The hotel where Clarice and Rob were holding their party is only ten minute's drive from my house. It took about forty-five to drive. There wasn't much traffic, but what there was slid all over the road, and I was about a half-hour late. There weren't many others there. Clarice was convinced that the event would be a failure, but I told her I figured everyone was on the road, as I was.

Brian joined us, and agreed with me. He'd made it fairly easily, since the Range Rover has four-wheel drive, but he'd had to dodge vehicles slipping backwards on one hill, and had stopped to help push a party of teenage girls out of a ditch.

I asked where Mara was. Clarice had found a babysitter to stay overnight with her, she'd booked her weeks ago. She had planned to bring babysitter and baby to the party, but with the weather figured it would be better if she stayed at her house, no need to be carrying Mara around on the ice.

Fortunately, the DJ had arrived on time, and there was already music and a bar. When a few more people drifted in, Clarice seemed a little more relieved, and left to greet them.

"I love the dress," said Brian, after Clarice had left. "Is it new?"

I was wearing the backless fuchsia dress I bought for my dance routine with Charles. "Yeah," I said, "I've had it a month or so."

"Well, you look great," he said. "How are you doing?"

"I'm doing fine, Brian," I said. "How about you?"

"The same. As you, that is, not as I was doing. I'm okay."

"If you want to get together to talk, sometime..."

"Yeah, I'd like that," he said. "Maybe in a week or two?"

I nodded.

"Can I get you a drink?"

"Just a soda," I said. "Thanks."

He brought me a Coke, then we split up to meet other guests, who were still arriving. In fact, the room was filling up nicely, there were couples dancing, and Clarice seemed happy. "You were right," she whispered.

I grinned at her and went to join Bev, who was talking to a pretty young black woman. She introduced her as Thea.

"Good to meet you," I said.

"You, too, Helen," she replied. "Clarice has told me a lot about you."

"She has?" I said, surprised.

She chuckled. "I know, you've never heard of me. I get that a lot. She's probably talked about my husband, Greg."

"Oh," I said, as realization dawned. Yes, she'd probably have told Greg about her friends during her marriage preparation counselling, or whatever they do at that church. Though it had to be a church with a difference... I can't imagine many churches in Texas accepting a pastor in a mixed-race marriage. "Is he here?"

She pointed to a group of people including Greg, who was looking very un-minister-like in a red shirt and jeans.

"Bev knows us," said Thea, "so she knows he's incognito."

"Yeah," said Bev, "I figure something interesting is going to happen this evening."

"My lips are sealed," I said, and Bev winked at me.

"Where's Carrie?" I asked. "I haven't seen her in months."

"Your guess is as good as mine," said Bev, with a sigh. "We finally figured it wasn't working."

"I'm sorry," I said.

She shrugged. "I'm okay," she answered.

"That seems to be tonight's refrain," I said, then I hugged her. "I hope so, Bev."

I saw Brian with Alyssa and her parents. He seemed distracted, and when I followed his gaze, I found Julie, his co-worker, who also works for Rob, of course. She was on the arm of a tall guy in a suit and tie.

Brian turned and saw me watching him, and gave me a weak grin. I excused myself and went to talk to him.

He met me partway, leaving Alyssa and family behind.

"Are you sure you're okay?" I asked him.

"I'm fine, Helen, really."

"Was she the one, Brian?"

"The one?"

"You don't have to tell me, but I don't want you feeling like you need to hide anything. You were with Julie the morning I called Lee, weren't you?"

He nodded, and wouldn't meet my eyes.

"Brian, it's okay," I said, taking his hand. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. Do you miss her?"

He shrugged, looking at me at last. "Not really. We both knew it wasn't going to last. She'd dropped hints, and I was... lonely."

"Just a one-night stand?"

He looked away again. "Actually... it stretched into almost a week, which I think surprised her as much as me. But when she said no, I wasn't surprised. But, you know, I see her," he glanced in her direction again, "and I can't help but imagine her..." He cleared his throat. "Never mind. I'm sure you understand. We still work well together."

I squeezed his hand, then released him. "I'm glad she was there for you, Brian."

"So am I," he said quietly.

"You know Alyssa's watching you even more intently than you're watching Julie?"

He grinned. "She's cute, isn't she? So much like Clarice, just... so young."

"Clarice and I have spoiled you, Brian," I said. "She's closer to your age than I am. Now go ask her to dance. With her parents around until she heads back to Kansas, you're in no danger from her."

"If you insist," he said. Then he gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, and with a "Thanks, Helen," he left me for Clarice's family.

I watched them dance for a while, then talked to Rob and Clarice. She was finally relaxed, excited, even. Festivities had gotten off to a late start, but they were well underway now. In just under two hours, it would be a new year...

"New millennium," corrected Rob, when I mentioned this. "Twenty-first century, third millennium, all that."

"Depends when you think the millennium starts," I said.

"End of two thousand, of course," he said. "The Y2K bug confused things last year. We'd have been arguing about when the millennium begins, but there was so much fear of catastrophe that the real millennium was lost. It begins tomorrow."

"With your wedding."

"Exactly," he grinned. "Ours will be one of the first weddings of the third millennium."

Brian brought me another coke, unasked for, but appreciated. He'd managed to hand Alyssa off to another guy, and she was still dancing. I felt really good about being able to relax in Brian's company again, and was about to tell him so, when I saw a couple of newcomers to the party.

"Uh-oh," I said. "I didn't know they'd be here."

"Who?" he asked.

I indicated Laurel and Yolanda, who were headed towards us.

"Brian, do you remember..." I began.

"Flo," interrupted Laurel. "From Merseyside." (She pronounced it more like "Mehzeeside".) "And me sister, Marge."

"'Ello," said Yolanda.

I rolled my eyes.

"Marge 'ere 'as something to ask yer," said Laurel to Brian, "but she's shy, yer see. She wants to ask yer to take 'er to France."

'Marge' shook Laurel's sleeve, and whispered in her ear.

"Oh, er, sorry," said Laurel. "She sez she wants you to ask 'er to dance."

Yolanda whispered again.

"Will you take her away and seduce her?"

Yolanda feigned panic and tugged on Laurel's sleeve.

"Err... will you take her around and introduce her?"

More whispering. Brian was grinning at them both.

"Then she'll take you to the moon and leave you dead."

Yolanda frowned and whispered again.

"Sorry... then she'll take you to her room and give you h.. h.. hey, I can't say that, Marge, it's rude."

Brian looked like he was ready to choke on his drink. Yolanda took it from him, and handed it to Laurel. "That's fine, Flo," she said, taking Brian's hand, "I'll tell 'im meself," and she dragged him away to dance.

I set my drink down and leaned back against the wall. Laurel did the same, close enough that her arm was touching mine. "That was pretty good," I said, laughing, and she grinned at me.

We watched Brian and Yolanda on the dance floor. He seemed to have accepted the fact that she wasn't going to let him get more than a couple of inches from her, and was enjoying himself. With the view her dress offered, I don't think he had much option.

"I didn't expect to see you," I said.

"Yolanda has known Clarice for years," she replied. "I'm just here with her. I was surprised to see you, too. And Brian. I'm glad you're here, though. Are we intruding, between you and him?"

"It's a little late to ask that, isn't it? No, you're not."

"Well, if we were, we'd return him unharmed and molest someone else," she said.

"No, you're fine. He looks like he's having the time of his life out there." Brian had abandoned his reserve, and was twisting with Yolanda. "If they get any closer... well, it's good he isn't wearing a tie-pin, he'd burst her bubble."

Laurel chuckled. "How's your back?" she asked.

"Much better. I really appreciate what you did."

"The offer's open," she said. "Come over sometime."

"I will," I promised.

"Shall we join them?" she asked, indicating Brian and Yolanda.

"Why not?"

So we took our place next to the crazy couple, and after a moment's confusion until Laurel remembered that she needed to lead, we started dancing swing.

I don't know quite how they managed it, but obviously this is another of Yolanda and Laurel's double-act specialties, but they managed to cross in such a way that I finished up with Brian, and Yolanda with Laurel, which seemed to startle Brian as much as it did me, though he seemed fine with the new arrangement. Then a few moments later Yolanda stole him back, and I grinned as Laurel took over.

At the end of the song, Brian said "I guess it's time to take Yol... I mean Marge away and seduce her."

"Oh, yum," said Yolanda. "I hope you don't mind if I help."

She took his arm as he led her away.

After that, Laurel and I left the small dance area and recovered our drinks. The bartender was lining up glasses of champagne, and Greg took the mike and called for our attention.

"This is my signal," I said to Laurel. "I have to go. See you next year."

"Next... oh, in a few minutes?"

I grinned at her.

"What are you doing?"

"You'll find out," I said.

Greg had changed into a leather jacket, and Thea was by his side. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I'd like to suggest that if you don't already have your champagne, you pick it up now, there's a little business that will occupy us between now and the New Year."

He stepped back from the mike as everyone crowded around the small bar. The DJ played another song, and I stood outside the side room where Clarice and Rob were hiding. I saw Greg checking the clock as the music ended, and everyone stood around with their drinks.

"I won't keep you long," said Greg, back at the mike, "just until midnight, in fact. But I'd like to ask that after we've counted down the last few seconds, you'll let me say just a couple of words before y'all start cheering, because at midnight tonight more will have passed than the year two thousand. A whole phase of your hosts' lives will also be over, and a new one beginning with the new year. They would like to ask you to share that transition with them."

He unzipped his leather jacket. Under it was a black sweater with a white collar, and everyone cheered as they recognized the clerical garb, and realized what was going to happen. Brian opened the door to the side room, and Clarice and Rob emerged as the DJ played the bridal march.

Rob had changed into a tux, and Clarice was wearing a white suit. Brian and I followed them to stand before Greg.

The service was only a few minutes long, Greg having pared it as much as possible. All Brian and I did was look after the rings, Brian giving Rob the ring for Clarice, and me doing the same for her.

Rob and Clarice had written their own vows, and I wouldn't be able to do them justice here, so I won't even try. Suffice it to say that Greg's timing was almost perfect, there was just under thirty seconds left when they were done.

We counted down the new year from ten seconds, using the hotel's wall clock, and when we hit zero, Greg said, "I now pronounce you husband and wife." To Rob, he said, "you may kiss the bride," but then he added, as everyone started cheering, "and that goes for the rest of you, too."

Thea handed Greg a glass of champagne, and the New Year's celebration began with hugs and Auld Lang Syne. After I'd traded kisses with Clarice and Rob, the crowds descended to congratulate the newly-weds, and I got caught up in the tide, wishing happy New Year to people I knew and those I didn't alike.

I looked around for Laurel and Yolanda, and found the former lip-locked to Brian.

"If she's not actually giving him the kiss of life," I said to Yolanda, "he's going to need it when she's through with him."

"Oh, that's my job," said Yolanda. Then she held out her arms to me. "Happy New Year, Helen."

I hugged her. "Happy New Year, Yolanda."

Laurel finally released a slightly-winded looking Brian, and Yolanda took over.

"Happy New Year, Laurel," I said, hugging her.

She squeezed me tight and kissed my cheek. "Happy New Year," she said. "That was a pretty cool surprise."

"Do you think we'll need the paramedics?" she said as she released me, and we turned to watch Yolanda and Brian.

"Just a bucket of ice water," I said.

Finally they separated. "My turn?" I said to Brian, not sure how he'd react.

He smiled and held me close, then drew back a little to touch his lips to mine.

We kissed briefly. He drew away but I pulled him back, and we kissed again. I closed my eyes as I felt his lips part, and relaxed against him. He felt so familiar, so exciting, and my heart pounded in my chest as his mouth moved against mine. I sighed, touching my tongue to his, and he held me more tightly.

Every moment we held the kiss turned me on more, to the point that I wanted to take him back into that side room and rip his clothes off. From the passion I was sensing from him, it seemed like he would have been a willing participant.

We broke and held each other close. "God, I've missed this," I whispered.

"You and me both," he said softly. "Happy New Year, Helen."

Then he kissed me again, my body softening against his as he held me to him.

Yolanda's voice broke through our intimacy. "Well, Flo," she said in her fake accent, "looks like we're fooked."

"Marge," said Laurel, "I think that's exactly what isn't going to happen."

I pulled my face from Brian's, but kept one arm around him while I turned to them. They were both smiling at us.

"Girls," I said, "I think Brian and I have some catching up to do." Then I held Laurel, and Brian put an arm around Yolanda for a group hug. I kissed Laurel firmly on the lips as I let her go, and her eyes widened in surprise.

Arm-in-arm, Brian and I went back to Clarice and Rob, who looked at us in surprise. "We're leaving," I said. "I just know you'll have a wonderful life together."

"Thank you both," said Clarice. "Happy New Year... and whatever... never mind. I love you both."

As Brian and I left, still arm-in-arm, I noticed other surprised looks, including a smile from Julie.

"Leave your car here," suggested Brian. "I can pick you up tomorrow to collect it. My vehicle's better on these roads."

"Sure," I said.

I think we both knew at that point that he wouldn't need to pick me up, because he wouldn't be leaving, but neither of us dared suggest it. Just as the Christmas gift I still hadn't given him made a perfect excuse to invite him inside, and after he'd opened it, he wanted to thank me with a kiss...

"God, I've missed you," he said, as I laid my head on his shoulder.

I sucked his earlobe. My belly was on fire, and my breathing was quickening with excitement. I didn't trust myself to speak, to say anything that might push him away, so I kissed him again.

Moments later I felt him slipping the straps of my dress over my shoulder. I drew my arms back to slip out of them, and his fingers caressed my breasts. Then I stood, lifting him to his feet as his eyes followed my quivering nipples. "Bed," I whispered hoarsely, and he nodded.

We finished undressing each other in the bedroom, his cock rigid as I freed it from his underwear, then we held each other, standing naked together beside the bed.

"I want you so much," I whispered to him, "I could come probably come just by thinking about it. Just from deprivation."

"I can't believe you've been deprived," whispered Brian.

"I've been deprived of you, Brian," I whispered, and pushed him onto the bed.

I almost did come as he slipped inside me, and didn't have to wait long after that, as my senses focussed inwards to my blossoming climax. Nor when I felt him come inside me, rekindling my fire, nor then, as he stayed hard within me... I couldn't get enough of him as he sucked my breasts and kissed my ears, staying aloft with arousal between each delicious orgasm.

His cock didn't seem to do much more than soften a little, still capable of bringing me to glory, and even seemed to be growing to fill me further when Brian started to gasp, and I realized he was indeed on the verge of coming again. I pressed my breasts to his chest, kissing him and undulating my hips against his in the way that I knew drove him wild, letting myself go as he cried out, to join him in shared passion.

As I sobbed with delight against his neck, he whispered, "I love you, Helen."

Even then, he sucked my nipples as he led me into a final, fulfilling moment of pleasure before we had to separate.

I didn't know how long he would be mine, but this one time was more than I'd ever expected to have again, and as we covered ourselves with the bedsheets I started crying. Not wanting him to think I was unhappy with him, I hugged his neck, my tears running down his body, my breasts wobbling against his stomach as I shook with emotion.

Finally I got my tears under control enough to say, "I love you," then started crying afresh as he held me.

So I woke this morning with the love of my life in my arms, the perfect beginning to a new year/century/millennium, made even more so when he woke enough to make love to me some more.

Afterwards, I lay beside him and held his hand.

"I'm scared, Brian," I said.

"Why?" he asked, softly.

"I want you back."

"Why is that scary?"

"Because I'm ready to promise you anything to get you back, but if I do..."

"Helen," he interrupted me.


"I don't want you to change. I love you, not who you think I want you to be."

"What does that mean, Brian?"

"I don't know yet. We need to have that talk. In a few days, when we've had time to think... but I know there's a way for us to be together again."

I could barely trust myself to speak. "I hope so, Brian."

"I haven't exactly been celibate, myself, now."

"I know about Julie," I said.

"Ummm... not only Julie," he murmured.

"Who else?" I asked, intrigued.

"You wouldn't know them."

"Them? You do surprise me, Brian." I grinned at him.

"It's been a few months now, you know."

"Yes," I chuckled, "but I still remember what you were like when we first got together."

"I had a good teacher," he said, sliding his fingers over my pussy. "She taught me that I could make a girl feel very good." He parted my legs and gently slid his fingers inside me. "It seemed a shame to let all that go to waste."

Gently but relentlessly he stroked me, and my body responded to him. When I started to moan he covered my lips with his, then cupped his palm over my pussy and shook. I grabbed his head as I found myself tensing against his fingers, and pushed him down to suck my breast, rocking against his hands as he caressed me into orgasm.

My reaction had aroused him enough that his erection was mostly complete, so I slid my body against his, pushing him inside, and we rolled about on the bed until he matched my erotic highs with one of his own.

He drove me to pick up my car in the late morning. The ice was still bad but the traffic was light. He held me when we arrived in the parking lot, then kissed me. "I should probably stay away for a few days," he said. "We need to keep some perspective, and somehow when I'm with you reasoning seems to take a back seat."

"Okay," I said. "Call me. But don't keep me waiting too long."

I've spent the rest of the day writing this entry, which I think is the longest I've ever written, but I wanted to get everything down as quickly as I could, before I lose the details.

This is such a strange day, it feels almost like last night must have been a dream. Clarice... my best friend, now my sister-in-law, for God's sake, my brother happily married (for one day, okay, but that's probably almost as long as he was happily married to Pam :-), Laurel and Yolanda, the lovely crazies, Brian...

And today, the new era, begins with a carpet of snow. 1"-2" everywhere, which is unusual here. Down the street, kids have built a small, somewhat flat snowman on a wooden bench. The crape myrtle in the yard next to hours was covered in ice again last night, fracturing the street light into thousands of sharp points, some stealing around the edge of the bedroom curtain, glittering into my eyes as I crested in love and pleasure.

Please, God, don't let me wake up tomorrow and find it all has been a dream.

This was decidedly undreamlike: in late afternoon I had to run a short errand, which involved getting onto the freeway. The conditions seemed okay, but traffic was backing up ahead. Obviously there was a wreck, and it looked like it was on a bridge... so I took the next exit, bypassed the bridge on the access road, and rejoined the freeway beyond the accident. Traffic was clear on my side, but backed up on the other, and there were lights flashing, it looked like at least three cop cars.

Slightly in front and in the lane to the left of me was a Jeep. I don't know what the driver was doing, perhaps he looked in the mirror at the flashing lights and lost attention (I say 'he', it was a camouflage colored Jeep; in my experience they're almost exclusively driven by guys).

Anyway, he veered or slid slightly to the left, then probably tried to compensate by steering to the right, which is the worst thing you can possibly do on a slippery road. The vehicle shuddered, then started spinning around counter-clockwise, but sliding to the right, across my path. I couldn't brake, if the Jeep had slid like that, my Miata would have been toast, so I eased up on the gas and managed to steer around him, missing by inches... fortunately the accident behind had sucked pretty much all the traffic off the road, so I had plenty of room.

The Jeep continued to sail around, hitting the unfenced grass backwards, and still sliding, through the ditch and up the other side, pointing in the opposite direction of its travel mainly on the access road. A cop car behind me (I think he had overshot the accident scene) ignored him completely, so I guess there were worse problems around.

I had to pull off and wait until I'd stopped shaking, scared not only by the near miss, but by totally misreading the road conditions. The freeway was smooth as glass, and I had no idea.

Fortunately there's a Starbuck's near there...

Now that I think about it, the Jeep's dance was a little dreamlike.

I'm damn sure the cars involved in the accident on the bridge wish they'd been dreaming. If the occupants survived. With another couple of cop cars and two ambulances hurtling back towards the scene, they may not have done.

[late evening:] Brian just called.

"Helen... we were sober last night, right?"

"That's an unsettling way to start a conversation, Brian. I was. I thought you were."

"I hadn't been drinking... but we weren't, like, caught up in the moment, with the wedding and everything? I mean, did I miss the boat completely, or is there still something between us?"

"Something? Jesus, Brian, if what I'm feeling was any stronger, I think I'd catch fire."

"Yeah... I'm supposed to wait a few days before calling you, right?"

"It was your idea, but I think it's a good one."

"How about if I come over now?"

"The roads are treacherous, Brian. I almost had a horrible wreck this afternoon. So stay in four-wheel drive, and take it carefully. That should give me time to get a shower and warm the bed up for you."


"Let yourself in. I'll be ready."



I wasn't sure if Brian still had a key to my place, and he was longer arriving than I'd expected, so I was beginning to become concerned as I lay waiting... but I heard him opening the door, and relaxed. When he entered the bedroom, he came straight over to me, and we kissed. His hands tried to find me under the sheet, but I pushed him away.

"I want you in here with me," I whispered, and he grinned and started undressing. Watching that turned me on - and I wouldn't let him join me until even his underwear was gone - so when he finally climbed into bed, I was ready for him. As we cuddled, I worked my legs around his and pushed him inside, and we made love lying side by side.

When we were through, we stayed where we were, still connected. His skin smelled of soap - he must have taken a moment to shower before coming over - but mainly had that familiar, lost scent of him. I guess I didn't even realize that I had missed even the smell of his skin until I recognized it again.

"So, what have you been doing, the last couple of months?" I asked him, quietly.

"Working long hours," he said. "I spent a few days in Virginia at a conference. Partying with Lee and his friends. And Rob, a little."

"Mmm," I said. "How did you find time to meet all these women you told me about?"

He thought for a moment. "All of the above."

"Hmmm. Working long hours, okay, Julie. Partying, yeah, I can see that. But at a conference, too?"

I felt him shrug. "What can I say?"

"Any of them still... current?"

"I still exchange email with Fiona, from the conference... I think if I were in Milwaukee, she'd probably like to see me. Nothing serious, though."

"Good," I said.

"What about you, Helen?" he murmured. "Any current commitments?"

"Yes," I said, feeling him tense. "There's one I don't seem to be able to let go of. His name's Brian, and I love him."

"Oh." I felt him relax. "Then let me rephrase the question..."

"You might have trouble believing this," I said, "but compared to you, my sex life has been uneventful. I spent one night with Chris, which was a mistake..."

"Chris? God, what possessed you to do that?"

"Tell me about it. Then one night with Dale, from the office."

"Dale? I remember him. He seems like a good guy."

"That's my catalog of sins. So how do you feel?"

"That's it? I thought you were only getting started."

"Like I said, compared to some oversexed people I could name, I've been quite good."

"Oh, I'm sure you were very good," he said.

"Jerk," I whispered, and bit his ear.


"So, how do you feel?"

"Surprised about Chris."

"Well... he has his good points. Character just isn't one of them. It was a mistake. At the time it didn't seem like one, he's good at what he does... but that was the day I came home to find you moving your things, and suddenly I remembered what a difference tenderness makes."

"I remember," he said, softly. "You looked sick."

I nodded. "I was."

"Then Dale... Somehow, I think you would be good for him. I guess if I were to have a concern, it would be that he might not let you go."

"I think I'm okay there," I said. "I made it clear that it was a one-night affair. But we were... he was... we were affectionate. It wasn't love, it was sex, but it was affectionate sex. Chris wasn't. Does that make sense?"

"Yeah," he said. His face was unreadable. "It does, and I guess I still find that threatening. I think I can learn to live with... other... damn, what's the word? Other partners?"


"Yeah. I think I could learn to live with non-monogamy, but the idea of you loving someone else, that frightens me. But it has to be that way for you, doesn't it?"

"I guess the issue is whether you think that my sharing affection with someone else would take away from what I we have. I believe that it would add to it."

"What when you meet someone you love more than me, or who you don't want to stop seeing?" he asked.

"I don't think it could happen, Brian," I said. "But what if you were to start to feel there might be someone who you could love, but because I tie you to me, you can never find out? Wouldn't that be worse? It would be a resentment that would grow, and I think it's a wound that destroys relationships."

"Yeah, but..."

"Can you honestly tell me that you weren't affectionate with the girls you slept with? That you just used them as sex toys? I can't believe that of you, Brian."

He grinned weakly. "There's some truth to that."

"If we were together, would it hurt our relationship if you were to see one of them?"

He thought about that for a while. "It could," he said, at last. "I think it would if I hid what I was doing, or if I were to become dependent on her. Or the other way around, because hurting her would be ugly, too."

"So if you were careful," I said, "you could do it? Would you want to?"

"God," he said. "I just don't know. But... you thought I'd slept with Julie in California. I didn't... but we did flirt a little, and I'm sure she would... let's just say the idea crossed my mind more than once." He was quiet for a time, then added, "I guess I'm scared by the thought that if I really thought I was free to, I would have done."

"And with my reaction when you came back, that would have hurt us."

"I think so," he whispered.

"So do I," I agreed, and felt him tense slightly in surprise. "At the time... I wasn't ready to accept the consequences of not being exclusive, even though I'd told you it was okay. It was only my own doubts that made me accept it as being right for you, because it was what I wanted for myself. I've been unfair to you in a lot of ways, Brian."

"I don't..." he began.

"Yes you do," I interrupted. "I'd like for you to forgive me for them, not to pretend they didn't happen."

"Okay," he said, "I think I can, if you can forgive me for running."

"You didn't run, Brian, I pushed you away."

"No," he said. "You can't have it both ways. If you won't let me pretend, I'm not gonna let you."

"Fair enough," I said. "But I think the most unfair thing I did was not to tell you about my doubts. I didn't want to worry you, I figured it was something I could work out by myself. That was crap, if we were going to work it out, we had to do it together. I think... I think for one thing I need to let you read my journal. It's wrong that every one else can know what I'm thinking, and you can't."

"Do you think that's a good idea?"

"I don't know," I said. "I've given up trying to figure what is and isn't smart."

"Well... okay. I guess it will take a while to catch up. Is there anything I should skip?"

"If there is, I still don't want to get back into the mode of hiding things."

Fortunately the roads were still bad enough this morning to excuse a late arrival, and as little sleep as Brian allowed me, I was tired this morning, which turned into a splitting headache.

Clarice had left a message for me to call her, so I did.

"What gives?" she wanted to know.

"How's married life?" I asked.

"'Bout the same as life last week," she said, but I could hear warmth in her voice. "Now tell me about Brian."

So I did.

"Are you planning to keep him, this time?" she asked.

"I was before," I said. "It's too early to know. I don't even know if I want him moving back in with me, but I don't want to lose him."

"You can do it, girl," she said. "You can tie strings to him as tight as you like, and he'll love it."

"I can't do that, Clarice."

"Handcuffs, then," she said. "Or a pair of hose..."

"Oh, God, Clarice," I chuckled. "You might be onto something there. Or maybe you're just on something."

"Life, girl, I'm high on life."

"Are you pregnant yet?"

"I'm waiting until my insurance is changed."


"But we're keeping in practice."

"I don't need to know that, Clarice," I said.

She chuckled. "You still think I'm too much for your brother to handle?"

"I think you've found the perfect partner," I said. "Both of you. I really enjoyed your wedding. I'm proud that you let me be part of it, even if I did just stand around for the main event."

"Oh, that wasn't the main event, girl. That happened a couple..."

"Clarice!" I yelled. "That's enough!"

She laughed. "Okay, okay. I was very happy with it. I guess after all the preparation I still wasn't ready for how wonderful it felt to have everyone around, for them all to tell me how much it meant to them... I should divorce him so we can do it all over."

"I don't think there'd be quite the same reaction next time," I said.

"I'm relieved it's over," she said.

"I can tell. You sound like you're back to normal."

"Pretty much, I guess."

Vince put his head around my office door when I hung up to ask if everything was okay. "I heard some shouting," he said.

"My sister-in-law," I said. "God, I just realized, I've never called her that before, but it came so easily. My best friend, too. We've yelled at each other for years. She just married my brother."

"Does he yell at her too?" he asked, grinning.

"Yes, they're both nuts," I said.

Brian's alone in my study catching up on my journal. I hope he's still willing to talk to me afterwards.

Didn't I already go through this once?


Mel started work Wednesday. He seems to have gotten off to a good start. I hope the three newcomers work out, we're getting more pressure to deliver. I have a deadline at the end of February for a new version of the core product, and (of course), I can't spare anyone to bring Mel, Vince and Juanita up to speed, but without their help, we won't make it.

I haven't seen Brian since Wednesday morning, but we've talked on the phone. He got through the earlier part of my diary, right up to the trip to BC, including all the doubts. He was obviously moved by what he read, feeling that he recognized in retrospect how unhappy I was... I told him unhappy wasn't the right word, doubtful or uneasy, but I wasn't unhappy with him. Still, he felt that he should have seen how torn I'd been.

He decided to cut off reading at the trip to BC, not sure how it would affect him, but he told me on the phone yesterday that he'd survived that section. Tonight we're going to the weekly dance night at the Jupiter. I called Charles, and the terrible three will be there, too. He says he's looking forward to meeting Brian, having heard so much about him from Yolanda and Laurel. I guess I hadn't realized that they'd never met... but the one time Brian and I went to the Faire with Yolanda and Laurel, Charles wasn't with us.


Brian picked me up early for the dance. He wanted to go get a drink first, he said. Actually, he wanted to talk, of course...

"Am I going to feel embarrassed because I can't dance?" he asked.

"You can, Brian, you always do just fine."

"I don't know what I'm doing, though, and now you've been taking lessons. I wonder if we shouldn't skip this and you show me what to do first."

"This will be the best place to do that," I argued. "Just enjoy yourself. If you want to figure out the steps, I'll teach you. Or Yolanda, or Laurel." I grinned. "Or Charles, probably, if you ask him nicely."

"Jesus... the way you make those two sound in the journal, I don't know that I'm safe around them."

"Oh, you're not, I'm sure."

"Don't you think it's a game to them?"

"It is," I said. "It's a great game. But the thing is about those two, they don't play games unless they also really mean it... that's part of the game. When they had you pinned between them at Bev's, they were definitely teasing you... and if you'd gone along with them, they'd have teased you out of your pants and into exactly the kind of fantasy they promised you. If they weren't running that risk, it wouldn't be fun. And if it wasn't something they wanted, it wouldn't be a risk they'd take."

"You sound like you know them well."

"I've given this a lot of thought."

"Laurel?" he asked.

I think I blushed. "Yeah, mainly. How does that make you feel?"

"It's strange, reading about you," he said. "You're like someone else. Not different, just... like there's so much more to the complete Helen than I usually see. I like it, I would like to get to know her, but I don't think I'll be losing my vision of my private Helen very soon. Because I think she's real, too."

"I'm not sure I understand," I said. "If you convince yourself I'm really this other person, will you be disappointed with me?"

"No," he said, "she's like an extension of you, not a different you. I'm not explaining this very well, am I? Let me start over... I read the entries in Vancouver, and instead of making me sick, they... um..."

"Turned you on?" I suggested.

"Cold shower time," he agreed. "Definitely. But I saw in it... I saw how it was hurting you too, because you didn't want to lose me, and you knew you'd hurt me... the inner Helen was still all mine, wasn't she?"

I nodded. "Not just an inner layer, Brian. I was never anyone else's. I wasn't Keith's."

"I'm going to have to work to understand that," he said. "But I see it, vaguely."

"And Laurel?"

"I see her being in this extended Helen, non-threatening. As little as I know her, I think she's one of the most interesting people I've ever met. I can understand why you're intrigued. But you're asking how I feel about you being attracted to a woman, and I guess I have to say that I find it exciting, thought I don't really know why. And it isn't new, you dropped hints about Clarice, and now that I've seen you write about her in your journal I find I hadn't misread them."

I nodded.

"We have a different perspective on events," he said. "Quite often, really. Like, you seem to paint me as cold when I was moving out. The way I felt wasn't distant, but sick. Scared, and near to tears."

"I'm not good at ascribing feelings to you," I said, and took his hand.

"No, usually you are. I guess I was hiding how I felt more successfully than I realized. I didn't want to think... I didn't want to think... I was becoming dependent on you. That you should feel sorry for me. That wasn't it, but I was a wreck."

"You and me both," I said, squeezing his hand.

"The other difference that comes to mind is last weekend," he said. "At the party. You said that we both knew I was going to stay the night, when I offered to take you home. I didn't. God knows, I wanted to, but I was barely allowing myself to hope that we might eventually want to see each other again. When we got to your place, I didn't even know if you'd let me kiss you before I left. When you invited me in..."

He shook his head. "Even then, I don't think I believed it until you took me to bed."

I smiled at him. "Then I'm glad I did misread you. I don't know if I'd have had the courage to make love to you if I'd known there was still a chance you might turn away from me."

"There wasn't," he said, quickly. "I didn't believe. That doesn't mean I didn't want you. I guess I was just ready to run."

"Speaking of running," I said, "we're late, we should get to the Jupiter."

He gripped my hand as I tried to drop his. "Helen... are we just overreacting to an unpleasant break, or are we back together?"

"Do you want to be?"

"Do you?"

"I asked first."

"Then yes, I do. You know I do. We can figure out the details on the way."

"Like whether you move back in with me?"

He grinned. "That's one. Now it's your turn: is this what you want?"

I freed my hand, put my arms around him and kissed him. Even though it was a bar where such things are commonplace, we attracted a few looks. "Yes," I whispered as I released him. Then I stood and led him out.

He complained about the time I took in the car getting ready to go into the club.

"And whose fault is it I need to redo my makeup?" I asked.

"Hey, you attacked me, remember?"

"So? You encouraged me. Now clean off that lipstick before we go in."

I couldn't see any, but it kept him from complaining as he tried to find it with a tissue.

Yolanda and Laurel were dressed very differently for a change. I don't know if they coordinate what they wear, or if they've just been together so long that they think the same, but last night was the first time I've seen them really so different. Yolanda had on a high-necked green dress, the most conservative look I've seen for her, and Laurel had a black tube top with black leather pants. I was wearing the black dress Clarice gave me for Christmas. Charles wore his dark red jacket, but with yellow pants, while Brian's charcoal suit and maroon tie was close to what most other guys were wearing.

There's definitely some friction between Charles and Brian. I guess they both have a reputation with the other... the girls have talked about Brian to Charles, and Brian has read my journal entries about the other. They traded insults in a friendly enough way, but they were still insults. I'd swear they enjoyed putting each other down.

As much as I talk about not understanding Yolanda and Laurel, I really don't understand men.

Brian did fine with dancing. I showed him some of the basics, and we danced for a time, then Yolanda stole him away. He was pretty adventurous with her, for not being a dancer, but I saw her lips moving as she talked him through each step. Still, when she returned him to me he did quite well at repeating what he'd been shown. In the meantime I danced with Charles.

When Laurel took her turn with Brian, I danced with Yolanda one time, then a couple of guys split us up and we were with them for a while. Later, when he got more confidence, Brian didn't resist being snagged by other partners. There tend to be quite a few single women at dances like this, just because so few men dance, and the ones who do usually do so at the urging of their partner, so aren't available.

So Charles and Brian were both dragged away pretty often, and Brian gave a good account of himself. I saw him spending a lot of time watching Charles, trying to figure out what he's doing, but that level of dancing is so far beyond either of us right now that I can't see it, all I can do is follow his lead. Brian says it makes him sick how well I dance with Charles, but that's just the way it is, it's going to be much harder for him to get to that point, even with Yolanda.

I asked Brian if he minded inviting the other over; if we left before midnight we could rent a DVD and stay up late. He figured it was a good idea, and the girls went along, but Charles wasn't thrilled with the idea, and he was driving. So I offered to run them home... I'd already offered to take over the driving from Brian, I've been doing far too much drinking lately, so I'd been nursing a beer and had a couple of tonics (no gin).

We piled into the Range Rover, and I took us to Blockbuster with minutes to spare before closing time, so we hurried our choice, grabbing "Girl, Interrupted".

I made margaritas all around, and we all squeezed onto the couch to watch the movie. Actually, Brian sat between Yolanda and me, with Laurel on a cushion on the floor between Brian's knees and mine. She appointed herself waitress, and fetched refills of margarita and chips and salsa, though I stayed with my first drink. Which was an especially good idea, since the margaritas seemed to be getting stronger.

Both Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie shine in the movie, which is a very powerful story. Yolanda and Laurel argued about which one of them was more suited to being the self-obsessed Susanna (Ryder) and which the sexy sociopath Lisa (Jolie). Laurel asked me to decide.

"Oh, it's easy," I said. "Laurel is Romy, and Yolanda is Michelle."

That made Yolanda laugh, but neither Brian nor Laurel have seen "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion", so I guess we need to rent that soon.

When the movie was through, I ran the girls home, Laurel first, then Yolanda on the way back. Brian came with us for the ride.

"I don't see either of them as borderline or sociopathic," said Brian after we left Yolanda at her condo, "but I think they'd both fit anyone's definition of crazy."

It was three o'clock by we got home, and neither of us had the energy for anything else. Nor this morning, because he felt really sick... which I think was because the margaritas really were getting stronger.


Work's still stressful. Even though the end of February seems a long way away, we're much further away from production-quality code than I'm comfortable with. And Ken is pushing for a new project which I don't have time to look at, but which needs to be done. I owe him estimates by the end of next week, and I haven't been able to break anyone free to look at the engineering effort.

Meanwhile, there are some resentments in the group to the newcomers. It's a quirk among many engineers that they claim to want to be left out of the loop of management, just tell them what to do and they'll go do it, but then when someone else is given responsibility, they object that it's taken away from them... Well, the three new hires haven't been given any management responsibilities, but I think it's clear that Mel, at least, will be a team lead soon. He's making great strides in understanding the product, even more so than Vince.

I'm considering a gamble that may be a serious mistake, or may be a way out of my scheduling problem. I'm considering attaching Mel to Ken's new project, for making the estimate, and probably for heading up the effort if it goes through. He's still learning, so even with his potential he's not likely to make a big impact on my February deadline, and he's capable. But on the other hand, he's unfamiliar with our processes, and the new code would still be heavily based on current development.

Then, of course, this could mean him becoming a lead within the next few weeks, which is certain to cause new resentments. I haven't talked to him about it yet. If I do it, I'll put someone I trust on it with him, probably Mary, but it will be Mel's responsibility.

I haven't seen Brian since Monday morning, but we spent a good weekend together. On Sunday we went for a bike ride. Not a long one, and it was still pretty cold, but I think we'll be doing more. And tomorrow he's agreed to come with me to my dance lesson with Charles, though he's skeptical about whether he'll want to continue with them.


Met with Terry today to explain my dilemmas over scheduling and estimates. He thinks my using Mel might be a good idea, if I trust him. So I talked to Mary, who's skeptical, but willing to go along with it.

This afternoon I called a meeting with Mel, Juanita, Mary, and Scott from technical publications, and gave them the assignment. Mary isn't to spend long with them, but to double-check Mel's estimates and design. Scott's "on loan" part-time, tech pubs won't really need to be involved until the project is started, but if he gets a head start he'll know what will be required, so he gains from participating now, and Mel gets help with our formal procedures. Juanita is there for research and support, with the intention that she'll be one of the developers on the project when it's in place.

Mel and Juanita are excited with the idea. They like being given a challenge, or at least, they claim to :-) Scott's a bubbly kind of guy anyway, he's just an enthusiastic person. The biggest danger is that their enthusiasm will make them over-optimistic in their estimates. So Mary's job is to keep their heads out of the clouds. I'll be meeting with Mary daily for a quick report and with Mary and Mel together to talk about progress.

Time to leave. I'm meeting Brian at the studio.


I was over ten minutes late for my dance lesson, because of a wreck on the freeway. I really hate my drive. Charles had put the time to good use, and when I showed up, they were walking through some basic steps, with Charles in the woman's role, and Brian looking distinctly uncomfortable.

Learning with Brian a partner is different from learning just with Charles. Slower, certainly, but as Charles shows Brian each element of the lead, some of what I feel from Charles makes more sense. With a strong lead, you follow almost automatically, without necessarily understanding. With Brian, I follow because I'm learning the step with him, and it will be easier to follow someone else's lead. Not that Charles hasn't been showing me that all along, but seeing him take Brian through each stage of a step clarifies it.

For part of the lesson Charles worked just with me, because I'm still much further ahead than Brian will be for a good while, and it would be a shame for me to have to start over completely.

After the lesson, Brian came back with me. We were going to go on to a restaurant, but somehow he managed to distract me, or I him, and we didn't break for food until almost midnight, when I made some pasta with butter and Parmesan.

"What is it about Charles that bugs you so much?" I asked. He was sitting at the breakfast table in tee shirt and underwear. Probably he should bring a robe to my place for comfort. He tried wearing one of mine, but it was too small, and far too flowery. I wore it instead.

"Nothing," he said, "other than dancing with the guy seems... umm..."

"Why is it any different than me dancing with one of the twins?" I asked. (He and I have been using the term for Laurel and Yolanda, though it's completely inappropriate for them.)

"It isn't, I guess, I just don't like it. Maybe it's irrational, but I don't."

"You don't like him, though," I said. "It goes beyond not wanting to be his dance partner."

"No, he's fine," he argued. Then he added, "Well, maybe he makes me uneasy. I'm not used to being around someone who's so dependent on being the center of attention."

"He is that. Something about him in particular, though, something bothers you."

"Maybe, a little. Your journal entry about him, about the party where you did your exhibition dance."

"You're jealous of him?"

"No," he said, "not exactly. I don't think so. It's just... thinking about him trying to undress you when you didn't want to..."

"If I'd gone to bed with him, would that bother you less?"

He grinned. "In a way, I think it would. Maybe it would bother me differently. Just the idea of him trying to get you to do something you didn't want..."

"Oh, but I did, Brian," I said. "Almost enough to let him... But I decided no, and he was a gentleman about it. It happens. One wants to, the other doesn't, at some point, she has to say no. Or he. Hasn't that happened to you?"

He was blushing slightly as he said, "Uh-huh."

"Well, then, if you treated her well, she'll still respect you, if you took her at her word. And maybe there'll be another time."

"Uh... I doubt it. I don't think Rob would be very happy."

I realized he was talking about his almost-tryst with Clarice; there may have been other occasions but this is the one that came immediately to his mind. Not surprisingly.

"See? I know Clarice doesn't hold that against you. Why should I hold Charles's advances against him? And if I don't, why should you?"

"I guess," he said. "Listen, don't get me wrong, I'm not thinking 'evil rapist' when I see him, but you asked what made me uneasy. It isn't much, but sometimes I don't have a lot of control over how I react."

"Mmmm, I know," I said, leaning over the table and loosening my robe slightly. "I'm sure you don't have much control over your response now." I leaned a little further to see over the table. "Nope, didn't think so."

(Actually, I had to work pretty hard to get the reaction I was looking for, but it was worth the effort.)

[later:] Yolanda just called. She asked if I was doing anything tonight, and if I was at a loose end, how would I feel about her inviting herself (with Charles and Laurel) over with a movie.

"Sure," I said. "Anything in mind?"

I suggested the movie we talked about last weekend, "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion". She thought that was a good idea... if I recall correctly, she'd seen it and Laurel hadn't. So I'll be being invaded by the crazy people... and Brian, I hope, though I haven't asked him yet, he's been in a meeting at work since then.


They all showed up about eight, with the "Romy and Michelle" DVD and a video, "Playing God". Laurel told me they'd stopped at a couple of video stores, the first didn't have the movie they wanted on DVD, and she'd picked up "Playing God" to watch over the weekend, unless we wanted to watch it later, and in case they couldn't find the other movie. None of them had seen it. Neither had I, though Brian had.

"It stars David Duchovny," said Laurel. "Even if it sucks, I figured at least three of us could get something from it."

"It doesn't suck," Brian said.

At the second video store they managed to find "Romy and Michelle", so we watched that first. I made the drinks all night, none of Laurel's extra-strength Margaritas, I didn't want Brian lounging around sick all day today like he did last week. Laurel didn't care anyway, she'd appointed herself designated driver, and hardly touched her drinks.

Brian sat with me on the loveseat, but that didn't stop the twins from flirting with him. Charles offered to trade places with him, which I told him would be okay with me, but he stayed beside me, saying he didn't think he would be safe with them.

"Romy and Michelle" was a hit. It's a silly movie, really, just the right touch of sympathy with the airhead heroines to take it from being a pointless comedy to a lighthearted really funny comedy.

"You really think they are us?" Laurel asked me.

"Oh, no," I said. "They're airheads. They have an excuse."

"Besides," offered Yolanda, "we're much cuter than they are."

"Oh, I know," said Laurel. "Way cuter."

We decided to watch the other movie, since it was still before eleven when the first was through. Brian was right, "Playing God" doesn't suck. It's quite brutal, but thoughtful, a really fine thriller. I've been wanting to see it for a long time, I see the preview on so many movies I've rented, the one where Duchovny says in voice over "Hell doesn't always look like Hell. On a clear day, it looks a lot like LA."

Angelina Jolie was in it. We didn't know that until we started watching, and we'd seen her just last week in "Girl, Interrupted". Brian suggested we have a weekly Angelina night, at least until we'd seen all her movies.

(Looking "Playing God" up on IMDB today, I see it only got a 5.7 vote. I'm surprised, I thought it was much better than that.)

It was about one a.m. when the movie ended, and the twins and Charles (the triplets?) started getting their coats on to leave.

"Can we drop you somewhere, too?" Yolanda asked Brian. "My place, perhaps?"

"My car's here," he said.

"But you've been drinking. Laurel can take you wherever you want to go. With my help," she added, in case he'd missed the double entendre.

"No thanks," he said. "It's tempting, but I'm right where I want to be."

"Hmmmf," she said. "Maybe if we invite Helen, too..."

Laurel hustled her out of the door and winked at me as she left with Charles.

"Still think it's only a game?" I asked him after they'd left.

"It's a game," Brian said, "but I wish I knew the rules."

"There's one way to find out," I said.

Today has been cold and wet, raining constantly. There's a steady pattering of raindrops, a faint background noise. I've gotten out of bed only to get a shower and later to make us breakfast. Brian left after that, and I've been lazing, working on a story, and dozing. This was a stressful week, and I'm planning to make the most of the rest of the weekend.