Well, I can have fun without Brian :-) Yesterday was the best day I've had without him around in... in a long time. Months.

Saturday night Clarice, Bev and I retired to the spa, with soft drinks this time. We had a relaxing couple of hours.

After we'd talked for a while, Bev asked if we had plans for Sunday. Neither Clarice nor I had anything crucial planned. So Bev suggested a trip to Scarborough Faire. Which, if you don't know, is a "renaissance festival" held annually. I've been before. Last year, in fact, in the company of a guy named Steve, which wasn't the best of ideas.

Bev's own date had had a conflict of interest... with another girl. They had split up a week earlier, which is probably why she'd been spending more time with Clarice. She had been a couple of times already this year, but figured that she wouldn't be going again.

So yesterday morning, Clarice picked me up, then we collected Bev and headed for Waxahachie. But we didn't... at least, not the Bev we knew. We picked up an African princess, on her way to Olde England.

Bev has been making the pilgrimage for years in character. She has developed her own persona, and warned us about it on the trip.

She had tickets for us, and we went straight through into the Faire. Immediately Bev changed, becoming imperious and aloof. Most of the time, though she had fun with the part. She knew many of the regulars on first-name basis... except that the first name was usually something like "Sir Fred" (I'm making that up :-) and she only knew their role names, not their real names...

We toured the torture chamber, which was grisly, especially with Clarice naming all the men she'd like to see in various stages of dismemberment and deprivation :-) I was pleased that Rob didn't seem to be one of them, but then, she may have been going easy on him for my sake.

And speaking of tortures... they've done away with one of them. The signs that said "Lords" and "Ladies" which used to be entrances to the same set of portable toilets... they now have Real Flush Toilets! :-) Perhaps not authentic fifteenth-century England, but it makes the replica much more enjoyable :-) I cheered when I saw them. Bev said that was her reaction when she learned of the change.

Clarice and I got Bev to drop her demeanor at the dunking booth, she stood under the bucket of water while we threw bean bags at the target. Clarice got her with her first throw, then again. I missed until my last throw, but she got dunked three times.

I missed every throw when it was Clarice's turn, and Bev only got her once, so Clarice didn't fare too badly. Bev was on form when it was my turn, dunking me twice, and Clarice also got me twice. We were building up quite an audience by then, with the Princess throwing soggy bean bags, and our high dunking rate. And I got some especially appreciative applause when I kept getting dunked.

After Clarice's last throw, she and Bev were giggling, and Clarice insisted on getting a photo of me before I could get away from the booth, and it wasn't until she had gotten a couple of shots before I realized why it was that my dunking had been so appreciated.

I was wearing a short white cotton top and cutoffs. God, what an idiot. Four dunkings had turned my top transparent. (Yes, Brian, I'll get one of Clarice's photos, assuming they turn out...) I'm sure I was bright red as we left. I had my arms folded across my chest, and Clarice and Bev weren't the only ones giggling.

So I could wait for a couple of hours to dry off, or...

They have costume rentals at the Faire. I've never considered one before, but with Bev all dolled up, and not being able to go out in public, I talked Clarice into joining me in renting a couple of costumes. Clarice dressed as a peasant, and I was a wench. So I traded the transparent top for one of those tight bodices. Not much difference, really, except that the wench costume wasn't quite as out of place. It also got plenty of appreciative looks :-) (And yes... Clarice got plenty of photos of the three of us.) And we acted part of the princess's long-suffering attendants, obsequious to her face, behind her back gossiping and flirting with the men. All of which she knew, of course...

I think next year I will go in costume. I'll have to get advice from Bev. But I won't take Clarice's suggestion of visiting the belly dance costumer.

Of course, we had to go see Gyro, Pyro and Walt, better known as "The Flaming Idiots". (I wonder if they have a web site... oh. I could have guessed that. They're at http://www.flamingidiots.com/. Though it doesn't seem to be working here, try http://www.scarboroughrenfest.com/idiots.htm instead.) Same act as I've seen before, but it's as funny every time. They're great. They said this is their last year at the fair :-(

The fair is a different experience in costume. There's a whole sub-culture there that visitors don't find. I know, because I've always been an outsider. Partly, it was being with Bev, who knows her way around, but even with her, the mood changed when switching clothes... the regulars and the vendors treat you differently. And after a few of those huge souvenir glasses of beer, even my fake English accent was improving.

We stopped to eat on the way back home, and I invited Clarice and Bev back for another evening in the spa. Bev said no, she didn't have her swimsuit.

"I don't care if you don't," I said, "as much as y'all have seen of me today, there doesn't seem any point in being modest."

Bev gave Clarice some kind of conspiratorial look. "You haven't told her?"

"Why would I?" replied Clarice. "It doesn't make any difference to me." Then she looked at me. "Maybe I just didn't know how you'd react. I know Bev's former date, too, the one who dumped her last week? Her name is Megan."

"Oh." I have to admit, I was surprised. Shocked? Perhaps. Disappointed? Offended? No, I don't think so. But did knowing she was gay change things between us?

I think I have to say, yes, it does, but not by very much. I don't know her well after so few meetings, but enough to know that I like her a lot, and I trust her. I shouldn't feel any more threatened by her than I would by a male friend. But would I sit naked in a tub with a male friend?

Hadn't Clarice done exactly that? And hadn't I insisted Brian participate?

I shrugged. "Just remember, with or without that costume, you're no princess."

We all needed the spa anyway. I was hot, sticky and aching. And a little red from the sun; it hadn't seemed we would need sunblock when we left this morning, and it wasn't quite necessary, but Clarice and I had both seen a little too much sun.

Bev is great company, whatever her preferences, and I certainly don't have any qualms about sharing the spa with her, with or without swimsuits. She seems even smaller without her clothes, she's really only a couple of inches shorter than me, but she's so thin. Her skin is a rich, very deep brown, and as the evening grew dark she seemed almost to fade away... which may be partly why she keeps her sarcasm honed. It's impossible to forget that she's around.

For her part, Bev seems pleased to have found two new friends. She and Clarice are much closer than they were a few days ago, and she and I... I think we've hit it off very well.

"At least I'll be able to trust you around Brian," I said to her at one point, "unlike some people I could mention."

Clarice totally failed to look innocent.

I ached today. I think I would have been really miserable if it weren't for soaking in the hot tub last night.

There are rumors of a big reorg at work. Probably because of Jack's leaving, but since no-one has talked to me, I guess I didn't get his job. You'd think that someone would at least have told me, one way or the other.

Talked to Brian for a few minutes tonight, but he was on his way out, and was quite evasive about where. Just going out with a few of the guys, he says... he said he's going to insist on a return trip to Scarborough Faire when he gets back from San Diego, and he's going to insist on me dressing as a wench again. Only if you go as a half-naked Highlander, I retorted; he just said "okay". I think I made it too easy.

I'll have to talk to Bev about what kinds of punishments we can devise for him. She claims to know some effective ways to make men suffer.

The site was down for several hours late afternoon and this evening. Apparently there was a city-wide power failure at my host's ISP after a particularly bad storm. This afternoon we had some real doozies. Larry's weather alert radio was screaming at us every few minutes. We seem to be alive again now. I'll upload this and get to my cold, empty bed <sob> [:-)]


Rob called last night, late - I was just on the point of getting to sleep.

"I hope this is worth waking up for."

"Waking up? I was concerned I might be disturbing something much more personal."

"He's back in San Diego." My head was beginning to clear.

"Oh. I'm sorry. I had news I thought you'd want to hear."

"Sure, go ahead, I'm awake now," I yawned.

"Yeah, you sound it," he retorted. "I went to talk to my boss's boss today."

"Well? What happened?"

"I told him: 'My manager made a commitment to send me to Texas, and I've rearranged my life already. I'm going to Texas now. I'd like to transfer with the company, but if I need to look for work there, I'll do it.'"


"He signed the papers. Again. I'm coming to see you, little sister!"

"Hah. You're coming to see Clarice. I'm just an extra."

"I hope you don't really think that," he said.

"I don't, Rob, I'd love to see you be happy here. This is great news."

And it is. I'm finally convinced that it really is what he wants. With luck, it's also what he needs.

"So," he said, changing the subject, "your guy is in San Diego?"

"For another two weeks, three days and four hours. Not that I'm counting." (Which I wasn't, I pulled those numbers out of the air.)

He laughed. "Why don't you give me his number? Perhaps he could take a trip up here this weekend. I could show him the bay."

"No, you'd show him the plant."

"Well, yeah, I probably would."

"And he'd love it. Okay, let me find it." So I gave him the number of Brian's hotel and his email address.

Terry called me into his office this morning and explained what's happening.

They're not planning to replace Jack immediately. Terry will be a kind of "super-manager", responsible for software and information systems. They will eventually hire a new software manager and a new IT manager. Off the record, he said, Ken is moving to a different position, and Terry will probably take his place.

In the meantime, he wants to change my title to lead engineer (we're fairly lax on the definitions of who is and who isn't an engineer), and act as something between what I have been doing and Jack's job. No pay raise, but a promise to consider the change during the July performance review period.

Why do I get the idea this isn't a real good deal for me? I think Jack would have been in there pounding on them on my behalf. Which is probably why they waited until now to tell me.

He's concerned, he says, that I can't give full support to the company's "alignments" and "affiliations". Which means they're going to go even further to monolithic, proprietary tools. Well, he's right, I wouldn't agree with a decision like that, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't support it. Hell, I have been supporting it, haven't I?

I told him that, and he gave a long speech to my breasts, full of weasel words like "orientation" and "goals" and "direction" and "teaming", and as far as I can tell, said exactly nothing.

Has Dogbert been giving management training classes in town?

Anyway, I'm quite disappointed with him. Terry has always seemed a reasonable manager, and he's definitely becoming one of the collective. Probably practicing for Ken's job.

I think this was the worst outcome of the possibilities I considered before telling Jack to put me forward. That they'd say no, and I'd have to live with the consequences. Knowing that they don't see me as management material, knowing now that they don't even trust me with what I am doing. And then telling me that I'm responsible for my coworkers, but not paying me for the additional demands.

Could they even be trying to make me quit? I may not be the right age or sex to join their elite, but I find it hard to believe they don't like my work.

I wish Brian were here.

Not because I need his strength. No, it would be good to have his support, but I can take care of myself. But because I'd like his insight, and I'd like a sounding board, someone I can tell for the sake of telling. I'd call Clarice, but she wouldn't take the situation very seriously. And her own work can be so stressful that she usually just wants to get away from it.


How many days did I skip? 3? Hmm... OK, here's the summary:

Nothing happened.


'Course, I always think that, then when I start to write, somehow I start remembering interesting things... interesting to me, that is.

Oh, yeah. That one's interesting: Brian's work is going well, the customer is very happy, and he's leaving an hour early today to get the Southwest flight to San Francisco, where Rob is meeting him. I don't know what Rob has planned for him, but he's staying until Sunday.

And I discovered what it was that Brian was evading on Monday. The engineers at the customer site had taken him down to one of the local topless drinking establishments. He wasn't sure how I'd react. I told him as long as he kept his hands - and any other relevant part of his anatomy - to himself, I didn't care what he looked at.

He said the experience just made him wish he was home. Awww, isn't that sweet? :-)

He's pretty disgusted with what the company's doing to me. Didn't have any useful suggestions, though, other than wait a few months before looking for another job. Rob called him to set up this weekend's trip on Tuesday morning.

I talked to Clarice for a long time yesterday by phone. She's pleased that Rob has made his moving here a reality. I was concerned that with the problems she'd give up on the idea and move on, to be honest, she seems a little surprised herself that she's so much looking forward to him getting here. Which is going to be Very Soon. Next weekend, in fact, his manager kept the move on hold for so long that the people here are hurting for his arrival, so they say... he won't be completely ready, he'll be dumping the contents of his house into storage for a time, perhaps making a couple of trips back to California before he's through. So he's going to leave Friday and drive straight through.

Bev got free tickets for a band tonight, so Clarice and I are going with her. Bev seems to know everyone. She always has something going on, some contact who can make it happen... whatever "it" happens to be. "It" tonight is one of the better local bands, apparently she and the singer have been good friends for years. Which is rare, Bev was telling me when she called. It's hard to have close friends who are not lovers, she says. If you're a gay woman, men still want to hit on you, and women think you want to hit on them. So sex becomes a barrier to friendship. I think I understand that, and understand why she seems to value Clarice's and my friendship so much after such a short time. I've never had many close male friends, for the same reason... but had - and have - several women friends whom I consider very close. Bev doesn't have that luxury.

One thing she did say is that at least the lesbian community is color-blind. As much discrimination as gay women suffer, they at least have few hangups about Bev being black. I'm sure it makes a difference to her in the larger world of the mundane.

Not sure what's going to happen the rest of the weekend. I wish I could use the time to write, but I seem to be out of ideas again. I've been coming back to the story I wrote, couldn't make work, deleted, rewrote, still couldn't make work... and I still can't make it work in my mind. I don't want to let it go, and perhaps if I could understand why I can't just forget it, I could see what is interesting me about the idea, and what would then make it interesting as a story. But when I think it through it seems so boring.

Well, back to work. The "Big Reorg" is to be announced on Monday. Everyone knows it's going to happen, but no-one knows all of the details. Larry and Susie certainly don't know about my new "lead" position.


My ears are still ringing from last night's band. They were very good, though. I just wish the volume was just a leetle bit less than a nuclear blast...

I wish I got to that part of town more often. It's really where all the fun social and artistic events happen, but living so far out... I guess I just need to make a point of driving a little further a couple of times each month.

We met some of Bev's friends at dinner. I think we could be on the Moon and Bev would still find a way to meet friends. I don't know how she can claim to have so few close friends... perhaps these all would be better described as acquaintances, but they all seem really to like her.

There must have been unspoken assumption that Clarice and I were gay because we were with her. Because when Bev made some off-hand remark about her straight friends, suddenly the guys in the group started hitting on Clarice and me. I whispered to Bev that it would have been easier if they hadn't realized.

Clarice, being Clarice, loved the attention, and spent the evening in the company of three of the guys, leaving me mostly with Bev. Which was fine with me, that was three fewer to fend off... but really, they were all great people, guys and girls alike. We met up with them again in the hall of the deafening music, and danced and drank... Bev was our designated driver tonight, but I didn't drink much anyway, though after an hour of that sound level I was still pretty much spaced out.

When it was time to leave, Clarice told Bev she didn't need a ride. She was going on to a party with Jeff, who was a young guy, probably about Brian's age, with dark straight hair down to his belt. She was avoiding my eyes, and I guess it would have been hard for me to feel good about it, but hell, it's her life, not mine. I gave her arm a quick squeeze and left with Bev.

Bev wanted to know what was going on, and I gave her a quick run-down on the situation with Rob, and that led to talking about my family, and finally, when we got to my house, I invited her in, and she and I managed to find the bottle of Jack that I thought I had somewhere, and did some serious damage to it.

I don't recall what time we got to bed. I remember showing her the spare room, then collapsing on my own bed... this morning I was surprised at how much bourbon was still in the bottle, I guess we hadn't drunk as much as it felt like, and to be truthful, I didn't have much of a hangover, so I figure my collapse was tiredness as much as anything. This has been a long week...

So I brewed us some coffee, and sat and talked to Bev some more until she was awake enough to drive home. Then I slept again. As I said above, my ears were still ringing, and still are...

Clarice stopped by to apologize this afternoon.

"Whatever for?" I asked.

"Leaving with Jeff last night."

"Why do you think I need an apology?"

"Because of Rob. I figured you'd be upset."

"Am I my brother's keeper?" I asked, and grinned. "That's between you and him, Clarice. I guess I did feel a little... odd about it, but it really isn't my business."

"Yeah, well, I feel like shit today. It wasn't worth it."

"Not up to your usual standard?" I asked.

She looked truly angry for a moment, then just bleak. "Oh, he was okay, but I just didn't feel right. Now I wish I hadn't."

"They call it guilt, I believe, Clarice." I said, softly.

"Yeah. Maybe." She looked at me. "Are you going to tell him?"

"Who, Rob? No, it's nothing to do with me. Truly. And I know him well enough to know that he won't ask."

She surprised me with a hug. I asked her to stay and help me with dinner, and I figure we'll throw something together and go soak for a while.

It's a glorious day. The sky is cloudless, slightly hazy, a cool breeze, and a smell of honeysuckle. The mockingbirds and cardinals are noisy, and the plants are covered in butterflies. I've been working in the yard today, weeding around the cannas. One has flowered early, and it's a flame-red with yellow-orange edging. If you would photograph it, everyone would think the colors were faked. With their huge green and purple waxy leaves, the cannas look good even when they're not flowering, but in a couple of months, that bed will look like it's on fire.

I sent Clarice to the store for beer, and if the breeze isn't too cold this is just a perfect day for the hot tub.

There was a message on the answering machine last night from Brian. He'd made it to San Francisco okay; he and Rob were heading for Chinatown, and he promised to call me again this evening.


I don't recall ever seeing Clarice depressed before. Annoyed, upset, angry, tired, but never depressed. She's really hurt herself with her little fling with Jeff.

I wish I could tell her that it will all be okay, but I find myself thinking about Chris and how I still feel guilty about letting Brian down. I guess I wish I could forgive myself as completely as Brian seems to have forgiven me. I'm sure Rob would, and, damn, he has to know what she's capable of. We've all made it clear enough to him. So why should she think he expects anything different of her?

But I don't think that's the problem. I think it was her own expectation that she failed to live up to. I think had she decided, hell, he's two thousand miles away, and he doesn't care, I'm going to let my hair down, that would have been one thing. But it was (I believe) a spur-of-the-moment decision that she wasn't expecting and wasn't prepared for. She hadn't given herself permission to break faith with Rob, even though she hadn't given him reason to think otherwise.

What a tangled web we weave...

What she seems most depressed about is the decision she feels she needs to make: should she tell him? And I can't help her with that. I couldn't have lived with myself - I certainly couldn't have allowed myself to become close to Brian - if I hadn't told him of my own inconstancy. But Clarice has different standards, and I honestly don't think Rob is expecting her to change.

So we ate, left the dishes for today, took our beer and birthday suits out to the spa, and tried to solve all of our problems while we soaked. After a time we gave up on our personal situations; solving the rest of the world's problems is far more fun (and about as effective, to be honest :-). And as far as keeping intellectually stimulating conversation... I recall asking her why it was that my fingers and toes wrinkle in the hot water, but my boobs don't.

That was about the point we realized how silly we had both become, and we giggled and decided to turn in. I made us some coffee before bed, and while we were drinking it the phone rang. It was Brian and Rob. The mention of Rob's name seemed to sober Clarice up instantly, and while Brian and I talked she looked depressed again.

I don't think Brian was much more sober than me. He was with a bunch of Rob's colleagues who were all helping Rob celebrate his departure, since he'll be out of there by the end of this week. Brian was more impressed with his tour of the plant than with San Francisco, though he loved the bridge and the way the buildings hugged the steep streets...


He asked if Rob could talk to Clarice, and I said no, he could talk to me first. Rob said Brian had a big surprise for me, but that he'd been sworn to secrecy (I heard Brian in the background trying to shush him). God knows what that all was about.

Clarice decided she would talk to him after all, but she sounded very subdued, and didn't stay on the phone long. Then I wished Brian a goodnight, and we finished our coffee as (presumably) Rob, Brian and Rob's friends continued their quest for oblivion.

I could have done without the fireworks this morning. Usually the storms don't bother me, but my head hurt. I'd probably have slept right through it if fat Selky the chicken-cat hadn't been trying to bury himself under me for protection.

Clarice seemed in a better mood when she left mid-morning. I slept a little longer, then went to the mall for some things. Decided I was bored, and realized I still hadn't seen "The Matrix". So I tried to call Clarice, but she was out, and didn't return my calls. Called Bev eventually; she had seen it, but loved it and wanted to see it again, so she and I made an evening of watching Keanu Reeves. (Well, perhaps she watched Carrie-Anne Moss. I don't really care, they were both spectacular.)

What a rush. I've avoided reading or hearing what critics had to say about the movie, because I had been warned that any advance knowledge would spoil the plot, so I don't know how well it was received (except for the box-office), but I thought it was intense, well-acted and a damn good story. 'Course, I'd have liked a little more romance, but how much can you fit into two and a half hours? :-)

I still have no intention of forgiving Brian for seeing it without me.


Big company meeting today. Reorg announced, exactly as Terry described it. He's "acting" manager of IT and software, there are a couple of new "lead" engineers in software, and me. Plus they're planning to hire at least two more techs, which does make my job perhaps a little more responsible... but also means that they're expecting the workload to increase, which probably means they're going even further along the same path... which probably means they're not hiring near enough techs.


Email from Brian today. Everything's going fine, but still slow. He's getting afraid that he may not be able to leave when he was expecting. I hope he's back for our vacation. I will be seriously pissed if we miss our window.

In some of the dead time he has been catching up on my diary. Staying away from this month, as we agreed... but he wants to know what I meant those many weeks ago about the April Cosmo.

Oh, God.

Though perhaps when he gets back I can explain it to him in a more tangible fashion.


Wow, did things get busy quickly. I'm going to rush through this as I remember it, probably roughly chronological, though I won't make any promises... but not in order of importance, that would be too hard to track.

Tuesday morning Terry called me at home. He'd decided to switch me with one of the software people who was attending a nearby technical conference. About software development, for the company whose products I battle daily. In the sense that I have a lot of experience with these products, it would have made sense, except that this was specifically for developers, and it was one of the developers who lost his place to me. (Not that, I understand, he was particularly upset, but from the company's point of view, he was a better candidate for the conference.)

So I drove directly to the conference, which had been running for a day by then.

I'm staying in a hotel there, but I snuck home tonight to pick up mail and feed the cat. I'd normally have called Clarice, but I'll get to her chronologically-ish... :-)

So far, the conference has been good, but whether it's really for developers, or a sales exercise to recruit developers as promoters, I haven't really determined. Terry gave me free choice of programs, and I'm more-or-less following the schedule of Mary, the only other woman from our company, whom I don't know well, but better than most of the guys who are there. She seems to have the same ambivalence to the program as I do.

Technically, the presenters are very competent, and I have pretty much followed what they are talking about. Though I'm not directly in development myself, my degree is in computer science, and I've done a lot of programming... I thought that was what I would do at one point, then I accidentally drifted into admin, and seem to have stayed. My background gives me a good foundation for writing the support utilities I often need, but I'm far from Mary's level when it comes to system programming. But she has helped translate some of the harder pieces and some of the jargon that I don't know.

Mary and I went out drinking and dancing with the guys until late last night. There are a couple of obnoxious types, but mostly they're okay. Why is it that some geeks seem to think that the more obnoxious they are, the more likely you are to want to sleep with them? Mary was obviously as repelled as I was. But, like I said, most of them are fine.

Mary's single, but she told me she has a steady boyfriend. "If I didn't, I still wouldn't go with someone from the company. That's always a disaster, don't you think?"

She doesn't know me well, of course. Even if she did, Mary's something of a nerd herself, with the observation powers of a hibernating turtle for anything not on a computer screen. "I hope not," I said. "I'm dating Brian. From engineering."

She thought for a moment, then her eyes widened. "Oh, cool. He's..." Whatever she was going to say, she thought better of it. But I think it was something good.

About that time we were discovered by a couple of guys not from the company who recognized us from the sessions. They introduced themselves as journalists... I knew the name of one of them, I see it on some pretty good articles in one of the trade journals. They efficiently (and completely with our consent) pried Mary and me away from the male component of our party, and we spent the rest of the evening in their company. I did finally get the answer to one question which has been bugging me for a couple of years about the backers of this conference and the press... I can't really share the details without getting more specific than I would want, but I'll think a little less harshly of trade reporters from now on, though I still think they're too quick to be uncritical. (My new-found friend doesn't dispute that feeling for many of his colleagues, but tells me I have to consider the motivations also of the editors and publishers.)

My journalist friend was clearly disappointed when I bade him goodnight, and I have to say that I wasn't completely without regret. But for Brian, I think I'd have liked to see where our conversation led. And when I got back to my room I couldn't sleep. This time I managed to put my insomnia to some creative use, and started work on a new story, which I'm currently calling "Games People Play".

I had left Mary with the two reporter-dudes. She said today that she was only a few minutes behind me in calling it a night, but not before she'd agreed to dinner tonight with the other one. She said that "my" journalist had tried to get more details about me from her, but other than who I work for, she knows very little. But she did tell him about Brian...

When I got home tonight I had several birthday cards. I turn twenty-nine tomorrow, as I've mentioned. One card was postmarked San Francisco, which struck me as strange, especially since the writing looked feminine. I was sure I hadn't mistaken Brian's or Rob's handwriting that far (I had figured Brian could have dropped a card in the mailbox on Sunday before he left). I opened it...

... and damn, it was from Clarice. It said, "Love you, Helen, thanks for everything, Happy Birthday, will call and explain. Sorry I won't be there Thursday." So I figured perhaps she had tried to call while I was at the conference, and I checked my messages. Sure enough, she had called me yesterday from Rob's. She had headed out to San Jose, she said, to help him move, and talk over a few things, "I think you know what I mean." She would see me this weekend.

I didn't want to wait for the weekend, so I called Rob. They were both there, packing, and I heard her kick him out of the room so that she could talk to me privately.

"What the hell are you doing, Clarice?" I asked.

"I guess I had to know," she replied.

"Know what?"

"If he could forgive me."

"You told him?"

"Yeah... I had to. He wasn't very happy. He was very not happy. We screamed at each other for a while."

"It sounds like you made up," I said.

"Boy, did we ever," she replied, with that throaty chuckle of hers. I realized I hadn't heard her laugh like that since last Friday, and I had missed it. "He said he and Pam never fought. I thought he was grumbling about our fight, but he wasn't, he was complaining about not being able to show his feelings around Pam."

"When are you coming back?"

"We're leaving as soon as he's said his good-byes Friday, and driving straight through. If I help him with the driving, we should be back early Sunday. Or we may find a motel Saturday night and be back late Sunday. I don't know how he thought he'd do the whole trip himself in that time."

"He might have surprised you, he's pretty smart, for a guy."

She chuckled again. "And that ain't all he is," she said. "I'm sorry about your birthday, Helen."

"Yeah, me too," I replied, "but with Brian out of town, it wouldn't have been much fun. It's an important birthday, too, tomorrow's the day I stop getting older."

"How's that? Oh, you turn twenty-nine. I forget you're a year older than me. Maybe we should all come over next week and help you celebrate in appropriate attire."

"What's that?"

"Birthday suits, girl."

"Oh, God, no, Clarice, don't do that to me."

Brian called while I was still on the phone with Clarice. He was at his hotel, so I called him back when I was through.

Bad news. They've hit a small snag that might keep him there another week. I told him that was okay, but it isn't. He wished me a happy birthday and told me he loved me, and I feel very lonely as I write this, about to enter my last year of twenty-somethings, and all the people I most love are far away.


(Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me... :-( )

No, I'm okay. Last night's entry reads like I was depressed. I wasn't, just lonely. I wasn't feeling unloved or forgotten... and I'm looking forward to next week when we can all get together, but that doesn't change the fact that all of my closest friends are away on my birthday.

And just one more year now until I cross that invisible boundary and become a thirtysomething. Eeeeeek! :-) But, though they were far away, my friends didn't forget me. I got the card from Clarice yesterday, Rob and Brian claim they have birthday cards in the mail, and when Mary found out this morning that it was my birthday she rushed out and bought me a card. That was sweet, because we don't know one another well.

Of course, the downside to the last is that her reporter friends insisted they buy me dinner tonight. I didn't figure on seeing them again, and I wasn't going to take the time to invent names for them, but I guess I have to. Let's say the one following Mary around is Rick, and the one making eyes at me is Keith.

I shouldn't say "downside", because I'm actually flattered that Keith isn't giving up, and though he's going to be disappointed, I'm enjoying his company. And it isn't like I'm leading him on, he knows what his chances are. He sat with us at lunch today, and he's fascinating to talk to, especially with as much as he knows about the business.

There was a message for me at the hotel reception this evening. Terry's secretary, Lisa, had left me a message that there was a package for me from one of the computer mail-order places. FedEx, so it isn't a promotion... it's too late to go pick it up, I'll probably get back up to the office early tomorrow to pick it up. I've a feeling I know what it is... or why, at least, I really don't have a clue precisely what.

Anyway, I'm going to get dressed up tonight. I always bring clothes for special occasions on business trips, and very rarely get chance to use them. The guys are taking us to a pretty expensive place, I may as well dress to suit. And besides, it's my birthday...

I should just have time to upload this and collect email. Assuming that the hotel phone system will allow me to hook up my modem.


I almost did something very silly last night.

No, not that! Shame on you for having so little faith in me!

Though, if it weren't for Brian... that would most certainly have been the high point of my evening, and I know it would have been just fine. Oh, for those lost opportunities. Brian is damn well going to make up for what I'm missing, even if I tie him to the bed until I'm through with him. Which, since he'll be happy to oblige, I won't need to do... but might anyway :-)

No, what I almost did was told Keith about my website. Oops.

The restaurant wasn't the kind of place where the waiters would gather around and sing happy birthday, but that didn't stop Keith from making a party hat out of the brightly-colored promotional materials for the conference, and insisting I wear it. We were far enough from sobriety that we all thought that was totally funny. It's fortunate that our room was isolated from other diners.

Where I nearly slipped up was towards the end of the dinner. We'd been talking about the guys' articles (they work for rival jounals, but apparently have been friends for years, and often cover the same events), and I was telling Keith how much I respected the quality of his writing, particularly about such a mundane subject.

"Do you write?" he asked me.

"Only fiction," I said.

"Really? What kind?"

"Oh, just..." Now, how would I explain that? "Just for my own amusement. Nothing special."

"Have youever been published?"

"Not... really, no I haven't."

"I'd like to read some," he said.

"No, you wouldn't, really." I was getting flustered. "It isn't something I could share. Forget I said anything."

"No, seriously," he pressed on, "even if you've never shown it to anyone, I'd like to read it. Please?"

"I'm sorry, Keith," I said, "I really shouldn't have said anything."

"I'm disappointed."

I saw a way out. I patted his hand. "Don't worry, you're going to be disappointed about more than just that this evening."

Mary giggled.

"You've got me all wrong," he said, mock-hurt. "I'm a reporter. I just want to ask you a question."

"Which is?"

"Why don't we skip breakfast?"

I laughed. "Why don't we skip dessert, instead? If you'd lower your sights to dancing, we might be able to reach a compromise."

Keith picked up the tab. I'm sure it was horrendous, but nothing that wouldn't fit on his gold Amex. Probably nothing that he couldn't expense, for that matter . Then we found our way to the hotel ballroom.

Now, at this point in one of my stories, we'd slowly realize that we found so much passion in each other that we would just have to spend the night together. In fact, we found enough passion to leave me frustrated... but pleased that we hadn't said goodnight earlier.

When it came to a slow dance, he held me far too close, but it was a warm, friendly feeling I got from him.

After that dance, Rick and Mary found us to tell us they were leaving. It seemed the right time to follow suit. Mary didn't even blink at Rick's suggestion of a nightcap in his room, I think she'd been decided for some time that she liked where the evening was heading.

Of course, Keith invited me to do the same.

"Don't think I don't regret saying this, Keith, but no. I have too much invested in my guy. It's a shame we didn't meet a year ago."

"Yeah, me too," he said. "If he doesn't work out for you, why don't you give me a call?"

"I would say I'd like that, but I know it isn't going to happen." Then, "I'll take a birthday kiss..."

He smiled. "Your room or mine?"

"You don't give up, do you? Walk me to my room, and then leave."

So, in the hallway outside my door, he held out his arms. I gave him a quick peck, then backed away. He was obviously disappointed.

"Ah, hell," I said, "it's my birthday," and I put my arms around him and closed my eyes as my open lips met his. We didn't part until I felt his hands slipping inside my waistband, and I gently pulled away from him.

"Goodnight, Keith," I said, regretfully, and opened my door. I truly did not want to close it behind me, but I did... and damn, but Brian is going to compensate me for that.

And now it's five a.m., and I'm having trouble sleeping again, having been awake since four, so apparently it isn't just nights with Brian which screw up my ability to rest. I'm seriously thinking it's time I saw a doctor. But during the day, when I'm awake and reasonably rested, it's hard to remember just how much a messed-up sleeping pattern affects me.

This would be a good time to head into the office and see what FedEx brought me.

Because I left so early, I picked up my package and got back to the hotel before breakfast. It was what I had expected - a birthday present from Brian. I didn't know what it would be, though.

He bought me a Palm III :-) With a Cross stylus...

Now I can update and test my mobile stories without borrowing his. And if you think it's an awfully unromantic gift, I haven't made it clear just how much I've coveted his.

In the buffet line for breakfast, a deep voice tickled my ear. "Why don't we skip breakfast?"

I smiled without looking around. "Morning, Keith."

He followed me to a table. "I hope I didn't upset you last night," he said.

I shook my head. "You gave me a good birthday treat."

"I could have given you a better one."

Just thinking about the idea gave me a guilty thrill. "I'm sure you could," I said, "and I'm sure I'd regret it for ever."

"Don't tell me you didn't regret saying goodnight."

"That was a temporary disappointment. I'm over that." I am. I really am. "I wouldn't recover from the other."

"This guy of yours must be something."

"I think so. Hey, look, I got my birthday present from him." I showed him the Pilot.

He grinned. "You're right, I can't compete with that," he teased.

"When are you leaving?" I asked him.

"Trying to get rid of me? Tomorrow morning. I have to stay through the closing hospitality suites, whatever else is going on. What about you?"

"I'm out of here as soon as the last session ends."

"I hoped you might be up to showing me more of the town tonight."

"I think that would be dangerous."

"That's the idea."

"Give it up, Keith," I grinned. "I'm taken."

It's tempting, I know I'd enjoy another evening with him. And I know I could be good. Would be good. But I don't need the guilt, the pressure, the conflicts. And whether Keith knows it or not, he doesn't need the ongoing rejection.

(This reminds me of an old joke. Inexperienced teenager goes to visit her boyfriend. A couple of hours later, she kisses him, and says "My mother told me to be good. Was I?"

That isn't the kind of "good" I meant :-)

So I'm updating this before checking out of the hotel, and I plan to be on the road just as soon as the conference is over.

I arrived home to find my birthday cards from Rob and Brian. In Brian's card he had written:

"I wish I could be with you on your birthday. I want to be with you for all of your special times. You own my heart, Helen, and I love you."

And Keith wonders why this man means so much to me.

And good news: Brian has solved the last few problems for the customer. He called late this evening from the customer site. They'll be working tomorrow, just monitoring the process, and he thinks he'll be able to leave tomorrow night, or perhaps Sunday morning.

God, I hope so. I want him back so much I can taste it.


The phone rang at nine this morning. I'm not sure if I was dreaming that I was awake, and it woke me, or if I'd been awake for a while when it made me jump...

"Hi. Did you make it back okay in the storms?."

"Uhh... who is this?"

"It's Keith."

It took me a moment to make the connection. "Oh, hi Keith. I've been driving my boyfriends SUV while he's away. Last night I was glad of it. But I thought you had given up and left."

"Neither, Helen." I could hear the grin in his voice. "May I buy you breakfast? Or will your friends talk."

"If they talk, they're not my friends, but you're still wasting your time."

"Actually... this may be a shock to you, but that isn't why I want to see you. I want to interview you."

"Oh no. Me? Why?"

"You have some pretty strong opinions, and you know the field and the systems. I'd like to get your insight for a piece I'm doing, long-term follow-up from the conference."

"Don't you usually do interviews like that by phone?"

"Depends. Something in-depth rather than just looking for a quote, maybe not. Besides, why would I, when I can see you?"

"God, you're persistent. You're coming here, though, right?"

"Sure. Tell me where to meet you."

So we met at the nearby International House Of Pancakes. There aren't many places open for breakfast around here. He recorded our conversation. He isn't planning to use my name, which is good, because my views would not be well received at my company. He may ask for permission to use my name on some supporting quotes, but only relatively innocuous ones.

"You'll be crossing my brother's path today," I told him, when he was running out of questions.

"I'm sorry?"

"He's moving here from San Jose. You're heading to the Valley, right?"

"That's right. He's flying?"

"Driving, this time, with his... girlfriend." That was the first time I'd thought of Clarice that way. Hmm. Rob's girlfriend? It still seems strange.

"What is there here for him? I mean, why leave California? You?"

"Her, more like, and leaving a bad situation all around. Why, don't you like Texas?"

"I've only seen the cities. They're cities."

"Do you want me to show you around some? When do you need to leave?"

"My flight's about six. I'm in no hurry."

So I took him to the open-air nature museum, and we took the long walk. I held his arm while we talked. "Where's Rick?"

"Left this morning," he replied. "I saw him with Mary at breakfast, he was planning to leave around ten. That's why I wanted to interview you today. He is a competitor, after all, and I think I have an interesting story in the making."

I wonder if Mary's boyfriend was expecting her back yesterday.

After the nature museum, I took him to one of the old town centers. Lovely old Texas courthouse and historic buildings. I know a lot of people who live nearby, saw a couple of them in the square. We had coffee and a snack.

He drove me back to the IHOP, where I'd left my car. "Thanks for taking the time with me today," he said.

"My pleasure, really," I said, "and I had nothing else to do." I gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "I'm glad you came up here."

He squeezed my hand. "Yeah, I am, too. If you're ever in the Valley, give me a call." He got a card from his wallet. He had given me one at the conference, but he wrote his home number on this. "Especially if it's your birthday. I could use another birthday kiss."

"You only get one of those in a lifetime," I retorted.

He grinned ruefully and drove away.

Brian left a message while I was out. They're finishing up, they'll leave the process running overnight, but they need him to check in the morning that everything's still running. If it is, he has a flight booked around ten, which gets him to the airport about two-thirty in the afternoon. There's still a slim chance that he'll have to cancel the reservation, but he's optimistic that they've solved the last process problem, and the customer got the robot software corrected - which apparently has been the biggest problem they've faced - so there should be nothing to stop him being home tomorrow.


I finished Games People Play in the wee small hours of this morning. Yeah, a little more mild insomnia. Creative insomnia, at least... I like that much better than the times I lie awake and just can't focus.

I don't know what y'all will think of "Games". It's not so much about seduction, much more about sex. Perhaps that will make those of you who think I spend too much time on the boring buildup stuff happy... and I have to admit, I like this story... but I don't think I'll be going further in that direction. Maybe I'll compromise by eliminating sex in the next story, and just have the buildup :-)

And as I'm getting ready to upload this, there's another storm brewing. Selky the cat is already looking for a place to hide his fluffy chicken head. I hope Keith got his rent car to the airport before he got caught in it. And I hope it isn't too bad when Rob and Clarice get into the state... driving through a mess like I was in last night won't be fun, and I'll bed they're loaded pretty heavily. (With things for the house, dammit, not with booze :-) After over fifteen hundred miles, a heavy storm would be especially miserable.

One last (? - I seem to keep adding entries today) addition. I rewrote The Setup. I think it's much more readable. Please check it out and let me know if you think it's better.


Five a.m. today <sigh>.

I guess I do have something of an excuse. Everything comes together today. (I hope.) Clarice returns. Rob arrives. Brian had better be on that plane if he knows what's good for him :-) I hadn't expected this all to happen together.

I also hadn't realized, being away from the office and so hurried (and with my birthday and everything) that tomorrow was Memorial Day, so Brian and I should have almost enough time to catch up :-)

The storms were bad again this morning. I hope Clarice didn't get caught up in them. They may be back already. I wish I could call, but if they are, they'll probably be asleep.

Brian just called... he stopped by the customer site this morning, and everything was still fine, so he's going to be on the flight, and here just after two. I'm actually feeling nervous about going to pick him up. Strange. Maybe it's this feeling I have that we'll rip each other's clothes off in the terminal :-)

At the last minute, I decided to treat myself to a new dress to meet Brian in. As well received as my Easter dress was, I thought it would be a nice surprise for him. So I left early enough to buy me a new summer dress. It's one piece, cream, with a short, slightly pleated skirt, almost like a tennis dress, and a low-cut supporting top. Fairly inexpensive, but just right. I wore it out of the store.

Even with the stop, I had left much too early, and sat around the airport for about forty-five minutes, becoming increasingly nervous. I still don't know why that is, but when the passengers started leaving the plane, I felt really shy.

I had to endure at least half of the people on the plane filing past me before he was there. And even then, I almost didn't recognize him.

He has grown a beard!

That must be the surprise my drunken brother almost revealed last weekend. Ooh, it looks good on him. It's slightly darker than his hair, and still very short, but already very attractive. And it makes him look at least a couple of years older than he did when he left.

All the time it's taking me to describe this, of course the thoughts ran through my head in about two seconds, before I dragged him out of the line of passengers... and then stood there, suddenly unsure of myself.

"Hi, Brian. You look good."

"So do you, Helen. Even better than I remembered."

He put his briefcase down and held my hands. We looked at each other like a couple of lovesick teens for a moment, then I squeezed his hands and pulled him close...

And the spell was broken, and we were in each others arms, kissing like a couple of crazy people, which I'm sure everyone thought we were, but I didn't care. He was back!

"God, I've missed you," he said, when we broke for air.

"I love you," I said. "I've felt so empty the past few weeks."

"Yeah," he said, and we entertained the arriving passengers some more.

I leaned against him, with my arm around his back, his over my shoulder, as we walked to the baggage claim. It just felt so good to be close to him.

We had spent so long getting to the claim area that his bags had already arrived, so we wheeled them to his Range Rover, which I had driven, loaded up, then spent more time necking before I finally backed out and drove away.

"I like the beard," I said to him. "Why did you do it?"

"Because I knew you'd like it," he replied. "You've made a few hints in the past."

"I guess I have," I grinned.

"It seemed like a good opportunity. By the time I returned, I'd be over the wimpy, itchy phase."

"Are you?"

"To be honest, no, I'm not. The itching is driving me crazy. If it doesn't stop soon, it will have to go. But I'm giving it chance."

"I hope it works out, because it really looks great on you."

"Speaking of looking great," he said, "I love that dress."

"Thank you," I said.

For the rest of the drive we talked of boring stuff like the problems Brian had had on site, the office reorg (which didn't affect his department at all) and what might be the reasons Terry had sent me to last week's developers' conference.

"Perhaps he had the budget and no-one else to send," suggested Brian.

I shrugged. "Or perhaps he needed me out of the office for some fiendish political reason."

"Possible," he said.

We didn't come up with an adequate explanation, other than management being screwed up, which we already knew.

Back at home, I helped him in with his bag.

I stood facing him. "This is very weird, Brian, but I feel... nervous. I've been like this all day."

"I think I understand," he replied. "I've been looking forward to this for weeks, and now... I'm just overwhelmed that we're here, and that you still seem to want me."

I took his hands. "I want you, Brian, in every sense of the word."

"I've missed you," he breathed. "Every day I've been thinking of you, knowing I'd be back with you eventually, but hardly daring to believe it could be true."

I drew him close. "Well, it's true. Now, what are we gonna do about it?"

He kissed me briefly, then, "I don't want to disappoint you, Helen."

"You never disappoint me, lover."

"No, I'm serious, after all this time, I'd like for you to know just how precious you are to me."

"I do, Brian."

He nodded, and we kissed again, for longer this time. Then, with my arms around his neck, he repositioned himself to pick me up, and started carrying me through the house.

"Mister," I said, "if you strain your back doing this, I swear I'll kill you."

He grinned, manhandled the bedroom door open, and laid me gently on the bed. Kneeling on the floor beside me, his lips sought mine, and I held his neck while we kissed.

"I'm serious about not disappointing you, Helen. After all this time... I'd like for this to be as good for you as it has ever been for me. I want to know what you would really like."

We haven't ever really talked about how we make love, other than in the early days, figuring out how far to go... we've never really planned what to do. In fact, I don't think I remember ever doing that, not with anyone. Though of course, anyone has never been as considerate of me as Brian is.

I thought about his offer. "You know, what I would really like... the way you just kissed me. I'd like to feel you kiss me all over. Not just... anywhere in particular, but my fingertips, my toes, my ankles... you get the picture. And your hands. I'd like to just lie here while you undress me, and then feel you everywhere."

He didn't speak, he just kissed me. On the mouth, then my eyes, my cheeks, my ears. Stroking my sides, he kissed my neck, and took my hands in his while he trailed his tongue down to the edge of my breasts. "You'll have to turn over," he whispered, and rolled me onto my stomach, where he unzipped my dress, kissing my back and stroking my arms. He kneaded my butt with his hands while he kissed the small of my back, then drew my panties down my legs while he kissed my thighs and fondled my ass some more.

When his fingers closed on my pussy, I was already wet, and beginning to regret that I'd made a suggestion that would take so long to get through, because I didn't want to wait. But damn, this felt good.

He rolled me over again, but didn't immediately remove my dress. Instead, he slid his hands down my legs, kissing my thighs, my knees, my feet. He sucked each toe individually, tickling and tingling. Reaching up, he took my hands in his, weaving his fingers between mine, and sucked the toes of my other foot, then did them all again, stroking each toe with his tongue.

I closed my eyes and drifted while he worked on my fingers. I've always found that having my fingers kissed is very sensual, but as slowly as Brian was working his way around, it was especially erotic, warming every inch of my body. Then he was back at my lips, and I tried to grab him, bite his tongue, hurry the process, but instead he kissed my nose, and drew the straps of my dress over my shoulders.

He took the time to watch as he slowly pulled my dress down from my breasts, stroking them, touching the nipples, then kissing, around the base, between them, then breaking to ease my dress all the way down. Now I was naked, but I felt cloaked in something warm and soft as my desire itched every inch of skin. He kissed my nipples, sucking firmly as he squeezed my waist with his hands, then kept suckling as he drew patterns on my belly; patterns finally ending in his fingertips brushing across my pussy.

Now I was so turned on that even this light contact was fiery, and I parted my knees to give his fingers access. But even then, he felt my thighs and my ass, only slowly making his way back to my now very wet sex.

After working a finger inside, he stroked my labia, parting them for another finger, then, as I gasped with pleasure, he hooked his other hand around my thigh, and stroked the back of my sex with another finger. He kept up this movement as I tightened around him, now sensitive to the slightest movement of his fingers.

Then he moved his face from my chest, and I sighed in anticipation. Releasing my pussy from the front, he got both his hands onto my ass, squeezing, opening me, while his beard... his beard! tickled my pussy. His tongue seeking entrance, I tilted my pelvis, pressing against him. I had tried to avoid helping him thus far, I wanted just to relax and feel him, but this was no longer possible, as my clit filled with fire.

He rocked his chin to accommodate my rhythmic movements, my almost involuntary movements now as I needed the climb to release, and he slowly but firmly stroked my clit. I think I began to moan. I also think I began to hallucinate. Certainly I wasn't very firmly grounded in the real world. I was in another place, where there was only passion, where my entire reality was Brian and pleasure.

When he started to draw back, to tantalize me, I didn't think I could stand the torment. "Oh, God, no, Brian, please, do it."

He acceded, sucking hard on my clit, while I slipped into a thundering, ear-pounding climax, which had me seeing bright lights behind my closed eyelids. I stroked his hair while he kept me high, moaning, "Oh, God, oh, Brian, oh, yes..." then, "Stop now. Stop, please, I want you inside me."

He kissed my mouth, and I helped (helped?) him tear off his clothes, then he was lying atop me, and I guided him inside. Almost immediately, I felt him twitch as if he were starting to come, and he stopped moving, waiting. That seemed to have postponed his need for release, because we bucked happily for long enough to see me to another high before I felt him explode into me. I squeezed his ass, almost ready for a third climax... "Brian," I whispered, "would you kiss my breast?" and when he did, he pushed me again into wonder.

I tousled his hair as he lay along me. "Hey, lover, welcome home."

"Thanks," he grinned.



"You didn't disappoint me."

"I didn't think so." He smiled happily.

"You haven't been practicing without me, now, have you?"

"No way," he frowned, then seeing the expression on my face, he laughed. "I thought you were serious for a moment, there."

"No, I trust you," I said. "Neither have I, of course... but after that, I'd say we don't need any more practice."

"On the contrary, love, I think we need all the practice we can get. I want all the practice we can get, anyway."

"You have a good point, mister."

"And you have at least two," he retorted, nuzzling my boobs.

I pushed him off me, and kissed him.

"It's hard to believe," I said quietly, "that only a couple of months ago, you were still a virgin, or that you took so long to be ready for making love. No, don't say anything, I'm thinking out loud... I'd say you seem to have a natural gift... but I don't think it's so much a gift for sex as it is for empathy, for knowing exactly what it is that will make my toes curl up and my senses implode. More so than I know myself. You make me feel almost inadequate, because I don't feel that I understand you that well."

He was silent for a moment, then, "No, I think you've got it wrong. It isn't a matter of understanding. Maybe it's empathy, but I don't necessarily understand you, I just know, and you know in just the same way. I can sense that you do, because you always make me feel so good, too."

I hugged him, and we kissed, and pretty soon we were showing each other again just how much empathy we have.

The doorbell roused me from a doze. Brian, presumably tired out from his late nights, from his traveling and from our exercise, was sprawled along me and showed no signs of waking; I had to pry myself out from under him, and find my robe.

My visitors were insistent, ringing the doorbell a couple more times before I could finally get there. When I opened the door, Clarice said "Hi, you don't mind a few visitors, do you?" and entered the house as I stood there bemused. Rob followed her in... and Bev, which was a surprise. They carried bags of fast food and soft drinks.

Once inside, Clarice looked at me. "Did we wake you up? I'm sorry, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Clarice." I certainly was, I felt a rosy glow of health - or something - all over. "I've just been... getting reacquainted."

"For two days? God, girl, I'm impressed."

"More like two hours, Clarice. He only got back this afternoon."

"Oh, hell, I'm sorry. I thought he came home Friday. We'd have given you longer."

"That's fine, really." In a low voice for her ears alone, "I doubt either of us have the energy for any more."

Finally I got to greet my other visitors. "Rob, it's so good to see you." I gave him a big hug. "And you, Bev, I didn't expect you to have hooked up with this lunk so quickly."

She grinned at me. "Clarice picked me up. She told me we had a standing invitation at your spa."

"Relax, girl," interjected Clarice, "you can keep your swimsuit on. Though obviously you're not wearing one now."

I glared at her and pulled my robe tighter.

"Where's your man? The food's getting cold."

I sighed. "I'll get him, Clarice."

"Is he dressed?"

"Probably not."

"Then you just stay here, girl, I'll get him."

Rob caught her arm, and she giggled, but I'm sure she had no intention of going... Brian joined us, bleary eyed, a few minutes later, and Clarice made a point of stroking his short beard. "Ooh, I like," she said. Then she rubbed Rob's clean-shaven face and scowled at him.

After turning the spa on, I returned to the fried chicken, and a talk with Clarice. Everyone else was holding a quiet conversation, and I got the feeling that Clarice didn't want me to hear what was being said.

"How was the drive?" I asked her.

"Rough. That's a long way, and we were tired. I think we bickered from the California state line all the way home. I know he likes not having to agree all the time, but I could have thrown him out of the car. I don't like any of the music he had with him. He drives so conservatively, and he accuses me of driving like a maniac..."

"But Clarice, you do," I interrupted.

"Quiet. Whose side are you on? Helen, we have nothing in common."

"You know what they say," I began, and she said the words in unison with me, "opposites attract". Obviously she's thought this through.

"Yeah, I know, but hell, it would be nice to find something to agree on.

"You will, Clarice."

"There's one thing," she added, "that to me proves it was just tiredness and short-temper. If he had been trying to hurt me, he'd have mentioned Jeff. I don't know if he's gotten over that, but I do know he knows that I haven't."

She let me go after that, and we all talked over our plans for Memorial Day, which were all very similar: relax, recover. Bev has errands to run, the rest of us intend to veg. Rob isn't going to work Tuesday, he'll use that to get himself together. Brian only has a couple of cases to unpack.

Time came to face the Great Outdoors, and the problem remained. Rob and I both felt uncomfortable about nudity, both for the same reason, but we were the only holdouts. "Rob," I said, "I feel really strange about this, but I'm willing to give it a try if you are."

Brian spoke up. "I was mortified when they made me do it..." I tried to interrupt, to say we didn't make him, but he talked over me, "but it's worthwhile..." then with a lascivious glance at Clarice, he added "very worthwhile."

"Brian, please," I objected, while Clarice smirked. "You're making it worse."

Rob relented, though he carried his swimsuit with him, in case of a sudden change of heart, and led the way wrapped in his towel. I was the last to get in, and I'm sure my face was bright red when I stepped out of my robe. I could see Rob trying not to look at me, but he didn't succeed, and his eyes widened.

For my part, I refuse to comment about whether I even saw anything that I tried not to see.

We spent most of the time talking about Rob's plans for the future. He's still the newcomer to our crazy crew, even if Bev is our most recent friend. She at least is established here. Rob feels that a weight has been lifted from him. He's excited about the opportunities the work offers, and he's obviously excited at being attached to Clarice.

At one point I maneuvered to sit beside Rob, and I warned him about letting the arguments get too personal. "This is the one and only time I ever pass a message between the two of you, and she didn't ask me to, but I think you may want to ease off just a little on the fights."

"I know," he said. "You're talking about the drive, aren't you? We were both very tired, and, it's strange, I feel so liberated that I don't have to keep my feelings in check all the time, but I know I let it go too far. I don't think it's something we can't work out."

"I don't think so, either," I agreed. "Clarice seemed to think it was just a little too much, not that there's anything wrong in principle with a good fight. Hell, she and I fight all the time. And she really does drive too fast."

"She told you about that. Yeah, I had my eyes closed a lot of the time. It seems like we have nothing in common. I can't for the life of me figure out why I like her so much."

"I don't think love has much to do with reason," I said. He didn't have a comment on that.

We finally left the pool well after midnight. Rob studiously ignored me while I toweled off... Brian didn't, and he didn't ignore Clarice or Bev, either. Hmmm... Clarice helped me clear up the fast food trash - and again, I got the impression the other three were up to something. <sigh> I'm sure I'll learn about it in due time.

After everyone had left, I wrapped my arms around Brian's neck. "You'll go blind, watching Clarice and Bev cavorting naked."

"Bev doesn't cavort. I watched very carefully, cavorting quotient less than five percent."

I giggled. "What's Clarice's cavorting quotient?"

"My instruments are inaccurate above eighty-two percent."

"What about mine?"

"Normally low," he said, then he unfastened my robe, "but about to become much higher."

"Good," I said, as he stroked my stomach. Our tongues met as he slid his palms higher and squeezed.


Most of yesterday's entry was written between three and five a.m. today <yeah, again> and perhaps it shows. I reread the entry a few minutes ago, and seriously considered cutting the detail level. I don't get that specific about Brian. It doesn't feel right... usually. This time, it seems to feel right, I don't think "he kissed me all over and it felt great" does enough to show just how totally he had me responding to him. So I guess I'll leave it as it stands.

I do wish I could describe the rest of our time together with as much passion as I can put into descriptions of our love-making, because it is not only our time in bed which makes me love this man. It's the thoughtful things he does, holding me after a hard day; bringing me flowers, not as a special occasion, just cheap flowers from the grocery store to brighten up the table; cooking; washing the dishes when it isn't his turn; actually taking turns with the housework without complaining; talking about his work, the books we each read, my job, office politics, why Clarice should find a different line of work. Not demanding that I fit his model of what a woman should be, but not being passive about his own needs and dreams.

If I could show these things accurately, I think y'all would agree that I've got me a really wonderful man here, but I can't do it justice... so perhaps, if I can let you have a glimpse of the feeling he can give me in love, perhaps you'll understand that those feelings just wouldn't happen if it weren't for the practical way he loves me in our daily lives.