By JuneBug <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Please see Page One for disclaimers.
This section contains material from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, 'The King and I', used without permission. No copyright infringement was intended.
I just want to add a little comment for this section. It contains the one scene that I am the most proud of, and it is the one that I love most. What's surprising is how easy it was to write - that one's for you, OGF. Thanks for setting the ball rolling.
Twenty Five - Night
The crowd was abuzz, with muted conversation, laughter and the clinking of champagne glasses floating above them like a haze. Somewhere, Oscar Peterson was pitching Love for Sale on his piano, accompanied by the crackling of the flares and open braziers that were placed at odd intervals around the large, rooftop terrace of the of the MCA, burning fragrant cedarwood and infusing the air with its sharp flavour.
The night was erring on the chilly side, but the bite was leeched away by the fires and the large number of people congregating around each other, practising the fine art of schmoozing and room-working. There was constant motion as people moved from savouring the harbour in lights by the terrace edge, past the landing to the indoors to sample the array of artwork on display.
Piersen leaned against the interface of the two poles of attraction, her first glass of champagne still dangling in her hand half-begun. Her long dress painted the colours of autumn leaves ablaze across her skin, spilling down from the thin shoulder straps along the curves of her body in a slithering cascade, pooling liquid bronze into the golden sandstone and melting her into the shadows. True to James' words the dress appeared to have potent effects, the attention it seemed to draw almost suffocating for the curator to bear at first, but as she slowly acclimatised to the lingering glances it no longer seemed to matter. The feel of the delicate material against her skin was too exquisite, and the daring cut seemed to heighten her senses, magnifying the stimuli around her as if she was high on fine wine.
She shifted against the pillar, pulling herself deeper into the welcoming patch of darkness. Piersen enjoyed the social events that inevitably came with her profession, but when the obligatory handshaking and speeches were over, she preferred finding a secluded corner and simply watch the shifting social dynamics unfold before her.
If James told me a month ago he could get artists and medics into the one room, and get them to all have fun, I'd have laughed at him... but surely, this is a sight to behold.
The evening was an unqualified success. Even the slight hitch resulting from a missing guest of honour did not detract from the perfect engineering of the opening. During the introductory speeches, a harried-looking James McAllister had discreetly slipped beside her, advising that the Head of the St. Vincent's Neurology department was caught in an operation which had unexpectedly delayed, sending Julian Quinn to make his apologies instead.
Piersen laughed mirthlessly. I wouldn't have expected less fom the Professor. But at least there was an explanation this time. Her initial reaction, however, had been quite different.
"The hospital called with their apologies. The Professor's stuck in an emergency procedure."
"Oh, that is just so typical, isn't it?" Shaking her head, Piersen touched a slightly trembling hand to her forehead, trying to quell the angry pounding. Never again - I simply cannot deal with the Professor ever again... "I swear, James... these neurosurgeons need to get a life -"
A comment which James then dutifully quoted almost verbatim when he reported the absent guest to the party-goers, counter-weighting the statement with another directed at the artists present, advising them to look past nurturing their social lives and get themselves a job. That earned a smile from the director, who appeared to relax a little in the subsequent laughter.
Aside from choreographing the players in the evening, James had also been an eager presence at Piersen's arm, accompanying her from artist to critic to gallery owner as she built up the connections one required so much in her still-unfamiliar position. And while she had happily chatted to most of the people in the room, one person she had been trying to avoid was Julian, who had eyed her almost constantly the entire evening after their reaquaintance.
Piersen sighed. Golly - it's not like I haven't just spent the last month working with him or anything. Yet his overwhelming attentions had come with an almost-frightening persistence, the curator being forced to react with cultivated decorum even as she searched frantically for a polite departure. I'm almost convinced he's never seen a woman before. Her thoughts turned to the missing Professor with a touch of resentment. If only he turned up, Mr. "Please call me Julian" would have been fawning over him, not me.
Her silent ruminations were interrupted at that point by a familiar, animated voice.
"What's the belle of the ball doing hiding in the corner?" The bearer of the reproach stood, hand on his hip.
"Why, watching Prince Charming charm the heck out of the guests, of course." Piersen turned, smiling genuinely as she met the playfully-accusing hazel glare behind her shoulder. "James, I can't congratulate you enough. You've really outdone yourself this time."
"Really? Thanks - that's high praise coming from you." His surprised grin was boyish, reaching up and creasing his eyes. "Are you tired of working the room?"
"No, I just prefer watching. I think I'm all talked out this evening." She smiled, then cocked her head slightly to the side. "Hm. The crowd's shifted indoors - must be getting cold outside."
"It shouldn't be - it was toasty warm a minute ago, and I've got the fires going at full blast. Maybe it's just you, in your wonderfully skimpy little thing." He gestured his flickering fingers at her dress.
Piersen laughed, weakly protesting. "Skimpy? This dress is trailing the floor -"
"Yes, but it's skimpy nonetheless, m'dear. The way the back was cut, any lower and it would have been a cardinal sin in at least three major religions." He gave her a sly look. "If I do say so myself, that Mr. Julian seems to be quite taken with you."
The museum director rolled her eyes, yet another exasperated sigh escaping her lips. "Don't remind me. The last half an hour has been the most peaceful I've had all night."
"Ah... so that's why you've been hiding in the shadows." James laughed extravagantly, then put on his best matronly voice. "I tell you, it's that dress weaving its evil magic around you."
An arch look. "May I remind you of whose brilliant idea this was?"
The neatly-suited man laughed again, touching her on the arm lightly. "Oh Piersen, admit it. You love this dress, even if you didn't like the attention. I'd be falling for you if my heart wasn't already taken by a certain gentleman."
Piersen laughed, infinitely amused by the idea. "Did I hear a raincheck with that?"
James joined in with her laughter, playing seamlessly along with their teasing banter. "It'd be kind of scandalous to be involved with the boss, don't you think? But let it be known that I've always loved a scandal." He slapped himself on the wrist, his tone losing a hint of its humour. "You know, Piersen - this is a party attended by the social elite, with dozens of eligible bachelors with wealth to boot, a certain beautiful lady that can makes men drop dead at her feet with a smile..." His conscience tut-tutted him even as he continued. James - you really must hold off saying things like this. It won't do going fishing into your friend's personal life, you know. "You never know. You might just meet someone here."
"I don't think the people here are my type, James." She teased back gently, smiling enigmatically. "But, you never know."
Bingo. James, put on your matchmaking hat... Attempting to hide the grin that suddenly appeared on his face, he quickly looked away and peered earnestly into the gallery. While his gaze was directed at nothing in particular at first, he quickly focused on the sheer volume of people now indoors, their attention seemingly directed at a single object of interest.
He frowned slightly. "You're right, you know. There's quite a gathering over there inside - care to investigate?" He offered his arm.
"No, James, I think I'll stay here, enjoy the relative quiet for a while. Thanks, though."
"As you wish." He bowed mockingly. "I shall report anon."
Piersen chuckled to herself, then returned her eyes to the smattering of people still gathered around the sculptures outside. She was very much aware of her friend's probing for information - if the triumphant grin that erupted on his lips was not enough indication. It was a mystery even to herself why she was so reticient with James in that regard, but she knew with some certainty that she did not want to speak of Richard tonight - How can I explain something, when I can't even begin to understand it myself? It was something she was not yet prepared to deal with - not with herself, and certainly not with anyone else.
And if giving James an inch meant saving her a mile, it was worth it. Even if the last thing she wanted was another man in her life.
Tearing herself away from her less-than-pleasant thoughts, she focused her trained eye on the three-dimensional pieces located outside on the balcony. They were part of a series of clay works by the same sculptor, portraying figures and evocative forms which seemed to emerge straining from an amorphous mass, groping for air and beauty and life. It was only a small sample of the vast selection that spanned oils, watercolours, and charcoal sketches - objects of incredible expression, overflowing with emotion and defiant vibrancy, challenging the audience to pass judgement on them as being retarded or deficient - the way others had branded them by virtue of their illness.
Startled, she smiled faintly at James' hurried approach. "Back so soon? What is your report?"
"Julian's apparently been asking for you for the last half an hour, and it's not a social matter. It probably has something to do with the sudden influx of people inside - you'd better look for him." He craned his head towards the interior, eyes searching the crowds. "I think he's over with the charcoal sketches."
She sobered with the business-like tone in his voice and nodded, taking a quick breath before following the navy-blue suited man inside. She was stopped several times as she wove between the crowds, various people holding her up in conversation, asking where she had been, congratulating her on the exhibition, even as Piersen tried to extricate herself neatly without giving offense. By the time she had made her way well into the throng, she had lost James, and was blindly heading for the corner where she vaguely remembered the charcoal sketches to be.
"Ms. Evans!" Julian came up behind her and placed a hand at her elbow, guiding her forward without waiting for a response. "Here you are, I've been looking for you all evening! Please, I have someone I'd very much like you to meet."
Allowing herself to be led, she stifled the urge to resist his insistent pull. "You've quite stirred my curiosity, Mr. Quinn." Her voice spoke with polite decorum, holding back the weary sigh that threatened to come with it.
"Oh yes. We're quite lucky the Professor has decided to attend the function after all, even after the operation."
So. The Professor has decided to grace us with his presence after all. "The Professor? How fortuitous indeed."
"I would have liked to introduce you sooner, but such a crowd had gathered wanting introductions I had to accommodate them first simply for the sake of logistics. We're awfully proud of the Professor's recent announcement, of which you no doubt must have heard..." His voice trailed off as they approaching a crowd of people, and the PR officer quickly excused himself for a moment, motioning for her to wait.
Puzzled by the abrupt end of his explanation, but grateful for a premature termination to what was potentially another long monologue lauding the Professor's achievements, Piersen turned her gaze to the group of people in front of them. Two guests were engaged in what seemed to be an involved conversation, surrounded by a sizeable ring of interested onlookers. The man was dressed in a rumpled grey jacket and black pants, tired and frazzled looking, his dusty-brown hair seeming to defy gravity as he gesticulated animatedly. He was speaking to a tall woman in a red dress, her black hair pinned up effortlessly in a knot off her neck by a delicate pair of polished oriental hair pins. Julian stepped ahead, and whispered something to the man, who was obviously annoyed at having been interrupted in his speech.
Piersen looked at the Professor expectantly, already sensing the temperamental nature that seemed to dominate his reputation. She began mentally reviewing conversation topics that could interest him sufficiently to fulfill her obligations, thereby excusing her from his company for the remainder of the night.
Okay - She whispered to herself insistently in her mind. He may be as arrogant and overbearing as the hospital staff say he is, but he was responsible for the hospital's cooperation. The least you could do is be polite, and do your job.
Noting Julian's gesture for her to approach, she stepped forward with a professional confidence, a smile already trained on her face.
"Ms. Evans, may I introduce Professor Jamieson?"
It had taken a long instant for Piersen to take in the fact that the grey-jacketed man was walking away. What, he's walking out on me and I haven't even met him yet?
But something else cried for her attention, and her eyes to turned to Julian, following the trail of his arm to his hand, which was obscured behind a red-clad curve. Her eyes leapt up, along the span of flat, crimson silk, past the surprise of sensuous curvatures, the broad, toned shoulders, until - her breath catching - they met the devastating ice-blue eyes of Kai Jamieson.
"Ms. Evans." The arctic gaze was unwavering as the stunningly statuesque woman extended her hand. "It's good to see you again."
"Professor Jamieson..." Slightly halting words came to Piersen with difficulty as she furiously tried to process this new information, this vision before her eyes. It's her. She's here, and she's the Professor... Slightly-widened green eyes took in the face before her - her features were exquisitely made up, yes - her lips were redder than she remembered, her high cheekbones accented by colour. But those dark eyes held the same, startling shards of azure that challenged her imagination when they first met, the bright eyes that held her own fire-green eyes now.
Piersen's well-trained social reflexes compensated for her mental lapse as she reached for the woman's hand, but her faculties returned to her fully when she felt the enveloping heat of the handshake. Vague memories rose in her mind as the warmth spread along her arm, lingering even as the contact ended as quickly as it came. Surely I've shook hands with hundreds of people before her... So why does it feel like I've just been touched for the first time? Her hand was tingling, as if her sensory nerves had been awoken and sensitised with just this one touch.
The PR officer's voice cut in, a tight inflection barely discernible in his voice. "Oh, the two of you know each other?"
The doctor's trained look never left the blonde woman before her, her voice a low smooth tone as she spoke. "Yes. We have met before."
The awkward silence continued to stretch on as Julian chatted, subtly trying to fill in the chasm that seemed to span between them. For Piersen, a part of her tried furiously to find something, anything to say. But she found her tongue stilled by an ache in her chest as she stood paralysed by the iron-grip of the neurosurgeon's stare.
Which blinked, jolting Piersen from her daze. She hastily remembered to breathe. "So, Professor Jamieson, how are you enjoying the exhibition?"
"I only just arrived a short while ago." A curve barely touched her rich red lips. "I'm sorry I missed the official duties."
"No, please don't be. You had an excellent reason." Piersen kept her tone level as she subtly searched the face before her, feeling like she was talking to a stranger. God - the things I've said about her... how could I have not known she was the Professor? How could she have not told me?
Swallowing, she pushed away a flurry of questions that tried to take charge of her tongue and forged onward, social etiquette and professional responsibility driving her conversation while her own thoughts were silenced. "Would you like to see some of the artwork?"
Julian interjected with a subtle clearing of his throat. "Professor, you might like to meet with a few more guests before inspecting the paintings."
"Perhaps afterwards, Julian. Thank you." The doctor's steady regard remained with Piersen as she gestured an arc away from her. "Lead the way."
Smiling graciously, the museum director stepped into the invisible circle and Kai followed close behind, leaving an astounded Julian to ponder over what exactly it was that had just transpired.
The mass of humanity seemed to part for them in a slow wake, but Kai was oblivious to anything else other than the figure in the focus of her vision. Even while her body guided her across the gallery with fluidly graceful movements, her mind was swimming in an electric haze, a delicious warmth extending and wrapping itself around her like an intoxication, suffusing her senses while her eyes only saw the woman weaving through the crowd not three paces in front of her.
She should not have been surprised like this. She had known that, as the museum director, Piersen would be at the exhibition tonight. Had known for months that the museum director and her department had been planning this exhibition of their patient's artwork. But even that knowledge could not prepare her for the astonishment that coursed brightly in her blood when she saw the woman in her heartstopping dress, the glittering sparks that burned across every nerve ending when their hands met in a warm grip.
Unable to look away, her eyes could only drink in the expanse of the smooth, muscled back that was held in the confines of string-like straps that crossed the skin in two fine chiasmata. She did not remember the familiar figure being quite so slim, her body almost as fragile as the fiery dress that clung to her skin. Yet strong columns of muscles on her back swept smooth lines up to the nape of her porcelain neck - Her neck... Kai blinked her shock-blue eyes, and almost whispered her surprise, wondering why it was only now she noticed it. She's cut her hair...
The curator stopped at in front of a particularly large painting, and Kai quickly averted her eyes before the blonde woman turned to her, forcing her interest instead to the work dominating a larger part of the wall. Fearful that her composure had slipped for a moment too long, she set her jaw tightly, determined to maintain some distance. Turning to the neat white placard, she made a show of reading the commentary and nodded absently in recognition.
Interest played on Piersen's face, and she turned her eyes to the doctor's profile. She kept her voice casual as she tried to bring out the conversation, hoping that it would ease this fine tension between them. "Is he one of your patients?"
"Bill Nichols? No, one of my colleagues looks after him." Kai straightened, but did not look away from the painting. One long arm rested across her chest while the other propped her chin up on a curled finger as her eyes following the sweeping brushlines.
"But you know him." Piersen saw the slight nod, and pressed on. "Can you tell me something about him?"
Blue eyes flickered to her face, then returned to the painting. "He had a stroke that affected his inferior frontal gyrus in the dominant hemisphere, what people sometimes call Broca's area." Her hand touched the approximating area, near her temple. She paused, but hearing the expectant silence, went on. "He can't speak. Or more accurately, he's lost the ability to form words."
"Lost the ability - ?"
"Yes - the part of the brain that suffered controlled the processes of speech formation with your mouth and with your tongue. His relatives left him in a nursing home thinking he was mentally deficient, because all he could say were streams of nonsense." Her eyes paled as she continued. "But that was all the sounds he was capable of producing - his understanding of speech, however, was unimpaired..."
At a lost for words, the surgeon stepped back, surveying the canvas without speaking further.
Piersen watched the woman take in the details of the work, who had so easily changed her perspective on how she saw the painting. The dark, blocky colours, and vague, shadow-like shapes in the abstractly expressionistic work began to make sense in this new light, touching her with a resonance that only someone with her losses could feel. It all fell together, her thoughts unknowingly in parallel with the doctor's own as she whispered, lost in the broad, angry brushstrokes.
"He could hear what they said about him. He understood everything - and this is pain, expressed more eloquently than words ever could..."
Kai turned to the curator's finely-smooth profile, her eyes shocked to a remarkable clearness as she heard her own thoughts mirrored verbatim to her. It was a strange feeling to have one's words pre-empted while still unspoken, and yet this was what the curator just did without a thought - simply sauntered into her psyche and picked out a piece of her mind, so cleanly and effortlessly...
Still a little disorientated, Kai watched her quietly, feeling her own empathic pain and wanting to say something; an affirmation, a reaching-out, a smoothing-over.
The curator turned, the richly textured voice almost inaudible but powerfully mesmering, compelling her to meet that steady, unwavering connection. And it held, for a moment that was much too long, but strangely seemed not quite long enough.
Were they discussing art at a museum opening? Piersen could only stand there and feel those eyes look through her, far deeper than she would ever allow, yet her mind did not respond to it as an intrusion. The quiet look that so familiar in this moment, as if dredged from a dim memory, that -
She started slightly when she realised that the doctor was asking her a question, and tried to pull her composure around the swirling thoughts within her. "I'm sorry, could you repeat the question?"
"Your thoughts, on this painting over here."
Piersen nodded at the request, finding herself back in her element and grasped at its sheltering familiarity. She began to comment on the combination of colours, the juxtaposition of the shapes and the general composition of the painting, sharing her interpretations with the doctor who listened intently, her eyes never leaving the artwork.
They moved on to a succession of paintings, sketches and statues, Piersen warming to her subject and talked animatedly while Kai remained mostly silent, occasionally providing information regarding the patient's medical histories and posing questions to the curator. There's an inexhaustible source of energy for her art in there, Kai could not help but notice. Every comment and query was answered with an irrepressable passion, the curator slowly coming alive as she shared her interpretations of the styles she saw, intertwining them with different philosophies and art disciplines. Kai lost herself in the amazing account, unable, unwilling to interrupt.
Her reticence betrayed an underlying truth within the doctor's troubled eyes, a truth that had been manifesting itself in different ways since her meeting with museum director. There was a strange feeling that Kai immediately associated with being around the curator, the same warmth that she laughed away just after they had first met not a month ago.
Circumstances were very much different then - she was alone in the safe haven of her kitchen, in the calm familiarity of her own home. But now, in this luminous presence, Kai could no longer ignore the magnetic pull of Piersen's voice, her chlorolabe eyes, the genuine smile that could be shy one moment, and dazzling the next.
Her carefully-erected composure was becoming less and less under control, faced by a confusing array of emotions that pulled her in every direction. It shouldn't be happening this way. This is an official engagement - you have been to thousands of these. What the hell has happened to you?
It was a rhetorical question, and she knew the answer as much as she avoided its acknowledgement.
She has happened to me.
Never has anyone affected her like this; no one got under Kai Jamieson's skin as easily as that. She has been attracted to others before, some in professional situations similar to this - but they had been of only passing interest, a benign appreciation of someone pleasing to the senses. The attraction was certainly never pursued, and inevitably fades away.
And that is what will happen with this one, too. It's just a little more... stubborn than usual.
The assertion was less emphatic than she would have liked. Determined to recover herself, she made a motion to run her fingers through her hair, only remembering to halt the nervous gesture at the last minute. You will not lose your cool over this. Go outside, give yourself a breather. And try to get through this evening without making a fool of yourself and your department.
Clearing her throat softly, Kai interrupted the curator as she indicated the terrace. "If you could excuse me, I would like to get some air for a while."
The curator stopped, the surprise evident on her face. "Sure. Would you like company?"
She was still waiting for a response when she was commandeered by an acerbic, elderly woman dressed in a riot of primary colours. A wrinkled hand reached out and grabbed the curator's wrist, holding her fast as she rattled in a crackly voice. "Ms. Evans, I understand you spent some time at the Atelier Brancusi in Paris. I absolutely adore his work, you know - and I'm very disappointed that the museum hasn't taken advantage of your connections to borrow some of his work..."
Nodding politely to the woman, Piersen nonetheless threw a despairing look over at the doctor, who stood a little aways with a commisserating shake of her head.
Kai watched the exchange for a moment, before taking her leave of the blonde woman's presence. Thank god for that little interruption... She stepped onto the terrace, instantly grateful for the flow of cool air on her skin. Crossing the granite flagstones to the far side of the balcony, she found a refuge on the ledge and, leaning slightly, turned her eyes to the couples walking along the quayside like ants far below.
I would that I was there. She sighed, feeling strangely alone amongst the buzzing crowd around her. The sigh did not remove the weight from her chest, and she tried again, hoping that the transient emptying of her lungs would approximate to an emptying of her heart.
Talk it out, Kai. It would be just a small indulgence, a purgative to clear her mind before she returned to playing the Professor. Just say it, admit it, and you'll be free from it.
Her head was almost spinning, and, afraid of the almost-euphoric sensations, she grounded herself in the soft sounds of the water, the distant putter of ferry engines even as the thoughts began to tumble.
Isn't that the truth. Finding her momentum, the rest came out with a grudging breath. It's like everything falls apart when I'm around her, and it leaves me... exposed. She shrugged. And I'm just not the... exposable type.
But she does it so easily. One night over dinner and it feels like I've known her all my life.
Kai turned over her shoulder, easily finding the curator. She was still with the crotchety woman, who was scolding a clay sculpture while the younger woman looked on, nodding with the appropriate level of interest. She's married. She has a husband, and maybe a lover as well.
You know, you keep saying that.
That's because you seem to need constant reminding. What can you do? Discuss her husband over dinner and pretend it's a date? Hold her, comfort her from her grief and pretend that it was you she wanted to touch? My god, Kai - who's delusional now?
She laughed at herself, her mind already turning to past events. Same old, same old. It's all happened before...
Intermezzo II - A Cambridge Winter, two years ago
Two figures walked side by side in the moonlit night, their bodies bundled up in heavy coats as their feet made dark imprints the soft crush of snow.
"What do you have up your sleeve there, Laine?"
The platinum blonde woman gave her an impish smile, her face half obscured by the heavy muff of her hood. "Uh-uh. It's a surprise, Kai. Just you wait."
Kai laughed softly under her breath, punctuated by the heavy puffs of white that trailed up and behind her. "Surprise, huh? I don't know if I like the sound of that."
The light voice floated from the large woollen hulk walking slightly ahead of her. "Well, you'll just have to take my word for it. Come on."
They walked onward a short distance before rounding a familiar bend in the path to their old haunt by the creek, the place where they would sit by the bubbling water on a Sunday morning, waiting for the sun to rise up between the gnarled willows that twisted over the rocky banks. Except now the creek was frozen to a stop, and the silvery moon hovered high above the willows devoid of leaves, casting a pale sheen over the gliittering stillness.
Kai smiled as she took in the familiar, yet different surroundings. "We haven't been here since Autumn, have we?"
A soft smile. "Nope. It's beautiful in Winter though, isn't it?" They both gravitated slowly to a particular spot on the sloping banks, just under the reach of a willow branch. "I thought it'd be nice, just to come back here. On your last night and all, you know..." She opened the backpack she had been hugging under her coat, and drew out a large rubber-lined rug, throwing it soundlessly on the snow. She fell softly after it, sitting cross-legged with an unceremonious oompf. Looking up, her grey eyes reflected the moon as she patted the rug beside her. "Come on, sit down. If we imagine hard enough it'll be warm enough to be Autumn as well."
Kai wrapped her coat around her tighter before seating herself a little askew of her friend, an amused smile on her face. "No - I like it like this." She looked around her, her nostrils flaring a little as she inhaled the crisp air. "There's hardly a sound... no movement, no breeze." She smiled radiantly at her friend. "It's like time has stopped, just for this one perfect moment, and we're only trespassers."
"You were always the one out of the three of us that noticed the natural beauty of things like this, Kai. But you're absolutely right - there's something magical about this place." She rummaged in her bag a little more, and brought out two glasses and a bottle of red to Kai's broad grin. She cut the foil and drove her army knife into the cork, her slim arms straining slightly as she slowly pulled the cork out with a quiet pop. Pouring out a glass and holding it out, she turned bright eyes up to her friend, a lop-sided smile on her face. "Have a couple with me, for old time's sake?"
"Sure." Kai removed her hands from their warm confines in her sleeves and took the glass. "You make it sound like I've already left."
"Do I?" She laughed a little as she poured out her own drink. "Maybe I'm just pre-empting it, you know. Coping mechanism." She turned away for a moment, digging a hole in the snow and burying the bottle in it before returning, leaning forward and leaning her elbows on her knees. "God knows what I'll do on Friday nights now." She gave a sidelong grin.
"Hey, you had a whole troupe of men wanting your phone number. Even without me I'm sure you'll keep yourself busy."
She chuckled. "I've had it with men for the time being, Kai. I don't think I'm quite up for another one yet."
"Still thinking of Christian?"
She stared thoughtfully ahead of her, turning the glass slowly in her hands. "No - not him, just the lingering feeling. Breaking up sucks - no two ways about it." She shrugged. "But you made it bearable. I can't imagine having had to go through all that without you there, Kai. You have this unnatural talent for giving wonderful, bone-smothering hugs." She smiled a little at the blushing surgeon, taking a sip from her glass. "That's another reason not to be involved with men - not until I can find a surrogate for you in time for the next break-up."
"Next time? Damn Laine, where's that optimism gone?"
She smiled sadly. "My best friend is leaving for whoop-whoop tomorrow, and it's late, and I haven't had enough to drink yet. So I'm wallowing, just a little." She grinned at Kai, her voice hovering between matter-of-fact and subtle sarcasm.
Kai felt a slight lump forming in her throat, but she swallowed it with a mouthful of wine. She tried to keep her tone nonchalant. "You should come along for the ride. You've never been to Australia."
"That'd be nice, wouldn't it?" She nodded slowly, tucking a stray lock of hair back under the loose woollen hood. "You know I'd love to -"
"Yeah - I know. Still, it was worth a shot, right?" She grinned at her and sipped from her glass. God knows I would never have left without asking.
They sat together talking quietly, though at times their voices rang loudly in the brittle serenity as they laughingly reminisced, joked over uncountable moments and pondered their futures. And it seemed that time had indeed stopped for them - there was a sense of languid ease as they spoke, each somehow knowing that there was enough time to talk out their whole lives.
"All this talk about your promotions and million dollar grants and burgeoning paychecks... what does Euan think of all this?"
"I don't know. I haven't spoken to him in a little while."
"You told me the two of you had a falling out - is everything alright now?" A concerned look crossed her fine features. "I don't know what's been going on with him - he's been so moody lately."
Kai took a hesitant breath. "He's been like that for a while now. I don't think things have been the same since the hype with the project being completed and all." Blue eyes looked away, deep in thought. "But I think we've managed resolved our issues."
A silence stretched out between them, and Laine waited a decent interval in expectation of the remainder of the sentence before quietly adding a silent reminder. "That's good to hear - you know, it's not good to have this hanging, especially now when you're leaving -"
"I said we managed to resolve the situation - but I didn't say we resolved it well, Laine."
A puzzled expression. "What do you mean?"
"A few weeks ago I got the letter from home about the new job offer - I'm sure you remember me telling you about that."
Laine nodded, not wanting to interrupt.
"It was hard, trying to decide between the promotion here, or this new position at St. Vincents. It was at the time when I had been considering a different vein of research, and this new offer seemed to be the perfect package - going home, and having a change of scene."
Kai looked up at patient grey eyes, and continued. "That night, Euan came over and asked me if I was seriously thinking about taking up the position. He couldn't understand why I wanted to leave - god knows I'm happy here, Laine. I mean, you and Euan could both see that." She broke off, and remained quiet for a long time.
"He begged me to stay - saying what a great team we made, how much we could do together with the new funding and the whole media hype with the spinal cord work..."
She shook her head, her brows frowning in disbelief as her words fell haltingly in a whisper. "He asked me to marry him, Laine. Marry him, stay here and keep researching. I knew what he felt for me - he knew I didn't feel the same way, but he wanted... I couldn't..." Her downcast eyes stared ahead of her helplessly, her voice unable to speak.
Laine's face was frozen with amazement, her eyes flickering over the profile of the dark-haired woman sitting in front of her, reading the emotions that shifted in her confused eyes. "Kai - all this time I thought he was jealous, or something... my god, why didn't you tell me when this happened?"
"I - I couldn't... I don't know..." Kai's voice was uncharacteristically weak, words coming with difficulty as angry words loomed large in her mind.
"I know why you won't have me. I'm not blind, Kai. You're in love with her, aren't you?"
"I'm sorry - you didn't have to tell me anything, I shouldn't have assumed..." She reached out and touched her friend's hand, almost frightened by the helplessness in her voice, the blank pain in her eyes. Inside, her mind digested this new information - the cornerstone upon which other pieces slowly began falling into place...
"You can deny all you want, Kai - I can see the truth in every look you give her. All that time you're consoling her over Christian, all those seemingly casual touches... you've been wanting her, craving her, haven't you? Well, you know what? It can never work out, even if she'll have you. There's no such thing as a successful queer doctor - the establishment will tear you to pieces first."
Her eyes hardening, Kai spoke with a clearer voice even as the grey eyes opposite her widened a little with gentle realisation. "No, Laine - I should have told you this a long time ago..."
"You're too well-known now - they'll hunt you down, they'll ruin your reputation, your career. Marry me, and we can have a decent life together - you'll keep your career, we can stay in Cambridge - you know you love it here."
"I don't - love him... I never loved him any more than I would a friend. The truth is..." Kai's looked up, everything she wanted to say caught in those ice-blue eyes.
An eternal instant passed. The two women spoke to each other in a glance, expressed to each other what words could not.
Laine broke their gaze, her free hand joining the one already cradling Kai's nerveless fingers. "Kai - you know I don't ..."
"I know - I understand." Kai closed her eyes, not knowing whether to stay, or run.
The pale-blonde woman wrapped her hands tighter around the larger ones, watching the dark woman in front of her, head bowed over their hands, utterly still. She slowly leaned forward on her elbows until their foreheads touched, not saying a word even as she felt Kai's body shiver convulsively, waiting quietly for her to get used to their closeness.
They held each other's hands, Kai clinging desperately onto Laine's as she shook silently, her body trying to give birth to tears that would not come to give her relief. Somehow, in this proximity they both shared this strange pain between them, their faces so close as to breathe the other's air.
So it was without discernible movement that Laine's lips brushed hers, then pressed gently in tender affirmation to Kai's unbelieving senses. The same soft lips fell to their entwined hands for a moment, and fluid grey eyes looked into the beautifully pained face before her, watching as finally, a silvery drop trickled from closed eyes down her cheek. Unwilling to let go of the bundle of now-stilled fingers, she kissed the tear away, tasting the bitter saltiness and wishing she could draw away the rest of her tears.
Eyes still closed, Kai nodded wordlessly, knowing what did not have to be spoken.
Blinking away her own tears, the blonde woman untangled her hands and wrapped her arms around her friend, holding her close in their shared silence.
Kai's steady gaze was lost somewhere in the harbour, the glassy darkness rippling the reflection of the paper moon hovering high in the inky night.
I wonder what you'd think of her, Laine.
She closed her eyes, trying to remember her friend's voice. You'd probably dissect her to pieces, then categorise her under those headings of yours.... Laine's voice came to her from distant memory, almost as clearly as if she was beside her.
"Looks, Style, Habits, Taste, Money, Current Attachments. It's the six commandments to nabbing the perfect man, Kai."
Kai gave her an arch look, turning the rapidly-melting cocktail in her hands. "Isn't there something missing?"
The white-blonde woman laughed, the sound rising above the busy crowd congregated at the bar. Her fingers brushing against bronzed skin fondly. "Darling, you are too much of a romantic for this game. Love doesn't feature in the equation at all when all you want is a weekend fling."
Kai laughed silently, shaking her head helplessly. So much for that.It might work on some guy she picked up on a Friday night maybe, but not here. Not on Piersen. She smiled, taking comfort in the logic and feeling a calmness descend over her thoughts.
Even if she failed every criteria, any criterion... I could still easily, much too easily - fall in love with her.
In that instant, it was as if everything became still. Her last heartbeat echoed silent in her ear, the harbour breeze caught mid-breath in her hair.
A dark eyebrow arched. Well.There it is.
Kai felt everything settle, and felt her heart begin to assume its own rhythmicity again. It wasn't as hard as to say as Kai thought it would be. No fanfare, I'm still alive, and the world didn't end. What did surprised her was the childish grin that was threatening to escape the tight rein on her facial muscles, and the feeling of giddy exhilaration that was slowly insinuating itself in her skin, like stars being poured into her blood.
"I hope I'm not imposing on you."
Startled from her thoughts, Kai was made aware of the green eyes on her back and she turned around slowly, finding the steady gaze on her. Perhaps it was the effect of the moment past, or the night air; but this time, Kai did not feel herself shy away from the woman's presence. The truth seemed to set her free, and with that came a clarity that had been absent before.
You like her. Granted, there is a temptation there - but surely there's no danger in being friends....
After all, what is there to be afraid of?
Kai indicated the empty span of balcony beside her and invited the curator to join her."Not at all."
Piersen's lips curved as her brows furrowed, forming a faintly-perplexed smile. The relaxed posture and the casual tone was a contrast to what she had been before, and while she found the change surprising Piersen was keen to see this remain. She paced slowly towards the doctor, feeling the gossamer touch of her dress swirl around her legs as she approached. "It's a lot nicer out here. I was hoping to get some air as well."
"I'm glad you managed to extricate yourself from your previous company, then." Motioning a waiter over, she retrieved two fresh glasses of champagne and offered one to the blonde woman, answering the unasked query evident in her face. "Yours has been flat all night."
"I wasn't really drinking it - I've been holding that glass more than anything else."
"Well, at least have this one drink with me." She raised her glass slightly in a toast, and sipped at the champagne almost reverently, feeling the bubbles tickle her throat. Piersen smiled, and reciprocated, watching her over the rim of her flute.
There was a moment of silence, when all that could be heard was the crackling of the dim fires, which cast long, dancing shadows across the flagstone terrace. The constant play of the firelight infused Piersen's hair with a rich-honey halo, the golden autumnal light matching the flame of her dress. "I've noticed you haven't been in the hospital for a while, Professor Jamieson. Have you transferred your patient to Dr. Sander's care?"
Kai shook her head, and reassured the woman. "No - I'm still looking after your husband. I've been away on business, and Dr. Sanders was taking over for me in my absence."
"Really? Where have you been?" Her eyes lit up with interest.
"I was in Boston for a conference." Shielded blue eyes returned to the harbour, not wanting those memories to encroach on this evening.
Piersen snorted softly as she chuckled, leaning on the sandstone ledge beside the tall doctor. "You know, I've heard stories about how specialists find excuses to have conferences in the most exotic locations possible - Maldives, Greek Islands..."
Kai laughed, absently pulling at the glittering diamond on her earlobe. "Oh no, Piersen, I believe you have us mistaken for lawyers."
I had you mistaken for a senior resident at best. How did someone your age get to where you are? You can't be much older than thirty at most... Brushing away her thoughts, the blonde curator continued. "So, Professor Jamieson - "
A gentle smile eased its way to vibrant eyes. "Do you think you can call me Kai? "Professor Jamieson" is way too many syllables for any one person to carry."
Piersen laughed, embarrassed. "I'm sorry, I didn't realise -"
"No, it's not your fault. I think Julian's too fixated by the title. I've been asking him to drop it for months, but he insists on using it with introductions." Kai shrugged, the muscles in her shoulder and arms shifting under her tanned skin. She smiled as another thought occured to her. "Which reminds me - I think I owe you an apology."
"An apology? For what?"
"For missing out on that meeting. I gathered you weren't too pleased about that."
For a moment, there was no response. it took three heartbeats for the curator's eyes to widen in surprise, freeze, then close as she groaned with embarrassment, covering her face with her hands. Her mouth opened to speak, but no sound came out. Kai watched her with a glittering regard, sipping her champagne with an almost-imperceptible hint of amusement in her brilliant eyes.
A muffled whimper. "Oh golly... I - am - so mortified." Lowering her hands, Piersen still refused to look at the doctor, instead biting her lip in an attempt to stymie her look of pure horror. "I can't believe it - I just had no idea it was you..."
Kai's lips twitched slightly, trying to suppress a chuckle. Now you are having too much fun with this. But isn't this the reaction you've been expecting all along? Straightening, she made an attempt to reassure the smaller woman."I should have left word that I wasn't going to be in town. It's an oversight on my part, and I'm very sorry about that."
Another moment of blank disbelief stilled her features before the curator's words came out in a rush. "You don't have to apologise at all. Golly... I can't believe that was you. If anything, it should be me that does the apologising - that kind of behaviour would have gotten me fired if I was just a curator..."
"Actually, I was very much impressed. It's rare to find people that have backbone and know how to refuse taking crap these days."
There was a deep breath, and a deeper silence. Then the pale face looked up, a faintly sheepish smile on her lips. "It doesn't take much to impress you then, does it? I just have to stand up to you and call you names?"
Kai laughed, speaking before thinking. "Well, I've always had a liking for British accents..."
Oh, you do, do you? Piersen's expression betrayed a moment of shocked surprise before she joined in with the laughter. "You shouldn't have said that - now I'll have to start charging." Her smile trailed off to a more serious expression as an insistent question arose. "I'm curious - the museum's been working with the hospital for months to get this together. So surely you knew I was going to be involved. Why didn't you ever tell me about your position in all this?"
"Because I'm the Iron Lady of Cahill 18." A crooked grin lit up her eyes, which faded as she regarded the puzzled look on the curator's face. "I guess you haven't heard of that one."
"Is that what they call you?" Green eyes lingered on the tanned face.
"It changes. This is one of the better ones - I've had a lot worse." She began checking off the items on her long-fingered hands. "To set the record straight; I don't threaten to suspend registrars for incompetence, I don't schedule myself an antifreeze transfusion once a week, and I don't actually bite. Much." She gave her a brilliant, vicious smile.
Piersen laughed with a mixture of mirth and surprise, savouring the gorgeous thrill rushing through her veins that was more potent than the champagne they were drinking, a feeling that was so foreign and yet so perfect she was at a loss to analyse its meaning. And although she would never know it, something inside Piersen clicked as her equilibrium shifted imperceptibly on its axis, a change so emcompassing it was impossible to detect it from where she was. In that instant between laughter and an almost affectionate blue regard, everything had subtly, irreversibly changed.
Piersen drummed her fingers absently on the sandstone, giving the doctor an arch look. "Are you saying you left out this minor detail just for the heck of it?"
Kai smiled broadly, her cobalt eyes luminous while her face remained shrouded in flickering darkness. "Really - would it have made such a difference had I introduced myself as Professor, not Doctor Jamieson?"
The curator lowered her eyes, pursing her lips in thought. "No, I suppose not." A million thoughts came to the fore of her mind as she studied the woman beside her, who she now saw in a different light. "It's just that... well, you're not what I expected the Professor to be."
Sable brows inched upward. "What do you mean?"
"So many of the doctors I've met were so eager to sell me their credentials... I guess I expected the Professor like all the others, that's all. Compounding that with all the things people have said about you, I thought he would be this arrogant, stuffy doctor that preferred his company to be comatose." She relaxed a little at Kai's exuberant laugh. "And yet... here you are, and you're nothing like that at all. All this time I could have thought you were some resident working the graveyard shift in Casualty, and you would have let me believe it."
"You mean, you'd actually prefer that I was stuffy and arrogant like the rest of them?" An amused smile.
She laughed her objection. "No - and I'm really glad that you're not. I just wonder, sometimes... You never talked about your work - in fact, I know so little about what you do." So little about you.
Kai turned her glass in her hands, deciding how to frame her answer. "Well, I guess we never really got a chance. The circumstances of our meeting allowed for very little by way of proper introductions."
"Isn't that the truth." Piersen grinned, then straightened, placing her glass on the ledge. "How about we start again?"
A puzzled smile hovered on Kai's lips as she moved away from the terrace edge, once again towering over the blonde woman. "Start again?"
"Yeah." She tucked an invisible wisp of hair behind her ear as she held out her hand. "I'm Piersen Evans. Who do I have the pleasure of meeting?"
Kai's long-fingered hands reached out and clasped the smaller one in a warm, firm grip, the bright white of her smile crinkling the corners of her eyes.
"Kai Jamieson. I'm very pleased to finally meet you, Piersen."
Twenty Six - Day
The moon rose higher overhead as the night moved onward, and the gallery was now somewhat emptier as the party-goers relocated to various clubs and bars, with a few small groups of people lingering in the terrace, talking in low voices.
Piersen stood inside, bidding another group of guests goodbye as they made their departure. It had been a long night, but she felt surprisingly lively as she walked out to the landing, feeling the night air cool her warm skin. She cast her eyes across the satellites of people gravitating around the braziers, searching absently until she found the silhouette of a particularly tall figure, who appeared to be caught in a rather involved discussion.
She smiled. Why does that not surprise me...? The dark-haired woman had a cool expression in her gaze, watching the man before her carefully as he jotted down rough anatomical diagrams on a napkin before her, shaking her head once in a while to indicate disapproval. Always working. Even that first night after dinner, you returned to the office to work; and that was after midnight. Well, at least I got one thing right about the Professor.
"I gather you're as surprised as I am about her?"
Piersen looked around to find James standing just behind her, and smiled by way of greeting. "I know, I still can't believe it. And the strange thing is, when I think of the Professor, it's a completely different person in my mind, totally separate from Kai Jamieson." The neurosurgeon had been infinitely amused when Piersen continued to refer to the Professor as if 'he' were a separate entity, and had eventually obliged the curator by keeping to the third-person form herself. But they're one and the same... I guess I'll get used to the idea someday.
"Oh, that? I'm over that part. I was talking about what she's done with herself - I could barely believe it at first." He took her by the shoulders and directed her gaze towards the surgeon. "Piersen, we're looking at the woman who just announced a few days ago that she had found a surgical cure for Parkinson's disease."
"That's why the people were herding around her when she first arrived." He laughed with sheer bewilderment. "And remember how I thought I'd met her somewhere 'cause her name was so familiar? It's because her name was plastered all over the papers a couple of years ago for curing some other impossibly difficult condition."
Until that moment, there was a connection that was yet to be made in Piersen's mind - but with this new information a conclusion came to her so easily, almost as if she had known it all along. "She was the one -- she, she did that work on quadriplegics..."
James watched the comprehension unfold on her features, and wrapped a comforting arm around her, laughing with quiet humour. "Good to see that I'm not the only one caught out here. Let me get you a drink - I think we both need one." Giving her a parting squeeze, he walked off towards the bar leaving Piersen alone to her thoughts.
The cure for Parkinson's disease - I guess that's what she was doing in Boston. And to think - I was angry with her not turning up to a meeting... She tried to tether her thoughts to some sort of coherence, but found herself at a loss. There were too many sides to this intriguing woman for Piersen to comfortable reconcile herself with - the arrogantly immaculate, brilliant professor, the tired, aloof doctor in rumpled surgical scrubs, the laughing woman with warm eyes. How many people can you be, Kai Jamieson? How many do I have to get through before I can see who you are?
With a heavy breath she inhaled deeply and let it out, closing her eyes to centre herself. Goodness knows why I'm even getting worked up over this. But there was no doubt that she felt a strong pull from the striking doctor, some intrinsic part of her own nature compelling her to find out who she is, assuring her that it will be worthwhile. Like chasing rainbows hoping for the pot of gold.
A smoky voice threaded surprisingly close to her ear. "Tired?"
Opening her eyes, she saw the doctor's face watching her with quiet interest. "No, just - recovering." She took a deep breath, not knowing where to start. "Congratulations, Professor. I've heard you've been doing some amazing things lately."
Kai smiled faintly. "I thought we weren't going to call me that anymore."
"Well, that depends. Are there any other earth-shattering facts about you that you'd like to tell me while I'm still shellshocked?" Piersen said in a rush, then chuckled edgily. "I think we're going to have to sit down over a bottomless cup of coffee over this one."
"Anytime you're free." Kai smiled a little wearily, touched by the tiny furrow of consternation on Piersen's forehead. "I think I'd like to pack away the Professor for the rest of the night. Is that alright?"
"Sounds good, as long as you're staying." Piersen laughed softly, releasing the remnant nervousness lingering in her chest. "I'm sorry about that. It's been a long day."
"I can imagine. It must have taken a lot of time and energy to get all this organised. I've really enjoyed your exhibition, Piersen."
Piersen smiled, anxious to deflect the limelight. "Well, James did a lot of this for me. He's been amazing; helping out when I've been occupied with other things. I wouldn't know what to do without him."
"He must be a really good friend." Kai said, her eyes searching Piersen's for a response.
"Absolutely." Piersen grinned, then brightened even more. "Hey, speaking of the devil..."
James walked up to them and handed her a vodka lemon lime, beaming at the tall doctor. "Professor! How are you enjoying yourself?"
Kai looked up at his affable smile, and nodded her somewhat more reserved greeting. "Congratulations, James. The opening is a huge success."
"Thank you! But if you think this was good, you should see the post-opening party." He directed a grin at both women. "How about it? It'd be a good chance for the both of you to let your hair down."
"I don't think..."Kai looked at her watch.
James quckly interjected. "Uh uh, don't make a hasty decision you might regret. I'm going to leave you to think about this, and give the boss here a chance to persuade you. " He departed with a flourish, leaving Piersen with the surgeon once more.
Green eyes searched the taller woman's face, ignoring her own disappointment for a moment. Okay. She's tired, it's been a long day for her, right? I mean - golly, Piers - she probably performed major brain surgery before she got here, so what she needs now is a good night's rest at home. No matter how much you'd like to...
She allowed her thoughts to trail off, not quite knowing what it was she wanted. "So you really don't want to come?"
Kai tried to think of something to say, anything excuse, but made the mistake of allowing her stream of consciousness free. "I'd love to. But I think I need to put my feet up somewhere quiet. And I really should drop my bags off at home, and check up on things." You're rambling, Kai - you're rambling like someone possessed, or drunk... Kai shifted slightly, mentally clutching at the straws of her dignity. "At least make sure it hasn't burned to the ground while I've been away - you know. That kind of thing."
"You mean, you haven't been home since you left for Boston?" Piersen laughed, though not really knowing why she did - perhaps something to hide the crestfallen expression that threatened. "Well, I guess I really can't argue with that. But knowing James, he'd probably keep us out till the early hours, so should you change your mind, or suffer unbearable jet lag -" She flashed her a quick smile, and handed her a business card. "Here's the address to Adam's club - I'd really love it if you came." She hesitated, swallowing against the ache under her breastbone as she tried to find the words. "It'd be good to..."
The doctor smiled gently as she took the offered card, her rich voice wrapping lushly around the simple words "Catch up on lost time?"
"That's it - " Yes... that's it... Piersen felt a incandescent warmth fill her, reaching up to her face and stilling her tongue. Feeling a silence begin to stretch between them and noting the expectant look on the doctor's face, she tried to complete already forgotten words. "That would be really - nice." She smiled earnestly, trying to ignore the feeling of ridiculousness gripping her gut. Perfect queen's English, Piers. Maybe you should go home yourself, huh?
Kai looked at her watch once more, feeling her resolve crumbling with every second. What's the harm - you'd be enjoying her company, regardless of who was there. The chance might not come this way again...
The dark-haired woman straightened herself slightly. "Look, how about I drop my bags off at home, and join you in about an hour?"
"Wonderful!" There was no concealing the startled pleasure on Piersen's face. "But let me warn you - no one stands up on me twice." She teased, her eyes alight as she watched the doctor reassure her with a smile.
"I wouldn't dream of it. I'll see you in an hour." With a fleeting nod, Kai turned and headed back inside with the curator's eyes following her.
With an indefinable sensation, Piersen was only beginning to realise how keenly she felt those words.
Piersen had been to her share of clubs in her lifetime, but none of them had been like this. A multitude of textures and times intermingled in this place with a casual symbiosis; the dark richness of rich velvety shadows evoked the atmosphere of a Parisian cabaret, but it lived easily beside the industrial steel of the glowing bar that displayed its fine wines and smooth spirits like trophies of acclaim. There was a heavy door on the far end of the room, indicated faintly by an ornate French light - 'Sortie'. The curator knew that it was not merely an exit but a portal to another world, driven by a pumping bass and insistent beat that ruled the packed dance floor. But here, there was only suggestive darkness, silhouettes of guests in quiet conversation and a silent platform, its lonely microphone and piano upstaged by the sultry voice of Sarah Vaughan seducing the guests into a smoky, swirling haze.
"James, this place is lovely. Did you have anything to do with this?"
"No - but I'm flattered at the suggestion." The intimate light nearly hid his grin from view as he sank into the plush cushioned seats. "This is all Adam's doing - he's always loved the thirties and fourties, and this was his way to live it out. He calls it the Red room."
"Where is he? I haven't seen him since we first arrived here."
"He's probably in the main club area. Dancing, pressing the flesh, meeting people, playing pool. It's right up his alley."
"You know, you can go and join him. You don't need to keep me company here." She gave him a brief smile, knowing his obliging nature kept him by her side.
He searched her face. "You sure?"
"Yeah. Heck, it'd give me a chance to check out the bar. You can't be fetching my drinks forever, you know." She gave him a prod. "Go on. And say hi to Adam for me, alright?" Piersen watched her friend head for the door, and rose to her feet, finding the illuminated bar easily amongst the crowd. She slipped onto a barstool and smiled at the bartender, who was in the midst of filling an order.
"Ms. Evans. What can I get for you?"
"A pineapple juice, thanks." She looked at him in query. "How did you know my name?"
"You're a friend of Adam's, right? He pointed you out - drinks are on the house." He laughed at her look of surprise. "Where's James gone? I saw you sitting with him over by the booths."
"He's off at the dance floor. I think his feet have been itching to go all night."
"You're not far wrong - that guy is incredible out there, I swear." His hands worked quickly at the counter, chuckling as he joked easily. "You should hear his rendition of Peggy Lee's "Fever" when we open up the stage on Thursday nights."
"You know - what's frightening is how unsurprising that revelation was." Piersen laughed, the mental image coming to her all too clearly. "Who plays the piano?"
"Well, depends on which act we have booked. From time to time Adam will come in and play a few tunes and requests, just for the hell of it. He's very good."
"I might just have to drop by one evening, then." She tipped the bartender as he placed her drink neatly in front of her. "Thanks."
Piersen took a small sip, settling her elbows against the counter as she watched him smile and attend to the palisade of guests surrounding the bar. Funny. This crowd is relatively well behaved, considering the last time I stepped in a bar. She nearly laughed out loud, remembering the persistent approach of hopeful gentlemen during her last foray into a London bar before her departure. I was nearly tempted to put the ring back on. Another difference between London and Sydney, I suppose.
She cast her eyes around the predominantly late-twenties crowd, most of them high on nightlife and looking to unwind in the quietly sophisticated surroundings. Most of them were preoccupied with animated conversation, laughing and gesticulating over cocktails and cigarettes; though others seemed to have their eyes fixed firmly in her direction.
Oh dear. Perhaps the difference may not be as great as I'd first anticipated. Unwilling to tempt fate, Piersen was about to return to her seat when she was interrupted by a voice behind her.
"So, you come here often?"
The blonde woman turned to find herself looking into the familiar blueness of Kai Jamieson's eyes, and laughed helplessly out of surprise and relief. "And here I was thinking you wouldn't be here." She grinned, feeling something close to euphoria being released in her chest.
"I'd never knowingly stand you up twice, Piersen." Kai chuckled softly, brushing her now-loose hair from her face. "I'm sorry I'm a bit late - I had a brief nap when I got home."
"And had a prudent change of clothes, I see." Green eyes indicated the doctor's length, which was now wearing sleek, black pants over her RM boots, a simple grey v-neck and a three-quarter length tailored jacket of fine, black leather. "Now I definitely feel overdressed."
"I can think of worse - yours is a very beautiful piece of clothing to be found overdressed in. Did you have a table?" Her eyes followed the curator's finger to the far end of the room, nodding as she turned to the bar. Leaning over the counter, she spoke briefly to the bartender and handed him a bill.
She turned back to Piersen. "How about we sit down?"
"Sure." Weaving through the tables and patrons, they reached a row of tables huddled within the reach of semilunar upholstered couches, each separated from each other by high backrests and the darkness. "It's a good table - we're raised a little over the rest of the room, so it's a good vantage point for people watching."
Kai nodded as she settled behind the table. "These also happen to be some of the most sought after places in Sydney. This club is very popular - James must have some amazing negotiating power to secure these."
"Oh, that he does." A knowing nod and chuckle. "I gather you've been here before?"
"Actually, no - I don't get much of a chance to go out to places like this. But since the hospital's just down the road, quite a few of my colleagues come here to unwind after work." She pointed at the double swing doors beyond her shoulder. "I've heard this place has an excellent kitchen, and apparently serves up some really good cuisine."
"I guess we'll have to give it a try, then." Piersen smiled at Kai, her eyes brightening. "I still have to reciprocate for that dinner and wine tasting lesson a few weeks ago."
The doctor returned the smile, then broke off as a waiter approached with a large pot of Earl Grey, placing the steel cup and saucer on the table. Piersen watched the doctor tentatively lift the lid to the teapot and inhale deeply. "I half expected you to order a red, or something."
"After all that lovely champagne, I think I've reached my alcohol threshold for the evening." She neatly set the strainer over her cup and poured out her tea, eyeing the curator as the cardamon wafted between them. "Why, after one dinner and you think I'm into the booze?"
There was a quiet pause, as green eyes that reflected soft light rested on the doctor's planar face. "Quite frankly, Kai, after one dinner I'm not sure what to make of you." Her voice was steady and quiet, it barely broke the silence.
Taken slightly aback, Kai chuckled in an attempt to hide a sudden onset of awkwardness. "Should I order you that bottomless cup of coffee now?"
"You say it like you were about to order yourself a firing squad." Piersen joked wryly, then leaned forward, narrowing dangerous green eyes up at the doctor. Her voice was lilting, however, hovering somewhere between a tease and a threat. "Tell me about yourself."
Aching a perfect eyebrow, Kai paused a moment before mirroring the curator's movement until they were both looking eye to eye. Her smooth, perfectly enunciated words were equally solemn, but a smile played on her lips. "What do you want to know?"
Piersen's face turned away as she suddenly laughed, breaking the eye contact. "I knew you'd do that. Answering questions with questions."
Kai's lips quirked. "Aahnswering?"
"So now you pick on my accent." She gave the doctor a pointed look. "And here I was thinking you liked British accents."
Acquiescing, Kai let up on the subtle pressure, chuckling as she settled back in her seat. "So how long have you been here? It can't have been that long - your resumé says you've only been in this position for a month or two."
"You've read my CV?" Surprised, Piersen took a moment to gather her thoughts before answering. And why wouldn't she have? Julian must've given it to her. "It hasn't been much longer than that. I came here specifically to take up this position."
A flicker of blue over steepled hands. "Surely it's not just the pull of an attractive job offer that brings you here."
The curator paused for a fraction of a heartbeat, a tiny instant when everything within her reacted from the irony. You have no idea how right you are, do you? She recovered, cocking her head slightly. "You've never uprooted your life for the allure of furthering your career?"
Oblivious to what had just transpired, Kai allowed an abashed smile, tightening her reddened lips. She raised her teacup to her briefly before taking a quick drink. "Touché."
Piersen laughed quietly, her eyes drawn to the subtle movements in the doctor's neck as she swallowed. "So I can safely assume that you've done that?"
"Yeah, well -" Kai gestured vaguely with her hands. "Work's taken me all over the place."
The blonde woman gave her a flatly dubious look, though she could not keep the bemused grin from her lips. "Story of your life in fifty words or less, Kai ?" I could expect no less from you.
Kai shrugged, her expression non-committal. "There's not much more to it than that, Piersen."
"I doubt it. Even with the Professor locked away I think there's a lot more to you than meets the eye."
"Ah. But that's for me to know, and you to find out, yes?" The doctor countered, her faint smile curling around her warm alto voice.
Piersen held her gaze for four heartbeats - a silent challenge - then looked past their table, smiling at the approaching waiter. When she addressed him, however, her eyes were not on his neatly suited form, but bore deep into unsuspecting azure.
"Tall flat white, please."
The dark morning trickled into the grudging hours before twilight, but those who were awake to sense the time pass were too preoccupied to see the moon set, or the faintest stars begin to fade.
"Um - I don't think your hand should really be there right now."
A tickling voice into an ear. "Oh, I don't know. I think we're well acquainted enough for me to have my way with you now, don't you think?"
A study in indignant pride, James swatted away wandering limbs as he pushed through a seething crowd. The pulsing rhythm and blasting music, however, seemed to have rendered conversation impossible because those hands resumed their activity after a brief pause.
"Just you watch yourself, mister. You're not having your way with anyone at this rate." He mouthed to his partner before claiming his arms and pulling him towards the Red room, although there was no stopping a cheshire grin from appearing on his face. Pushing past the two sets of soundproofed doors, James and Adam very nearly collapsed at the illuminated drinks bar, their blood still pumping with the residual energy of the dance floor.
Adam greeted the bartender by name. "I'm going to need a double scotch. None for this one, though. I think he'll be happy enough without further enhancements."
"Hey - I've barely touched a drop tonight, thank you very much." James sniffed with some dramatic flair, then collapsed into a full grin as he wrapped an arm around Adam's shoulders. "Boy, am I pooped."
"I'll say. I think I need to put my feet up for a while, and call it a night." He nodded at the offered drink, still struggling for breath. "Business was incredible tonight."
"Hey, who's this Business, and when do I get to meet him?" James groused, then laughed helplessly to Adam's flat glare. "Sorry. It's nearly three o'clock, and I've been running on empty for too long, alright? Something's got to give."
"Hm. There's a song about that..." The dark-haired man mused, off in his own thoughts for a moment, then something occured to him. "Hey, where's Piers? I thought she was here."
"Maybe she's gone home..." James craned his neck, searching the darkened room for the blonde woman. "Oh wait - there she is. She's still at her table."
"Oh - right, found her." There was a quiet moment as Adam examined the company the blonde woman was keeping. "Who's that she's with?"
"She's with someone?" Hazel eyes brightened as he shifted slightly. "Oh - that's Dr. Jamieson. She's the one from the hospital."
"That's the tyrant you were telling me about?" Adam eyed the far-off figure for a moment, pursing his lips with some surprise. "She doesn't look like a tyrant. In fact, Piers looks as if she is far from being tyrannised."
James frowned slightly, then followed his partner's eyes to the darkened corner of the room. "You know what? You're absolutely right. I don't think I've never seen her enjoy herself like that before. She's positively glowing."
Adam snorted. "James, the way the lighting is designed here, you'd be glowing too."
There was a mutual silence as the two men leaned against the bar, watching the interaction play out before their eyes. The soft glowing light in the centre of their table cast a wash of pale light across their faces, highlighting the shadows and expressions.
James broke their silence with a quipped remark. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"That they're leaning in a li-ttle too close to each other?"
Adam threw him a look of laughing disgust, pushing him away with exasperation. "James! For shame, will you stop trying to pair people together?"
The dark-blond man grinned at his partner, but said nothing, instead returning his attenton to his friends with a speculative gleam in his eyes.
"You know, you have great hands for this kind of thing." Piersen gave a smiling glance up at the doctor's gently illuminated face, her hands cupping the second paper flower to pass between them in their short acquaintance.
Broad shoulders shrugged, accompanied by a dismissive wriggle of long fingers. "I'd rather do something more with these than just making paper flowers and pretty arty things, Piersen."
"Is that what you think of art? Trinkets made simply to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye?"
Kai saw Piersen's face and solemn curiosity in her eyes, and moved to correct herself. "No - that came out very wrong." She looked intently at her hands, tracing the creases on the palm with her eyes. "What I mean was - that flower, it was... insignificant. It didn't take long to make, and in the end it's just a piece of paper."
"That's one way to look at it, I guess. But it was something that made me smile, and watching you make it because I asked you to isn't something I find insignificant, Kai." She smiled softly, watching the doctor as she traced its delicate edges with a fingertip "So - maybe you didn't save my life, or save the world - but you've created something wonderful anyway. And the flower is a reminder of that gift."
Placing the flower lightly on the table, Piersen felt a comfortable silence begin to settle, and she soaked in it for a measured pause. "We're making a habit of this, you know."
"Going zen on origami." She grinned, and Kai couldn't help but laugh, her next question coming easily to her lips.
"You're very serious about your art, aren't you?"
"I've wanted to be an artist for as long as I could remember." She answered seamlessly, turning the smooth ceramic cup in her hands. "I knew it wasn't the most practical career choice in the world - heck, everyone I came across told me how silly it was. But being practical just wasn't something that loomed large in the mind of a five year-old." The curator pursed her lips in a weak grin, the fleeting expression neither a grimace nor a smile.
"But it found you." Kai's voice was gentle, reflecting the shadow she saw in those green eyes. "Practicality, I mean."
Piersen nodded. "Just like it finds every child growing up, I suppose. My family wanted my brother and I to read economics, law and finance, so I thought I'd strike a compromise and read economics, art history and languages. Funny - they never saw things my way." She laughed, but it was hollow in the wake of her starkly practical voice. She punctuated by a sip of coffee, feeling self-conscious yet, strangely comfortable in their conversation. Golly, Piers - you're rambling like a drunk to someone you've barely known for a month...
Still feeling the doctor's gaze on her, Piersen tried to lift the silence by laughing again, this time with more conviction. "This director thing is great, though. I mean, it's a good balance of art and management - so it's the best of both worlds really, isn't it?" She raised her chin and forced a smile, seeing the veiled compassion in the doctor's eyes and not knowing whether she craved or disdained it.
Feeling the weight of having trespassed, Kai followed the subtle turn in conversation. "Kind of like the exhibition tonight. A meeting of art and science."
Piersen looked up with a speculative quirk of an eyebrow, pausing before she began speaking with deliberation. "You know, I've never thought about it that way. Art as an expression of a different social role, perhaps, but as a meeting of art and science..." Her brows knitted in faraway thought. "When we were going through the gallery, you were telling me about the patients, and explaining their conditions to me. The man with Broca's aphasia, and the other one... the loosely cubist one..." She bit her lower lip, her face alive with the strain to remember.
"That was Kleinberg, with visual agnosia. He had a stroke that took out a part of his Parietal lobe - "
"... And he could no longer recognise objects when he looked at them, right? And yet he was painting still life... without the restrictive perceptions that our brains have developed since birth. " When animated green eyes leaned forward to meet blue, the curator's smile was broad. "Kai, you've given me an incredible idea."
The surgeon rested her chin on her knuckle, her lips curved with amusement and something else. Her voice was provocatively feline-smooth. "Impress me."
Equal to the challenge, Piersen was about to begin when two figures stepped into the periphery of her vision, and the curator looked up, a shadow of annoyance flickering across her face before it melted into a warm grin.
"Hey, you two." She motioned James and Adam closer to the table, throwing a quick glance at her companion across the table. "Kai, you haven't met Adam Takayasu, have you?"
The doctor shook the proferred hand, her face measured into a smile. "Good to meet you. I must say, I've read a lot about you and your club in the papers."
"And I've heard a lot about you, Dr. Jamieson. I'm a great fan of your work." He gave James a friendly glare. "Unlike some people, I prefer the New England Journal over Harper's Bazaar."
Kai raised an eyebrow in surprise. "To think someone actually reads what I publish... Personally, I can see why Harper's Bazaar would have the advantage."
James laughed, giving a slight bow while nudging his partner sharply in the ribs. "See? I've been given a reprieve." He grinned at the doctor. "But I promise that I'll read over your articles first thing when I get home - "
"After you get some sleep." Adam cut in, directing a smile at the petite blonde. "Actually, the reason why we interrupted you was to let you know that we're heading home. Did you want a ride?"
Piersen glanced at Kai, who indicated with her cup of tea that she was happy to remain. "I don't know... we were just about to discuss a few things about the exhibition, actually..."
"Sure." Sure you are. James' knowing eyes gleamed. "You'll be alright getting home, Piers?"
"I could drive you home. It's no trouble." The doctor's voice was quiet, reassuring Piersen's questioning look with a nod.
James beamed, and wrapped firm hands around Adam's shoulders. "Well, alright then - I think we need to this guy into bed. And don't even think about jumping in line." He gave Piersen a wicked look, and she rolled her eyes. "Goodnight, ladies."
Kai could barely nod her farewell as her eyes trailed the two men down into the darkness. Hold on a minute...
James is Piersen's friend. Her thoughts whirled wildly, refusing to settle in her mind. James is Piersen's friend, who has a male - her brain struggled for the correct terminology, contenting haphazardly with - friend.
"Anyway, as I was saying, I've got this terrific... Kai?"
James has a flatmate? Dissatisfied with her conclusion, her mind stumbled blindly onward, groping for another.
James is gay.
"Let's come back to my world, Kai..."
The raven haired doctor started slightly as she looked up into Piersen's impishly smiling face, the low melodious hum of her voice still resonant in her ear. "Sorry - I was just thinking."
"Or maybe you're just tired. Did you want to leave this for another day?"
"No - please." Kai smiled, taking a long draught from her teacup and pouring herself another. She drew in a steadying breath. "You were about to impress me."
"I've been hoping to send the exhibition around the country on tour. I've been talking to galleries interstate and I've been getting really good responses from them, so if everything goes to plan this exhibition can be on the road in as soon as three months."
"That sounds wonderful - congratulations. But what does that have to do with me?"
"I'm compiling a new catalogue of the exhibition. I've got all the photography and plates organised, but I have yet to finalise the commentary on it." She braced her weight on her arms, the porcelain skin on her face set to a golden glow by the subtle table light. "Just having you there tonight, going through the works and discussing the disorders has added a new dimension for me. And it's an invaluable insight to something that makes this exhibition unique... I don't think the catalogue would be complete without an input from a medical point of view. So I was hoping, for the catalogue... perhaps we can profile some of the diseases, the patient stories and place them with the breakdown of the artwork. You know - a true melding of science and art."
Without thinking, the curator wound her fingers around the doctor's large, loose hand, her expectant smile unknowingly wrapping around the Kai's heart.
Kai knew that there was a difference between a profession decision and a personal favour, but all that seemed to fade into insignificance as she processed the surprising strength of those fragile fingers twined so easily around her own. A wordless silence that settled between them, the weighted seconds condensing the air into a fluid-like essence, magnifying the sound of the other's breathing.
Somehow, Kai found her voice. "I don't think I can make a decision on behalf of my patients, Piersen. But if you want segments on some of the neurological disorders, I'd be happy to contribute." Her thumb strayed to brush Piersen's skin once before she drew her hand away, the golden woman's eyes flickering to hers in brief surprise before her suddenly-aware fingers abruptly let go.
"Great! That's really -" Okay, so she doesn't like being touched. But I swear, Piers - how your hand got there in the first place... The smaller woman smiled awkwardly as if given an unexpected gift, her lips parted with a hundred unspoken thoughts. "Wow. I'm -"
Kai's soft gaze touched her face. "Lost for words?"
"Speechless." Piersen corrected, a reflection of lingering wonder still in her eyes. "I'm really grateful for this, I can't begin to tell you how excited I am about this."
"Well, how excited are you to get started? I had planned to go into the Clinic sometime tomorrow to get my things back in order..."
"Hey, that's as good a time as any." The blonde woman laughed her response, then tried to rein in her obvious enthusiasm. Hey - she probably has family she wants to catch up to. Or work, at least. This can wait, right? "I mean, if you aren't otherwise busy, or..."
"No, it's fine, really. I'm just catching up with my patients, and I need to have a chat with my registrars, that's all. How about you give me a call sometime tomorrow, and we'll organise a time to meet at the hospital?" She looked up in question and received a smiling nod in reply. "Until we approach the patients themselves, I won't be able to help you officially with the specific histories. But it might be good for you to chat with some of the patients off the record, and get to know them a bit better."
"Throw in a personal tour of your ward, and I think we might have a deal."
Kai laughed. "I thought I was the one being proposed to here. If there's terms to be dictated, that pleasure should be mine." Full lips eased into a rakish grin.
"You obviously underestimate my negotiation skills, Professor Jamieson. I'm sure we can arrive at a satisfactory compromise."
A perfect eyebrow begged to differ. "No need, Ms. Evans. I'll have you in the palm my hand before you can bat an eyelid."
"I don't surrender as easily as you think. But I'd sure like to see you try."
"Of course. The pursuit is half the pleasure." The cup touched her lips again, leaving only the twin points of suppressed mirth that danced brighter than a gas flame's heart. It was something that Piersen was inevitably, inexplicably drawn to - perhaps it was the tantalising colour, the exact shade of which would frustrate even her considerable skills with oils and pastels. Or perhaps it was something else entirely - the nature of which we will never quite know as she turned away.
"I guess we should probably get home, seeing as we're working tomorrow." Piersen glanced at her watch. "Golly, it's nearly four o'clock, and I'm not feeling it at all. You must be ready to fall over."
"Not really. I'm still running to another clock at the moment, and it's about lunch time in Boston." Kai grinned as the thought occured to her. "You hungry?"
"What do you have in mind?"
"Come on. You'll find out soon enough." Slipping from her seat, Kai rose towering to her feet and extended a hand to her friend, waiting.
The passage of time is relative. A minute may be an eternity for lovers who are waiting to meet, or an instant for a child whose ice-cream has melted into a sorry puddle in the noonday sun.
For Kai and Piersen, the golden grains that sifted smoothly through their idle fingers measured nothing but sand, and every rushing sigh of the lapping tide beckoned as lazily as the one before. Nothing strayed, nothing was lost - every moment within the twilight enveloping their quiet stretch of beach was captured crystalline in its timeless perfection.
"Teapot." Green eyes were lost somewhere between the slate-blue meridian and the unending horizon.
Kai frowned. "I don't know... it looked more like a chardonnay bottle to me."
The blonde woman rolled her eyes, snorting slightly. "Chardonnay? Don't be silly - anyone can see it's a merlot from here." She looked over her shoulder, fixing an apologetic smile at her companion who sprawled easily beside her. "I couldn't resist. That was way too esoteric for me, Kai."
A soft laugh. "I haven't given up hope on you, you know. We'll have you develop a discerning palate yet." She grinned, shifting her weight from her hands to her elbows and squinting a little at the slowly-awakening skies.
Piersen nodded, wrapping her arms tighter around her knees. She rubbed her arms slighty, her shoulders shifting a little as her eyes continued its search in the darkness. "There's really not much to see anymore - even the brightest stars are hard to pick out now."
"They are amazing things. It reminds us of how young we all are."
"We're not that old, are we?" A half-smile obscured by the curve of a bare shoulder.
"Oh... I don't know. Depends on when you catch me." A questioning look from the small woman prompted for more. "Thursdays are particularly bad - meetings ad infinitum."
"Ad infinitum." Piersen repeated, feeling the timbre of the words as she heard them again. "That's what the stars make me think of - Endless." She turned emerald eyes back to the skies. "I was never really into the science of things... but I remember speaking to a man I met on the London-Bakewell train. He was an astrophysicist, and amongst lots of things he told me that we were made of starstuff."
"Yeah. Hydrogen and carbon - atoms that exist in the very stars themselves are within us, only fused together in different combinations."
"The atomic theory born from the big bang, as with everyting else." Kai said wryly.
"Yes - in a sense. But it's more than that..." She hugged herself tighter, her toes disappearing under the hem of her dress strewn in a puddle at her feet. Kai could only make out the edge of her cheek as the golden woman lost herself in thought. "It says that we're as eternal as the stars themselves."
A quietly mellow voice. "Are we?"
"I don't know. But there are times... like now, sitting here on a beach stargazing, when I feel - ageless. Like we've been put in the spin cycle of life, and once in a while it stops for a rinse, and we can see where we are."
Kai laughed. "The washing machine as an allegory of infinite existence. That's a very contemporary symbol."
Piersen couldn't help but chuckle at that. "Yeah, it is, isn't it? Well, I guess I deal with contemporary art, after all."
Their conversation faded into a comfortable silence, both surrounding themselves with the sounds of the ocean. Kai, now sitting cross-legged, focused her eyes on the frail figure just in front of her, beside a pair of well-worn boots and delicately strapped shoes. Her unseen gaze followed the line of muscle in Piersen's neck to her upturned face, tracing the fine features framed by hair colourless in the darkness. She's cold - her shoulders are shaking. Without a word, she quietly removed her jacket and, leaning forward slightly, wrapped the warmed leather around the woman's slim shoulders. Feeling the unexpected touch, Piersen turned a grateful smile to her beckoned her over.
"Come up closer. I can't talk to you when you're sitting all the way back there."
The doctor shifted forward dutifully, the soft hiss of the fine sand slithering against her limbs blending into the persistent breath of the breaking waves.
Strange. Now that she's here I can't think of anything to say. Despite the chill she was feeling, Piersen was surprised that she could feel the warmth of her friend's proximity on her skin. Or is that because of her coat? Shifting slightly, she slipped her arms into the sleeves that were too long for her and burrowed into the soft coat, savouring the complex fragrance of old leather, perfume and something else that filled her senses. Mm. She wears Issey Miyake - peonies and musk, softness and darkness...
The doctor had surprised her once more earlier, when her cryptic offer of an early morning snack turned into an impromptu guided tour through the streets of Sydney. The Land Rover cruised easily in the empty streets, with Kai casually pointing out breathtaking views and historical sites as they headed eastward. There was a short visit to a bakery filled with insomniacs and late-night revellers, where the owner offered them fresh pumpkin bread and naan before they drove onward, ultimately stopping - green eyes scanned the vast stretch of the ocean - here.
Piersen had seen her fair share of beaches in her time. There were weekends spent in Brighton's faded opulence, and short trips to the Spanish coast from her placement in Bilbao. But in this lonely sliver of beach sheltered by a pair of sandstone headlands there was a closeness to a natural beauty that was missing with the others. No crowds, no ice-cream carts... only the waters before her, the sand beneath her bare feet, and scattered trees and scrub behind her. If you closed your eyes, you could imagine that this was another age, another time...
Piersen felt a roll of contentment surround her in a smothering embrace. "Your city's really beautiful, Kai. I really appreciate you showing me around."
"Not that you saw very much. It probably would have been better in the day time."
"No, I don't think so. Sometimes you see more in the darkness than you would in the brightest illumination." She smiled, allowing her train of thought to run freely as an errant memory arose in her mind. "In my first year at the Academy, my tutor said that my portraits had life but were lifeless. It was the most cryptic thing I had ever heard - so, being the eager thing that I was, I stood there for practically an eternity, trying to find weaknesses in my sketches."
A hidden smile. "I can see you doing that."
"Hey, I was young and impressionable then." She laid her cheek on her knees, her eyes looking but not seeing the doctor. "The class had finished, and I was still there in the room by myself well after everyone had left. It wasn't until that the cleaner came in and turned the lights off by mistake that I saw what my drawing could be." Her lips curved slightly as her fingers lightly trailed in the sand.
"Very." She nodded, looking up from her meanderings as the reverie faded. "But I would like to see the city during the day as well."
"We could make time tomorrow, if you like."
"That'd be great." She grinned, feeling another wave of happiness sweep her over. I am. I honestly don't think I've been this happy is a very long time.
Well, of course you are. You're sitting here, with this beautiful place surrounding you...
And you've found a friend. An amazing, fascinating, warm and wonderful friend. For the first time since she has arrived in the new country, Piersen felt as if she was finally at home. It's... a clean slate. A completely new start.
Her thoughts stopped abruptly as she felt Kai's faintly amused eyes on her. "What's that you're humming?"
"Oh yes, you were humming something." Kai obliged to demonstrate a short phrase verbatim.
"Oh." The blonde head bowed towards the sand, a faint hint of an embarrassed smile on her face. "You know that song?"
"It sounds familiar... but I can't say I do."
"It's from one of my favourite musicals. Granted, I'm not a huge musical buff, but we used to go all the time, so I was bound to pick up something."
A curious look. "'We'?"
A brief hesitation. "Richard. And I."
Kai nodded, feeling that a barrier had been nudged. Not the cleverest thing to bring up - she's probably still upset over him. Trying to steer the conversation around, she put on a broad grin and teased the blonde woman gently. "Did they put something in your bread? Here you are sprouting Broadway musicals and you're not even drunk."
Piersen laughed, feeling the tightness disappear behind her eyes. She knows the right thing to say, doesn't she? One smile from her and everything just evaporates... "Don't need it. I'm high on life."
"Oh yeah?" A throaty chuckle. Sitting up, Kai mirrored her companion's posture, wrapping her arms around her knees until they were eye to eye. "So... how does the rest of it go?"
Piersen flippantly hummed a few notes, watching the tall woman whose smile broadened with recognition. To her surprise, a rich alto joined in sotto voce to her haphazard rendition. "... on a bright cloud of music shall we fly?"
Kai looked up at her for clarification, and Piersen nodded with a broad grin, joining in with somewhat more confidence before rising to her feet.
"Shall we dance?"
Piersen smiled and imperiously held out her hand. There was a slightly uncertain look framed by an arched eyebrow but Piersen said nothing, only holding her hand out more insistently. The doctor took it gingerly, and was startled by the surprising strength on that grip which yanked her to her feet.
Kai gave her a brilliant smile as she stepped into the invisible circle, taking Piersen's hand and wrapping her arm around the slim waist. There was a fleeting shiver that ran through her skin when they fitted together, a sensation that came and went before Kai could capture it for memory. Instead, she guided her friend tentatively through measured steps, unsure of her partner's familiarity with the dance.
The blonde woman easily followed, and blue eyes expressed their amused admiration. Well. I guess you've done this before.
"Shall we then say goodnight and mean goodbye?"
So - you didn't think I had it in me, did you? The blonde woman levelled a defiant gaze at the doctor. I'll show you. Grabbing Kai's arms, Piersen flung the both of them around in a whirl, the taller woman only regaining her balance at the last moment to control their spiralling dance. Piersen laughed and sang at the same time, loving the look of surprise, consternation and delight on the Kai's face as she bore the weight of their ever-increasing centripetal force.
when the last little star has left the sky,
The bronze-coloured dress swirled about their bare feet in a fluid fire as wild footfalls pressed against the sand, leaving deep patterns amongst the imprints of the tide.
"Shall we still be together with our arms around each other
And shall you be my new romance?"
Feeling the uneasy balance on her own feet, Piersen dug her feet in the sand and abruptly halted their motion, feeling strong arms tighten around her to prevent her fall. Her face was radiant and pink from exertion as she rested her forehead on the doctor's shoulder, standing barely two breaths apart as she desperately tried to catch her thudding pulse and stilfle her laughter.
"On the clear understanding that this kind of thing can happen..."
Piersen trailed off, the breathless words forgotten as she became aware of Kai's closeness. Every good sense in her body cried for her to extricate herself, yet her muscles refused to obey - it was so warm, so easy to remain...
Had there not been a soft interruption.
"Piersen, look." Kai spoke quietly, her voice hushed with a reverent wonder. "Sunrise."
Jerked out from her momentary flash of purgatory, Piersen looked over broad shoulders at the growing symphony of light that began to skim over the horizon. She turned to her friend and smiled at the obvious awe lighting her expression, but when Kai's cerulean eyes met hers, a simple glance became a startling reminder of their proximity to each other. Startled, both stepped back from the other hastily, turning their embarrassed gaze to the gentle birth of colours between water and sky.
Lightly clearing her throat, Piersen sought to dispel the invisible weight in the air. "Have you ever seen one like this before?"
Like this? Kai tried to remember all the sunrises she had ever seen in the quiet of her own solitude. It had always been that way - a moment where she shared in the exposition of colours with no one but herself, savouring the unfolding warmth shift the remnant wisps of night breeze. But this...
A quietly affirming voice. "No. Never like this." A smile eased over Kai's solemn feeatures in a dawn of its own, the expression releasing the tension in Piersen chest and they sat themselves down on the fine sand.
Where it had been held in a breathless suspension before, time seemed to move now with an inexorable momentum as the shifting colours seeped into pinks and blues then condensed into molten oranges as the sun's disc rounded the horizon. The red-gold fire caressed the underbellies of clouds clustered just above the horizon, slowly igniting the ocean until it burnished the faces of the two women with light.
Kai and Piersen sat beside each other, sharing in the blazing beauty of a new day.
Continued... To Page Eleven
Postscript: While much of the medical cases described here are adaptations of first hand observations, much of the inspiration was taken from Oliver Sack's most excellent book, "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat". Fascinating and terrifying, it shows us the beauty and intricacies of the human brain in all its fragility, and the incredible consequences that result from its damage.
Please, people - look after your brains.
Our control, our psyche, our sensations are all very precious, delicate gifts that could
bless us one day, and shatter the next.
© 1999, 2000
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