The satisfying smack of a sledgehammer into plaster and drywall echoed through the empty seating area of Rae's Place. Normally the sound of destruction, this particular smack was one of construction, of a new beginning.
Toni Parker pulled the sledgehammer from the considerable sized hole she had just made and removed her safety goggles. A fine mist of plaster floated in the air, lightly gracing her dark hair.
"Oh my God, that felt good!" she said to the young blonde woman now closely inspecting the damage. "You've got to try this!"
Rae took the hammer and hefted it a bit. "I don't think so. If I lifted that thing too many times I might get all ripped and 'muscle-y' and then where would I be?"
"Sitting in the Governor's mansion in Sacramento?" Toni ventured. She tipped the handle of the hammer toward the blonde. "Governor Moss, what are your positions on the issues?"
Rae laughed at that. "I'm happy you asked that. I'm pro-choice, pro-business and pro-woman." She leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on Toni's lips. "This woman," she murmured as she moved back a little and brushed a speck of plaster from the brunette's cheek.
"I like the benefits with this job, but I hope you realize after midnight I'm going to have to charge you double time and a half," Toni informed her partner.
Rae gasped in mock horror and reached to place the goggles back on the brunette's face. "Swing that hammer, girlfriend. With prices like that I better see a little action."
Toni grinned and lifted the sledgehammer. "Maybe later, right now I have a doorway to get opened. She swung the hammer again, this time right through the hole and into the small convenience store next door.
It had been three months since Rae and Toni had become partners. It had been Toni's idea to buy the small grocery and convenience store next to Rae's Place. She had taken the money for its purchase from her retirement account after talking the plan over with Rae. The blonde was worried about both of them having so much of their savings sunk into the businesses, but Toni remained confident the idea was sound.
With its mix of coffees, smoothies and juices, Rae's Place had opened and become a favorite locals' hangout over the winter months. Both women hoped it would be equally as popular with the tourist trade now that spring was arriving.
Toni had negotiated the purchase of the grocery store, studied the stock and talked to locals about needs in the neighborhood. She received her business license and set about renovating the place. Energy efficient coolers and new display racks were ordered. Alterations were made in the inventory to assure the women that there would be no inadvertent competition between the two businesses. The coffee machine was removed from the grocery store and replaced with a small professional pizza oven. While Rae's Place was open and actually breaking even, the convenience store had closed for the changes to be made. Now both businesses were ready to be open and a doorway was being created, after Rae's Place was closed for the day, between them.
Working steadily with Toni knocking the pre-measured areas down and Rae collecting the trash and dropping it into an open rubber garbage can, they took a short hour to open a hole large enough for the door.
Sweeping up the last of the dust as Rae wiped down the nearby tables, Toni asked, "What time are the door installers supposed to be here?"
Rae dropped her sponge into the bucket she carried as the last table was cleaned. "About ten they said. Pretty smart of us to save money by knocking down the wall ourselves."
"Damned smart," Toni replied as she swept the last bits into a dustpan and then emptied the contents into the trashcan. "I'll take this out to the curb for pick-up in the morning. Let's call it a night."
Rae took her bucket to the large work sink behind the counter, emptying and rinsing it. "I agree, but whatever shall we do until morning?"
Toni moved toward Rae, snapping off the lights in the seating area as she went. "I'm not sure. I was kind of hoping to have a meeting with Governor Moss. I have urgent matters to bring up with the State."
Rae smiled at Toni's playfulness. "Well then, how would you like to come upstairs with me and get down to business?" She led the way to the stairs leading up to her apartment, an apartment Toni had been staying at more and more frequently.
As Rae climbed the stairs, Toni called out to her. "Hey, you think I can be first lady in this state?"
Rae stopped on the steps, looked down at Toni and blushed. "Well, you can't be first, but you can be next," she said meaningfully.
The invitation was not lost on Toni who whooped and followed Rae up the stairs at a run.
Rae reached out from under the covers to grab the shrilly-ringing phone from the cradle. Cracking one eye partially open, she saw the Caller ID display the name of the company they had hired to install the doors that would connect Rae's Place with the small grocery store.
"Hello?" she said into the receiver, trying to mask the morning grogginess in her voice.
"Ms. Moss? This is Pete Campbell over at Ellis Construction. I just wanted to confirm our appointment for ten o'clock and check that the area has been prepped as agreed and that the electricity to the area we'll be working on will be off."
Rae remembered when she and Toni had the construction company come out and give them an estimate on the work.
"Check on the wall being open and we'll get the electricity thing taken care of this morning before you get here. Everything should be ready by ten."
"That's great, Ms. Moss. We'll see you then." They hung up and as Rae reached to replace the phone a warm hand slipped around her very nude body and cupped her right breast. The blonde smiled and leaned back into Toni's warmth that had been up against her back. Days at the beach were warmer and longer, but the mornings were still cool with occasional fog clinging to the coastline.
"Mr. Campbell, you certainly got here quickly," Rae teased her partner. The rumble of a low chuckle came from behind her and the hand cupping her breast gently tweaked the nipple there.
"Mr. Campbell, huh?" Toni's voice whispered in her ear as the brunette snuggled closer. "Tell me the truth. What's he got that I haven't got or can't buy at the naughty shop downtown?"
Rae shifted her body on the bed until she was on her back with Toni's arm draped across her. "For one thing he has a door that he is bringing over in?" She craned her neck to see the alarm clock. "?one and one half hours from now."
Toni lifted her head from the pillow. "If I'd only known about this door fetish of yours, I'd have happily tried to install the thing as well as knock open the hole for it. You know, taken advantage of that before our friend Campbell." She dropped her head back onto the pillow. "This just messes up our Monday, doesn't it?"
Rae began running her fingers along the arm still across her. "It does a little, but it's better than closing the business for an extra day." The women had decided early on that they couldn't afford to miss out on the weekend tourist trade, so they decided to have the businesses closed on Mondays for all the routine things that had to be dealt with like paperwork, stocking and ordering. It was also the day they wanted to set aside to continue to pay attention to their new love and life together.
"You're right," Toni said as she began dropping small kisses on any exposed flesh she could reach. "Besides?I need to?be down there?for another?delivery today too. The new?sign for?the store is?being delivered?and set up today."
Rae had been enjoying the sensations of Toni's warm mouth, but now she rose up on her elbows with excitement. "Today? Very cool! Now can I finally find out what you've decided to call the place when you re-open it? You've acted like it would be giving away a state secret or something to tell me."
"Guess I just didn't want you to think I was too mushy or anything," Toni admitted. She looked into Rae's green eyes then dropped her own to the bed. "Cause I'm not mushy," she added in a small voice.
Rae reached over and jostled her partner. "Spill it, Parker, or I'm not going to follow through with what I had planned for you for the next half hour or so." Toni knew an empty threat when she heard one. The sex between them was hot, exciting and a frequent part of their mornings together. She sighed in mock defeat though.
"Fine. I'll tell you. I just always wanted to remember the very first time we met so I'm calling it Flying Hat Groceries." Rae didn't speak for a moment and just gazed at Toni's face which was now graced with a faint blush of embarrassment.
"Boy, I'm glad you're not too mushy," she said in a voice thick with emotion. "I think it's a pretty wonderful name and I think you're pretty wonderful too." She leaned over and kissed Toni sweetly and then with increasing passion. When the kiss broke, Toni was a bit breathless. Her head collapsed back on the pillow again.
"Was that what you had planned for me this morning?" she asked.
"That?" Rae replied, "?and this." She moved in the bed again, her head now disappearing under the blankets covering the brunette's lower body.
"Oh, good plan," Toni sighed.
Toni couldn't help but laugh. The two guys Pete Campbell had sent over to install the double glass doors that would lead from Flying Hat Groceries into Rae's Place had looked bemused when they walked into the businesses. Rae had turned the jukebox on and a mix of music from pop stars of the past flowed smoothly from the speakers. Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Bing Crosby had entertained the installers as they worked. Toni could only imagine what they were thinking, especially as hip-hop had blared from the open windows of their truck as they pulled up outside.
Toni was busy in the grocery store doing the final stocking of the shelves, marking prices and finalizing her inventory control plan. Rae was taking the opportunity to clean the large refrigerator and cappuccino maker in Rae's Place. Toni liked the opening between the businesses because she could glance up and see her partner working. The blonde would glance her way and Toni would smile or send a wink back. Though they were working in separate businesses, it felt like they were together.
Rosemary Clooney came on the jukebox and Toni glanced up through the nearly installed doors. The frame was in and the workers merely had to hang the glass doors to finish the job. Rae looked up at the same time and met Toni's gaze. The song was a new favorite of Toni's and Rae began lip-synching to it.
"I'd like to get you,
On a slow boat to China,
All to myself alone.
Get you and keep you
In my arms evermore.
Leave all the others
Waiting on a faraway shore."
Toni tore her eyes away from Rae's momentarily to glance at the two workers. They were oblivious to Rae's performance, but Toni was amazed to see both of their heads bobbing in time to the music. Two more converts, she thought. She looked back to Rae who was finishing her performance.
"Out on the briny
Where the moon's big and shiny
I'll melt your heart of stone.
I'm gonna get you,
On a slow boat to China
All to myself alone."
Toni pantomimed applauding the performance and Rae graced her with a bow. She blew Toni a kiss and with a flourish she picked up her sponge and returned to her cleaning. Toni walked to the cash register in the grocery and picked up the phone there. She rapidly tapped in a number on the keypad. The ringing tone sounded in her ear.
"Rae's Place," Rae answered in the other business.
"Didn't I see you on American Idol?" Toni asked.
"Only if you spell it I-D-L-E," Rae chuckled into the phone. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this call? Dare I hope it's an obscene one?"
Toni was surprised at Rae's words. "Hmmm, you want to meet me near the Twinkies when the guys are done?" She looked at the doors, one of which was now in place. "And that should be any minute now."
"As tempting an offer as that is, I think the people you arranged to interview this afternoon for part-time help might be a little flustered by the sight," Rae reminded her.
"Damn, where are the perks of being management in this job?" Toni pouted. "You are right though?no need to scare the help on the first day. I tell you one thing though; I'm going to be straight with them about us. Well, not straight in that way?I mean honest with them about who we are and what we are to each other."
"And what are we?" Rae challenged. She couldn't resist making Toni say the words.
The brunette leaned back so Rae could see her through the doors. "We are best friends and lovers and business partners and you are the person I want to spend the re?"
"All done here, ma'am!" one of the door installers called from the new partition.
"Ma'am!" Toni muttered into the phone incredulously. "I am so not old enough to be a ma'am and he is such dead meat! Guess I gotta go and pay the schmuck though." She hung up the phone leaving Rae wanting to hear the rest of her sentence. They had talked about the future of the business partnership, but they hadn't really talked about the future of their personal partnership. The fact that Toni still spent half the time at her apartment was a concern to Rae. Not a big one, but more like something in the back of her mind that niggled at her.
Pushing the thought from her mind, Rae hung up the phone and went back to her Cinderella work in the kitchen.
"Okay, one more time," Toni said. "What's the signal if we think they would be fantastic to work with?"
Rae rolled her eyes, but humored Toni and her scheme for the afternoon's interviews. "I run my fingers through my hair."
"And if we think they are worth giving a second chance if nobody else works out?" the brunette asked.
"I brush a speck of lint off my shirt," Rae replied. "You know, we've gone over this three times now and there's nothing wrong with my memory."
"You can't be too careful with picking out just the right employees. Remember, I'm the one with management experience here so just trust me on this. Now, if either one of us has an objection to somebody and we know they are definitely out, what's the signal?"
"I cough. Am I interviewing part-time help or coaching third base?"
"Very funny, Moss." Further edification on the process of employee selection had to wait as the first applicant arrived. Ramona Fleming was a middle-aged woman whose children had left home for college and marriage and she needed something to do during the day so she wouldn't have the urge to poison her recently retired husband who was now around the house twenty-four hours a day. That was how she introduced herself to Toni and Rae and they both liked her immediately. As a bonus, Ramona had a gay son and the sexual orientation of her bosses didn't matter to her.
"Not my business, but you do make a cute couple." The hair signal was exchanged and Ramona was hired on the spot.
The next to arrive was Melissa Winters. Melissa was an attractive blonde with half of her hair dyed pink. She was in her late twenties and from almost the first minute she walked through the door her eyes were glued to Toni. Answers to the questions were directed at Toni, sly glances were tossed to Toni and thinly disguised flattery was heaped on Toni.
Rae coughed. She coughed twice just to be sure Toni caught her drift. Toni glanced at her, a tiny bit of disappointment present in the look, but she didn't hesitate. "Okay, Melissa, we've tentatively hired all the help we need right now, but we'll keep your number and give you a call if anything opens up."
"Call me anytime," Melissa said as she sauntered toward the door. "Doesn't have to be work related." Toni blushed and waved, but Rae clenched her jaws and seethed. Toni felt the tension in her partner and tried to ease it.
"To be fair, we never got to the part of the interview where we told her that we were involved," Toni said in a conciliatory voice.
"As if it would have mattered," Rae said, though less irritated than amused now.
Toni smiled at her. "You were jealous! That's so cute!"
"Maybe I was?just a bit. Sorry."
"Don't worry, I liked it," Toni assured her. She leaned over and kissed Rae to illustrate her point.
The next two interviews went smoothly and both candidates were placed in the "lint on the shirt" category. Either would do if nobody else was a jump out, sparkling candidate. The last applicant was Linc Boston, a stereotypical California surfer who was looking for "an easy gig" at the beach so he could increase his time on the waves.
"You surf?" he asked Rae.
"Just wind-surfed some of the bigger lakes back home. Nothing out on the ocean though," she replied conversationally.
"I thought so; you've got the bod for it," he said as he nodded and eyed Rae's compact form.
The surfer continued. "You need tight abs and buns to control the board and get the best ride. You must work out." Toni coughed again
"I work out at Patterson's Gym about three blocks from here. I could meet you there sometime and take you through a work out to really work those areas," he offered. Toni coughed several times in a row.
"You need some water, ma'am?" Linc asked. The interview was over.
"That was hilarious," Rae said as she locked the door behind the surfer. "You were jealous."
"You bet I was. Little twerp. He called me ma'am too! Did you hear that little weasel?"
Rae just shook her head. "So I suppose he is out?"
"Yep, from now on he's the missing Linc," Toni replied. She was proud of her pun even though Rae stuck her finger in her mouth and pretended to gag.
"You staying tonight?" Rae asked as they secured the businesses.
"I thought I might," Toni said. She pulled Rae to her and wrapped her arms around her. "If you don't have any other plans."
"Well, I was considering Linc's offer, but I haven't decided yet. Maybe if you cook me supper I might hang around this evening. It is your turn, you know." Rae lifted up on her toes and kissed the brunette.
Toni sighed. "Sure, no problem," she said as Rae turned, put her arm around the brunette's waist and pulled her toward the stairs. "If I cook, will you sing that song to me again? Out loud this time though, huh?"
The sun was already shining brightly when Toni reached the beach. She pulled into the spot next to Rae's car at the back of the businesses. She had launched other enterprises in her role as a corporate executive, but those were as part of a large team and her particular responsibility was limited. Today was the grand opening of her very own business and whether it succeeded or failed would rest squarely on her shoulders.
A wave of nausea, brought on by nerves, passed across her and she waited a minute before leaving her car. She thought of all the preparation that had gone into this day and how much work she and Rae had put into it. Rae had been there every step of the way, but buying the grocery store had been Toni's idea and this day would prove whether it was a good one or not.
Rae's Place was doing well, but Toni knew her help had all been behind the scenes. The customers came into the smoothie and juice bar because of the proprietor. Rae was fantastic with the patrons and it showed in the loyal clientele she had built in a relatively short time. Toni's experience with the public was limited and though she would never say anything to Rae, she was worried. Toni knew the statistics regarding small businesses. Fifty percent of them failed and she didn't have the luxury of corporate back up that would allow her time to slowly build a successful business. She wasn't going to have that kind of time.
The former executive was so engrossed in her thoughts that she almost completely missed Rae coming out the back door with a white plastic bag of trash. Rae had already placed the bag in the dumpster by the time Toni focused on anything outside her own thoughts. She stepped out of the car and took Rae's offered kiss with gratitude.
"Big day, huh?" Rae asked, making no move to go back inside. She could see the question in Toni's eyes. "Don't worry, Benny is inside watching the counter, the early rush is over."
Benny was one of the new part-time employees. He had grown tired of the coffee house he worked at in the city and wanted something slower paced and not as time consuming so he could pursue his passion of song writing. Toni nodded and leaned back against her car.
"What's wrong?" Rae asked gently. She moved to Toni's side and reached out to her. The contact wasn't much, just a stroking of the arm, but it spoke volumes to the brunette. The support and love was there.
"I suppose I'm just a little nervous about the opening today," Toni admitted, running her hand through her long hair. "My own business. When I woke up this morning it really hit me. I know we plan to merge the businesses in a partnership, but what if mine doesn't fly? Where will we be then? Where will I be?"
Rae's fingers moved down Toni's arm and grasped her hand. "You'll be where you are now, right here with me, Partner. You made it possible for me to open my business and make a go of it. I knew smoothies, not balance sheets, inventory control and the rest of it. Rae's Place could easily be called Rae and Toni's Place. I haven't forgotten that just in case you think I have."
Toni used the joined hands to tug Rae into her arms. She stroked Rae's hair and held her close. "You always know just what to say to me," she whispered. "How did you get so smart?"
Rae chuckled and leaned back to look at Toni. "If I was so smart I would have opened the business that starts the day at nine o'clock instead of the one that starts at six o'clock. And speaking of the time, don't you have a grocery store to open?"
"Yeah, I do, Partner," Toni agreed. "Let's do this thing." Arm in arm they entered the back door.
"Thanks a lot! Hope to see you again, Mrs. Ames," Toni called after the customer who was exiting with her purchases. The bell above the door jingled merrily as Mrs. Ames waved and left.
The grand opening was an unqualified success, bolstered by the generous discount Toni arranged to spark goodwill in the area. She surprised each customer with the discount as they checked out. Though buying the Mom and Pop grocery was nothing like a hostile takeover, the former executive wanted the community to know she was there as a neighbor and not an outsider.
"Just fifteen minutes left to go and you can close up shop for your first day. You've got a winner here, Parker," Rae said as she sauntered in through the glass double doors.
"I knew that the minute I saw you on the beach," Toni countered with a sexy smile.
"Oh, that was good. That was very good," Rae practically purred. She went up to where Toni was situated behind the cash register and touched the tip of her finger to Toni's chin. She traced that fingertip down Toni's neck and onto her chest. Briefly consulting her watch, she said in a low voice, "In fourteen minutes from now I'm going to?" Rae's statement was interrupted by another jingle from the door of the grocery store.
"Let Ramona get it," Rae said quickly.
"I let her go home an hour ago," Toni said apologetically. "This should be the last customer of the day and then we'll lock up and you can tell me what your plan is for fourteen minutes from now." She turned toward the front door and was confronted with the half pink head of Melissa Winters.
"Oh, hi Melissa," Toni greeted the young woman unenthusiastically. "What can I do for you?"
"Hard to tell," the young woman said. "I see so many things that are tempting to me in here. I may be a frequent customer in the Flying Hat. Hey, what's up with that name anyway?"
Toni shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, it's nothing really." She felt Rae tense up behind her. "Just a reminder of the very best day of my whole life." The tension melted from her partner.
"Thirteen minutes," Rae whispered as Melissa wandered up and down the aisles. She returned to the counter with her choices. Toni totaled up the purchases that included two bananas, a can of whipped cream and a can of chocolate syrup.
"Entertaining?" Toni asked as she put the products in a bag.
"Just myself," Melissa replied. "Better add a couple of these in there." She handed Toni three Slim Jims.
"On the house," Toni said as she took the cash for the other goods. "Have a nice evening, Melissa."
"Bye now, " Melissa called over her shoulder as she left.
"You gave her those Slim Jims for free!" Rae accused as soon as the door closed completely.
"I sure did," Toni said agreeably. "But I didn't give her the thirty percent Grand Opening discount, so I figure I'm way ahead on our pink-haired friend." She quickly went over to the door, locked it and flipped the "OPEN" sign to "CLOSED".
Rae was laughing and shaking her head. "That's priceless! How did you get so smart?"
Toni smiled at the repeat of her question from earlier in the day. "I'm not that smart," she replied. "If I was so smart I would have opened a business that shuts down at five o'clock in the afternoon instead of seven o'clock in the evening. Whose brilliant idea was that anyway?" she asked as she turned the lights off to the sign outside that showed the beach hat flying across the name of the grocery store.
"Yours," Rae answered as she placed the day's receipts and cash in a bag and closed the register. "By the weight of this bag, I'd say you had a very brilliant idea."
"You ever been right and still felt like you had made a mistake?" Toni joked.
"Nope, I think my plans through so I'm always right," Rae said with a saucy sway to her hips as she headed back into Rae's Place.
"That reminds me," Toni said as she followed Rae out of the grocery store. "What was that plan you had for me at the end of those fifteen minutes?"
"I just thought I'd take you upstairs and have a grand opening of my own?of your clothes."
Toni's step faltered for a moment. "I've said it before and I'll say it again. Good plan."
Rae filled the sturdy cardboard cup with the precise coffee mixture her early morning customer requested. Sometimes it seemed there was almost a status war over who could concoct the most elaborate blend. The blonde enjoyed an occasional cup of coffee and thought the complicated combinations were pretentious, but there was no denying the coffee section of her business was its main moneymaker. She always kept a fresh pot of regular on hand though for those who would come in and not want to play the coffee creating game.
One of those types is on her way in right now, she thought. Toni slipped in through the back door and smiled a weak greeting at her partner. She needs a caffeine infusion, Rae observed. Since becoming Rae's partner, Toni had stopped going to Starbuck's in the morning, thinking it was disloyal.
Rae poured a generous amount of coffee into Toni's mug that hung behind the counter along with the mugs of the rest of her regular customers. It was an idea of Rae's to make frequent customers feel welcome by keeping their own cups hung on individual pegs in the business. Rae washed and hung the mugs back up every day so when her regulars came in they would feel at home. I wish Toni felt a little more at home here; I wish Toni would make her home here.
The brunette was still commuting half the time back to her condo in the city and every morning Rae didn't wake up in her lover's arms was a day that started just as lonely as all the rest of the ones before she met Toni.
"Busy this morning?" Toni asked as she took a long sip of the hot liquid.
"Not bad. The commuter rush was over early and it's just been steady since then. How was the drive out?" her partner asked.
"Also not bad. No, strike that, it was great," Toni said. Even though her eyes were tired, Toni looked excited and Rae had already learned that particular gleam meant something was up with the brunette.
"Okay, you're dying to tell me so you might as well get it over with. What's up?" Rae asked.
"You're impetuous, you know that? How about we have a nice leisurely lunch and talk a few things over?" Ramona and Benny usually came in during the middle of the day and Rae and Toni opened and closed the businesses. Sometimes they stayed in if there was an unusually busy lunchtime, but more frequently the couple spent a late lunch together.
"Shall we say one-ish?" Rae asked in a formal voice as Toni joined her behind the counter.
"We shall," Toni said as she bent over to retrieve the key to the double glass doors from where it hung on a hook under the counter. On the way up she ran her hand along one of Rae's denim-clad thighs, eliciting a small yelp of pleasure from Rae.
"Impetuous? That's your middle name, Parker, and you'll pay for that later. Remind me in case I forget," Rae instructed .
"I'll do that," Toni said as she headed to open the grocery. She was able to take only two steps before she was jerked to a stop. Rae held the hem of Toni's shirt bunched in her hand.
"D-7," she said and released the garment. Toni was confused at first and then realized the blonde was talking about the jukebox. Rae was giving no hints about D-7 though and neither was the jukebox itself. The space for the title of D-7 was blank. Toni glanced back at Rae who was cleaning an unseen speck of dirt from a spotless countertop.
Fishing fifty cents from her pocket, Toni dropped the two quarters into the slot. The soft whirr of the machine began, followed shortly by the smooth magic of the Paris Sisters.
I love how your eyes close whenever you kiss me.
And when I'm away from you, I love how you miss me.
I love the way you always treat me tenderly
But, darling, most of all, I love how you love me.
Rae put her hand on Toni's shoulder. Involved in the beautiful song, the brunette hadn't even heard her approach.
I love how your heart beats whenever I hold you
I love how you think of me without being told to
I love the way your touch is always heavenly
But, darling, most of all, I love how you love me
As the song faded slowly out, Rae reached up and brushed away the misting of a tear in Toni's eyes. "1961 is a little modern for me, but it said what I wanted to say."
Toni nodded mutely. She would have spoken, but the lump in her throat prevented it. She reached up and took the hand that had been touching her face and gave it a soft kiss. If the three or four patrons in the nearby booths noticed or cared, they said nothing.
"I love you," Toni finally managed to whisper.
"Good enough for me. Go on and get the store open now. I'll see you at lunch." Rae's words let Toni go, but their eyes held fast for another few seconds. Finally Toni sighed and moved away. She went to the glass doors, unlocked them and went into Flying Hat. She looked back through the opening as she propped the doors open and raised her index finger to solidify her appointment with her partner at one o'clock.
Rae smiled, nodded and then turned back to the business of running Rae's Place.
The next few hours went by quickly and Toni thought off and on about the planned topic of her lunch with Rae. She thought just as much about Rae's sweet gesture that morning. Glancing up she could see her partner through the open glass doors. The afternoon was just starting and the coffee drinkers were giving way to the juice and smoothie customers.
With spring fully in place and summer just around the corner, Toni was willing to bet they'd need to bring in a little more part time help for Rae. She decided she and Rae should go back over the applications they had approved of during the round of interviews and contact the other two people as soon as possible.
Ramona had just finished boxing a pizza for a couple looking to have an impromptu picnic on the beach. Toni rang up the pizza, along with a couple of bottles of water, as Ramona wiped down the counter where they did the preparations. When she was finished, Ramona joined Toni back at the register. She perched on a stool and opened the paper she had brought from home.
"Hey Toni, what's your sign?" Ramona asked.
"Don't tell me you believe in all that stuff," Toni said as she moved to a rack to replenish the supply of various brands of chewing gum.
"No?well, maybe. Sometimes it's pretty close, you know? I wouldn't tell my priest I believe, but I also wouldn't tell an astrologer I didn't," Ramona confessed. "So, tell me your sign."
"Gemini," Toni said, knowing when to give in.
Ramona folded the paper in half. "Gemini?here it is. 'This will be a day of twists and turns for you. Expect both highs and lows; how everything works out in the end is completely up to you. Spend your money wisely.' I don't know what that means, but you aren't getting out of paying me."
Toni laughed. "I wouldn't dream of it. With only a crew of two I don't need a mutiny on my hands."
"What's Rae's sign?" Ramona asked, showing no sign of impending mutiny.
"Let's see?Leo. What's the verdict?" Toni asked. "Should we go buy a couple of lottery tickets?
"She's in trouble," Ramona said.
"Let me guess?she needs to avoid lattes at all cost," scoffed Toni.
"No, she's really in trouble?now," Ramona said, her voice filled with fear.
Ramona's tone caught Toni's attention immediately. She turned quickly and looked through the open glass doors. Rae was at her usual place behind the counter, but this time she wasn't alone. She and Benny were backed up against the back wall and in front of them was a young man about twenty years old. He would have looked like any other customer at Rae's Place except for one thing. He had a gun pointed directly at the owner.
The moisture left Toni's mouth as a sick feeling lodged solidly in the pit of her stomach. It was the first time she had felt such overwhelming fear in her life. The fear didn't paralyze her though and she moved into a side aisle of the store so she could slip up to the glass doors unseen. She took a quick peek into the juice bar.
"I'm telling you, bitch, hand over the cash. I'm gonna start taking people out if you don't do it quick!" Toni pulled back, reviewing the setting quickly in her mind. The robber had moved and was now standing to the right of the counter and facing the door. He stood sideways and moved the gun back and forth, menacing Rae and Benny as well as the customers in the booths.
Toni tried not to look directly at Rae, but in the course of picturing the scene she couldn't help but see her partner in her mind. Rae was petrified and she stood rigidly still behind the counter with the half empty coffee pot in one hand and a thick paper go cup in the other. She wasn't doing as the gunman asked and it was infuriating him. Ramona had been right; Rae was in big trouble.
Toni didn't like the robber's tone. He sounded desperate and desperate people in her experience did desperate things. She had to act. She moved back to the register and picked up a basket from the stack there.
"You called the cops?" she whispered to Ramona.
"They're on the way."
"Call them again, tell them to come in the back door. He's watching the front." Toni grabbed a heavy can of beans off a nearby shelf and put it in the basket. She covered it with three bags of marshmallows and headed back up the aisle.
Pausing only briefly at the door, she walked into Rae's Place. "Okay, honey, finish picking out what you want and I'll get us a couple of smoothies from over here," she called over her shoulder, knowing she would draw the gunman's attention to herself. Her hand was around the can of beans in the basket as she entered the business, pretending to be completely unaware of the situation.
She took two long steps into Rae's Place before turning her head to face the front of the business and placing herself squarely in the middle of what was going on. Her only intention was to provide a distraction until the police could get there, but if an opportunity arose to diminish or eliminate the threat to Rae and the others, she would seriously consider taking it.
"Stop right there, lady," the gunman called to her when she moved into the middle of the room. She was no more than a handful of steps away from the counter, but she was far enough away that the man's attention had to turn from Rae in order to focus on her. That was exactly what she wanted.
The man with the gun was scruffy looking with low-slung baggy jeans and a partially un-tucked plaid flannel shirt. A baseball cap worn low across the forehead partially, but not completely, hid his eyes. The glimpse Toni did get chilled her. No emotion showed, not an iota of compassion. Toni was certain this was a person who would carry out any threats he made.
She came to a complete stop. "Oh my God, oh my God?" she said, attempting to keep the robber's attention on herself. "Don't hurt me; I only wanted to get a smoothie," she begged. "I didn't see anything here."
"Sit down and shut up," the gunman said. He pointed to a booth across from where he stood. Toni followed the orders meekly, daring a quick look at Rae as she did. Rae's eyes were on her now and imploring her for a miracle. Toni hadn't had any miracles though since the day she called on the winds off the Pacific to help her meet Rae on the beach. There were, however, no breezes to call on here.
If it happened once before though?Come on, earth. I command you to help me, she thought. It was in that moment, as she kept eye contact with Rae, that the earth did indeed move. It moved powerfully and suddenly and nothing was left in place. The gunman was knocked to the ground and, though Toni's senses were reeling, she saw the gun drop from his hand. Through barely focused eyes, she saw him go after it and she went after him.
The shouts and the confusion and the mayhem were suddenly silenced as she moved in what seemed to be syrup-like slowness. He already had the gun back in his hand and was bringing it up when the can of beans connected with his wrist. His gun arm flew to the side and a loud blast issued from the barrel.
A cry erupted from her left and she turned her head in time to see Rae clutch her abdomen. The blood seeping through her shirt was the last thing Toni saw before she lost consciousness completely.
"She's coming around. Sergeant, she's waking up." The voice was something to grab onto, something to use to pull herself from the depths of the dark. It wasn't right though. It wasn't the voice she wanted to hear. Rae! Toni's eyes flew open, but all she could see were male faces and the ceiling of Rae's Place.
"Ma'am? Ma'am, I'm Sergeant Klein. County Sheriff's Department. We responded to your call." Ma'am! Even through her remaining haze Toni knew she was offended. She sat up slowly despite the urging of the man she now knew to be a paramedic to lay back down.
"Where's Rae?" she asked. The paramedic and the cop exchanged glances. "Where's Rae?" she demanded, now in a louder voice.
"Right here, Toni," Rae said as she pushed her way between the two men. "I told them you weren't going to be happy when you woke up. You can't stand being out of control." Rae was still wearing her jeans, but above that was only her sports bra and a large white bandage wrapped around her midsection.
"He shot you," Toni said in horror.
"He shot at me," Rae corrected. "He got the coffeepot I was holding and that got me. The shattered glass flew and a piece sliced me right across the tummy." She looked down at the bandage. "Remind me to work on my abs after this thing heals."
Toni almost cried with relief. "You're okay then?"
"Sure, though I can't say the same for my best coffeepot. After the police tossed in the stun grenade it felt like nothing was going to be okay."
"So that's what it was. I thought it was an earthquake." Toni glanced around.
"He's not here, ma'am," the sergeant said. "He's handcuffed in the back of the patrol car. We'll have him out of here in a minute. We just wanted to be sure nobody else needed to get to the hospital and to take a couple of statements."
"You got him. That's good," Toni said. "Nobody else?"
"Other than the perp, of course. The paramedics tell me one of the wrists in the handcuffs is probably broken. Do you have a permit to carry that can of beans?" Ramona appeared then and helped Rae into a clean shirt. Toni got up with some help from the paramedic and felt better once she was on her feet.
"I think we're going to be closed for the rest of the day," Rae said. "There's no way any of us are up to greeting the public anymore today. Any chance we can come give those statements tomorrow, Sergeant?"
"I suppose so," he replied. He fished a card from the right front pocket on his shirt. "Just give me a call when you're ready and I'll meet you at the station. You have a good rest of the day, Ms. Moss. You too, ma'am," he said to Toni as he left.
Toni knitted her brow. "I'm going to give him a statement?a two-word statement," she muttered. "And it won't be 'happy birthday'." Ramona and Rae just laughed as the paramedic packed his equipment away. He gave them aftercare instructions for their injuries and headed out shortly after the officer.
"Go ahead and take off, Ramona. You have a great story to tell Ralph now," Rae said, referring to Ramona's husband.
"Sure, if I can get him to stop watching the TV long enough." The employee turned to Toni. "Now do you believe in horoscopes?" Toni was confused.
"What are you talking about?"
"Don't you remember? 'Spend your money wisely.' It was in your horoscope this morning," Ramona reminded her as she handed her the can of beans she had used to cause the gunman's aim to go askew.
"Cash brand Baked Beans," Toni said, reading the label. "You're a million laughs, Ramona."
"And I'm just getting started," the older woman said. She turned serious for a moment. "I'm so glad you're both alright. It would have broken my heart if anything had happened to either one of you." She hugged them both and left, turning the sign in the door to 'CLOSED' as she went.
"Come on, hero," Rae said. "Let's finish locking up and go upstairs. I think I want to lie down for a while. I just want to hold on to you and I want this day to be over."
"Right behind you, partner," Toni said in reply. My news can wait for another day.
Toni gasped and woke from what had been a fitful sleep. She had woken twice before, each time in the grip of a dream that featured Rae and her blood stained shirt. She could hear Rae's breathing next to her, but reached over to make contact with the blonde anyway. It's not a dream. We both came through everything okay and we're going to be fine now. She didn't pull her hand back though and turned to her side so she could make even more contact with her partner.
"Toni?" Rae mumbled. "Is everything okay?"
"Everything's fine," Toni replied. "Go ahead and go back to sleep."
"I'd like to. I keep dreaming about you coming through the door this afternoon." Rae's voice was clearing as she made her way from sleep completely. She turned her head to look at Toni in the semi-darkness. "When I saw you I was still scared, but I knew somehow it was going to end up okay. Don't ask me how I knew, but I did."
"You knew more than me then," Toni said, her voice tinged with bitterness. "And your dreams are better than mine, too. You're the most important thing in my life and I couldn't do anything to protect you today. If the cops hadn't shown up, I hate to think what might have happened."
Rae turned on her side to face Toni fully. "You, and maybe me because of you being there, would have thought of something. We would have given him the money or we would have gotten the gun away or?oh, I don't know. The point is that we would have been fine because we were together. There's nothing in this world that's stronger than the way we feel about each other."
Toni could not reply. She felt the welling of tears in her eyes and could not and did not want to stop them. After the police and Ramona left that afternoon they had come upstairs and went directly into Rae's bedroom. That was when Rae started shaking. She shook so hard that her teeth clicked together and Toni pulled her tight up against her while whispering soothing words into her ear. Rae moved closer to the brunette, so much so that Toni was afraid of re-injuring her abdomen. After a few minutes though, the blonde began to relax in her arms and finally fell asleep. The high level of adrenaline that had kept Rae going after the incident finally returned to normal and the couple dropped into a healing slumber together. The last thing Toni remembered was pulling the blanket up and over them both.
Toni allowed her tears to flow. They ran sideway across her face and dropped onto the shoulder she was laying on. For the second time in the space of a day, Rae reached to brush away Toni's tears.
"Toni?" Rae whispered, moving to hold her lover as she had been held earlier.
"Yeah?" Toni's voice was filled with emotion.
"I'm hungry." Despite the tears, the brunette couldn't help the short laugh that burst forth.
"We did sort of miss our lunch together today," she agreed. "I suppose I could eat something too."
"I've got some chicken noodle soup in the cupboard and some cheese in the fridge. Will that be enough?"
"That sounds perfect. Come on, I'll even cook." She patted Rae on the arm and got up from the bed. She reached to help the blonde from the bed as well.
"Mighty generous of you, Parker," Rae said. "Just no coffee though, okay? I don't want to see another coffeepot until I absolutely have to."
Rae's spoon scooped up the last of the soup in her bowl as Toni polished off the last slice of cheese on a saltine cracker. The blonde dabbed her mouth with a napkin and leaned back in her chair.
"When I was a kid in Minnesota, my mom would make me chicken noodle soup and saltines whenever I got a cold. She'd rub my chest and neck with Vick's and wrap a clean kitchen towel around it. I swear, sometimes I see that red and white can of soup and I start to feel better right away."
Toni smiled at Rae's recollections. "Does it make you feel homesick?"
The blonde considered the question. "Not really. My family is in here." She tapped her chest over where her heart resided. "It's kind of like they came along with me. You wouldn't know it to look at the place, but a lot of Minnesotans live here."
Toni stood, taking her and Rae's bowl to the sink. "I don't know about a lot of Minnesotans, but I'm sure glad one in particular lives here." She came back to Rae, leaned over her and placed a slow, sweet kiss on upraised lips. "Did you get enough to eat?"
"I sure did, but I'll take another slice of that dessert," Rae requested. Toni complied and returned to give another lingering kiss to her partner.
"Nothing like something sweet at the end of a meal, I always say," the brunette noted after the kiss ended. "How about we adjourn to the couch for awhile?"
"Sounds good, but could you look at this bandage first? Just check to make sure we don't need to change it." Rae lifted her shirt and Toni inspected the gauze dressing.
"It looks like there's some bleeding underneath, but it isn't all the way through. You want me to change this one for a new one?" Toni asked as she gingerly touched the wound.
"No, the paramedic put some closure strips on it. It was long, but not deep. He said it didn't need stitches, but it might drain some. We can do it in the morning." She pulled her shirt back down. "Can I ask you something?"
"Anything," Toni replied.
"What was the thing you were going to tell me at lunch?"
Toni hesitated. Maybe it's not the right time. She looked into Rae's eyes and saw the love there. Maybe there will never be a better time. "I wanted to show you something and explain something to you. I can't show you what I wanted to though. It's in my backpack locked up down in Flying Hat."
"I'll take your word for whatever it is?just tell me," Rae urged.
"Well, you know I've spent more time in town lately. I've had my reasons." The look of apprehension on Rae's face made Toni wonder if continuing was a good idea. Oh well, in for a dime, in for a donut. "I sold my condo; the bill of sale is the thing in my backpack I wanted you to see."
"You what?" Rae exclaimed.
Toni was crestfallen. She knows I was planning on asking to move in with her. Stupid, stupid! It's way too fast. Now what are you going to do?
"Now what are you going to do?" Rae asked, echoing Toni's internal words.
"I was going to ask to move in with you," Toni mumbled, dropping her head.
"What was that? Can you stop speaking to the person on your shirt and talk to me?"
Toni lifted her head and looked directly at Rae. "I said I was going to ask to move in here with you?live with you. I wanted to..."
"Yes," Rae said, interrupting the ramble.
"I said yes. Absolutely, sure, all right, okay, welcome and get in here. I was so afraid you wanted to just be business partners and that's what you were going to tell me," the blonde confessed. "This love thing is new and I am so glad you're the one I am being new at it with. I am certainly going to love living with you."
Toni was stunned. It was just that easy. Love was just that easy. "You know, Moss, if you weren't wounded, you'd be in so much trouble right now." The heated tone in Toni's voice left no doubt what she meant.
"What? This little paper cut? Don't let that stop you, Parker. Take me to our bed." Both women stopped at Rae's words. It really was 'their' bed now.
"Cool your jets, girlfriend. This party can wait until you're healed. I'm going to be around for a very long time. Let's get some sleep; I think all my bad dreams will be gone now." Toni put her arm around Rae's waist and guided her from the living room.
"I can't believe it, but it's true. I'm a damned packrat!" Toni growled in frustration as she filled up yet another plastic bag with articles intended for a local charity. "You know, I always thought this was just a condo and not the Smithsonian of my life."
Rae laughed as she opened another kitchen cabinet. "I didn't want to say it, but I have to admit you're right?you have accumulated a lot for someone of your tender years. Hey, you have a waffle iron!"
"Really? I wonder where I picked that up? I love waffles; is it a keeper?"
"Definitely." The women had been working steadily for several hours going through Toni's belongings as a prelude to making the final move in with Rae. They had hired several local college students to do the actual moving, but the winnowing of Toni's possessions was left up to them. The piles headed for the dumpster, the charity and the apartment over the juice bar seemed to be equal.
Toni wandered over to the kitchen and leaned across the counter to look down at Rae who was removing a metal colander from the cabinet now. "It's too much, isn't it? No matter how much stuff we get rid of and how much we make sure we don't duplicate what the other one has, it's still going to be too much. All this stuff is going to make your apartment go from cozy to cramped beyond belief." She pursed her lips in thought.
"You can chew over the situation as much as you want, Parker, but you aren't getting out of living with me. I don't care if our apartment is so crowded we have go downstairs to change our minds, you are living with me. You and I are taking up housekeeping together so you can just put that executive decision-making mind to work figuring out how to solve this problem." She stood up, putting the colander and a collection of long, thin cardboard boxes on the counter as she did. "How many Ginzu knives do you have?"
"Damn infomercials. They look so cool on TV. Did you know you can cut a ball peen hammer into small chunks and still slice tomatoes razor thin afterward?" She moved to the blonde, taking her into her arms.
"Much call for doing that in your life?" Rae inquired, an amused note in her voice.
"Oh yeah, I took care of three hammers last month alone." Toni leaned down and placed a quick peck on her partner's lips. "Okay, getting back to the problem. Too much stuff, too little space. Let's see, we could move out of the apartment and get a house close by."
Rae made a pained face. "I moved to the beach for the beach. Close by isn't going to be the same thing. I want to wake up with the sea air coming through our window and be able to watch the sunset with you from the sands across the street from our home. Next idea, please."
"Well, if we're going to be living in a perfect world, not only do we need more space for our personal things, we need an office too. With both businesses doing well, we're going to need more than the kitchen table and a shoebox to keep ourselves organized. Maybe we could put an addition on to the building?hey, wait a sec." Toni got a faraway look in her eyes as she tried to visualize something in her mind. "What's over the grocery store?"
Rae narrowed her eyes as she thought. "My apartment?"
"Is only over Rae's Place. But the building is the same size the whole way across, so what's over the grocery store?" Toni asked again.
Rae shrugged. "Beats me. Want to find out?"
Toni pretended to think. She raised her hands, palms up, pantomiming the balancing of scales. "Let's see?continue to dissect my life and buying habits into piles or head back to the beach to solve a mystery like Sherlock Holmes? Tough choice." Suddenly one hand dropped with the weight of decision. "To the vehicle, Watson. The game's afoot!"
Toni and Rae stood outside the building that held their conjoined businesses. It had been a little over a week since the attempted robbery and on their routinely closed Monday, Rae's Place and Flying Hat Grocery were closed and quiet.
"I ownder how we get up there? There wasn't a door from your apartment that you plastered over when you moved in or anything, was there?" Toni asked.
"Not a thing on the walls. They were as smooth as a baby's butt," answered Rae. "There's no stairs on this side or windows above the grocery and I know there's nothing in Rae's Place, so that leaves Flying Hat."
Toni grabbed the blonde's hand. "Lets give it a look." She unlocked the door, turned off the alarm and led the way into the business. "If we don't find anything here, just remember I have a sledgehammer and I'm not afraid to use it."
"Duly warned, Miss Home Improvement." They began to work their way quickly around the grocery, looking for any sign of a doorway or access to the area over their heads. It didn't take them long to come up empty-handed. "What about the store room?" asked Rae.
"It's worth a try." They headed to the back of the grocery and into the storeroom. "Nothing here, but there's a small closet at the back." Moving between boxes and crates, they shoved aside a stack of boxed canned goods to gain access to the door. Opening it, they found what they were looking for.
"Bingo, front row!" Toni said as she looked up at a closed hatch in the ceiling. "There's an emergency flashlight by the fire extinguisher in the other room. Grab it will you?" While Rae was in the grocery, Toni stacked two crates next to a single one. She was already on the stack of two and reaching for the hatch when Rae brought the flashlight in.
"Be careful with that," Rae cautioned. "No telling what might be lurking up there."
"Like ghosts?" scoffed Toni as she moved the hatch. A torrent of filth dropped down on her from the opening and she sputtered and blinked rapidly to clear it from her eyes and mouth.
"Like dust," Rae chuckled. "You look good in gray though." She pressed her lips together to avoid laughing out loud at the sight of the woman on the crates as she handed her the flashlight.
"Very funny, Moss. You're a regular comedienne," she said. She tucked the flashlight in her belt as she hoisted herself through the hatch. There was silence for a moment, then Toni shrieked, "Oh my god!"
"Toni? Toni, are you okay?" The concern in Rae's voice echoed up through the opening.
"I am, but the spider that got underneath my Reeboks isn't doing so good. It looks like this space runs all the way to the walls of the apartment. It'll take some work, but I think extending the living room and adding an office can be done easily. We might even be able to enlarge the bedroom. You should see this though; this is a bonus!"
"What is it?" Rae asked as she stepped up on the crates.
Another deluge of grime dropped through the hatch, directly onto the blonde on her perch. "It's a bumper crop of dust!" came Toni's voice through the opening.
Rae coughed. "When I get my eyesight back, Parker, you are dead meat!"
Rae emerged from the bathroom, towel drying her hair. She wore a long t-shirt that was slightly damp from the remaining droplets from her shower. Toni glanced up from where she was measuring the bedroom wall with a metallic tape measure and all moisture left her mouth. The blonde was completely unaware of the effect she was having on her partner.
"So what do you think? Will you be able to do it?" Rae asked. The question had so many interpretations that Toni was unable to answer. "The extension?on the bedroom?will we have the space to do it?"
Toni shook her head, clearing it. "Oh, yeah. We've even got enough room to add closet space up here. Maybe I could keep a few more of my possessions then?"
"Whatever you say, Material Girl," Rae teased. "I only hope we have enough electrical outlets for all your things." As she turned to leave the bedroom, Toni poked her playfully in the backside with the tip of the retractable metal tape measure. Rae spun around, but an innocent expression was firmly planted on Toni's face as the flexible ruler snaked its way back inside its housing.
Rae narrowed her eyes and approached her partner. "You wouldn't by any chance know anything about a mysterious poke in the butt, would you?"
The doe-like expression remained fixed. "Hey, maybe we do have ghosts!"
"I'll give you ghosts!" the blonde said as she crossed the remaining distance between them and proceeded to tickle all Toni's most sensitive spots. The brunette laughed as she tried to avoid her partner's torturing fingers.
"I give! I give! We don't have any ghosts, Mrs. Muir!" Rae laughed, this time at Toni's foolishness. She loved how fun their relationship was. They collapsed on the bed, out of breath from the laughing and the tussle.
Toni moved her hand over to touch Rae's middle. "You didn't hurt yourself, did you?" Rae placed her hand over her partner's.
"That little scratch is almost healed. Look," she instructed. She pulled up her shirt to just under her breasts, revealing a flat abdomen and beige panties. True to her word, the wound she had suffered during the botched robbery had been reduced to little more than a long pink mark across her mid-section. Toni moved up on her elbow and leaned over to place a light kiss on the wound.
"It'll heal up perfect now," she said as she stroked Rae's hair. The brunette dropped her head to her partner's abdomen.
"I want everything to heal up perfectly, right down to any bad memories," Tony vowed. The blonde smiled at her protective tone. She knew the moment could deteriorate into tears or turn to something much more pleasurable. She made her choice.
"I've been thinking I feel a little wounded here too," she said as she tapped a fingertip on her lips. Toni raised her head and met a heated look in sparkling green eyes. She moved to her hands and knees and crawled up the bed until she could lean over and place a soft kiss on Rae's lips.
When the kiss broke, Rae grinned up at the brunette. "I think I'm going to need ongoing therapy, Dr. Parker." Toni leaned back down and this time the kiss was anything but medicinal. The heat proportionally increased as the kiss deepened. Tongues met and caressed the other. Tussling wasn't the reason they were both breathing heavily now.
"I have a few other areas that seem to have a peculiar ache in them now," Rae said, her gaze never wavering from Toni's.
"Don't tell me," Toni begged. "Let me find them." She sat back and reached to pull Rae's shirt from her body. Rae's excitement was plain in her already firming nipples.
"Oh?" Toni breathed as she lowered her mouth to first one, then the other. Using the tip and then the flat of her tongue, she tormented Rae's nipples pleasurably until the blonde was gripping fistfuls of the sheet.
"Move on," Rae demanded. Toni complied, her mouth moving slowly down her partner's body. She visited smooth valleys, flat planes and all the gentle undulations that make up a woman's body.
When the brunette's mouth had moved inexorably downward and finally reached the waistband of Rae's panties, she glanced up. Rae lifted her head and met Toni's look.
"Stop now and you'll be the one needing a doctor," the blonde threatened weakly. Toni answered that with a devilish smile and a single fingertip that worked its way under the leg band of Rae's panties. Exploring with intent, she reveled in the feel of the soft curls, softer skin and silky wetness. Finally, when the patience of both women had been stretched like carnival taffy, Toni pulled the panties from her partner.
Rae could only groan at the feel of cool air on her heated flesh and she trembled visibly when Toni's hand returned to touch her again.
"Toni?" she managed. "Please?"
The simple request, spoken with such need, pushed the brunette to lower her mouth again to Rae's body. With possessive mouth and questing tongue she brought Rae to the edge and held her there. Two fingers slipped easily inside the blonde and the exquisite fullness tipped her over into an electrifying orgasm.
The spasms and throbbing continued on for a while; Toni held herself inside her partner until they subsided. Gently extricating her fingers, Toni moved up to lie beside the blonde.
"Just what the doctor ordered?" she asked softly to a still recovering woman.
"Mmm-hmm," Rae replied, not opening her eyes. "If you just give me five minutes, I'm going to fill your?prescription."
Toni grinned as she snuggled up to the blonde. "God, I love playing doctor with you."
Summer would be early this year. The orange-red, late afternoon sun still warmed the sands of the beach and the two women sitting there. They sat close to each other, shoulders and thighs touching as they watched the sun drop slowly to the horizon. The gulls cried periodically, the only sound above the white foamed breakers. Toni figured as long as she was thinking it, she might as well say it.
"Life is pretty perfect right now."
Rae smiled, leaned her hand on Toni's shoulder and entwined her fingers with those of her partner. "Now it is."
Toni turned slightly and kissed the top of Rae's head. "The new addition will be done soon. The extra room will be nice."
"The peace and quiet too. Three weeks of hammering and sawing has been plenty for me. I'm ready to pick out carpet and drapes."
"And I'm ready to get my stuff out of storage." At Rae's snicker she added, "I know I don't use some of it much, but it's nice to know I could if I wanted to."
"It's not a problem, my little packrat. We'll have plenty of space now. I'll be able to get some of my stuff out of the front closet too. Shortly we aren't going to be able to tell where one of us starts and the other ends," Rae predicted.
"I don't have a problem with that at all. I kind of like our stuff mingled," Toni said. "Our businesses, our lives, our love?I like my life with you. I never stop thanking my lucky stars I met you on the beach that day."
Rae lifted her head and looked at Toni. "Wow, you're sure in a sweet mood today. When you made me waffles this morning, I was surprised. When you sent flowers to Rae's Place, I was flattered?"
"Want to try for shocked?" Toni asked as she brought a small velvet box out of the pocket of her shorts. She turned fully on the sand to look directly into Rae's eyes.
"A few months ago I couldn't have dreamed up anybody as wonderful as you, but some benevolent being out there looked into my heart and blessed me by bringing exactly who I needed into my life. There's not a single thing about you I don't love. The way you wake up messy and rumpled, the way you flip a grilled cheese sandwich or the way you think I don't know you keep a Snickers bar in the freezer for a chocolate emergency. The way you look when I'm loving you and the love you've brought to my very existence." Toni opened the box to reveal a matched set of gold bands inset with a blue, yellow and red stone.
"The sapphire is for the ocean that I met you by, the citrine is for the sun that was so bright that day and the ruby is my heart that I realize I lost to you that first moment."
Rae was speechless with emotion. Toni took the rings from the box.
"I'm a complete novice at this asking thing and I'm so afraid I'll mess it up so I'm going to make this as simple as possible. You?me?forever?"
Rae smiled at Toni. "Yeah," she replied just as simply. "Oh yeah." She leaned over to kiss Toni long and sweet.
Toni's eyes misted with unshed tears. "I love the warmth of summer, Rae, and with you I have that every moment." Toni reached to place one of the rings on Rae's finger when her partner stopped her. Taking the ring from Toni's hand she lifted it to look at something on the inside that had caught her eye. It was an inscription.
It read, "Toni and Rae, Endless Summer."