Nano #2: Equilibrium — Moment of Force by Jules Mills

Equilibrium – Moment of Force
by Jules Mills

Part One – Impulse and Momentum
“I guess I’ll see you around?”

Grace looked up through misty eyes from her packing, the quiet words bringing her out of some silent debate. It had not yet occurred to her that leaving would mean leaving her new friend. She stopped and looked up at the tall, beautiful, mahogany-haired woman filling her doorway.

“Are you heading out to sea?”

“Probably, after I check out those two companies with Rachel.”

Grace nodded, the urge to cry pressing against her chest. What a terrible ending to the best week of her life, she thought. Dana’s thoughts were traversing the same lines.

“When will you be back?”

Dana shrugged. “I haven’t thought that far ahead.”

“Oh.” She turned her attention to the zipper on her suitcase.

“Here, let me help with that,” Dana said, walking over and grabbing the handle. She waited by the front door while Grace made a survey of the house. She checked the windows, and the stove, even though it had not been used in a week–anything that could go wrong. She felt as if she were forgetting something and then, looking at the woman holding her suitcase, she realized what it was, and wanted to cry even more.

The jet-black bird dog was sitting on the front stoop when they came out, and followed them to Grace’s Jeep. “You’re welcome to stay here if you need to.”

“No, thanks, we’ll be fine.”

“Can I give you two a lift?” Dr. Wilson asked, fidgeting with her keys, hesitant to leave.

“Grace, you need to get going. We’re not in a hurry.” Dana looked at her watch. Goodbyes were foreign to her, and she could tell they were not something she was going to like much. “Have a safe trip. And I hope everything works out for your dad.” Dana opened the car door for her and bit her lip while she waited for the young woman to climb in.

Grace nodded and climbed up into the Jeep. Dana hoped that she had said all the right things. She felt horrible about having kept Grace away from her family all week, and an ache began to form in her heart.

Grace told herself it was way too early in the relationship to expect Dana to want to come with her, especially under such awful circumstances. Still, she longed for her company, her companionship. And now, knowing that the time she had with her friend was ending and that she might not see her again, she needed her even more. Bravely, she put the keys in the ignition and slipped her driving glasses out of the visor and onto her face. Dana slammed the door closed as Grace started the engine.

“You should fill up your tank with ethanol–you’re low.” Dana pointed to the gauge.

The fact that the tall con was looking out for her only made the angst grow stronger. Dana leaned forward and placed a gentle, lingering kiss on Grace’s lips. They stared at each other for a moment.

“Goodbye, Grace,” Dana said and pulled back.

Grace backed her car out onto the dirt road. She held up a hand to wave, a lump forming in her throat. My God, she thought, I think I’m going to die.

She would have, too–run off the road into a ditch–as tears filled her eyes, if Rip had not started running after the Jeep, barking ferociously. Dana ran after the dog, watching her nip at the tires. Grace slammed on her brakes, coming to a skidding halt, a dusty cloud flying into the air.

Rip was sitting by the car door, panting up at the bewildered doctor, when Dana reached the vehicle. Grace opened the door to get out, but before she could, the dog had jumped up across her lap and settled herself into the back seat next to the suitcase.

“Looks like I lost both of my sailing mates.”

Grace slid out of her seat and stood in front of her tall, dogless friend. “I would hate to split you two up.”

“A better offer was bound to surface sooner or later.”

“Will you miss her?”

“Of course. I don’t sail with just anyone. They have to be pretty special, and, well, that bitch surely is special.”

Grace was sure Dana was not speaking entirely about the dog by the way her eyes darted around, especially when Grace took the weathered hands into her own.

“Is that what I am, a better offer?” She caught Dana’s pale blue eyes with her Crayola greens and held her gaze like a serpent its prey.

Dana had no idea how to explain her feelings at that moment, had anyone asked. The dread and the impending double loss were draining her soul, and she would drop to her knees in the next few seconds if Grace did not drive away soon.

“Have you ever been to Kentucky, Dana?”

She shook her head. “No.”

A quirky smile. “Do you want to join us?”

I would go anywhere with you, she thought. Her “yes” was returned by a brilliant smile.

After picking up some things for Dana from the boat–her computer, decent music, and clothes–they headed West. They drove through the dwindling Appalachians, across Jersey, Pennsylvania, the tip of West Virginia, and Ohio, through the Bluegrass and horse farms of Eastern Kentucky, across half of the state to a small town southeast of Louisville called Cox’s Creek.

They had taken turns driving through the night, despite the fact that Dana did not have a license. Being in the DMV database was like giving away your firstborn, Dana had explained. Dana picked the music, even allowing a few Madonna tracks into the lineup once in a while. Other than the moments she sensed Grace slipping into deep worry, Dana enjoyed the trip, as well as the company.

Nineteen hours later they pulled into the small town. The deciduous trees lining the road had given up their leaves, which speckled the yards with reds, oranges, and yellows. When they pulled into the driveway of the doctor’s childhood home, it appeared that the Wilson home was a daycare center.

“Good, Joy’s here!” Grace exclaimed. A blue extended van filled the driveway, and four boys of various ages–all blond, blue-eyed, and impish–scampered across the front yard, whipping what appeared to be acorns at each other. One acorn thrown high pelted the windshield, startling Grace.

“Little shit,” Grace said. She had barely turned off the ignition before flying out of the car. Swiping a handful of seeds from the grass, she began pelting the oldest of the boys.

“Yippee! Aunt Grace is here!” one of the boys screamed. “Get her!” another yelled, and all of the boys converged on her at once, whipping her with the little demon seeds in the back and ass. Joy trounced out the front door to find out what all of the commotion was about. When she saw it was her sister, she stooped to the ground and picked up a handful of acorns and began whipping her as well. Rip was soon in the middle of the pack, barking at the boys, but they ignored her persistent yapping. Dana whistled, pulling the dog back to her by the car.

Soon the boys were out of ammo and resorted to wrestling. Grace was on the ground, with all four little squirts giving her noogies and pinches, giggling all the while.

“Okay, boys, that’s enough. You know Aunt Grace will pee her pants if she laughs too hard.”

That merely gave the boys incentive, and they started to tickle her. Grace squirmed until she felt the uncomfortable pressure and began to panic. “Get them off, Joy–quick!”

Joy pulled the boys off like ticks, one by one, until Grace lay drained, breathing heavily.

“Never do that to a woman who hasn’t had a pit stop in four hours.” She took Joy’s extended arm and pulled herself to her feet. “That was so close.”

Joy laughed and then hugged her sister, pulling her into her plump body and kissing her on the cheek. They whispered inaudibly so that Dana, who was beginning to remove their bags from the Jeep, could not hear.

“I want you to meet someone,” Grace said, leading her sister by the hand to the car. “Dana, this is my sister, Joy,” she said when they reached the tall outsider.

Dana turned, wiping her damp palm on her pants leg before offering it. Instead of taking her hand, Joy pulled her into a welcoming hug.

“Anyone that Chipmunk actually brings home has got to be special…ah, shee-it, Matthew, put Grandma’s flowers back in that pot right now,” she scolded the youngest of the blonde elves.

“Chipmunk,” Dana mouthed at her friend. She received a swat in return.

“Mom should be here any minute. Then we’re going to the hospital. You can ride along with us–there’s plenty of room.”

“Okay.” Grace was tired of driving. “Where is Daddy?”

“Aubudon.”

“But he prefers Jewish.”

“I know, but his doctor prefers Humana.”

“What do you think about his doctor?”

“Grace, I wish you had called. Dad’s not as bad as Mom lets on. He’s coming home tomorrow.”

“But Mom said–”

“–Gracie, come on. Mom wants you home.”

“I was so worried. Shit.” She was about to cry. “I hate when she does this.” Tears of relief and anger were collecting in her eyes. Joy put her arm around her sister’s shoulder and squeezed.

“Where’s Mom now?”

“Having her hair done.”

“Ah, shit,” Grace said, laughing and crying at the same time, wiping the tears from her cheeks with her hand. “I can’t believe I fell for it again.”

Dana examined the sisters in detail. They were very similar physically, yet different. Joy was at least fifty pounds heavier than Grace but with the same blonde hair, green eyes, dimples, and laugh. Joy smiled more and had an easy confidence that came, perhaps, with her elder status, or simply from accepting herself. Grace was confident, but it stemmed more from accomplishment and competition. She had a scrappy confidence, Dana decided.

She followed the women into the house and realized they had the same walk, except that Joy wobbled a little. Both talked with their hands and touched when they spoke to a person. Dana found herself liking Joy immediately and sat with her, talking, while Grace made a much-needed trip to the bathroom.

“I take it you’re the reason Grace finally took a vacation,” Joy said, placing a tall glass of iced tea in front of Dana.

Dana nodded, and then, uncontrollably, pulled a face when she tasted the bitter liquid.

Joy laughed. “Mom likes it strong. I think she brews it in one of Daddy’s old Army boots.”

Grace came into the kitchen behind Dana, who was sitting at the kitchen table, and rested her hands on the wide shoulders.

“You didn’t warn her,” Joy said pointedly to her sister.

Grace saw the tall glass of brown liquid. “Sorry, forgot about that stuff.” She rubbed the shoulders under her hands, then went to the sink and filled a glass with tap water and handed it to Dana. “Go ahead. You can drink the water here, and it’s always good and cold.”

Dana took a sip. She was surprised that it tasted as good as any bottled water she had had. Grace filled a glass for herself and sat down between the two women. Joy was watching both her sister and Dana closely, smiling all the while, yet staring mischievously.

Then she chuckled. “This is going to be such an interesting visit, Chipmunk.”

“Somethin’ caught your eye, dear?” Faith Wilson asked the bewildered Greek woman who had been staring out the front passenger-side window.

“I’ve never seen so much road kill in my life.”

“That ain’t road kill in these parts, Dana–that there’s dinner,” Joy explained as she drove. The four children in the back seat giggled.

“Keep your eyes on the road, Crashly,” Grace chastised, clearly embarrassed by the joke. Dana had noticed that since her mother had arrived, Grace had barely spoken more than one- or two-word sentences, if you could call them that. Dana wrote it off as one of those family-dynamic things. Still, she looked back at her friend and noticed a crease burrowing between her eyes, serious contemplation occurring in that brilliant mind. Losing a family member, especially someone Grace regarded so highly, would be devastating. Dana knew this.

“Hey, Ma, that one’s a possum.”

“Yum-yum. Remember where it is, Mark, so we can stop on the way home,” Joy teased.

“Knock it off,” Grace said crossly as the boys giggled. “We don’t really eat road kill,” she explained to Dana.

“Don’t mind Grace,” Joy said. “I got the sense of humor, she got the brains, and, well, Dick got all the testosterone. Most of it, anyway,” she added with a giggle.

Faith gave her older daughter a warning look, the one where her left eye drooped and her upper lip curled up. Quite frightening, by Joy’s sudden sullenness.

“What do you do for a living?” Faith asked Dana. “You aren’t a peace officer as well, are you?”

“No, ma’am, I am most definitely not a peace officer.”

“That’s a relief.” Faith looked at Grace before turning back to Dana. “What do you do?”

Dana could see that Faith had found her focus, and she was going to have to answer her sooner or later.

“She’s a seafaring ocean bum,” Grace offered, to tick her mother off, which was most unhelpful to Dana.

Dana shot her a look. “Lately, I’ve been designing software applications that simulate how certain compounds react with the human body in order to replace animal testing in drug research.”

“Oh, I like her,” Joy said with an appreciative smile.

“You’re a computer programmer.” Faith sighed.

“Sometimes. It’s not my specialty.”

“You should see the program, Joy. It’s fabulous.” Grace had decided to help.

“I would like to.”

“Me too,” Mark said, and then the other three boys repeated their big brother’s response.

A few minutes later, the van pulled into the crowded parking lot of Audubon Hospital. Joy made three trips through the aisles until she found a spot close enough to satisfy her mother. When she finally stopped, the kids grabbed their coloring books and crayons and clamored out of the car.

“Look, Gracie–Richard’s truck.” Faith pointed to a large, white, dual-tired Dodge pickup truck with red pinstripes, a few spaces over from the van. “Richard’s here!” she said with a wide smile.

“Whee,” Joy muttered, as her feet dropped to the pavement.

“Richard is your brother?” Dana asked quietly.

“Yeah, and a word of warning: I love my brother, but he has about as much charm as a skunk’s ass.”

Dana volunteered to wait in the lobby with the four boys, who behaved remarkably well–for four boys. Matthew, the three-year-old and the one with the shortest attention span, was, understandably, the hardest to keep entertained. Luke and Jonah, the six-year-old twins, played Tic-Tac-Toe several hundred times, while the oldest read a Hardy Boys mystery. Dana kept Matthew busy by drawing cartoon figures and then letting him color them in. Bugs Bunny was completely lime-green, and Sylvester was pink and purple. When she ran out of pictures, she showed him how to make paper airplanes, which wound up all over the lobby. The other boys joined in after the first few flights. When Joy returned, an hour later, Matthew was babbling about wanting to be a fighter pilot when he grew up. Most of the adults waiting in the lobby simply wanted him to grow up somewhere else.

“Thanks for entertaining the kids,” Joy said, not having expected to be able to spend time with her father. The fact that none of the boys had a single injury impressed her immensely. “Grace wants to stay and talk to the doctors, so Dick is going to drive her and Mom home.” She entwined Dana’s arm within her own and began walking them toward the hospital exit. “Come on, boys, we have to go find that possum.”

“Can I pop it this time, Mommy?” Luke asked.

Oh, my God, Dana thought, as the automatic doors whooshed open.

Faith Wilson bluntly told Dana to stay out of the kitchen. Only she herself, Joy, and Grace were allowed in during dinner preparation. That made Dana suspicious as to what exactly the meat at dinner was going to be and where that opossum had ended up. The isolation also left Dana with Dick and Noah, Joy’s husband. Noah was as tall as Dana. Fair-haired and blue-eyed, he had freckles peppering his fair skin, and he wore tortoise-shelled glasses.

“So, how are tricks?” Dick, a male version of Grace and Joy, asked his brother-in-law.

Noah sipped at a green bottle of Rolling Rock beer and reclined on the couch. “Same as always.”

“What do you do?” Dana asked the tall man the question of the day.

“I teach chemistry at County High School.”

“What are your chances this year?” Dick interrupted.

“I coach the boys’ varsity basketball team,” Noah explained in his soft-spoken way. He turned to his brother-in-law. “I won’t know until after tryouts next week.”

“That Chapman kid’s a senior this year.”

“Yes, but he’s ineligible.”

“What?!”

“He can’t pass math.”

“So what! I couldn’t pass math either, but I played.” Dick stood up and shook his head with disgust as he walked into the kitchen for a beer.

“I can’t believe you won’t let him play,” he said when he returned.

“Don’t you think being able to add is more important than basketball?” Dana inquired.

“Nooooh. He can hire an accountant for that. This is basketball country,” he explained to Dana, “not algebra land.”

“I like your truck,” Noah said, changing the subject. “Who did the paint job?”

“I did it, two weekends ago.” He turned to the tall woman, who wanted desperately to be somewhere else. “What do you think about it?”

“It’s big. Do you use it for towing horses or a boat?”

“Nooooh. Geez, where’d Grace find her?” he asked the schoolteacher.

“What are those extra wheels for, then? Are they training wheels?”

Noah spit out his beer and began to choke while Dick’s face turned red.

“Nooooh,” he said irritatingly slowly. “It’s a dooly.”

“A dooly?” she repeated as slowly. “And you have it for what, killing two opossums with one pass?”

Noah choked again. “Excuse me,” he squeaked out before escaping into the kitchen.

A second later, Grace came out of the kitchen, drying her hands with a dishtowel. She looked at Dana and smiled. “Dana, I need you to go Krogering with me.”

“Okay,” Dana said, jumping to her feet with enthusiasm, even though she had no idea what the hell Grace was talking about. She hoped it did not have anything to do with road kill or monster trucks.

The patriarchless family sat around the dining room table eating what Faith Wilson claimed was Southern fried chicken and corn bread. Dana was trying to decide when exactly would be the best time to feign illness when Mark, the oldest boy, who was sitting next to her, spoke.

“Why do you have numbers on your hand?”

Dana looked down at the tattoo, as did everyone else at the table. She was about to answer him when Grace answered for her.

“They’re her phone number, Mark, so she doesn’t forget it.”

Dana looked at her friend, stunned.

“What if she moves?” Luke asked.

Dana looked at Grace for the answer to that one. Didn’t think this through, did you, Doctor? she thought to herself.

“Then she has this one crossed out and another one put on.”

Dana rubbed her forehead, hoping that this would not go on much longer.

“What, is she stupid or somethin’?” Mark said and began to work a bone with his mouth.

Again, Dana looked to Grace.

“No, Mark, Dana is not stupid,” Joy said, giving her sister a wary look. “But she does pick stupid friends sometimes.”

Dana cleared her throat. “It’s an identification number for a place where I lived with lots of other people. It’s how they kept track of me.”

“Like at Wal-Mart,” Mark chirped, as he snapped the cartilage of the chicken leg with his teeth.

“Wal-Mart?” his father asked.

“Yeah, Billy Huffy’s mom works at Wal-Mart, and she says that everything has its own number and that’s how they know which shelf to put it on.”

Dana smiled at the boy. “Yeah, Mark, it’s just like at Wal-Mart.”

Noah patted his eldest on the head. “Dana, Joy tells me you’re a computer programmer.”

A nod as she ate her salad.

“What language do you write in?”

“IDNO, mostly, but it depends on the project and the graphics.”

“Do you free-lance? Or are you corporate?”

“Free-lance.”

“I teach TBD to some kids after school.”

“Maybe after dinner, dear, you can show Noah some of your work,” Faith offered, looking at Dana.

Dana did not like the way Faith had said “dear.” It gave her the eerie sensation that Faith might be meaning “deer” and fantasizing herself behind the wheel of Dick’s Dodge dooly with Dana caught in her headlights.

After dinner Dana placed her laptop on the dining room table with the adults gathered around the screen while Noah tried out the Imma program. “Wow, what a network you must have created,” he said.

Dana reached over and opened up a parallel window showing the program workings past the user interface. The visible code scrolled on its own while the program ran.

“I took the normal chemical reactions necessary to sustain a healthy body and fused them based on statistical characterizations and probabilitical reasoning to create the basic algorithms for the program. Then I introduced the abnormal chemistry of illness and labeled the evidence as active or passive inside this statistical framework of the algorithms I had created. Then the active and passive data are combined in the Bayesian network. A probabilistic reasoning program interprets the data over a time frame and makes decisions as to what reactions the body may have.”

“So it’s crucial that you have the proper belief propagation?”

“Absolutely. But microbiologists have chronicled most illnesses, at least the ones I have incorporated into the program, so that’s not a real problem.”

“Ha, it’s only as good as modern medical science,” Dick said.

“Maybe not even that good, because I have to interpret the chemistry and then write the variable and algorithm properly to describe the reaction as a function for the computer to understand.”

“Where do you get your information?” Joy asked.

“The Net and books, primarily. The Merck Company has several online databases for microbiologists and organic chemists.”

“Let me try,” Joy said, nudging her husband slightly. He moved off the chair, and Joy slipped into it. Dana showed her the animal programs, and she spent the rest of the evening exploring them, cooing at the accuracy of the veterinary programs. When Dana left the room to snatch a beer, Joy leaned toward her sister and told her bluntly, “I don’t know where you found her, but with that body and those breasts…brains, you’d be a fool to let her get away.”
Part Two – Conservation of Momentum

The next morning, as the family prepared for Dr. Wilson’s homecoming, relations between mother and daughter headed south.

“Look, Mom, I’m not ready for this!” Grace yelled.

“But your father expects you–”

“–But I don’t know if I want to take over Daddy’s practice.”

Faith’s lips began to purse and her right eye began to twitch.

Grace grunted angrily. I hate that fucking look, she thought to herself. Joy walked through the doorway to the living room, caught one look of her mother’s conniption, and abruptly turned back into the kitchen.

“Chipmunk’s in big trouble now,” she whispered to Dana. “Let’s go for a walk,” she said, grasping Dana by the arm and leading her out the screen door to the back yard.

“Will they be okay?” Dana looked over her shoulder in concern.

“They do this all the time. Seems like since the day Gracie popped her head out of Mom’s uterus, they’ve been arguing ’bout somethin’.”

“Grace can be determined when she wants something.”

Joy chuckled and smiled knowingly. “So, how did you two meet?”

“Grace picked me up one night off the side of the road.”

“No way. Gracie was cruising?”

“Oh, yeah, I think she does it all the time, although she’ll deny it. She met her last girlfriend in the car too. She tries to claim it was a speeding ticket that brought the two together.”

Joy stared at Dana, completely stunned, a bit of fear for her sister lingering in that look.

“Actually, Joy, I was bleeding from a fight I had been in in a bar, and she stopped to administer me first aid.”

“Now that sounds like Chipmunk.”

Dana chuckled.

“How’s her bedside mannah?”

“Good, I guess. I haven’t had that many doctors.”

Joy began to laugh at the innocent answer. Dana stopped walking when she realized Joy’s actual question. Her new private life–what little there was–was not something she was used to talking about. “What has Grace told you?”

“That it’s none of my business and that I am a latent homosexual who lives vicariously through her woman-woman relationships.”

Dana laughed, picturing her friend saying just such a thing. “Well, then, considering Grace’s current position, I will have to decline any further conversation on the matter.”

“Good answer,” Joy said, bending over to pick up a twig from the yard.

“What are they arguing about?”

“Grace doesn’t want to come back and take over Daddy’s practice. The problem is that it’s a family duty. She’s the doctor and gets the dubious honor. Besides, they paid for her degree; they think it’s their right to demand how she uses it.”

“But she doesn’t want the practice.”

“Gracie is not ready. She’s not even thirty yet. And on top of it, she has a bit of a reputation in Cox’s Creek that Mom and Daddy aren’t ready to accept.”

“A reputation?”

“Yeah, she had an affair with the prom queen and several of the cheerleaders when she was in high school. A lot of people knew about that, and in a Bible Belt that hasn’t loosened a notch in the past fifty years, it’s a problem. Mom still thinks it’s a phase. And you’re an anomaly. Grace has never brought home any of the women she’s involved with.”

The slap of the back door screen drew the women’s attention to the house. Grace had stormed out, angry and cursing under her breath.

“Watch your mouth, Grace,” Joy scolded. “There’s young ‘uns around.”

“Sorry,” Grace said as she reached Dana and her sister. “She just makes me so pissed.”

“You do the same to her, you know,” Joy said plainly. “Why don’t you take Dana down to the frog pond,” she suggested, pointing with her stick into the woods. “Show her how beautiful the country is.”

“Frog pond!” little voices cheered from the swing set. Then came the patter of sneakers across grass. “Can we go with you too, Aunt Gracie?”

Aunt Gracie looked to her friend, who shrugged. It did not matter to her if they came along.

“Okay.”

“Yahoo! Let’s go get the gigs.”

“Gigs?” Dana asked.

“Long forks to spear the frogs with,” Joy explained.

“Why would they do that?”

“They’re going to catch us dinner,” Joy said as she patted the long arm next to her.

Grace spent the next two weeks meeting her father’s medical obligations by keeping his office functioning, reviewing the insurance paperwork, and seeing his patients. Richard Wilson did not venture to the office until his third week home and stayed only a few hours at a time. During this period, Dana kept to herself in her room or went for walks with the boys. While Joy was tending to sick cows, sheep, cats, dogs, and birds in her office or on surrounding farms, Faith watched the boys. Only Matthew was home all day; the others were at school. Matthew had a tendency to break anything nice that Grandma left within reach. This included her Siamese cat, who scatched him several times. Dana did not care much for the cat and kept her door closed as much as possible to keep it away.

When the older boys came home, it became Dana’s responsibility to keep them occupied outside so as not to upset Poppy until Joy or Noah arrived to take them home.

When she was alone, she stayed in her room away from Faith, working on her simulation programs as well as searching the Net for new technical postings. Every day there were new theories or studies being shared or offered for help or critique. Like most techs, she was always interested in new perspectives. Lately she had noticed a series of postings, all written by the same author, which on one level explained new theories and proposed results. However, underneath the style of the writing, Dana found inconsistencies in the physics as well as serious mathematical errors. She knew that many research facilities used the postings when they themselves were stalled, much like the Yale group, and many times found answers to their problems. This writer was calculating and subtle about the misinformation he or she was posting, and this irritated Dana. When she untangled the erroneous calculations, she would post her own counter findings. The total over the past six months had been thirteen faulty theories by this author, and over the past six months, none of the postings had been retracted.

Grace returned later each night, as more patients began to come to her. But the first thing she did each evening was to seek out Dana, whom she usually found in the room that Faith had assigned to the dark-haired woman. Dana usually sat by the wall phone jack for her downloads and remained there with her back to the wall, the only light coming from her screen. Sometimes Dana was sleeping or stretched out on the bed thinking about a problem or equation, or what it would be like to get past her sexual insecurities and take Grace to town.

They would talk for a few minutes; however, any sexual connection or prolonged kissing would be interrupted by a beckoning from Faith. After dinner Grace and her father would retire to his study to talk shop. By the fourth week, Dana was so desperate to spend time with Grace, she took up jogging in the morning just to be with her. She thanked her long legs for making the sacrifice bearable. But Grace barely spoke when she ran, some inner turmoil keeping her mind elsewhere. Dana was afraid to come out and demand time, despite the need. She had learned early that she had no right to demand anything from anyone. She was determined to be happy with what was offered.

So, when Grace showed up that Wednesday at noon, Dana was startled out of a deep thought pertaining to a certain blonde doctor in her underwear in the cabin of her boat. Her eyes were closed, and Grace was not sure if she was sleeping, long fingers entwined behind a thick, dark head of hair. Grace closed the door softly behind herself, but the noise caused Dana to open her eyes and face the sound.

“Shhh,” Grace said, holding her finger to her lips. She tiptoed over to the bed and climbed astride the long legs.

Dana let her hands roam up the strong thighs that were wrapped around her hips, the daydream controlling her actions. Grace leaned forward and let her upper body barely brush the one below her.

“What are you thinking about?” Grace whispered, their mouths close. Dana let her hands roam up to the top of the blonde’s inner thighs.

“You,” she whispered back before reaching up to capture the lips of the elusive doctor. Her prize was pulled back and out of reach.

“Really?”

Dana growled her frustration. I’m going to die, she thought, unconsciously quickening the strokes.

Grace looked down at the beautiful features and dark hair sprawled out on the quilt. Her own hair was pulled away from her face in a professional manner, but still she could have passed for no older than twenty.

Dana continued the caresses, watching the movement of her hands intensely. All she had to do was go a little higher, unfasten the button of the slacks, and….

“Gracie?” Faith called loudly from the kitchen. Dana’s hands slid off the warm slacks and fell to the bed.

“Yes, Mom!” she bellowed back through the door and down the hallway.

“Y’all want some lunch?”

“No, Mom, we’re going out for lunch.” Grace turned to Grace and whispered, “How does she know I’m here? I parked three houses down and snuck in the back door.”

“Are we really going out?” Dana could barely contain her glee. She sat up and gave Grace a long, deep kiss.

“Wow!” Grace smiled, noticing the sudden glimmer in the pale blue eyes. Then it dawned on her how little time they had spent together over the past month. “You aren’t having much fun, are you?”

Dana looked at her quizzically, wondering if she was supposed to be enjoying it.

“It’s blue.”

Grace looked up over her plate, her small mouth stuffed with food. Dana waited for her to chew and swallow.

“It’s supposed to be blue.” They were seated at a window table of the Brown Bag, just a half-mile from the University of Louisville. A seemingly endless line of patrons slid past them, ordering sandwiches and homemade potato chips. The lunch crowd had not yet thinned, and it was already two-thirty.

Dana’s dark eyebrows shot up into her bangs. “In prison, if your food was blue, it usually was a good idea not to eat it.”

“You ain’t in prison no more, Doc,” Grace drawled.

Warily, after having been fed frog legs, she bit into the sandwich.

“Well, do you like?”

Dana wiped her lips with a napkin. She could not quite decide if she liked the tangy concoction. “It’s different.” Then she downed most of a bottle of water, trying to rid her mouth of greasy bacon residue.

“Is there anything you actually like to eat besides asparagus?”

Dana scratched her chin to emphasize that she was thinking hard. “Peppermint-stick ice cream, but it’s been a few years.”

“Never had it, but I bet I would find it ‘different.'”

“And I would like to get you flat on your back for a few hours,” Dana said, deciding that she would try the chips and leave the sandwich to live its own life.

Grace looked around to see how many people had heard Dana’s uncharacteristic remark. “I want to take you somewhere tonight,” Grace said as she finished Dana’s sandwich. “I think you’ll really like it. Live music, great beer, and it’s very dark.”

“It’s not flute music?”

“Would I do that to you, Dana?”

“In that case, it sounds great.”

“I invited my brother and sister to join us.”

“You invited Dick-uh?” she complained, rolling her eyes. “Do I have to go?”

Grace scowled, truly upset.

“It’s just that….” How do you tell someone that you hate their beloved brother, their twin?

“Stay home, Dana. My mistake.”

Boy, could Grace hold a grudge. She had changed her mind about spending the afternoon together in Louisville and dropped Dana off at the house after driving home in impenetrable silence. She spent the afternoon at the office with her father, who was back at work three-quarters time. Dana found the corner of her room and downloaded an old file she had put away for several months, and spent her lonely hours playing out scenarios in the Nanoverse.

The doctors returned at dinnertime. Dana was still planted on the floor, her back against the wall, silver-rimmed glasses halfway down her nose, when she heard the muffled noises. She had not noticed the room darken, having engrossed herself in debugging a new self-replication program she had finally finished. She could hear Grace and her father laughing with the same deep belly laugh. The house smelled of freshly baked bread and a roasting chicken, but Dana was not hungry. And it hurt that Grace had not come immediately to find her.

Dana had been wondering for some time if she had worn out her welcome with all of the Wilsons. She missed the ocean; that was something she could have told Grace she liked. Why was communicating so difficult? She forced her thoughts to her boat. It needed scraping and painting, and the inboard was due for an overhaul. She began to plan the hard physical work that would give her something to do when Grace finally sent her away.

She listened closely to the familiar sound of her friend padding down the hallway, past her door, and into the bathroom. The water hissed through the pipes in the wall, and off-key humming came from the shower just beyond the drywall and tiles.

“Dana, you in here?” Grace poked her wet head into the dark room.

“Over here,” she said, trying to stand on comatose legs.

“Why is it so dark in here?” Grace flipped on the overhead.

The bright light made Dana’s eyes ache and water. She pulled the glasses off her face and put them in her shirt pocket, all the while trying to blink into focus.

“It’s dinnertime.”

“Hold on.”

“What?”

She was going to beat Grace to the punch. “I was thinking that you don’t plan to head back soon. I should head home.”

Grace stared at her for a moment. “Dinner’s ready,” she answered curtly and walked out of the room.

Dana picked at her food, her stomach twisted up in more knots than a two-year-old’s slinky. No words passed between the two young people. Grace still talked, conversing with her father, and even her mother, but she would not even look in Dana’s direction. Then, after dinner, Grace left.

“What the hell are we doing here?” Dana asked Rip as the two walked down the road. Rip looked at her with round, sad eyes. “Do you want to go home?” The dog looked up again. By nine-forty-five she had finally made her decision.

By ten-thirty Richard Wilson had dropped her off in downtown Louisville. Dana thanked him quickly and headed to the entrance of the gray stone building. “I hope I’m doing the right thing,” she mumbled to herself as she trudged up the stone steps.

She filtered in with a group of young men dressed in red sweaters and white turtlenecks, their hair cropped short. Once in, she was forced to choose to go up more stairs or to the left and down another set. She decided to follow the pack and went to the left, ending up in the right place.

Joy was giggling at the debate between her siblings. Grace was trying to explain to Dick that being a gynecologist for the reasons he proposed would go against the Hippocratic Oath. He vehemently disagreed, claiming that one should thoroughly enjoy one’s work. Noah was working his way to the bar for refills and losing the battle against the river of red and white.

Dana spied the golden heads at a table up front by the musician, a pasty woman with long red ringlets and metallic gold pants. She was playing a keyboard and singing sad, moody blues tunes.

Grace’s back was to her, but Dana could tell she was talking, her hands moving for emphasis. It was Joy who spied the tall ex-con first. Their eyes met, and then an endearing smile slid to Joy’s face. A moment later, Dick’s eyes, the same green as his sisters’, met hers, but his expression, as expected, was not one of welcome. Finally, the young doctor turned to see what had stolen their attention from her. Dana would not describe it as the glee she had hoped to see, but it was not the disgust she had imagined. She took a deep breath and exhaled. Grace was headed her way.

“Dana? What are you doing here?”

“I have to talk to you.”

“Did you come to say goodbye?”

“No.”

Grace’s stomach unclenched. “You changed your mind?”

Dana nodded. Grace automatically touched her arm.

“But I have to tell you something, and I think I have to do it now before I lose my nerve.”

Grace’s stomach tightened again. “What?” she inquired when her friend paused. Since Dana appeared hesitant to answer, Grace led her to a space by the wall, out of the sea of people.

“Grace, it’s…I mean….” Suddenly she realized she had no idea how to discuss her feelings.

Grace was confused and concerned, and trying to read Dana’s stoic expressions for clues was a waste of time. “You’re giving me an ulcer making me wait. What’s up?” she demanded impatiently, and a little roughly.

“This is hard for me, Grace,” Dana explained defensively, biding her time. God, she wanted to kiss those pouting lips. Actions did speak louder than words, right? Grace crossed her arms to cover her anxiety. “I do want to go home, Grace, but I don’t want to go anywhere without you. And I don’t want to be the reason you leave your family.”

“Dana,” Grace said, shaking her head and averting her eyes.

“And it’s killing me, not getting to be with you.”

Grace continued to shake her head from side to side.

“Say something. Tell me to get lost or that you don’t want to have anything to do with me.”

“No! I’m not going to ever tell you that.” She tightened her grip on Dana’s arm. Tears were filling the corners of her eyes, making them dark emerald-green.

“Can I stay?”

“Hell, yes, you big dumb nano tech.” Grace beamed at her, and Dana’s heart fluttered.

“Will you buy me a beer too?”

“Come on.” She took the larger, calloused hand of her emotionally fumbling friend and led her to the table.

This was going better than she had ever imagined it could, she thought, letting the young doctor guide her. She decided to test her momentum. Dana leaned in to her friend’s ear. “Can I punch your brother if he pisses me off?”

“We’ll see,” she replied, smiling softly with her eyes and lips.

“Hey, it’s tall, dark, and–”

“–Joy!” Grace snapped. “Behave.”

Joy giggled and grabbed an empty chair from a neighboring table, setting it next to the end for her husband for when he finally returned.

Eventually he did, with four yards of ale. When his lovely wife asked him to wade back into the crowd for another he did so with only a roll of his eyes.

“God, he’s pussy-whipped,” Dick said in disgust.

“He’s in love,” Grace told her brother. “You should try it sometime.”

“Love’s bullshit. It’s a convention of royalty, developed to give aristocratic women a goal in their otherwise meaningless existence.”

“Oh, God.” Joy rolled her eyes.

“Roll your eyes all you want, but the whole courtly love thing of soulmates and forever is a big sham thought up by poets and minstrels to seduce women while their lords and knights were away at war.”

“Dick.”

“Yes, Chipmunk.”

“Shut the fuck up.”

The twins challenged each oher for a few seconds, then Dick looked away. “What about you, Nada Papasfritas, what do you think?”

“You’re asking the wrong person.”

“Come on, no prison romances? Ya never snuck a little nooky in a dark corner of the shower room?”

“Shut up, Dick!” Grace snapped.

Dana resisted the urge to kick the chair he was teetering backwards on backwards. “No,” she replied evenly.

“You’re telling me that you went eleven years with no deep-tonguing. Yeah, right.”

“You’re really a pig, Dick,” Joy commented angrily.

“I’m only asking the questions everyone else wants to know but is afraid to say aloud.” He turned to Dana, expecting an answer.

Dana had tensed when she realized Grace had told him about her imprisonment. She knew that Mark’s question about her tattoo had led to more questions among the adults, but she had not been expecting the direct confrontation. He was right; most people were afraid to ask her, and for good reason. The fury was building in her, and he was becoming a target. Then she felt a hand brush her left knee. Grace glared at her brother.

“What?!”

“Shut up, and I mean it!” Grace growled.

Noah came back with his yard of ale and sat next to his wife, draping his free arm around her shoulders. Grace’s hand had begun a gentle stroking of Dana’s thigh for support. Now she knew why Dana had not wanted to come that evening. She did not like Dick too much herself at that moment.

“It’s awfully quiet at this table,” Noah commented. “Did I miss something?”

“I was asking Dana about love, penitentiary-style.”

“Oh.” He looked to his wife and they shared a knowing look that communicated that Dick was living up to his namesake.

“She’s refusing to answer.”

“Good for her,” the schoolteacher replied. “Maybe we should change the subject.”

“To what, Noah? Maybe you want to tell us about the Bible.”

“Only if everyone else does.”

“How about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah?” Dick directed his evil look at Grace.

Noah straightened his glasses.

“Never talk about religion in a bar, Dick,” Joy said.

“Oh, Christ, I can’t decide what I like more when I go to dinner at your house–the Bible-thumping or the plastic dinosaur that gets wedged up my ass every tme I sit down.” He lifted the long yard to his lips and began to spin and drink until it was empty.

Grace leaned in to her friend’s ear. “I’m sorry.”

He put his empty yard down on the table and wiped his mouth with his hand.

“What the hell is wrong with you, Dick?” Grace asked the man whom she no longer recognized. He had changed over the ten years they had been separated when she left for undergraduate school at Yale and he went to the University of Kentucky.

Dick belched. “Let’s talk about religion.”

“Let’s not,” Grace interjected.

“No, no, and let’s start with, oh, let’s see…Nada. Nada, are you Christian?”

“I think we’re going to leave,” Grace said, beginning to stand.

Here was Dana’s chance. Dick had made a big mistake when he had decided to take Dana on in the theology/philosophy department. You don’t hang out with the prison priest for a year without learning a thing or two. “I’m a Basic Transcendentalist.”

“What’s that?” Joy asked.

“Do you know what that is, Dick-uh?” Dana asked.

“Yes.”

Dana turned to Joy. “I believe that we are all part of this collective spirit that binds all living things together. This spirit flows through us, and when you shut it out and don’t allow it to flow through you, then you lose the truth and focus, and you become mean and hateful and do bad things.” She looked directly at Dick. “And you make it hard for anyone to love you. But if you have clarity of heart and mind, your actions will only follow, and that allows us to perform miracles of thought and body. Of course, this spirit ebbs and flows through everything, and it is very easy to lose that clarity and shut off the spirit or distort it.”

“Sounds like electricity,” Noah said.

“Sounds like bullshit.”

“I think it’s energy. The driving force of life is based on the electron.”

Joy smiled. “This spirit could be God.”

“Well, sure, Christianity is transcendentalism with the energy personified, although nowadays the personification of God has been thrown by the wayside by many cultures.”

Dick laughed. “Is this your idea?”

“No, I read about it in seventh grade. Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Don’t they teach them to English majors down here?”

Grace smiled.

“A transcendentalist believes that moral guidelines exist outside of the mind, as opposed to contrivances of the mind. I think Christ lived exactly the type of life that epitomizes letting the spirit flow and enhancing human existence.”

“Gee, Chipmunk, and I thought you might have found yourself a fellow atheist,” Dick burbled.

Grace looked at her friend and explained, “I’m in that contrivance group.”

“Been an atheist since the Big Wave,” Joy explained. “She wrote an essay about it that got her into Yale.”

“I’m an empiricist, not an atheist,” Grace clarified. “I believe that the reason societies have morals is due to genetic moral propensity passed down generationally based on the pressures of survival. Those people with moral conscience tended to create larger communities where the payoffs were money, status, sex, comfort, health, and food. Basically longevity.”

She sighed, having explained this a million times, it seemed. “All animals live through cycles guided by elaborate instinctual algorithms. Why should we be any different? We need leaders, just like a pack of dogs or nonhuman primates. But humans are emotional, symbol-forming creatures and are not satisfied with raw pack life. They strive to build communities and cultures that are completely rewarding. Luckily, moral sentiment is carried on an identifiable gene on the seventh chromosome. Religion is a derivative of that particular gene and is passed on genetically. Morals are our leaders, providing something to guide the development of human society. We create religion to justify these genetically-instilled ideas of morality. Religion also helps us deal with grief, explain the inexplicable, and commune with the rest of what exists. A similar gene on chromosome three carries one’s tendency toward altruism and has survived throughout human evolution for the same reasons. When people with the genetic propensity to sacrifice themselves for the greater good do so, their genes are more likely to live on in their offspring because of their sacrifice. The loss of the one is offset by the survival of the group.

“So you see, what guides–and has guided–our creation and survival is not some transcendental energy or spiritualism, it is biology.”

A moment of silence.

“I like Dana’s view a lot better,” Joy said.

“Yeah, Gracie, you need to let that energy flow through you,” Noah said.

“Dick, you’re simply a lost cause,” Joy added.

He growled. “So, Nada, I take it you haven’t always practiced what you preach.”

“That’s true.”

“What did you do to land in prison?”

The moment had arrived.

“I killed a man.”

Dick began to laugh uncontrollably. “My God, Chipmunk, Mom’s gonna shit a cinderblock when she gets a hold that you’re shacking up with a freakin’ murderer.”

Dana’s leg began to tremble. Grace slipped her hand to the shaking leg, and it was the only thing restraining Dana from lunging across the table and breaking his windpipe. “I have to go to the ladies’ room,” she finally said through gritted teeth. She stood and quickly left the table so disoriented from opening herself up to Dick’s potshots, she was surprised she had not knocked anyone down on the way. But instead of going to the restroom, she slipped outside, away from people.

Grace looked at her sister.

“Go!” her older sister mouthed.

“Damn,” Dick said, still laughing. “That Dana sure knows how to take the fun out of dysfunctional.”
Part Three – When a body is acted upon by any number of coplanar forces, the forces can always be reduced to two.

Grace panicked when she did not find Dana in the bathroom. She pushed her way through the crowd to the doorway and broke out onto the sidewalk. She saw Dana across the street, a silhouette against the dark sky. She was tall and imposing, even from a distance, standing on the concrete flood wall overlooking the dark Ohio River below.

“I thought you had to take a leak.” Grace approached cautiously from behind.

Dana was lost in her anger, memories of violence so raw and ugly she cringed at them. She had left because she was not sure she could control her rage. If she could have seen her own face, she would not have recognized the deep-violet eyes or the hard expression used to hide the turbulent emotions. Every muscle was tensed and poised for confrontation.

“I hate your brother.”

“That’s okay, as long as you don’t hate me for emotionally bullying you into enduring that fiasco.”

Dana turned, and her face softened. “I could never hate you, Grace.”

Grace strained to look up at the towering woman. Slowly she reached up and ran feather-light touches up Dana’s shins, until she had her fingers wrapped around her knees.

“Come down from there,” she beckoned, gently pulling her forward.

Dana set her large hands on the shoulders below her and eased herself down, brushing the sturdy body as she moved. Grace wrapped her small arms around her protectively and rested her face in her chest. Eventually the tension left Dana’s body and she relaxed into the embrace, resting her own face in the golden hair. They stayed like that a long time.

“I wanted to kill Dick.”

Grace stiffened, then relaxed. “But you didn’t.”

“Too many witnesses.”

“Dana!”

Dana smiled wickedly into the hair. “Maybe just hurt him, then.” Her ass received a slap. Dana hugged her more tightly.

Grace looked up at her friend lovingly. They stood holding each other by the bed in Grace’s room. “Ready for bed, or do you want to talk?”

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to hold you, Dana,” she stated plainly.

“You can do that with either option.”

So they held each other and talked for a few hours, and then slept. Old Doc Wilson’s snoring on the other side of the wall was loud enough to vibrate the books off the shelves in Grace’s room and was a constant presence keeping Dana off Grace.

Grace awoke with her arm around the larger woman’s waist and her head resting in the crook of a meaty shoulder. Dana awoke to the gentle stroking of her hair as Grace fingered a loose strand from her eyes. Dana rolled herself onto her side so that she could see her friend’s face. I could wake up to that every morning, she thought to herself. Her young blonde friend’s eyes were slightly puffy but beautiful in the most natural of ways. Grace couldn’t help smiling as she ran her fingertips lightly along Dana’s jaw. Dana let her hand run down the smaller woman’s side, over the faded denim of her Levi’s, until it cupped a round, firm buttock. You can do this, she told herself as Grace moved her body over Dana’s, forcing her onto her back. She slid a thigh between Dana’s legs. The smaller woman arched herself so that she could monitor the reactions of her touches on her soon-to-be lover’s face.

“I’m not going to throw up,” Dana promised softly. She had begun to feel a distancing from those memories. Her hands slid under the back of the doctor’s shirt, and her fingers rode up the deep valley of Grace’s spine until they rested between her shoulder blades. Gently, she pulled the trim body down against her own chest.

Grace lowered her lips to the full ones below hers, her mouth beginning to water at the first brush of softness. She pressed into the lips, sliding and sucking lightly. She felt the hands on her relax and contract, a slight urgency mixed with tenderness. She drifted up for a moment and watched a smile creeping across the lips she had possessed. Satisfied, she was lowering herself to explore more when a knock came at the door. She rolled off the bed to the floor in the blink of an eye and was standing facing the window when her mother walked into the room.

“Grace Louise,” she whispered across Dana, who was feigning sleep. “I want to talk to you–right now.” And she left the room.

“Shit!” Grace mumbled.

Dana sat up and yawned. “Better go see what kind of trouble you’re in now, Chipmunk.”

Chipmunk looked like a naughty pre-teen reluctantly following her mother.

Dana stretched out on the bed, arms and legs sprawled to all four corners. Lazy and relaxed, she felt content. Then Grace stomped back into the room and slammed her door, startling her lazy roommate.

Dana rolled onto her side to watch the rabid Chipmunk pull out her suitcase and toss clothes and shoes into it. She sat up.

“Grace?” she implored.

Fiery eyes flashed to her face and then back to the job of packing. Dana gulped with nervousness. Had Faith freaked when Dick told her about Dana’s crime? She folded and unfolded her fingers several times, fidgeting with the hem of her shirt while she watched.

Finally, Grace sighed in defeat and dropped down on the bed next to Dana. Gingerly, Dana wrapped her arm around the drooping shoulders, and Grace leaned to rest her head against her.

“Are you going to tell me what happened?”

“Double standard.” She patted Dana on the knee. “Get your stuff. We’re hitting the road.” She stood abruptly and emptied her underwear into her bag.

Dana thought it peculiar that both old Doc Wilson and Faith Wilson were nowhere to be found. When they loaded their belongings into the Jeep, she noticed that the Lincoln was gone. Dana whistled for Rip, who came bounding around the corner of the house. She looked eager to take a ride.

“Tired of chasing squirrels already?” Dana asked the smiling dog. She placed Grace’s bag in the small back compartment and zipped the cover closed.

“I have to make one phone call and grab some munchies,” Grace explained to her tall friend as she jogged back into the house. Rip was taking one last sniff around the large magnolia tree in the front yard. Dana was waiting, trying not to worry about Grace’s sudden evacuation drill. She fidgeted with a pocket knife while she leaned against the fender of the Jeep. She’ll tell me when she’s ready, she told herself. Be patient.

Grace returned with a paper sack of food, which she placed on the back seat. “Let’s go, Rip!” she hollered, holding the seat forward for the dog. “You too, beautiful,” she told Dana.

“Not until you tell me what’s going on,” Dana stated. So much for being patient.

Sun shimmered across the golden head as she approached the powerful brunette. She straddled the long legs and slid her arms under the black leather bomber, the smell making her nostrils flare and her head spin. Hooking her thumbs into the back loop of Dana’s jeans, she pulled her body against the warm body of her companion.

“Are you trying to be tough with me, Doc?”

“Only if I have to be.”

“My mom’s being unreasonable.”

“About us?”

“Us. You, me, the bedroom, together.”

“Ahhh, you mean this kind of thing.” Dana grabbed Grace’s hips and spun her against the fender, reversing their positions. She bent down to possess the plump lips with a harsh and passionate kiss. Pulling Grace up on her tiptoes, she ground her hips into the blonde. Urgently, her tongue pressed for entrance into the hot mouth, and Grace welcomed her with a throaty growl as the hot muscle entered and reached for the roof of her mouth. Their tongues played a game of tag while their hands groped and kneaded. They broke apart only long enough to breathe in the dry November air. The dark head dipped again to reclaim her lover’s mouth. Pulling Grace’s right thigh around her, Dana pressed herself harder into her lover.

“We have to stop,” Grace gasped as she turned her head away from the kiss, lips landing on her ear. Her groin burst into flames.

But Dana did not want to stop. She met Grace’s neck with nipping bites and felt Grace’s hips thrust back.

“I don’t want to stop,” Doc groaned desperately, filled with a desire she had never before experienced in all her years.

Grace shivered and tingled with each bite. But it had to stop before it got any more out of hand and old Mrs. Lee next door got more than an eyeful. With her hands on the front of taut abdominal muscles, she moved her lover slowly back. “Get in the car, Doc.”

“I take it we’re heading somewhere specific,” Doc groused while they gained entrance to I-65.

“Have you ever been to Chicago?”

“If it isn’t on the East Coast, I haven’t been there.”

“You’ll love it. They have great food and….” Lips found her neck. “And hotels with big bathtubs and….” She sighed.

The lips stopped. “I think you have a food obsession, Grace.”

Grace laughed.

“And it’s getting worse lately.”

“That’s because I haven’t been laid in over four weeks.”

Dana peered at her over her new Ray-Bans, then took off her leather jacket. It was getting warm in the little car.

“And with the rules my mom set down this morning, I wasn’t going to get any in that house anytime soon. My mom told me that she didn’t mind that I brought you, but if I,” she slipped into a gentle Southern drawl, “intended on carrying on under her roof, I would have to leave. Which really pissed me off because when Joy and Noah were first married, they lived with my folks and were humping like two roaches in a dirty drainpipe.”

“I can’t thank you enough for that image, Grace.” That quenched the fire that had been smoldering in her belly.

“Which? Joy and Noah going at it, or the roaches?”

“I like your sister.”

“Me too, but I don’t want to think about her riding Noah.”

“How far until Chicago?”

“Eight hours.”

Dana moaned. “Please, let’s not talk about sex or food until we’re within ten minutes of the city.”

“Wow! Is this what New York used to be like before the Big Wave?” Dana gawked in wonder as the highway cut through the towering buildings of the city.

“Take this exit.” Grace pointed for Dana, who had commandeered the driver’s seat after much whining. “Why don’t I drive so you can stare without driving us into a semi, huh?”

Dana leered at her, Grace catching a bit of blue iris from the side. She pulled the Jeep to the curb, then climbed out. Walking around the front, she met Grace and bumped her shoulder as a jesting challenge. Grace chuckled as she climbed behind the wheel.

“We’ll just see how tough you are, Doc,” she threatened as she peeled out into traffic.

Grace had chosen the Palmer House to stay in because of its elegance and its location in downtown Chicago. She did not want her seduction of Dana to occur in an ordinary place, because nothing about their situation was ordinary.

Dana strolled through the lobby, craning her head in awe at the architecture and extravagance. She wandered from one corner to the next while Grace checked in at the desk. She had made a phone call while she was raiding her mother’s pantry, securing them a room. It had been a stroke of luck, or destiny perhaps, that she and her mother had had a falling out the night after the Hot Pepper Growers of America Conference had convened, and a day before the Peptic Medicine Convention opened.

“And here’s your key, Dr. Wilson,” the desk clerk added cordially. She rang a bell for the baggage man to take their belongings to their room. Dana looked up from a brochure on Chicago when she heard the ding. Grace remarked to herself how incongruous those spectacles looked on such a virile, statuesque woman; yet, they signified a hidden intellect. Dana slipped the brochure and the glasses into the coat pocket of her leather jacket and hastened over to the bellman to take her computer case away from him.

They followed him into the elevator, Grace sliding behind Dana while the bellman was occupied with pressing the floor button. Standing in back of her, Grace let her eyes roam over the lanky legs of her prey. She memorized the way the faded jeans hugged the round muscles of her rear, contoured to the muscled thighs, loosened at the knees, and grabbed the calves again. Her eyes wandered back up to the bulky leather jacket and the long, dark hair cascading down. Dana turned around, a smile broadening as she shook her head from side to side in amusement. At least the drive had been too long for Grace as well.

They were led to their room and then given a tour around the suite. Bob the Bellman opened the closet doors for them and then the drapes, and turned down the bed covers in the bedroom without batting an eyelash. He pointed out the bathroom, the entertainment facility, and the phone-link system, and…Grace handed him a twenty-dollar bill and closed the door behind him.

“Like I care what channel we can…oomph.” Dana’s lips had smashed against hers, stopping all conversation as well as any thoughts about television. She found herself pressed against the heavy oak door, a tongue desperately insisting upon entering her mouth. She allowed entrance and it slipped in hot and quick. An involuntary groan rumbled in her chest, and she draped her arms around Doc’s neck. She caught the tongue between her teeth and sucked hard, drawing a throaty groan from her lover.

Long, dexterous fingers traced the plump, firm breasts through the rag sweater. Finding that unsatisfactory, the hands slid under the hem of the obtrusive clothing and inched up the taut torso over ribs and muscles until they cupped the rounded breast. She rubbed the nipples insistently with her palms. Grace gasped as index fingers came down to thumbs and pinched and tugged her nipples.

Dana did not want to give up the warm mouth she was exploring, but she consoled herself with the fact that she could always return after tasting all of the other places she had craved for weeks–her whole lifetime, for that matter. Grace took the opportunity to breathe, heady from the scent of leather and the assailment of her body. Dana began to suck her way down the tasty neck, marveling at the throbbing of the woman’s pulse against her tongue and the vibrations as Grace moaned. When Doc reached the collar of the sweater, she pulled back, grabbed the hem of the obstacle with both hands, yanked it over the doctor’s head, and tossed it to the floor. Stepping back to admire the uncovered flesh, she froze.

“What?” Grace whispered timidly.

“I feel kind of lightheaded.” She swallowed, nervously glancing up from the naked body to the green eyes gazing at her.

“Oh, shit, Dana, please don’t get sick now,” she pleaded.

Dana smiled. “Not that kind of lightheaded. You’re just so beautiful. I’m afraid that once I start, I won’t be able to stop if you want me to.”

Grace took a dangerous, idle hand into hers and brought it to her mouth. “Good.” She nibbled at the palm. Dana closed her eyes at the sensation. “I need you to touch me,” Grace mumbled asher nibbles alternated with soft sucking. She pressed the moist palm against her own breast and slowly moved it in small circles. “And I have no intention of stopping you.”

Dana’s lips opened as her breathing became as ragged as Grace’s. The blonde took hold of Dana’s

free hand and led it across her belly to the buttons of her jeans. Neither woman could take her eyes off the other. Dana licked her lips unconsciously as two fingers slid between the smooth skin and the rough fabric at her waist. Slowly her eyes left Grace’s, and she dropped to her knees, her mouth level with the most perfect belly button she had ever seen. Her tongue darted into it, causing a shudder and moan from its owner.

Grace sighed as Dana drew her other hand down to the edge of her jeans. Slowly Dana unhooked each button of the button fly until the pants were opened and pink silk underpants were visible. Dana knew she had to add Levi’s 501s to the list of great American contributions, especially when being removed from such a gorgeous body. She became dizzy from the scent of her aroused lover, and she was determined not to throw away this chance. She ravenously yanked the jeans and panties to Grace’s ankles and buried her face in the moist red curls in front of her. Grace yelped as teeth raked down the coarse hair, and then a tongue found the crease and dampness. They both moaned as the hot tongue slid over the most sensitive spot of Grace’s being.

Grace used her heels to pull off her shoes, then her freed toes to shrug off her jeans. Once unhindered, she opened her legs enough so that Dana could duck her shoulder under a thigh, causing Grace to fall back against the door. And from that point Dana let her fantasies of the previous weeks control her actions. Grace tried to hold back but could not fight the insistent touches, and she trembled with pleasure. Her body gently shook the door with each movement, and she glistened with perspiration that desperately tried to cool her overheated flesh.

Dana stroked her inner thighs with the same rhythm as her tongue. As she was driven closer to ecstasy, Grace’s grunts became long, deep moans, and her eyes glassed over in passion. Desperate hands clung to dark hair, and then, able to take no more, every muscle in her body clenched and she screamed Dana’s name.

But Dana did not stop. It had been too long a wait, and Grace had succumbed much too quickly. But most of all, Dana wanted to hear her name again, in that same desperate tone. Her reward came again with too little effort, and she continued until Grace begged her to stop.

Exhausted, Grace slipped her leg from her lover’s shoulder and slid down, wrapping her arms around the leather-covered shoulder.

“Jiminy Cricket, Dana, where did that come from?”

“I’ve been reading. I guess I found the right resource.” She smiled into the languid face of her spent partner.

“What are you reading?”

“Stuff I find on the Net.”

“Remind me to renew your internet account for Christmas.”

Dana placed a lingering kiss on the damp forehead. They rested against each other for a few cycles of heartbeats. Dana’s white T-shirt was soaked with sweat, and her jeans clung to her thighs.

“I didn’t know you had a tattoo.” Dana fingered a small green-and-yellow caduceus low on the doctor’s right buttock. She leaned to read the banner. “‘Yale Med-2013.’ Seems you have some numbers of your own.”

“I was really drunk on grad night.”

“Gee, that’s my excuse too. Say, if I get you drunk enough, will you have my name tattooed on your–”

“–Shut up!” she said, playfully swatting a shoulder.

“Maybe just my initials.” Another swat. Dana hugged her closer, and Grace laid her head on the leather.

“Grace, I’m boiling,” the con muttered to closed eyes.

Grace lifted herself off the shoulder and smiled. She pushed the bomber off her, a sexy smile playing across her lips. It was her turn now, finally. The soaked white T-shirt conformed to well-developed shoulder muscles, and round breasts, and shadows of red nipples. She leaned in and gently took Dana’s mouth, tasting her own salty-sweet juices as well as the wonderful taste of her lover’s mouth. She pulled off the T-shirt and then took the strong hands to pull the tall brunette to her feet. Turning away, she led her lover to the bedroom, and the plump mattress.

Dropping the warm, calloused hands, she crawled to the middle of the bed, letting Dana admire her from a different angle before facing her and sitting, her small feet dangling over the edge of the bed.

“Take your pants off, Doc,” she commanded softly.

Dana could not understand why she still felt shy, especially after she had had her nose buried in this woman’s most intimate of places, yet she did.

“Don’t be afraid. You know I would never hurt you.”

Nervously Dana nodded and began to unzip her pants. She pushed them to the floor and stepped out.

“Those too,” the doctor said, nodding at the gray bikini underwear.

“I was kind of hoping you would tear ’em off with your teeth,” Dana said with a wry smirk, taking Grace by surprise.

Grace clicked her teeth at her and squinted devilishly. “Something you read about?”

Dana blushed.

“Come here,” the young doctor whispered, curling a seductive finger.

Dana followed her cue, crawling up the naked body stretched out below her and planting a row of kisses from the bottom of a pedicured foot, to the shin, to the inside of the knee, plowing the inner thigh.

“Oh, no, you don’t.” Hands grasped the side of her head and led her up quickly until they were face-to-face. Dana kissed her lightly, sucking in a lip, then releasing it. A whisper and a nudge, “Keep going.” Long legs straddled the body under hers, and Grace’s hands slipped from hips to the muscled backside, fingernails slowly grazing the tight hamstrings of long thighs. Nipping as skin and body marks passed her mouth, she pressed onward until the top edge of Dana’s Hane’s were at her lips.

“Oh, right there,” she said, her lips tracing a gray scar low on Dana’s abdomen. Turning slightly, she found another longer, deeper scar and several healed puncture wounds. Her hand glided across the large shark bite on the front of the leg. Then her teeth caught the thin edge of the damp panties and tugged downward. One of her hands grabbed and caught a breast above her head, and another slid along the right abductor to rest on the hot, sensitive point between Dana’s legs. Gently the blonde began to stroke her through the cotton. Dana’s arms were shaking as Grace’s teeth worked to pull the clothing lower. Dana moaned when a hand found bare, slick skin. Grace’s hand dropped from the breast to her lover’s backside and removed the obtrusive garment, flinging it across the room. She pulled her lover onto her face and began her gentle, but long and thorough exploration, until Dana finally let go with a gasp. Grace released the sensitive flesh and held her exhausted lover, waiting for the heartbeat against her ear to slow.

“I love you, Grace,” Dana mumbled, a crooked smile creeping to her lips.

Grace rolled onto her side to face her recuperating lover and grinned broadly. “Good, because I hate unrequited relationships.” She leaned over and kissed the full lips. Dana’s hand caught her head before she moved off, allowing her to deepen the kiss and renewing desire in both women.

“Anybody ever tell you what a pistol you are?” Dana asked, braking for oxygen.

“No, but you wanna pull the trigger a few more times?”

Grace awoke with the fingers of Dana’s tattooed hand laced with hers, the dark head resting low on her belly where exhaustion had finally overtaken her lover. She was hungry for pancakes, the mini-bar having barely sustained the prolonged physical exertions. She looked down and discovered a long arm still wrapped under her thigh and a shoulder gently wedged in between her legs. A tingle of desire began as she shifted to look for a clock. Sun was streaming through the open blinds they had never closed.

“Owwww.” Doc groaned at the movement. “Don’t move, please don’t move.” A desperate plea. “I can’t move my head. I think I sprained my neck.”

Grace began to laugh.

Dana took hold of her head with both hands and rolled off the flat belly onto her back.

“You’re just out of shape, that’s all.”

Dana groaned.

Grace laughed even harder. “That’s what you get for taking the expert trail when you should be on the bunny slope.” She slid down so that her thighs were on either side of Dana’s head. Strong, nimble fingers began to knead the spazzing muscles.

“Sometimes you have to push past your perceived limitations.” Blue eyes curled into a smile. Golden hair tickled her face as upside-down green eyes laughed back.

“Was it worth the pain?”

“Yep, but I think I’ll have to approach our lovemaking from a different angle for a day or two. But don’t worry, I’ll be creative.”

“I’m afraid we’re going to be in the car for a while.”

Dana groaned. “Where to now?”

“Home. After breakfast and a little sightseeing.” She smacked her lips. “Dana?”

“Hmmm.” She kept her eyes closed, enjoying the massage.

“Have you ever thought of having that tattoo removed? I mean, it seems to bring on a lot of questions and maybe some of your problems.”

Gingerly Dana lifted herself to a sitting position. That was not a question she had expected at the moment. “Does it bother you?”

“A little. Not the tattoo so much as having to explain it, or….”

“Or the stares it draws?”

“It’s not like you have to keep it. Lasers will take it off.”

“Why do you have your little yellow-and-green snakes, Grace?”

“To mark my accomplishment.”

Dana nodded.

“But mine was positive. I want to be reminded of it.”

“So do I.”

“I don’t understand that. It would be so much easier if–”

“–No.”

“Dana….”

“I said no!” She climbed to her feet and began to hunt down her clothes. She should have known that Grace would get around to this. She would never fit into the doctor’s life unless she hid who she was, but sooner or later she would become an embarrassment.

“What’s the matter?” Grace stood up and whispered a kiss to the scarred shoulder.

“I can’t pretend to be something I’m not.” Grace pulled the dark hair off the long neck and, standing on tiptoe, kissed the exposed earlobe. She took the flesh in her teeth and began to suck softly. The moist heat from her breath made Dana shudder. Smooth hands slid down her muscular arms, then up again to her sore neck. “You’re so tense.”

“I should take Rip for a walk,” she said, moving away and leaving Grace empty-handed. She whistled for Rip and left the room without a second glance at the bed.

After a moment of bewilderment, the woman who always came away with what she wanted set out to reclaim the person she had held only minutes before. Grace gathered up her clothes from the floor of the suite and followed her heart out the door.

She spotted her lover and Rip across the street, heading for a small park. Setting out at a trot, she crossed the street, catching them at the edge of the grass. Don’t be too rough, Grace; she’s emotionally inexperienced and overreacting.

“Anything in those stories you read describe how to say goodbye to the person you just had an incredible sixteen hours of sex with?”

Dana turned to her, the look in her eyes so sad it stole Grace’s ability to breathe.

“No,” she mumbled, her eyes returning to the dog. She whistled for Rip when she wandered too close to a group of playing children. The dog came bounding. “Good girl,” Dana said with a pat.

“Do you want to talk about what has upset you?”

“No.”

“God, you’re like Jekyll and Hyde!” she yelled in frustration. “One minute you’re telling me you love me, the next it’s like you can’t stand the sight of me.” She threw up her hands at the emotionless look she received. “Or you didn’t mean it. You were using me.”

Dana looked away at the wandering dog. “I meant what I said.”

“Past tense? Dana, I don’t think you even understand how to love someone,” she added sharply and abruptly walked back to the hotel.

“You’re probably right,” Dana whispered to the retreating figure.

She was washing her hair in the shower when she heard the jingle of Rip’s tags and the door close. Rip came into the bathroom for a drink from the toilet. Then she heard the door close again.

Although she knew what she would find–or would not find–when she came out of the bathroom, she still could not believe it. Both Dana’s duffel bag and computer case were gone. Finally the tears broke from her eyes and flooded her face. Rip heard the weeping and tried to comfort her by placing her wet chin on the crying woman’s knee. Absently, Grace stroked the silky black head and sobbed. “Stupid nano tech,” she mumbled as she packed her belongings and checked out of the hotel. It was going to be a long ride home.

 

 

The End
Continued in Nano #3: The Carnot Cycle

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