The Deal by M. Ryan (part 2)

Part 6

Runaway

As Laura eased awake in the stillness of morning, she was conscious of a weight on her chest that didn’t move even as she shrugged to dislodge it. Grimacing in irritation, she peeled opened her eyes only to look into narrowed green pools of curiosity that didn’t blink at her cool regard. Then the cat licked her chin.

Startled, Laura scrambled to sit up and the cat leapt away lightly. With a jerk, she remembered where she was and turned to look at the woman sharing the bed with her. Chris was awake and lying on her side, head propped up on a hand and regarding her with what could only be described as a smirk. “You snore.” Chris teased.

Laura ran her tongue across her teeth, trying to think of an appropriatly witty response and drew a total blank, so she opted for the safe standby, “How do you feel?”

Chris squinted a bit, taking stock. “Well, my mouth feels like I’ve been licking the carpet, but other than that, not too bad.” She sat up and stretched, the front of the silk blouse parting to show a significant amount of bare skin and curves, then she dropped her arms. “So we slept together.”

“Yeah.” Laura pulled her legs up to rest her chin on her knees, leaning her back against the spindles on the head of the bed. “D’you have a spare toothbrush?”

“Probably.” The cat reappeared to push its head under Chris’ hand, purring at the attention of his owner. “Hey Biggio, you were a good cat this morning…You let me sleep.”

“You named your cat after the guy who leads all active players in being hit by pitches?”

“Best second baseman in the league,” she replied absently. “Why’d you stay?”

Laura twitched uncomfortably, “I thought we’d…you were…” she trailed off.

“Ah…The spirit was willing but the flesh was snot-slinging drunk.”

“What happened to ‘I’d never get snockered in front of my boss?’”

“I didn’t. You came looking for me, remember?” Chris’ eyes clouded in memory, “I’m sorry, the story got to me, I was angry and I blamed you. Then Lisa and Trey ratted on me.”

“Lisa didn’t want you to get in trouble.” Laura rubbed her chin on her knees. “Do you make a habit of that sort of thing when you get pissed?”

Chris scooted around to sit next to Laura, her back against the headboard. “I wasn’t pissed as much as my pride was hurt. You didn’t support me.”

“I couldn’t.” The simple answer stood between them like a wall. “Which makes things really, really difficult.” Laura took a breath as she tried to sort through what she wanted to say, then abruptly gave up. “This isn’t gonna work.” She threw her legs off the bed and stood up, moving to leave, but Chris anticipated her flight and intercepted Laura at the door.

“No you don’t. I said my pride was hurt because you didn’t back me up, I didn’t say you were wrong.” She pushed the door shut, effectively blocking the only means of escape. “What are you afraid of?”

“Nothing…Everything…This.” Blue eyes were dark with confusion.

“Which is it?”

Laura shook her head and went back to the bed. Sitting down on the edge she cracked her knuckles, first on hand and then the other, the noise stark and loud in the quiet. “Just a hunch, but I’m fairly certain that you haven’t spent the night with too many thirty year old virgins.”

Chris frowned and nodded, “That’s…pretty accurate.” She paused. “How does one get to be thirty without…”

“Having sex?” Laura drew a breath through her teeth. “I’d say that the opportunity never presented itself, or that nobody asked, but that’d be a lie.” She looked away. “I just didn’t have time, then I didn’t want to.” She blew out an impatient breath, “It wasn’t important, I never really socialized and the guys I knew were jerks. The next thing I know I’m thirty and in a drainage ditch, kissing one of my anchors.”

“That’s a pretty simplified answer.”

She looked up, slightly annoyed, “What were you expecting? There was no tragedy, no near rape, no abuse…I was…am… a machine…I played golf, I went to school, I worked my ass off and I was comfortable with it. Now everything’s changed and I’m not handling it terribly well.”

“What’s the problem? You kept your professional head yesterday. I didn’t. You’ll still be able to run the newsroom the way you always have, ‘cause it’s not in your nature to do anything half-assed.”

Laura laughed a little at that, fidgeted for a second, then asked a question out of the blue. “Does your family know about your…lifestyle?”

Chris sat down next to Laura on the bed, hands clasped between bare knees. “Ah, I guess turn about is fair play.” She grimaced a bit, “Mom knows…she told me not to tell my dad, but I think he knows. My sister guessed, and my brothers…well, they’re my brothers…they’re kinda dense and I don’t think it would ever occur to them.”

“How’d your mother take it?”

“She was disappointed…no grandchildren.” She lifted her chin, Go ahead and ask…It matters. “When we did the contract, would it have made a difference if you’d known?”

Laura was quiet for a moment. “It’s a risk Chris, I won’t lie to you.” She rubbed her eyebrow the way she always did when she was thinking hard. “Every weatherman I had in Dallas was gay, but it wasn’t public knowledge. It’s different for a news anchor, especially in a conservative market like this one. I signed you…I would have tried to sign you regardless…but you can’t be openly gay.”

“Or you’ll pull me off the air.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes.”

“That’s pretty hypocritical given the relationship you’re fumbling around in.”

“We’re not talking about me, I’m not a public figure. It’s not fair, that’s just the way the business is.”

Chris nodded slowly in understanding, “So as long as I’m an anchor, I have no chance for an open and above board relationship?”

“I’m sorry. I would have told you if I’d known.” Regret colored Laura’s tone. “Remember that full disclosure clause in your contract?”

“Yeah?”

“Consider your supervisor notified.”

Chris shook her head emphatically, “No, nothing changes.” She turned and barely brushed her fingertips against the skin beneath Laura’s jaw. “There is no way I could’ve had an open relationship with you anyway…you’re my boss, and that presents all kinds of problems, but I’m willing to risk it. If this doesn’t come into the newsroom, and no one knows about us, are you comfortable with that?”

Laura could hardly breathe. “Comfortable is not the word that comes to mind right now.”

Chris gave a low chuckle. “Good, but I have to know…is this what you want…with me.”

“I wasn’t looking for this, and it’s a world of complications,” Laura looked into sea green eyes and she was lost. “But I want it,” she managed to get out in a whisper.

A smile lifted the corner of Chris’ mouth and with the lightest of pressure she pulled the dark head closer. “I won’t hurt you.”

Of course you will. Laura had time to register the thought before she was sucked into a shivering storm of sensation.

********************

She had to rush to make the eleven o’clock tee time, and had to forego a proper warm-up in the process. Jeremy was waiting at the bag drop, and had just crushed out his cigarette when Laura practically threw her clubs at him, her over-heightened emotions making her movements jerky and uncertain. “Bad night?” He asked.

“No, yes, not sure… Just got caught up in some…things.” The muscle in her jaw twitched and the caddy started to ask a question, then thought better of it. They made their way down to the first tee where the starter was waiting patiently with his clipboard, frowning a little in disapproval. Laura pulled on her glove and gave a quick half smile to the threesome that was already waiting with their carts. “Sorry, the time got away from me.” The starter gave them the go ahead and her playing partners gave her the courtesy of teeing off first, but things went downhill from there.

It took Laura ten holes to pull herself together, but by then it was too late. Even shooting eight under par on the back nine was not enough to help her break eighty…A horrific omen three days before the U.S. Open Qualifier. Shaking her head at the score card, she tucked it into her bag and looked at Jeremy, “I am not going home with that score. Can you do another round?”

“Sure. You wanna check at the shop? I’ll get us some water.”

Her glove was gummy with perspiration so she threw it into a trashcan on the way up the steps to the pro shop. Pushing open the door she was startled to see Peter behind the counter and Laura felt a little uncomfortable when their eyes met. “Hey Kaz, heard you stunk it up today.”

“That would be an understatement. D’you have room for me to go again?”

“You and I could go in ten minutes if that’s okay.”

Laura picked up a couple of gloves from a rack in the corner and put them on the counter to be added to her account. “Good for me, you gonna walk?”

“I’m playing with you, of course I’ll walk.” He passed her the ticket to sign, “What happened today? Mercer said you tore it up on the back, but you couldn’t buy a shot on the front.”

She rubbed her temple and mumbled, “Head wasn’t in it I guess.”

Peter looked closely at her, his eyes narrowing speculatively, “You’ve got three days to get your head in it, or you’re just a spectator in the crowd at the Open.”

***********************

Chris poured a handful of tokens on the ledge next to the coin slot in the batting cage. Forty dollars worth oughta do it. She fed one into the machine and stood back, tugged the bill of her helmet, and waited for the first pitch. With a thunk a bright orange ball was launched in her direction, and she swatted it easily with the aluminum bat.

“Your hands are gonna be mush.” Kate leaned on the fence, watching her friend swing away with an economy of motion she could only envy. She’d run into Chris at the gym and, concerned about the frantic pace of her workout, decided to follow her to the batting cages.

“I just want to hit something.” Again and again and again and again.

“Who is she? I haven’t seen you this bad since Erica.”

“This isn’t anything like Erica. I was just mad then.” Thunk…Tink! Chris sent one to the left side of the cage. “You don’t know her.” Which is true…in a way.

“So what happened.”

“Nothing.” Thunk…Tink!

“Nothing?”

“Well, mostly nothing.” Thunk…Tink!

After fifteen balls, the machine asked for another token and Chris turned to oblige, the physical activity doing nothing to put what happened earlier out of her mind. You said it was all up to her, stop or go…you gave up control, don’t bitch about it now.

***********************

She’d pulled Laura down on the bed, resolved to stay distanced enough so that she could stop at any time, knowing that the other woman wasn’t ready. But just like before there was no distance, no control, just a surge of raw emotion that washed away any sense of reason. This time there was no storm, no front porch, just the quiet of her bedroom and the intoxicating presence of innocence and smothering need all wrapped up in six feet of wiry muscle.

Hands and lips seemed to be everywhere at once, exposing flesh and covering it again. She remembered thinking that Laura was too thin; her ribs too prominent, before kissing her way lower, her finger tracing a blue vein under white skin.

And when Laura said stop, Chris nearly died.

She’d caught Chris’ wrists and twisted away, rolling off the bed and gathering the linen blouse to her chest. Her breathing was ragged as she ran her hands through wild dark hair and paced around the bed, willing herself not to tear open the door and run away. “Can’t…Sorry.” It was a supremely inadequate explanation.

Chris found strength from some source she’d never tapped before and pulled the remnants of her soul together before answering, “Okay, your call.” And she sent Laura away to her golf game or whatever, collapsed against the door and sobbed in frustration.

Is she worth it? Chris dropped the token in the slot, heard the hum of the machine as it started again, and moved back to the batter’s box. She felt the answer to her question from the center of her being, remembering a walk in the twilight and laughing blue eyes.

God yes, if it doesn’t kill me first.

***************************

The second round went better than the first, but Laura still forced herself to stay on the practice range till nearly eight o’clock, the swarms of mosquitoes finally sending her to the clubhouse. Under the spray of the shower in the deserted ladies locker room, she allowed herself to think about what had happened in Chris’ bedroom.

I panicked, it’s as simple as that. I am not a teenager overrun with hormones, I am a rational thinking adult, and I understand that there are consequences. It was like riding a roller coaster, she decided. When you go down that first big hill, you reach the point where you don’t think you can stand it anymore, then you’re snapped out of it when the car zooms up instead of continuing to fall. Except that when she reached that point with Chris…

I jumped, ran, fled, vamoosed, split, escaped…Disgusted with herself, Laura got out of the shower and dried off. Catching her reflection in the mirror, she snorted at her appearance. Arms were tanned, legs were tanned, but only to mid thigh, giving testament to a life spent in shorts and sleeveless polo shirts. A golfer’s tan. Gotta say it looks pretty silly. She finished dressing, donning another pair of khaki shorts and a tee shirt, before going to the Grill to grab a bite to eat.

It was after nine when Laura got back to the apartment and her answering machine blinked urgently as she tossed her keys down beside it. One call was from her realtor in Dallas about the pending sale of the house; another was from Keith asking if she was playing softball on Sunday. Nothing from Chris. Disappointed, she sat down on the couch and clicked on the TV. Too early to go to bed, she told herself.

That lasted about ten minutes, before Laura was bored out her mind. The problem with seeing a life outside the confines of the box she’d been living in was that it made her want what she hadn’t known she was missing. I could call her. She might not want to talk. Hell, she’s probably not even home. She picked up the cordless phone and started pacing. This is good…taking the initiative…acting like a teenager…Hoping that the phone’s gonna ring. Emotionally, you’re an infant. Laura punched in the number, deciding that she could just hang up if she wanted to…after she heard Chris’ voice of course.

It rang four times and the machine picked up. Laura listened to the message, smiling at the way Chris treated her answering machine as an opportunity to do a voice over. Talent…jeez. The beep caught her by surprise with no opportunity to rehearse. “Um, it’s Kaz. Just wondering what you were doing…” There was a crash and fumbling as the receiver was picked up.

“Hey. I was just thinking about you.”

“Kinder thoughts than the ones I left you with this morning I hope.”

Chris gave a low chuckle, “A good workout, a cold shower and I was fine.”

“Sorry, I…”

“Don’t apologize. How was your game?”

Laura grimaced as she turned out the lamp, preferring the anonymity of the dark, even over the phone. “There are not words to describe how awful my game was.”

Good, I’m not the only one who’s messed up here. “Can I take some credit for that?”

“Oh, I think you can.” Laura stretched out on the couch, one arm over her head, legs crossed. “What are you doing?”

“I’m in the tub.” Chris grinned wickedly, “Shaving my legs. Wanna come over?” She was pleased to hear a sharp intake of breath.

“Aahh, try not to electrocute yourself…”

“You know, this was in that movie The Truth About Cats and Dogs, They had this phone sex scene…”

Laura could feel her eyebrows reaching up to her hairline. “I saw that, but we’re not having phone sex, we’re having an adult conversation…”

“With some overtones.” Chris put the razor down on the edge of the tub. “You never did this in high school, did you? Just called up your best friend and talked for hours about nothing and everything.” There wasn’t an answer at the other end of the line, just silence, so Chris changed the subject. “When do you leave?”

“Um, Monday morning. I have a practice round in the afternoon. I’m supposed to meet my swing coach at eleven, his son’s caddying for me.”

“You have a swing coach? Just like Tiger Woods?” All of Chris’ research was paying off. Climbing out of the tub she put on a terry robe. “Why do you need help with your swing?”

“Well, Louis is really a lot more than that, he’ll watch me and point out any inconsistencies, stuff like that. He’s also a clubmaker, so he’ll want to make sure all my equipment is set up for my game.” Shifting to get more comfortable on the sofa, Laura decided that she liked talking to Chris in the dark over the phone, as if somehow escaping from those inquisitive eyes made things easier.

Chris smiled. Without the distraction of Laura’s physical presence, she could listen to just the voice and gather information that the other woman wouldn’t normally share. The fondness for Louis came through loud and clear. “How long have you known him?”

“All my life. He pretty much taught me how to play.”

“What about his son?”

“Charles? We grew up together; he’s a teaching pro at a country club in Dallas. He’s always been my caddy. I tried to reciprocate and caddy for him once in a Nike Tournament but we almost killed each other.”

“Hmm.” Chris could see that. Laura would not give up authority easily. “Did you…Aahh…Ever have a crush on him…or anything?”

The voice that came over the receiver was dry. “No, he was way too annoying. I guess he was more like a brother. Are you still in the tub?”

“No I’m in the kitchen, looking for something to eat.”

“Figures.”

“You don’t eat enough, Laura, you’ve lost weight since you’ve been here. Those Dockers you’re always wearing are really getting baggy.

“It’s Kaz, and I like baggy.”

“Uh huh.” Chris found a box of fudge bars in the freezer and unwrapped one. “Gonna play softball tommorrow?”

“I really have to practice.”

“S’okay, we’ll just have to beat The Chronicle without the benefit of your glowering presence.” Chris’ voice was light, but Laura could hear a little disappointment. “Why didn’t you just leave for Austin earlier?”

Laura rolled over on her side, tucking the phone in between her neck and shoulder. “This is a blackout month, Chris. Department heads aren’t supposed to be out of town during sweeps. Art’s already mad that I’m going to be gone for two days…I gotta admit it makes me nervous too, please be careful while I’m gone.”

“Sure, I’ll wait till you get back before I get into any trouble.”

They talked for hours, and Chris roamed through her house, lazily straightening things up and periodically snacking as they bantered back and forth. Getting information out of Laura was like pulling teeth, but the News Director was digging too this time, and Chris felt herself blush more than once. Weird, She thought, It must be the voice… The question when it came didn’t surprise her, but she wished she could see Laura’s eyes when she answered.

“I was a sophomore in college…and pretty sure about my…preferences. It was easier in High School just to go with the flow and I dated a lot of guys, but nothing ever happened.”

“Anyway I was starting on the softball team…boy, that’s a bit of a stereotype isn’t it? Angie would come to the games and watch. She was sort of a groupie I guess.” Chris was quiet for a minute, remembering that she’d filed the experience away in the part of her brain she reserved for cringe material. Laura’s low voice rumbled in her ear, interrupting. “What happened? I mean…besides that.”

“I was just a notch on her belt. Naïve enough to think I was different. It hurt for a bit, then I got over it.”

Laura pondered the information; the short answers a dead giveaway of Chris’ discomfort with the subject. “What about since then?”

Chris smiled at the other end, hearing an odd note in the other woman’s voice. Is she jealous? Good. “There’ve been a few,” she evaded, “Nobody for a while though.”

“Oh.”

Red digital numbers flashed the time and Chris finally noticed. “It’s three thirty! We’ve been talking for six hours.” She held the mouthpiece away and yawned. “If you’re playing early tomorrow, you’d better get some sleep.”

“Guess so.” Laura didn’t want to stop, but she didn’t want to cling either. “I probably won’t see you till I get back.”

Chris swallowed her disappointment, not wanting to press. “Okay, good luck.” Reluctant to hang up, she held the receiver until an insistent tone forced her to cradle it. Sighing, she turned over on her stomach clutched a pillow to her chest, and went through the conversation to find some sign that they were progressing.

*********************

It was hot and humid on Sunday, the blue sky stubbornly refusing to supply even a few wisps of clouds to block the sun. The softball game was late starting because the one before it went into extra innings. Chris played like a demon; as though exhausting herself would make a difference when it hadn’t the day before. On her third at bat, she walked to the plate wincing at the condition of her hands and berating herself for spending two hours in the batting cages, when her mouth suddenly went dry. How does she do that to me?

Laura was stretched out on the bleachers, leaning on her elbows, a bottle of water swinging from one hand. She smiled when their eyes met and Chris nearly tripped and fell. “Hey,” she choked out, “Thought you were practicing.”

“I’m between rounds, thought I’d watch for a little while.”

“Hey Kaz! Wanna play?” Keith called from the dugout.

“Nope, just watching.” She answered, then lifted an eyebrow at Chris. “You gonna hit?”

“Oh, yeah.” She shook her head as she stepped into the batter’s box, then slapped the first pitch down the right field line for a double, scoring Trip and Kurt. Chris did a little hop on the bag and grinned. You show off, she thought.

They won the game easily by nine runs and afterwards Chris, Keith, and Rendally sat with Laura on the bleachers to watch the first part of the next game until the she had to leave for her afternoon round. Chris watched her walk away, thinking that the woman had an endless supply of khaki shorts, and she made them look really good.

“Yo, earth to Chris…” Keith snapped his fingers under the blonde reporter’s nose. “Wanna get something to eat?”

She took a breath and smiled, I need the distraction. “Lead the way.”

**************************

Laura appreciated the convenience of flying, but she hated it anyway. It wasn’t a fear of heights, or a fear of falling, rather, it was the invasion of personal space. She wouldn’t pay double the fare for first class, so she usually tried for an exit row since they had a little more legroom. Deciding against cluttering her mind with paperwork, Laura left her briefcase at home, leaving her with only a portable CD player to pass the time. Flipping through the disks, most of which had been liberated from Lisa Tyler’s collection in college, she chose an old favorite. Music to go home by.

Maybe we’ll make Texas by the morning… Light the bayou with our taillights in the night.

800 miles to El Paso from the state line and we never have the money for the flight.

I’m in the back seat sleepy from the travel, played our hearts out all night long in New Orleans,

Dirty from the diesel fumes… drinking coffee black, when the first breath of Texas comes in clean.

She was looking forward to being in Austin, even if it was only for two days. It’ll be good to see Louis. He never passed judgement on anything except her golf game, and since he helped build it, that was his right, especially after she quit in ’96. Make it up to him by qualifying. That would make twelve Opens between Mom and me…that oughta be some kind of record.

The flight landed, and after what seemed like eons, the doors were opened and the passengers were allowed to escape. Laura spotted Charles easily, his six foot seven frame dominating the tiny waiting area. He crushed her in a bear hug and lifted her off her feet, oblivious to the staring crowd around them. “You’re so skinny, Kaz…you didn’t need to lose weight.”

She buried her face in his shoulder, realizing that he and Louis were the closest thing to family she had left. “No Coke.” She pulled back and smiled. “I gave it up…too much sugar and caffeine.”

“That’ll do it. Bet you were drinking a twelve-pack a day.”

Laura chuckled, “Pretty close. How’s your Dad?”

“Doing good. He can’t wait to see you. Let’s get your stuff.”

Charles retrieved the hard travel bag that held her golf clubs, and led her through the parking lot to a Ford Explorer. “Still got the Jeep?” he asked.

“I’ll always have the Jeep.” She answered. “What happened to the Z car?”

“All God’s children got to grow up. I can haul more stuff in this.” Laura hid a smile. Guess that means he’s settling down.

It was a bit of a drive to Circle C Golf Club, and Laura settled in, listening to Charles’ ever-present country western music. It was strange to hear the large black man sing along to Alan Jackson or Reba McIntire, but it was after all, Texas. They drove up close to the clubhouse and unloaded, and after agreeing to meet on the practice range, Laura went inside to change. Practice rounds for out of towners started after one, and her tee time was for one-ten. That would give her about two hours with Louis.

She changed quickly into navy blue shorts and another white sleeveless polo shirt. Pulling her hair into a ponytail she threaded it through the opening in the back of her red hat, and looked in the mirror at eyes that should not be so nervous for a practice round. The hat was from the last U.S. Amateur that she’d won, and she fervently hoped that there was a little luck left in it.

A warm wind was blowing briskly as she walked to the practice range. It’s always windy here. Laura could see Charles up on the rise, and when he moved she could see the slightly smaller form of his father.

“Little Kaz! Charles was right, you have lost weight.” Louis threw his arms around Laura in a tight embrace, and she who never cried, not even at her parents’ funerals, began to sob softly into her teacher’s shoulder. It only lasted for a moment, then appalled at her lack of control, Laura pushed away and dashed at her tears with the back of her hand. “Sorry, Louis. It’s been a rough couple of months.” She clamped her jaw shut and swallowed, wondering where this inability to maintain control was coming from.

Louis looked at Charles over the top of Laura’s head and raised his eyebrows in question, only to be answered by a shrug. “I heard about everything, Kaz. You did what you had to do. I’m not talking about slugging the guy…He had that coming. You stuck with the company and your Dad would’ve been proud.” He paused for a second, “Your mom would’ve laughed. Now c’mon we have work to do. Let me see your hands.”

He grabbed her wrists and turned her hands face up, running his fingers over the calluses, tsskking at one on the middle finger of her right hand. “Still overgripping? It’s like shaking hands, firm but not choking. You don’t want to overpower the club.” Laura had heard the grip speech more times than she could count, and even after all her success it was the one part of her game that Louis still picked on.

Next they went through all the clubs. Laura hit about five balls with each as Louis made notes on a little pad that he stuffed into his back pocket when he demonstrated what she was doing wrong or what he wanted her to change. The lesson was exhausting and comforting at the same time, but she was glad when they finally called her group to the first tee.

“He’s got two other students that are trying to qualify,” Charles told her as they walked to the starter. “They practiced Saturday and Sunday ‘cause they live here in town.”

“Anybody else you know?”

“Beth Daniel’s here. She just played a tournament in Austin, almost won.”

Laura nodded, “Well Charles, what kind of score d’you think we need?”

“I think you better just start rolling in the birdies and count ‘em up later. Don’t even think about the Open. You ain’t there yet.”

************************

Chris was heating up fettuccine in the microwave when the phone rang, and she answered it, licking the spoon she was using to stir the pasta. “Bet you’re eating. Why you’re not big as a house is beyond me.”

“Well, if it’s not my favorite Texan. You know, Keith’s right, you could say who you are.”

“Why? This makes it more like an obscene phone call.”

The microwave beeped and Chris removed her dinner. “You just feel safer over the phone…How’d it go today?”

Laura smiled ruefully at the truth and sat down on the hotel bed, kicking off her shoes. “Good. I’ve played here before, so that helps. It’s hot though. What happened at work?”

“Oh, it was slow. I did a package on teacher payraises then the character generator caught on fire so no supers for the Five, Six or Ten. Lisa tried to kill Richard because he wouldn’t sign the purchase order to get the part to fix it and Elly and Rendally got into it over his promo standup and proper use of grammar. All in all it was pretty normal.”

“Sorry I missed it.” What do I say now? I miss you? The silence was awkward and Laura couldn’t fill it, so Chris did. “Everything okay with Louis and Charles?”

“Yeah.” Another pause. “I wish I could show you Austin.”

“That’d be cool,” Chris went along easily, “We were on the phone for six hours the other night, it’s okay if you’re talked out.”

“I’m not, I just…It sounds corny, but I wanted to hear your voice. I wish I’d seen you last night, and I miss you. I didn’t think I would.”

“Why?” Chris was more than a little intrigued.

“Because I’m home. Austin is as much home as Dallas, and it’s strange because I have more of a life in Burkett Falls than I ever had here.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone changes, everyone evolves.”

All God’s children got to grow up…It’s just taking me longer. Maybe I’ll hit my adolescence by the time I’m thirty-five. Laura laughed and Chris smiled at the sound. “I’m flying in late tomorrow night, so I guess I’ll see you Wednesday. Maybe we could do something?”

“You bet.” Chris felt the giddiness through the phone line and wondered what was going through Laura’s head. “I hope you play well tomorrow…God knows you’ve worked hard enough.”

“It’s never enough.” Somehow Chris knew that Laura wasn’t talking about golf. “I’ll see you Wednesday.”

******************************

The gravel crunched under the tires of the big Buick as Laura maneuvered it along the narrow driveway. Louis had insisted that she borrow his car instead of renting one, over riding her protest that she could afford it. Laura parked under an oak tree and started to walk down a footpath toward a shady corner of the cemetery.

She was still Catholic enough to understand the need to be buried, but practical enough to consider it a waste of real estate. It was quiet except for the ever present Texas wind swishing through the leaves of the trees, but the sound was comforting. At the bottom of the hill Laura looked down at the stones that marked the last earthly remains of her parents. I could’ve brought flowers. She was surprised that the bitterness she’d grown accustomed to was fading away. Three more years, Dad, then I’m free. You were right, I am good at it, though Roger would probably disagree. Gotta qualify for the Open today Mom, it’s at Circle. I tied you there once, remember?

Laura stayed a little while longer, enjoying the peace.

*******************************

“Yeah, okay, thanks.” Trip hung up the phone and turned to face Keith and Chris who were standing in the exact same pose, arms crossed and knees locked with eyebrows raised in question. “The USGA will not release the qualifying results until tomorrow…that’s when they’ll complete the final roster for the Open.”

“So unless she calls, we won’t know till tomorrow?” Keith pulled the pencil from behind his ear. “It’s not news unless she qualifies.”

“She’ll kill you if you put that in a show,” Chris observed.

“I just wanna know, don’t you?”

*******************************

“What’s the best you’ve done out here, Kaz?” Charles asked. They were on the tee box of the third hole waiting for the group in front of them to get off the green. It was a longish par 3, 193 yards with a little water on the side. She sorted through her mental list of games played and pulled up the answer. “Six under, and it wasn’t a particularly good day.” She was already one under par after two holes; a birdie had gone a long way toward making the nervousness vanish.

“Can you do it again?”

The group left the green and Charles handed her a three iron. Her playing partner had bogied the last hole so Laura had the honor. An easy swing put the ball less than six feet from the pin. “I think I’d better.” She answered him.

Par was 36 on the front nine, and Laura made the turn at four under, well pleased with a 32. With the difficult number seven behind her, subdued with another birdie and another on nine, she stopped in the restroom to wash her hands. Nine more…don’t fuck it up, she told the reflection. Balling the paper towel, she tossed it in the wastebasket on her way out the door. Charles was waiting and they trudged up the path to number ten. “You drinking enough?” he asked.

“Yes mother.” She looked over at him, amused. “You too?”

“I’m just the pack mule, and you never use those big leather staff bags, so I’m happy. You walking at your club?” She nodded. “Got a bagman there?”

“Yeah, he wants some tour work. He’s done some Nike…pretty good guy. If you hear that someone’s looking let me know.”

“Does he know about us?” Charles gave a mock leer.

“Sure, he’s insanely jealous. Her playing partner, Tammy, was already waiting at the tee drinking from a quart bottle of water. Laura put on her game face, and Charles handed her the driver. She bent down to tee up the ball, then stood, twirling the club absently to loosen her wrist, then took a practice swing. Laura was confident now, and the drive showed it. Probably a good 280 yards. She gave the club back to the grinning caddy and stood back feeling the warmth of the sun, and let the pleasure of playing well carry her through the rest of the round.

**************************

It was after the Six o’clock ‘cast and the few remaining occupants of the newsroom were sitting around the assignments desk having one of those bizarre conversations that bored groups of overworked people often have. “I’d shave my head for a hundred bucks…hell, I’d shave it for twenty.” Jody’s confession prompted Keith to jump up and pull out his wallet.

“How ‘bout ten? It’s not like a nose job, it’ll grow back.”

The photog snorted, “I have my pride.”

Chris laughed from her desk, where she was re-packaging a story for ten. It caught Kate’s attention and she turned. “How much to run naked through the lobby, Chris?”

“There isn’t enough money.”

“For a thousand bucks, I’d do it,” Bobby quipped.

“Who would you sleep with for a thousand bucks?” The staff pondered Kate’s question while she elaborated. “Anyone in the newsroom…for a thousand dollars.” Bobby and Rendally looked at each other and grinned, replying in unison, “Kaz.”

Chris lifted her eyebrows but otherwise gave no sign of interest at the howls of laughter generated by the answer. You have no idea…

Tomorrow was a long time to wait to find out if Laura had qualified, and the reporter hoped there would be a message on her machine when she got home. She finished the story, clicked to print the script and stood up rubbing her neck to work out the kinks. One of the phones rang and Keith picked it up. “Hey! How’d it go?” He covered the mouthpiece and said to Kate, “It’s Kaz.” Suddenly nervous, Chris put her hands in her pockets, trying to maintain an air of casual indifference as she listened to the one sided conversation.

“Nope, everything went fine…One of the candidates for the sheriff’s race pulled out…No jury for the Bradley trial yet…Uh huh…All vehicles are present and accounted for,” Keith grinned at Chris. “No, we can do that tomorrow…You did? Cool…Okay… bye.” The Managing Editor hung up the phone and turned around, grinning from ear to ear.

“Eight under par, Kaz is going to the Open.”
Part 7
What Are the Chances?

The pedals on the stationary bike were already spinning at 70rpm but Chris pushed them even faster, increasing the uncomfortable burn in her thighs. The morning workout was a habit so deeply ingrained that the reporter could no more skip it than she could forget to eat. And since one was the reason for the other, it was probably a good thing that she stuck to the discipline.

It also gave her time to think. Some of her best story ideas came from these morning sessions when her mind was free to wander, or when someone approached her with a tip. The Information Officer for the Burkett Falls PD worked out at the “Y”, as did the Fire Chief and her connection to them had proved valuable in the past.

The time expired on the bicycle workout, and she dismounted, wiping the seat and the handgrips with the towel provided. Wednesday was a slow day at the gym as the promises to live a healthier life on Monday gave in to the reality of a busy week, but by Friday it would be crowded again. The incline board was the last part of Chris’ workout, the sit ups and crunches her least favorite excercises and with a sigh she settled into the repetition.

She’s back today. Chris closed her eyes and conjured up an image of her boss. It had been a while since she’d even thought about entering into another relationship, and even with the stop and go nature of this one, she was enjoying the warmth and the laughter, despite the obvious frustrations.

Chris loved people. She liked talking to them, drawing them out, and being with them. That said, she could be happy alone as well. There was toughness hidden beneath the layer of spontaneity and charm, it had carried her through the ultra competitive Journalism School at the University of Missouri, and now it was going to help her get through to Laura Kasdan

This is different, it isn’t a crush anymore. It should have made her uneasy. Getting involved with someone at work, or even in the media in the same market, was on her list of things not to do, but things hadn’t been the same since the Live Truck blew to hell, and took her resolutions with it.

We’re not talking about the “L” word here, are we? Well, there’s lust…Haven’t been in lust for a while. That would’ve been Erica…don’t go there. That was another file marked ‘cringe material.’

Finished with the sit-ups, Chris shook out her arms and headed for the locker room to pick up her keys and bag. She went home to shower and change, stopping by the bagel shop on the way. An hour later she was on her way to the station, looking tailored and cool in a soft green skirt and jacket set, an off white blouse with a Chinese collar completing the outfit. Anchoring meant that there were no more dress down days for her. I miss wearing jeans to work. She only wore light makeup; the heavy stuff would come later in the day right before she had to go on the set.

Even though she was no longer required to attend the morning meetings, Chris still came anyway, figuring it was a lot better to have a say in the story you were assigned to, rather than have one dropped in your lap. Entering the newsroom, Chris played a game with herself to see how long she could keep from looking into the News Director’s office for Laura, and felt like she was making real strides when she managed to unlock her desk and turn on the computer before sneaking a peek.

Laura was on the phone when the staff started trickling in for the meeting, one elbow on the desk supporting the hand holding the receiver. Her eyes flicked upward and met Chris’ as soon as the reporter cleared the door, a slight smile came and went, then it was all business and another newsday was underway.

She stood up from behind her desk, long fingers barely brushing the blotter and scowled, “We have a problem. Last night at ten, we reported that one of the women injured in yesterday’s three car pileup on I-20 had died…The problem is…she ain’t dead.” Laura’s eyes swept the room and her displeasure was a tangible thing. This was the Kazmanian devil in full control. “Keith, how did that happen?”

The Managing Editor did his best not to squirm under the scrutiny. “The PIO, Police Information Officer called last night and said the Coroner confirmed she was dead…It was actually a woman involved in another pileup on Saturday…”

“Mark Norton made the mistake?” Her fingers were drumming now.

“No, Mark’s on vacation, it was his fill in.”
She nodded once, “Okay, here’s what I want: I want a report on exactly what was said by the PIO, what we said on air, what the actual facts are, and how we will air the correction, on my desk by noon.”

“Why do you…”

“When Mr. Poteet, the station attorney, comes to you in two years to depose you for the lawsuit that’s been filed by this woman’s family, are you going to remember?”

“Well…”

“No you won’t. But if I have a copy of the notarized report in my filing cabinet, you won’t have to worry and neither will I.” Laura dipped her hands into the pockets of her slacks and tilted her head. “We live in a litigious society and every newscast we air makes us vulnerable. A man in Jacksonville is suing us because we reported that he was charged with assault.” She shrugged, “No big deal except we didn’t report that he was cleared of the charges.”

“What I’m trying to say is that we have to follow up on everything. If it’s important enough to report that he was charged, it’s important enough to report that he was cleared. It’s the ethical thing to do and it protects the station.” Then Laura surprised everyone in the room by smiling wryly as she sat down behind the desk. “I’m off my soapbox now. Let’s go around the room.”

The tension eased considerably as the reporters and producers pitched their stories, and by the time it was Chris’ turn they had several ideas and a few heated discussions. “I’ve got a couple of things…there’s a rumor of explosions happening at gas pumps when people are using cell phones while they’re filling up, something about sparks being generated while the phone is in service. A guy at a gas station who’s seen it spark says he’ll talk on camera, plus we could talk to some cell phone guys.”

Laura crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair as though contemplating the idea, then said in all seriousness, ” I think I speak for everyone here, and everyone at corporate when I say I don’t want you anywhere near that story.” The snickers started before turning into full-fledged belly laughs, and the blonde reporter blushed before joining in. Laura waved her had at one of the others, “Maria, why don’t you get the information from Chris and check it out. Got anything else?”

“Well, a new government report is out, and did you know that homicide is the second leading cause of death in the workplace?” Chris imparted this information with a puzzled look, “Don’t you think that’s weird? What about accidents and heart attacks? And homicide is the number one cause of death for women in the workplace.”

Keith pulled at his lower lip thoughtfully, “Mostly clerks in convenience and liquor stores right?”

“Mostly,” she answered, “But not always. The phrase ‘Going Postal’ has become part of our vocabulary, and even here, a woman was killed at the Martin Tire Plant when she got into a fight with another employee.”

“So what’s the angle?” Laura asked.

“We have metal detectors at schools, post offices, and airports, and after the shootings at Columbine, we hear a lot about how to keep our schools safe, but what can businesses do to make sure their employees are safe on the job when the very nature of a business means that you have to be accessible?” Chris paused, waiting for the verdict.

“I like it, “said Keith, “We could pack it for the Five and Chris could intro it.”

“Sounds good,” Laura nodded as they moved on. “The new Star Wars movie opens tonight at midnight and they’re already lining up at the Cinemark…Rendally, you draw theater duty today. Get me some fanatics in costume…a lightsaber duel would be nice.” She checked her notes, “That should do it people.”

“Oh, Kaz?” Keith cleared his throat, and Laura raised her eyebrows in question. “Congratulations on qualifying for the Open.” The rest of the staff broke into applause and the tall woman blushed.

“Yeah, well, we still have two weeks of the book to get through before I can even start thinking about it. We can’t afford to let up. Second place sucks, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.” The producers and reporters filed out as Laura picked up an envelope from her desk and opened it. “Kate, Keith, and Chris…Could I see you for a second?” The three stopped and came back into the office. “I’ve got some tickets to the Star Wars premiere tonight at midnight…thought you might like to go.”

Keith’s face lit up, “Hey, how’d you get those? They’ve been sold out for a week.”

Laura gave a sheepish half smile, “I’m one of the twenty most influential people in town. I think I can manage a few movie tickets. They’re VIP seats, so you don’t even have to get there early.”

She gave out the passes and when Keith and Kate left, Chris lagged behind.

“You, me, Kate, and Keith? That’s some group date.”

“Lisa and Trey too. I had six total, you don’t mind, do you?” Nervous fingers flipped the corner of the remaining ticket. “Besides, it’ll give Kate a chance to spend some time with Keith outside the newsroom but without the pressure of an official date.”

The reporter’s mouth fell open in astonishment, “I would have bet money that you didn’t know about that.” Kate and Keith’s volatile working relationship seemed to be turning into something else, but neither had acknowledged or acted on the obvious attraction.

Laura smirked, “Oh, I know a lot of stuff that goes on out there, I’d be a pretty rotten news director if I didn’t keep up. You just think I don’t know.” She rubbed her chin, nervously unsure of what to say next. “So, I hope that’s okay…all of us going.”

Safety in numbers? For both of us. “Sure, it’ll be fun.” Chris turned to leave, then stopped, “I’m happy for you about the Open, and I’m really glad you’re back.” Then she was gone. Laura stood staring at the door, wanting to call her back and knowing that she couldn’t.

Chris made some phone calls and set up two interviews before she started to outline where she was taking the story. Jason was her photog and he was taking care of some dubs, waiting on her word to go. Glancing up she watched Laura leave her office with a sheaf of papers, her black cowboy boots thumping across the floor. Just how did you reconcile the woman who could barely stand to be touched with the person who scrounged up six movie tickets so she could play matchmaker? Nothing will ever be easy with her, you know that, right? Taking a deep breath, Chris gathered her notebook and went in search of her cameraman.

**************************

“But I have to have those tripods, I can’t move them to fourth quarter, I need them now.” Arguing capital priorities with the Business Manager was an exercise in frustration since she controlled the purse strings and her decisions were final. “Those cameras are pretty heavy and two of the tripods we’re using are liable to collapse at any time. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.” Laura hoped that by mentioning the possibility of an injury, Phyllis would see things her way. She didn’t.

“Kaz, they’re moving to fourth quarter. Cheer up, it could’ve been the script printers, I’m just tired of hearing you bitch about those.” Phyllis closed the binder with a snap. “It’s a corporate thing, I really don’t have that much say in it.”

“Well don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Laura passed over a stack of purchase orders. “Where do we stand on the new camera? I know we filed for the insurance.” Jody still wasn’t shooting, so they weren’t short yet.

“Richard’s ordered it, I don’t know about delivery.” The Business Manager took the forms and arranged them in neat piles on her desk. “Check with him, I haven’t seen any paperwork yet.”

Ah, the paperwork, Laura fumed. She hated that part of being a manager; the endless reams of faxes, invoices, and urgent messages, not to mention the constant battle to acquire needed equipment and the never-ending meetings. Next to that, dealing with the newsroom was child’s play.

She returned to her office and dumped the stack of files on her desk, then opened her top drawer to pull out her copy of the News Department budget. Looking down Laura caught sight of an envelope and swore softly. With all that had happened Friday, she hadn’t deposited her paycheck. With a snort she wished again that William-Simon Communications would move into the twentieth century and go to direct deposit. Oh well, the bank was right across the street from the station and it wouldn’t take any time to use the ATM.

***************************

This damn machine is never working, and then the bank wants to charge you for using a real live teller. Chris resisted the urge to kick the stuffing out of the ATM, and resigned herself to waiting in line to cash a check. She left the glass cubicle and went inside the bank proper, groaning inwardly at the crowd already waiting.

Taking her place in line, she fished her checkbook out of her purse and uncapped a pen with her teeth. Her writing was barely legible and she frowned impatiently as she finished filling out the check. A twenty-minute wait for twenty bucks. Now that’s high tech. More customers came in and joined the queue. “What’s taking so long?” Chris spoke to no one in particular, but the man in front of her turned around. “Don’t you hate it when the ATM isn’t working?” He grunted disinterestedly but she kept on, “They charge you two dollars for every teller transaction because they say it costs them more, but they won’t make sure the stupid machine is working during lunch. I think it’s a scam.” The man rolled his eyes and faced forward, sticking his hands in the pockets of his windbreaker. Kinda warm for a jacket, Chris thought.

********

“Well that’s just great,” Laura muttered as the automatic teller spit her card back and flashed an out of order message. Taking the deposit envelope and the rejected card, she went around the corner and into the bank where she got into line behind a woman she recognized as another station employee. Laura nodded briefly in greeting then settled down to wait, noticing a pale blonde head near the front of the line.

One of the tellers called for the next customer and the man in front of Chris walked over to the counter, his heavy work boots scraping on the tile floor. I’m next, the reporter thought, good-natured patience winning out over frustration. Her attention was drawn back to the counter as voices were raised in some sort of disagreement, then pandemonium ensued.

“Everyone on the floor and nobody gets hurt!” Snatching up a canvas bag, the man in the jacket waved a gun over his head and barked the command. “Now!” Screams and gasps answered him as the crowd of bank customers began to drop to the ground.

Laura rolled her eyes in disbelief as she heard sirens and saw the cop cars pull up outside the glass doors. What kind of idiot robs a bank at lunchtime three blocks away from a police precinct?

It’s on the scanners already. She looked toward the front of the line where she last saw her six o’clock anchor as she started to comply with the gunman’s request.

“On the floor! Now!”

***********************

Listening to police scanners requires the linguistic skills of an interpreter and the numeric recall of a military codebreaker. The constant squawking had the potential to drive even the most ravenous news hound insane. At Channel 8 the scanners were the domain of the Assignments Editor and Janie could tell what was going on all over the city while eating, talking on the phone, and riding herd on the reporters simultaneously. It was all stress all the time but she thrived on it.

When the call came asking officers to respond to an possible armed robbery in progress, Janie was all ready to write down the address and send a crew, but she stopped mid scrawl recognizing the address of the bank across the street from the station. “Jason! Terence!” Yelling at the top of her lungs she scurried down the hall to roust the cameraman and reporter to send them to cover the story unfolding on their doorstep.

Keith shouldered open the back door as he carried in a box full of lunch orders from the deli. “What’s going on?” he asked as Janie ran back to her desk.

“Robbery across the street…Jason and Terence are on the way. The silent alarm went off, a teller must’ve hit it.”

Keith slid the box and it’s contents down on the nearest flat surface. “Chris was going to the bank, you don’t think…Oh shit.”

************

“Oh fuck! You set off the alarm!” The agitated gunman spun around frantically trying to figure out a way to get out of the situation with his loot and skin intact. Settling on the only solution he could think of, ingrained from years of watching predictable television, he yanked Chris to her feet with panic driven strength. “I want a car and I want out or I’ll kill her, so help me God!”

Chris winced when he jammed the barrel of the gun against her head just behind the ear, If I didn’t have bad luck I’d have no luck at all she thought again, wondering how she was going to get out of this mess. Looking down at the floor crowded with huddled bodies praying not to be noticed, she met the electric blue eyes of her boss, and felt a wave of relief so intense she thought her legs would buckle.

Fix this, Laura thought. Her mind chased down several possible scenarios, finally landing on the one that stood the best chance of success. Give him something and keep him talking. No one else seemed inclined to step up, and that was one of her people in danger. She took a deep breath and called out, “Wait a minute…hey I’m not gonna hurt you. Listen for just a second.” The gun swung in her direction and one of the women on the floor whimpered fearfully. “Don’t you know who that is?” Laura pointed at Chris, “She’s famous…She’s on TV.”

“Yeah, I seen her…So what?” the gunman snarled.

She eased to her feet slowly so as not to appear threatening. “Look, I run the show over at Channel 8, you know ‘Action News’…I can get a crew over here in no time…put you on the air and you can get whatever you want. Once you control the media, you’ve got it made.” Laura slid a glance to green eyes, trying to convey a message without a word. Help me out here Chris, sell it to him. “You’ve got a card here to play, fella, don’t blow it.”

The blonde reporter stuttered as she tossed in her two cents worth, “Yeah, she’s…she’s the boss, she could talk to the cops and get you what you want. The cameras would make sure of it. That way nobody has to get hurt.” Chris jerked as the gun was pressed against her neck again. She took a shallow breath, not sure what the News Director was up to, but horrified by the journalistic hustler on display.

“C’mon, c’mon I’ll do it…We need the ratings. Lemme make the call,” Laura urged, her eyes glittering maniacally “They don’t know what’s going on, they’re liable to bust in here and splatter you all over the marble.”

“All right! But she does it!” He tightened his grip on Chris’ arm, deciding that the petite blonde would be easier to handle than the tall woman with the big mouth. “Tell ‘em they better not come in here or I start shooting!”

Oh hell. The plan to get Chris out of harm’s way hadn’t worked. Anxiously she looked for some kind of edge. He doesn’t have enough hands, Laura thought as she watched him push Chris to the counter. The robber was holding on to the money with the same hand he was controlling his hostage with, and waving the gun with the other. “No funny stuff or I’ll blow your head off.”

Chris was catching on, Distract and confuse him. He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. “D’you want me to call the police first or the TV station?” She was still shaking, but felt like she was taking back control, inch by inch.

“TV…No the cops first.” With only slightly shaking hands Chris dialed the Police Information Office number from memory, wondering what the protocol was in a hostage situation. “Hey Jenny, this is Chris Hanson, listen, I’m inside the Firstbank on Kirby Street…Yeah that’d be the one…I’d really appreciate it if you could patch me through to whoever’s in charge…I’ve got the gunman right here. Yeah, same old, same old.” There was a long pause, “Mike? Okay.” She held out the receiver, “Tell him what you want.”

Good girl, Chris. He has to put something down to talk. Laura began inching her way forward, stepping around customers who were doing their best to shrink into the floor until she reached one of the posts connected to the red velvet rope designed to keep the customers in an orderly line.

The robber figured out he had a dilemma pretty quickly and snarled, pushing the receiver back at Chris with his gun hand. “Tell him I want them out of the parking lot, now! No cops within fifty yards of this place…And I want a car…tell him I want a car in ten minutes.”

“Didja get that Mike?” Chris listened for a moment. “He wants you to let some of these people go…”

“Fuck no!” He screamed, “Everybody stays! Ten minutes, or I start shooting!” He pushed Chris against the counter as he grabbed the phone with his gun hand and slammed the receiver down. The robber was bordering on hysteria, his head frantically jerking from side to side trying to maintain his dominance over everyone in the bank. Chris tried to ease away, but he grabbed her wrist and pulled back, turning to face the tall dark woman. “Now, she can call your guys,” he told Laura. “Tell ‘em what I want. Tell ‘em the cops better not fuck with me…go on!” Chris picked up the phone again and dialed, her eyes nervously going back to Laura’s.

“Keith, ah, it’s Chris…could you get a camera over to the Firstbank across the street…There’s a robbery in progress and the gunman wants to talk…”

“Chris, thank god! We thought you might be in the bank.”

Chris resisted the urge to laugh, “Sorry, I hate to be the one to tell you, but my luck’s running true to form and we’re about to get an exclusive, so could you send someone over?”

Keith felt a jerk in his gut that was becoming all too familiar when dealing with the blonde reporter. “Oh no…Kaz isn’t here, I can’t…how…oh Christ.”

“Kaz wants you to send someone.” Chris put her hand to her forehead, “She’s in here Keith.

“Oh…crap.”

“Exactly.”

“I’m on my way.” Keith hung up the phone and bolted to the door. “Chris and Kaz are in the bank…Get Live 2 out front as fast as you can and get the mast cam cranked up. They are not doing this again without me!” The door closed with a thunk and Janie was left behind as the scanners continued to crackle around her.

“Camera’s on its way.” Chris set the phone in its cradle wincing when the gunman shoved her forward in front of him so that he could approach the windows. Using the reporter as a shield, he peeked out and relaxed slightly as the police cars pulled away from the front of the building. “Okay, now we’re gettin’ somewhere.” He turned around, moving away from the windows, waving the gun menacingly. “Everyone stay down…you too!” He pointed it at Laura with a sneer, “Especially you.”

Well this isn’t good. Laura sank to her knees, her back against the counter. All around her the other hostages were getting restless and the muttering was getting louder. “Ya know,” she said, running the risk of irritating the robber into shooting her, “They’re probably not gonna let that cameraman come in unless you let some of these folks go…Sort of as a sign of good faith.”

“You talk too damn much.” The man huddled next to Laura hissed, “If you’d shut up, maybe we’d get out of here in one piece.”

“Hey, I’m trying to get you out of here.”

“Just shut the fuck up!” The gunman trembled with rage, swinging the gun erratically as if he didn’t know where to point it. Near the breaking point, he panted in frustration at the situation that had spiraled out of his control. At the end of the counter, the phone began to ring and he started for it, pulling Chris behind him, unwilling to let her go as though she alone would provide him protection, not understanding that she was the reason for what happened next.

It’s now or never. As angry feet stomped by where she knelt, Laura snaked out a long arm and grabbed an ankle. Yanking as hard as she could, she sent him sprawling, the gun skittering away from his reaching hands. Scrambling to her feet Laura tackled him as he tried to stand and chase after the firearm.

What the hell is she doing? Chris stumbled after the gun, kicking it into the corner near the vault. She turned just in time to see Laura stand to pick up a post still attached to a red velvet rope and swing it like a club down on the struggling gunman. “Just stay down and I won’t kill you!” He didn’t obey, so she swung again. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” This time he lay still. Standing over the man, her chest heaving with exertion, Laura looked up through a dark tangle of hair and smiled crookedly at Chris, “Remind me never to follow you into a bank. Are you okay?”

Oblivious to the others around them Chris shouted, “Were you trying to get us killed?”

Laura let the post clatter to the floor. “Call Mike or whoever’s in charge, tell ’em to get in here.” Walking carefully to the corner she bent down and picked up the gun. Flipping the cylinder open she gave a short bitter laugh. “Son of a bitch didn’t have any bullets.”

********************

There were twenty-eight people in the bank, including the employees and all of them had to be interviewed by the police. Chris’ account was detailed and precise as she formed the skeleton of her story while answering the questions. Resisting the urge to tell the officer, ‘What she said,’ Laura told her side of the story in a clipped even tone that didn’t differ from the reporter’s version.

Told they could go, Chris stayed behind with Jason to get some interviews and B roll, her story on violence in the workplace coming together in a way that no one had anticipated in the morning meeting. Laura marveled at the transformation, Chris was the quintessential reporter again, doggedly chasing down the details from the others involved. Shaking her head in wonder, Laura and Keith headed back to the station.

“How do we handle this, Kaz?” Following Laura into her office, Keith was still fighting back his disappointment at arriving on the scene too late to do anything but make sure all their bases were covered.

“How does she do that?”

“What?”

“She’s like a trouble magnet…Dan Rather wishes he had that kinda luck.” Laura sank down into her chair and stared wide-eyed at the Managing Editor. “Everyday is an adventure, cars, live trucks, tornadoes, bank robberies, you name the disaster, she’s there.”

“I don’t think…”

“Dallas was peaceful compared to this!” She waved a hand emphatically, “I have to remind myself that I wanted it…I wanted a reporter who would be there when the shit hit the fan…I just had no idea that it was gonna happen all the damn time.” The explanation did nothing to ease the worried frustration.

Keith shrugged, “She is what she is.” At his words, Laura felt an ache in her chest, unfamiliar and intense. Ah Chris, what have you done to me? She closed her eyes to gather the professionalism that was her stock in trade, and clenched her jaw tight before looking up again. “What do we have and what are our options? Get Kate and Rob in here, let’s figure out a way to make this work without making it look like something out of the National Enquirer.”

Keith took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Are we gonna release your name? I mean how do we say our News Director beat the living shit out of the alleged gunman without sounding like, well…”

“Don’t you think ‘Beat the living shit’ is a little strong?” She sighed, “I know. It would’ve been a good story, but I had to fuck it up by getting involved. We’re supposed to observe, not participate…There’s gotta be a way to make it work.”

In the end there wasn’t. Channel 4 and 12 both reported that Laura Kasdan tripped and subdued the armed man, and even though it was just a reader and they showed no video, the point was inferred: Channel 8 manufactured their own news. Kate and Rob tried to tone it down, but it was still sensationalistic…great for ratings but lousy for credibility. The other stations also reported that several of the customers caught inside the bank were considering legal action against the bank and Channel 8. All in all it was a pretty disastrous news day.

Sometimes you’re the windshield; sometimes you’re the bug. Laura hung up her headset in the control room as Chris and Tom were wrapping up their chat out. Both the Five and Six had been painful to watch even though the bank story only took up less than a minute at the top of each ‘cast. Welcome back, Kaz.

Returning to her office, Laura shut down the computer and loaded up her briefcase before catching sight of the movie pass tucked in the corner of her desk blotter. Forgot about that. She had planned for a rare night off from practice to unwind, and the movie seemed like a good idea. Now Laura wasn’t so sure.

“You’re not getting out of it.” Chris walked in, pulling out her earpiece and wrapping the cord around her hand. “This is a once in a lifetime movie opportunity, the ticket stub alone will be worth money to collectors.”

Laura looked up, her eyes rueful. “I’m sorry about your story…And I wasn’t trying to get you killed.”

“I know that.” Her green eyes softened, “It all seemed pretty unreal when it was happening. All because of a busted ATM.”

“Chris, if anything had happened to you, I…”

“So how do you wanna work this?” Lisa Tyler swept into Laura’s office followed by Kate and Keith, “Get something to eat or what?” Unaware that she had interrupted anything, the Production Manager flopped down on a chair, stretching her legs out in front. “We could meet at Denny’s at about nine, eat a few Grand Slams and make to the theater by eleven.”

Laura gave herself a mental shake, readjusting her focus. “Sounds like a plan, but could we post mortem this newscast first? I’d like to bury this one.”

********************

For Chris, nothing on earth smelled as comfortable as Denny’s. The bacon and coffee aroma made her think of Sunday mornings after church and laughing with her family. Remembering what it was like to wait tables for large groups, she wouldn’t let the others harass the waitress, instead she organized the order to make it as easy as possible, slapping Keith’s hand when he tried to play with the condiments, and refereeing an argument between Lisa, Trey and Kate over

which Star Wars movie was the best.

“The first one’s not the best, but it’s the most important.” Lisa was emphatic. “Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, The Abyss…frankly all the really big sci-fi blockbusters don’t happen unless George Lucas makes that first movie and forms ILM.”

Laura was quiet, but not withdrawn, preferring to let the conversation ebb and flow around her, mixing with the clink of glasses and the sounds coming from the kitchen. “You okay?” Chris’ voice came from a point close to her ear.

“Fine.” Laura felt a hand on her knee and the muscles of her thigh jump at the contact. Chris smiled sweetly and gave a short brisk rub. “Relax, it’s just a movie with some friends. Don’t get worked up about it.”

“How do you do that?” Laura murmured, feeling waves of calm emanating from the smaller woman.

“It’s a gift.” Chris said, tongue firmly in cheek as her eyes sparkled merrily, and she turned to Kate to ask her about something. Laura studied the blonde woman’s profile, watching her laugh with abandon and gesture to make a point. Most of the heavy on-air makeup was gone, making her appear even younger. The casual charisma was overwhelming, thought Laura, you couldn’t help being drawn to the laugh or the warmth. She could have anyone she wants. Anyone at all.

***********

“So I get to see the lair of the Kazmanian devil, hmm?” The movie was over and it was close to three o’clock in the morning. Somehow Laura found herself inviting Chris over to her apartment. You were going to do it someday anyway, and at least it’s pretty clean right now. Laura lifted a wry eyebrow as she unlocked the door and pushed it open, gesturing for Chris to go first.

The blonde reporter didn’t known what to expect, except to hope for another piece to the puzzle that was the tall dark News Director. A narrow kitchen sported a breakfast bar that opened up to the living room where all kinds of bookshelves lined the walls filled with newspapers, magazines, books, CDs, and videotapes. A large TV sat next to a stereo rack and a Beta deck next to that. A somewhat battered couch and recliner dominated the middle of the room, and a beautiful oak secretary stood sentry against one wall, open with a laptop computer on the desktop. It was an eclectic room that spoke volumes about its occupant.

Laura crossed her arms and watched Chris wander through the small room, as though waiting for judgement to be passed. The smaller woman stopped at the secretary, drawing a finger across the satiny finish of the golden wood. Green eyes looked up into wary blue ones and smiled, “It suits you.”

“It’s pretty minimalist.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that, you seem to have everything you need. Can I see the rest?”

Laura flexed her hands nervously, “There’s just the bedroom…” she stopped when Chris raised her eyebrows. “Oh hell, come on.”

Flipping on the light, Laura stood back as Chris entered. There were more bookcases, more books and tapes and golf clubs everywhere. A nightstand sat next to the bed, a stack of books on top with more on the floor next to it. “No TV in here?”

“I work in television, I don’t want to watch it on my off time,” came the dry response, “Want something to drink?”

“Sure, do you have some ice tea?” Chris followed Laura out and into the kitchen.

“Just for you.” She opened the refrigerator and pulled out two pitchers, setting them on the counter, then reaching for ice and two glasses from the cabinet. Chris settled on a barstool to watch Laura pour, and smiled slightly when their fingers touched as she took the glass of tea.

“What are you drinking?” Chris asked in mock horror as Laura dispensed the purple contents of the other pitcher into her glass.

“Grape Kool-Aid. I know, it looks disgusting.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s cold and it’s sweet, and it doesn’t have caffeine. I keep trading one addiction for another.”

“Yeah, but Grape Kool-Aid?”

Laura took a long pull, draining half the glass. “Don’t knock it, till you’ve tried it.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” Chris slid off the barstool and carried her glass into the living room and Laura followed her, switching off the kitchen light, leaving only the dim lamp on next to the sofa. “What are all these tapes? They’re not movies.”

“Newscasts, stories, shows I produced…News wonk stuff from the days I actually did the journalism thing.”

“Did you ever report?” Chris knew it was stupid, but she had forgotten that Laura didn’t just start out as a news director.

“Very briefly, I wasn’t very good. You can stop the interview any time now.”

Chris set her glass down and reached for Laura’s hand. “C’mere. I’ve wanted to do this all day.” There was a slight hesitation from the taller woman before Chris wrapped arms around her in a gentle hug and rested her head over Laura’s heart “I was scared today,” she confessed. “Stuff happens to me all the time, but I’m never scared. Today I just…”

Laura felt the smaller woman hiccup back a sob and moved her hands across Chris’ back. “Shh, I wouldn’t have let him hurt you, I swear.” She rested her chin on the blonde head, feeling a sense of contentment she was quite sure she’d never known, and wishing it would last forever. What happened to ‘don’t need, don’t want?’

Chris gave a light squeeze and pulled back, her eyes glittering in the dim light. “Where to now Laura?” She dropped her arms almost apologetically, “I’m sorry, no pressure.”

“Don’t…You’re fine. I’m sorry about today. I wish I’d sent you on the damn cell phone story.”

“That might’ve been worse,” she chuckled as she sat down on the sofa and looked up. “What else is bothering you?”

Laura closed her eyes briefly. “When I was in Austin I must’ve thought of a hundred things I wanted to tell you and now I can’t think of a single thing. That’s not really like me.”

It was quite an admission coming from the dark woman, and Chris tilted her head curiously. “There is one thing I wanted to ask you, and I want you to think carefully before you answer, okay?” Laura nodded. “Why are you so much more bothered by idea of making love, than the idea of being gay? It doesn’t seem very consistent.”

Dark eyebrows furrowed as Laura considered the question. “You always make me out to be more complicated than I actually am. I have no family to approve or disapprove of my choices, and I try not to make assumptions about myself. You’re the first person I’ve ever been interested in…physically, intellectually and all points in between…For me, that makes a label seem pretty insignificant.”

“But what about sex?”

“Oh that.” Laura’s smile was self-mocking. “Physical intimacy would be the ultimate invasion of privacy, don’t you think? And you said so yourself, I’m the classic introvert…Add to that workaholic tendencies and an overwhelming need to maintain control, and you have a recipe for…what was that Lance called me? Oh yeah, an asexual frigid bitch.”

Chris considered the information carefully and stood up. “It’s not an invasion if you invite someone in.”

Laura’s breath was shallow as Chris moved closer. Pushing aside years of denial she reached tentatively for the woman she wanted to be with more than anything else in the world. Green eyes never wavered from her own as she asked in a low murmur, “Will you stay?”

Chris closed her eyes, willing strength to come from somewhere that wasn’t clawing her with need. “No. I won’t.” Laura stopped breathing at the apparent rejection and her eyes clouded with confusion. Then Chris went on, her voice low and slowly seductive, “When we make love for the first time, it’ll be when we have plenty of time, not when we both have to be at work in five hours.” Taking Laura’s hand she kissed the palm, tracing a pattern with her tongue. “You’ll feel things you’ve never felt before, and wonder how you ever lived without it.” Chris leaned forward pushing aside the collar of Laura’s blouse and laid a line of kisses along the prominent collarbone as the taller woman shuddered. “And you’ll need me, the way I need you now.” One hand skimmed up a muscled arm to caress an angled jaw, softly touching, almost tickling before sliding around the strong elegant column of Laura’s neck and pulling her head down to barely touch lips, “And you’ll want me. You’ll ache with wanting me.”

The kiss was invasive and rough, filled with the promises of sensations to come and doing nothing to disguise the raw emotion felt by the smaller woman. This was not a gentle exploration, but an act of possession, searing in its intensity. Before Laura could react, Chris broke it off, replacing her lips with gentle fingers. Gasping at the absence of contact, but the overload of feeling, Laura opened her mouth but nothing came out.

“Shhh. You were right about the grape Kool-Aid. It kinda grows on you.” And with a smirk, Chris left the apartment, closing the door softly behind her, leaving Laura swaying in the middle of the living room.

Damn, she’s good.

***********************

Chris gave the eyebolt a final twist using a screwdriver as a lever through the large hole. Climbing down from the ladder she looked at the porch swing she was installing, and tried to figure out the best way to hang it. It was Saturday, and after spending the morning and most of the afternoon umpiring little league baseball games, the only thing she wanted to do was sit on her porch and sip a beer. Chris saw the swing when she stopped at Home Depot and couldn’t resist it.

“Can I help you with that?” Dave, her neighbor, leaned over the rail and offered his assistance. “It needs to be level, I’ll hold it up while you hook the chains.”

“I’d appreciate that. Julie’s flower beds look really nice.”

“She works hard on ‘em.” He grunted slightly as he lifted the swing. “This is a nice one, you’re really going to enjoy it.”

“I think so.” Chris set the hooks, climbed down and stood back squinting to see if it was even.

“Looks good.” Dave said and Chris smiled at the clipped neighbor-speak. “Can I get you a beer? It’s the least I can do.”

“Nah, gotta get the fire going. Barbecue night.” She watched him amble back across the yard, grateful that she got along with the couple next door and wondering if kids were anywhere on the horizon. It was a quiet neighborhood, and Chris was comfortable with her house and the street she lived on. Just two miles from the station, the location was perfect.

Chris heard the phone ring inside the house and she went to answer it, pleased to hear the low voice on the other end and smiling at the jump in her chest. “How’d you play?”

“I putted well…sunk a few long ones. Didja work some good games?”

“No, it was kinda hard today. Some parents were pretty obnoxious…it got ugly.”

“I’m sorry…Bet you’d feel better if I brought you something to eat.”

“That’s a given, what did you have in mind?” Chris opened the fridge and pulled out a beer, twisted the cap off and flipped it into the trash.

“Peter told me about this rib place that’s supposed to have real Texas barbecue. I have to go by the station to check the rundowns, but I could pick some up and be at your place in an hour or so.”

“Sounds like a plan. See you in a bit.” Chris hung up the phone and let out the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. It’ll be great. We’ll sit on the swing and eat ribs. I’ll get hot and bothered, take an icy cold shower and lay awake all night. Just another Saturday night on the Chris and Kaz show.

She was sitting on the swing when the Jeep pulled up an hour and a half later. One leg was tucked under her and the other was moving her back and forth. The warm day had given way to a cooler dusk, and Chris inhaled the clean smell of early summer and lawns being watered as she watched the tall woman walk toward her carrying several bags that added to the aroma surrounding the porch.

Watching Laura walk was becoming one of Chris’ favorite guilty pastimes. It was a rolling stride that spoke of an unconscious animal grace and watching the long legs eat up the sidewalk, she tried to decide if it was the motion or the package that made it enjoyable. Both, all of it, everything. Chris smiled as Laura stepped up to the porch, green eyes narrowing speculatively.

“What?” the News Director asked with good-humored irritation

Chris shook her head, grin still in place, “Just looking.” The ever present Khaki shorts exposed long tanned legs and well-worn leather sandals, but instead of a polo shirt she wore a crisp button down dress shirt the color of her eyes, with long sleeves pushed up past her elbows.

“This is new, I like it.” Laura lowered her tall frame down on the swing and placed the bags on the porch near her feet. “Wearing white is probably not a good idea when you’re gonna eat barbecued ribs.”

“Always the practical one.” Chris shifted to face Laura, the gauzy white material of her shirt following the movement, falling in waves to baggy white cotton shorts and offering glimpses of pale gold flesh. “What’d you bring me?”

Teasing green eyes fastened on Laura’s and the dark woman sucked in air uncertainly. Are we still talking about food? “Uh, potato salad…coleslaw…beans I think.” She felt disconnected from her body, the flooding emotions so unfamiliar that she wondered exactly where she was.

“Cool, I’ll get us something to drink.” Chris stood up and disappeared into the house, leaving Laura in a haze on the still moving swing. You’re a mess, Kaz. Two days of being virtually ignored by the reporter, no phone conversations, and just a casually issued invitation to ‘maybe do something on Saturday’ had taken its toll. Thirty-six holes of golf had helped, but not much. She wasn’t kidding about aching.

“I’ve got root beer…No caffeine, right?” Chris reappeared with a stack of napkins and two brown icy bottles.

“Root Beer and Ribs, you could almost be a Texan.”

“Hey, I’ll have you know that thirty Tennesseeans died at the Alamo…We oughta be honorary Texans anyway.” She settled down on the swing and started digging in the bags to unwrap the steaming barbecue. “This smells fabulous.” Plastic forks were laid out and Chris got to the business of eating. The smaller woman’s appetite was legendary at the station, and Laura was constantly amazed at the amount of food she could put away.

“You’re not eating.” Chris observed, licking some sauce off her thumb.

“Sure I am, my eating habits just pale in comparison.” They continued the meal in companionable silence, Laura picking at it, and Chris devouring hers.

“It’s gonna take a week for me to get this stuff off my hands.” She used a napkin to wipe off more sauce and took a sip of Root Beer. “But it’s worth it.” Sighing she wadded up the last of the trash and stuck it in a bag. “What are you doing tomorrow…Oh, lemme guess…Golf, golf, and more golf.”

“I am nothing if not predictable.” Laura’s tone was dry. “Sunday means softball for you, I guess.”

“Yep, we’re playing Channel 12.” She put an elbow on the back of the swing and reached for a tendril of dark hair to twist around her finger. “You could come out and play too.”

“Maybe.” Laura felt the pull and a tingle where Chris’ finger brushed. “I uh, have to practice.” She could feel her skin flush as the smaller woman leaned in closer. An exotically floral scent tickled her nose and she closed her eyes halfway.

“Why?” Chris asked as she slid questing fingers across a strong jaw and then down the line of Laura’s throat.

“Because the mechanics of my swing…have to be…maintained…Oh hell.” She gave in to the need to feel Chris’ mouth under hers and bowed her head, tracing lips with the tip of her tongue and begging for entry. The taste and feel was becoming more familiar, the wave of heat was not.

I will not lose control. Chris battled and held on to a thread of her sanity as a delicious sweetness coursed through her body. This isn’t possible, not from just a kiss. With an abruptness that made her gasp, it ended, and she was left blinking at blue eyes. “We…What…You are dangerous.”

“I’m sorry…” Laura gulped.

Oh god, not again. Chris closed her eyes in pain.

“This is kinda public…Could we go inside?” Laura was breathing heavily as she stood up and pulled the blonde woman to her feet.

“Inside?” Chris whispered, “Are you sure?”

Laura swallowed. “Oh yeah.” Chris searched behind her back and fumbled with the door handle, stumbling over the threshold as she pushed it open. She drew the tall woman inside and enfolded her in another kiss and their bodies crushed together. Her hands moved to broad shoulders, and she felt hands move across her back reaching under the loose shirt to finally come in contact with more intimate flesh.

“Bed?” Chris said against the side of Laura’s mouth.

“Now.” Was the answer as Laura moved to nibble lightly on the blonde woman’s neck. They bumped down the walls of the hall still kissing, hands racing to acquaint themselves with the feel of each other. Breaking apart, Chris gasped as they finally fell through the door of the bedroom.

Somehow they made it to the bed and Chris pushed Laura back against the pillows, stopping the frantic pace with her hands against the tall woman’s shoulders. “Slow…we have time.”

“I don’t know how to…” Embarrassment flickered across Laura’s face. “This is all new to me.” She gave a shy half smile and Chris felt her heart swell.

“S’okay, we’ll just go nice and slow.” She leaned down to place a kiss in the hollow of a tanned throat. “As slow as I possibly can.” She unbuttoned the top two buttons of Laura’s shirt, “For as long as I can.” Lips followed the trail of buttons as they were undone down to the edge of the khaki shorts. Chris pushed the fabric aside exposing creamy white skin that contrasted sharply with the tan of Laura’s arms. Chris eased herself up until she covered most of Laura’s body with her own and looked down into blazing blue eyes smiling softly, “What do you want?”

The world moved quickly for Chris as Laura grasped the smaller woman’s hips and spun her so that they were lying side by side. For a while Laura didn’t answer. She touched the white fabric of the other woman’s blouse, and after looking into green eyes for permission, began to remove it revealing a golden expanse of smooth skin. “I want you to make me feel…everything.”

Chris’ nimble hands proceeded to do just that. Clothes were removed and flesh slid against flesh, creating friction that inflamed already heated senses. When Chris slipped her knee between the tall woman’s thighs and followed it with an insistent touch, Laura gasped, fighting to breathe. There isn’t enough air. A warmth like nothing she’d ever felt before began curling up from the center of her body, and she arched into Chris, her hands grasping a strong back as a blonde head burrowed into her chest.

When her release came, Laura didn’t cry out, instead she fought for control through the blinding explosion of passion, clenching her jaw as shuddering tremors wracked her body. Slowly the world returned to normal, and as Chris tried to ease back, Laura gave a slight squeeze. “Don’t go.”

The blonde woman looked down into blue eyes awash in passion and felt a wave of something so intense she almost wept. She chose me. She could have had anyone on earth and she chose me. “I’m not going anywhere.” She murmured.

Laura looked up at the ceiling and swallowed. So this is what all the fuss is about. Turning back to Chris she gave a lopsided smile. “Nobody told me.” she whispered as a pleased grin spread across the younger woman’s face. A thought suddenly occurred to Laura and her brow creased in consternation. “What about you, I can…”

“Sshhh, it’s okay.” She kissed Laura’s forehead gently, smoothing the dark bangs.

“No it’s not. I want to make you feel too. Show me how.” Laura took the initiative, drawing a finger down the center of Chris’ abdomen and watched the surface ripple in response. Fascinated, she became more adventurous as Chris played willing instructor to her tentative explorations. The blonde woman was all firm muscle and feminine grace, an even tan covering her body and the more Laura touched and tasted, the more she wanted to give to Chris.

“Tell me…” Laura ground out catching Chris’ earlobe between her teeth.

“You’re…doing fine…Jesus, Kaz!” Inordinately pleased, Laura felt well manicured nails dig into her back as Chris bucked against her, breath hissing through clenched teeth. Panting slightly, she held the smaller woman until the shaking subsided, feeling a calm wrap around the two of them. Recognizing an unfamiliar peace she turned and offered up another part of herself to Chris with a smile behind the words, “I guess you can call me Laura.”

Chris chuckled lazily. “I kinda like Kaz for special occasions.” And she pulled Laura into a slow deep kiss.

******************

All her appetites sated, Chris wrapped herself around the taller woman, the fingers of one hand still lightly stroking the hollow of Laura’s throat. Reaching down, Laura pulled up the comforter to cover them both. Deep even breathing told her that Chris was close to sleep and she tightened her hold.

You are in big trouble. One addiction for another, huh Kaz?
Part 8
Aftermath

For such a small woman Chris managed to take up a good deal of her king sized bed. Sprawled on her stomach with her arms stretched out, she laid claim to most of the space, leaving just a sliver of room on one side for Laura to sleep on, which was fine since once she was asleep, the tall woman didn’t move much. Unfamiliar sounds and smells woke Laura as light was beginning to fill the room, and she felt the soft steps of Chris’ cat on the foot of the bed, investigating the strange presence in his territory.

She slid out of the bed, and uncomfortable naked, found her shirt and slipped it on before going to the bathroom. Chris watched her leave through slitted eyes, wondering what was next. Leave or stay, it’s up to you. Please stay. She watched Laura return to stand in the doorway, her hands gripping the frame and hesitating before padding back to the bed to slide under the sheets. Chris smiled when startled blue eyes turned to meet hers. “You stayed,” she said softly.

Laura licked her lower lip uncertainly. “I…Good morning.”

Chris rolled onto her side and took Laura’s hands into her own, lacing their fingers together. “How are you?”

Pausing a moment to take stock, she considered the question. “I feel good.”

Chris moved closer and pressed a light kiss on full lips, the rough texture of Laura’s shirt scraping on her bare skin as she closed the distance between them. “Oh, I beg to differ…you feel great,” she murmured.

Nerves and practicality won out over a sudden jolt of arousal and Laura gave voice to the question that had chased around her brain since she fell asleep with Chris wrapped around her. “Where do we go from here?”

“Do we have to go anywhere? Can’t we just stay here all day?” Chris mumbled into a warm shoulder, her fingertips brushing the edge of Laura’s ribs underneath the starched shirt.

“That tickles…I have to practice, and you have softball…You’re making…it hard to…think.” Laura gently stopped a traveling hand and turned, sliding a strong thigh across the lower half of Chris’ body. Raising a hand, she rubbed her thumb against the smaller woman’s jaw. “So smooth, so beautiful,” she whispered. “Can you feel what you’re doing to me?”

“Yes.” Green eyes glittered like jewels, hiding nothing.

“Good.” Laura murmured. “Turnabout is fair play.” She bent her head to capture Chris’ lips, fastening on the fullness, as her hands began to prowl over golden skin. She touched with reverence, from breasts to ribs to hip and lower still, following with lips and mouth eager to taste everything. It’s not enough. Laura couldn’t control the slight shaking in her hands as she moved them from one point to the other, spanning the blonde woman’s waist, dipping her thumbs into the well of her navel, and teasing the hollow of her hip. It’ll never be enough

Gasping at the sensations running riot, Chris reached for Laura as she moved lower, and surged into the other woman, her hands begging for purchase on sinewy arms and shoulders, as spasms shook her from head to toe.

Chris fell back on the bed, breathing raggedly as she felt sheets of perspiration peel away from her overheated body. “For a first timer, you’re pretty good at this,” she managed to get out, closing her eyes because it was too much effort to keep them open.

“Didja think you were the only one who could research?” Laura laid her cheek on a firm abdomen, watching as a few aftershocks trembled across the surface and marveled that she was the one who caused them. “So…I didn’t disappoint?”

Chris heard the uncertainty in the low voice, and wondered again at all the contradictions. “God no, Laura.” She threaded the fingers of one hand through the dark silky hair that tickled her belly. “It’s…” It’s what? Beyond anything you’ve ever felt before? Tell her that and she’s outta here. “You have no idea what you’ve done to me,” she said with quiet wonder. And with that Chris realized she was in love, and had been for quite some time.

**************************

“No, really…I have to go. My Jeep’s been in your driveway all night.” Laura wiggled her feet into sandals and stood, tucking her shirt into wrinkled shorts. I am not running…I just have to think. “If we’re gonna…Ah, we need to figure out how…” She stopped, rubbing nervous hands through her hair. “You’re not listening.”

“Yes I am. What’s your Jeep got to do with anything?” Chris sat up against the headboard, pulling the sheet up against the chill from the air conditioner. It was endearing, Chris mused, watching the normally composed News Director fumble around the bedroom gathering clothes and dressing with awkward shyness. This was the same woman who could quell a newsroom argument with just a look, or make corporate cough up not one but two brand new hundred-thousand-dollar live trucks.

“Goddammit Chris.” This was a bad sign though, the blonde woman thought. Laura was usually articulate enough not to resort to swearing, except when she was really disturbed. “I didn’t think this through…I should’ve been more careful.” Worried blue eyes finally looked at Chris. “I didn’t think about being careful…”

The warm feeling evaporated abruptly. “Don’t you dare say you’re sorry.” Chris scrambled out of the bed grabbing her robe and putting it on almost angrily.

“No, no, no. I’m not sorry, I just…” Laura looked down at Chris belting the terrycloth around her waist, the hurt obvious in the stiffness of her shoulders. “I never had a private life before. I don’t know how to keep one private. If this got out at the station, I couldn’t protect you.”

“We talked about that.”

“No, we glossed over it.” Laura rubbed a hand over her forehead, willing the words to make sense. How do I do this? How do I handle any of this? How do I say I’m scared for her and what could happen?

“Don’t.” A smaller hand touched Laura’s wrist, stopping the nervous motion. “You’re over thinking again. No one’s checking my driveway to see who’s staying overnight, at least I don’t think so. We’ll be discreet…necking on the porch in the future is probably out.” Chris pulled the tall woman close, laying her head in the hollow of her shoulder, feeling the tension ease ever so slightly as she wrapped her arms around a narrow waist. “But I’m not giving this up. Tell me that you won’t either.”

Laura closed her eyes, rubbing her chin on the soft gold hair as she felt the worry fade away under the quiet confidence of her lover. My lover? I never thought I’d have one of those. “Okay, I won’t.”

“See, that wasn’t hard. Now go play golf, or whatever it is you do when you run off on me.”

“I don’t…”

“Yes you do.” Chris pushed away regretfully. “I’ve got some things to take care of before my game.” Time for another trip to the batting cages. Placing her hand on the small of Laura’s back, she propelled her down the hall to the front door. “Whatever you want to do later, I’m up for it, just let me know.” She stood on tiptoe to press a feather light kiss on the taller woman’s jaw, promising herself to take out this newfound love and examine it later. Right now she could only let go.

Standing at the door Chris watched Laura skip down the steps and stop before spinning around and coming back. “Did you forget something?”

A wicked lopsided smile took up residence on the tall woman’s face and Chris raised an eyebrow in question. “I’ll blow off golf if you’ll skip softball.”

“Looks like a rain out to me.” Chris drawled.

********************************

Mondays suck. Chris stood in the middle of a muddy field, her feet encased in rubber boots, and stared at a metal pipe contraption that was the subject of her story while Jody tried to shoot it in a way that might be visually compelling. Contaminated wells weren’t very compelling unless you had to drink from them, Chris thought, then chided herself for her lack of compassion. She’d gotten two interviews and had enough for a package, she just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm.

The rain came around midnight, starting at about the same time that Laura left the warm confines of the king-sized bed. The steady drizzle matched her unusually somber mood and complimented her troubled thoughts. Things are different now. The inherent dangers of a boss/employee relationship mixed with Laura’s emotional awakening made Chris nervous. Very nervous.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt Chris knew what she wanted, All six feet and blue eyed muscle of it. But getting from point A to point B was going to require more patience than she was sure she possessed. In the morning meeting the News director had been withdrawn, barely grunting in response to questions from Keith and the producers, hands flexing nervously never stopping their movement and never once meeting the blonde reporter’s eyes. She’d had time to think, Chris concluded and now Laura was back behind the walls shoring up her defenses.

Chris tilted her head back to look at the gunmetal gray sky and licked the moisture from her lips as the rain continued to fall. I’m setting myself up for some kind of hurt. Heart breaking, soul rending, never get over it kind of hurt.

“Got it.” Jody unlocked the camera from the tripod and held it in one hand while he flipped the legs closed with a jerk. “Here, lemme help.” Chris offered, shaking off her pensiveness and taking the camera. It was Jody’s first day back as a shooter and the blonde reporter was feeling a little guilty that he’d gotten stuck with such a dog of a story. They started back across the field, the thick red mud squelching around their boots as they made their way back to the gravel road and the news unit parked there. After scraping them off as much as possible they dumped the boots in the back and climbed in. The two-way radio squawked impatiently and Jody picked up the handset. “Newsroom to unit 2, what’s your ETA?”

Jody thumbed the switch, “We’re looking at about thirty minutes.”

“10-4” The photographer twisted the key in the ignition, but instead of the engine coming to life, there was only the whining grind of a car that refused to start. “Well this sucks.” Jody muttered.

***********

“We need to send a tow out to Gilliam, unit 2 is dead.” Janie called across the newsroom to Keith. For a minute there was undisguised panic in the Managing Editor’s eyes. “Dead or crashed?”

Laura came out of her office like a shot. “Did someone say crashed?”

“No one said crashed!” Janie shook her head, bangs bobbing from side to side. “Jody can’t get it started…we need to send a tow, I’m calling Jimmy Watson, he’s close so it shouldn’t take too long.”

Nodding with relief, Laura went back to her office, swallowing back a remnant of fear. This is absurd…it was a friggin’ well story. She isn’t a child. Long fingers raked through dark hair as she faced the window that looked out over the studio. So many changes. She gave a snort and crossed her arms. It was supposed to get easier, right? When she left the night before, everything was fine. Then the second-guessing started, and unable to sleep, she paced the apartment obsessing over questions with no easy answers.

What the hell am I doing?

How do I work with her?

How do I treat her at work?

How will she treat me?

How do we keep it private?

Will anyone notice?

And when can we do it again?

With a sigh Laura turned back to her desk. She was supposed to have lunch with Art and the station’s lawyers to go over some pending cases and she wanted to be prepared. The timing for this meeting left a lot to be desired since sweeps should have taken priority. Ah well, I could be out in Gilliam waiting on a tow truck with Chris. At that moment, it didn’t sound too bad.

***********

The tow truck delay meant that it was almost twelve when Chris and Jody got back to the station. Jody ran to cut a VO; raw video for the anchor to voice over during the Noon newscast, and Chris returned to the newsroom dropping her muddy boots by the door. In a sort of odd lull in the day, Janie was the only staff member around and Chris gave a brief wave as she dropped her things on the desk. Messages were stacked up on her keyboard and she was flipping through them when the News Director’s office opened and a nightmare that Chris had hoped she’d never have to experience began to unfold. Looking up, she ground her teeth together, powerless to stop what was coming. I know that laugh.

Four people came out of Laura’s office, but the reporter had eyes for only two of them. Old flame, new love…What are the chances? With my luck, pretty good. The woman smiling at Art Dement was elegance and sophistication wrapped up in a raw silk suit of emerald green. In heels she was almost as tall as Laura, long shapely legs went on forever and her auburn hair swept smoothly into a knot at the base of an aristocratic neck. Whatever else had burned between them, Erica Lambert made Chris feel short and awkward. She always had.

“Steven, Erica, this is Christine Hanson, one of our Six O’clock anchors.” Art was in an expansive show off mood, happy to have on air talent around with which to impress the visitors. “Chris, this is Steven Poteet and Erica Lambert, they take care of the legal matters for the station.” The reporter dug up a charming smile and turned it on despite the fact that she could feel every drop of blood draining from her face. Sell this…Don’t give her the satisfaction. “Steven, it’s a pleasure…Erica, nice to see you again.” She looked over at the News Director and explained. “I interviewed Ms. Lambert for a story a while back.” Erica’s beauty was unblemished, but for the first time Chris could see a hardness that was beginning to take over the looks that were so carefully maintained.

The elegant lawyer turned a mocking smile on Chris, her dark eyes half lidded. “Anchoring certainly agrees with you Chrissy, you look good, though I see you still go stomping around in the mud.” She looked pointedly at the dried brown spatters on the legs of the reporter’s dark blue slacks.

Chris gave a broad smile, every inch the anchor trying to cover an on-air glitch while she watched her world spin out of control. “Part of the job, what’s a little mud? If you’ll excuse me, I have a story to deal with. Nice meeting you Steven.” She gathered up her notebook and left the newsroom avoiding the blue eyes that followed her questioningly, concentrating on getting to the hallway without falling apart.

Laura had never seen those green eyes so cold before. If she hadn’t seen the exchange herself, she would never have believed it. An uncomfortable realization twisted around her gut. Jeez Kaz, you are dense. Bet this isn’t something you’ve thought about. The lawyer turned and regarded her evenly for a second before laughing at something Art said, and Laura knew with bone deep conviction that this woman was a very dangerous enemy. Almost absently she broke into the conversation. “We have reservations at my club for twelve thirty, we should head on over there.”

“Yeah Steven, Kaz has qualified for the U.S. Open in Mississippi next month, it’s been quite a boost for sales…an unexpected benefit.” Art was showing off again.

“You’re quite the athlete Miss Kasdan.” Erica’s tone was smooth; lacking anything that might be called warmth.

“I’ve worked hard to become so. Art, will we be taking the Lexus?” And she gestured for them to go on down the stairs.

**************

Chris used a damp paper towel to wipe the dry mud off of her pants, acknowledging the bite of humiliation as she brushed the material clean. The door opened and she looked up when Kate came in, then bent back to the task at hand. The producer touched the smaller woman’s shoulder apologetically. “When she came in, you and Jody hadn’t made it back yet. I would have warned you but I just stepped out for a minute…God Chris, I’m sorry.”

“Shit happens.” She tossed the paper towel into the trash and ran water to wash her hands. “I just didn’t need to see her.” Chris muttered. Not now.

“Yeah well, you’ve got bigger problems if she’s gonna be handling the station legal stuff. This is the lawyer who’ll be advising them on talent issues. It’s a can of worms Chris. And you’re pretty exposed here.”

You have no idea. Chris grabbed two fistfuls of pale gold hair as she considered the issue. Erica could make things difficult, but only if she could get something out of it. Because that’s the way she works, isn’t it? Everybody uses everybody else, right? “I can’t deal with this now, Jody and I have to go out again.” She ruffed her hair back into order and straightened her blouse. “Thanks Kate.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Nothing I can do.” Chris answered honestly. “We’ll see how it plays out.”

**********************

The one advantage that Laura had was that she’d talked Art into having the lunch at Northridge, and it was more than a little comforting to be on her own turf. Steven Poteet was very entertaining and it was easy to see why he was a successful attorney. He orchestrated the conversation easily, flattering the General Manager and speaking knowledgeably about news and golf. He wasn’t as oily as some attorneys she knew, but Laura was certain he could hold his own in a court of law.

As for Erica, there was certain hypnotic charm about the elegant woman. She was at turns seductive, inquiring, amusing, and intelligent with a wry sense of humor that the News Director could have appreciated if she didn’t have the sickening feeling that the lawyer and Chris had a history. Jealousy was an emotion as foreign to her as physical desire had been a week ago, and she didn’t appreciate expanding her horizons to this new hypersensitized state.

The dishes were cleared after the excellent meal and Steven laid out a folder, painstakingly taking them through the half dozen pending cases and discussing where they stood. It was incredibly boring, and even Laura’s powers of concentration were stretched to the breaking point. Eventually everything was discussed, dissected, and covered. Steven packed up his files neatly and gathered the notes that Erica had meticulously taken, placing them into a briefcase before drawing out several cigar tubes. “I’m not being exclusive here ladies, would you like to join us in the cigar bar for a few minutes?”

Laura smirked at the boys’ club mentality, but before she could reply, Erica cut in. “If you’re going to light up the stinky sticks, I’ll pass. What about you Laura?”

“Call me Kaz, and I think I’ll stay here as well.” Figuring that this had been the plan all along, she watched as the men went up the stairs, then turned to face the other woman. “Would you care for some coffee? They do a nice cappuccino here.”

“I’ll take some decaf.” Laura motioned the waitress over and watched as she poured from a silver service into Erica’s cup, then covered her own to decline. The lawyer sipped the dark liquid and studied the News Director frankly. “You’re not at all what I was expecting.”

“And what was that?” Laura raised one eyebrow.

“A hot headed bitch, if you’ll pardon me. Your reputation had a lot to do with that of course. A woman doesn’t get to be a news director in a top ten market without cracking a few heads, but I did not expect such a thoughtful planner, or someone so young.”

Where is this going? Laura smiled tightly “You’re not ancient yourself, how long have been with Barnes and Poteet?”

“Eight months. It was a good move for me, I have a realistic chance to make partner. What are your plans? I can’t see you staying in Burkett Falls forever.”

“I’ll serve my corporate masters wherever they want me”

Erica nodded, “At least for three years until your ship comes in. I would assume that this is the best offer you could get after Dallas.”

Laura remembered in that instant why it wasn’t a good idea to play word games with a lawyer. “I don’t see why that should concern you at all.”

Erica folded her hands and tilted her head. “It concerns me because this is one of my biggest clients, my success is tied to the station’s success and by extension to yours as well. It’s important that you understand that.”

“I think you’ve made yourself clear,” came the dry response.

“How well do you know Christine Hanson?”

Laura’s expression remained neutral. “I think she’s the best Reporter/Anchor in the market. Certainly the hardest working.”

“Mmm.” Erica nodded. “Are you aware that she carries some… baggage?” Dark eyes glittered with malicious intent and Laura steeled her own gaze as she recognized the adversarial turn the discussion had taken. Baggage? Sitting up straighter, the News Director decided that Erica should have chosen a better word and a better target.

“Baggage?”

“This isn’t Dallas Kaz, It’s much more conservative.” Her point made, Erica crossed her legs and folded her hands.

“I see.” Laura leaned back in her chair and steepled her fingers. “Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? You’re the lawyer, let me lay something out for you. Let’s say I have a high profile anchor that happens to be gay. As her supervisor and according to her contract, I am already aware of this and it’s not a problem as far as I’m concerned. But suppose we yank her off the air for no reason other than small minds, and she brings in a high powered lawyer to sue the socks off the station for discrimination because the ratings aren’t affected at all. Maybe it’s even a test case and it generates national media exposure. Do you want to be heading up the team that tries to sort out that public relations nightmare?” Laura’s eyes went blue-white with controlled rage. “All this is hypothetical of course. If we’re all tied to the station’s success, you would do well to let me run the news department and stick to keeping us out of court. How much Willy-Simon stock did you get anyway, Erica?”

“Oh, very good Kaz. Corporate was right about you.” Another sip of coffee and a smile praising the News Director’s perceptiveness. “Definitely a keeper. Is it just the money, or something more? What happens in three years, do you chuck it all to go play golf? What was the deal?”

Laura’s smiled coldly. “My deal, my concern.” She decided to press one more point, allowing the anger to bubble free, “Whatever happened between you and Chris is your own personal business.” Erica’s dark eyes narrowed. Bingo, Laura thought. “If I find that it has any bearing on the way that you conduct business on behalf of the station, I will do everything in my power to see that WBFC terminates its relationship with Barnes and Poteet. Have I made myself clear?”

The Lawyer lifted her chin. “Perfectly. You walk a fine line Ms. Kasdan, pray you don’t stumble.”

***********************

Laura barely made it back to the station in time to be violently ill, the heaves continuing even after there was nothing left. Bracing her arms against the opposite walls of the stall, she hung there knowing that it wasn’t the confrontation, it was the idea that she was enough like Erica to be repulsed by the similarities. You told Chris you’d take her off the air remember? That’s just the way the business is. Why didn’t you give Chris her options? The only thing that matters is the station that’s why. Erica wants to be a partner, what do you want? Will you really quit in three years if they make you GM in Dallas, or is that the going rate for your soul these days? You took the deal…three years in exile for KDAL. They don’t know you have other plans. You’re as twisted as she is.

She straightened shakily and pushed out of the stall, rinsing her hands, face, and mouth with cold water. The stranger that stared back from the mirror bore no likeness to the woman she remembered from Sunday. That Laura Kasdan had been almost giddy, awash in a happiness that hadn’t survived past the door of the newsroom. And that’s the real problem isn’t it? Now you know what it’s like to feel and you miss it when it’s gone. She scrubbed a hand across her face, blowing an impatient breath.

Chris and Erica…Now that hurts. Remembering the way the color drained from the blonde reporter’s face Laura rubbed the heel of her hand along her breastbone as though that could soothe the ache in her chest, and considered the implications, giving free reign to the jealousy that wormed its way up from wherever it had lain dormant for a lifetime. Everything we did, Chris did with her and probably then some. Erica would know what she was doing…In the same bed…Deal with that. The picture that presented itself was almost enough to make the News Director start heaving again.

Enough! With strength of will born from years of discipline, she shook off the offending emotion. It’s after five, go watch the news, it would be nice if you could contribute to some part of the process today. Pulling the door open, she left the ladies room and headed down the hall.

***************

A half-hour newscast is exactly that. One half hour of time that is filled precisely. For those who participate, there is no escape until thirty minutes have passed. Time is measured out story by story, segment by segment and even the commercial breaks are merely breaths taken before the content runs its course.

Chris rolled her eyes and leaned back in her chair, bored and twitchy. Kurt was doing his weather segment and she had three and a half minutes to simply exist until she was on again, held hostage by the format of the ‘cast. Tom was marking his scripts and practicing his facial expressions, tilting his head in silent emphasis and mouthing the words as he went. For a minute Chris thought she might laugh at the absurdity of it all, then the voice in her ear spoke up, and she had to focus on getting through the end of the show.

“He’s wrapping, Camera two you’re clear, get a cross shot on Chris, Camera one gimme a three shot. We’re on graphics.”

“’Textbooks’ is dead, ‘animal control’ is dead…” Kate read the list of stories dropped for time. “Thirteen and fourteen are dead.”

Chat, chat, turn, and read. The rest of the newscast crawled by with no major problems and eventually it went to black and Lisa dismissed the crew and headed for the News Director’s office, freeing the hostages until they gathered together to do it all again at ten o’clock.

*********************

Laura sat through the post mortem leaning back in her chair, long legs stretched out over one corner of the desk. Her chin rested between the space of her thumb and forefinger, propped up by an elbow on the armrest, but the pose was deceptive since there wasn’t a relaxed bone in her body. She kept silent and nodded briefly when the meeting came to an end, content to let them leave while she continued to brood.

“Are you gonna go home, or just think dark thoughts all night.” Chris stood in the doorway hesitantly, briefcase slung over one shoulder. “Must’ve been some meeting.” The office wasn’t her first choice as place to clear the air, but it would have to do.

“It was.” Laura ran her tongue across her teeth thoughtfully and sighed. “What happened this afternoon?” She picked up a stack of pink sheets of paper. “I have three repair requests signed by you and a workman’s comp claim from St. Joe’s. I was gone for what, five hours? You were busy.”

“Ah, those.” Chris shrugged ruefully, “I dropped Jody’s camera, it’s okay though, just a circuit. The board in the audio booth fried while I was cutting my package…That will take a little longer to fix, and I’m real sorry about the live truck, but that one’s not my fault.”

“The live truck?” Laura forced down another surge of anxiety.

“Um, yeah. Jason scraped part of the microwave dish off on a low overhang at the sheriff’s car barn. He should have had enough clearance, but the door to the garage was down a little ways. I signed the repair request because he took Jody to the hospital since I’m not allowed to drive station vehicles.”

“Jody went to the hospital?” The pain in her stomach was getting worse.

“We were out getting a standup and there was this bee. I mean it was just a little sweat bee or something, anyway I tried to shoo it away but it stung Jody and he’s allergic…” she trailed off running a hand through her hair and grimacing. “Not a particularly good day.”

No, it wasn’t. “You forgot to mention the part about your new girlfriend having lunch with your old girlfriend.” Laura was careful not to accuse, just to state a fact, but the clenching muscle in her jaw gave her away.

“Well there’s that too. Sometimes it sucks to be me.” Chris could feel the embarrassed heat on her neck and looked away, wondering about the hurt inflicted on both of them.

Her face impassive, Laura drew her long legs off the desk and stood up switching off her computer monitor. Deciding against taking any work home she left the briefcase in the corner and came out from behind the desk. “Come on over to my place,” she said in almost an off hand manner. “I’ll fix us something to eat and we’ll talk.”

Chris could almost see a ray of light on an otherwise bleak landscape. “Pardon my surprise, but you cook?”

“I’ve been eating for years, someone’s gotta do it.” Laura followed the blonde woman out of the office and locked the door behind her.

*******************

Chris stared into Laura’s refrigerator with dumfounded awe. There wasn’t any food at all but every kind of beverage seemed to be represented, except for the red and white cans of her boss’ beloved Coke. Bottles, cans, and pitchers of liquid took up every available space on all three shelves. Puzzled, she stole a glance at the woman who was busy sautéing chicken pieces and her mouth twitched into a smile. “Do you have a drinking problem?”

Laura chuckled softly. “Ah, my secret’s out. As much golf as I play, I run the risk of dehydration, so I drink a lot. Since I’m off Coke, I’m trying a bunch of other stuff.”

“But there’s no food in here.” Chris took a guess and pulled out a pitcher and congratulated herself on her selection as she poured tea over a glass of ice.

“Hate to tell ya, but you’ll die of thirst before you starve to death. Just call me prepared.” The chicken sizzled as she stirred it, and Laura turned down the heat. She jerked a little when she felt Chris’ chin on her shoulder, peeking over at the selection of food cooking on the stove. “So what are we having?”

“Uh, Chicken fettuccine. One of two things, no make that three, counting Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, that I can cook.”

“It smells good.”

“I haven’t poisoned myself yet.” She whisked the sauce as it thickened, careful not to let it stick, then pulled it off the burner. As with everything else she did, Laura was efficient in the kitchen. All the dirty utensils were rinsed and placed in the sink as she methodically prepared the meal and cleaned as she went along. The pasta was drained and distributed on two plates, then the chicken, followed by the sauce. “Go ahead and sit down. I’ve got some bread too.” She set out everything they needed and Chris saw the quiet loner again, spartan even in the way she entertained.

Chris settled onto one of the barstools and picked up a fork. “This is fabulous. Who knew?”

“Who indeed.” When did we become so formal? Her drink of choice tonight was some kind of bottled lemonade, and Laura shook it before breaking the seal with a pop. Sitting down across from Chris, she took a slice of bread and started eating, but mostly just pushed the food around on her plate.

Finally, Chris couldn’t stand it. “How did you know?” The question was asked quietly and with dread. When blue eyes met hers, the expression was wry. “Let’s just say that neither one of you has a poker face and back in my office you didn’t correct me.”

“Oh.” Chris answered, thinking that there was apparently no end to the humiliation the lawyer was going to cause her. “What did she say?”

Laura’s smile was tight and humorless. “Well, once the men disappeared into the cigar bar, she outed you and threatened me…I threatened back and we agreed not to be friends. Other than that she was a delightful woman and a sharp dresser.”

Miserable, Chris pushed her plate away and covered her mouth with one hand. “What’s next then, am I off the air?”

“Nah, I’m not taking you off the air. I trumped her.”

“You what? Trumped her?”

“Yeah.” With a smug grin Laura came around to the other side of the bar and pulled Chris to her feet. “I was reminded that a woman does not get to be a news director in a top ten market without cracking some heads, so I started swinging. I laid out a possible scenario that included a lawsuit and lots of publicity and other stuff and she backed down. I think she was just trying to make things hard for you. I don’t think Steve knows anything or was putting any pressure on since I didn’t get a summons from Art.” She paused, considering the consequences of what she was about to say next. “Remember when I told you I’d take you off the air? If that ever happens you have options. Legal options. Right now no one knows or cares, so we just maintain the status quo.” Laura gently used a thumb to brush the moisture from under Chris’ eyes.

“So that’s it?”

“We just wait for the book Chris. We’ll all live and die by those numbers. We’ll have the market research done at the end of the month too. If I’m right and we’ve done our jobs, there won’t be anything to worry about.”

“And if you’re wrong?” Chris tangled a hand in the opening of Laura’s shirt before looking up and feeling a catch in her throat when she saw the bitter smile.

“Probably a big management change before November. I’ll be gone, Art, Elly, and Mark the General Sales Manager.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that. Never carry more into a TV station than you can carry out in one box, running.” Laura felt the snort of laughter against her shoulder and took a breath, “So, did you love her? No wait, you don’t have to answer. That was incredibly presumptuous of me.”

“Why is that presumptuous?”

“Because…it’s your past not mine? No. It shouldn’t make any difference? No…because it doesn’t matter?” Laura wasn’t even aware that she was thinking out loud, then blue eyes snapped emphatically, “Fuck yes it matters.” Unable and unwilling to explain any more than that, she gave a half shrug. “Did you?”

Chris smiled, intrigued by the rambling display of the News Director’s thought process, then reluctantly pushed away from the comfort of the taller woman’s body. Try as she might, the only emotions she could associate with Erica were humiliation and anger, and those paled to insignificance against what she felt for Laura. “No. I never did.”

“So…” Her question answered, Laura had no idea what to do next. She leaned against the counter, crossing her arms. “What happened?”

Chris moved slowly to the couch, calmly considering how much to tell. Erica hadn’t been just a personal mistake; she‘d been a professional mistake as well, and the parallels between then and now were unnerving. At least you’re consistent. “I was stupid and I got burned.” Easing down onto the sofa, she tucked her legs under her and considered how to begin. “We had an incident.” She paused, pulling at an earlobe nervously, “About nine months ago a suspect in custody of the Burkett Falls PD was beaten pretty badly. The guy said it was one of the arresting officers, and when they started the investigation, they found one other officer that backed up the suspect’s story.”

Laura remained silent, wondering what one had to do with the other.

“Jerry had me working the police beat then, so I was doing background checks on the officers involved. I found out some stuff on the cop who was supposed to testify against the officer accused of the beating, and I…” Chris shook her head slightly in bitter memory. “I shot my mouth off to Erica. She gave the information to the head of the officer’s defense team, and they got the witness to recant.”

Chris raised her eyes and they were filled with self-disgust, “You see, the witness had a kid by his mistress and he was the son-in-law of one of the city councilmen. They told him that if he testified, all of that would come out, so he turned chicken, and the dirty cop walked.”

“What about Erica?”

Chris snorted. “Erica got an offer from the firm that handled the cop’s defense…Barnes and Poteet.” Her lips twitched at Laura’s startled expression. “She cut a deal on information I supplied and didn’t think there was a problem with it.”

Laura couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

“Y’see, she said everybody uses everybody else and you had to get yours before it was all gone. It would have been sleazy to report about that guy’s affair, so we weren’t going to say anything. It was just a conversation, with someone I thought I could trust because we were…well, you know…” Chris let out a breath, “So anyway, I don’t talk about my stories outside the newsroom anymore.”

“God Chris, I thought it’d be something simple like she dumped you.”

That got a short laugh. “Hey, this is me we’re talking about. Nothing’s ever simple.” Laura hadn’t moved from her position against the counter, and the distance between them seemed to be growing. Chris looked down, studying a pattern in the carpet. “How freaked out are you about this?”

“Significantly.”

‘Well, what bothers you the most, the fact that I got a dirty cop off, or that I compromised a story?”

Laura winced, not wanting to sound naïve but knowing she would. “Ah, the fact that you and Erica were…close.”

Chris jerked her head up with the realization that Laura wasn’t her boss right now, wasn’t concerned with a story, she was just a jealous lover, tap dancing around an uncomfortable subject. “Really?” It was oddly flattering.

Laura dropped her hands, exasperated with herself. “I have no wealth of experience to draw on, I can only rely on what I feel right now.” The admission was embarrassing and she cracked her knuckles nervously.

“Would you stop that and sit down?”

Grumbling, Laura complied by dropping her body into the cushions at the far end of the couch and propping her head on a fist. “If I was honest, I’d say I’m glad one of us knows what we’re doing, especially since I reap the benefits of your experience…so to speak. I just didn’t want to run into it today.” She cocked one eyebrow at Chris, “And she was really smarmy too. I bet that suit costs what I make in a month.”

Chris chuckled and pulled herself closer to Laura, sliding in to rest her head between a neck and a strong shoulder. “Kind of a rough day for you.”

“Yeah well, at least I didn’t send a photog to the hospital.” Content, Laura stroked the blonde head tucked next to her chin.

“At the risk of sounding like a total slut, let me say that the day after the morning after is always the worst.”

“That would be your experience speaking?” Laura could feel Chris laugh against her chest.

“Yeah. Wanna go reap some benefits?”
Part 9
Bridges and Segues

On Thursday at midnight the May Sweeps period ended with a whimper barely heard by the viewing public. For the larger metered markets, the complete results would be known by the next day. The winners and losers would spend the next few months deciding how to make the numbers work to their advantage, because there was always a spin. For the medium to small markets it would be another week or so before they had the book in their hands. Neilson, the god of television, guarded its power over the ratings system with jealousy and venom, serving up the means for a station’s destruction for a hefty subscription fee and on their own timetable.

At least that’s what Laura thought.

She’d never had to wait for a book. In Dallas they kept up with the overnights and could make adjustments as they went along. If something didn’t work one night, they could see the numbers and go from there. In a diary market, there were no second chances; viewers returned the diaries at the end of the month and the results came after the game was played. There was no going back.

Laura opened the refrigerator door, the light brightening the darkened kitchen and drank from a large bottle of orange juice. Her vigil of the sweeps’ passing came more from an inability to sleep than a need to see the ratings period through to the bitter end and while the sense of relief was welcome, it wouldn’t cure her insomnia. The three-day push to the finish had been hard on everyone in the newsroom, and getting back to her neglected golf game had added to the strain. The Open was a week away and Laura was feeling less than confident.

Too many distractions…okay, just one distraction. Focus had never ever been a problem. Now it seemed as though she had the attention span of a gnat, but it was the neediness that bothered her the most, the craving to be close to the blonde reporter that was giving her fits. C’mon, you should’ve expected this, it’s all new, it’s fabulous and fun and all that stuff, but it can’t take over your life…It can’t.

Laura closed the door extinguishing the light, then felt her way back to the bedroom, flexing her shoulders as she went and feeling the familiar pop. Overdid it today, I think. She’d gotten up early to practice, practiced at lunch, then hit the range again after work. Laura knew there was a difference between getting in a groove and digging a rut, but she couldn’t help feeling that there was something about her swing that wasn’t quite right. You just need to play a round. The walking will help, maybe you could go in a little later in the morning…Keith could handle things for an hour or so, it’ll be just what you need. Having settled on a cure for her restlessness, Laura crawled back into bed catching a whiff of a floral scent she knew wasn’t her own. With a groan she flopped over on her back, one arm flung over her eyes and hoped for a little sleep and maybe a dream of holding and being held by someone who was becoming as necessary as air.

*********************

Golf.

Chris cursed the game and all who played it, especially demented blue-eyed news directors who could seemingly turn emotions on and off at will. She ground her teeth in frustration as she clicked down the list of stories on the AP wire, her attention divided between the computer and the door of the newsroom. Laura had paged Keith to tell him she’d be in around ten, and it wasn’t even nine yet, so there was no point in looking at the door every thirty seconds, but Chris checked again anyway.

Chris always knew with clear certainty that when she finally fell in love it would be quite a crash and as far as things went with Laura, the impact was jarring to say the least.

In the three days since what Chris was starting to call “Erica Monday,” Laura had done nothing but ride herd over the newsroom and practice golf. She wasn’t cold, she wasn’t remote, she was just driven, as though nothing was more important than getting through this one week. For the first time Chris saw the machine in action and understood how a twenty-eight year old could become a news director in a top market. I miss her…I understand, but I still miss her. No phone calls, no dinners, just professional interest and support, then off to practice as soon as the Six was finished. The book’s over now, does that change anything? Or is everything on hold until she gets back from Mississippi?

She was gathering her notes for the morning meeting when a stack of magazines tied together in a bundle landed on the floor near her desk and she looked up into the mischievous smile of Danny Rendally. “Hey Chrissy, wanna have some fun?”

********************

It was a good round and Laura had a little swagger back as she took the stairs two at a time up to the newsroom. Her hair was still damp from the hurried shower at the club and she flipped the dark length out as she pulled open the door. It was fairly busy; most of the reporters were on the phone setting up interviews and shoots for the day’s stories. Janie was busily filling out the assignment board and as she walked by Keith’s desk he handed her the mail. “Morning…good game?”

“Pretty good, needed it,” she said laconically flipping through the envelopes and trade magazines as she continued to her office. “Any problems?”

“Everything’s cool so far.”

“Great.” Still distracted by the mail, she pulled her keys out of her pocket to unlock the door and froze. “What the hell?” Dozens of City Lights Magazine covers wallpapered the office door and multiple images of three News Directors stared back at her in a weird faceted housefly perspective. One eyebrow lifted as she considered the likely suspects. “Mr. Rendally,” she called sweetly to the corner of the newsroom, “How long did this take you?” There was a moment of silence and then the laughter started.

The reporter peeked out from behind his computer monitor, “Why do you immediately assume it was me? Anybody else…”

“Anybody else wouldn’t have left his tape dispenser behind.” Laura picked up the offending desk accessory from the shelf next to the door and tossed it across the room smirking at his discomfort. “As punishment, you get to take my place at the Harrison School District Career Fair on Monday.”

‘Aw, come on…not the Career Fair,” he came out from behind his desk, “Chris helped…”

“Ooo, a confession and an accomplice. You can both go.”

“Rendally, you fink,” Chris accused. Laura chuckled softly as she unlocked the door and pushed it open. As she tossed the mail down on her desk it suddenly occurred to her that something like Rendally’s little prank would never have happened in Dallas, no one would have dared. She sat down behind the desk and wondered what had changed. Me. I’ve changed. In Dallas it had been a struggle every day to prove that she was smart enough, good enough, and ruthless enough to run the news operation at KDAL. In Burkett Falls, no one questioned whether she was qualified; they just wanted to see if lightening could strike twice.

“I think it looks good.” Elly Michaels stood in the doorway admiring Rendally’s handiwork and holding a copy of the magazine. In the photo the two men were looking into the lens and Laura was on the left, gazing slightly off camera, one hand in a pocket hitching up her unbuttoned blazer on one side. Dark hair blew in strands away from her face accenting her features. She gave every appearance of being exotically beautiful, aloof and untouchable. “Although Jack looks like he just smelled something really nasty and Lance has that charming sneer, you look really…nice”

Laura snorted in embarrassment. “Well it’s hardly pinup material and it doesn’t do us much good the day after sweeps are over.”

“Yeah, the timing sucks but any publicity is good publicity.”

“Did you know about the cover?”

“Sure, I saw the proofs.” Elly smiled, not unkindly. “Ticked you off, huh?” She nodded at the impassive expression on the News Director’s face. “I’d say I’m sorry, but a freebie’s a freebie.”

“You could’ve told me.”

“I could have.” Elly scrubbed her hand through her hair and Laura idly thought it was a little early in the day for it to be standing on end. “But I didn’t. If it wasn’t against the regulations of the USGA for amateurs, I’d plaster you with our logo next week.”

“You checked.”

“Of course. The promotion department is an ad agency and the station is my client. My one and only client. I am under no illusions about what will happen to me if the May book sucks.” Without apologies or blame Elly confirmed what Laura already knew and she nodded in understanding.

“Whatever cranks the numbers Kaz. It’s not like you to forget that.” Elly smiled bitterly and passed Keith in the doorway as she left the office.

For a minute Laura sat motionless as she watched her carefully guarded privacy slip away into the realm of an advertising scheme. Her head was beginning to ache, and she looked up at Keith. “Would you make sure that everyone’s here for the two-thirty? We need to do a little post sweeps staff meeting and we might as well do it now since I’m out next week.” Laura threw half the mail in the trash and started sorting through the buildup of paper on her desk. “What else?” she asked Keith since he made no move to leave.

“About next week, the Open…how do we cover that?”

“We don’t.”

“Oh c’mon Kaz, Tupelo is only three and a half hours away…You’re in the U.S. Open for god’s sake.”

Laura dumped more paper into the round file, “Okay, just a blurb in sports.”

“If you make a move, we need someone there to cover it.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

Laura stopped what she was doing and sighed. “Keith, I probably won’t even make the cut…”

They were interrupted by Chris tapping on the door, “Didja ask her?” Laura’s eyebrows lowered in irritation, “Ask me what?”

Shift, shift, “Chris had an idea how we could cover it without making you the main event, basically make the Open a follow-up story to her special report on Title IX. We could show how these women have benefited from the increasing number of athletic scholarships offered to women to even out the number offered to their male counterparts…”

Chris picked up the story pitch, “And since the Open will have amateur players from various colleges who are there on scholarships, it seems like a good opportunity,” Chris’ enthusiasm dulled a little at the look on the News Director’s face. “That way we’re already there if something interesting happens…or not,” she finished.

Laura leaned back in her chair with a touch of exasperation, “Has it occurred to anyone that this is my vacation we’re talking about? It’s not a station function and it’s not a promotional opportunity. I don’t want an entourage and I sure as hell don’t want to be put on display.”

“Yeah, but if you’re there it makes it our story, and aren’t you always saying that we never give up ownership of a story?” Chris knew she had her and resisted the urge to smirk. Laura regarded the blonde reporter through narrowed eyes, her fingers tapping on the armrests and figured she’d been cooked in her own juice. Looking away she blew out an irritated breath. “All right Keith, set it up for Thursday-Friday, though I don’t know where you’ll find a hotel rooms for a reporter and a photog at this late date.”

Keith did a little victory bounce and fist pump before he turned to leave the office but Laura’s voice stopped him, “And Keith? Stay out of my hair…It’s my vacation.”

“Sure Kaz.” And with a grin he was gone leaving Chris behind. “Close the door,” Laura requested and the reporter complied, returning Laura’s gaze evenly, never once breaking eye contact. “Why do you want to do this?” The News Director asked the question softly.

For Chris the answer was easy. “I want to be there with you and for you. Surely that’s not so hard to understand.” She swallowed against the need to touch the other woman; instead she slipped her hands into the pockets of her blazer. “Will it bother you if I’m there?”

Laura’s mouth was suddenly dry. “I’m…sorry about the last few days, you deserve better than to be ignored.”

“Is that what you were doing? I thought you were working your tail off.” Chris bit her lower lip and asked again, “Will it bother you if I’m there?”

Laura hesitated for a moment and her brow crinkled thoughtfully, “I’d like for you to see me play. I guess that sounds arrogant.”

“You? Arrogant?” The blonde reporter could lift one eyebrow too.

“Sarcasm doesn’t become you.”

Chris dipped her head and hid a smile. “The deal was that we do this at your speed, and we keep it out of the newsroom. That hasn’t changed. I can do the story and not come within fifty yards of you; all you have to do is tell me. Think about it.” Chris stepped back to leave knowing it was the only way she could keep from saying too much, but Laura’s voice, barely above a whisper, made her stop. “I want you there. More than anything in the world, I want you there.” Blue eyes did not waver or hide an unspoken plea from a carefully guarded heart.

Chris sucked in a breath and her lips twitched into a smile, “Cool.”

***********************

The two-thirty meeting was crowded but the mood was light and the final firming up of the primetime newscasts was accomplished quickly. Laura nodded at Keith when he finished the rundown for the Six and stood up, clearing her throat. “Well, the book is over and the blackout is lifted. I know a bunch of you are going on vacation next week, I just wanted to get in one last word about…” Laura stopped herself, “Oh hell, I just wanted to say what a good job everyone did. We broke some good stories and dealt with some bad ones. If we don’t get some decent numbers, it wasn’t from lack of trying.”

She ought to wear jeans more often. The thought flitted through the back of Chris’ mind as she listened to the News Director praise the staff when it suddenly occurred to her that this was the same woman who had ruled KDAL with an iron fist, who had so terrorized a newsroom that they sent a condolence card to WBFC when they found out that this was the new domain of the infamous Laura Kasdan. Puzzled, she looked around at the staff. There was no obvious animosity; in fact she was certain that if pressed, most of them would have good things to say about their boss. Who mistreated whom in Dallas, Laura?

“The special reports looked good, the series were good, I think we had some strong viewer interest. So we’ll take a little break, we won’t worry about the July book ‘cause nobody looks at those numbers anyway, and we’ll be back strong in November.” Laura gave a lopsided smile not sure how to close, “I’m really proud of y’all and to show my thanks…Dinner’s on me. We’re grilling burgers out on the patio after the Six.” Nothing excited a newsroom like free food and the whooping drowned out anything else that Laura wanted to say. The staff began to disperse to assemble the pieces and parts of the Five and Six, and The News Director headed for her office.

“Not so fast, Kaz.” Lisa Tyler held up a hand to quiet the newsroom. “We, that is all of us want to wish you the very best next week.” She tossed a package to Laura who caught it neatly and displayed a plastic bag full of Orange University of Texas golf tees. Lisa held out her fist with her forefinger and pinky extended and gave her wrist a waggle in the Longhorn salute, “Hook ‘em horns.”

Before Laura could open her mouth Rendally stepped forward with a box, “Just a little token of our affection…really.” Laura narrowed her eyes at the reporter and opened the lid with some trepidation, pulling out a Tasmanian Devil golf club head cover…except that the brown tuft on the top of its head had been replaced by a long hank of black hair. “Well,” she drawled, “No one ever said you were subtle Rendally…my very own stuffed mascot.”

The reporter blushed slightly. “Tear ‘em up Kaz.”

***********************

“Pretty nice party.” Lisa slid a plastic plate heaped with potato salad and a towering hamburger onto the wooden picnic table and climbed over the bench to sit across from Laura. “We’ve never done this before, it’s a good idea.”

“Yeah, I figured it’d be a good way to end the week.” Laura pushed her plate away and for a change most of the food was eaten. They were alone at the table, most of the staff had broken off into splinter groups of five or six.

“Are you ready?”

Laura grimaced nervously. “No.”

“Uh huh. You’re ready.” Lisa poked a fork at her food as she considered how to ferret out the information she was looking for. “So…Chris is going to cover the Open?” She looked up to see a muscle jump in the taller woman’s jaw.

“She’s doing a follow-up to her special report on Title IX.” Laura stilled her hands, waiting and half-afraid of the next question but Lisa abruptly changed the subject. “I guess this is a lot different from Dallas, Austin too.”

Laura relaxed, “You have no idea.”

Whiskey colored eyes narrowed thoughtfully, “You’ve never let yourself be teased before, you know? You always took everything so seriously.”

“So?”

“So what’s changed?”

Laura cocked her head to one side and pondered the question. “There’s no Roger…I’m not fighting every day to make sure it’s done right. I’m not hostile because I don’t have to be.” And it makes all the difference in the world, doesn’t it? She gave a short laugh, “Guess it was just that big market grind.”

“Hmmm.” Lisa looked past Laura’s shoulder at the reporters gathered around one of the other tables and her voice dropped to a quiet serious tone. “She watches you, you know. Especially when she thinks no one’s looking. She always knows when you’re in the booth for the Six…and she just lights up on the air, did you know that?” Laura shook her head slowly and Lisa continued, “She’s always asking me questions…about you, always digging, and she is relentless. Kaz, what have you gotten yourself into?”

Laura winced, certain that she didn’t want to have this conversation. “Could you be more specific?”

“This is so incredibly dangerous, it isn’t even funny.”

“I know that.” Laura snapped in a low voice.

“And it’s partly my fault. I had no business pushing…I just never thought you’d…” Lisa stopped at the look on Laura’s face, suddenly realizing that her friend had no idea what was happening and was ill equipped emotionally to deal with it. With a sigh she shifted arguments, mentally scolding herself for not sticking to the point she wanted to make. “It’s not against the rules, you know. The handbook only says intimate relationships are discouraged.”

“I am her supervisor, and logic dictates that that kind of relationship is disruptive.” Laura tapped on the wooden table for emphasis. “But it’s not only that, it’s the on-air thing and public perception. I could be the reason she gets yanked. Career wise, I could probably survive…I’m not sure she could.”

“So what’s gonna happen?”

Laura dropped her head and spoke so softly that Lisa could barely hear her. “When I’m alone, I can almost talk myself into breaking things off and telling her that it’s just not gonna work. I can almost convince myself not to be selfish and put a stop to it before we both get in trouble.” Laura paused and lifted dark blue eyes filled with emotion, “But she’s the most incredible person I’ve ever known and she likes me. She makes me laugh, and think, and feel. Can you understand what that means to me?”

Lisa nodded, understanding much more than Laura was telling. “For God’s sake be careful, Kaz.”

“I will protect her as long as I can. If things…don’t work, I’ll still protect her.” Laura didn’t need to see the slight widening of the other woman’s eyes to know that Chris was coming up behind her, the shiver running down her spine was notice enough.

“Can I sit here or were you talking about manager stuff that the peons aren’t supposed to hear?” Chris put her hand lightly on Laura’s shoulder for balance as she stepped over the bench and sat down. The patio was clearing out and they were the only ones left except for the caterers.

“Nope,” Lisa said, “We finished talking about manager stuff. I think I’m going home to see if I can talk Trey into a backrub. Kaz, good luck next week, I know you’ve got the game. See ya Chris.”

They watched her leave and Chris turned to Laura. “Did I chase her away?”

“No, she’s just…concerned.”

“Us?” Chris inquired.

“Yeah.” Laura closed her eyes and inhaled Chris’ perfume. “Any plans for tonight?”

“Well, I was thinking that I’d sit on my porch swing until something better came along.”

“Oh. I have to make sure the caterers get everything cleaned up. Probably be another hour.”

Chris smiled, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “Why don’t you bring something to drink since that seems to be your area of expertise right now. Are you playing golf tomorrow?”

“No, I’m a little fried right now, I need a break.” Laura hesitated, Lisa’s warning still fresh in her mind. “Maybe we should rethink this and…”

“Stop.” Chris put one hand out to touch Laura’s arm. “I have one day before I have to give you back to the golf gods. I’m not wasting that rethinking.” She stood up and slid out from behind the bench. “I’ll wait for you,” she said, leaving Laura alone with the catering crew and the debris from the party to celebrate the end of sweeps.

*****************

“Why aren’t you sleeping?” Laura felt the breath from Chris’ inquiry on her ear, followed by a hand tangling in her hair. The moon lit the bed with a bluish tint through the slats of the blinds, where Laura lay on her stomach, chin on her forearm.

“Not tired.” Laura still felt the shivers of awareness that the blonde woman seemed to provoke just by her presence.

Chris chuckled. “You should be. We damn near christened every flat surface in the house, horizontal and vertical. The word insatiable comes to mind.” Chris settled herself across Laura’s back, laid her head down between the taller woman’s shoulder blades and heard her low hum of embarrassment.

“Guess I got carried away…missed you.”

“S’okay.” Chris slurred, one hand tracing the muscle of Laura’s upper arm as she savored the admission. “I gotta think that if you play golf the way you make love, no one else stands a chance.”

Laura peeked over her shoulder and said wryly, “It wasn’t just me.” The need had been maddening for both of them and Laura wondered if it would ever ease, half-afraid that it would. She filled her lungs, feeling Chris’ weight rise and fall with her breath, then twitched when a busy hand found a sensitive spot. “Ah, that’s a little sore.”

“What? Oh, your live truck scar. That still hurts?” Chris ran her fingertips along the rough edge of skin unable to make out the detail in the dark. How ‘bout that? Marked you as mine even way back then. “Maybe you should have a doctor look at it.”

“No it’s okay, I think I just bumped it on something when we were…earlier.” Laura felt a jolt as her body reacted to the gentle caress, and wondered briefly if it was making up for years of deprivation. Slowly she rose up on her elbows and turned over on her back. Chris followed the movement, shifted and readjusted until her compact feminine form was draped over Laura’s long torso. “You were right, you know,” Laura said as she felt soft kisses along her collarbone.

“About what?” The question was murmured against warm skin.

“When you said I’d wonder how I ever lived without it.”

Chris laughed seductively and Laura felt the rumble all the way to her feet. “I was trying to be a tease, it was the least I could do.” She tucked her head underneath Laura’s chin, comfortable with the closeness and closed her eyes. “What’s running through your head, Laura?” She asked in a whisper without really expecting an answer.

“I love to hear you laugh,” came the unexpected reply. “It makes me feel…I don’t know…happy is pretty inadequate.” Chris felt a shrug and then silence. It should make you feel loved, you idiot. Chris bit back one of those laughs and settled for a smile as the body under hers relaxed and Laura drifted off to sleep.
Part 10
A Good Walk Spoiled

Heat waves from the expanse of concrete at the Tupelo airport shimmered across the ground distorting the green edge of the horizon as the jet landed and the tires kicked up twin curls of gray smoke. The terminal was cool, but after four hours of driving Laura was already worn, her white T-shirt creased and limp, and just the idea of the sweltering heat was enough to exhaust her.

It hadn’t been practical for Charles to drive, so he was flying. Laura waited patiently for the passengers to deplane and was finally rewarded by the sight of his tall figure coming through the door. “Kaz! You better’ve brought the little bag or the heat is gonna kill me humpin’ a staff bag.” Laura winced against the rib-cracking hug that lifted her off her feet.

“Would I do that to you? It’s not the little bag, but it’s light. Flight okay?” She smiled as the jitters settled. Familiarity always helped with her nerves, in that way she was just like her mother. They started toward the baggage claim and she recognized some of the other golfers gathering up their baggage and clubs. Some of them would have courtesy cars, but most wouldn’t. As an amateur who had to qualify, Laura was at the very bottom of the totem pole; no sponsors, no school affiliation, and no USGA title. But the Open was a model of democracy in golf. If the handicap requirement was met, a 4 for women, and a player could qualify at one of the sectional tournaments, then she could play in the Women’s U.S. Open.

There were club bags everywhere in the baggage claim, hard cases and soft cases scattered and stacked all around the conveyor belt. Charles spotted his bags as they came through the flap and picked them up easily following Laura out and into the heat. “God,” he panted as the air conditioning in the doorway warred with the heat and lost. “I was afraid it was going to be really hot.”

Laura laughed at his discomfort, knowing that they would have a much easier time than some of the others who weren’t used to the heat and the humidity. “C’mon, it’s worse in Dallas during August.”

“Yeah, but you have June and July to get used to it.” They crossed the parking lot and Laura opened the back flap of the Jeep, moving her bag and clubs to make room for his. “Is the air working in this thing?” he asked opening the passenger side and wincing as the vinyl scorched his legs when he sat down.

“Like a charm.” She started the ignition and turned the blower up full blast. There was a lot of traffic at the airport and it took a few minutes before they were out and on the highway. Laura pulled a map out from beside her seat and pushed it at Charles, “We’re going to the Marriott, it’s on North Gloster, should be an exit right up here.”

“Yeah, there it is.” He pointed out the exit and she followed the cloverleaf around and over the highway. “The Marriott, cool. At least it’s not that Twilight Inn we stayed at in North Carolina…I knew we were in trouble when I saw all those rusted appliances out in front.”

“That wasn’t a very good experience all the way around. The cockroaches were as big as my fist.” Laura shook her head remembering her last Open. Probably had a lot to do with walking away, didn’t it? “Well, I make a little better money now and we might as well be comfortable.”

“How is the job? I know it isn’t Dallas.”

“It’s good.” She saw the sign for the hotel and put on her blinker, taking note of the restaurants clustered close by. “Rough couple of months but everything seems to be working out.” She turned into the parking lot and thoughtfully considered that two months ago it looked like her career had been flushed down the toilet.

“Good, ‘cause you’re a lot more relaxed than you were in Austin.” Nothing stayed hidden from Charles for very long, Laura thought, and it was always better to beat him to the punch. You’re gonna have to tell him sometime…before Chris gets here. She pulled in under the driveway cover and hopped out.

“I’ll get the rooms, you wanna wait?”

“No, I’ll come in.” Laura looked back at him and smiled. He looked every inch the pro shop staffer in tan Dockers and a striped polo shirt, and she felt a surge of fondness for her childhood friend. He held the door open for her and she slipped into the coolness of the lobby briefly thinking that the abrupt changes in temperature from hot to cold over the next week were going to make her sick as a dog.

“I have reservations for Kasdan.” She leaned on the counter as the clerk went about assembling the paperwork and plastic card keys.

“That’s a suite and an adjoining room? Rooms 534 and 35, no smoking…sign here, enjoy your stay. Laura gathered up the receipt and keys and stuffed them in her cargo shorts. After grabbing a map of the hotel layout they went to move the Jeep. Their room was on the end of the building so Laura parked by the side door and they unloaded the bags. “You want the clubs upstairs?” Charles asked.

“Yeah, I just have the duffel, we can do it in one trip.” She hoisted the clubs on one shoulder and the bag on the other. Fortunately, the elevator was just inside the door and they shuffled on board to stand waiting until they were delivered to the fifth floor.

“This is definitely not the Twilight Inn,” Charles said as Laura unlocked the door to the suite.

“This one’s mine, yours is next door.”

“Can I clean out the mini bar?

“I am not paying four dollars for a bag of peanuts.”

Charles only laughed as Laura dropped her bags and gave him the key to his room. He left her alone for a moment and she inspected the spacious suite. I can be happy here for a week…If I make the cut. No, WHEN I make the cut. She heard Charles tap on the adjoining door and she opened it. “I like traveling on your news director’s salary Kaz, we should do this more often.” His teeth flashed as he beat her to the usual answer. “Someday, yeah I know. So, what’s the plan?” He settled his tall frame down on the sofa and opened a bottle of water freshly liberated from his refrigerator.

Laura shrugged as she stopped and sat down in the chair opposite the caddy. “Nothing tonight, maybe some dinner. I’ll register tomorrow, my tee time’s at two-fifty for my practice round.”

“It’s gonna be miserable.”

“I know, but it’s better that we get used to it. You know I’m not allowed on the course without a caddy?” he nodded. “We can walk it tomorrow morning just to get a feel.” She looked down at her hands and rubbed the calluses in her palms. “Thanks for doing this with me, I’m sorry that you’re giving up vacation time and there’s no money in it for you.”

“Hey, none of that. The deal is room and board and airfare. I get to pass out business cards and make contacts. This is as good for me as it is for you.”

That word again. Laura swallowed. If I had a dime for all the deals I’ve made, I wouldn’t be hanging around waiting to be vested in my stock plan. “Okay then. We’ll wait to see the course and get the packet before we talk about how I want to play this.”

“It’s a USGA course, you’re going to play it very carefully.” He regarded her evenly. “Seriously, one or two under could win this thing. You go in like a cowboy with that grip and rip and you’ll spend two days hitting out of the weeds they call rough and going home Friday night.”

“I don’t play that way anymore.”

He grinned, “Just checking. What else has changed by the way?”

She was expecting it, but the question caught her off guard anyway. “Why does everyone keep asking that?” she muttered. “Changed?” Stalling is not gonna help you out here.

The soft brown eyes of her oldest friend probed gently but relentlessly. “What’s happened since Austin? You could barely sit still two weeks ago, now you’re not pacing, and you’re not cracking your knuckles. What’s changed?” he repeated.

She grimaced, looking for an escape route. “It’s complicated.” Remember when you told Chris that you tried not to make assumptions about yourself, and you didn’t have any family to speak of? You are such a damn liar. “I’m…seeing someone.” Charles’ eyebrows raced up his forehead. “It’s someone I work with, it could be real sticky.”

“Little Kaz in love…Never thought I’d see the day.

Wait a minute! Laura froze, “It’s not that way.” She crossed an arm against her chest and brought her fist up to her chin, her thoughts racing. You never considered that, didja Kaz?

Not an obsession, not a distraction, just love. Oh come on, I don’t even know what love is. Blindsided, her eyes were stricken when she looked at the caddy. “It’s one of my anchors,” she murmured. “Chris Hanson. You’ll get to meet her later this week.” There. It was out baldly on the table, and she tightened her jaw waiting.

Charles didn’t react in any way that Laura expected; he just smiled in his slow teasing way. “Like I said, I never thought I’d see the day.”

The worry lifted slightly and she gave a half smile, “You’re okay with this?”

“Well, I’m not telling Dad. That ball’s in your court.” His eyes clouded, “You’re as close as a sister and the best friend I’ve ever had, I want you to be happy and I know you haven’t been. Might be the best thing in the world that you had to leave Dallas.” Charles knew it wasn’t that simple, but judging by the look on Laura’s face, she had other issues she needed to deal with, and sometimes she couldn’t see past the nose on her face. He took a swig of water and stood up. “It’s three o’clock, what are you gonna do this afternoon?”

“A shower I think. Maybe a nap.”

“Can I borrow the Jeep? I need some sunscreen and some other stuff. We can do dinner around six thirty – seven.” He caught the keys as she tossed them over. “Anything else I need to know?”

“I think we’ve about covered everything,” she said dryly.

Charles stopped, his hand on the doorknob. “I haven’t seen you this relaxed since you were a freshman at UT. Whatever happens, it’s been good for you. You’re still too skinny though.” He closed the door as she threw a pillow at him and she could hear his laugh through the thin divider.

With a deep sigh she stretched out on the sofa, wriggling to get comfortable and promised herself that she’d only close her eyes for a minute. Unbidden, thoughts of the blonde reporter flooded in, filling every crevice of her mind and startling her with their intensity. What’s not to love? But real never let go, forever kind of love…Am I even capable of that? The idea was sobering. Could Chris ever love me? I’m such a fucking prize.

It hurt more to think about feelings that weren’t reciprocated than the feelings themselves and Laura growled at her own inconsistencies. She pushed off the couch impatiently and almost reached for the phone. Instead she stalked over to the mini fridge and began rummaging through its contents. Resisting the urge to break her vow of no Coke, she grabbed a bottle of juice, and without remorse for its five dollar price tag, gulped it down and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. As soon as this is over, I’m gonna drink a two liter bottle of Coke in one gulp and feel it burn all the way down. Probably belch for a week and a half. With a sigh of resignation she went over to where she dropped her duffel and started to unpack.

She hung up all the shorts and shirts, hoping that she wouldn’t have to iron too much, and then laid out the carefully polished and respiked golf shoes. The routine was reassuring, and by the time she was finished a measure of calm had been restored.

But the phone still beckoned, and cursing her lack of willpower, she dug a card case out of a pocket and fished out her calling card. Numbers, numbers, numbers. Too many numbers. She waited impatiently, not wanting to hear the machine, then sighed in relief when she heard the receiver pick up. “’Lo.” Chris’ voice was thick with sleep.

“Caught you in bed on a Sunday afternoon?”

“Oh, hey. What time is it? S’almost four. Didn’t get much sleep this weekend…but you’d know that. Played softball, took a shower, fell asleep.”

“Who won?” Laura sat down on the floor next to the bed, wrapping an arm around her knees. She could almost see the tousled blonde hair and sleepy green eyes.

“We did. Keith hit a two run dinger in the bottom of the seventh.” Chris yawned and stretched.

“Yes, but how did you do?”

“Double, single, Double, and no errors. So you got there safe and sound.”

“Yep. Picked up Charles and checked into the hotel. We’re going out to dinner tonight and I start practice rounds tomorrow.”

“Mmm. Bunch of people on vacation next week, it’ll be strange.”

Laura pushed her bangs away from her face, “So you’ll be here Thursday?” For someone who didn’t want an entourage, you sure can’t wait to see her.

“I don’t know, I need to check with my supervisor,” Chris teased. “Keith found a hotel. Guess I should tell you that he’s planning on coming if you’re still playing on the weekend.”

“Wish he’d stay home, I’d rather have him there in town while I’m here.”

“Henry’s on call,” Chris said, referring to the Executive Producer and third in command. “And Keith wants to see you play.

“I don’t think this is a very good idea. You…me…half the staff and hotel rooms…Do you see where I’m going here?

“I think you’re worrying too much. I’ll be there to do a job and I can certainly separate my private life from my professional responsibilities.” Chris thought by saying it she could make it so, but she crossed her fingers just in case.

Laura rolled her eyes, recognizing that things with the blonde reporter rarely went according to plan, and wondered how she was going to handle damage control and still play decently. Remember, it’s just one distraction, right? “This is repetitive, but please be careful.”

“What could happen?”

“The mind reels,” was the dry reply.

********************************

It was the most exquisitely manicured parcel of land that Chris had ever seen. The expanse of emerald green grass was broken only by darker trees, the white of the sand traps, and the silver blue of the lake that led away from the white columned clubhouse. Flower beds and shrubs were carefully mulched with woodchips in what must have been a landscape worker’s nightmare. It was more like a painting than real life, a postcard of a playground for the rich and privileged.

Jody drove the station Taurus slowly following the directions of the security guards to the media lot and pulled into a space between a van and a Blazer, both marked with network logos. They both stepped out of the unit and Jody reached back to grab his photographer’s vest, stuffing it with batteries and tape before looping his press ID around his neck. Chris waited by the trunk, patiently looking through the press packet for directions to the media tent while the cameraman assembled his equipment. “I’m not bringing the tripod just yet, I’ll shoot off the shoulder,” he told her.

“Okay, we need to check in with media relations, then we have to find the satellite truck corral to set up the live shots…Keith booked the Sat time.” Chris looked up at the sky, noting that dark gray clouds were gathering. “I’m supposed to get two interviews this afternoon, then maybe we can look for Kaz.” It had been a last minute decision to come out on Wednesday rather than Thursday to take advantage of some of the players’ availability and Chris was a little apprehensive about seeing Laura. Just a hunch, but I’m pretty sure that now is not the best time for surprises.

Jody shouldered the camera and they started walking toward a cluster of tents, the asphalt radiating heat through the soles of their shoes, promising misery for those not used to the warmth and humidity of a Mississippi summer. Signs directed them to the check-in and they picked up their credentials with a minimum of fuss. Chris clipped hers on her belt next to the WBFC ID and asked directions to the Sat truck corral. One of the workers offered to take them in an electric utility cart, so Chris rode up front and Jody sat in back with the camera. Shrubbery hid most of the course from the road, but occasionally they glimpsed a group of golfers making their way through the final practice round. “The course looks fabulous,” Chris told the driver, guessing that this was the golfer’s equivalent of a conversation starter concerning the weather.

“Been a little dry…rough’s not as high as it should be.” He nodded as they passed another cart. “Probably get some rain tonight but it’s a little too late.”

Okay, low rough means the course isn’t as dangerous, so the scores’ll be lower. Chris stored the information away in her newly acquired all about golf file as they pulled into a gravel lot filled with trucks emblazoned with network logos, and independent satellite operators. They found their network truck with no trouble and Chris confirmed their times with the operating engineer.

“Where to now?” the driver asked.

“Clubhouse…let’s find some players.” Chris grabbed the handle next to the seat as the cart jerked forward and they were whizzing back toward the plantation style building that served as the centerpiece of Cypress Hill Golf Club.

A crowd was gathered around the pro shop where the driver let them off, most of them trying to get inside where the air-conditioning offered momentary relief from the ninety-five degree temperature. Across a small brick courtyard was the putting green and golfers milled around underneath an ivy-covered arbor. As Chris and Jody crossed over to the practice green, they heard a burst of laughter and a smattering of applause, and then a clear tenor voice broke out in song. I got drunk the day my mama got out of prison. Chris looked at Jody and they pushed through the crowd to get a better look.

And I went to pick her up in the rain…There standing on the steps leading to the clubhouse was a tall black man singing at the top of his lungs with his arm thrown around their News Director’s shoulders. As the reporter and photog watched in open-mouthed wonder, Laura added her rich voice to his. But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck, she got runned over by a damned old train!

“Are you rolling on this?” Chris asked Jody incredulously.

“You’d better believe it,” he answered as a number of caddies, golfers and the crowd joined in the chorus.

And I’ll hang around as long as you will let me, ‘Cause I never minded standing in the rain. You don’t have to call me darlin’, darlin’! You never even call me… I wonder why you don’t call me…

Chris smiled broadly as clear blue eyes met hers and she felt a lurch in her chest.

Why don’t you ever call me by my name?

The gallery applauded loudly and Laura hopped off the step blushing furiously and pulled her singing partner still bowing and laughing over to where Chris and Jody were standing. “You’re early,” she said, embarrassed at having been caught in an activity so out of character. “This is Chris Hanson and Jody Banks, two of my very best,” she said to the tall man. “And this is my caddy, Charles Cryer, he is known to spontaneously break out in country western songs on occasion.”

Charles flashed even white teeth. “Little Kaz exaggerates…we always sing…she’d be disappointed if we didn’t.” For just an instant Chris felt a twinge of jealousy at the closeness between Laura and her caddy as though her lover wasn’t entitled to an old friend who surely knew secrets she couldn’t even guess at. Charles shook Jody’s hand then looked down at Chris his warm eyes lighting up, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Jealous or not Chris couldn’t stop a lopsided grin. “She was singing with you, if I hadn’t seen it myself, I wouldn’t believe it.”

“Yeah, well don’t tell anyone…it’ll blow my image.” Laura took off her hat and shook her hair loose, running her fingers through sweat dampened bangs. “We just finished our round, have you been here long?”

“Long enough to check in and catch the show,” she teased. “I’ve got interviews set up for later, that’s why we came early.”

Laura nodded, “You okay Jody?”

“Yeah, I’m going to get some B roll Chris, I’ll meet you back here in ‘bout a half hour. And I got that on tape, Kaz.” The photog winked as he turned to leave and was swallowed up by the crowd almost immediately.

“I wonder how much he wants for that.” Laura muttered.

“What about you two, what’s next?” Chris pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head as darkening clouds obscured the sun.

“Are you gonna hit the range?” Charles asked Laura.

“Think I’d better before it starts raining.”

“I’ll get the bag.” Charles jogged off to pick up the clubs, and Chris followed Laura up the hill to the practice tee, surprised that except for mild embarrassment, Laura was more relaxed and at ease than she expected in what should have been a high pressure situation. Maybe it’s just another game face. A solitary sport…Yeah it suits.

“So where are you staying?” Laura interrupted her thoughts as they bumped shoulders, the touch making Chris want more than just casual contact.

“We’re at the Hampton Inn. It’s a two-room suite thing with a bed and a sleeper sofa. Guess we’ll toss for the bed.”

“Well, you could…”

“Nope, I’m here to do a job and so are you.” Green eyes laughed back at her and Laura smirked, reading the reporter’s mind easily. “I wasn’t going to offer, I was going to suggest that you get on a waiting list for cancellations.”

“Oh.”

Laura was chuckling at Chris’ chagrin when Charles caught up with them as they reached the range. There were already a number of golfers practicing, the bronze of their tans evidence of hours spent in the sun. “Hey Kaz, they’ve got the pairings posted. You go at 1:10 tomorrow.” Charles held up a folded sheet of paper.

“Let me see.” She moved beside him to look over the list. “Good. That means I’m playing in the morning on Friday.” With a businesslike movement she pulled on her glove, flexing her hand as she fastened the Velcro and stepped around the ropes into the practice area proper. Charles followed Laura and handed her the driver, dropping the bag next to a pyramid of balls. Chris watched as the two of them conferred over something then The caddy nodded and came over to where she was standing and stepped over the rope. “Come on Chris, I want to get something to eat.”

“Don’t you need to stay here for this?” The reporter stood mesmerized as Laura swung the club a few times, all long limbs and easy grace.

“Nah, if she needs help she’ll ask. Besides, she hates it when I watch.” Chris turned away reluctantly and they walked back down the hill to the clubhouse. Charles ducked into a tent next to the pro shop and Chris followed curiously then caught a bottle of water as it was tossed her way. “Turkey or ham?” Charles asked as he stood over stacks of boxed lunches.

“Turkey.”

“Turkey for Kaz too.” He gathered up three boxes and two more bottles of water, nodded at the attendant and led her to a table set up by a portable cooling unit. “Only the players and caddies are allowed in the clubhouse restaurant,” he explained as he sat down.

“This is fine, and free food is free food.” Chris opened the box and lifted out a thick sandwich.

“Yeah, we’ll eat pretty good for the next few days.” He took a large bite and washed it down with the water and wiped his hands on a napkin. “This is the part where I play the big brother and ask you about your intentions.”

Chris swallowed, “Excuse me?”

“You and Little Kaz…she didn’t tell me much so I figured I’d go to the next source. You’re the reporter so you’d know about that, right?”

“I’m sorry, but I barely know you.” Chris’ natural inclination was to start her own interrogation.

“Look, I’m not…Let me start over.” Charles took a deep breath, “When Kaz came to Austin two weeks ago she was wound tighter than a cheap watch and nothing but skin and bones. She shows up Sunday and it’s like a whole other person, except she’s still too thin.”

Chris raised an eyebrow, “Does she know you’re giving me the third degree?”

“Are you kidding?” Charles snorted. “She’d kill me. I’m invading her privacy, and if you know her at all, you’d know that.” He shook his head impatiently, trying to make a point without betraying any confidences. “Kaz isn’t…Oh hell, for someone who’s run one of the busiest newsrooms in the country, she’s not very…”

“Experienced? You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know,” Chris said softly, touching him lightly on the hand.

“Why you? I’m not trying to be insulting,” his mouth tightened, “It’s just that no one’s ever gotten close…She cried in Austin. I’ve never seen her cry before, I wasn’t sure she could.”

Chris bit her lip considering what the caddy said. He’s got the answers; do I know the right questions to ask? “What happened in Dallas?”

Charles snorted again. “It didn’t start in Dallas, that was just the explosion. It started with that stupid fucking deal she made with her Dad.”

“What deal?”

Charles blew out an exasperated breath, “Look Chris, this isn’t my story to tell. You’re better off asking Kaz.”

Asking Laura was out of the question, she stood a better chance with the caddy. Chris nodded to herself as she came to a decision. “I love her Charles, nothing you say will change that.” She gazed across the table at him, a smile playing across her lips. Saying it out loud made her realize there was no going back. “You asked me what my intentions are. I intend to be around for a long, long time. Now you can either help me out, or get out of the way.” Chris calmly took a sip of water while she flexed her reporter’s muscles. Now answer the questions and tell me the story. “What deal?”

For a moment Charles didn’t answer, then he nodded grudgingly. “Ten years. She promised her Dad ten years in the news business. She thought it would make him happy because it was the only thing he ever really asked for and she wanted his approval, I guess. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about the golf, that wasn’t a way to make a living.”

“But her Mom…”

“Was an amateur. Sarah never turned pro, and she was a snob about that. She was one of the USGA muckety mucks. She wanted Little Kaz to play but not necessarily as a pro. Then Kaz won her first U.S. Amateur in ‘95. That was great ‘cause that made them the first mother-daughter to ever win it. Then Sarah got sick and Kaz blew up at the Open…She just fell apart.” Charles looked down his face creased in a frown remembering. “Sarah died right after that and Kaz won her second Amateur. She told me she was going to talk to her Dad about the deal they’d made, but the son of a bitch went and got himself killed and after that she wouldn’t go back on her word.”

“Bosnia.” Don’t make promises you can’t keep. When did she tell me that?

“Yeah. Kaz quit golf then. Came home one day and she was sitting on my steps. Told me to sell her clubs.” Chris could feel her heart breaking for the woman who had packed up a part of her life and given it to a friend to discard, only to turn to a job where she was disliked and unappreciated. “They made her News Director,” she whispered.

“Uh Huh, I didn’t see her for over a year. She just buried herself in work. We’d hear things but we never saw her. Then I came home one day and there she was sitting on my steps same as before. This time she wanted to know if I could get her on at Oak Hills, that’s the club where I teach. She wanted to play a round.” Charles’ face lit up. “I couldn’t get her on fast enough.”

Chris played with a potato chip thoughtfully. “If she won the Amateur in ’96, she had a two year exemption for the Open. Why didn’t she play last year?”

“My Dad didn’t think she was ready, and both of them decided to take the chance on qualifiying this year.” Charles opened another bottle of water. “See, before when she played, her game was all power and pretty wild. She might hit a ton, but she didn’t always know where the ball was going. She made it work by sheer determination. Now it’s different. Her short game is fabulous and the rest of it is more controlled. Her swing was always beautiful, but now…” he shook his head in awe, “Really good athletes always have a special awareness of themselves…Their mind knows what every part of their body is doing at any given time…Like a Michael Jordan or a Mark McGwire. They can make a tiny adjustment and it makes all the difference. Kaz is like that.” He stopped and his eyes fairly drilled into Chris. “But only about golf. Or news. Anything else and she’d be…” he searched for a word, and not finding one, Chris supplied it.

“Lost.”

Charles looked down and nodded. “So you know.” Chris pushed her food away and leaned back crossing her legs. She had her answers and now things made sense. She was mulling over the information when the caddy stood up and interrupted her thoughts. “So I’m asking again, why you?”

She gave him a lopsided grin as she got to her feet. He was even taller than Laura was so she had to look up quite a ways. The answer was already on the tip of her tongue and she thanked whatever God it was who looked out for her charmed life and drawled, “Just lucky, I guess.”

***************************

Lori Kendall was a good interview, and Chris thanked her for her time as Jody removed the Mic from the front of her shirt. The young golfer was from Arizona State and she answered the questions with a lot of charm and told some humorous anecdotes. It was going to be a good story; two interviews had already provided the framework and Chris was counting on the Open to do the rest. So she was pleased and happy as they packed up the gear and left the media room to haul it back to the Taurus. But a group of grumbling golfers, caddies, and tournament officials were gathered around the door peering out as rain fell in a steady downpour.

“Aww great,” Jody muttered, setting down the camera and light kit in the hall. “Might as well wait it out. We still have about an hour before we have to be at the sat corral.” He took the tripod from Chris and laid it next to the wall and they both tried to get out of the way of the milling crowd.

A slender woman with dark curly hair tried to ease by and caught sight of Jody’s ID and the Logo on both their shirts. “Hey are you guys from WBFC?” At their nod she stuck out her hand. “Jan Sheffield, I’m with the network, we were supposed to get with you some time tomorrow.”

“Chris Hanson and Jody Banks.” Chris supplied. “We’ve got some sat time booked with one of your trucks, what else did you need?”

“Your news director…” She checked a clipboard that marked her as some kind of producer. “…Laura Kasdan is playing and we want an interview.”

Chris looked at Jody, “Um, you’ll have to talk to her, this is her vacation and she was pretty clear about staying out of her hair.”

“Yeah, but she’s one of ours so that makes it interesting. Do you know where she’s staying?”

“No.” Chris lied. “You’d better just go through media relations and set it up that way.”

Instead of being insulted, the dark haired woman laughed. “Protect your boss and your job, I get it. Okay I’ll do it the old fashioned way. See you around, Chris Hanson.”

They watched her continue down the hall then open an umbrella and scamper out into the rain. “Boy, I never thought of that,” Chris reflected. “The network chasing her down. She’ll freak.” She glanced sideways at Jody. “Did you get some video of her practicing?”

Jody scratched his jaw. “Yeah, wasn’t easy.” He pointed down the hall where two dripping figures in rain ponchos were coming towards them. Chris couldn’t help but smile. Of course she was prepared, she plans for everything.

Laura’s hair was slicked back and damp from the rain. One more walking tour around the course and she finally admitted to Charles that there was nothing more they could do to prepare, so they wandered back. Laura had hoped she would stumble across the reporter and Charles had gamely followed, not once questioning her. “Hey. Get everything you needed today?”

“So far, so good. The network folks are looking for you though.” Chris swallowed as the difficulty of their forced distance hit her squarely when she looked into clear blue eyes.

“Mmm. Bet they gave you the ‘She’s one of ours’ spiel.”

Chris laughed. “How’d you know?”

“I have magic psychic news powers.” She shrugged, “They sent an Email. Wanna get something to eat?” For the first time in weeks Laura was starving.

“We have to do the satellite uplink. Besides what happened to staying out of your hair?” Chris said the last bit for Jody’s benefit, hoping to be forgiven someday for deceiving a friend.

“I think she’s tired of me.” Charles wry observation was perfect and the cameraman grinned and replied, “Okay but you’re buying.”

“All right then. Go and do your uplink for the Six. Ah, thought I didn’t know?” Laura clicked her tongue at the look on their faces, “Magic psychic news powers, remember? Tell Keith no horn blowing. Then we’ll meet about seven at my hotel…The Marriott, room 534.” People were leaving the hallway as the storm eased and Jody bent down to pick up the camera. Charles grabbed the light kit and Laura hoisted the tripod onto her shoulder. She and Chris hung back as the two men ducked out the door and jogged to the parking lot, the rain slowing to a light drizzle. “You were right.” Chris murmured, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

Laura didn’t have an answer; she just gave a light squeeze to the smaller woman’s shoulder before heading out. With a sigh Chris followed, the weather matching her mood exactly.

*****************

“You’re really good Chris, how long have you been in Burkett Falls?” Jan Sheffield was frankly admiring as Chris got the all clear and took the IFB earpiece off and wrapped the cord around her hand. It had been a smooth uplink and a fun live shot to do; now they were finished for the day.

“A little over two years, just started anchoring in prime though,” Chris answered as she rolled up the Mic cord and handed it to Jody.

“Your first job?”

“No, I was in Atlanta for a while. Market sixty-one is not entry level, Jan.”

The other woman smirked, “Neither is Atlanta, maybe you should have stayed.”

“Ah, but I didn’t want to.”

“Well at least let me give you a lift back to the media lot. If you see your boss, tell her we already put in a formal request for an interview and we’d really appreciate her time.” Jan led them over to an electric cart on the edge of the corral and motioned for them to join her. Chris watched as Jody silently hopped on the back. The photog never said much around other people, but Chris knew she’d get his observations later and she was looking forward to them with some amusement. Jan dropped them off right next to the Taurus with a promise to see them later. With some relief, they got into the station vehicle and headed to the Marriott.

“She wants you.” Jody’s laconic statement jerked Chris out of her drifting thoughts and caused her to face him in alarm. “Excuse me?”

He gave a slight chuckle, “Bet she tells you to send a tape to her boss and she’ll put in a good word if you wanna make the jump to network.”

“What makes you say that?” Jody was seldom wrong and Chris had learned to listen to the resourceful photog.

“The Sat Engineer was talking. Really Chris, you oughta be flattered.”

She was. A little. Network, she thought, Wow. Chris had never considered much past getting to the anchor desk, and the idea was attractive in an ego building kind of way. She gave a half smile as she turned to look out at the landscape. What would Laura say? Then she shrugged; it wasn’t even a possibility for three years.

Fifteen minutes later they were standing outside room 534 and Chris couldn’t keep from grinning as Laura jerked open the door and waved them in. Charles was sprawled on the couch channel surfing and Jody plopped down beside him. “God this is huge, I was wondering where all your money went.” Chris’ comment caused Laura to raise an eyebrow.

“It goes to that fancy country club.”

“Yeah but you drive that old Jeep and you live…” Chris stopped short as she realized where her commentary was going and how personal it sounded. With a glance at Jody she muttered, “Sorry.”

“S’okay. You ready for dinner? Come on guys, I’m hungry.”

Charles clicked off the TV and tossed the remote down. “We’re going to Vanelli’s again, it’s a Greek and Italian place,” he said to Jody. “She likes it so I’d better get used to it.”

“I’m paying so I get to choose.” Laura smiled, surprised that she felt happy and relaxed and was looking forward to the dinner. Okay, so anything personal with Chris was strictly off limits, but things were going well. I can handle this. She looked over at the blonde reporter and green eyes almost took her breath away. Oh sure, you can handle this. It’s gonna be the longest four days of your life.

************************

Laura was nervous but doing her best not to show it. Sprawled in a chair next to the putting green, she sat like a cat at rest, deceptively at ease, but ready to pounce. A sleeveless white polo shirt was tucked into soft cotton olive green shorts and logo-free tan baseball cap held her hair in a ponytail threaded through the opening in the back. Dark green and white saddle shoe spikes completed the outfit, nothing unusual or memorable about it except in the way it was worn. Laura almost jumped out of her skin when warm hands came down on her shoulders. “You okay?” Chris’ voice was so welcome she almost laughed.

“Where’s Jody?”

“He went with Charles somewhere. I think your caddy has decided to run interference for us. Your muscles are really tight.” Laura turned to look at Chris, relaxing as she felt the reporter’s hands gently knead the tension out of her neck.

“Good ol’ Charles,” she murmured. “Coach, confidant, and nag. You look nice.”

“Thanks. I have a station shirt in every color imaginable, even my no-no colors.” Chris crouched down next to Laura, clasping her hands in front of her. Dark green shorts complimented a paler green polo shirt. Sunglasses covered the eyes that Laura knew would be crinkling into a smile. “So just half an hour to go?”

“Yep. Then I see if all the work was worth it.”

“Do you know the two women you’re playing with?”

Laura nodded, “Barbara Nelson is British…big hitter but she’s got a case of the yips.”

“Explain?” Chris balanced by laying a hand on Laura’s arm.

“She’s having trouble putting. Susan Fisher is a fortyish mother of two and she’s really good. She beat my Mom at the Amateur in…I guess it was ’82, she won it three times in a row. Susan rebuilt her game last year and it’s paying off.”

“Like you did?”

“Yeah.” Laura closed her eyes and focused her attention on the part of her forearm where Chris’ hand lightly rested, centering on that one patch of skin. She could smell the floral perfume and the shampoo the blonde woman used. It was more than comforting and she gave in to a light shiver despite the heat and blinked her eyes open only to see the sunglasses removed and a look of uncertainty in the eyes that devoured her face. “What?”

“You’re not at work, you’re playing golf at one of the finest courses in the country with the best golfers in the world. Has it ever occurred to you that you should just enjoy it?”

The breath caught in Laura’s throat. “It couldn’t possibly be that easy,” she murmured.

“Kaz, it’s time.” Suddenly Charles was there, lifting the bag up and slinging a large white towel over his shoulder the yellow USGA caddy vest in place with her name on the back. Laura tightened her jaw and swallowed as she rose to her feet. With no inhibition and disregarding the photographer standing behind the caddy, Chris threw her arms around Laura in a hug.

“Good luck.” She mumbled into the taller woman’s shoulder, then drew back and smiled shyly. “Sorry…I’ve always been a toucher.” Then to Laura’s surprise, Jody did the same; thumping her on the back and grinning from ear to ear. For the second time in as many minutes, the News Director was speechless.

“Come on Kaz.” Charles nudged her toward the first tee and with one more backward look she was gone, the clacking of the metal spikes on concrete stopping as they stepped onto the grass and started up the hill.

“She’ll be okay.” Chris was firm in her belief. “Let’s go.”

Laura checked in with the starter and introduced herself to the crew that would be following their group for the day; two scorers and the young man who carried the sign with their scores posted. After pocketing a scorecard with her yardage book she and Charles stepped up to the tee box where a pair of ornate brass geese served as markers. Laura touched one of the rounded heads absently, her nervous hands needing activity.

“Little Kaz! It’s so good to see you again.” Susan Fisher’s greeting was sincere as she reached up to clap Laura on the shoulder. “Heard about the show yesterday…Charles, how’s your Dad? We were wondering when you’d come back and play.”

“Susan…good to see you too. Barbara…”

“Kaz.” The Englishwoman’s voice was clipped and Laura could already see signs of her famous impatience. “It’ll be slow today,” she said dourly.

They posed for the obligatory photo, the three women representing five Amateur and two U.S. Open titles. Moving to stand with the caddies Laura waited for her introduction. Charles stripped the Kazmanian devil head cover off the driver and handed the club to her with a grin.

“Teeing off at 1:10, two time U.S. Amateur Champion from Dallas, Texas, Laura Kasdan.”

Chris clapped with the rest of the crowd as Laura bent over to tee up the ball, barely even taking a practice swing. The marshals held up their hands for quiet and before the gallery had even settled, Laura was into her takeaway. Long arms swept the club back and then powered through the ball sending it straight down the center of the fairway. Chris could see a pleased smile and then the game face was back in place.

The other two women were introduced and they both hit booming drives to the delight of their audience. Then the players, caddies, scorers and part of the crowd left the stage that was the first tee to head down the hill onto the course for their first round of the Open.

*************************

“She didn’t even use a driver. That was a two hundred and fifty yard 2 iron.” The man standing next to Chris couldn’t say enough about the power displayed by Barbara Nelson. They were on the fourth hole and Laura had just birdied number 3. Now all three women were waiting for the green to clear.

Chris was absolutely fascinated by the crowd and the golfers. She stopped for a hole to observe the group behind Laura’s since it contained last year’s Open winner, Mi Ja Song, and Stacey Kim the Amateur Champ, who had applied lipstick three times by the third hole. Okay, it’s a hundred degrees and you’re playing in the U.S. Open. Maybe looking pretty shouldn’t be your top priority.

She and Jody laughed at the absurdity and then at their own hypocrisy when Chris asked Jody if he had her makeup bag.

God it’s hot. Chris looked over where Laura was leaning on a club talking softly to Charles and nodding. She looks great, not sweating at all. She was playing well and staying out of trouble. According to Charles that was the game plan; nothing dangerous and play the high percentage shots. It was all so much mumbo jumbo to Chris. I just want to spend some time with her.

The green finally cleared and all three women hit quickly. Jody left to get some B roll of the college students they were following and Chris fell in behind a group of women who had apparently decided they were going to stick with Laura for the rest of the round. “She’s just gorgeous,” one of them gushed, “And those eyes…” Chris groaned inwardly.

Another par for Laura and they were on their way to the 5th tee when the weather warning sounded just as lightning streaked across the sky. The safe house was just behind the tee box and the tournament officials started herding golfers in that direction. Chris was wondering what to do when the rope was lifted in front of her and Laura was gesturing for her to follow. “Come on. Where’s Jody?”

“He went to get some video.” Chris ducked under and trailed after Laura over to where Charles was waiting. “Did you know you have your own fan club? They were ooooing and aahhhing over your eyes.”

“Don’t tell her that, she already has a big head.” Charles handed Laura a bottle of water. “Seen any good stuff?” They walked toward the house where a crowd was gathering.

“It’s been interesting. How long do you have to wait here?”

“Depends on the weather.” Charles answered. “Right now they’re more worried about the lightning, I don’t think we’ll get any rain.” He maneuvered his tall frame and the bag through a small opening onto a covered porch ringed with wooden benches.

“So do you just go in and raid the fridge?”

Laura chuckled, “Something like that.” Laura always hated rain delays especially if she was in a rhythm. But Chris was here, and that was something she’d never had before. After covering the clubs, Charles went inside to get some relief from the heat, but Laura stayed outside with Chris, not wanting to change her body’s temperature too dramatically. She cleared her throat nervously, wondering how she could be so intimate with Chris and still be so awkward at times. “How was sharing a room with Jody?”

“Not much fun. He snores louder than you do. I closed the door and I could still hear him.”

“I don’t snore.” Laura dropped her voice as another group of golfers came under the porch. Chris sat down on one of the benches and Laura joined her, offering the bottle of water.

“You keep telling yourself that.”

“There you are Chris. Figured I’d find you here. You must be Laura Kasdan…Jan Sheffield, I’m one of the Producers for the network coverage.” Jan was dressed impeccably and looked like the heat wasn’t bothering her one bit. “Do you ever check the message board?” she asked Laura.

“No.” Was the frank reply.

Jan didn’t blink and Laura got the idea she would be dealt with the same way the producer handled annoying talent. “We want to do a sit down interview this afternoon, will that be a problem?”

“I’d rather do it tomorrow.” Laura took the water back from Chris and took another sip. “I’m gonna be wiped when I’m finished here.”

“Still, it would be better…”

“Look, I appreciate the difficulty but tomorrow is better, I’m playing in the morning.”

“Sure.” The Producer backed off. “I’ll get someone to coordinate the time. We’ve got a set in the clubhouse, that’s where we’ll do it.” She smiled down at Chris, “I’ll see you at the Sat trucks later.”

Chris watched her leave, puzzled by Laura’s reluctance to cooperate. “I’d think you’d be a little more understanding, you know what it’s like when you can’t get an interview.”

Laura snorted, “But I’m just fluff…filler…a kicker. I’m not a story and I know that. She knows I know that. There is nothing unique or different about the people who make it to network Chris, they only pursued the opportunity. Now when the network does the chasing, that’s a different story.”

Chris frowned thoughtfully, “Didn’t you ever want to work for one of them?”

“Nope. That was my Dad. What about you? Any network aspirations?” Laura was curious, wondering for the first time how she would handle Chris’ ambitions when her current contract ended.

“I hadn’t really though about it till yesterday.” Chris honestly admitted. “Something Jody said…It’s a little far away isn’t it? At least three years.” I’m supposed to want that…In three years I’ll be twenty-eight, the same age you were when you took over at KDAL.

Laura watched the idea flicker across the blonde reporter’s face. “It’ll go by before you know it.” She turned to look out over the course without really seeing any of it. She’d been right from the beginning; Chris was too good to stay in a medium market forever. Three years that’s all, then time’s up…For both of us. Laura passed the water bottle back to Chris and they sat there in silence, unable to do anything but wait for the game to resume.

***********************

There wasn’t enough cold water in the world Laura decided as she leaned on her elbows against the corner of the shower and waited for her body temperature to come down. After the forty-five minute weather delay, play had continued except that she, Barbara, and Susan had had to wait for practically every shot. That was the problem with playing with the two fastest women on tour, and Laura hadn’t slowed them down at all.

But the heat was oppressive, and judging by the way the veins were standing out on her hands, she wasn’t drinking enough.

She twisted her head under the spray breathing through her mouth as the water streamed down her thick dark hair. Over and over she played the round in her head wincing at a few lost opportunities but pleased overall. Not bad, and even though scores were really low, 4 under is great. Susan finished at 7 under and Barbara was at even par. The course was not playing like a typical Open, and unless an act of God caused the rough to grow an inch or two over night, scoring records were going to be set.

After a while Laura was chilled and she adjusted the taps to warm the water. By the time she had shampooed her hair and soaped her body she was starting to feel a little waterlogged and a lot better. Without drying off, she stepped out of the shower to put on a terry robe and left the bathroom dragging a brush through her hair as she went. The room was cold and she adjusted the thermostat before lying down on the bed. Just a little nap, so tired. Almost immediately she drifted off, dreaming of endless green fairways stretching as far as the eye could see.

Laura snapped awake, blinking and swallowing in confusion. Looking at the clock she saw that she’d only been asleep for an hour, then the persistent knocking that had awakened her resumed its steady rhythm. She stumbled to her feet groaning at the stiffness in her legs and made her way to the door. Without bothering to look through the peephole she opened it.

“I know I’m not supposed to be driving station vehicles, but it was only a few blocks and there were no cameras or stories involved, so I thought I was pretty safe.”

Laura tried for a snappy comeback, but drew a complete blank. Speechless again? This is starting to become a habit. She shook her head, disoriented before trying again. “You’re here,” she croaked, stating the obvious.

“Where else would I be?” Chris smiled gently. “I figured that you wouldn’t feel much like going out so I brought some dinner.” The heat seemingly had not affected the reporter; she looked as cool and relaxed as when she started the day. The only evidence of a day spent in the sauna that was Mississippi in June was the healthy gold tone of her skin that contrasted nicely with a white T-shirt and denim shorts.

“Where’s Jody?” Laura stood back as Chris came in balancing several bags and boxes of something that smelled wonderful.

“Asleep…Dead to the world. I think hauling that equipment around in the heat did him in. Your name’s up on the leaderboard, you know, big as life in a three way tie for fourth.” She pushed the door shut with her hip and crossed the room to set dinner on the round table next to the sofa.

“You can’t win it on Thursday, Chris.”

“I know, but you didn’t lose it either. I brought enough if Charles wants to eat with us.”

Laura ran a hand through her damp hair trying to restore it to some kind of order. “He was going out somewhere, he took the keys to the Jeep.”

“Then it’s just dinner for two I guess.”

“Yeah.” Laura stood quietly as Chris opened the boxes and distributed pasta salad and marinated chicken. “I’m hungry,” she observed in a mildly surprised tone.

“Good. I brought all kinds of things to drink since I wasn’t sure what you had.” She pulled out a chair for Laura, patting the back lightly. “Sit down and eat, I promise you’ll feel better.” The tall woman made no move to sit down, and Chris was getting a little concerned as she pulled several bottles of Gatorade and fruit juices out of the bag. “It’s not a very good vintage but you need to drink it.”

Laura gave herself a little shake and went over to the chair “You’re a good friend.” Chris raised her eyebrows at her choice of words but said nothing as Laura sat down and exhaled. “I feel a little foggy right now.”

“Hard day. What time did you get out there this morning?”

“A little after seven. Too early, I know.” She took a bite of the pasta and hummed with pleasure, enjoying the different spices. “Vanelli’s?”

“Yep.”

“Hard to believe that I had to come all the way to Tupelo, Mississippi to find my favorite restaurant.” Laura ate it all and most of the chicken before leaning back in her chair, stuffed to the gills. “How did your day go? I didn’t see you after the 12th.”

Chris wiped her mouth with a napkin and bobbed her head. “Good. We got some stuff on those two girls we’re following, and the uplink for the Six went well.” It was different and fun, and she’d enjoyed working with the folks from the network. “Jan Sheffield asked if I’d be interested in doing a little crowd interview filler piece for them to run on Saturday. Do you have any problem with that? They may not even use it, but I thought it would be good for Jody and me.”

Laura swallowed. So, it starts now. “I don’t think that’s a problem, and you’re right, the exposure would be good for you.” She felt a little curl of hurt in her gut, and tightened her jaw, determined not to show it. Standing up from the table she gathered up the empty boxes. “I’m going to, uh, put on something to sleep in. There’s about six movie channels on the TV if you want to take a look.” She made her escape to the dressing area, dumping the boxes in the trash along the way and Chris let out a sigh of exasperation, wondering where she had stepped wrong. It didn’t take long for the reporter to decide on a course of action and after counting to one hundred she went to the door of the bathroom and tapped lightly. “Okay, what did I do?”

The door opened and Laura was drying her face with a towel as the faint scent of soap and toothpaste drifted out. The terry robe was missing, replaced with an oversized T-shirt and fleece shorts. “Nothing.” She tossed the towel down on the vanity and snapped off the light. “I’m just worn.”

“And?”

“And nothing. The heat just got to me and I’m worried about it.” With an attempt at a casual shrug she tried to move past Chris without touching the blonde woman or meeting her eyes, but Chris stepped in front of her, not buying the excuse. “I’m sorry Chris, but I ‘m really tired.” Trying to hide her weakness was wringing out Laura’s last bit of strength.

“Then come to bed.” It was a simple request spoken softly and Chris gently took the taller woman’s hands in hers, and kissed them tenderly. Dazed, Laura offered little resistance as she was led across the room and when Chris pulled the covers back she sat on the edge of the bed. “Scoot over.” Another simple entreaty and Laura complied, lifting her legs onto the bed and moving to the center. Chris sat up against the headboard placing a pillow behind her back before cradling Laura against her shoulder, her hand threading through the dark mass of hair.

“Sorry.” Chris barely heard the mumbled apology.

“For what? Exhausting yourself?”

“For being a jerk.” Laura wrapped an arm around Chris’ waist. “Jody’s gonna notice you’re gone.”

“Not for a while at least. What time do you want to get up?”

“Six.” Chris looked to make sure the alarm was set then turned out the lamp. In the darkness Laura moved closer and Chris brushed her lips across the top of her head. A murmured question caught her by surprise. “Did you always want to be a reporter?”

“Yes.” The answer was immediate. “I was interested in print journalism at first, then I found out that in TV I could tell the story too. Ego I guess.” She gave a light squeeze, “All you news directors bitch about the talent’s ego.”

“Mmmm. Yours is pretty healthy.”

“Ah, but we take all the risk. If the ‘cast goes down the toilet, the viewer doesn’t blame the producer, they say that Tom and Chris are idiots.” Chris could feel Laura’s chuckle and she smiled. “Oh, and you aren’t the least bit conceited Miss Four Under Par?”

“About some things. We always say whatever it is that makes you good on the air makes you hell to deal with off it. You do a good job, have I told you that?” Laura’s speech was slurred and Chris knew she was almost asleep. With a sigh she closed her eyes, intending to stay for just a little while.

The thunder woke her after three and she swallowed, her mouth dry. Laura had moved and was lying on her side facing away from Chris; hands curled up under her chin. Not much of a cuddler but she’s learning. Carefully Chris leaned over and kissed her temple, then eased out of the bed and slipped her sandals on. Will she even miss me when she wakes up? “Love you.” Chris whispered then felt her way to the door, closing it softly behind her.

The alarm went off at six and Laura slapped at it, managing to stop the buzzing without throwing the clock off the nightstand. Groggily she hugged a pillow to her chest, inhaling a familiar floral fragrance. Chris. Laura scrambled to sit up, but her senses told her that she was alone in the suite and her shoulders sagged in disappointment. Still it was more of Chris than she expected and she hadn’t slept that peacefully in weeks.

Open.

Early tee time.

Priorities. The part of her brain that was discipline and determination forced her out of the bed and over to the adjoining door. “Charles,” she knocked twice and turned the knob, “It’s six, I want to be out of here by seven.” She peeked around the edge of the door and saw his head lift up.

“S’morning already?”

“Yeah buddy, and it’s gonna be hot.” She left the door open a crack and went to the table where Chris had left one of the bottles of red Gatorade. It wasn’t cold, but Laura cracked open the seal and downed half the bottle anyway. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand she took stock of her body’s condition. Not too bad, drink more today or they’ll be sticking IV needles in your arm. The previous day’s exhaustion was replaced with cautious optimism as she flexed her shoulders and heard the joints pop. She went to the closet and started laying her clothes for the day, choosing a blue shirt to go with khaki shorts. Four under par. You’d think I knew what I was doing.

A good night’s sleep made all the difference. Thanks Chris.

****************************

“Are you somebody?” A woman held out a hat and a sharpie pen to Laura in a plea for an autograph if she was in fact somebody.

“No…”

“Oh look, that’s Mi Ja Song!” The woman turned to chase down the new object of her affection and Laura was immediately dismissed. Shaking her head she continued up the path to the practice tee where Charles already waited and quickened her steps when she saw the slim figure standing next to the caddy.

“Morning. Did you get any sleep?” Laura surprised herself by draping her arm around the reporter’s shoulders.

“Enough, I think.” Chris let her eyes rove over Laura’s face and smiled. “When we checked in they let us have a golf cart today. Did you have anything to do with that?”

“It seems I still have some influence.”

“Kaz, you’d have some influence if you were a pig farmer in Abilene,” Charles said as he zipped up a pocket on the side of the club bag. “Wanna hit a few?”

“No, I’m warm enough.” She slid her arm off of Chris’ shoulders with a pat, “What’s on the agenda today?”

“That filler piece for the network. Don’t forget the interview after your round.”

Laura grimaced, “I know, but if I don’t make the cut it’ll all be moot.”

“Don’t even say that,” Charles chided, “One shot at a time, one hole at a time, one day at a time.”

“See what I have to put up with? Zen and the art of golf game management.”

Chris grinned, “Just play like you did yesterday.”

Laura unwrapped a new golf glove and slapped it on her thigh before tucking it in the waistband of her shorts. “Easier said than done,” she muttered.

*************************

“It’s just a golf cart, why can’t I drive it?”

Jody only rolled his eyes and snorted derisively as he braked to allow some pedestrians to cross in front of them. They had caught Lori Kendall on 16 and followed her through the 18th. It looked like she was going to make the cut since she finished the day at even par, leaving her at 2 under for the tournament. Their other college student didn’t fair as well; Terri Stockman was going to finish a dismal 17 over par, her first Open experience less than memorable.

“We should be able to catch Kaz at the turn. How does the cut work again?”

Chris held on as they flew around a corner dangerously close to some azalea bushes. “Really, I could do a better job of driving this thing.” Obediently Jody slowed down. “It’s ten strokes within the leader, ties included, or the top sixty scores.”

The name Kasdan was holding steady in the middle of the leader board and had moved to 6 under. Laura was also leading in the statistical category of most greens hit in regulation but when Chris mentioned that to Charles, the caddy shook his head, “We don’t talk about that. It just means she’s sticking to the game plan.”

They pulled up close to the tee on the 9th hole and Chris hopped out.” I’m going to walk for a while, is that okay with you?” She picked up a bottle of water and made her way through the crowd, craning her neck to see who was on the tee box. Laura and Charles were easy to spot; both of them much taller than the others on the elevated grass mound.

The routine was familiar to Chris now. She watched Laura spin the club, thump it down and look down the fairway. Half a practice swing, then a moment of stillness before the graceful power exploded. The gallery became more appreciative with every drive, and Chris recognized a few faces that had followed this group of golfers on the day before. Charles took the driver and Barbara teed off with no practice swing and then they were all striding down the fairway as the clubs rattled in the bags.

“You were with her yesterday weren’t you?” A tall tanned woman in Ray Bans fell into step beside Chris. “Laura Kasdan I mean. We’ve been following her…She sure is fun to watch.”

Chris nodded, “She’s my boss.”

“Really? I know she’s an amateur, what does she do?”

“She’s the News Director at a TV station.”

“Cool, so you’re in TV too?” Two other women joined them.

“Yeah. Are you from around here?” Chris slipped into reporter mode.

“No, we drove over from Pensacola…We try to do a couple of LPGA events every year and this was pretty close, so…” She shrugged. They came up parallel to Susan Fisher’s ball and stopped when the course Marshals held up their hands for quiet. A well hit fairway wood left the ball short and right of the green and then Barbara Nelson hit hers to the edge of the green. Twenty yards further was Laura’s ball and the gallery moved forward. She was in the middle of the fairway and Chris watched her nod at something Charles said, then she took the club and waggled it as she set up.

Laura didn’t wear sunglasses when she played, so her emotions were on display after she made contact with the ball. Concern first, then optimism, and finally a pleased grin as the ball bounced to the center of the green before her game face slid back into place.

Chris turned to the three women who were still standing next to her. “Would you mind doing a quick interview on who you’re following? It’ll only take a minute.” She waved at Jody who was had parked the cart in the shade. He grabbed the camera and headed their way.

“Sure,” she said flattered at being asked.

“Let me get your names.” Chris had her notebook out and was scribbling away as Jody framed the shot. A few minutes later she was thanking them and jumping into the cart hoping to see Laura putt for eagle.

The putt didn’t fall, but she made the birdie and the red –3 for the day went up on the leaderboard. Now at 7 under, Laura left the green passing next to Chris and Jody. With a wink she handed the ball she’d just pulled out of the cup to a girl standing outside the ropes and smiled when she squealed in delight. Then all three golfers and their caddies went across to the clubhouse to use the facilities before taking on the back nine.

The pars added up faster than the birdies and Laura found herself grinding her teeth at missed opportunities. Play had slowed considerably and by the 15th tee she was pacing along with Barbara. After a look at Susan the three of them decided to duck under the ropes and go stand in the shade of some trees, mixing with the gallery and causing the security people to mutter into their walkie talkies.

“So how is life in the real world, Kaz?” Always friendly, Susan started the conversation.

“I’m not sure TV news qualifies as the real world.” Laura responded dryly.

“Heard you ran into some trouble in Dallas.” Susan asked the question but Barbara chuckled.

“Is there anyone who doesn’t know about that?”

“Assume that if you keep playing like you are right now everyone is going to know,” Barbara said in her droll British manner.

Laura resisted the urge to crack her knuckles and turned to scan the crowd that had moved away from them at the urging of the Marshals. She spotted the camera first, then Jody and gave a brief wave, smiling as his head popped up from behind the viewfinder. Her searching continued until she spotted the pale gold of Chris’ hair. The reporter was chatting animatedly to a man and a woman, and Laura felt a smile shape her lips just from watching her. Chris looked over at that moment and their eyes met.

Electric calm. Weird. Laura felt a shiver and suppressed a laugh.

“We’re up.” Susan nudged Laura’s shoulder and they walked back to the box. Gotta find some strokes…somewhere.

She found one on 15. The long par 5 almost spelled trouble when her second shot landed in the pot bunker on the left of the green, but a nice out left her a very makeable putt for birdie. Another par at 16 and a six-inch tap in birdie on 17 left Laura breathing a little easier on the tee box at 18.

She drank some water and draped a cold towel around her neck as they waited for the group in front to move up. “Looking good Kaz.” Charles told her as he wiped off the ball and passed it over. “Finish up and I’ll buy you a drink.”

Laura yawned a little nervously and tossed the towel back to the attendant before pulling her sweat-dampened glove on again. The birdie on 17 gave her the honor and she rolled one of the orange tees between her fingers before teeing up the ball. The crowd completely surrounded the final hole and bleachers ringed the green as they waited expectantly for the drive. One twirl of the club as she pictured the flight of the ball, then the address. Swing easy, all the way through. She felt and heard the contact; already analyzing the motion before she ever lifted her head to follow the ball. It was a good, long, safe drive and relief washed over her in waves.

After the others hit, she walked up the fairway with her head down. It wasn’t a particularly tricky hole, but it could certainly make a golfer pay for a lack of concentration. Strokes could be made up and lost here and that’s what made it a perfect finish.

Laura flipped out her orange yardage book then looked for the sprinkler head at 125 yards out. Finding it, she paced off the distance to her ball. She stepped out of the way, waiting for Susan to hit first since she was the furthest away. 115 to the front of the green…pin’s ten yards back. No wind, should be a wedge. She turned and Charles was already handing her the club.

Susan’s shot landed safely on the green then it was Laura’s turn. She put a little more into it than she intended and winced as it rolled a good twenty feet past the hole. Impatiently she stripped off her glove as she waited for Barbara to chip up. Then all three were striding to the green to the sound of applause from the gallery.

Two putts later and the round was history for Laura who escaped with a par, as did Susan. Barbara three putted and fell to 1 over par. Since Susan was in the clubhouse at 10 under, the chance of the Englishwoman making the cut was slim.

5 under today and 9 under for two days, you really couldn’t ask for more Kaz. She signed her score card and left the scorers tent only to be buttonholed by a USGA Media Rep and led to the media room. And I still have to do that one on one interview. Crap. All Laura wanted was a shower. She and Susan were ushered to a table and someone gave them bottled water, then the questions started. Most of them were for Susan, since she was the more recognizable, but a few went Laura’s way. “How does it feel to be the low amateur?”

“Everyone isn’t finished yet.”

“Is the heat or the crowd bothering you?”

“No.” Like I’m gonna tell you it is?

“What do you do for a living when you’re not playing golf?”

Oh boy, someone didn’t do his research. “I’m the News Director at WBFC in Burkett Falls.” There was a moment of silence and Laura could feel Susan holding back a snicker.

“What are you hoping to accomplish here, Ms. Kasdan?”

“A top ten finish would be nice. Mostly I’m tuning up for the U.S. Amateur.”

“If you’re successful here, do you think it will influence you to turn pro?” The question came from the back of the room and Laura almost knocked over her water bottle when she heard the familiar voice.

Chris. What is she doing? “No. Not anytime soon.” Puzzled, she looked into green eyes and tilted her head. You could’ve just asked. Why here?

The rest of the questions were for Susan, and Laura made her escape down the hall only to run into Jan Sheffield. “Just who I was looking for. You weren’t going to skip out on me, were you?”

“The thought had crossed my mind.”

“Uh huh. Let’s get you wired up. Hey Chris, did you want to sit in on this?”

Laura smirked without turning around. Didn’t even have to look…knew she was there. “I’d really like to, okay with you Laura?”

“Sure,” she said with fake sincerity, but Chris just patted her back and chuckled.

The production assistant tried to help her with the Mic, but she waved him away and did it herself, looping the wire expertly before clipping it to her shirt. Some other assistant powdered her face to kill the shine and she knew it would be paste in a matter of minutes. Robin Gardner, the network’s host for women’s golf coverage came in and introduced herself before settling into the chair across from her. “When we first talked about doing this, we really had no idea you’d be so high on the leaderboard…You were more of an interesting sidebar. How would you judge the Open Championship so far?”

Laura opted for the cliché answers. “The course is in beautiful shape and everyone has been just great. It’s been a fabulous experience.”

“Laura…”

“Call me Kaz.”

“Right. You won the ’95 and ’96 Amateurs but you dropped out of the competitive spotlight. What have you been doing?”

Hardball? Okay. Laura shifted in her seat. “I concentrated on my career in Television News. It took up a lot of my time.”

“So why come back?”

“Things change, I wanted to play again and this seemed like a good opportunity.”

“Okay, cut.” Robin looked at Laura and raised a perfect eyebrow. “You’re not giving me much here.”

A tight smile crossed Laura’s face. She knew she was being hostile, but couldn’t seem to stop herself. “Robin,” she leaned forward and spoke softly, “I am not going to tell twenty million viewers my reasons for quitting. I will tell you about rebuilding my game and how much work it took, how much time it takes to balance a career with amateur competition, or I will tell you what I think the USGA needs to do to get more people including women and minorities interested in golf, but don’t ask me to explain why I walked away. That ain’t gonna happen.”

Robin nodded slowly. “So how did you go about rebuilding your game, and why did you think you had to?”

Laura chuckled, “I have a great coach, and I finally decided to listen to him. His son is my caddy…”

*********************

“Aahh.” Laura groaned as the masseuse worked on the muscles of her lower back and clenched her teeth when he hit a particularly sore spot. She was in the trainer’s room, where four massage tables had been set up, and all four were occupied.

“Hey. Interesting interview.” Chris sat down on a chair next to the table where Laura was being worked on. “Certainly reminded me of why you’re the news director and I’m not.”

“Oww, how did you get in here?”

“Running away again? This isn’t off limits to the press and besides, Charles told me where you were.”

“Good ol’ Charles, the rat fink.” Laura jerked as the masseuse hit another tender area.

Chris leaned in, “Don’t talk about your caddy that way, he and Jody are going bar hopping tonight.”

“Really?”

“Really.” Chris answered with a wiggle of her eyebrows. “Though I’m not sure how much bar hopping one can do in Tupelo. Should tie them up for a few hours anyway.” As if a light switched on, Chris suddenly became aware of the vast expanse of naked flesh stretched out on the massage table. The sheet only covered Laura from her lower back to her knees, and the sight of the masseuse manipulating muscle that Chris had intimate knowledge of was…disturbing, distracting, and arousing all at the same time. She swallowed as her breaths started coming in shallow gasps. “I uh, when you’re finished here…I’ll wait outside. Right outside.” She stood up and practically stumbled to the door.

Laura winced again and wondered what was going through the reporter’s head.

***********************

They had dinner at a steakhouse that boasted the largest salad bar in Mississippi, Laura still managing to remain anonymous despite the fact that the town was crawling with golf fans. “You gotta wonder how many six foot blue eyed women wander through here on a regular basis,” Chris observed as Laura unlocked her hotel room door. “No one’s asked for your autograph yet?”

“Well, a couple have asked but they thought I was someone else.” The room was clean again and she went to the fridge automatically and got out some water. “Want some?” she offered.

“No, I’m good.” Chris walked over to the sofa and picked up the remote to turn on the TV. “Hey, you’re on SportsCenter.”

“No kidding.” Laura grinned in childish delight as she watched herself birdie the 17th all over again and Chris smiled at her reaction, She works in TV but this is still a thrill for her. She sat down on the sofa and tugged on Laura’s hand in an invitation to join her. “You were great today. All that hard work is paying off.”

“Mmm.” Laura exhaled and plopped down with an unusual lack of grace. “Not yet, we’ll see.”

“Is that all you’re hoping for, a top ten finish?” Chris asked, one hand moving to play in dark hair.

Laura turned and regarded her lover as blue eyes darkened with emotion. “No Chris, I’m playing to win. I always play to win.”

“But just in golf or news, anything else and she’d be…lost” Chris frowned slightly as she moved her hand to the back of Laura’s neck, pulling her closer until she could just barely feel their lips touching. Slowly she traced the outline of Laura’s lower lip with the tip of her tongue before kissing her in earnest. Then her hands were pushing the long lean body back against the cushions, wanting to reacquaint herself with the woman who dominated most of her waking thoughts.

Chris could feel Laura’s hands against her abdomen unsnapping her shorts to pull her shirt free from the waistband and make contact with warm skin. She moved to bury her face in the fragrant mass of dark hair before nipping at the pulse point on Laura’s neck. With a growl of frustration she pulled at the front of the shirt keeping her from touching all of the flesh she wanted to. “Damn polo shirts.” A brief snort of laughter vibrated the body underneath hers and Laura stopped what she was doing to yank the offending garment over her head. Chris claimed Laura’s lips again as she ran two fingers around the edge of Laura’s sports bra.

Breaking off the kiss she looked down, “No hooks…You’re not helping me out here.”

An eyebrow arched, “We could just stop and strip,” Laura breathed with a smile.

“Where’s the fun in that?”

Limbs tangled and clothes eventually came off so that skin slid on skin and Chris could touch and taste to her heart’s content. Laura arched against her, and as always, she never made a sound as the shudders of her climax wracked her lean body.

Chris laid her head over Laura’s heart, listening to the pounding slow and become steady and even again. She closed her eyes and stopped herself from saying the words that threatened to spill out. How can I love someone so much and not say anything? Chris swallowed the niggling fear that even if she said it, the feelings might never be returned. And isn’t part of her better than none of her? It was a new feeling, this insecurity and Chris thrust it back into a dark corner of her mind. “You okay?” the question rumbled under her ear and she pushed herself up, her arms supporting her weight.

“Fine,” she grinned. “And you?”

“Considerably better than just fine.” Laura moved quickly, reminding Chris about the power and grace of her body as she reversed their positions. “You got a little sun today.” She bent down to kiss a shoulder and trace a line down the middle of the smaller woman’s body.

The callused hands that gripped a golf club so confidently began to explore Chris’ compact body, coaxing shivers and soft cries from the blonde woman. Again and again Laura brought Chris close to the brink, only to back off and start a new attack. Finally she finished what she started and winced when Chris dug her nails into her shoulders as her hips bucked. “Kaz,” she ground out, “You…are…a tease.”

Laura waited for the smaller body under hers to calm then smiled against Chris’ throat. When the air conditioning kicked on she shivered lightly. “I’m a little cold, how ‘bout you?”

“Uh, no. I have a blanket, you’re the one who’s exposed.” Chris was hit with a blast of cool air as Laura left the sofa and she whimpered at the sudden loss of warmth. Laura was back a moment later, draping the blanket that she robbed from the bed over the two of them as she settled back on the sofa.

“How much time do we have?” Laura murmured as she pulled Chris closer.

“I told Charles to call first.” Chris smoothed the hair on Laura’s forehead, “Probably ten or eleven. This is harder than I thought.” Laura didn’t answer so Chris cleared her throat and went on, “I always thought that I’d meet someone while I was doing the things that I like to do. Like softball or running or something like that. But you know, I spend most of my time at work and I like my job, so why is it such a mistake to get involved with someone I work with?”

“Because I’m not just someone you work with, I’m your boss. And there are other considerations”

Chris sighed, “I know. It would just be nice if something in my life was simple.”

“It would be nice, but it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.”

************************

On Saturday after the cut, there were two in each playing group instead of three, so things moved along a little faster. Laura was in the second to last group and her partner was a Swede who was even taller than she was. Carin Andersen had an impressive list of tour victories to her credit and was a bit of a maverick on the course. With her long baggy cargo shorts, her skintight black sleeveless top and black golf shoes, she needed only a wallet on a chain to complete the biker chick image. Carin actually owned a Harley and she and Laura bickered over the merits of the American cruiser versus Laura’s Triumph Thunderbird.

The most amazing thing about the Swede was her ability to get in and out of trouble. Hole after hole she landed in the rough, the sand, the tall fescue, and the woods, but somehow she managed to pull herself out of trouble with some miraculous shot. Carin finished at even par, which given the extent of her errant shots, was pretty impressive. Even though Laura was disappointed with her 3 under score, she enjoyed the round thoroughly and actually trudged from the Scorer’s tent to the Network booth with a smile on her face.

Keith was there, along with Chris and Lisa as they wired the Mic and powdered her face again. This time Robin Gardener was a little friendlier as she asked about the round and Laura was enthusiastic as well. After wishing her good luck, Robin dismissed Laura and she stripped off the Mic before handing it back to the production assistant. “How’d it look?”

“Better than yesterday.” Chris said dryly and Lisa laughed, “Still working on those social skills, huh Kaz?”

Laura rolled her eyes as they moved to the hall. “Who else is here?”

“Just us and Jody’s wife. Trey couldn’t make it.” Keith led them down the hall to the Media room. “This is going to be kind of tough for you. Don Farmer called yesterday and he said that we are to ‘No Comment’ anything about you in Dallas, so my guess is they’re already asking questions.”

Laura nodded, understanding how the game was going to be played, hell, it was her game. The Media rep led her to the table and she faced the reporters. She wasn’t a kid, she was one of them but any hopes for professional courtesy vanished with the first question. “Miss Kasdan, why did you leave Dallas?”

“That is between me and my employers.” Laura folded her hands and waited for the next shot.

“You had an exemption for last year’s open, why didn’t you play?”

Laura really thought about answering truthfully. Because I sucked. “I wasn’t prepared to play in the open last year.” Don’t ask, don’t ask, don’t ask.

“Is it true that you struck an anchor in Dallas?”

Godfuckingdamn. It always came back to Dallas, the one professional failure that everyone could point to. Any serenity that might have been left from her night with Chris and a good round of golf vanished and left a bitter taste in her mouth. “I can’t comment on that. I thought we were here to talk about golf?” Laura waited a beat. “No? Then I’m outta here.” You were right Barbara, everybody’s gonna know.

She was out the door before the Media rep knew what happened.

Laura headed for the locker room but as luck would have it she ran into Chris and Jan Sheffield huddled together in the hall. The golf has been great, it’s just when the media gets involved it all goes to hell in a handbasket. Laura caught the words ‘resume tape’ and suddenly she was back in Dallas watching events spiral out of control. The dark machine took over and she was powerless to stop it.

“Excuse me Jan, could I have a word with you?” Laura crooked her finger at the producer with a grim smile. “Just a second Chris.”

Laura turned and crossed her arms, using her glare to full effect on the network lackey and lowered her voice. “Let me be a News Director for just a minute…Am I mistaken or are you soliciting one of my contracted employees?”

Jan smirked, “Laura…”

“Kaz.”

“Kaz then. Contracts are broken all the time…or bought out. Any station could use some spare cash.”

“I’d rather keep my talent. Just because you’re network and we’re an affiliate does not exempt you from a lawsuit for tampering.

“Oh I don’t think…”

Laura snarled, “Oh I do. Chris, are you finished here?”

Chris jerked back in alarm. What’s going on with her? “Sure,” she said in a puzzled voice.

She shrugged at Jan as she passed and it didn’t go unnoticed by her boss.

Laura was still wearing her spikes and they clacked over the threshold when she pushed open the door and stepped outside. The crowds were thinning and Chris followed the taller woman out past the courtyard to the place where Charles had left the clubs. “What is wrong with you?”

Laura whirled around, her posture stiff and angry. “Do you want to pursue a network opportunity now?” Please say no. Say of course not, I’m happy where I am.

“I was just asking…”

“Come on Chris, a network seduction is about as subtle as a jackhammer.” Just say no, you weren’t interested. Say you wouldn’t leave.

“I know that.”

Laura reached for the only weapon she could think of and flung it out, mindless in her need to hurt as much as she was hurting. “And if you want to break that contract, Erica’s the one you’ll have to go up against.”

Chris paled. “That’s a rotten thing to say.”

“Get your tape ready.” Laura hoisted the bag over her shoulder and started walking to the parking lot.

The anger boiled up and Chris chased after her boss. “You can’t just throw that at me and run away…Oh wait, that’s what you’re really good at.”

“No one twisted your arm Chris, you chose.” Laura opened the back of the Jeep and tossed the clubs in. “And like it or not everyone pays for their choices.” Some things you never quit paying for.

Chris exhaled angrily, “Lisa and Charles were right about you. You don’t have a clue about anything outside golf or news.”

“Charles was right…Lisa was right. Was there anyone who wasn’t right about what I am?” Laura snapped.

“Yeah, me.” Chris shot out bitterly. “I thought you could learn to care about something else. So what was I? A convenient diversion…Just a body to pass the time with?” She could feel an ache in her chest that threatened to stay with her forever. I will not cry. “So that’s it?”

“Tell Charles I took the Jeep.” Laura jumped in and started the engine, squealing rubber on her way out of the lot. Chris turned and slammed into Keith’s solid form. Oh goddamn. “Did you hear…”

“Everything.” He adjusted his glasses in what Chris knew was his all-purpose nervous gesture. “It certainly explains…a lot.” He dropped his hands, not sure what he should do. “I suspected you were…I mean it doesn’t matter to me.”

Chris sighed. “Who else knows?”

“That you’re gay, or that you’re sleeping with Kaz?”

Chris covered her eyes. “Both I guess.”

“No one’s said anything about Kaz, but I can think of just a few people who’ve mentioned the possibility that you might be gay.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets and shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Come on. I found three more hotel rooms. Kaz’ll freak when she gets the bill. I’ll just drop you off and you can have one by yourself to crash in.”

She gave a short laugh to keep from crying. “Okay, but we’d better find Charles.”

As she walked back to the clubhouse Chris shook her head. It’s television. Everybody looks. Professional infidelity is nothing in this business. She stopped as a thought suddenly occurred to her. Unless you couldn’t tell the difference between personal and professional infidelity.

Oh God.

********************************

At one o’clock on Sunday Laura shut down every thought that had nothing to do with golf and took the driver from Charles.

“The last group on the last day of the U.S. Open. If you can walk down the 18th fairway with a chance to win it, you’ll have done better than I ever did.” Laura remembered her mother saying the words as clearly as if she’d said them yesterday. Well, she was in the last group, but whether she would have a chance to win it would remain to be seen.

“Just you and me Kaz.” Susan Fisher smiled at Laura and briefly thought that Sarah Kasdan’s daughter was more dangerous than anyone she was likely to play against on tour. “Your mother would have been pleased to see you with a chance to beat me.”

“Yes she would. But I’m not my Mom.”

“No you’re not.”

Susan was introduced and teed off first since she was the leader at 15 under. Like a surgeon, Laura drove her ball precisely down the center of the fairway and started walking even before it finished rolling.

The course was stingy on that Sunday afternoon. Laura continued to play flawless golf with no bogeys, but she didn’t find a stroke until she birdied number 7, a par 3 over water to an elevated green. Susan bogied number 8 to fall to 14 under. On the teebox at number 9 Laura took the time to study the leader board, noting that no one was within five strokes of her score. She tightened her jaw and looked up at Charles who was regarding her with a worried look. Waiting for me to fall apart? Not this time.

The crowd was growing, gathering in more spectators as the final group finished each hole and up at the 9th green the bleachers were overflowing. Laura flexed her shoulders before twirling her driver, then caught sight of a blonde head in the gallery just up from the tee box. All the sun has made her hair even lighter. Shaking her head at the break in her routine she went back to where Charles was standing and wiped her hands on the towel slung over his shoulder.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” she sniffed. “Just lost it for a minute.” Walking back, she re-teed the ball and swung, disappointed at the slight hook that put her in the rough on the left.

Again she purged her mind of anything that didn’t relate to the course and her game and managed to get the ball out of the rough and into the fairway to set up for another par. At least I can still putt.

She and Susan stopped at the turn and Laura strode quickly through the locker room to run cold water over her hands and face. She ran through the remaining holes in her mind looking for opportunities, violating one of her cardinal rules in the process. They’re out there. I just have to find them.

Back out into the heat and Laura was greeted by another long par 5. Susan birdied it to move back to 15 under and Laura settled for another par.

11 and 12 were adventures at the beach as Laura landed in the sand traps on both holes. Still she managed to make par. Charles was starting to get nervous, his usual cheerful manner evaporating along with the opportunities to make up strokes, the only consolation being that Susan couldn’t break the par wall either. Finally on number 16 Laura’s second shot landed just two feet from the hole and she had another birdie. She tossed her putter down and took off her hat running her hands through her hair before tying it up again and threading her ponytail through the back of her hat before heading to the 17th.

Laura was one stroke back with two holes to play but the birdie had given her new optimism, and since she had birdied 17 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday her confidence was growing.

183 yards, water on the left, sand around the green, a little wind from the right. Laura asked Charles for the seven wood, and he passed it to her. She placed the ball on a tuft of grass without a tee and spun the club. After a half swing she set up and drew the club back smoothly, reversed the motion and swept through, hitting slightly behind the ball.

Laura knew it was trouble as soon as it left the clubface and headed left catching the edge of the green and rolling down into the sand and close to the water. Shit! She ground her teeth, “Am I wet?”

“I don’t know, could be on the edge.” Charles took the wood and slipped the cover on. “We’ll look.”

Susan landed hers in center of the green some twenty feet from the pin and they all started the walk to the green. The course Marshals were gathered around the sandy area called the beach that led from the green to the water. As Laura approached her heart sank because apparently her ball had.

Well not quite. Half of it was sticking out of the water and she and Charles stood staring down at what looked to be an insurmountable obstacle.

*************************

“What happens now?” Chris turned to Lisa her eyes concerned.

“She can go back to the tee and hit another shot but she’ll be hitting her third shot. Then it’s pretty much all over ‘cause she can’t make up two strokes to tie, not really, and that’s only if she finished with a four here.”

“So it is over.” Chris felt the disappointment welling up from underneath the hurt she was already sure she couldn’t deal with.

“She could play it where it lies, but that’s a big risk. She could lose a bunch of strokes just getting it out of the water.

“What will she do?”

Lisa gave a snort, “What she always does.”

***************************

“Go back to the tee box and try for the 4. Hold your position.” Charles was adamant.

Laura wiped her mouth, “Charles, I have no position. I am an amateur and I’m not playing for money. This could be my last best chance and I’m not throwing it away. If I go back to the tee, I’ve already lost.” She smiled bitterly at the caddy and squeezed his shoulder. “My choice, remember?”

He looked down and nodded then turned away to reach for the bag, pulling out the wedge and handing it to her. “Can’t ground it.”

Laura nodded and bent down to untie her shoes, pulling them off then tucking her socks inside before handing them to Charles. She cringed a little as she realized her ridiculous tan was on display for all the world to see, her white feet contrasting with the bronze of her legs as though they had been dipped in paint. Shouldering the club she stepped into the water and set up behind the ball. She practiced the angle of the swing before digging in and with one final calculating look at the green, Laura swung down as hard as she could.

She was drenched by the splash and the ball popped almost straight up. Her first thought was relief that she had at least gotten out of the water, but the ball landed above the hole and started rolling and Laura only needed to hear the roar from the crowd and see the look of incredulity on Charles’ face to know what had happened. Scrambling out of the water, she made it to the green, bare feet coated with sand and pulled the ball out of the cup. Awkwardly she acknowledged the crowd with a wave and walked back to where Charles stood with her shoes.

“Aw, Kaz.” He grabbed her in a bear hug. “It’s always better to be good and lucky.”

Laura took the shoes and the towel and sat down to clean her feet. She got them on and wiggled her toes dislodging some of the remaining grit and stood up to see Susan make par. So, you have your chance. Whatever else, you came through here. She looked at the ball then searched the crowd as they all started to move to the 18th. Stop looking, you won’t find her. But she did and without knowing why she walked over to the ropes where Chris stood, the plastic of her all access ID card reflecting the late afternoon sun like a beacon. Laura swallowed as she got closer and wished that she were wearing sunglasses so she could be as shuttered as the reporter was with hers. She leaned over and pressed the ball into her hands, the crowd building and pushing around her. “Here, hold on to that.” Then the Marshals were moving her along to the next tee.

A good 250-yard drive and Laura was halfway home. Susan’s drive landed close by and they headed for the center point of the hole, the crowd applauding in waves as they passed. Susan hit first and placed it about ten feet from the hole. The gallery went wild, sensing a birdie opportunity and a possible playoff if there was a tie. Laura swept the club a couple of times across the grass before stepping up to her ball. Easy, don’t over swing.

It made the green easily and rolled inside Susan’s. She gave the club to Charles and he grinned. Stripping her glove off she walked up the fairway of the 18th hole in the last group, on the last day of the Open, for a chance to win. The applause and cheers were deafening, but Laura had never felt so empty in her life. Because this isn’t all there is.

She marked her ball and tossed it to Charles to clean as Susan lined up her birdie putt. Stepping back she watched the older woman stroke the ball with a firm touch. It never wavered from its path, and the oooooohs of the crowd exploded as it dove into the cup.

Make this for a playoff tomorrow or miss and lose. It was as simple as that. Laura walked around the ball, looking for any kind of break or clue that would tell her the right line. Six feet, I’ve made a million of them. She stood over it slightly longer than normal and that might have been what made the difference. The stroke was sure, but the line was wrong and it missed the hole by a scant inch.

Laura closed her eyes and shook her head ruefully as she walked up to tap in. Susan had won her first Open and Laura was the first to congratulate her. Turning she looked for Charles but spotted Chris first instead and Laura remembered everything she had lost.

Second place sucks. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Part 11
Living and Dying By the Numbers

The silver medal was for second place; the gold pin was for low amateur. A lifetime of dedication was condensed into two shiny bits of metal and Laura rubbed a finger along one edge before snapping the boxes closed and dropping them into her tote bag.

The locker room was empty except for the clutter left behind by golfers eager to move on to the next stop where fortunes might be reversed on another course on another day. Laura tossed her damp towel into the laundry chute and gathered up the rest of her things. There was no next stop for her on tour, just another Monday in the newsroom and since there would be hell to pay on so many levels, there was no comfort in that.

Anxious to avoid the crowds out in front, she went out the maintenance exit of the locker room and down the back hall to the service entrance of the kitchen. The Awards Dinner was in full swing and the staff was busy with trays of covered dishes waiting to be served as Laura slipped out the back and on to the loading dock. No press, a nice clean getaway.

“She choked. I coulda made that putt.” Two men were standing at the foot of the stairs smoking, their shirts marking them as tournament volunteers. Laura’s mouth tightened as she skipped down the steps and pushed her way past them, ignoring their stares and resisting the urge to comment. Quickly she crossed the pavement and vaulted over a low wall into the main parking lot. She took one last look back at the antebellum style clubhouse tying to etch her last impression of Cypress Hill into memory, certain that she wouldn’t be returning any time soon.

Nothing like making your failures as public as possible. Dallas is out in the open, I did choke on that putt, and let’s not forget that I tossed away the best thing in my life with both hands…In front of my Managing Editor.

Chris. The pain was suffocating and the bitterness of regret choked off any excuse she might have offered in an effort to assuage the guilt. Swallowing back something suspiciously like a sob she turned away, realizing that she would never be whole again and wondering how one could endure half a life.

He didn’t; he gave up. In that instant Laura understood her father.

******************************

Chris sat on the fender of the Jeep and waited. Dusk was still a couple of hours away and the day had yet to give up any of its sweltering heat. The ringing whine of the cicadas rose and fell in the typical soundtrack of a Mississippi summer. She was hot, tired, disappointed and hurt. But she had all the patience in the world and the time to practice it. The scrape of footsteps was her first warning that her vigil was coming to an end and Chris looked up to see Laura slow warily as she approached the Jeep. This is my version of waiting on the steps, can you tell?

“Where’s Charles?” It wasn’t what Laura wanted to ask, but it would have to do. Whatever else, she swore to herself, she would hear Chris out. I will not run.

“Lisa took him to the airport on her way out of town. She offered.” Chris kept her sunglasses on, knowing that if she took them off she’d be surrendering an advantage. Laura held no such edge. Her eyes were the blue-white of some barely contained emotion.

“Keith and Jody?”

“Already gone. I was hoping you could give me a lift.” Chris held her breath.

Laura looked down at her feet. “You should…You should’ve gone back with one of them.”

Chris slid off the Jeep and held out the keys. “I wanted to go back with you. Just you.” When Laura didn’t take them Chris closed her fingers around the keys and shook them like dice. “I told you that you’d never have a reason not to trust me. It was a while ago but you’re usually pretty good at remembering things.”

“I said don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Laura muttered.

“I didn’t.” Chris moved closer. “I gave my word when I signed the contract. Before us, before I’d even worked with you for a week. There were no outs then, not for a top ten job and not for network.”

Laura was silent but her hand tightened on the handle of the bag.

“You didn’t trust me and that’s what hurt the most.” Chris’ voice was gently accusing. “I like where I am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate being told I’m network caliber.”

Laura breathed out a short laugh. A huge ego wrapped in the thinnest of shells. You should have remembered that. “You’re anything you want to be.”

“So what happened?” Chris asked.

“I…” Laura looked around the parking lot. “This isn’t where I want to have this conversation, Chris.”

“Tough. I have the keys and you really don’t want to go back to the Clubhouse.” Chris sealed off the avenues of escape and repeated the question, “What happened?”

“I was afraid you’d leave!” Laura snapped as she dropped the bag and stuffed her hands in her pockets. “That’s all, afraid. Is that what you wanted to hear?” Frustration colored her tone as she started pacing. “If I’d known you existed when I was in Dallas, I would have made you an offer.” Laura gave a brief grim laugh. “And Dallas. That’s out now too…The only thing that saves me there is that there were no criminal or civil charges filed and if it’s not on paper, it never happened…People can gossip all they want.”

The floodgates were open now and Chris could just stand back and listen.

“…Corporate wise they can sit back and deny everything since part of the deal was that Roger and I don’t discuss it. Good ol’ Roger. He’s still grabbing my ass and I can’t do a damned thing about it. Then that smug network bitch smiles and tells me that contracts are bought out all the time and any station could use some spare cash.” Laura turned away and savagely slammed the heel of her hand against the Jeep. “And I know in my gut that if you wanted to go, Art would take that deal no matter what I said.” The Jeep absorbed another blow. “Sell you off like you were cattle…For a nice price.” Laura spun to face Chris. “Y’all are acting like you’re best friends, and you don’t say anything…you don’t tell her you’re not interested, you don’t tell me you’re not interested.”

As abruptly as the anger appeared, it was gone, leaving confused hurt behind. “I didn’t know you were just enjoying the stroke.” Laura’s voice dropped and she brought the argument full circle. “I was afraid that you’d go and I’d never…” She stopped, appalled at where her lack of control had led.

Chris waited for Laura to finish but all she got was a half shrug, the one that Chris knew dismissed whatever emotion the tall woman was feeling but didn’t want to deal with. “You’d never what?”

Laura swallowed, aware that she’d given away too much and unwilling to back down for fear of never getting close again. She took a deep breath and brought both hands up to gently pull the sunglasses off Chris’s face to expose green eyes flecked warmly with gold in the fading summer sun. Will I be able to tell? Will I be able to see?

Chris surrendered her advantage and she heard the RayBans click as they were folded closed. The face she looked into was open and vulnerable, blue eyes studying her with an intensity that made her heart dip in her chest.

“I’d never have the chance to tell you that I love you.” She winced inwardly, it sounded pathetic.

Great, Kaz. In a parking lot. Your timing is impeccable and you certainly win points for style. Lisa would be proud.

Chris gulped in astonishment, “Love me?” There was a rattle as she dropped the keys and they hit pavement. “You…” She blinked in wonder laced with doubt. “I didn’t think you’d ever see it…much less say it.”

Laura couldn’t stand the disappointment and she twisted away. “That’s pretty insulting.” She bent to pick up the bag, wishing for numbness instead of throbbing hurt. The cool touch of Chris’ hand on her arm made Laura jump and she schooled her expression into blankness.

“I didn’t mean it that way.” Chris stilled Laura’s nervous hands with her own and brought them to her lips for a kiss before resting them against her heart. Breathing felt like such an effort but she reveled in the sensation anyway. “I can’t believe you beat me to it.”

Laura’s jaw went slack. She had hope but little faith. “It wasn’t a contest.”

Chris couldn’t stop the smile that spread across her face. “No, but I…You never cease to amaze me. Just when I think I couldn’t possibly love you more, you go and do something like this.”

“How long?” It came out as an astonished whisper.

“The live truck I guess.”

“Oh.” Laura wished again for some skill in dealing with personal issues. Never too late to learn. “I’m just winging it Chris. I have no idea what comes next. I’m so sorry for what happened yesterday. I can apologize a million times but I don’t know how to ask you to forgive me.

“You just did.” Chris wrapped her arms around Laura and buried her face in the hollow of the taller woman’s shoulder. “About that network thing?”

“Hmm?” Laura swallowed against the sudden fear.

“You’re not getting rid of me that easy.”

Laura’s breathing hitched as she rubbed her cheek against soft blonde hair. Relief that she hadn’t spoiled everything seemed to be the only thing holding her up. That and the support of someone she knew was much stronger than she would ever be. “I want to go home. I’m so tired…please, let’s just go home.” Chris smiled at the childlike plea and rubbed the back under her hands before disentangling herself from Laura’s body and bending down to pick up the keys.

“Home it is.”

******************

The Jeep was easier to drive than Chris thought and the hum of its tires on the interstate was only mildly annoying. She looked over to where Laura was dozing; her head against the rollbar and her jaw still clenched even in sleep. There were things that they still needed to work out, but for the time being they were okay.

She pushes too hard. Chris rolled her shoulders to ease the stiffness, glad that they were almost home and put on the blinker for their exit. No secrets, she vowed and reached over to rub a hand along Laura’s thigh. “Hey, we’re almost there.”

“Mmm.” Laura rolled her head over and rubbed one eye. “Sorry I’m lousy company.” She yawned and blinked. “You can go straight to your place, I’ll take it from there.”

“Or you could just stay at my house.” Chris licked her lower lip uncertainly. Sometimes we end up going back to the beginning.

“I’m good with that,” Laura answered softly.

They unloaded Chris’ things and carried them into the house, dropping most of them just inside the bedroom door.

“I’m going to get a shower, I feel grungy.” Chris slid an arm around Laura’s waist and pressed a kiss to a tanned shoulder. She got a weary nod in response.

When she came out of the bathroom later Laura was already asleep on her stomach, the covers pushed down to her waist. Chris stretched out next to her, gently pulling the dark hair away from her face and touching the strong jawline with the tips of her fingers. Laura shifted into the caress and Chris smiled at the unconscious movement. For the first time in her life, she knew that everything she was and everything she wanted were about to collide. She wanted medium market; not too big, no too small, the high profile job and Laura.

Chris lay awake and watched the other woman sleep. They hadn’t talked about golf at all and somehow Chris knew that Laura would have to come to terms with that on her own. Sharing pain was not part of the News Director’s nature but Chris would be patient. You can’t out wait me, Kaz.

*******************

Laura barely cleared the door of the newsroom before Janie was there thrusting a stack of telegrams ands messages into her hands. “Thank God you’re back. This place has been a madhouse and the phone hasn’t stopped ringing. The next time you decide to take over the golf world, could you please give us some advance notice?”

“Glad to see you too.” Laura kept walking to her office as Janie continued to hand over packages and letters.

“Elly is picking up the folks from Target Research at the airport, their presentation starts at nine…I don’t envy you the two days of consultant hell. The book should be here tomorrow; Corporate won’t pay for the advances so don’t even ask. Anything else you need to know?”

“Where’s Keith?” Laura was dreading that meeting most of all.

“Went to get some breakfast, do you want to see him?”

“As soon as he gets here.” Her desk was clean when she left a week ago now it was covered again. She glanced quickly through the messages shaking her head skeptically. Golf club manufacturers, agents, and requests for interviews dominated the pile, with a few congratulatory notes thrown in. It wasn’t supposed to happen this fast. Breakfast with the Mayor? She tucked the invitation into the corner of her desk blotter and twitched a little at the thought of more privacy lost. Well, if you do it right, they’ll just think you’re eccentric. How does Chris stand it?

“I brought you a Coke. That’s okay now, right?”

Laura looked up to see Keith standing awkwardly in the doorway. She smiled a little wryly, “Better than okay, thanks. Go ahead and close the door. What time did you get back last night?”

He pushed the door closed with his foot and brought the drink over to her desk. “About eleven. You were great, you know. I’m sorry the putt didn’t fall but you were fabulous to watch.” He took off his glasses and started cleaning them on his sleeve. “Where do you go from here?”

She regarded him somberly, knowing that he wasn’t just referring to golf. “Nothing’s changed Keith, but everything’s different. I’m sorry that this will make things difficult here…we had some good chemistry in the newsroom and maybe that won’t change. I’d like to think that it’s not anybody’s business but I’m not naïve. At this point I don’t care what anyone says about me, but I will not tolerate gossip about Chris.” Laura took a deep breath, willing to call in every favor she was owed to protect the blonde reporter. “I’m asking you to keep this to yourself. You’re real close to becoming a news director somewhere, you might as well start learning to keep secrets now.” She was uncomfortable with the request and the half-bribe.

“I can’t believe you thought you had to ask.” Keith said mildly. “I’ll admit I’m not the most observant guy on the planet, or maybe I’ve just been selectively dense, but I knew something was going on.” He rubbed his chin and quirked his eyebrow at Laura. “Are you two okay? I mean…” At Laura’s slow nod he broke into a grin. “You’re never anything but a pro in the newsroom Kaz. I don’t expect that’ll change. And Chris is…well, Chris.”

Laura felt a surge of affection for the stocky young man and wondered what on earth she had done to inspire that kind of loyalty. “I don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few days. The research will tell us a lot, but the book’s got to come in with some numbers or everything we’ve done over the last two months is going to be called into question.” If that happens, I’ll put as much distance between us as possible. You shouldn’t have to pay for my mistakes. There was so much at stake now. Before she’d only worried about herself or the station, never about the other fortunes that were tied to hers. She was wrong, everything had changed.

A tap on the door interrupted them and Elly stuck her head in. “They’re here. Are you ready?”

“Yeah.” Picking up a legal pad and her drink she moved to the door. “Thanks Keith.”

“It’ll be good news. I have no doubts.”

That’s good because I have enough for both of us.

*************************

“Kaz, good to see you. I watched you play over the weekend. That was a helluva shot on 17.” Dave Franco was a slick producer turned consultant that she had known since she worked in Austin and sometimes his ingratiating manner was more than a little irritating.

“Thanks. Art’s going to be joining us for the research presentation. Hi Marti…still glad to be off the Anchor desk?” The redhead was Target Research’s idea of the perfect on air personality; bubbly and sincere, someone viewers didn’t mind inviting into their homes every evening via the news. Laura couldn’t stand her. “Well Kaz, a week in Mississippi didn’t hurt your marketability at all. If you’re looking for an agent I could give you some names.”

With a healthy cut for you, I’m sure. “No, I want to be a news director for a few more years.” She met the numbers cruncher, Mark Jennings, and discussed a variety of topics as they waited for the GM to join them. Laura wasn’t surprised when Dallas came up.

“Oh come on,” Dave said. “We all have a list of talent we’d like to pop…It’s the nature of the business.”

“Speak for yourself Dave.” Marti huffed.

“I can’t even count ‘em all on both hands.” Elly said with a grin. The look the Talent Consultant shot at the Promotion Manager was pure venom.

Laura smirked but said nothing. It was easier to think about it now that the price for her lack of control didn’t seem quite so high. Now it was time to see if things were really going to work out. “Sorry I’m late.” Five pairs of eyes turned to greet the General Manager as he stepped into the conference room. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

Three ring binders were passed out and the power point presentation began. First Mark took them through the methodology of the research, then the market makeup and finally the results from the survey itself.

“As you can see, the viewer preferences for Channel 4 have declined significantly and we have grown quite a bit.” It was good news, but Mark’s drone was making Laura sleepy. Art’s eyes were narrowed and he seemed to be absorbing every detail. One bar graph after another went up on the screen and she kept pace, turning pages in the binder as they went along. A year ago she would have been ecstatic with results like these, now she was chafing, anxious to get to the section on personalities. It’s like I can’t think about anything else. Us… work… the lack of time. Nobody ever told me how difficult this was gonna be. Okay, no one told me anything, but that’s not the point. How am I going to make this work when nothing is typical?

“I don’t have to tell you how important it is that this research remain confidential, especially this next section.” Laura’s wandering thoughts returned to the conference room with a jerk and she cleared her throat as she leaned forward. Dave started passing out a thin booklet, its cover declaring it the long awaited On Air Personality Study. “If this were to get out then your talent would have a significant advantage when it comes to salary negotiations.” Laura rolled her eyes. The hush-hush business bothered her; Talent had a right to know if they were any good and by the same token they had the right to know if they stunk. “Marti, it’s all yours.”

“Thanks Dave. Boy, do we have some interesting stuff here.” The bar graph went up on the screen and Laura blinked at the amount of red climbing past the mark that read eighty percent.

“Oh my god,” Elly murmured in awe.

“That’s pretty much what we thought. Christine Hanson has eighty-four percent name recognition in this market, with only two percent reacting negatively. We’ve only seen that with weathermen, never with an anchor and certainly not one who just moved from daytime to prime. It seems you were right about her Kaz.”

There’s your insurance Chris. Laura nodded slightly, “What about the others?”

Another graph went up. “They’re in the sixties with Michelle holding at fifty nine. That’s something you may want to look at later. Let me show you something else.” The graph morphed into a chart. “Hanson hits over forty percent in viewer preference, and tops forty in the quality ranking as well. In short, you have a star. Give her lots of money and lock her in… or she’s gone.”

Laura felt the dread again for just a moment. “No. She’s ours for three years.” Mine as long as I don’t screw it up again.

“Will she stay after that?”

“I don’t know.” Laura answered honestly. “Will those numbers hold?”

Marti frowned, “I don’t see why not. This is phenomenal for someone just moving to prime; I can’t emphasize that enough. I’d like to spend some time tomorrow with her, to get a little better feel of what we have here. She tests better than Kurt your meteorologist…That’s unheard of.”

“And you were worried.” Elly tossed a grin over at Laura. “Makes my job easier.”

“Now this doesn’t necessarily mean a successful ratings book…” Laura recognized the disclaimer portion of the program. “Sometimes it takes a little while to show up.” Marti continued to click through a variety of charts and graphs stopping to point out some trend.

Laura had half of her answers and she was almost giddy with relief. I was right. This is the payoff. Whatever else happens, Chris can fall back on these numbers and Target can get her a job in any market in the country. She did it…Chris made it work. Now if we can come through with the book.

*************************

The meeting lasted all day and then they watched the Five and Six. Their luck held and there were no serious glitches to be reported to corporate as proof positive that WBFC still needed the services of Target Research. It’s not hard to keep a job if all you have to do is say that someone’s not doing it right, Laura thought. Then you just skip away after you’ve wrecked a perfectly good news operation. They all ate dinner at a popular restaurant and by the time the evening was over, she’d had her fill of Dave and Marti’s verbal sparring and Art egging them on. Worn out, she climbed into the Jeep, hating the fact that the consultants would be there for another day.

Bet she’s on the swing. Haven’t seen her all day, unless you count watching her on the Six. Without hesitating Laura drove down the quiet street and pulled in behind Chris’ Volvo. For a second she debated not bringing the report then shook her head. No secrets, she decided and opened the door of the Jeep.

“What do you talk about in those marathon meetings and is there any food?” The voice came from the darkened porch and Laura followed it drawn irresistibly to the teasing sound; Chris was on the swing barefoot in cutoffs and a T-shirt.

“Mostly we talk about our plans to take over the world using the media to manipulate the masses. Then we have really bad sandwiches and carrot cake for lunch.”

Chris’ peel of laughter was exactly what Laura needed to hear as she eased down on the swing tapping the rolled up booklet on her leg. “The Six looked good today…Glad to be back in the swim?”

“Mmm, yeah.” Chris moved closer and rested her head on Laura’s shoulder. “Are we okay here or is it a little too public?”

“Well, could you turn on the porch light for just a minute? There’s something I want to show you.” Laura waited while the blonde woman got up and reached inside the door to hit the switch.

“What’s that?” Chris tilted her head to read the cover of the report before lowering herself to sit cross-legged on the swing.

“This is an On Air Personality Study. We pay Target Research a good deal of money to do these extensive market research projects. They do the surveys and it helps us to see what areas we’re weak in and they make recommendations. Mostly what you and the rest of the station sees is their little quarterly visits that make us all crazy.” Laura looked up and Chris nodded in understanding. “We don’t really talk to you about the research, we just try to shift the focus of our priorities.”

“Who is we?” Chris asked.

“Management. Corporate, Art, Elly and me. What I’m trying to say is that y’all aren’t privy to this information. I could lose my job by showing it to you.”

“Do you know your Texas accent gets thicker when you’re stressed? I don’t want you to get into trouble over some report.” Chris’ tone was gently chiding.

Laura’s mouth tightened. “No, I trust you and I want you to see it…professionally and personally…And you need to see it for your own peace of mind.” She flipped open the cover and started turning pages until she got to the chart she wanted. “Here.”

Eighty four percent name recognition? “I don’t get it,” Chris said in a puzzled voice. “Only eighty four percent of our viewers know who I am?”

“No Chris. Eighty four percent of the people in Burkett Falls and the surrounding areas know who you are. You test higher than any local anchor Target has ever seen. If we go through this,” Laura turned to another graph. “You can see that you top forty percent in viewer preference. I’ve never seen that. Roger McNamara only hit thirty-six and he was the best I’ve ever had till now. And you’ve only been at this a month.”

“So…” Realization was beginning to dawn on Chris.

“Here’s your protection.” Laura said softly. “I’m not saying that you’re invincible, but regardless of how you choose to live your life, someone would have to think very long and hard before pulling you off the air.” She hesitated for only a second before imparting one last bit of information. “By showing you this, I’ve given you the information you’d need if you ever had to file suit for discrimination. Now, past performance is not a guarantee of future success,” Laura smirked at her own disclaimer. “But this is important Chris, you have all the power here.”

“But what about the book?” Green eyes looked earnestly into Laura’s and the News Director smiled. “We’ll know tomorrow, but trust me when I tell you that if you get a numbers kick like this in a research project, the ratings book is going to be fabulous. Elly about wet herself.”

It was almost too much for Chris to absorb. It felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. “Could you really get in trouble for telling me this?”

Laura snorted. “You could break us with the salary demand alone. This is what Jan Sheffield was seeing in Mississippi, Chris.” She breathed out impatiently, “Aren’t you listening to me at all when I tell you that you can be anything you want to be?”

Chris looked down as Laura’s nervous hands played with the corner of the report. The News Director had just given her a powerful weapon that she could turn on the station and launch a career that could go as far as she was willing to let it. But Laura had done it knowing that she was risking her job and without asking for anything in exchange. Chris couldn’t decide which touched her more. “Okay.”

“Okay, what?”

“Okay, thanks for telling me. I feel a lot better. Do I still get a ten percent raise next year?”

“Chris, don’t you…”

“No.” Chris placed her fingers softly over Laura’s lips. “This couldn’t have been easy for you to do. As far as I’m concerned that’s it…subject dropped. I’m here for the duration of my contract at the salary we agreed on. Now in three years, you’ll probably have to cough up some serious cash. As far as the rest of it’s concerned, I still can’t hold hands with you in public and that hurts. But I have you here and now. That’s not too bad.”

Laura felt the warmth spread from the center of her chest as Chris nestled into her shoulder. “Well, actually I can’t stay. Hey!” The swing rocked abruptly when the smaller woman sat up. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t been home in a week,” she said apologetically. “I’ve got laundry to do and I have to iron.”

Chris sighed. “I know, it’s just we never have any time.”

“Look, they’re gone tomorrow. I’ll take you to dinner after the Six. Your choice, then we’ll go back to my place and you can plan to stay. That is, I’m asking you if you’ll stay, even if it’s a school night.” Laura took one of Chris’ smaller hands into her own marveling at its strength and elegance compared to her tanned roughness.

“You’re on. Anywhere I want?”

“We’re gonna have Mexican again aren’t we?”

**********************

Laura was humming delightedly as she marked another line on the May Neilson Ratings book. The tiny print was making her eyes water but that was the only bad news, everything else about the book was a vindication of what she’d put the newsroom through over the last two months.

“Wouldja look at the men?”

“Hmm?” Laura looked up at the Promotion Manager who was pacing in front of her desk.

“Men are tuning in to the Six in droves…18 to 34, 25 to 54, all the demos we’re looking for. We already had the women, but damn!” Elly quickly flipped to another page. “Could you work some magic for the Ten? It’s not bad, but I want a twelve point turnaround next book there too.”

“Everybody did a great job in May, your people too, Elly.”

“We had a lot more to work with…Made a huge difference. Ah, the woman of the hour.” Elly looked at her watch. “Hey Chris, how come you’re not on the set?”

“Because I’m having the consultant day from hell!” Chris glowered as she tossed her briefcase down on a chair.

“She spent the day with Marti, so Tom’s going solo.” Laura supplied “Are they gone?”

“Yes, I just dropped their interfering little asses at the airport. You were locked up with all three of them for nine hours yesterday? Why aren’t you being held on an assault charge?”

“Because I’m learning to control my temper.” She replied mildly.

“That’s my cue to exit.” Elly grinned at the blonde anchor. “Thanks for saving my job, now I can go on vacation next week. Later Kaz.”

Chris frowned thoughtfully. “You weren’t kidding about a management change if the numbers didn’t come in.”

“No I wasn’t.”

“So how was it.” Chris gestured at the book in Laura’s hand.

“It’ll do.” Laura couldn’t keep the grin off her face. “Art is ecstatic, Corporate is thrilled and Sales thinks we can make a buttload of money.”

“So it’s good?”

“Chris, we had a twelve point share turnaround at Six. That’s worth about…” Laura shrugged as she calculated a figure. “…Two million a year. We kicked their asses.”

“Good, ‘cause I’m really hungry and I deserve a big ol’ dinner.”

“Bad day?” Laura hid a smile.

Chris rubbed her forehead. “It didn’t start out that badly…We did a makeup evaluation first, that was pretty easy…I look youthful and healthy…those were Marti’s words. I could stand to be more mature.” Chris curled her lip. “Then we went on to hair. I am not going to try for a fuller look. If you want me to have that anchor helmet hair, you’re gonna have to find another anchor.”

Laura didn’t say anything and her face remained expressionless.

“Then she asked me about my eyebrows…did I tweeze or did I wax? I told her I tweezed. Wrong answer! And we’re off to this beauty parlor to get my eyebrows waxed. Have you ever had your eyebrows waxed?”

“Uh, no.”

“They paint on the hot wax with this little tiny brush, then they stick paper on it and rip it off…’rip’ being the operative word. It’s a little painful…You could get good information out of a prisoner of war using that stuff. So I’m lying there stunned, and they rub this greasy stuff on my eyes and hand me a mirror. I looked like Rocky Balboa after the fight.”

“They look pretty good now.” Laura said in what she hoped was a soothing manner.

“Sure, now they do. Then we went shopping. Wait’ll you see my expense report for this month. I got about eight new suits and a bunch of shoes. I never thought I’d say this…but I don’t want to go shopping again anytime soon. That woman is merciless.” Chris flopped down on one of the chairs gracelessly. “Screw the network seduction, Laura. There is nothing like a consultant who wants to take credit for talent that tests well…That’s what she said, ‘Chris, we’re pleased with the way you were received by the viewing public.’” Her imitation of Marti’s delivery was dead on and Laura laughed.

Chris ran her tongue across her teeth and grimaced. “We had a session on finding my ‘comfort zone…’” Chris used her fingers to make quotation marks. “…And projecting it on air. The audience is supposed to join me in my ‘comfort zone.’ I’m not sure I want the audience to join me there, so if you don’t mind I’ll just keep doing things the way I’ve been doing them.”

Laura smirked, “Whatever makes you comfortable.”

“Mmm.” Chris pressed her lips together. “She asked me about my personal life. Do I have a boyfriend, am I living with anyone…I said no to both questions and she asked, ‘Why? Good looking girl like you…are you gay?’” Laura’s eyes snapped up to meet the anchor’s. “I told her yes and asked her if she’d like to go out sometime. She laughed.” Chris shook her head in faint amusement. “I didn’t lie, it’s not my fault she didn’t believe me.”

“You are incorrigible.” Laura murmured, wondering how she would have told Chris to handle the situation.

“Yes, well that’s why I make the big money. Take me to dinner Kaz, I’m starving.”

***********************

“Why is it Little Kaz?”

“Hmm?” Laura rumbled as her hand played in Chris’s hair. She had almost fallen asleep with the smaller woman sprawled on top of her when she was nudged by the question.

“They called you that at the Open…Charles and Susan, some of the others. Was your Mom Kaz too? ‘Cause you’re not little.” Chris nuzzled Laura’s neck and waited for an answer.

“No. Kaz was my Dad.” She shivered slightly at the touch. “When I was little and I hung around the course with my Mom, I really hated my name so I’d tell everyone to call me Kaz, just like my Dad. So they called me Little Kaz.” She opened one eye and peered down at Chris. “You call me Laura when you’re being serious or you’re trying to tick me off. I’m Kaz when you’re teasing, or when you’re angry and I’m always, always Kaz right…before…you…Ah, don’t stop.”

Chris laughed and ran her fingertips across Laura’s belly to her hipbone before kissing her roughly. Pulling away she licked her lower lip where Laura’s taste still lingered. “I’m going to make you yell this time…so loud they’re going to evict you, then you’ll have to move in with me and we can do this every night.”

Laura couldn’t suck in air fast enough. “That’s always a possibility,” she gasped.

************

She was awake before the alarm went off. The feeling of Chris naked and wrapped around her was erotically decadent in her limited experience and she shivered against the instant arousal. Bless me father for I have sinned…It’s been thirteen years since my last confession and you won’t believe what I’ve been up to. Laura pushed the guilt away and regarded the ceiling as the new day’s light stole through the skinny blinds.

It was scary how easily Chris slipped in, Laura thought. The blonde woman murmured in her sleep and burrowed closer, if that was possible. For what seemed like the hundredth time she wondered why Chris would be interested in someone like her. Interested, hell, she said she loved me…Or is that just the appropriate response when someone says ‘I love you’ first? Laura sighed in frustration; sure she had missed some sign. Still fumbling along.

The phone rang and interrupted her musings and with a grunt of irritation she grabbed the receiver and sat up, gently trying to dislodge Chris as the sheets pooled around her waist. “Hello?” She swallowed to clear her dry throat.

Chris sat up and rubbed her eyes, catching the first part of the one sided conversation. “Oh good god, how?” She slid a hand up Laura’s bare back to her shoulder and felt it stiffen with tension.

“Okay, what time? Wait a sec.” Laura clicked on the bedside light and grabbed a pad and started writing. Chris was getting more concerned by the second. “That’s 9:10, Delta flight 5927…I’ll let Keith know. Sure, I’ll tell ‘em.” Laura hung up the phone, her mouth set in a grim line.

“What’s wrong?” A niggling fear was beginning to spread through Chris’ belly.

Laura looked stunned and she pushed the bangs away from her face before she answered. “Roger McNamara died yesterday of an apparent heart attack. That was Don Farmer. They want me to come to Atlanta this morning.”

“Roger is the guy you hit in Dallas.”

“Yeah.” Laura willed herself to calm before she looked at Chris. “I swear to god this was never supposed to happen…I was going to get out first, but I needed three years.”

“What do you mean?” Chris was confused.

“The deal’s on.”
Part 12
The Big Chair

“What deal?” Chris didn’t panic often; her experiences had blunted that response. But panic was an apt description of what was welling up and she swallowed it back.

Laura rolled out of bed, grabbing a T-shirt and shorts as though clothes would serve as protection from decisions made when her options were limited. Nervously she pulled the shorts on then squirmed into the shirt aware of green eyes burning a hole in her back. Still facing away from Chris she rubbed her eyes. “You’ve never asked about what happened in Dallas. Why not? Lord knows you’ve asked about everything else.”

“Everyone knows what happened in Dallas. It’s on half a dozen news sites on the Internet.” Chris imparted the information matter of factly. “Roger grabbed you and you punched him. Did you know that our insurance company paid about thirty thousand dollars to the plastic surgeon who fixed his nose?” She shook her head ruefully, “News people are the worst gossips. We couldn’t keep a secret if our lives depended on it.”

Laura groaned. “Which doesn’t bode well for us.”

“I thought we decided that I have a little protection. C’mere and tell me what you did in Dallas that has you tied up in knots now.” Chris hoped that she at least sounded calm because she didn’t know how long she could maintain the charade.

Laura turned to look at her lover. “You know,” she murmured, “The most dangerous person in the world is the one who doesn’t have anything to lose. I used to be very, very dangerous.” She sat down slowly on the edge of the bed. “Not anymore.”

Chris moved closer and laid a hand on Laura’s back. “Tell me.” She urged softly.

It was never supposed to happen. Since when has anything in my life gone according to plan? Laura put her hands together to crack her knuckles, then stopped herself. “I met with Don Farmer, the head of News Operations right after it happened. They didn’t want to lose me or let me run to the competition or sue Roger, so they sent me here. The deal was that when Roger retired in three years, I’d take over as GM at KDAL.” She looked over her shoulder at Chris and took in the tousled blonde hair and bare shoulders. “I have a stock plan. In three years I’m vested and I could cash in for about half a million dollars if I left William-Simon. That’s why I stayed with the company.”

“So…you’re going back to Dallas?”

“It looks that way.” Laura replied tightly.

Chris felt her fear change to anger and grow until it broke free. “That’s what all this was about? Money and getting back to Dallas? What the hell happened to making us better? Was all that just rah-rah bullshit? And the Network thing…That was pretty hypocritical, wasn’t it?” She pushed away. “Silly me, I should’ve known you were meant for bigger and better things than a lowly sixty-one market.” Chris put a fist against her mouth, appalled that she couldn’t stop the tears. Wrong again. Everyone does use everyone else.

“No!” Laura faced Chris. “This was about survival and keeping my word. All I wanted was three years…that would give me ten years with Willy-Simon and ten years in news just like I promised.” She tried to put a hand on Chris’ arm but the reporter shook it off and Laura shrank back, smarting at the rejection. “I thought I could stand anything for three years…I didn’t know that this was going to happen and nothing was ever going to be the same again.” She swallowed, knowing that Chris would take this as one more sign that she wasn’t capable of trusting anyone.

“You never told me…You expect me to figure everything out on my own.” Chris let the sense of despair wash over her. “Didn’t you think this would affect us?”

“No.” Laura barely said it out loud. “We had three years. I thought I was never going back.” She looked down at her feet aware that she had miscalculated once again.

Chris looked at the dejected News Director. I’m missing something here. “You don’t want to go?”

“No.” Laura didn’t look up.

“Why not? What do you need the money for…” Suddenly all the pieces fell into place and Chris slapped her forehead almost comically. “You were gonna quit and play golf…Keep your promise to your Dad and walk away.”

“Yeah. That’s what was supposed to happen and who told you about my Dad?”

“That’s it?” Chris ignored the question and waited for Laura to say something, anything that would make this emotional rollercoaster ride stop.

Irritated blue eyes locked and held the reporter’s; glittering with tears that threatened to spill over. “Didja think I’d just say ‘I love you Chris,’ then take off for Dallas?” Laura’s voice was hoarse. “I may have the emotional maturity of a five year old, but I’m not an idiot.”

“You…” The rollercoaster plunged again and Chris swallowed against the jerk of her heart.

Laura scooted closer and reached for Chris. Taking advantage of her momentary loss for words she wrapped her arms around the smaller woman. “I love you. If you’re still keeping score, I’m way ahead of you. I love you and I’ve gone as far in news as I want to go. I don’t want to go back to Dallas, not to be a news director and not to be the general manager. I need the money to support myself on tour but that’s still three years away.” She buried her face in the pale gold hair and knew that she was crying. “You asked at the press conference and I didn’t lie. I’m not turning pro any time soon.”

“You planned it all.” Chris murmured as she breathed in the clean smell of the T-shirt and the strong shoulder under it.

“I didn’t plan this.” It would be easier if I was gone.

“Don’t even think about it.”

“What?”

“Running away.” Chris pulled back and took Laura’s face gently between her hands. “As messy as this is, as dangerous as you think it is and no matter how much better off you think I’d be if you were in Dallas, don’t you dare give up on us. You may have your reasons to leave but I can think of at least a hundred more reasons for you to stay.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“I’m not saying that it is. I’m saying that if you want to stay you can work it out somehow, some way. It’s what you do.” Blue eyes looked away uncertainly as Chris said softly, “Come back to me.”

Laura focused again. The wanting was so intense she almost forgot to breathe. “I’ll be back. I promise.”

********************

She checked for the exits automatically, counting the rows of seats so she would be certain to find a way out even in the dark. After adjusting the blower Laura fastened the seatbelt and cinched it tight, paying heed to all the stories she’d seen, done and read about in flight injuries. Finally she relaxed, closed her eyes and waited for takeoff. It wasn’t long before the second-guessing began. No, no, no. She never said she loved me, only that she couldn’t believe I beat her to it. That’s what I’m missing.

They’d been in the air for about fifteen minutes and she’d finally gotten a tiny glass of Coke when the man sitting next to her politely inquired if she was Laura Kasdan, the golfer. She swallowed some of the beverage and grimaced at the burn. “That would be me.” She replied.

“Oh this is fabulous. I watched you make that shot at 17 and I just knew you were going to win it all,” he enthused. “Then that putt didn’t go in.” He left the comment hanging and Laura shifted uncomfortably as she looked out the window. Get used to it. “So when are you going to go on tour?”

“Not for a while.” She really didn’t have to answer since he just prattled on, oblivious to her disinterest. She was never so relieved in her life than when the announcement came that they were on final approach. After fending off an invitation for dinner she escaped the cabin and made her way past the claustrophobic crowds at the gate and on to the concourse scanning the faces briefly for the corporate representative sent to retrieve her.

She spotted him at the shoeshine stand a little way down the concourse. Shouldering her carryon bag she threaded through the traffic and with little effort, climbed up next to him setting her booted feet on the metal footrests and gesturing for a shine as well. “I’m surprised. They don’t usually send corporate VP’s to pick up errant news directors at the airport.”

“You’re not an errant news director anymore Kaz.” Don Farmer folded the newspaper he had been reading and looked down at his feet as the gnome-like shoeshine man gave a final flourish. “You can get the best shines in the world here. Bet you don’t see many women though.”

“No sir.” The man smiled. “Extra for the boots ma’am.”

Laura shrugged again. “That’s okay, they need it.” She watched as he applied the paste in quick efficient circles. She implied it; she never really said it.

“You did good Kaz. Got their numbers back up, research looks great and then there was the added benefit of the Open and that generated a whole lot of interest, even with the questions about Dallas. Since Roger’s gone we don’t even have to worry about that anymore.”

Laura swallowed, sickened by the dismissal of the anchor. “Jesus Don, he’s not even in the ground yet.”

“Don’t be a hypocrite Kaz. You hated him.” He adjusted the knot of his tie. “Time to move on don’t you think? We’ll get you out of Bumfuck Egypt.”

“It’s a good station,” she said carefully, still watching the hypnotic motion of the shoeshine man.

She said to come back to her.

“You’ll meet with John Simon this morning.” Don said, ignoring her comment. “We’ll go over a few things and then your tenure in Burkett Falls is officially over.”

What if I don’t want it to be over? With one final pop of the rag the shine was finished. “Good job.” She twisted her foot to examine one boot and then the other. With a lopsided smile she hopped out of the chair and jerked her thumb at the executive. “He’ll take care of it. Give him a good tip Don.” She stood and watched to make sure that he did. It’s not over till I say it is. And with long strides she started down the concourse forcing Don to hurry to catch up.

*******************

The newsroom was uneasy. Chris could feel it in the morning meeting and see it in the faces of her co-workers. Keith spilled his coffee twice and Janie snapped at Bobby causing the photog to stomp out slamming the door to the edit bay, knocking down a shelf of tapes.

She gathered her note pad and left the sounds of the scanners behind her as she pushed open the door and trod down the stairs to the news unit parking area. Jody was closing the trunk of the Taurus they’d been assigned and Chris opened the passenger door, slipping on a pair of sunglasses as she sat down. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Med Center?”

“Yeah. Park by the Atrium.” She fastened the seatbelt and fidgeted while Jody drove. The story was a no-brainer. Talk to the Assistant Chief Administrator about how state budget cuts were going to affect the hospital, the second largest employer in Burkett Falls and package it for the Five. Every time there’s an election we go through this. Fervently she wished for a story that commanded all of her attention since this one gave her too much time to think about what was going on in Atlanta and the possible outcomes.

Begging. It was a word offensive to Chris and she had to forcibly restrain herself from doing just that; begging Laura to stay. Come on, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Then she sneered at her own optimism. In her heart she was afraid that physical distance was all it would take for Laura to retreat back behind the walls forever. Easily.

With a start she realized that they had reached their destination and she got out to help Jody with the gear. A lot of the reporters wouldn’t help the photogs lift and tote, but Chris thought it was only fair to do her share. After all, the videographer had most of the responsibility of making her look good on air and a little consideration went a long way. Besides, the tripod wasn’t that heavy. A man held open one of the glass doors to grant them entry and they stepped into the cool lobby. The bank of elevators was against one wall and Jody pushed the button. When the doors slid open they stepped inside. “Eighth floor?” Jody inquired.

“Mm Yeah. Interview first then B roll.” Chris crossed her arms. They were alone in the elevator but it felt like it was straining as it started to move. They looked at each other in mild alarm then the car seemed to pick up speed. Settling back against the wall she waited, brushing one hand down the front of her dark red jacket to straighten it.

A jarring lurch sent them both staggering and the folded tripod fell over with a crash. With one more jerk the elevator ceased all movement then the hollow quiet was broken by a clanging alarm. Looking across at the photog, Chris knew with the certainty of a clairvoyant that she wasn’t going to be able to package her story for the Five O’clock newscast.

****************************

The Corporate offices of William-Simon Communications took up the entire forty-seventh floor of the Sun Trust Plaza in the middle of downtown Atlanta. The opulence was a testimony to the high profit margin of a business that sold nothing but air. All marble, mahogany and brass it gleamed with the power to intimidate. Laura was irrationally glad that she’d had her boots polished.

“This your first time here?” Don led her past the reception area to a wide hallway and the offices of the Vice Presidents.

“Yes, you were in the other building the last time I got the call.” Laura frowned, remembering. Brian wanted her to be News Director at KDAL but no one else had seemed to. The trip to Atlanta had been a test, one that she had passed with flying colors, but she never quite got over the feeling of being a specimen on display.

“You can leave your bag her in the conference room, no one will bother it.” Laura complied, tightening her jaw in anticipation of the confrontation with the CEO. She hated power suits and had chosen to wear only a more formal version of her usual chinos, blouse and jacket. The black cowboy boots added even more height and should not have worked with the outfit. But they did. She and Don continued down the hall, past cubicles and workstations until they reached a massive wooden door. Don pushed it open to reveal a desk set in a wide expanse of almost white carpet. “Ah, Mr. Farmer…It will be just a moment.” The sleek efficient looking woman at the desk spun around to use the phone and announce their presence. After a moment, the door opened and an immaculately dressed middle aged man was standing there, his beady eyes flickering over Laura behind gold wire rimmed glasses. “So this is the great Laura Kasdan…Although you prefer to be called Kaz, Hmm?” He nodded them into his office and gestured to a chair as he moved behind his desk. “Your flight was good I trust?”

Laura folded her hands. “Yes, it was fine.”

“Good. Then on to the business at hand. As of yesterday morning, we have acquired an additional four stations: Phoenix, San Diego, San Antonio and Portland, Oregon. That brings our total to thirty-eight, and now we need another regional manager. Brian Springmeyer is our prime candidate and that leaves us one General Manager short in Dallas. With Roger McNamara’s untimely…demise,” the beady eyes smirked and Laura was repulsed. “There is nothing to prevent your return to Dallas.”

Laura took a deep breath and raised an eyebrow slightly. “There’s just one tiny problem.”

“And that is?” John Simon waited expectantly.

“I don’t want to go back to Dallas.”

***************************

They don’t need to cut the budget until they make sure the goddamn elevators are working. “How much longer?” She called through the door. There was no answer from the workmen outside but at least the alarm had stopped ringing.

“Chris, it’s gonna take as long as it takes.” Jody slid down the wall opposite the door and stuck his legs out in front of him crossing them at the ankles. “Can’t do anything about it.”

“Isn’t there another way to get out of here? In movies they just climb out through the top.” Chris looked up at the repair panel as she contemplated doing just that.

“Nope, you could lop your head off. Then Kaz and Keith would kill me for letting you.”

Sheepishly Chris nodded acceptance and crouched down next to the cameraman. “You’re always the reasonable one.” And Kaz is the practical one. Keith bullies me into doing it right and Kate puts it all together. How could I do it without any one of them? She wasn’t claustrophobic; she just couldn’t stand the inactivity. She’s there. I wonder what’s happening. Will she call?

“Did you send a tape to that Jan Sheffield?” Jody’s question interrupted her thoughts.

“No.” Chris bit her lip. “I can’t go Jody, and it’d be unfair for me to send it. In three years, who knows.”

“We were supposed to get out of her together,” he reminded her softly. “You’re my ticket out.”

She gave a short laugh and looked at him fondly. “You are your own ticket out. You could work in any market you want or even go to network. Kaz told me something,” Chris paused in concentration. “It was that there is nothing special or unique about the people who make it to network, they only pursued the opportunity. You just have to want it badly enough I guess.”

“But you’ll stay.”

She looked down and nodded.

“For as long as she’s here.” He said slowly. Chris met Jody’s eyes and there was nothing but understanding in them. “What if she doesn’t come back?”

The blonde reporter had no answer for him or for herself. “I don’t know.” She said miserably.

**********************

“I see.” The CEO’s expression was unreadable. “Why not?”

Laura kept her gaze level. “I’d like to stay at WBFC.”

“My understanding was that you wanted to return to Texas above all else.” His eyes flicked over to where Don Farmer sat and the Director of News Operations gave a startled shrug.

“Kaz…” Don started but the CEO held up a hand to keep him quiet. “You are a valuable commodity Ms. Kasdan. Hiding you in a medium market is not the best use of our resources.”

It was two months ago. Her eyes narrowed as she considered what to do next. He’s never said that I get the GM’s chair in Dallas, only that the way is clear for me to return…Maybe as the News Director. “Who replaced me in Dallas?” Laura asked the question, already knowing the answer.

“Roger McNamara was handling the News Director’s duties. You know that.” Don answered.

With that, Laura realized that the deal was busted. Call him on it. Make him say News Director not GM. Tapping fingers were the only outward sign of her discomfort.

The CEO rolled a pen carefully between his hands. “Don Farmer has an affection for you and your work that I do not share. Of course I cannot argue with results. Perhaps we should consider more than just returning to Dallas.”

Laura’s patience snapped. “Oh for Christ’s sakes say it! I’m not ready to be the GM in Dallas, you’re not gonna give it to me, and I don’t want to go back as the News Director. So unless you’ve got something else up your sleeve, we’re stuck.”

The two corporate officers stared at Laura, almost comically gasping at the breech of protocol. Thrown off guard the CEO cleared his throat. “You want to stay in Burkett Falls.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes.” Laura replied, tired of the double meanings and the games. John Simon regarded her coolly, his eyes never once wavering. “There is only one way that can happen.”

Laura’s lips twitched into a wry half smile. Ah, what the hell. Another day, another deal.

*********************

Chris and Jody went into the elevator at 10:37am. At 5:08pm, exactly four minutes after the story on the proposed budget cuts ran on the Five, the doors finally opened and Chris sprinted down the hall to the nearest restroom. Then it was back to the station to get ready to anchor the Six. Frustrated with a day of forced inactivity, she barely smiled as she pushed open the door of the newsroom to scattered applause and whistles. She spread her hands and gave a mock curtsy before digging her makeup bag out of her desk. “Any word?” she asked as Keith came up and handed her the scripts.

“Nothing. Nada. Zilch.” He was nervous as evidenced by his foot shifting. “Art’s called a station meeting for tomorrow at ten. I guess we’ll find out then if we don’t hear something sooner.”

“Great.” She kneed the desk drawer closed.

“Are you okay to do the Six? Tom can do it by himself.”

Chris was irritated and tired of being coddled. “Could you let me do something today? Honestly, I’m about to go insane and I…” Swallowing, she pressed her lips together and closed her eyes briefly. “I’m okay, I just need to do this.”

“Sure. You better hurry then.”

Twenty minutes later she was on the set. What a great way to make a living. I talk about death, destruction and human tragedy, and I get coached on how to look pretty doing it. Chris shook herself out the bitterness and focused on the teleprompter as the show open rolled.

It only got worse when Chris unlocked the door to her house. Left alone without his mistress for far to long, Biggio the cat had decided to do his own version of remodeling. Books, paper, framed photographs and other odds and ends had been pushed from whatever flat surface they had been resting onto the floor. Chris berated herself for the neglect of her pet, and spent a long time stroking away hurt feline feelings. Her neighbor had fed and watered the cat while she was in Mississippi, but the normally easygoing animal was tired of being ignored. Amidst all the clutter she never noticed that the phone had been knocked off the hook; its warning tone long silenced by the passage of several hours. Exhausted from her day and the stress of the night before, Chris crashed on the sofa, wondering why Laura didn’t call.

************************

No answer, no machine. What the hell is she doing? Laura frowned as she dug her card case out of the front pocket of her bag, fanning out the various credit cards and ID looking for her laminated pager list. With a muttered curse she remembered seeing it on her desk next to the Rolodex.

She met with the other Vice Presidents and filled out reams of paperwork. Then there was dinner and hanging out with the boys. It wasn’t what she wanted and she felt like she was signing her soul away, but it was the best she could do. Now all she had to do was get back home and wait for the explanations. This is the last one, I swear.

Laura looked around at the opulent hotel room and realized that everything had changed again. Picking up the phone she dialed the newsroom’s direct line figuring that it was just before nine there. Henry, the Executive Producer and third in command, answered the phone. Surprised to hear her voice he started with his usual list of complaints. The EP had uncanny news sense, but working with him was difficult to say the least.

“Well, Chris Hanson got herself stuck in an elevator today for some six hours, so we were short handed and the IFB in Live 2 is still acting up. I hope you’re not holding us to two live shots per newscast until that little mess is straightened out, plus…”

“Henry,” Laura interrupted, proud of herself for not voicing too much alarm. “Is Chris all right?”

“Of course she’s fine. They didn’t even singe her with the blowtorch.”

“Henry…” Laura’s voice growled in warning.

“Hey, I was kidding. Art scheduled a station meeting for ten o’clock tomorrow morning. Know anything about that?”

“No.” Laura lied. She thought about asking for Chris’ pager number and decided against it, still trying to maintain some semblance of discretion. “Just checking in. Tell Keith I called.”

“Mm Hm. I will.” Laura could hear the clatter of his keyboard as he hung up, knowing that there was a fifty-fifty chance of the message being delivered. The aching need to talk to Chris was almost unbearable so she played a game with her self-control and forced herself not to want. I’m pressing. She has her own life…Probably went out with Kate or something. Miserable, Laura continued to brood. I hope this works because I don’t have any more cards left to play.

*************************

Rust was supposed to be a good color for Chris and certainly the new outfit was exquisitely made, but the heels on the new shoes were a little high for her taste and not really practical for a working reporter. Still, she couldn’t fault Marti’s clothes judgement. It ought to be nice for what it cost. She straightened the collar of the silk blouse and checked the mirror one last time. Still no word from Laura and Chris was starting to get concerned. Rummaging through the jewelry box on her dresser for her favorite hoop earrings her eye was caught by the golf ball that the News Director had pressed into her hands after the remarkable shot on 17. Picking it up, she looked at it as if seeing it for the first time. Laura had used a permanent black pen to mark it boldly as her own to ensure against hitting someone else’s ball. From office memos and notes she recognized the familiar scrawl. Just ‘Kaz.’ That’s all.

For a minute she rolled the ball between her thumb and middle finger remembering the shot, the hurt, and the sudden elation when it went in. It’s what she always does…She makes the impossible possible and brings us all along for the ride. If they can’t appreciate that in Dallas, they don’t deserve to have her back. Without really knowing why, she carried the ball with her like a talisman and dropped it into her briefcase. The earrings went on next and then she was out the door.

The darkened News Director’s office cast a shadow over the newsroom and added to the fitful air. The morning meeting served its purpose of clearing the table of news issues as the entire staff waited for the station meeting. For a change the newsroom was quiet except for the ceaseless crackle of the scanners. Chris hung up the phone, her contact on a city construction project that was in danger of a lawsuit refused to talk on camera and she was effectively back to square one. She heard a noise behind her and looked up as Keith rolled his chair closer. “Have you heard anything?” he asked softly.

“No, she didn’t call.” Chris tried to feign nonchalance but failed miserably.

“Henry said she called about nine last night but didn’t leave a message.” His eyes were worried as he glanced at the door to Laura’s office. “This meeting…”

“I don’t know. They could send her back. It’s…complicated.” Nervously she tapped on the desk. “C’mon, they set up chairs in the studio. Let’s get this over with.

*****************************

Laura took a cab from the airport. Chris had dropped her off the day before, hugging the taller woman fiercely before releasing her into the crowded terminal and Laura had carried the memory with her to Atlanta, but now she was missing the real thing. I could just bury my face in her neck and stay there forever. Ah Chris. Not much longer. She checked her watch; it was a little before ten. Should be right on time.

The taxi dropped her off at the front and she entered the building through the front door for only the second time. Ever since the day of her interview she had entered the building through the back door. With new eyes she looked around the attractive lobby with its potted plants and bank of talent portraits, settling on the photograph of the Six O’clock Anchor. Doesn’t even come close to the real thing. The receptionist buzzed her through and she strode down the vacant hall and sales area to the double doors of the studio. Noiselessly she slipped inside and took her place along the back wall with the rest of the department heads. Mark Wilson, the General Sales manager looked over at her with open hostility. He knows, Laura thought, and he’s pissed.

Art was saying something about the book and she listened with half an ear as she scanned the mass of employees looking for a pale blonde head. She felt an immediate sense of relief when Keith leaned forward and she saw Chris sitting beside the Managing Editor. We’re good to go now. She let out the breath she’d been holding and dipped her hands in her pockets.

“Thanks to everyone’s hard work, we are going to have a fourth quarter to remember.” Art was on a roll now, his enthusiasm making him a better public speaker than Laura thought possible. “And this book is just what we need to establish ourselves as the dominant station in this market.” At that point Art’s eyes met Laura’s and she gave a brief nod. “I almost wish I was going to be here to see it.” The GM smiled ruefully and waited for his comment to sink in. “I have an opportunity to take over as General Manager at KDAL in Dallas. It’s something that I’ve wanted for a long time, and I’m really excited about it.”

Chris and Keith looked at each other in disbelief, their thoughts identical. He’s taking Kaz with him. It was real panic for Chris now and it was all she could do to keep from bolting. No! She promised!

“Which leaves us with the matter of my replacement. You have no idea how lucky you are.” Art looked to the back of the room and gave a slight wave.

“Kaz, It’s all yours.

*****************************

When things happen in television they happen very quickly. Art didn’t have much to move out of his office so the transition was slated to happen that afternoon. In keeping with the philosophy of never bringing more into a television station than you can carry out in one box running, his personal belongings packed up into a little over two boxes. Laura inherited his executive assistant, the dark cherry furniture, white carpet and the big leather chair. Laura looked around and wondered how long she had to graciously wait before she could change the décor. Art handed her the keys to the office and shook her hand briefly. “I start day after tomorrow. Everything okay back there?” He jerked his head in the direction of the newsroom.

“It will be. It’s not like I’m gone.”

Art looked around his office one last time and then turned back to the new GM. “I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye Kaz, but I wish you the very best.”

“Right back at you.” Laura smiled at the shorter GM. “Dallas won’t be easy you know. Brian had to fight every single day.”

Art nodded. “I know, but I hope I’ll be at least as successful as you were.”

One eyebrow arched. “I wouldn’t wish that kind of failure on myself if I were you.”

“You didn’t fail Kaz. It got you here, didn’t it?”

**************

Laura didn’t even need a box. Most everything she wanted to take with her went into her briefcase and she snapped the leather flap shut. It’s just another job in a familiar place. How hard can it be?

“Am I ready for this?” Keith stood in the doorway watching as she packed up her career as a news director.

She looked at him wishing that she could impart some knowledge that would make it easier and spare him some of the frustration that she had suffered through. “No one is ever ready for this. I wasn’t.” She picked up the key to the news director’s office and handed it to him. “I was younger than you when I took over in Dallas. Now I’m the youngest GM in the country. It’s gonna be hard for both of us…It always is when the number two guy takes over the number one spot. You’ll be a good News Director. I have no doubts.”

Keith looked at the brass key gleaming dully in his hand. “Thanks. I know you went to bat for me.”

Laura smiled uncomfortably. “This is where I tell you that I’ve been a news director and I…can’t be one anymore.” She swallowed against a pain she never thought she’d feel. It should be relief. I don’t want to miss it. “I’m going to have enough trouble learning everything I need to know to be a GM than to…” He looks so scared. Did I look like that? Do I look like that now? “What I’m trying to say is that I’ll help, but it’s not my newsroom anymore.”

Keith didn’t say anything; he just nodded and didn’t meet her eyes.

“I wouldn’t set you up to fail, Keith.” She said softly. “Is Chris around?”

“Ah, no,” he swallowed. “Out on a story. Is that going to be an issue? My being her boss now?”

“Was it before?” Laura asked.

“No.”

“Status quo then. I’m taking the rest of the day. It’s your show, enjoy it.”

***************

Chris knew she’d be there waiting on the swing instead of steps but the meaning was the same. Laura had changed into Khaki shorts and was drinking Coke from a small glass bottle like the ones that came out of vending machines a long time ago. “I met your neighbor. He was worried about the strange woman sitting on your porch. We talked about golf and his terrible hook. Is it okay if he comes out to play at my club sometime?”

Chris felt a hitch in her breathing and bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling before she answered. “You just take over the world and then show up at my house asking if my neighbor can come out and play?”

Uncertain, Laura blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “I called. No one answered; the machine didn’t pick up. I should’ve paged you but I didn’t want to seem…” She shook her head, searching for a single word that meant she’d given up all pretense of being a loner and was afraid

of grabbing on to someone else. “Dependant,” she finished lamely then took it back. “I don’t think that’s what I meant.”

“What did you mean?” Chris asked.

“I meant that I would have done anything to come back because you asked me. I can’t imagine my life without you anymore and I’m scared because I really don’t know…where we stand. I’m the GM now, it makes things easier…and harder. The golf makes me more public too, and it’s going to get worse.”

“What about the deal with your Dad?”

“I guess I can thank Charles for shooting off his mouth again.” Wryly Laura shrugged. “He wanted me to make a difference in the way television news was done. I can do that from the big chair. It isn’t breaking my word.”

“And in three years?”

“I walk away.”

Chris rummaged in her briefcase, retrieved something, and then dropped the leather case before sinking down on the swing. “Here.” She held out the golf ball. “You left this with me.”

“Oh that.” Laura shook her head. “If the putt had gone in it might’ve been worth something.” She took it from Chris and ran her thumb over the dimpled surface. “It was the one time in my life when I had to be perfect…” She breathed a short laugh. “And I was.”

“You were perfect for four days. Not a single bogey.”

“No Chris, not perfect. It’s kind of like the difference between a no hitter and a perfect game. Flawless maybe, but not perfect.” The dark haired woman looked away.

Chris closed her eyes. The impossible, possible and we all come along for the ride.

“Have you ever known something to be true for so long you just took it for granted?” She asked the question in a voice a little louder than a whisper.

“I don’t think so.”

“Hmm.” Chris reached for Laura’s hand and laced their fingers together. “This is as much of a public display of affection that we can indulge in here, but I can tell you that I love you. I can say that a million times a day and it won’t even come close to expressing how much I feel the actual fact…pardon the newspeak.” She fastened on Laura’s eyes and her lips turned up in a sweet lopsided smile. “I love you, and we don’t need to keep score.”

Laura could smell Chris’ perfume and it was scrambling her senses. “I want us to have a life, and I don’t know how. This is one thing I can’t plan for.”

“Did you ever think of just winging it?” Chris tucked one leg under her

“It may come as a surprise but I’ve been winging it since the first day I saw you with that wrecked news unit.”

Chris chuckled as she looked out over her yard. “We could plant some big ol’ privacy hedges here so we could neck on the swing.”

“You are obsessed with necking.”

“But it’s such a nice neck.” Chris sobered and looked down at their joined hands. “We can make this work, but no secrets, no re-thinking and no running away.”

“But what happens tomorrow?”

“We deal with it.”

Laura rolled her eyes, “Yeah, but with your luck…”

Chris smiled. “Anything could happen.”

THE END

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s