Dar's lap, as the taller woman started up a new CD of Christmas music.

"This is very different."  The blond woman commented, rubbing a thumb against Dar's skin idly. "At my parent's house, the first thing done on Christmas morning is everyone sits in the living room, and my father presides over the gift allocation."

Dar patted her arm gently, but didn't say anything. Kerry had spoken to her family once since Thanksgiving, a several minute long, anger filled, bitter confrontation that had left the blond woman shaken, but resolute, as she acknowledged her part in her father's exposing. There would be no going back there, and she knew it, and Kerry sadly accepted the estrangement, but Dar understood that it was still hard for her lover, even after what had happened, so deep was her innate love for her family.

And it wasn't over - Kerry had been asked to testify at the investigation after the New Year, and it was something she wasn't much looking forward to. Her part in the release of the information was not known to the public, but there were questions regarding her benefit from her father's crimes.

"We.. never really had a tradition." Dar quietly said. "It was.. just whatever was going on at the time where we were… dad would always have a present for me, but we didn't do a lot in the way of decorating, or trees… " She glanced at the colorful tree, which she found appealing, in an odd way. "Too bad.. they're kinda nice."

"Yeah." Kerry smiled a little. "So.. you want to open stuff now, or later?"

Dar grinned like a little kid.

"I guess that answers that." The blond woman laughed, folding her arms over her stomach and gazing up. "Besides, we have to clear some space.. I've got a feeling a few more things might end up under there during the party." Her eyes twinkled.

"Urgh." Dar winced. "Well, if I have to… " She tickled Kerry's ribs through the soft cotton of her shirt. "C'mon.. let's go."

They settled at the foot of the tree, among little stacks of wrapped packages. "I think we went a little overboard." Dar remarked dryly, observing the piles. "Considering that there's only two of us here."

Kerry rubbed her nose. "Well.. maybe.. yeah.. but.. " She paused, and took a breath. "I didn't have too many people to shop for this year, so.. I guess I kinda made up for that with you."

Dar glanced down, and fiddle with the edge of her shirt. "So.. what's my excuse.?" She replied quietly, not thinking about the one, tiny package still tucked away in her dresser, unsure if they were ready for that. Unsure if they ever would be, and having shocked herself almost silly when she'd walked out of Mayors with it. "My usual Christmas morning up till now has been a chocolate croissant, watching videos on VH1, and a run on the beach."

"I don't know… " Kerry pushed her hair back. "Maybe we can make some new traditions…I always looked on Christmas shopping as kind of a chore, especially for my parents, but it didn't seem that way for you."

"Yeah." The dark haired woman smiled a little, regarding the tile floor she was seated on. "I walked out of the mall the other week, and couldn’t believe all the stuff I had." She looked up. "Does that make you feel uncomfortable?"  She knew Kerry felt very strongly about her own independence, and insisted on sharing all their expenses, regardless of the fact that Dar kept telling her she had more money than she knew what to do with.

"Well… " Kerry peered around at the veritable mountain of packages. "I'd probably freak out if you bought me a pony or something.. but I guess I'll survive."  She grinned engagingly at her companion. "Besides…I think I kept pace with you…but I think you know that if you'd gotten me a box of Kleenex for Christmas, I'd have been happy." She leaned over and curled her fingers around Dar's. "You're the only gift that really matters to me."

Dar smiled. "Likewise." She glanced around. "But we'd better get this stuff opened." She squeezed Kerry's hand. "Hey.. the Disney parade is on at ten.. let me put it on."

Kerry laughed, and started sorting the packages, when her cell phone rang. "Oh hell.. " She glanced around. "Can you hand me that? " She'd arranged to have her apartment phone number forwarded to the portable phone., and now she opened it as Dar gave it over. "Hello?"

"Merry Christmas, chica." Colleen's laughing voice boomed. "I knew I wasn't gonna see you around here before the party, so I thought I'd call."

Kerry smiled. "Thanks.. Merry Christmas to you, too, Col.. how did it go at your mom's last night?" Colleen's family opened their presents on Christmas Eve, before they all trooped solemnly off to Midnight Mass.

"O My God… " Colleen moaned. "I need a Uhaul to get all the stuff back here.. my mother, bless her Irish little heart, went berserk this year, and got me everything from new towels to underwear."

"Hey.. that's so sweet." The blond woman laughed. "Did all your brothers and sisters show up?"

"Oh yeah.. it was a real Irish circus, let me tell ya.. the blarney was flying like nothing doing…we had a great time, except my brothers got into the usual fistfight, and we ended up dragging Mike to the emergency room after Mass to have a stitch put in his lip."

"Ow." Kerry made a face.

"How was your night?" Colleen asked.

"Well, we spent the day diving yesterday… then we had dinner overlooking the ocean, and we went to a service down here on the beach…it was really nice." Kerry told her, watching Dar pluck at a corner of wrapping, as she waited. "We just had breakfast, and we're about to dive into some unwrapping."

"Trade ya." Colleen sighed. "I had to spend the night listening to my aunts and uncles tell me how it was in the good old days, and ask me when I was getting hitched, and tell me how chubby I am."

Interesting perspective, Kerry thought. "Funny.. that's exactly what I'd have been doing. " She commented. "No trade."  She saw a slow, almost shy smile appear on Dar's face, as she pieced together the conversation. "So, when you coming over here?"

"Weeeell… you said the party started at seven.. but I figure if I show up a little bit early, you'll give me a tour, huh?" Colleen teased. "I want to see this famous fantasy island of yours."

"You got it." Kerry laughed. "See you then." She hung up and folded the phone, chuckling a little, then glanced up at her companion. "She's a lot of fun."

Dar smiled. "Yeah.. she seems very nice.. though I'm pretty sure she has her doubts about me." She handed Kerry a package.

Kerry took it. "Is this invasion going to drive you crazy?" She carefully separated the bow from the ribbon, and set it aside, then started working on the tape that held one end closed. "And Colleen does like you, by the way.. it just took her a while to get past your reputation."

"You can just tear that." Dar observed her. "And… no, I can deal with the party. I'm a big girl."

Kerry patiently unfolded the wrapping, and set it to one side, revealing a large, golden foil box. "I never tear the wrapping." She informed her companion firmly. "Now, go on and open one of yours so I don't feel so self conscious."  She looked at Dar until the dark haired woman rolled her eyes and picked up a box, then she eased the top off her own, and peeked inside. "Ooo." A beautifully embroidered shirt peeked back at her. She had a feeling this was going to be a very interesting morning.

They'd gotten about halfway through, exposing a trade of clothing, and various computer trinkets, when her cell phone rang again. She picked it up, as she opened a box of wonderfully scented bath beads and oils, and answered it. "Hello?"

"Kerry?" The voice sounded strained.

"Angela?" She put down the box and listened. "Is that you?"

"Yeah… " Her sister sighed. "Michael's here too… we've kind of got a situation."

Kerry glanced at Dar, who had cocked her head in hearing her sister's name. "What's wrong?"

"Well… " Angela cleared her throat. "It's been…kind of bad at home this year.. I'm sure you can imagine."

"Sorry." Kerry answered quietly.

"No.. don't be.. I mean… " Her sister hesitated. "You did what you had to do, you know? But anyway…all we've been hearing for the last two days is how you've ruined our lives…and Michael and I kind of got sick of it this morning."

Kerry felt a pair of warm arms circle her, and she leaned back against Dar's comforting presence. "Angela, I'm sorry…I know I screwed things up for both of you… I… "

"No…hold on." Angela's voice muffled a bit, then came back. "Michael says don't you dare blame this on yourself… you didn't do any of that stuff, he did, and it's his fault, not yours." She cleared her throat again. "Anyway… we sort of went off this morning about that… and how if it was anyone's fault, it was his, and he lost it."

Kerry took a breath. "Lost it?"

"Yeah.. he threw us out of the house." Angela laughed weakly. "Richard's on a business trip… Sally's with his mother, because I didn't want her around all the poison for Christmas.. she's too young, and she wouldn't understand."

"Wow." Kerry felt the hold tighten, and she pursed her lips. "Well, you can go by there, anyway…right?"

"Uh.. actually… " Now Angela's voice got muffled again, and Kerry was aware of an echoing sound in the background. "Actually.. Michael had this crazy idea… and before I could stop him, he kinda acted on it… so we're..um… " A slight laugh. "We're about to get on a flight down to Miami… to spend a little time with our favorite sister instead."

She couldn’t speak for a moment. "Angela, that's insane." Kerry finally breathed.

"Eyah… I know… but we're boarding… hope you don't mind." Her sister laughed. "Honestly, we really want to see you… we've got tickets back for tomorrow.. it was easier than I thought, because practically no one's flying today."

"No.. I don't mind." Kerry reassured her. "We're having a big party here.. it'll be great to have both of you.. I'll come pick you up.. we can spend some time before that… "  She glanced at Dar helplessly.

The dark haired woman just grinned. "I love spontaneity." She drawled, privately very glad Kerry would get to see at least a part of her family. "The more the merrier."

"Great… gotta go." Angela sounded much more cheerful. "See you in a few hours."  She hung up, leaving Kerry to exhale weightily.

"Well, that was a surprise."

Dar chuckled softly. "C'mon.. we'd better get finished opening stuff." She half turned, then scowled as her own cell phone rang. "Hello?"

"Merry Christmas, Dar!" Gerald Easton's voice boomed over the line. "I hope you got that little package I sent."

Dar held the phone  a little away from her ear. "Yep.. and I hope mine got there all right."

"Sitting out under the tree even as we speak, my friend… we're about to start opening, and I thought I'd call to wish you a merry merry..oh, wait.. here.. all right, don't rip the damn thing out of my hands, you.. "

"Hey Dar!"

"Merry Christmas Jack." Dar smiled. "Got that home leave, I see."

"One frigging day, yeah.. " The pilot snorted. "How're you doing?" How's Kerry?"

"Fine and fine, thanks." The dark haired woman assured him. "And you?"

A bare hesitation. "Busy… hectic…the usual." Jack answered. "Hey.. Alabaster says hello, and wants to know if she can send you a present too?"

Kerry peered at her over one shoulder. "Alabaster?"

"Gerry's Labrador." Dar mouthed. "She has puppies."

"Oooooooo…. " Kerry squealed. "Oh, Dar.. those are SUCH cute puppies… did you get to see them?"

Dar regarded her with a solemn twinkle. "Had eleven of them crawling all over me, in fact."  She assured her lover. "Yeah." She finally replied into the phone. "Sorry, what was that, Jack?" His voice was muffled.

"Oh.. nothing." Jack replied innocently. "So.. how's the weather?"

 "Fine… why?" Dar asked suspiciously.

"Just wondering… I have to fly through Homestead on my way out tonight.. thought maybe I'd stop by and say hello." Jack replied brightly.

This party was rapidly getting to be about the size of an inaugural ball, Dar mused. "Sure.. why not.. we're having a get together over here.. I'll put your name on the list."

"Great… see you later!" Jack replied, a grin very evident in his voice, as he handed the phone back.

"Well, that's lovely." Gerald stated, sounding pleased. "You two get along so nicely."

Dar sighed inwardly. "Yeah, we sure do… listen, tell Mom I said Merry Christmas.. and I hope you like the gifts."

"Don't worry, rugrat… anything you send is always good stuff." Gerald chuckled. "Talk at you later." He hung up, and Dar let the phone drop to her knee.

"Rug rat?" Kerry grinned evilly.

"Don’t start." Dar warned jokingly. "He's been calling me that since I was twelve."

"Rug rat.. that's so cute." She leaned her head against Dar's arm. "He's nice."

"He is.. .he tries to be family to me." Dar replied quietly. "His wife's very sweet…and a great cook.. which reminds me." Now a dark brow edged up. "I hear I have a spy in my camp."

Green eyes twinkled. "Whoops… hey, you better be thanking me, because otherwise you'd have been munching on Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving."

Dar leaned over and kissed her. "Thank you." She murmured sincerely. "For coming into my life and changing it for the better."

Kerry hadn't expected that, and she had to swallow, and take a minute to get her breath back before she could answer. "I did that?" She uttered. "Funny.. here I was thinking about how you'd done that for me."

They kissed again, then Dar gently nudged the wrapping they were nestled in aside, and moved closer, pulling Kerry half into her lap so she could concentrate better. "Damn." She glanced up. "I forgot to hang mistletoe."

Kerry explored her lips. "That would be overkill, I think." She admitted softly, laying a hand along Dar's side and slipping it under the soft fabric of her shirt to the warm skin underneath. Her fingers traced familiar curves, and tickled Dar's navel, which caused the taller woman to muffled a laugh. "It's been quite a month, huh?"

Dar nodded, cradling her gently. "Is it… um.." A shrug. "Working out for you?" She kept her voice light, and casual. 

But the heartbeat under her ear picked up, and Kerry winced inwardly, as she realized it would be a long time before Dar would lose her quiet, private insecurities. "Yeah, except for one thing." Kerry replied, gazing up at her wryly.

Dark lashes blinked. "What's that?"

Kerry scratched her nose. "Um… this Tuesday and Thursday thing… I… well, I get really depressed when I wake up and realize I'm not going to see you that night."

Dar's eyes brightened. "Really?"  She produced a smile. "Well, we could fix that." She replied practically. "It would be more cost effective to car pool.. we could trade off, just to confuse people."

Kerry slowly nodded. "We could do that."

Dar reached over to the tree and plucked something off of it, examining it before handing it to her blond companion.

"What's that?" Kerry peered at it, a translucent piece of plastic.

"Your resident's decal." The executive admitted. "I was going kind of nuts when you weren't here too."

"So.. I'm not driving you crazy, then?"


"Good."  Kerry sighed in relief, letting her head rest against Dar's shoulder. "Because I'm so totally in love with you, it should be illegal." She admitted quietly. "I wonder if it's like this for everyone."

"I don't know." Dar found herself having trouble swallowing. "But it's never been like this for me before… ad I doubt it ever will be again, so I hope this lasts a long time." That was more than she had ever planned to admit, and now all she could do was wait to hear the response to a question she couldn’t bring herself to ask.

"Mm… I hate to tell you this, Dar… " Kerry's eyes gentled. "But when I was.. um… eight, I think, I decided if I ever fell in love it would be one of those forever and ever things." She took a breath, as she felt Dar stop breathing entirely. "I know that sounds really…. Um… "

"Perfect." Dar blurted. "It sounds… perfect… forever and ever sounds… just fine with me."

Forever. Something inside Kerry smiled contentedly. "I guess that's settled then." She remarked, snuggling happily down into Dar's arms.

Welcome home.

Kerry glanced up. "Did you say something?"

The blue eyes seemed to deepen a shade, and a faint hint of amusement tinged them. "Nothing you haven't heard before… just that I love you."

Kerry's brows knit. "I thought…' Then she tugged her ear. "Hearing things…I love you, too."


Continued...Part 2