Morning found me with a killer headache. I'd earned every ounce of pain with the mojitos, and deserved it after pushing Faye into uncomfortable territory. I really hadn't given her a choice, and I was sure she hadn't wanted what happened - at least, not at my hands. I'd gotten carried away.

When she came through for breakfast I grunted good morning and then ignored her, sneaking out of the apartment as soon as I felt I could drive to pick up my daughter, and I stayed at my mother's for much longer than I needed to.

Looking after Zoe gave me another excuse not to interact with Faye. The few times I saw her, she seemed more amused than upset, but she let me have my space until I'd put Zoe to bed for the night.

She caught me when I was silently heading to my room. "Do we need to talk?"

"Must we?" I sighed.

She nodded. "Yeah, I think so. You've been avoiding me all day."

I slumped down in the chair nearest to Faye. There was no point in denying it. It wasn't even unconscious. It was quite deliberate. "I feel really bad about last night," I said.

"I thought you said we were both too drunk to get embarrassed," she pointed out.

"I said that, didn't I? I was wrong. And I was definitely too drunk to behave responsibly." I hid my head in my hands.

"You can stop beating yourself up over it," Faye said. "I forgive you."

I peeked out between a couple of fingers.

"It was..." She shrugged. "It was quite nice, really. I mean, I could have done it alone, but the sense that someone cared enough about me to make me feel good, that made it better. So it was weird, and don't help me again, but... thanks."

"Yeah?" I lowered my hands.

"Thing is," she added, "since I'm not attracted to you, I didn't feel like I was betraying Doug."

That hurt, somehow, though I really couldn't see why it should, and it made sense, given how she felt. "Yeah, I see."

"I'm glad you talked me into getting the toy," she said. "And I think it's going to be less awkward using it now than it would have been if you hadn't shown me."

"Because it can't possibly be as awkward as last night?"

Faye grinned. "That's not what I meant, but that works, too."

 

Our lives were back to normal after that. Faye and I spent most of our non-working time together, with or without Zoe.

Several weeks later, a friend of Zoe's from her daycare was having a birthday pizza party, and I solicited Faye's help to choose a gift and keep me company while the party was underway.

We sat at a table away from the kids, where we could still see them, and ate pizza and drank Dr. Pepper. Faye spent a lot of time watching the kids' party, wistfully.

"You okay?" I asked.

"Just thinking," she said. "The kids are so good, and the parents all seem so proud of them. Like you are with Zoe. I start to wonder if I'll ever be in that position."

I hesitated a moment before making a comment. It was meant as teasing, but it could be sensitive. Teasing won out, though; she wouldn't want me feeling that I was walking on eggshells. "Kinda think you need a husband for that," I said. "Or a guy, at least."

She gave me an unreadable look, her eyes holding mine for several seconds. I wished that I'd avoided the eggshells... but then she spoke; softly, but clearly not upset.

"Just after Doug was diagnosed," she said, softly, "the oncologists thought that his chances of recovery were excellent. But there was a very large risk of sterility. He'd get better, they said, but may never be able to have kids. So they suggested that we store his sperm. It wasn't an automatic decision for us. What if his cancer was hereditary? But there had been no sign of it in his family history,and the doctors were pretty sure that the cancer was a side effect of virus, not that the virus had triggered a latent cancer. So we did it.

"Then he... well, we'll never know if he might have ended up sterile, will we?" She sighed. "But his sperm is still in storage."

"You're thinking about using it?"

She shook her head. "I'm not that far along in the thought process. I'm not thinking about having a kid, I'm considering that at some point, it might be possible."

"Wow," I said. "I didn't know."

"But if it were ever to happen," she continued, "it would have to be as a single parent. Can you imagine potential husband X's reaction? 'Hey, Jack, let's get married, but I'm not going to have your kids, I'm going to have my dead husband's? Who I still love, by the way?'"

I chuckled, but the humor only emphasized the poignancy of her situation. "And anyway, you're not going to find a guy as long as you can only get close to someone you're not attracted to."

She gave me another unreadable look at that. Towards the end, her eyes seemed to mist up. Then she looked down at her unfinished pizza slice. "Yeah, that." A second later, she looked up. Her expression seemed troubled. "Erin, I really don't think I can stay until the party's over. You wouldn't mind if I left you with Zoe, would you?"

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"Yeah, it's nothing, but I really don't think I can be here right now. I'll see you when you're home, okay?"

"You want to just meet somewhere in an hour?" I asked. "You don't have a ride."

She shook her head. "I'll take a cab. I'll be fine." Then she headed out, without even saying goodbye to Zoe. I watched her leave, feeling worried for my friend.

 

Faye seemed distant when I got home. Not angry, or visibly upset, just quiet and detached. She helped with dinner, and read to Zoe at her bedtime. Then she made her own preparations for bed.

A few minutes later I knocked on her door. I'd brought an offering, warm milk with brandy for each of us. Her smile seemed sad, but she let me in. I sat on a small chair drinking my nightcap while she sat on the bed. "What's going on?" I asked.

"I think I'm going to move out," she said.

My heart sank. The intensity of my disappointment surprised me. "Why?"

"That's... a personal thing," she said.

"Is it something I've done?" I asked.

She shook her head emphatically. "No. Please don't be upset. It's nothing bad."

"How will I manage without your rent?"

"I don't pay rent," she said, with the first spark of humor I'd seen since the afternoon.

"Still," I said, "I'm your friend. We've grown close here, haven't we? If you're going to break my heart, I think I deserve to know why."

"Break your heart?" The look she gave me was miserable. "You're my best friend, Erin. If I say any more it will break mine."

I set my drink down and reached out to take her free hand. "I don't want to lose you," I said. "I'm sure that there's nothing you could tell me that would come close to the worry I'll feel about you, or the loneliness if you go."

She drew her hand back and used it to wipe her eyes. "You're making it worse."

I picked up my warm milk again and watched her. "Please?" I asked.

"It would be a really bad idea, Erin," she said.

"Please?" I asked again.

"You're not going to leave it alone, are you?" She sighed, and wiped her eyes again. "This afternoon. When you said I could only be close to someone I'm not attracted to. You meant my comment weeks ago, didn't you? About that tipsy night being alright, because I'm not attracted to you?"

"I don't know that I was thinking about it, but yeah, I probably was," I said.

"That was a stupid thing for me to say," Faye said. "Pompous. And... and... it wasn't true."

I was heartsick. "Oh, god, Faye. I'm so sorry. I wish I hadn't done that."

Faye's eyes showed confusion for a moment. Then she shook her head. "Oh, no, no, not that part. I didn't mean it wasn't alright. It just... wasn't true that I wasn't attracted to you. Even then, I think I was. Now... I'm crushing on you like a schoolgirl. It has been building for so long, and I just can't help it. I want to leave so we can stay friends. So you don't need to know. But now you've made me say it, and I've probably killed our friendship anyway."

I raised my eyebrows. "You think I won't want to be around you because you have a crush on me?"

"Because I'll make you uncomfortable," she clarified.

"You don't," I said.

"I will if I stay here," Faye said. "If I don't see you often, I'll be able to deal with my feelings without driving you away."

I reached out and took her hand again. She tried to move it out of reach, but I caught and held it. "Why would you drive me away?" I asked. "You're my best friend. If your feelings make it too hard for you to stay, well, I'd understand, but you certainly don't need to leave for me. Won't you stay? I'm sure we can figure it out together. You'll probably feel differently soon."

"I don't think so, Erin," she said. A tear slid down her cheek.

"May I hug you?" I'd never asked before, but I didn't want to make her feel worse.

She nodded and moved into my embrace, wrapping her arms around me and snuffling against my left shoulder.

She mumbled something against me.

"What was that?" I asked.

"Doug loved you, you know," she repeated.

"What?" I almost pulled back.

"Not, like, he wanted you to jump into bed with him." She chuckled, still snuffling. "Well, I don't think so. But you gave him so much, in time and in support. One of the la..." At that she broke up completely. She had to free herself and lean back, her face blotchy, to grab a stack of tissues. Then she leaned forwards again, clearly expecting me to hold her, so I did. "One of the last things he said to me was that he was so happy that I had you in my life. That he knew I'd be able to rely on you to hold me together, after he'd... after..." She sobbed for a time before continuing. "And you have done. I don't think I need you to hold me together anymore - she says, using your shoulder as a handkerchief - but I don't want to lose you. Especially not to a stupid crush."

"You won't, Faye," I insisted. "Not by my choice, anyway." I squeezed her close, briefly, then backed away. "Tomorrow, let's take the afternoon to ourselves and talk about it."

 

Faye tried to avoid Krys at church the next day. I understood her reticence, since the pastor's wife seemed to be able to ferret out problems - with the best will in the world to fix them - and when I saw Krys approach Faye I intercepted her and headed her off, telling her that we couldn't stay, since my mother was expecting Zoe. Which was true, but I hadn't set a time. She asked how we were doing, and I replied for both of us that everything was going well.

"Thanks," Faye whispered, as I steered her towards the nursery to collect my daughter. "I don't think I could have handled Krys's interest in my well-being today."

"Understood," I said, as we gathered up Zoe from junior Sunday School.

Mom had made us lunch, and we ate before leaving. Zoe, excitedly telling my mother about the previous day's party, barely noticed us go.

Autumn had officially started a few days earlier. The day was overcast, and the parking lot of the botanic gardens was only half full. I paid for our entrance, and we wandered for twenty minutes before either of us spoke.

"How do you see this working?" Faye asked at last. We were leaning against the railing around a pond, watching orange, black and white koi swim in circles. "If I stay, I mean. You're the one who thinks we can make it work."

"Staying as we are isn't an option?" I asked.

She shook her head. "I don't know. It gets harder every day."

"In what way?"

"Whenever I see you I feel..." She shrugged. "Something. Like a little thrill. And then I realize you don't feel the same, and I get hit with a spike of gloom that is stronger than the happy feeling was. Then I get depressed, and don't want to be around you."

"Two people never feel quite the same about each other, you know?"

"Don't give me reasons, Erin," she retorted, as sharply as is ever heard her speak, at least to me. "I don't need to know why you don't have feelings for me. I know it's different."

"That's not what I meant," I replied, with a shake of my head. "I've spent a lot of time thinking about this since last night. I have no idea what today's sermon was. I don't think I heard a word. When you said that you were moving out, I felt awful. It made no sense, really. I'd still see you, we'd still be friends, but it felt like there'd be a huge hole in my life that would go way beyond that. I would feel that I was losing you. Does that make sense?"

"I don't know," Faye replied, thoughtfully. Her eyes were following the largest of the fish as it led the school around. "I don't think my feelings have much to do with our friendship. You know I'd do anything I could for you, Erin, and I know you'd do the same for me. That has never changed. I've been feeling so much happier since I moved in with you, but I've been getting these feelings of sadness, too. For the longest time I assumed that was just my new normal. Of course I'm going to be sad, with what I've been going through. But I realized I was getting sad if I couldn't spend time with you, and happy when you were looking at me," She reached up and pushed a strand of hair back. "I still hurt, and that obscured the joy that I feel when I'm with you, so it took me a long time to see."

"So why are you thinking about leaving?" I asked.

"Because I thought that if you ever found out, you'd be creeped out," she replied. "If I lost you over a stupid attraction, I'd never forgive myself."

The sun made a tentative appearance. Deep shadows formed over her eyes as I studied her. "Do you think it's stupid?" I asked.

She lifted her face, allowing the sun to reach her eyes. "Well, it isn't rational is it, if you're not attracted to me?" Her tone was sharp. "But I don't think those kinds of feelings are ever rational." She turned back to the fish pond, her cheeks coloring, whether with embarrassment or anger I couldn't tell.

"Do you think it's wrong to have feelings for another woman?" I asked. "Do you think it's sinful?"

Faye stared at the pool for several seconds, her lips tightening. "What does that even mean?" she asked, sharply, still glaring at the water. "It's just a word to make God as much a bigot as his followers." Then she sighed and shook her head, decisively. "No, I don't. It's just... inconvenient. What about you?"

"No," I said, immediately. "I've never thought that, even before Brother Bob preached on equality and acceptance. I just never thought I'd have them."

The broad leaves of a water lily floated on the small ripples the breeze was making on the pond. A brilliant off-white flower formed the center of the leaves, its petals sharp triangles. The sun's presence was more constant, now, and the flower glowed in it's light. Faye was silent, but seemed to be on the point of speaking several times.

Eventually she did. "You said you didn't think you'd have those feelings." Her tone was flat. I didn't think she was being distant as much as trying not to let her emotions show. "Are you saying you do now?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. That's what I was trying to say. I feel joy too, when I'm with you. I just thought it was pleasure in a friend's company, and I hadn't considered anything beyond that until I realized just how much it would... how much it would hurt if you leave. I think maybe I do. Or I'm starting to."

I felt a finger brush against the back of my hand. "I don't want my leaving to upset you," she said, her voice soft. "That is the opposite of what I'm trying to do. I'll stay if you want me to."

Breath whooshed out of me as I released tension I hadn't been aware of having. I turned my hand over and caught her finger between my thumb and forefinger. "I'm glad, but I don't want to pressure you. I'll be okay with whatever you decide, as long as we don't lose the connection between us."

I turned to see a soft smile on her face. "Since that was my reason for leaving, too, I guess I'd prefer to be close while we work things out."

Releasing her finger, I took Faye's hand in mine and laced my fingers into hers.

She looked down at our joined hands, shadows hiding her eyes again. "You won't abuse my feelings, will you, Erin?"

"No, sweetie," I replied. The endearment just popped out, startling me. It seemed to startle Faye, too.

"What if the crush doesn't go away? I can't help how I feel."

"Do you think it will?" I asked.

She made a tiny shake of her head. In a tiny voice, she said, "I haven't been able to wish it away yet, Erin."

A splash made her turn her face back to the pond. I looked in the same direction to see ripples and one of the bigger white fish diving into the cloudy depths. "What if it's more than a crush?" she added, nervously.

"Do you think that's likely?" I asked. "You're still in love with Doug. With everything you've said about dating, I can't imagine that you'd want to open your heart to anyone else."

A woman with young children had moved close to watch the fish, a little girl pointing at them and chattering excitedly. Faye smiled at her, then squeezed my hand and led me along the footpath. "Whatever we could become to each other," she murmured, "you could never be my boyfriend."

I chuckled. "Well, duh."

Faye gave me an unsteady grin. "Maybe that shouldn't make a difference, but I think it does, to me," she said. "I'll always love Doug. I think if I were ever to love someone else, they'd have to take a different place in my heart than what he was to me."

"You think a woman might do that?" I asked.

She shrugged. "Maybe. As long as she is able to respect my feelings for Doug, and not try to replace him." Sighing, she added, "I know he'll become less a part of my life over time. It has to be that way, for me to go on, and it's already happened some. But if anyone were to try to force that, I'd be hurt and resentful. You've never done that, and I love that about you." She squeezed my hand briefly. "I don't think you ever would."

"I wouldn't," I replied. "I always cared for both of you."

We stopped beside a bed of tall flowers, white and purple. Our hands were still clasped tightly. "If you..." she began then stopped. She glanced at me and then out to the flowers. "If you do find you have feelings for me, please don't hide them."

I looked down at our joined hands, then up at her face. She was avoiding looking at me, her eyes fixed on the flowers. Her cheeks seemed to have more color than usual, in spite of the sun bleaching her face.

For the first time ever I tried to imagine her as a partner rather than a friend. She was lovely. She always had been that, even in the depths of grief. She no longer was the carefree college kid she'd seemed when we first met, barely out of her teens and bubbling over with plans for how great things would be when Doug had thrown off his illness. Her face had aged more than the time that had passed. She looked older than her years, but the sadness no longer dominated, and in its place was the beauty of maturity.

Her nose and chin were still angular, narrow lips expressive. Currently their corners were tight with nervousness. A stubborn ribbon of long, dark hair hung against her face, leaving an elfin ear poking through the dark sheet.

When she'd moved in, she had been thin with stress and fatigue. She was still slender, but with a healthier, lean appearance. She was doing well, physically.

More importantly, I already knew of her compassion. She'd weathered a major storm without breaking. Her inner strength was startling. Her unequivocal and unconcealed love for her husband was a sign of it, as was her complete lack of jealousy when she told me that he'd cared for me, too.

If Jared had even half of her attributes, he wouldn't have abandoned us. The only thing that Jared had ever had to offer, I was thinking, was that he was a guy, and I'd assumed I wanted a guy. It wasn't enough.

My voice cracked, and I had to clear my throat. "I won't, Faye," I said. "I promise."

She turned to hug me - one-handed, because she didn't release my hand, then moved away again, her step seeming lighter. With our joined hands, she guided me back to her side and back to walking along the path. "Okay," she said. "Let's just see how things work out, then?"

Her matter-of-fact words didn't hide the look of relief in her smile.

"There's one thing..." I began. She began to turn, but I kept moving forwards, keeping her beside me.

"What's that, Erin?" she asked.

"Uh, is it okay if I talk about that evening? With the toy?"

Faye chuckled. "Go right ahead."

"I was drunk. We both know that. But I wouldn't have pushed if I didn't want the result. And it excited me."

She laughed. "Me too."

"Well yeah," I replied, quietly. "But I mean, it was you. And I really wanted to make you feel that way. It was..." I lowered my voice still further, and felt my face warm as I carefully avoided looking at her. "It turned me on. I hope that doesn't upset you."

"Not at all," she replied, her lips curling into a deeper smile.

"Should we..." I broke off, then tried again. "This is going to sound weird, since we live together, but... if there really is an attraction between us, and it doesn't fade away, would you like for us to start seeing each other? Dating?"

She flashed me a quick smile. "It doesn't sound strange, and I think I'd like that."

"I think I'll leave the timing of that to you," I said. "I'd be afraid I was pushing. I want for you to be comfortable with how you're feeling first. So if I don't ask you to go out first, don't think I'm not interested." After a second, I added, "Actually, I think it would be fun."

Her hand tightened on mine. "Okay, Erin," she replied. "I think it might be quite soon."

I felt myself smile. "Good," I responded.

 

At my mother's, Faye took care of collecting Zoe's bag, and led her out to the car. My mother caught my arm as I turned to follow her.

"You know I don't like to interfere," she said, quietly, "but I want to say, I like this one a lot more than the last."

"Mom?" I blinked at her in surprise. "How do you even..."

She gave me a quick, knowing grin. "Bring Zoe over one Friday and let me keep her for a couple of days," she said. "Take a weekend to yourselves."

"Mom?" I said again, but she turned me around and hurried me out of the door.

"She's telepathic," I said as I drove us away.

"Who? What?" Faye asked.

"My mother."

I told her what Mom had said. She gave me a curious look. "Well, she obviously picked up on something. I wonder what?"

"No way to know." I sighed.

 

The next week passed much as the previous ones had, except that we smiled more, touching occasionally, still not sure what our relationship was becoming, taking things perhaps too cautiously.

Krys approached us after the following Sunday's service. She must have seen the change in our interaction. Cocking her head to one said, she raised an eyebrow, "Well, I didn't foresee this." Then she smiled. "You both look very happy."

"What didn't you foresee?" I replied, a little hotly. "We're still figuring things out!"

"What Erin means," Faye clarified, "is that we're considering dating, but we're not there yet, so it's a good question. What are you thinking?"

"You seem much more comfortable with each other than you were," she said. "It feels like you've become a couple. I'm sorry if I made assumptions."

I looked at Faye, who seemed nervous, and avoided meeting my eyes. I chuckled. "You know - yeah, it's early stages, but I think maybe we have."

Faye gave me a startled look, but she didn't object, and her cheeks colored slightly.

"I see," said Krys. "Well, if you ever need to talk..."

"Would you try to talk us out of it?" Faye asked, dubiously.

Krys seemed taken aback at that. "Goodness! No! I am so pleased to see how happy you both seem to be. You'll be good for each other. I'm sure you've had plenty of time to figure out the difference between mutual support and affection."

"Yeah," said Faye, "though that may be one of the things holding us back."

"That, and we're not gay," I said, then flushed deeply as they both turned to look at me. "I mean... we never thought of ourselves that way. At least I didn't. I guess I'm still rethinking that."

Krys set me at ease with her smile. "You don't need a label. Only you define who you are, and whom you love."

"And you don't have a problem with that? Most churches..." I broke off.

"We're not most churches," Krys replied, with wry humor. "You know that. And I'm not most pastor's wives. Bob would be as enthusiastic as I am in wishing you both well. And if the need arises, he'll be delighted to help you tie the knot. He's married several same-gender couples here."

Faye's blush intensified. "Let's not count chickens before they're even eggs," she said. Then she looked at me with a defiant expression. "But since we're apparently bad at hiding secrets we didn't know we were keeping..."

She held out her hand to me. I grinned and slapped my palm against hers, then wrapped my fingers around her hand and squeezed tightly, not releasing it as we made our way to the nursery to collect Zoe.

 

At the end of October we both accompanied Zoe trick or treating. Zoe dressed as Cinderella, while Faye and I attempted the roles of her ugly step sisters. Zoe told Faye she wasn't ugly enough to be a step sister, which was true, but which I pretended to take great exception to.

"Oh, so I'm ugly enough, am I?" I asked her, my hands on my hips.

Zoe giggled. "Mmhmm. You're very ugly today! Afaye is the pretty ugly step sister!"

I winked at Faye. "So she's pretty ugly. I can live with that."

When we were not holding Zoe's hand, Faye and I held each other's as we took Zoe to visit our neighbors. It warmed my heart to see how good Faye was with my daughter. I was sure she'd be a mother herself, one day, whatever she currently thought about the difficulties of getting there.

 

"Think we could take your mom up on her offer this weekend?" Faye asked. It was Tuesday. That was plenty of time to set something up with Mom. It was the week before Thanksgiving, and my only concern was that Mom might need to spend time grocery shopping, since she was hosting us and a few friends for the holiday.

"Sure?" I said. "If she's not doing anything, probably?"

"Alright," she said. She looked nervous, even though she knew I was expecting this. "Would you like to go out with me? Dinner and dancing, my treat... since I'm still freeloading here..." she waved aside my attempt to object, "I want to take you out on a date. Okay?"

I smiled. "Alright. That sounds great. I'll call Mom right now. If she's busy this weekend, can I get a rain check until she's free?"

"Of course," she replied.

 

Since Mom's schedule was open, we didn't need a raincheck. Zoe was excited to spend a couple of days with Grandma.

I'd scheduled a half day off to allow for a hairdresser visit. When Faye heard that, she decided to do the same. I took Zoe to my mother's early Friday afternoon, then spent a couple of hours getting my hair highlighted and and curled.

When I next saw Faye at home, her hair was a relaxed wave over her right shoulder only. It was an exotic look on her. It looked even better with the sequined turquoise dress she had chosen for our date. It had a square neck supported by narrow straps on the very edge of her shoulders. Her breasts must have been shaped by an uplifting bra to be so firm, high and perfectly supported within the very low neckline. She wore silver heels with matching clutch, and was stunning.

My own dress was sleeveless, high-necked, with a deep, fairly wide keyhole formed by dark blue fabric crossing above my breasts. The crossed cloth formed a narrow junction at my throat, then continued over my shoulders to rejoin below the center of my back. My heels were pointy toed, also in dark blue. Faye's eyes widened when she saw me, making me feel that my outfit had a similar impact on her that hers did on me.

Faye slipped on a lightweight jacket, which spoiled the view, but really was needed if she was to avoid overwhelming any passers-by with impure thoughts

I muted the impression of the keyhole in my dress with a matching sheer wrap, loosely knotted at chest height, then picked up my purse and followed my friend out to the taxi.

She'd chosen a contemporary bistro, popular with local millennials. In the taxi, I asked her why that particular restaurant. She explained that first, it was new, so there was no way she could associate it with any place she'd visited with Doug, and second, it was reputed to have high quality and low quantity - small portions which would not leave us bloated for dancing.

The restaurant lived up to its billing, in all aspects. The food was delicious and I didn't feel that I'd overeaten. We each drank a single glass of wine.

I found myself talking about Jared over dinner. That could have been a misstep on a date, except that Faye asked, since I rarely spoke of him, and never around Zoe.

With a greater distance from my marriage, I found myself less angry about Jared's actions, and more disappointed at the waste of my time and emotional investment.

"Do you think you'll ever forgive him?" Faye asked.

"Do I need to?" I responded.

"Not for his sake," she replied. "He was an ass. He treated you badly. For yours though. If you forgive him, it will be easier to let go. Yes, you feel that you've wasted a big part of your life. But you're twenty-seven, and free. You've used the last few years to grow. You wouldn't have Zoe if not for him. He's an ass, but in a few ways your life has become richer for his being part of it for a time."

I took a sip of my wine. "You sound too much like Krys," I said, grinning. "Have you ever thought maybe you should be a pastor?"

She shook her head. "I wouldn't want the stress. Some of her ideas, and Bob's, stick with me."

"Well, I no longer wish for Jared to be hit by a meteor. That has to be a step towards forgiveness, right?"

Faye smiled. "Right."

She wasn't wearing the jacket, of course, and the glinting sequins kept drawing my eyes. She noticed the direction of my gaze, and her face seemed to glow at my attention. She didn't make any comment, but I didn't want the moment to pass.

"You know," I said, "I always thought you were cute, but when I see you all the time, and I'm distracted with life, I don't get to appreciate just how lovely you are. Thank you for reminding me."

Her face flushed. "I would say the same about you, if I wasn't so nervous about letting my feelings show."

My face warmed, too, but I felt apprehensive as I smiled. She'd put her finger on my own concerns. "Yeah," I said, softly.

"I feel tongue tied," she said. "We talk so much, about work, and debts, and church, and Zoe, and games, and friends, and ..." She colored again. "And everything that long-term couples talk about. When they've been together for months, or years. How do we go back from that to talk about..." She shrugged, helplessly. "About the special feelings you have when you're just getting to know someone? When it's all new again?"

My smile was more relaxed this time. "I think by doing something like this," I said, gesturing around the restaurant. "Dinner and dancing is exactly what we need. I'm looking forward to the next part."

 

The club was a short walk from the restaurant - another reason for the choice. The area was a tree-lined street, with traffic prohibited in the evening, making for a safe area for night entertainment.

I left my wrap at the coat check. Faye looked me up and down again, seemed to decide she liked what what she saw, then took my hand as we entered the club.

Lots of guys eyed us when we danced, and we had to turn down a stream of invitations, which was an amusement at first, but became annoying as the evening progressed.

"I'm thinking we should have worn artist's smocks and sweatpants," I said, leaning close to Faye's ear

"Yeah, you really are eye-catching in that dress," she said.

"Me? You're the one they're all hitting on," I objected.

She shook her head. "I'm only trying to look good for you, Erin. I'm sure it's mostly you they're looking at."

"I wanted to be special for you, too," I said. "We're okay, thanks," I yelled, waving off another guy heading our way.

"We could just make it clear that we're not on the market," she said.

"How's that?" I asked.

In reply, she slipped her arms around my waist and drew me close. "Like this," she said.

Wrapping my arms around her, I returned the hug and held it. We weren't disturbed again. Even better, I felt a deep warmth and tenderness for my friend, holding me so close. I imagined, too, that I could feel her affection encompassing me. "I wanted to do this anyway."

"So why didn't you?" she asked.

"I don't know," I said, slowly. "I guess I just..." Then I shook my head. "No, you know, I really don't know."

The trance music that was playing worked well for a slow dance, just holding each other. I felt butterflies performing a swirling dance inside me as our bodies moved slowly against each other. My hands explored her back, but as lovely as her dress looked, running my hands over sequins was uncomfortable. I settled for resting them against the small of her back and holding her to me.

There was a soft pressure of her chest against mine as she drew me to her, then rested her head on my shoulders. I did the same, my face towards her neck. We swayed like that for several minutes. With our height difference, her breasts lightly supported mine from below. I mused that had we been the same height, we wouldn't have been able to hold each other so close.

When I felt the pressure of her hands behind me lessen, I loosened my hold, letting her stand upright. She caught my hands as they slid away from her, and held them tightly, looking up, her face no more than three inches from mine.

"Erin," she said. I could barely hear it over the music. Her eyes held mine as she squeezed my hands and stretched higher, her face coming closer. Without conscious thought on my part, my face lowered. Two inches between us, then an inch. The butterflies' dance became wilder. I felt my heart thump against my chest as her lips brushed mine, gossamer soft, before drawing back slightly.

"Yeah," I breathed, acknowledging her invitation by closing the distance again and letting my nose lightly touch hers. My lips parted as they approached hers, not quite meeting, allowing her to make the final move, glossed lips feeling strange against mine as she did.

I groaned with an intensity of feeling I hadn't realized I'd been holding, squeezing her hands, then releasing them and moving mine to her waist. This was a step we hadn't taken; one that I hadn't been entirely sure we ever would take. As lightly as our lips touched, it still crossed the boundary between friends and - something more. And it wasn't enough.

Holding her waist tightly, I disengaged, moving back a couple of inches. "Are you sure?" I murmured. Her eyes were bright as she nodded. Then she melted into my arms, her lips against mine tentative, but eager.

Faye sighed into the kiss, her pent-up desire exciting me, and suddenly we'd moved from hesitant to passionate, her tongue tangling with mine. I held her shoulders, squeezing her hard against me, her breasts pressing up against mine. We both groaned and repositioned our faces, each seeking to devour the other's soft lips and tongue.

She moved her hands around my lower back, then over my butt, pressing me to her, my right thigh wedged between her legs, hers pressed between mine.

When we finally broke, we were panting. I noticed a couple of dancers giving us an amused look, but I didn't care. "Faye?" I said, just loud enough to be heard over the music.

"Yeah?" Some strands of her side wave had floated free, across her face.

"Suddenly taking things so slowly doesn't appeal to me as much as it did."

She smiled at me. "Want to go home?"

"Yeah." I nodded.

"Kiss me again," she said. "Then we'll leave."