Lack of Providence

By

Xenalicious

Part VIb

For Disclaimers see Part 1

 

*********

A surge of panic made her sit up with the realization that Ariana was probably on her way over. Marissa didn’t want to see her. She didn’t want to talk to her. Slumping back into the sofa, the editor wearily rubbed her face. It was all too much to process at once. Her analytical mind could not comprehend the events of the past few hours and what they amounted to. The connection she felt with the girl was profound – dizzyingly magnetic, to say the least. She was fascinated by the piercer, by the many layers she could detect, and something within her reacted to the proud vulnerability Ariana tried to hide. She had tried to keep it short and simple, but the more she saw of Ariana, the more she wanted to experience. And then the sex…

She stood up, restless, conflicting emotions making her feel nauseated again. The sex had been good – too good. Their carnality was spontaneous but still had a depth she could not write off as any kind of casual encounter. She hadn’t even a chance to process those surprising emotions when she found the letter.

The editor stood by the window, hoping that the view of the bustling Commonwealth Avenue would have a calming effect on her now. Instead, she saw Ariana in every passerby. With a sigh, she sat back down. She did try to stop me, tough, she did try to talk to me, to explain. With an angry shake of head she stopped that train of thought. Yes, she did, after she played that charade for as long as it would go. Go ahead, Marissa, make excuses for her, just like you did for Kristin! When will you learn that once they lie to you, they never stop? God!

She was pissed and confused and tired, but most of all she was taken aback by how much it hurt to feel cheated by the girl. How much it hurt to be disillusioned again. There was no explanation for that. What should have been a simple case of physical attraction and curiosity had transformed into a situation where she started caring. In turn, that made her even more angry. Stupid! That’s what it is – stupid! She saw you for the stupid sucker you are and decided to play a game with you. And you fell for it, for all of it – the sheltered smiles and blustery bravado. Burying her hands in her hair, she leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. She simply didn’t know what to feel. One moment she was filled with righteous anger, and the next, images of the softness of the girl’s eyes came before her unbidden - making her rage deflate. Then she would start making excuses for Ariana, just to fall back into the facts of the girl’s deception. Her head was killing her.

The intercom buzzed, clearing all other thought from her head. She’s here. Her limbs felt like they were filled with sand, but she willed herself to get up and cross to the door. Yet again she felt all the energy drain from her with the prospect of facing Ariana. But there was only one way to try and figure out what was going on. She had to talk to the girl. Silently, she pressed the front door button and opened the door to her apartment before returning and sliding into the sofa again. There was no need to meet Ariana standing, the girl already beat her at this game.

It seemed like an hour had passed, measured by the tremulous beating of her heart, until she heard halting footsteps approach her living room door. The room was half dark, a small desk lamp and the streaming light of the street lights all the illumination provided, and yet the brightness of the piercer’s hair clearly shone even from across the room. For some inexplicable reason it made her want to cry. Instead, she gritted her teeth and mustered the rage to return.

"Sydney." Her voice was sticky sweet and unrecognizable to her ears. "What a nice surprise."

The girl moved, taking a hesitant step towards her. "Marissa… I came to apologize. And to try to explain." Her voice was barely above a whisper, a tinge of raspiness coloring it and Marissa could not help but feel a sliver of desire run down her spine in spite of herself.

"Explain what? It seems rather straight forward to me – you lied, and you got caught."

Another step, and the girl was in front of a window and a ray of light now, her form silvered under the glow. "Marissa, I didn’t mean to hurt you nor was it my intention to lie to you." The voice was quiet, pleading. "I… I made a mistake by not telling you who I was right away, and then it… The time just never seemed right."

"Oh, I see." The sarcasm was biting. "So you were just waiting for the right moment, is that it? When, after you’ve fucked me a couple of more times?"

"No! No, it wasn’t like that Marissa, it just… I was, I didn’t know how to…" The girl was standing in front of her now, loose pants and a plain T-shirt visible under her pea-coat, palms opened up in a plea.

"I was afraid. I was afraid of letting you know it was I who wrote those poems. I thought… I don’t know what I thought, but my intention wasn’t to lie to you, Marissa." The green eyes pleaded with her. "I just didn’t know what to tell you. How."

Few stunned moments of silence passed before Marissa managed a disbelieving chuckle. "What the hell were you afraid of Ariana? What?" She stood up, towering above the girl, and still Ariana didn’t move. "For God’s sake, they’re poems, not nuclear secrets, they’re meant to be read. Why did you send them out if you were afraid of people reading them?!" Now that she actually had Ariana in front of her, and was trying to get the reason behind the deception out of her, Marissa found that what little control she had over herself was slipping. All she had was the overwhelming need to yell out her frustration at the woman quietly standing in her living room, staring at her shoes. What made her angrier was the fact that Ariana seemed genuinely remorseful of her actions, but no more forward at explaining them. She took a deep breath and stopped pacing around Ariana, noticing for the first time that the girl was shaking. It immediately deflated her and quietly, almost pleading, she said "I just don’t get it. Help me understand Ariana."

The blonde head was bowed, hair obscuring Ariana’s face, fists balled up. She appeared not to have heard the editor. Sitting down on a sofa, Marissa tried again.

"I don’t understand. Why would you be scared of telling me it was you who wrote those? You know I like the poems. Why?"

Ariana turned around, facing away from her and for a second Marissa was certain the girl was going to head for the door. Then Ariana’s posture relaxed slightly and she headed toward the living-room window instead. With her hands tucked into the coat pockets, hair cascading over the upturned collar, highlighted by the lights from outside and her gaze firmly fixed on some point far away, the blonde made a sight that nearly broke Marissa’s resolve for an explanation. She had to sit on her hands to resist reaching out for Ariana, and that impulse scared her. The girl’s soft voice broke the spell.

"My… my mom couldn’t have kids and my parents adopted me as a baby. They divorced when I was 13. When dad left us, he went to California, got married and had some kids of his own. Stopped all communication except for the monthly alimony check and birthday and Christmas cards."

Ariana’s voice was flat, impassive, like she was counting off a grocery list, and Marissa sat mesmerized, afraid to move, yet she was scared to hear the rest of it. The editor realized that was the first time she was hearing anything about Ariana’s family. Before this, Marissa didn’t even think about the girl’s family. Something in the piercer’s attitude and complete lack of any mention of relatives in all of their conversations before made it seem as if she had arrived to Earth fully formed and unburdened by family life.

"I think mom blamed me for his leaving. I was a rowdy kid." Ariana’s voice was soft, barely audible in the quiet room. "We never talked about him after he left. She sold the house and we moved to a tiny apartment in Boston… I missed him."

The pause that followed was so long Marissa thought Ariana was done talking. When the girl did continue, her voice seemed even more distant, even more void of feeling.

"That’s when I started writing. I didn’t know anyone in our neighborhood, so I started keeping a journal, writing poems. About dad. About missing him." The sentences became shorter, more pointed , words belaying the almost airy tone of voice that relayed them.

"Mom found it and read it. She laughed. She laughed at me and told me not to make a fool of myself. That he’d laugh at me too if he read them."

Marissa sat in stunned silence. It was all starting to make sense now. "Oh my God…" So much pain, and she laughed at her. Her voice was barely a whisper. "Oh, Ariana…"

"I hid it after that, but I didn’t stop writing. Then I… I realized I was gay in high school. Tracy and I dated, and I… I loved her, and…I don’t know why I’m telling you this, it sounds stupid now." How to explain to you in words what it did to me to have her mock me too? How can I tell you I loved her as fully as only a seventeen year-old can, measuring my future with the span of her breath? If I told you she was my gravity and I willingly fell. If I tried to explain that she eclipsed the rest of the world for me with her smile, you’d think me naïve. And I’d tell you I felt loved and that was all that mattered. And when I told her how I felt the only way I knew, through my poems, she laughed at me too. Told me to ditch the ‘unintelligible scribbles’ and stick with what I was good at… fucking.

Ariana fell silent, caught up with memories, unaware that Marissa understood far better than she thought. The editor sat unable to speak, knowing intuitively, through what she read of Ariana’s work, what the woman had gone through, feeling her pain and betrayal in each line of her poems.

With a deep sigh she continued, unable to face the woman quietly sitting on the sofa. "It just… I opened up to her, completely, only to find her mocking me too." A bitter smile. "So…" Ariana continued, seemingly unaware of Marissa, eyes fixed at a distant point outside the window. "up until I sent those poems out, I never again let anyone read anything I wrote. Not even Eva. I guess I never thought anyone would read them, let alone want them published. I hoped… but I didn’t think… It was just… my way of trying to let go, I guess." A deep sigh. "When I realized who you were, I got scared. I got scared that if you knew I wrote them, if you connected them with me, not some real poet, someone with… someone who knew what they were doing, you’d laugh too. It wasn’t a rational decision, I just reacted." Tiredly she wiped her brow, closing her eyes. "At the beginning I wanted to use you, you had said that you… that you read people’s shit for a living and I… I wanted to hurt you for that. But then… it all got out of hand." A mirthless smile crossed her face. "I liked you. I liked you and I got scared, and…" the rest of it was cut off by a soft pair of lips, and a long pair of arms pulling her into an embrace.

Laying another gentle kiss on her lips, Marissa enveloped the girl in her embrace, crooning softly the whole time. "Shhh, it’s okay, you don’t have to tell me anymore, it’s okay; shhh…." The slight body in her arms was rigid for a moment and then, with a choked sigh, Ariana relaxed, bringing her arms up and laying them on the editor’s chest, burrowing into Marissa. Unconsciously, Marissa tucked the blond head under her chin, catching the scent of their lovemaking in the blonde locks.

She felt both pacified and disturbed by the girl’s admission. Instinctively, she knew Ariana to be telling the truth, and she latched on the remorse in the blonde woman’s voice, letting go of the hurt and anger she felt minutes earlier. It was that easy. There has to be more though. A new spark of anger was lit within her, a different kind of anger. Those poems… They let you see it all, all of her - there is no pretense, no walls in those lines. Loneliness and loss. And hope, in the midst of it all, hope – a little spark that kept asking if there was more to it than that. And they laughed at her. She could not even imagine growing up in an environment like that, where people who were supposed to nurture and love you unconditionally, deserted and mocked you instead. God, I am the center of my parents’ world, and have the most supportive friend there is, and even with all of that, a person like Kristin was able to make me feel cheap and undeserving. I barely recovered from that. What did she go through?

A small shudder from the body in her arms interrupted her train of thoughts, effectively refocusing her attention to Ariana. Reflexively, she tightened her embrace, planting a soft kiss on the bowed blonde head. It felt natural to feel protective of the woman in her arms, and Marissa almost stopped wondering at the emotion, instead embracing it as something given. This is going to take work, isn’t it Marissa? It will take lots of time and patience, but somehow there is no doubt in your mind that she is worth it.

How long they stood like that in silence, swaying slightly, she didn’t know. She felt content letting the sense of peace from holding Ariana in her arms wash over her. She realized she didn’t want to let go.

"Stay with me tonight."

The soft words made Ariana’s head snap up suddenly, narrowly missing Marissa’s chin. Green eyes were wide and fearful. "But… do you…"

"Please." The tall woman smiled reassuringly. "I’m not angry anymore, I just want you to spend the night with me. We can talk more tomorrow if you want."

The look in Ariana’s eyes was weary, as if the blonde was just waiting for Marissa to say "Just kidding, get out". The thought of so much hurt afflicted to Ariana made the editor profoundly sad. So much pain.

With a slight nod and a tentative smile, Ariana agreed. "I’d like that."

Marissa smiled brilliantly giving the girl another squeeze before letting go. "Great. I’ll go get you a towel and something to wear. After a night like this I think we’re both ready for bed. I’ll be right back."

She was back a couple of minutes later holding a T-shirt and a pair of flannel boxers two sizes too big for the blonde, only to find the girl still standing at the same spot she left her at, looking lost in the spacious living-room. Only after she saw Marissa reappear did she slowly shrug out of her coat and kick her shoes off, quietly accepting Marissa’s outstretched hand.

"Are you okay?" The girl still seemed detached, as if the effort of her confession took a serious toll.

Ariana looked up, offering a tired smile. "Yeah…. Just exhausted…" A slight hesitation. "Thank you for hearing me out."

Marissa nodded, stopping in front of a bed, and Ariana realized they were in the editor’s bedroom. "No, thank you for talking to me. For offering me an explanation. It meant a lot to me. I am not going to lie and tell you I wasn’t hurt and angry when I realized what was going on, but I… I understand." Adriatic sea. Marissa mused gazing into Ariana’s face. That’s what color her eyes are right now, the salty blue-green of the Adriatic sea. "And I think we owe each other a fresh start." She reached out, tucking a wayward strand of blonde hair behind a small ear, caressing Ariana’s cheek on the way. "But we’ll deal with that tomorrow. Now…" She nodded towards the door, "go get decent. There’s an extra toothbrush in there for you and then we’ll go to bed. It’s past 4 AM."

Silently, Ariana went in, closing the door behind her. By the time she got out, wearing ridiculously loose clothing provided by the taller woman, Marissa had used the guest bathroom, changed into the identical set of sleepwear, and was lazily laying enveloped in the bed’s soft pink flannel sheets. Ariana hesitated by the door but Marissa spread out her arms in a quiet invitation, and the girl complied, approaching the bed. With a soft murmur of contentment a warm body spread itself on top of Marissa’s and a blond head tucked itself under the editor’s chin, Ariana reaching one arm across the long torso and tucking it under the tall woman’s shoulder. With another content sigh, a small peck on the neck she was nuzzling and a quiet "good night", Ariana drifted off to sleep, leaving a wide-awake Marissa to wonder at the twists and the turns of the events of that evening.

 

************

 

It was the scents that could get to her, despite all of the defenses she could have put up, scents that haunted her when she successfully shut herself off to the sense of touch and sight, scents that could kidnap her from the daily ordinaries. A whiff of baking bread and she was transported, in a second, unwillingly, back to the spacious kitchen of her childhood when her mom used to cook and dad was happy. A spilled container of body wash in a supermarket isle and she back was in the shower with Tracy, willing and trustingly in love. A spice of rum and she couldn’t avoid remembering puking in her backyard at 13. It was a love/hate relationship and Ariana was much more comfortable with the latter emotion.

Eyes closed, head under the pillow, she snuggled into Marissa-scented sheets with caution. The woman’s scent was gentle and rich and unmistakable. She could distinguish a note of vanilla. Behind her closed eyelids she saw vanilla-colored skin sprinkled with aroused perspiration meandering under her. Her senses were reeling before she even opened her eyes and the Marissa wasn’t even in the room with her. She used to welcome loss of control – drinking, bar fights, one-night stands, but there she used to name the terms. Now she could feel herself losing control, her emotions scattered as if in a tornado – fear, hope, yearning, regret, desire – and it dawned on her why they named storms after women.

Last night was… exhausting. There was no other word to describe it. Mind-numbing. Yes there was… - mind-numbing. She wanted to stay in her room. She wanted to distance herself and not care about the hurt look in those blue eyes. She wanted to be at home writing and not feeling, and yet she could not make herself forget Marissa, forget what she was feeling. Instead, she went after the editor. Went after her and begged for forgiveness. She exposed herself to the woman, hoping she’d understand, needing her to understand - for some illogical reason. There was no reason behind her acts. She reacted to Marissa on a primal level, it seemed. There was attraction, of course, but there was more – a kind of fear. She feared how Marissa made her feel – she knew what the consequences could be, and yet she needed to let go, wanted it even, if she were to be honest with herself, but fear was in the forefront.

All these emotions cascaded over her, almost to the point of overwhelming, and she hadn’t even stopped to actually think about everything that had happened between her and the beautiful brunette. If she took time to try and analyze what happened and what was most likely to follow, she would have most probably ended up at Geshe’s again, bleeding out her knuckles against the punching bag. And she didn’t want to do that.

Instead, she stretched in the spacious bed, amidst the pink flannel, and let the gentle sunlight of the early morning greet her. She could hear Marissa puttering in the kitchen, a rattle of the dishes revealing the tall woman’s apparent awkwardness with the cooking utensils. Ariana smiled. She could almost see Marissa standing in the middle of the kitchen, a pink robe barely reaching past her knees, hair in a palm-tree ponytail at the top of her head, and a perplexed look on her face. Adorable.

A strong scent of coffee made her finally open her eyes in surprise. Coffee? Now you’re talking… Deciding it was finally time to get up and, well, smell the coffee, she quickly brushed her teeth, neglected to brush her hair, and padded out into the kitchen. Oddly enough, she felt light-hearted without anxiety over seeing Marissa in the daylight.

Unlike the mental image Ariana imagined, Marissa stood by the stove still wearing the pale pink boxers she had spent the night in, with the addition of a bulky navy blue sweatshirt with "Wellesley" emblazoned in white letters on the back, and was busily setting up a tray with coffee cups and small pastries. The long expanse of bare skin of the editor’s legs left Ariana dry-mouthed.

"G’morning." It came out deeper then she intended it too, her own voice surprising her with its obvious sexual tone.

Marissa stood stock still for a second, before slowly turning around and leaning on the counter, facing the girl. The editor’s heartbeat picked up at the sight of the sleep-ruffled blonde, unsure of how to approach her. Judging by the tone of the piercer’s voice, Ariana had a few things in mind. However, after taking a careful look, Marissa could see the mix of embarrassment and want on the girl’s face. There it is again, that combination of vulnerability and toughness. Tough girl gone good, or good girl gone bad? Which one?

"Good morning to you too. Sleep well?" A short nod from the girl with her eyes downcast.

"Like a log. Hope I didn’t hog the bed too much."

Marissa smiled. "Oh, no, you didn’t hog the bed. You were too busy being sprawled on top of me to do that."

A wide-eyed look and a shocked "Oh" were all Ariana could muster before starting fidgeting with the hem of her T-shirt. "I-uh, I’m sorry, I guess I’m not used to…"

"Sydney…"

The blonde looked up, Marissa’s voice halting her apologies.

"Would… would you mind calling me Ariana?" The question was quiet, but determined. "Ariana is my real name and it… Not too many people call me that, but I’d like you to… that is if you wouldn’t mind to…"

"Ariana!" Marissa couldn’t hide the smile in her voice. Good girl gone bad, definitely.

"Not that you have to, but… I mean… yeah?"

"Come here."

A weary glance from below blond eyelashes, and Ariana took a hesitant step forward. "Marissa…"

"No, Ariana, come here, it’s okay." The editor anticipated the rush of words from the girl. They both had a lot to process, and further explanations and apologies would not achieve anything in Marissa’s mind. She wanted to go back to the easy bantering and charged flirting they shared in the past few dizzying weeks and if they were to achieve that again, they had to stop delving and move on. She spread her arms in an invitation reminiscent of the previous night, and Ariana sank into them with a sigh.

"I don’t want you to explain anything anymore, I heard all that I needed to." Her arms were moving in comforting circles across the girl’s back. "And no more apologies either." A devilish smirk that crossed her face was lost on the girl whose head was resting against her chest. "I’d rather you work it off… manually…"

A low rumble of a chuckle warmed her skin where Ariana’s lips were pressed before the piercer leaned away looking up at her face. "You are really something else, Marissa Weller." The glint of amusement in the jade eyes was back and Marissa found herself smiling back in response. "If I didn’t know you better, I’d have to say you were … proposing certain… unthinkable things."

Marissa laughed out loud at this, pulling the girl closer to her. "Well, I’ll have you know, Miss…" She stopped, uncertain which name to use.

"Shaw. It’s Ariana Shaw." The blonde supplied, face buried in the blue sweatshirt again. "McKinnon is my father’s last name."

"Well, Miss Shaw, I’ll have to say that you really don’t know me all that well, after all. Why, we’ve only been acquainted for what, three, three and a half weeks?" A long black eyebrow rose, daring Ariana to challenge her assertion.

The piercer took a careful step back, out of the embrace of Marissa’s arms, and gave her a thorough once-over. "Oh." A thoughtful look. "Well, I know you in the biblical sense. That not enough?"

Marissa laughed. "Smart-ass." She pushed the smaller woman towards the living room. "Go sit and behave. I’ll be out with coffee in a bit."

When she came to the living room, Ariana was sitting curled up on the couch, a thoughtful look on her face. Uh-oh. This definitely looks like the "I need to talk to you about…" look. She set down the tray with coffee and quietly served them both with a tiny cup of strong Turkish coffee. It seemed natural for her to be sharing her morning ritual with Ariana and she glanced up to see the girl curiously observing her movements.

"It’s the Turkish way." She said as she handed Ariana her cup. "Here. It’s very strong, helps you start the day right." It sounded inadequate, the chitchat, and she fully turned toward the younger woman, catching her eye. "Tell me."

A mutely raised eyebrow was all the reaction she got, the girl silently accepting her coffee.

"You have something you want to say, Ariana." She was getting nervous. Didn’t they decide to put it all behind them? "Tell me."

A small smile and Ariana bowed her head in acknowledgment. "Yeah, I…" Finally she looked up at Marissa, uncertainty coloring her eyes. "I… we… I messed up."

"Ariana…" Marissa tried to interrupt, seeing that the girl was struggling with whatever she was trying to say.

"No, please Marissa, listen." She had to get this out. She already made an almost irreparable mistake by letting her fears and insecurities get the best of her. She was never a coward before, and whatever it was that was making her want to turn the other direction and run away from Marissa as much as run towards her, would just have to be harnessed.

"I, uh, messed up – no wait, I did." She cut off another attempt from Marissa to interrupt her, continuing nervously, words tumbling over each other. "I did, and I… I just want to try to do this right, you know?" She was fidgeting with the small cup on the saucer in front of her, fingertips unconsciously smoothing over the lines on the ceramic surface. When she realized what she was doing, she stopped, smiling shakily and looking up at Marissa again.

"I… Would you… I would like to take you out on a date." It came out in a rush, and she continued, not waiting for the editor’s response. "Dinner and all, you know, official, and… if you want, now that you know – "

"Okay."

" – or I could really cook you dinner this time, or something else, maybe… Did you say yes?"

"Yes. Okay, I’d like that." Marissa was smiling as she took a sip of her coffee, the mix of confusion and relief evident on Ariana’s face. She reached out with her free hand and smoothed away wavy wisps of hair away from the girl’s face, caressing her cheek on the way. "But, I think we should keep it to a fairly public place this time. I don’t want to get too distracted again. Not too early, anyway."

The blush that covered Ariana’s face brought a delighted smile to Marissa’s. How does she do that? She’s so… vulnerable, fragile really, and yet if you don’t know to watch for the signs, all you’d see is her bravado.

"Actually", Marissa continued giving the girl a chance to compose herself again, "I was going to ask you last night but… My parents are out of town for another couple of weeks and they have season tickets to the Boston Opera. So, I have a couple of tickets for Thursday, if you’d be willing to accompany me. What do you say?"

"Opera?" Ariana perked up. "Wait, like a real one? In a real opera house?" Marissa sat back on the couch disbelieving the high squeakiness of excitement in Ariana’s voice. "I’ve never been to an opera before! Hell, I’ve never been anywhere where you had numbered seats, that is if you ignore rock concerts, and even that was rare…" Before Marissa could interject, Ariana raised her hand, halting her tirade. "Wait, I’d have nothing to wear!", then moving on, nonplused, "Which opera?"

Marissa laughed then, letting Ariana’s childlike excitement take over her as well. "I’m glad you’re excited about that. Most of the time I only go because of my mom, if dad is busy. It’s the new production of "Aida", and I heard it is the most grandiose thing to ever hit Boston. So, I take it you’re interested?"

The sparkle was definitely back in the green eyes before her as Ariana vigorously nodded her head.

"Well, it’s a date then. Pick you up at 7?"

"Hey!" Ariana protested. "How come you get to pick me up? I thought I was taking you out on a date." A beat. "Are we really going to the opera?"

Marissa smiled. "Yes we are. And you are going to love it."

"I just… I’ve never… Wow." She sat back, innocently batting her eyelashes at Marissa. "So, is this where I say ‘Baby, I’m gonna treat you so nice you’re never gonna wanna let me go’?"

"Wha… Oh!" Marissa burst out laughing. "No, because that would make me Richard Gere, and I never really liked him. Plus, you’re much more beautiful than Julia Roberts."

Ariana looked at her with wonder, the smile gentling on her face. God, she knows how to make my knees weak even when I’m sitting. You’re way in over your head here Shaw, way over. "Did anyone ever tell you that you are one hell of a smooth talker, Weller?"

"Coming from you, Shaw, that is a tremendous compliment… I think… In any case, I’ll take…" The green of Ariana’s eyes came closer until it was all she could see and then soft lips were touching hers, stealing the rest of her sentence with a sigh. It was a reconnection, gentle and warm, light touches meant to assure each other it was still okay, that they were still able to approach each other physically. Ariana held Marissa’s face between her hands, laying gentle caresses on the older woman’s eyes, nose, cheeks, before taking a moment to admire the beauty before her. Marissa’s eyes were closed, her eyelids fluttering and Ariana could see the fragile spread of blue veins criss-crossing them. Full lips were lush and anointed with their kisses and she could not resist their pull as she bent down to kiss them again. It’s going to be okay. I will make this be okay. Soft chiming of the coo-coo clock on the wall seemed to coincide with the drumming of her heart. Coo-coo clock?

"Oh, shit!" Ariana jumped up, taking off towards the bedroom even before the bewildered Marissa had a chance to realize she was gone. Half-way there she froze, and then sheepishly walked back towards the glazed-eyed editor. "I’m sorry. That was rude."

"What? Wh…" Marissa straightened up, shaking off her daze. "You know, you have to stop running away mid-makeout session. Once you get labeled a tease, it’s difficult to shake it off." She dropped the jokingly reproachful manner and asked quietly. "What is going on?"

"Eva…" Ariana took a deep breath. "Let me do this the right way." She kneeled before Marissa, taking larger hands into hers and pulling the editor down for a kiss. This time it was firmer, imprinting her desire and passion into the soft tissue of Marissa’s mouth until she was rewarded with a low moan. Gradually pulling back, she placed Marissa’s knuckles against her lips before she spoke.

"It’s ten o’clock. I am supposed to open shop at ten. It completely escaped my mind." She smiled up at Marissa, leaning into the touch as the editor caressed her cheek. "I am sure Eva will understand, but I have to go."

A rueful chuckle escaped Marissa. "One of these days, Ariana, I will get you alone, with no interruptions, and have my way with you."

"Is that a promise?"

"Yes, yes it is."

"Seal it with a kiss, Weller, show me you mean it."

"You’re pushing your luck, Shaw, one more of those and you’re not opening any shops today but mine."

"Marissa!"

"What?" Big blue eyes batted innocently. "Too much for you to handle, butch?"

Ariana’s voice was light-hearted, but the quiet wonderment in her eyes belied her flippancy. "Quite possibly so, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I do have to go now though."

Marissa nodded. "Okay. Give me a call later on. Lin is spending the night here tonight, but if you wanted to have a brunch or something on Sunday, we could do that."

Ariana agreed and with a kiss and a wave she was gone, leaving Marissa alone with her thoughts.

******

"She lied to me, Caroline."

Caroline had barely walked in and she already found herself seated on the floor in front of the couch with a tall glass of Long Island Ice Tea in her hand.

"What?"

"She lied to me." There was no way around it. The sooner she got the bad stuff out, the sooner she would be able to get Lin to see how good Ariana is. And intelligent. And stacked… Whoa, where did that come from?

A finger appeared out of nowhere and was busily poking the air in front of her nose along with the tempo of Caroline’s words.

"I knew it!" It was odd really, Caroline didn’t seem angry or upset with Ariana, just oddly elated. "I knew it, that little… She’s really eighteen, isn’t she?"

"What?" Eighteen? Who…

"I knew she didn’t look old enough to… That little buggery little…" The rest was lost in mumbles as the blonde engaged in an internal monologue. "Oh! And she pierced my belly-button, she’s probably not even old enough to carry a license to do that!" A beat and then Caroline seemed to deflate. "Oh, honey, she’s not jail bait, is she?" Marissa blinked, but before she was able to grasp what Caroline was talking about, her friend continued.

"Oh, no, don’t worry, Jeffrey has a friend whose lawyer specializes in cases like that, you know how those gay men are, they go after anything that smiles at them and don’t think about the consequences - men, right, they only think with their…"

"What in the God’s dear name are you talking about?!!"

Caroline stopped her tirade and gave her an incredulous look. "Well, Sydney, of course, who did you think I was talking about. How old is she really?"

Marissa rolled her eyes. "She didn’t lie about her age, Lin." A pause, and then a mumbled "At least I don’t think she did. Maybe I’ll ask her the next time… Oh, for God’s sake! Her name is Ariana, Lin, Ariana Shaw, not Sydney."

Silence.

Okay. She’s quiet. That can’t be good. "Lin?"

"Uh, okay Marissa." Caroline was serious now. "Back up a little here before I start having a Lifetime movie of the week moment in my head. What do you mean that’s not her real name?"

Marissa couldn’t help but smile. Only Lin, I swear to God… "She…"

Caroline interrupted, taking a sip of her drink. "Wait, Ariana…" The blonde frowned, thinking. "Isn’t that the woman who wrote those poems you went crazy about some time ago?"

"Yes." Marissa took a long pull of her drink. This was going to be a long night. "Uh, why don’t you drink up, Caroline?"

"No, wait." The smaller woman set her drink down fully facing Marissa. Uh-oh. This is going to be a really long night. "This is the woman you were trying to track down for over a month now?"

Marissa nodded mutely.

"And Sydney is actually her? The poet?"

"Ariana."

"Whatever, so, she knew you were Marissa Weller of Sommersby Publishing, the same Marissa Weller who sent her a letter asking her to get in touch with you, and she didn’t say anything?"

Marissa shook her head. What a marvelous job I am doing of making her sound appealing to Lin.

"God, knowing you, you probably gushed to her about this new poet you were trying to track down, didn’t you."

"U-hmm." Oh, good, almost a word!

Caroline’s eyes were glistening and her jaw clamped on the rim of her glass as she took a long drink out of it. "Goddamn, this is strong!" Then she continued, unabated. "So, during all this time she lied to you about her true identity?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

Such a simple question. I hate it when she asks me one-word questions when she knows I don’t have a clear-cut answer. "Here comes in play a history of previous bad experiences with opening to people which led to an apparent self-worth problem… Laconically speaking, of course."

"U-huh." Caroline looked solidly unimpressed. "And what made her tell you the truth all of a sudden?"

Oh, god… "She, uh, didn’t really have a chance to… I found the letter I had sent to her."

"Oh." Caroline pursed her lips and leaned against the couch scrutinizing Marissa in silence.

The editor fidgeted with her glass before giving in under the wordless stare. "Look, Lin…"

"Marissa, please…." Caroline cut in. "Tell me just one thing – why are we having this conversation?"

"Because…"

"…Cause you’re not going to try and convince me that this… woman, is someone worthy of your time and attention, are you?"

"Lin…"

"I’m not sure how much more obvious you’d like it to be that she’s not. I mean, why was she lying to you, for God’s sake? She sent the poems to be published. You wanted to publish them. She knew who you were, and yet she hid her true identity until she got found out. Why? What, were you not good enough for her?"

"Caroline…"

"How long was this going on for, anyway? And how long would she have kept up this charade? And why, for fuck’s sake, are you not angry aout this?!"

Marissa bore Caroline’s stare. How could she make her understand? How could she explain to Caroline that despite her best judgement, despite the linear reasoning of her brain, she simply trusted Ariana. The implicit knowledge that the girl’s intentions were good was there and she trusted her gut feeling. The problem was that she could not argue Caroline’s reasoning – she knew she’d be telling her friend exactly the same thing if Caroline were in the same situation – and that just made things more difficult. She wanted Caroline to understand and to accept Ariana. The girl had made a mistake, but she deserved another chance. And Marissa wanted to give it to her. She knew that Caroline would not see it that way though. God, this would be so much easier if we were drunk.

Marissa sighed. She knew the stubborn set of Caroline’s jaw, and that only meant trouble. One time, after Lin had caught her wearing a Yankees hat, she had not spoken a word to her until the baseball season was over. I don’t think she still forgave me for that one. But this was not about baseball. This was about having her cake and eating it too. I do not want to lose my best friend over this. But I don’t want to lose Ariana either.

"Lin, do you want me to be happy?"

Caroline blinked. She hadn’t expected that. "Yes, yes I do want you to be happy. That’s why I don’t understand why you go after women that make you miserable. You caught this one in time, and yet you seem to insist on pursuing something that will get you burned in the end."

"Caroline, I think Ariana can give me what Anne gave you." The editor stopped short, taken aback by her words. - What did I just say? -

"*What* did you just say?!"

Marissa took a long pull from her nearly empty glass. Maybe I am already drunk. Why else would I be spewing nonsense like this? "Look, Lin, what I meant to say is… Give her a chance, please. I know how protective of me you are and I love you for it. And your opinion matters a great deal to me." She reached out taking Caroline’s smaller hand between hers. "But I like this woman. I like her enough to give her another chance after she did something that would, normally, make me never want to see her again. And you know why? Because it feels right. It feels… different, Lin, new. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before."

"But honey…"

"No, hear me out please. I know that I made a mistake with Kristin, with not listening to what you had to say about her. But, Caroline, even when things were at their best with Kristin, I knew it wasn’t right. I think she lasted as long as she did because I didn’t want to admit to myself that you were right about her all along. I didn’t want to admit it to you. And I almost lost you because of that… that snatch ball."

This got a snort of laughter out of Caroline. "Snatch-ball? That’s a new one Mar. Your mother would be proud."

Marissa smiled, letting go of Caroline’s hand. "Yes, mom always did make sure I expressed myself like a proper lady."

"Heh. If she only knew."

"I have a feeling mom knows more about me than she lets on."

"Oh, dear Mrs. Weller." Caroline smiled fondly. "When are they coming back anyway?"

"Not too long now, just after Thanksgiving." They both nodded silently, taking sips from their drinks. The tension had dissipated, but they were still not done talking.

"Marissa…"

"Lin…"

Caroline laughed. "You first, brat."

"No, no, you go ahead."

Caroline shook her head, short hair standing up at the ends. "Unh-uh. You know what they say…"

"…age before beauty…" Marissa intoned with her. "Yeah, yeah, how long are you going to hold the fact that I’m a mere 3 months older against me?"

"Long after you’re gray and shriveled, granny. Now, out with it."

Marissa took a deep breath, trying to make her friend see behind the facts. "Caroline, please trust me on this one. I knew Kristin was bad news, right from the start. I did. And, like I said, even at our best, it never felt right. It never quite fit. But Ariana,… despite everything that happened, despite the fact that I’ve only known her for a very short time, it just feels right, Lin." She reached out touching Caroline’s cheek and bringing the blonde’s eyes up to her. Caroline had to understand this. "I need you to trust me on this one. Just give her a chance and you’ll see. You’ll see how sweet she really is."

Caroline shook her head in defeat. It was bad news, and it was painfully obvious. Marissa was falling for this girl, and Ariana had already lied to her. How could she just stand aside and watch her best friend get hurt again? And yet, she could see the conviction in the editor’s eyes. Marissa was serious about this one. She had already made up her mind, Caroline could see that. In that case, there is not a whole lot I can do, is there now? She hated being forced to stand aside and watch things play out, but if that’s what Marissa wanted her to do, she would. And she would be there to help if needed. And to kick some blonde-piercer-punk ass if she had to. She nodded.

"Fine. But I reserve the life-long right to chime ‘I told you so’ whenever I feel like it if this thing goes all Balkan on your ass."

Marissa laughed, relief tinting her eyes brilliant blue. "Goes ‘Balkan on my ass’? Were you OD-ing on CNN again Lin?"

"It’s not my fault. That’s the only decent thing on at 4 o’clock in the morning when Michelle decides to exercise her lungs."

"Oooh, poor baby. Well, come now, Auntie Marissa will make sure you get plenty of liquids and rest while you’re here."

Caroline groaned. "Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of." She held out her glass. "Well, now that we have the issue of the lying piercer all taken care of, I guess all we have left to do is drink. How refreshing is that?"

"Oh, shut it and give me that glass. I swear, some people are just never happy!"

"Well, speaking of happy, and judging by the number of times you were willing to say ‘Please Caroline’ while pleading for the young ‘un, how was she?"

"Huh?" Foregoing simply refilling Caroline’s glass, Marissa settled on bringing the whole pitcher of Long Island Ice Tea to the living room. "What are you getting at?"

"Oh, come on, you know very well what I’m getting at. How was she? Did she perform? How? How many times? For how long? You know."

"Caroline Peters! You are only 31 years old. You are not allowed to act like a dirty old man yet. You have all of your ‘golden’ years to do that."

"Oh, bite me!… OW! You freak, don’t bite me!"

Marissa cackled with glee. "You asked and I obliged."

"You’re drunk! How did you get drunk without me?"

"It takes years of practice, m’dear, years…"

"Stuff it, Mar. Now, details."

"Oh, okay." Marissa pouted, sticking her lower lip out, but quickly pouring herself another glass and settling comfortably when she saw it wasn’t working on Caroline. "Le’sse. Um, oh, she’s got the most incredible finger work I’ve encountered, Lin. I mean, we’re talking maestro to … Wait, what’s less than a maestro? Oh, forget it, she was like a diva to all the other… non-divas. Or, or a master spy to…"

"God, you know how to beat a dead horse. So the girl knows how to use her hands, okay, got that, move on." Caroline seemed imperially bored sipping on her drink.

"Did I tell you about her piercings?"

"Oooh, now you’re talking…"

*********

To be continued…

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