Disclaimer: So far as I know, the characters in this little jaunt of figments of only my imagination. They are not intended to resemble anyone, living or dead, mythical or real. There may or may not be scenes between women who love each other, so if you don't like that sort of thing, please go somewhere else now.
Copyright © 1999 by JS Stephens. All right reserved.
Sherry Cunningham sat impatiently in traffic, listening to the radio, trying to plan her day. "All right, commuters, the trip to Cancun is up for grabs!" the announcer bellowed. "I'll take the fifth caller for this all expense paid cruise, so get your digits hitting those digits!" What the heck, I should try, Sherry mused. She grabbed her cell phone and punched in the number, then hit the send button. While listening to the ringing, she was able to move forward another yard or so.
"Caller number five, who are you?" the voice blasted from her phone. Sherry nearly dropped the phone, but gathered her wits and answered, "My name is Sherry, and I'm stuck on the highway so I thought I'd try my luck at winning the cruise."
"Well, Sherry, this is your lucky day, you have won! Hang on and my assistant will be with you shortly to take down the necessary information." She heard music, then a woman's voice came on the line. She gave the woman the necessary information, then disconnected. Great! Now all she needed was to get through this traffic so she could concentrate on finishing those stupid court documents for her latest case.
"Hey Sherry, I heard you on the radio," called out her secretary. "Congratulations, who you gonna take with you?"
"Good morning to you, too, Brenda," Sherry answered as she flipped through her morning mail on Brenda's desk. "I haven't the faintest clue, Brad dumped me last week." She kept a few pieces of mail, then dumped the rest back on the desk. "Would you answer the top six letters, then prepare a memo for the others? You can dump the ads, those bozos never do remember that we have a library director to take care of buying law books and electronic services. Do I have any meetings this morning?"
"No, but Paula returned your call from last night saying that she would be able to meet with you today on that copyright case. Should I call her secretary?"
"No, I think I will call her myself, see if she is free for lunch today. Thanks, Brenda, I'll be in my office now." Sherry went into her office and dumped her briefcase, then hung up her overcoat before sitting down and turning on her computer. While she waited for the login box, she hit the speed dial for Paula Winstone's extension. The familiar voice answered and Sherry said, "Hey girl, are you free for lunch? We can make it a working lunch and hash out this copyright case that I have coming up for trial. Great, I'll meet you downstairs at 1:00 then. Hey, did you know that I won that cruise to Cancun that the radio station was promoting? Oh, I forgot, you listen to country or jazz in the mornings, not rock. I'll send copies of the files to your electronic inbox for you to look over. Okay, see you at one." She hung up and logged into the network.
The morning flew by as Sherry worked on various cases. She barely made it downstairs in time to meet Paula for lunch. "I suppose we'll go in your car, as usual," Paula stated as the women started walking toward the elevators to the parking garage.
"Why, of course, a Miata is much sexier that your scratched up truck, Paula. Besides, it's easier for me to park at that new pasta place.Hop in and buckle up."
"Who would know that we've been best friends forever to hear us bicker?" Paula mused as she put on her sunglasses. "So, what's this case you need my intellectual property prowess on?"
Sherry filled Paula in on the details as she whipped them through the lunchtime traffic, arriving at the new pasta restaurant in record time. After they were seated, Sherry continued. "It's pretty obvious that my client submitted her manuscript first, yet the publisher claimed that this other author just happened to submit the same story a few days before. The stories are very similar, right down to the explanation of how the ships went faster than light speeds. My client thinks that her files were stolen when her house was broken into, but can't prove it."
Paula thought for a moment as the waiter set down their drinks. "Any passwords or other ways to safeguard the files?"
"Nope, she never thought that her stuff at home would be vulnerable, I guess. Wait, she did submit an unfinished draft on diskette to the copyright office at the Library of Congress I think. Maybe we could get a copy of that, think that would help?"
"It might." The waiter served their lunch. Both women ate in silence for a few minutes, then Sherry said, "Oh, I nearly forgot, that cruise I won to Cancun? It is for two people and I was wondering if you wanted to go with me. I happen to know that you have lots of unused vacation sitting around, gathering dust."
Paula frowned as she swirled pasta on her fork. "I don't know, Sherry, I have so much work to do right now. Besides, wouldn't you rather take Brad with you?"
"Nix on Brad, sweetie, he dumped me last night. No, I think that a vacation with just us gals would be the ticket. Just think, sun and surf, no cold winter for ten days, dining and dancing, no court deadlines, nothing to do but enjoy ourselves." Sherry looked anxiously at Paula. "After all, you are my best friend and I do owe you for letting me crash at your family's Christmas last year when what's his name and I broke our engagement."
"His name was Tom and he was the love of your life, at least for six months. Okay, I'll think about going, but you will have to clear it with my managing partner."
"Done deal. I just have to file some settlement papers today, then I can take off. Oh, you must let me help you pack, Paula, you know how bad you are about packing mostly suits and stuff. You will need shorts and cute beach clothes and something formal. Hey, you still have that tuxedo you bought a couple of years ago?"
"Sherry, I'm not taking the tuxedo on a cruise."
"Sure you will, you look very dashing in it. Remember last year when we went to, what was it called? black tie? that AIDS benefit. You looked so handsome you took my breath away, girl. You also danced divinely, you must dance with me at least once on the cruise."
Paula set down her fork. "Sherry, I didn't mind dancing with you then, but this is not an Olivia cruise. Besides, I thought you were straight."
Sherry laughed as she waved for the check. "Darling, what does that have to do with it? Lunch is on me, or rather, my client. By the way, I'm not horning in on anything, am I? You haven't mentioned dating anyone since Rachel died."
Paula swallowed the last of her iced tea. "No, Sherry, I haven't dated since Rachel died. You can rest assured that I am single and won't mess up your vacation plans with a new girlfriend. I think sometimes you would be jealous if I started dating again, the way you take over my life between boyfriends."
"But I'm usually between boyfriends for only a few weeks, at most." Sherry handed over her credit card to the waiter. "Come on, sun in the fun, watching the stars over the ocean, it will be like the Love Boat, except there will be no Gopher or Doc or whoever else those characters were. Nope, I'm through with romance for a bit, I just want to relax. Did I tell you that I think the case I'm filing on today will be settled? I think a settlement will save our client several million dollars, like at least twenty or thirty million." She accepted the charge slip and signed it with a flourish, then took the yellow copy and tucked it into her billfold. "Shall we go back to work?"
"Sure," Paula answered as she stood up. Sherry started chattering happily about packing for the cruise as they walked out to the Miata. Paula half listened as her mind wandered, thinking how nice it would have been to go on a cruise with Rachel. They had planned to go on one of those Olivia cruises for their tenth anniversary, but that speeding car had canceled their plans. "What?"
"You were thinking about Rachel, weren't you?" Sherry asked gently as she pulled into traffic. "Listen, Paula, maybe you will find the woman of your dreams on this cruise. Having me along will mean that if you don't want to go too fast, you can always say, 'my cabin mate just wouldn't understand,' and kiss her hand like a gentleman. Or whatever. Hey, remember when we were kids and used to watch Love Boat? We just finally get to be on board, they are expecting us!"
"Whatever," Paula grumbled as she shut her eyes. Sherry's driving just wasn't the most soothing thing right after lunch, she thought for the millionth time. She just hoped that they arrived back at work without any tickets.
Paula had expected her managing partner to laugh and refuse her vacation request. Instead, he agreed and said that it seemed perfect. "After all," he beamed, "you haven't taken any vacation this year and it is now October. You seem pretty much caught up on your work and that new trial won't start for several months. Go have fun, Sherry will take good care of you."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Paula muttered as she left his office. She started down the hall to her office when Sherry caught up with her. "Before you ask, he said yes," Paula said as she walked past her secretary.
"I knew it, I just knew it," Sherry enthused as she plopped down in a chair. I'll come over in the morning to help you pack, we have a two o'clock flight. Don't worry, I'm paying for the flight to the boat. Do remember that this is a ten day cruise, not a three hour cruise."
"Ha, ha, Mary Ann."
"No, I'm Ginger, I have the hair for it."
"Whatever. Maybe I'm the professor then, since I like white shirts. Besides, you hair is more auburn than red. Mine was brown before I started turning gray."
"Oh, but you look so distinguished with the gray, Paula. Okay, I'm leaving, but remember, I'll be over at your house at eight o'clock to help you pack. Want me to pick up breakfast on the way?"
"Sure, it would be great." Paula watched as Sherry bounced out of the chair and floated through her door. "Ginger, huh?" she muttered as she turned back to her computer. "Oh, jeez, what have I let myself get talked into this time?"
Paula had to admit that the ship was very nice. They had a mid-sized cabin with two beds, two closets and a bathroom that was barely big enough for both of them to stand in at once. Sherry was terrific at packing, but Paula usually wound up unpacking whenever they vacationed together. It had been that way since they took their first vacation together in college, going to visit Sherry's grandparents in New Mexico for a week. She could still remember being mad because Sherry waltzed out of the room after dumping her luggage to visit with the neighbor boy who happened to come over when they drove up, saying, "be a sweetie and unpack for me, please." Right now, Sherry was busily consulting the map of the ship, saying, "Paula, they even have a library, that should make you happy. I doubt, however, that they have Nimmer on Copyright, so you will have to leave work behind you."
"Oh, but I didn't bring any work with me."
Sherry feigned fainting on her bed, then bounced back up. "No work? Paula, are you ill? Never mind, supper is in two hours, this one is casual, so you can wear some of those light weight slacks I packed for you. Right now I'm going to check out the sights, I'll meet you at the main dining hall at eight. See you then." Paula waved, then kept unpacking. That left nearly two hours before dinner, certainly she could get a brief nap in that time.
Paula hated to admit it, but she was having fun. Sherry had insisted that they go ashore at every port for the past few days to shop, visit tourist traps, and generally relax. Sherry had even gotten her to part with some money for a set of onyx animals, stating that "everyone needs some sort of reminder of their vacation, and these animals fit the bill perfectly. They will look perfect on the mantel of your fireplace." Paula grumbled, but paid for the animals; a donkey, a turtle, a jaguar, and a bear. "Don't fret, Paula, I won't tell anyone that you paid without bargaining too much."
"Only because you forced me to," she replied. "Hey, let's head back to the ship, I feel the need for a reviving swim before we dress for dinner. Isn't this the night we are going formal?"
"Yes, it is. I can hardly wait to don my new dress, it will look so good with your tuxedo, Paula. Don't forget, I expect you to save at least one dance for me, in between all those other women who will line up to dance with you." Sherry tucked a hand in the crook of Paula's arm companionably. "I don't think I'll swim, I need a beauty nap instead, but feel free to go to the pool, just leave yourself enough time to shower and dress."
"Yes, Mother," Paula answered drolly. Sherry stuck her tongue out at Paula, then sighed dramatically. Paula laughed at her friend, then thought about how good it really felt to laugh again. Damn it, Sherry did seem to always know best.
Several hours later, Paula raced back to their cabin to get showered and dressed. She had been swimming for a while, then had dozed off while sitting in a deck chair, watching the ship pulling away from the port. Sherry would have her hide if they were late to dinner, she thought as she unlocked the door. "Hey, Sherry, are you done in the bathroom?" she asked as she entered the room.
"I am, and you had better get yourself in high gear, Paula. I've already laid out your clothes on your bed, so get showered now." Paula shed her swimsuit, then stepped into the shower. Several minutes later, she re-entered the cabin to get dressed, muttering something about interfering women as she dressed. "My, you do look handsome, Paula," Sherry cooed as she helped Paula with the cuff links. "That black sets off the green of my dress dramatically."
"Yes, it does," Paula admitted as she looked at their reflections in the mirror. She was wearing a double-breasted tuxedo in black, with wing tip shirt and an emerald green cumberbun. Sherry was wearing a green strapless evening gown, with a white wrap and white evening gloves. "You always had to be the drama queen," Paula laughed. "You would have made a great gay man."
"Thanks. Shall we go to dinner now?" Sherry asked as she took Paula's arm. They headed for the formal dining room, evoking double takes the entire way. "My, my, hasn't anyone ever seen a woman wearing a tux and diamond earrings before?" Sherry asked innocently after the fifth double take.
"Probably not. They all think you are my lover now," Paula snickered as they walked up to the maitre de. Paula handed him their card and he motioned for them to follow him to their table. After they were seated and gave their order, Paula asked, "Are you serious about dancing with me tonight? I mean, it could cause trouble."
Sherry looked at her best friend with innocent eyes. "Why? We look rather beautiful together!" She batted her eyelashes, smiling. "You know me, I love to dance. I was hoping to have run into some rich young stud by now, but it looks like I'm stuck with you. It could be worse, at least I know that you won't step on my toes."
After a scrumptious dinner, Paula reluctantly led Sherry to the dance floor, expecting homophobes to emerge from the crowd and pelt them with rotten fruit. Instead, no one seemed to pay attention to the two women, so Paula finally started relaxing as she led Sherry around the dance floor. She had forgotten how much she enjoyed dancing, particularly to big band music. Rachel had discovered a little club that played mostly big band and jazz just after they had started dating, and had taken Paula there fairly often to go dancing. She smiled as she remembered going over to Sherry's apartment in a panic after Rachel had told her about the club, wailing that she didn't know how to dance to that sort of music. Sherry had laughed and taught her how to dance, so the date had gone smoothly.
Sherry broke into her thoughts, saying,"Nice dancing, Paula, you still remember how," she complimented her friend. "It didn't bring back any bad memories, did it?"
Paula shook her head, then picked up her water glass and drank. After setting her glass back down, she smiled and answered, "No, I was just remembering how I came to you in a panic after Rachel asked to go dancing with her. You were an awfully patient teacher, you know."
Sherry's hazel eyes gleamed merrily. "Of course I was, I knew that you and Rachel would make a terrific couple. She was so handsome in her police uniform, and just as handsome in a suit." She took Paula's hands in hers and added softly, "I just wish sometimes that I could have had a love so true."
Paula squeezed Sherry's hands. "Well, some day your prince will come and I intend to cross-examine him when he does." Sherry laughed at the picture. "But, in the meanwhile, I'll settle for spinning you around the dance floor one more time before we go back to the cabin." They stood up and moved back to the dance floor, swirling slowly to the music. Sherry was gratified to see that Paula's eyes were finally starting to regain their sparkle, like she was enjoying herself. She hoped so, she had worried about Paula after Rachel's death. Paula had thrown herself into work so determinedly that she had broken the record for most billable hours in a year, but she was finally starting to cut back. She smiled at her friend, who asked, "Okay, what is going through that little sneaky brain of yours?"
"Sneaky? Moi? Au contraire, I am never sneaky," Sherry assured Paula. "Seriously, I was just noticing that you finally seem to be enjoying yourself for once." The number ended and Paula led Sherry off the dance floor. "Paula, shall we take a short walk along the deck before turning in for the night?"
"Sounds good to me, I'm starting to get warm in this monkey suit," Paula replied. She waited for Sherry to grab her wrap from the chair, then followed her out of the dining hall to the deck. They walked slowly, enjoying the cool night air, then wound up by the railing, looking out at the sea. "The ocean is beautiful tonight," Paula commented as she leaned against the railing.
"It sure is," Sherry agreed as she stood by her friend. "Just look at the silver path laid down by the moon on the water, a path that we could take to find paradise."
Paula chuckled. "Honey, you should have been a poet instead of an attorney, did you know that? You're always spinning bits of verse and worse."
Sherry turned to face Paula, retorting, "Well, someone has to see the beauty of the moment, all you can see is the possibility that I am plagiarizing some dead poet or something like that. I assure you that these are not copyrightible expressions, mere phrases that are similar to other expressions do not plagiarism make."
Paula threw up her hands in surrender. "Case made, counselor, I withdraw my claim that I did not make in the first place." She placed her hands on Sherry's shoulders and added more seriously, "If I forget to say it later, I want to thank you for forcing me to come on this cruise, I have to admit that I am having fun. You are really my best friend and I love you dearly."
Sherry smiled gently. "I love you too, or else I would not have been so worried about you for the past couple of years. Besides, who else would put up with my silliness? Only you, dearheart, only you." She took a step forward and put her arms around Paula's waist, hugging her. "You have been the only stable relationship in my life, always there to hand me a box of tissues when I came over to wail about this or that man." She leaned her head against Paula's shoulder and sighed happily. They embraced quietly for several minutes, then Sherry lifted her head and softly kissed Paula on the cheek. "We'd better head back to the cabin," she said quietly, "for this puppy is getting pretty tired."
"Okay," Paula agreed as she stepped back. "You go on back, I'd like to walk around a bit first."
"Don't stay up too late," Sherry admonished teasingly, "or I will have to ground you." Paula laughed and shook her head. Sherry squeezed her again, then kissed her other cheek before leaving. "Oops, left some lipstick," she said as she pulled a tissue from Paula's inner pocket. "Here, let me get that." She rubbed the color off, then waved as she went back inside.
Paula watched as Sherry went through the doors leading to the cabin area. She felt more relaxed than she had in many years, especially since Rachel died. Funny, she had never really noticed just how beautiful Sherry was, especially in a form-fitting dress. The dress had brought out the green from her hazel eyes and had emphasized the curves of her figure. Most of the suits that Sherry wore to work were well tailored, yet hid the sensuality of her body.
Another thought drifted through Paula's brain; Sherry flirted with her a lot. She frowned at the thought, but reviewed the evidence. How many straight women would dance with a lesbian so much? Maybe one or two fast dances, or line dances, but how many slow, close dances? Not that she minded that much, Paula admitted, she just enjoyed being around her friend, no matter how much she protested to the contrary. But it did not answer the question that was surfacing: why did Sherry flirt so outrageously? Why was she so very affectionate? Why couldn't she seem to have a relationship with a man for more than a few months before finding a reason to dump him? To be honest, she had enjoyed being so close to her friend, enjoyed having Sherry in her arms, smelling the delicate perfume Sherry had dabbed behind her ears, the softness of her lips on her cheeks. "Damn," Paula swore softly.
Sherry woke up first the next morning and looked across the room at Paula. She had never noticed before just how cute and relaxed Paula looked when she was asleep, not the she ever saw Paula asleep much. It was also the rare chance to be able to shower, dress and beat Paula to breakfast, which had never happened before in any vacation they had taken together.
A short time later, Sherry quietly snuck out of the cabin and found the breakfast buffet. After she sat down, a man came over with his plate and asked, "May I sit with you?"
"Sure, have a seat. My cabin mate is still sound asleep, bless her heart. I'm Sherry Cunningham, and you are..."
"Oh, sorry, I'm Baron Jacobs.I saw you in line and decided that I just had to chat with you. Very few women look so cheerful and beautiful this early in the morning. Are you having fun?"
"Loads! My friend and I are planning to go ashore today and visit the beaches. I think I'm more enthused than she is, she had plans to sneak off and rent laptop for work, but I know best. What are your plans, Baron?"
"Well, I actually thought about going ashore and shooting pictures of the beach. I specialize in shooting stock photos and selling them for everything from textbooks to calendars to magazines.What do you do, Sherry?"
"I'm an attorney and specialize in litigation. My friend is an intellectual property attorney with the same firm.Speak of the devil, I see her in line. See the woman filling her coffee cup, the one with the short salt and pepper hair? That's Paula Winstone. So, have you been on the cruise since it left the U.S.?"
"No, I joined it yesterday afternoon, then slept the rest of the day. I've been globe-trotting a bit and my time zones are confused. Here comes your friend now."
Paula walked over with her plate and her coffee. "I see you beat me to breakfast, Sherry," Paula said as she sat down, then looked at the man for a long moment. She looked puzzled, then grinned in recognition. "Baron, how the hell are you?" They stood up and hugged briefly, leaving Sherry very puzzled. Paula explained, "Baron is my younger step-brother, his mom and my dad were married for a few years. Are you still shooting?"
"Yes, I am, I've made a career out of it. The last time I saw you, you had just graduated from law school."
"Didn't Dad and Cathy break up shortly after that?"
"I believe they did. Paula, where is Rachel?"
"Rachel died a few years back, killed in the line of duty."
"Oh, I'm sorry, sweetie, I liked her.Did you know that I dated her cousin Doris for a few months?"
"So what happened with Doris? I remember her, she was always such a puppy dog around Rachel."
"She joined the Air Force and then we drifted apart. I think she's next in line for being a test pilot."
Sherry cleared her throat dramatically."Excuse me for breaking up old home week, but could I get into this conversation? Baron, would you like to join us today?"
"Sure, I'd love to, getting to stroll around with two beautiful women on my arms, a man's dream. Paula, you wouldn't dare stay back to work, would you?"
Paula threw up her hands in mock surrender. "I guess not. My best friend and favorite step-brother ganging up on me, I just can't."
"It's settled, then," Sherry announced as she stole a pineapple spear from Paula's plate."After breakfast, we'll go get ready for the day, then meet at the gangplank at 9:00 sharp." The others agreed, laughing at Sherry's imperial air.
The day turned out to be a lot of fun. Baron shot a lot of pictures, Sherry swam and sunned, and Paula watched them, wondering if they were interested in each other. Toward sunset, Baron dropped on his towel and said, "Paula, I'd like to shoot a few pictures of you and Sherry, but we have to work quickly. The sun is nearly at the right angle to really light up her hair."
"Sounds fun to me.What do you want us to do?"
Baron jumped up and pulled Paula after him to where Sherry was building a sand castle. "Sherry, would you like to do me a favor? I need you and Paula to walk down the beach, from there to there, holding hands.I forgot that I needed some photos for a women's calendar and you would look pretty cute together." He posed them for a moment, then made them start out down the beach. They walked down the beach, holding hands, stopping when told to, then Baron shouted, "Great! Now turn and join hands and touch foreheads, terrific, what a shot!" Click, click. "Thanks!" Baron shouted gleefully as he ran down the beach to the women." As soon as I get the shots developed, I'll let you pick some out to keep."
Sherry barely heard Baron as he continued to talk while winding the film in his camera. She stayed where she was, looking into Paula's soft brown eyes, feeling the warmth of Paula's hands in hers. She found herself starting to tremble with shy emotion, not sure why, but wanting to make the moment last, but the spell was broken when Paula abruptly pulled away and said, "Hey, are you cold? Let me go get your sweats." Reality crashed around her as Paula came back and handed her the sweats. She thanked her and mechanically pulled on the pants and shirt, wondering why she was so disappointed. Baron decided that they should be getting back to the ship anyway and started to pack his camera equipment, chattering happily with Paula about what they should all do for dinner. Sherry repressed a sigh as she slowly walked back to her gear.
The next few days were rather uneventful.Sherry, Paula and Baron ate, shopped, swam and danced together. Paula was puzzled by how quiet Sherry was, but decided that maybe she was just tired or was coming down with something. She thoroughly enjoyed chatting with Baron, listening to his tales of adventurous shoots around the world, giving him advice on copyright protection, just being with him. Baron had been the only relative by blood or marriage who had fully supported her and Rachel and she was sorry when she had lost touch with him. She had deliberately stopped all contact with the rest of her family since they had rejected her for being gay, but Baron had been different. Maybe she could keep up with him now.
The last night came and Baron decided that they should all go to the formal meal and dance.He came by their cabin to pick them up, commenting on how beautiful Sherry was and how handsome Paula was. "Paula, why is it that dykes look so damned good in tuxedos? Sherry, isn't my sister just to die for in that suit?"
Sherry smiled at Baron, then reached up to adjust Paula's tie. "She is, and I insisted that she bring it along.I even bought the green cummerbund and tie to match my dress," she said. He was right, Paula looked so natural in the tux, so elegant.
"Let's go, then," said Baron as he held out his arm for Sherry. As they approached the dining room, he suddenly grinned and said, "Paula, take her other arm, we'll make a smashing entrance."
"If we don't get tossed overboard first," Paula muttered under her breath, but she took Sherry's other arm as they walked into the room.
A few heads turned, but most people ignored them as they were seated. The meal was superb. Sherry seemed to finally relax and start chattering again, flirting lightly with both of them, back to her old self. After the meal, Baron asked Sherry to dance, swirling her around the dance floor. "You are a marvelous dancer," he said as they glided around the floor.
"Thank you, Baron .You should dance with Paula as well, she is terrific. I taught her everything she knows."
He smiled down at her. "She and Rachel visited me in New York just before Paula finished law school. I took them to a club and took turns dancing with them, then we went to a lesbian club. God, those two were so in love and I thought they were beautiful together.I didn't mind being one of three men in the entire joint, my sister was happy, which made me happy. Oh, I know she's my step-sister, but she was the only one in the whole family that encouraged me to master photography. I should have kept in touch, but with the divorce, then her cutting off the family, I just lost touch." The music ended and a fifteen minute break was announced. Baron led Sherry off the floor and back to the table. "Sherry, I thank you for the dance. Excuse me, I'll be back."
Sherry sat down and Paula commented, "You two looked pretty cute out there together. Are you interested in my little brother?"
"Um, he is a good dancer and fun to be with," Sherry said carefully. "He was telling me that you and Rachel visited him in New York once."
"Oh, yes, just after Christmas before our last semester in law school, I remember that. You were skiing with your folks and whoever you were dating at the time. Ron? Todd?"
"Roger, I think."
"Yeah, that's right, Roger, the med student. Anyway, that was pretty fun. So, any sparks? I just want you to be happy," Paula said. Baron came back to the table then and Sherry suddenly excused herself. Paula watched, puzzled. "Baron, what do you think has gotten into Sherry? First, she flirts with you, then I ask if she likes you and she runs off. She rarely gives up the chance to wind a guy around her little finger. What gives?"
Baron chuckled. "My dear sister, Sherry has woken up to the fact that she is in love with you."
"Wait a minute, she's straight, she can't be in love with me. Besides, we've been friends for, oh, twenty-five years, I think."
"Paula, I saw it when I was snapping shots of you two on the beach. I think it hit her then, when I had you two pose together, I saw her looking at you in a different light. Here she comes, ask her to dance and see what I mean." Baron quickly left the table to ask another woman to dance.
The band started up again and Paula looked at Sherry for a moment before saying anything. The deep green of her dress really set off her auburn hair, her hazel eyes, the deep red lipstick she wore, the light tan she had acquired. Paula's mouth suddenly felt dry. God, Sherry was beautiful, she realized. She grabbed her water glass and drank deeply, then set it down carefully. "Would you like to dance?" she asked.
They danced for the next several tunes, wrapped up in each other, each afraid to voice her thoughts. Sherry was very aware of the warmth of Paula's hand on her bare shoulders and Paula was very aware of the faint perfume Sherry wore. They finally mutually declared a break and walked out on deck.
Sherry looked up slightly to see Paula's beautiful eyes as they leaned against the railing. The pieces of the puzzle started gathering, her need to touch her friend, her inability to date any man for more than a few months, her dislike of sex with men, her unexplained jealousy when another woman in the office had cast longing glances at Paula. Did Paula feel it as well? or was she content to just be best friends? Sherry tentatively reached up to stroke Paula's cheek, marveling in the softness of her skin. She saw Paula close her eyes briefly, leaning into her hand. She gathered her courage, shifted her hand to the back of Paula's neck and pulled her down for their first kiss.
Paula jumped in shock, but did not pull away as Sherry's lips were first questioning, then possessing. She wrapped her arms around Sherry, crushing the other woman to her, responding with a passion she thought long dead. Paula lost track of everything except the woman in her arms, kissing her thoroughly, then finally pulling back, slightly dizzy with desire. Afraid to even speak for fear of breaking the spell, she took Sherry's hand and led her back to their cabin.
Sherry panicked for a moment when their cabin door closed behind them. She didn't know how to make love to a woman! Paula will know, she remembered as she pulled Paula in for another searing kiss. She ran her hands under the tuxedo jacket, then somehow managed to push it off of the other woman. She wanted to feel Paula's bare skin against hers, claim her with her mouth, feed this growing desire in her belly. Their clothes seemed to melt off and they wound up in Sherry's bed, exploring and igniting fires all over. She surrendered to the sensations as Paula rolled her over and started agonizingly slow kisses down her chin to her breasts, sending chills throughout her entire body...
Paula looked around the room for an empty desk. She hated the start of school, when everything was so uncertain, so up in the air, so transitional. To compound matters, she was running a little bit late, not getting there her preferred fifteen minutes before the first bell rang, but only five minutes instead. Certainly her mother could be more prompt than that! She bit back a sigh as she noticed that there were only a few desks open, most of which were by either super popular girls or disgusting boys. She was about to resign herself to a year of torture when she noticed a desk open next to a girl she had never seen before. Well, it was a new girl or an old pain, she thought as she threaded her way across the room.
"Hi, are you looking for a place to sit? You are in luck, this desk is empty and I think it was calling your name. I have this saying that if I leave an empty seat next to me, the girl that sits there will be my best friend that year. So far, it has worked every year, kindergarten through fourth grade. As you might have guessed, I'm new to the school. Oh, where are my manners, I'm Sherry Cunningham, no relation to Richie Cunningham. And you are?"
Paula felt overwhelmed by the blast of monologue, but managed to say, "I'm Paula Winstone. Welcome to Roosevelt Elementary."
"Oh, darn, the bell is ringing, I suppose I must be quiet. But we'll chat more during lunch, where I can get to know my new best friend," Sherry said as the teacher motioned for silence.
The morning seemed slower than normal to Paula as she waited for lunch. She was intrigued by the newcomer, whose red hair and green eyes made a striking picture, and whose faint southern accent already had other kids swooning over her. Lunch finally came and Sherry grabbed Paula's arm and said, "Take me to the lunch room!" Paula was startled, no one had ever taken her arm before, but she just led the bubbly girl the the lunch room without comment. After they went through the line and sat down, Sherry asked, "So, what do you do for fun, Paula? I've taken dance and music lessons before and love to read mysteries."
"Well, I like to read, mostly science fiction and historical novels. I watch Star Trek and ride my bicycle. I don't do much else, if that's what you mean."
"Sounds like a good start, I know we'll be best friends now. My father works for a large business and has to move often, but I think we'll stay here for awhile, since he just made staff vice president. That's a pretty important position, you know. My mother stays home and keeps house and serves on volunteer committees. What do your parents do?"
Paula cleared her throat "Well, Dad runs a print shop and Mom teaches typing at the junior college.I don't have any brothers or sisters, do you?"
"No, none at all. Say, Paula, would you like to come to my house to play this weekend? I can get my mom to call your mom to set it up, Mother is always worried that I won't socialize enough. I can see that I won't be socializing with some of the popular crowd, they are giving me funny looks."
"I'm not the most popular girl in school," Paula reply dryly. "Are you finished with your lunch? We could go to the playground for a little bit and climb the monkey bars."
Sherry grinned as she gathered the remains of her lunch. "I'd be delighted, Paula, purely delighted."
"Do you remember when we met in fifth grade? You declared that I was your best friend, and you didn't even know me yet," Paula said, laughing."I must have really looked like a dweeb, wearing clothes that my mom made and you in those nice jeans and knit shirts."
Sherry grinned as she rolled over on her back. "Yes, I remember, I was scared to death. We had moved so much that I found ways to cope, one of which was to be absolutely confident that I would be accepted and find a best friend for the year. I didn't know that our friendship would last nearly eight years so far. Just think, we finally will graduate! Monday night, we'll collect our diplomas and go to the amusement park Tuesday morning with all the other seniors for the party of our lives!"
Paula carefully closed the scrapbook, replacing it on her bookcase. She sat back down on the bed, trying hard not to notice how little room there really was for two girls to sleep, trying not to notice how Sherry's figure had bloomed recently, how her hair had changed from red to auburn in the past year. No wonder the boys were crazy over her, yet Sherry always made time for her, Paula thought. She gritted her teeth as she turned off the lamp and slid under the covers.
Sherry rolled over to face her friend, seeing the glimpse of worry in her eyes. Why did Paula seem so uptight these days? she wondered. "Hey, what are you worried about?" she asked softly.
"Well, since you asked," Paula said as she sat back up and turned the lamp back on, "Mom and Greg were fighting again last night.This would make her third divorce if things don't get much better. Hey, want to go skating this weekend?"
"Sounds great!" Sherry enthused, "I love to skate.I sure hope your folks don't split up, you take it pretty hard each time."
"Yeah, I guess so. Ready to sleep?" Sherry nodded yes and Paula turned out the light for the second time. "Good-night, my friend," she said softly. She turned over to face the outside of the bed.
"Sleep well," Sherry answered. Paula just about jumped out of her skin when she felt Sherry scoot up close and snuggle next to her. "My poor baby," she heard Sherry murmur, squeezing her gently. Paula was torn between staying and taking Sherry's arms off of her. Inertia won and she fell asleep in her best friend's warm embrace, feeling comforted and excited, all at the same time, but sleepy enough to sleep for the first night in ages.
Sherry woke up, wondering what she had heard. She and Paula had gone to different colleges, but wound up at the same law school, so Sherry insisted that they share a condo. "My dad bought it for me," she said, "I guess hoping to make a profit on it when I graduate. It has two bedrooms, so there would plenty of room for you, please say yes." Paula had laughed, unable to resist her best friend, as always. Sherry pulled her mind back to the present and slowly slid out of bed, slipping on a pair of shorts before venturing downstairs.
"Honey, you should tell her some time," a dark haired woman was saying to Paula. "I think she'll understand, she is your best friend, or so you tell me. She probably already knows."
"Knows what?" Sherry asked as she walked into the living room and sat in the armchair near the sofa. "Hi, I'm Sherry Cunningham, Paula's best friend and landlady. And you are?"
The other woman stood up and held out her hand. "I'm Rachel Brooks, and I'm very pleased to meet you." Sherry shook Rachel's hand, then Rachel sat back down and looked expectantly at Paula. Sherry also looked at Paula, wondering what was happening.
"Um, Sherry, well, gee, where do I begin?" Paula began, uncharacteristically nervous. She cleared her throat, then plunged right in. "You keep asking me about when I'm going to make time to date, well, I have, and I'm dating Rachel."
Sherry looked at the two women for a long moment, then flashed a brilliant smile. "Why, congratulations, honey, I'm so very happy for you." She bounced out of her chair and yanked Paula up, giving her a bear hug. "Finally, we can double-date!" she said as she waltzed Paula around the room. Rachel stared at them as if they had lost their minds, never having seen anyone be excited when told that someone they knew was a lesbian. Finally Sherry let Paula sit back down and asked, "So, where did you meet, how long have you been dating, are you going to get married?"
Rachel smiled shyly, saying, "I was giving a guest lecture in Paula's criminal law class. I'm a police officer with the city and often get the lecture circuit. Anyway, I kept noticing this good looking woman at the back of the room, hoping that she would stay after so I could invite her for a cup of coffee. Instead, she invited me before I could open my mouth. Things just clicked from there."
Paula added, "I couldn't believe I was so bold, but I felt drawn to Rachel from the start. We've been dating for about three months now, but no wedding plans. At least not right now," she added, taking Rachel's hand.
"Well, goodness, are y'all planning to move in together? I must know what to do with the condo!"
"Sherry, I'm not moving out immediately," Paula assured her. "Maybe in another few months or something, but not now.I don't want to rush anything."
Rachel looked at her watch and said, "Honey, I've got to go or I'll be late for my shift. Sherry, nice to meet you, I hope to see more of you." She leaned over and kissed Paula, then left. Sherry looked over at Paula with the "spill it" look.
Paula closed the door, then turned back to face Sherry. "I guess you're not upset about me being gay?"
Sherry burst into laughter. "Upset? Hell no, woman, I've been wondering for years when you would finally figure it out! I've know since we were in junior high, really. The way you tried to not look at girls, the way you were so jittery when a girl bumped into you, little things. Why else do you think I took so much time to take you to movies, plays, bowling, skating, etc.? I was getting you ready to date women, Paula. You are so thick headed, couldn't you see it?"
"Um, I tried to avoid it, Sherry, being gay isn't really cool, you know, I could quite seriously get killed for it."
"Pooh. Just avoid homophobes."
"Riiiiiight, I'll do that. Look, I must go take my shower or I'll be late for my torts class. See you tonight." Paula dashed up the stairs, relieved to stop discussing her love life. Sherry watched her for a moment, then smiled happily. Her best friend was finally in love.
"Sherry, you have to help me," Paula said as she helped Sherry clean up the supper dishes. "Rachel wants me to go dancing with her and I don't know the first thing about dancing. Good thing she has a shift tonight, did I tell you that she's back on patrol? She would like to make detective some day."
Sherry smiled at Paula as she put away the last dish. "Paula, that is terrific. About Rachel, I mean. Now, as to your problem, I will help you solve it, I will teach you to dance. No, don't thank me yet, what are friends for? Let's go in the living room and pick out some music." Sherry grabbed Paula by the hand and led her into the living room of her apartment. After Paula had moved out of the condo to Rachel's house, Sherry convinced her dad to sell the condo and let her rent a smaller apartment closer to school.
Paula bit her lip in fierce concentration as she tried to "feel the music", as Sherry so elegantly put it. She had to learn, she and Rachel rarely had schedules that matched enough to do something so romantic as go out dancing, but she had never been to a jazz club or really learned how to dance. She was about to give up when Sherry pleaded for her to try one more time, so she acquiesced, as usual. This time, though, everything clicked and she found herself effortlessly dancing around the floor, leading Sherry through the steps. It was a wonderful feeling, leading her friend around, feeling the rhythm of the music in her feet. When the song was over, she impulsively kissed Sherry on the nose, saying, "You are the greatest!"
"Aw, shucks, it wasn't anything special, just my duty as a friend. Really, I want you and Rachel to have a great time tomorrow night. Hey, maybe I can go dancing with you guys sometime, you think?"
"What?And cause some poor woman's heart to break when she realizes that you are straight? I don't think so!"
"It was worth a try, Larry won't take me dancing."
"Hey, you can find another guy in a few days, trust me." Paula sat on the couch and started making a big show of counting on her fingers, then started to pull off her shoes as if she was going to count on her toes.
"Now, Paula, I haven't dated that many men!"
"You're right." Sherry smirked. Paula smiled, then continued, "This year. Ouch, watch it with that pillow!"
Sherry woke up snuggled next to Paula. She was puzzled for a moment about why she was lying nude in the same bed with Paula, then slowly remembered the previous night's activities. "Good thing I taught her how to dance," she thought inanely, "or we'd never have done the wild thing." She started to fall back asleep when it hit her -- she had made love with her best friend! She sat bolt upright, shaken. "But, I've always been the straight one," she thought wildly, "I've just flirted with her over the years because it was safe. But safe for whom?"
"Sherry?" Paula mumbled as she reached for the other woman, "come back here, I'm getting cold."
"Um, Paula, you are naked."
"Yes, I know." Paula opened her eyes and smiled wolfishly. "Oh, yes, how I know, you are beautiful, my love." She ran a hand along Sherry's side, then cupped a breast. "My God, I had no idea you were such a tiger in bed."
"Hey, cut that out a minute," Sherry said, trying to pull the covers around her, "what do you think you are doing?"
Paula looked at her, stunned. "Wait, you dance with me, lead me on for years, flirt with me, make love with me, then complain when I touch you the next morning? Honey, what the hell is going on?"
"I don't know," Sherry whispered. Then, a bit louder, "I'm confused, Paula, I'm so confused." She got up and bolted for the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. Paula watched the door slam, not sure whether to be pissed or distraught at Sherry's behavior.
The rest of the day was strained. Sherry and Paula managed to pack, drop off their bags, eat, and board the plane without talking to each other.Sherry was starting to regret her behavior earlier, but Paula was now refusing to talk, even trading seats on the plane to avoid Sherry. When the landed, Paula helped Sherry load up her luggage, then walked off to take a cab home. Sherry waited until she got home to burst into tears, confused, unhappy, and alone.
Brenda noticed that Sherry was very quiet when she came back to work. She barely said hello to her secretary, then immediately went past her into her office, quietly closing the door behind her. Brenda was puzzled, Sherry usually sat and chatted with her for a few minutes every morning, especially mornings after she had come back from vacation. Could Sherry be sick? No, she didn't look sick, just withdrawn and unhappy. Brenda frowned as she continued to sort the morning mail. Something happened on the trip, Brenda was sure of it, maybe Sherry had been seduced and abandoned by some young man. No, Sherry never looked that bad over a man, even when she had been engaged that time.
On the other side of the floor, Paula's secretary, Louise, noticed that Paula seemed very angry about something. Had something gone wrong on her trip? Here it was, barely nine o'clock in the morning, and Paula had already generated three briefs and caught up with most of her work.What time had she gotten to work this morning? Maybe, just maybe, she had fought with Sherry over something.Louise thought for a moment, then sent a quick email to Brenda.
Is S acting strangely? P is about to chomp through roofing nails.
A few minutes later, the reply came:
S is acting very strangely, she nearly finished with her backlog from vacation. She looks terribly unhappy. Ideas?
Sounds strange -- let's go to the salad place for lunch for a discussion.
Finally, Louise and Brenda were able to get away for lunch at 1:30, their respective attorneys had kept them running ragged all morning. Brenda stirred sweetener into her iced tea, then mused, "You'd think that those two had fought, I've never seen Sherry so upset in the years I've worked for her. The last time I saw her this upset was when Rachel was killed. When Paula came over to give her the news, Sherry bawled like it was her partner, not Paula's."
"Oh, yes, I remember, Paula was just so lost then, never saw her cry, but Sherry pulled herself together and made the arrangements. She's always set a great store by Paula, made it her mission to look out for her." Louise ate a bite of salad, then suddenly said, "They must have fought, then, but this time it is pretty serious. Remember when they had that tiff, about a year before Rachel died? I don't remember what prompted it, but Sherry mooned around for days while Paula got madder and madder. Then, Sherry finally sent her a balloon bouquet and a big teddy bear holding one of those cute cards. Paula looked at it and burst into laughter."
"Oh, yes, she came down to Sherry's office and told her that the apology was accepted and that lunch was on her. It had to have been good, I'd never heard Paula offer to buy lunch before, had you, Louise?"
"No, Brenda, Paula is pretty tight with her money. Oh, she dresses well enough, but she's still living in that little house of Rachel's, still driving her old pickup truck." Louise thought for a moment, then got a sly look on her face. "Maybe they should go to lunch, or, better yet, to trial together. We must get our girls talking again, or I'll go crazy."
"You said it, Louise, I've never had so much work in my life.I'd be delighted to help you, let's go talk to Sherry's managing partner, I'm sure he can find a case for them." Brenda smiled triumphantly."I'll even spring for a brownie, you interested?"
"Of course I am, do you think I'm crazy? No, strike that question, I'll just be crazy if Sherry doesn't lighten up soon."
"You what?" Paula growled at her managing partner. "You know I hate trial work, Richard, I just am too busy right now. How long did you say the trial should last?"
"Oh, about six weeks, give or take a few. Look Paula, Jim asked for you and he is on the committee to review associates up for partnership this year. You have a very good shot as becoming a partner, so don't screw this up."
"No buts, Paula. Listen, Jim thinks you are the best IP attorney we have here, and this is a pretty complicated copyright case. You provide the expertise and research and Sherry will do the actual litigating."
"Wait a minute--"
"Louise has your tickets and reservations, so go home and pack. I think she said your plane takes off at four, so you don't have much time. Have a good flight." Richard got up and left her office, leaving Paula to fume and slam together her belongings.
To add insult to injury, Sherry and Paula had been assigned a shared hotel room for the duration of the trial. At least it was a suite with two beds, an office area and a small kitchen, Sherry mused as she hung her clothes up in one of the closets. She finally turned to Paula and asked, "Who do you think put us up to this? Two certain secretaries, who shall remain nameless?"
Paula looked up from her laptop computer, considering the method and evidence. Finally, she answered, "I believe it could be possible. Now, to this list of exhibits database, are we going to have a picture of each exhibit? I can scan them in, or I can rent a digital camera, whichever you prefer."
Sherry hung up her last suit and stowed her suitcase away, then went to look over Paula's shoulder. "Hmm, having a picture would be nice, it would make it easier to remember at a glance. Of course, pictures of various manuscripts don't have the same visual impact as models of inventions. Hey, could you chase down that research on the latest round of copyright statutes? I think Congress was considering something about trying to get our laws in sync with the Berne Convention or something like that. Please?"
Paula shrugged. "I can and I will, I am here to assist you, Sherry."
Sherry bit her lip, then asked hesitantly, "Would you like for me to hang up your clothes while you work? I'm a bit at loose ends here and don't feel like visiting the bar or the overpriced gift shop."
Paula saved her database design changes, then turned around to face Sherry. "That would be awfully nice of you, Sherry. I guess so, you know how I like my stuff arranged."
"I should, I've traveled with you often enough over the years," she replied. She thought of something else, but instead turned and hauled Paula's luggage up on her bed in preparation to unpack it. Paula turned back to her computer, instantly oblivious to the world, Sherry noticed. As she started hanging up suits and shirts (Paula hated the word "blouse" for some reason), she started thinking about the past month and how painful it had been. God, she had never been on bad terms with Paula this long and it hurt like hell. Truth be known, she had tried to keep from thinking about it, staying busy, producing more work in a month than she usually did in two months. When she finished putting away the clothes, she said, "I've changed my mind, I'm going to see if there are any mindless books for sale downstairs."
"Okay, see you later," Paula called out.
The trial dragged on for several weeks, then the other side abruptly offered to settle. The offer was accepted, so Sherry and Paula decided to take their clients out to eat to celebrate, each privately deciding to put aside their unresolved feelings for the night. Sherry was back to her normal bubbly self and Paula was even more relaxed than normal. Finally, they bid their clients good-night and went back to the hotel.
Sherry groaned and flopped onto her bed as she as she changed into her pajamas, calling out, "Darling, I think our clients had a fabulous time, don't you?"
Paula came out of the bathroom, drying her face. "Yes. Good steak, many people won't eat steak these days." She walked back to hang up the towel and to change clothes. She came back out and gingerly sat at the edge of Sherry's bed. "Um, Sherry, about the cruise," she said quietly, "I'm sorry for taking advantage of you. You were just so beautiful and driving me wild, so I just gave in.I assumed that you had finally decided to cross the fence, so to speak, and that our friendship had taken a turn."
Sherry reached for Paula's hand, then slowly pulled her down on the bed, pulling her into a close embrace. She finally pulled back a bit and said, "Paula, dearest friend, I was rather confused the morning after. That night was wonderful, the dancing, the music, making love to you, everything. The next morning, though, it hit pretty hard that if I really had those desires that I was gay and I just wasn't ready for that. You see, I've been so used to having some distance between us, no matter how close we are, that it was unnerving to have it ripped away, to be so intimate." She gently stroked Paula's cheek as she talked. "It is one thing to have your best friend be a lesbian, to love another woman, especially if you have seen it coming for years. It is something completely different to be forced to confront your own feelings for your friend many years later, seeing your own past in a different light. In my enforced activity and time away from you, I realized something, I cannot live without you in my life."
Paula heaved a big sigh. "Sherry, I know how confusing these feelings can be. I guess I was so hurt by what I perceived as your rejection that I didn't want to consider what you were going through. Frankly, I would have thought that you would have transitioned smoothly from straight to queer, since you've always taken everything in stride. Plus, you've flirted with me for twenty-five years, so I guess I assumed that you were at least bi-sexual. Or curious, I've had straight women flirt with me because I was 'safe' for them to explore their curiosities with. So, where do we want to go from here?"
"I'm still not sure. But, as I said, I can't live without you, I'm just not sure where our relationship should go."
"Maybe, just maybe, we should take it a bit at a time, see what happens."
Sherry sat upright. "What, you, the completely regimented woman, saying we should just see what happens?" Sherry put a hand over her heart. "My God, I think I shall faint." She collapsed back on the bed, then opened one eye to gauge Paula's reaction.
"You skunk," Paula said affectionately, grinning as she propped herself on one elbow. "I don't think I'd do very well far away from you, Sherry." She looked at Sherry for a moment, then leaned over and gently kissed her. "It took us a while to become such great friends, it could take a while to become great lovers, I don't want to break your heart, you mean too much to me. I'll always love you for helping me get over Rachel's death, I could not have trusted anyone else to see me so destroyed."
"You were a bit emotional. Okay, you were very emotional, it was the first time I had ever seen you cry, but you came through okay. Well, it did take you over a year to go see a movie with me without getting morose, but you did okay."
Paula yawned, then said, "Well, thanks. Let's get some sleep, we have an early flight to catch." She started to get up, but Sherry pulled her back down. "What, you want to sleep with me?"
Very shyly, Sherry said, "Yes. I want to snuggle and cuddle with you, nothing more, I mean not anything else tonight. Are you okay with that?"
Paula laughed as she slipped under the covers. "Honey, you are really starting to sound like a lesbian. 'Are you okay with no sex? What about the boundaries of our relationship?' Next thing you know, you'll be renting that U-Haul and taking your stuff over to my house. Yes, I'm fine with just snuggling, I'm bone tired." She pulled Sherry into her arms and kissed her forehead. "But, I will put my heart on the line and say that I love you no matter how our relationship evolves."
"Thank you, that means so much to me," Sherry answered softly as she cuddled up to Paula. As she drifted off to sleep, she murmured, "Does it have to be a U-Haul? Why can't I just borrow your truck?" Paula chuckled as they drifted off to sleep.