Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are fictitious and created by this author. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Warnings: Explicit romantic and sexual relations between women. Christian themes.
Feedback: Feedback, thoughts, and screaming should be directed at email@example.com.
Notes: Originally written as part of National Novel Writing Month 2008. This story will be posted in four parts.
Bundling two boys into the
car took longer than Natalie anticipated, even when they were eager
to get to the beach. Forgetfulness plagued them, and laziness, so that
Meredith had to carry everything for four people. They'd intended to
pack sandwiches, but Natalie suggested KFC. The boys dissolved into
Meredith just shook her head.
When they finally left, Meredith
drove and Natalie sat beside her, leaning against the window, trying
to ignore the boys as they wrestled and shouted in the back of the station
"Isn't that unsafe?"
"There are degrees of
unsafe," Meredith said. "They're four. And they're boys. As
long as they aren't poking at us we can consider ourselves blessed."
"Okay. I consider myself
Meredith smiled at her, the
corner of her mouth twitching upward. She turned back to the road.
Natalie, too, watched the expanse
of highway open up in front of them. On either side of the road were
only wetlands and farmland, low and flat and a verdant, invigorating
Scrub brush joined the landscape
as they got closer. The car traveled easily on the open road. Here in
the daylight, Natalie's accident seemed silly. How, on such a benign
highway, had she nearly died?
Around a bend, and nearly immediately,
the traffic pattern changed from heavy highway travel to a full stop.
Meredith slowed deftly while Natalie was still recoiling from the vision
of hundreds of cars, red brake lights blinding, winding through the
"Did you know to expect
that?" Natalie asked.
Meredith grinned. "Tourists,"
"From where? There aren't
this many people in Deborahville, are there?"
Meredith shrugged. "From
Charlotte, mostly. Columbia. Greensboro. Raleigh. People coming down
for the weekend. They won't all be at the beach. There's fishing, and
golf, and the boardwalk. And I guarantee they'll all be gone by noon
when the tide comes in. Ain't much beach left."
said, from the back.
Natalie nodded. They crept
along. Meredith turned on the radio to listen to the traffic report,
but all she found was country and beach music. She settled on the beach
music, and that was the setting for Natalie when the car rounded another
curve, and behind a grove of ordinary trees growing out of the grassland,
she saw a palm tree.
"Oh, wow," she said.
glanced at her, and then had to stomp on the brakes as the car in front
of her stopped unexpectedly. She narrowed her eyes.
"The beach. It's close."
"It's close enough to
feel," Meredith agreed.
Natalie smiled and tried not
to sniffle at the stupid tree and started to wonder how well her walker
was going to work in the sand. She should have switched to crutches.
Beau, apparently bored, climbed
toward the front seat. He poked Natalie.
He poked her again.
"And so it begins,"
murmured Meredith. Louder, she asked, "Who wants to play the license
"Me!" Merritt shouted.
Meredith began explaining the
rules for Natalie's benefit.
A month ago, Natalie, upon
witnessing these boys in the grocery store or on the sidewalk, cavorting
as they were, loud and obnoxious and motivated by absurdist self-involvement,
would have had dark thoughts. Though she would not have acted on any
desires of violence, she would have gone out of her way to avoid children.
She would have crossed the street, turned around and driven home, maybe
even stopped shopping at that store.
Whatever it took.
Her senses must have attuned--or
dulled--because she barely noticed that they had increased their racket,
and they were so cute, the way Merritt squeaked at cars and Beau kicked
the side of the door whenever he got beaten, that she could only smile.
* * *
The first thing Natalie saw
upon closing the car door and convincing Meredith she could, in fact,
handle a walker, a backpack, and a chair, as long as she moved along
at a slow pace, was the giant sand dune. The ocean roared from somewhere
nearby, unrelenting and louder than she remembered. The smell of salt
had been with her since the highway.
Meredith had rolled down the
windows as soon as they'd gotten close to Wilmington, before she'd veered
south and took them down the coastal highway, past tiny hamlets and
big billboards proclaiming beach after beach. She'd only seen trees
and stoplights and more billboards until they'd turned left, across
traffic, and then it was over a bridge and to this tiny strip of brush
and sand and houses on stilts.
And the dunes. Seaweed grew
like cattails, and there were picket fences and barbed wire around each
dune, and a staircase, wooden and weathered, in the middle of it all,
that the boys bounded up, and Natalie inched toward.
"Is this China Beach?"
she asked Meredith.
"It's for erosion. The
barbed wire is there to protect the sea turtles."
"There are sea turtles?"
Meredith grinned. "Welcome
to the wild coast," she said.
Natalie crept forward.
shouted, "I want you to stay at the bottom of the stairs. If you
go near the ocean, I will drag you back into the car and we'll go home."
A chorus of giggles came from
the other side of the dune. Natalie reached the steps. She wanted to
be with them. She wanted to see the delight on their faces.
She hadn't dealt with stairs
since the accident. They looked like a wall in front of her, and the
walkway, precarious and holed, started above her head. She felt dizzy.
Meredith appeared and trotted
down the stairs--like a mountain goat, Natalie thought. She squelched
the jealousy and the fear when Meredith touched her arm and looked at
her with concern.
"You can do this,"
"There's so many of them."
"You counted? There has
to be more than eight."
"I counted. Give me the
Natalie handed it over.
"And the walker."
"Merry, I can't walk."
"There's a railing."
"I'll get a splinter."
"Hush. Now let go."
Natalie raised her hands and
gave Meredith a dirty look. "You'll feel guilty when I fall over."
"Sure I will," Meredith
said. She hefted the walker easily over her shoulder and went back up
the stairs, shouting, "Boys, what did I tell you?"
"We didn't do anything,"
And then Natalie heard, "Where's
She took a deep breath and
put her foot attached to her good leg on the first step. Her bad leg,
holding more of her weight, protested, and she leaned forward, squatting,
and clung to the railing. She pushed with her foot. She rose up, precariously
balanced, more used to pulling than to standing with one foot, but her
shoulder hurt too much to take more on.
Maybe Meredith would give her
some Percocet, just to get up the stairs.
Meredith re-appeared, with
Beau and Merritt lingering on the walkway. She came down and put her
arm around Natalie's waist.
Beau said, "Come on, hurry!"
"Cute kid," Natalie
"Darling, isn't he. Put
your arm around me." Natalie put her free arm around Meredith's
back, unable to quite reach her shoulders, and clung to the railing
with her other hand.
"Okay, you're not going
to like this, but lean on me when you take your next step."
"Merry, I can't--"
"I told you. Now try."
Natalie put her foot on the
next step, and leaned into Meredith, who balanced her and held her up.
Meredith had a death grip on
her own railing, and said, "On the count of three. One, two, three."
They heaved, and Natalie toppled onto the next step.
She was embarrassed. Her face
was hot, and she was starting to sweat from the exertion and the heat.
The most hated word in the
By the eighth step, they were
getting the hang of it. On the walkway, Natalie leaned over the railing
and panted with relief. Meredith kept her hand on Natalie's back.
Merritt and Beau ran past them
and back down to the beach.
"No throwing sand in anyone's
eyes!" Meredith shouted. "Especially people you don't know!"
"This might have been
more trouble than it was worth," Natalie said.
"That's what the ocean's
all about, isn't it? Come on. We get to go down now."
"Come on." Meredith
took her elbow.
Natalie felt like a recalcitrant
patient. She let herself be dragged along. The ocean lay before her,
greenish and calm, with a hazy horizon and a paler, golden sky above
She smiled, moving forward with greater ease until the tide itself came
into view, rolling onto the sand, leaving its wet imprint, trying again.
Higher and higher.
People bobbed in the surf,
specks even at this proximity, and the beach was sparsely populated
with families and umbrellas and kids. There was a volleyball net down
the beach, and beyond that, the curve of the land, jutting out to sea,
creating a destination.
Down the beach the other way
was the pier, which went a long way out into the water, farther than
anyone could swim. In the haze, it seemed to shimmer.
"Smells like fish at the
end," Meredith said.
"It looks so romantic
from here," Natalie said.
"So does the water, until
it gets up your nose and stings your eyes and your bathing suit is soaked
with sand and you get stung by a jellyfish."
"Were you always like
this?" Natalie asked.
"I'm a nurse. It's all
about applying pragmatism to foolish notions."
Natalie said, "I don't
care what you say, it's beautiful. I wonder--" Her throat got choked
up, and she had to swallow hard to regain her voice. "I wonder
if it would have been this beautiful, six weeks ago."
"Of course it would have,"
Meredith said gently. She put her hand on Natalie's back. "You
would have seen it at night, with the moon and the stars reflecting
on the water, and the lights of the pier, and the comforting darkness
and the deafening sound of the waves that could almost swallow you up,
but the hotel lights in the distance remind you that at the long, invisible
cord that connects you to the world, there are still other people."
"Now who's romantic,"
Natalie said. A tear escaped her eye and rolled down her nose. She turned
Meredith met her eyes, and
they looked at each other rather than the ocean until Beau yelled.
"One step at a time,"
Natalie turned back to the
descending staircase. She gripped the railing with her hand, and leaned
forward bravely. Then she paused. "Which foot do I start on?"
"Reach out your good leg."
Meredith went down two steps, and then said, "Put your hand on
Natalie did so, and took the
first step. She nearly toppled over, but Meredith caught her by the
waist and held her until she regained her balance.
said, looking flushed and a little frightened. "Maybe we could--"
"Excuse me ladies."
At the bottom of a staircase
was a tall man wearing only swim trunks. He said, "I mean no offense,
but I would be happy to help--if I can."
Natalie opened her mouth, but
Meredith shushed her.
"Would you mind carrying
her down the stairs? She's a bit heavy for me," Meredith said,
Natalie opened her mouth again.
"I'd be happy to."
He trotted up the stairs and before Natalie could protest, he'd stopped
at roughly chest level, and wrapped one arm around her legs, propelling
him against her shoulder. She hung down his back.
"Really, this isn't necessary,"
He was already backing down
the stairs, very carefully, and holding on only to her good leg, letting
the other dangle as it would. Her shoulder strained, but the trip was
short, and he planted her on the sand easily.
"Um. Thank you,"
Meredith offered him a cold
drink. He declined and jogged off down the beach.
"Nice guy," Meredith
Natalie looked agape at her.
"Take off your shoes,"
Too in shock to argue, Natalie
numbly kicked off her flip-flops. The sand under bare feet sent warmth
from her toes to her ankles. She wriggled her toes and sank down into
Meredith bent easily and picked
up her flip-flops.
Natalie took them.
"Want your walker?"
The boys had parked it about
fifty feet down the beach, along with a blanket and cooler and chairs
they had abandoned in favor of chasing a seagull.
"Hope they don't catch
that poor bird," Meredith murmured.
"I think I can manage,"
Natalie said. She straightened up. "If you'll--"
Meredith glanced away from
the boys and back at her.
"Help?" Natalie asked.
Meredith slipped her arm around
Natalie's waist. "Of course," she said.
"This was a good idea,"
A breeze blew across them,
bringing with it salt and a faintly fishy smell.
"Wait until you see it
For lunch, they went into town.
Natalie was getting better at climbing up the walkway from the sheer
panic that she'd be stranded. The boys had played in the surf and with
strangers' dogs and with the Frisbee and then had made it through lunch,
and now they were asleep in the back of the station wagon. The dash
clock read one o'clock, but sun-stroked and exhausted, Natalie felt
like she'd been at the beach all week.
"What's next?" Natalie
asked. "Are we going home?" She hoped, she hoped.
Meredith said, "We're
staying at a condo overnight. It's a surprise. It's near the beach,
but not 'on' the beach. Still, it's near the coastal waterway. The boys
will love it."
They'd gone over the bridge
and back to the mainland where the restaurants were and weren't going
back the way they came. Natalie furrowed her brow.
"Trust me," Meredith
"Oh, I trust you."
The station wagon, the kids--sleeping
now, but potentially obnoxious--a mother to fight with. A schedule to
be kept. She glanced out the window. Another bridge, another neighborhood
of stilt-houses and palm trees and scrub grass, and then they were pulling
into a concrete driveway and pulling up under the stilts.
"Is this safe?" Natalie
"Well, if the flood comes
it'll wash away the car. But we'll be fine."
Natalie got out of the car
and looked at the house. It seemed grand and looming. Then the side
door opened and Jake came running down to see them.
"This is Jake's place?"
"It is," Jake answered
for himself. "My partner's a banker, you know. Investment. Though
with the ocean washing away, I think he's cra-zy. And the mortgage is
killing us. You wouldn't believe. So! Happy homecoming."
Natalie accepted his hug, and
then he went to scoop up a sleeping Beau while Meredith grabbed Merritt.
Merritt protested and dug his fingers into Meredith's shoulder.
"Can I help?" Natalie
"I think your job is to
get up the stairs."
"Geez. I'm calling the
ADA about this whole place."
"I'll come get you in
a sec," Jake said. He bounded upstairs with Beau.
Meredith grinned and followed
him more slowly.
Natalie glared and inwardly
cursed at the stairs, but they remained stalwart. She took the railing.
Jake came back with a crutch.
"How come you don't have a crutch?"
"Because my shoulder's
doing all it can to hold onto my arm," she said.
Meredith wisely disappeared
Jake said, "Take the railing
with your bad arm."
"It's just for balance.
Natalie switched sides, and
then let Jake foist the crutch under her undamaged armpit. He adjusted
the height, and then adjusted again.
"It's on the wrong side,
really. But you'll have to adjust. Now lean your weight on the crutch
and put your good foot on the step."
She did so as carefully as
she could, but she still swayed to the side. Jake caught her. "Balance,
see? Good. Now, up."
She pushed herself up using
her crutch, and forward, putting her weight on her good leg. The technique
was, she admitted, sturdier than what she'd been doing. With practice,
it could probably be faster. If she didn't topple backwards down the
When she reached the top step
and opened the door, a blast of cold air greeted her. She closed her
eyes and offered her face to the breeze.
"Daniel's out buying steaks,"
The living room was decorated
in wicker, and the furnishings and walls were white with grey tile.
"There's four bedrooms,"
Jake said. "One has bunk beds, that's where the boys will be. You
two get the one on the far end, I hope you don't mind sharing, but it's
the nicest room. There's a television. Oh, and we have wireless."
"I have truly returned
to civilization," Natalie said.
"I have wireless,"
Meredith called from the kitchen.
"But you don't have a
Meredith brought Natalie iced
tea and complimented her crutch, and said, "I bet I can read your
"You," Meredith said,
taking her free hand. "Want to take a nap."
"I do. More than anything,
I do. I'll pay you."
Meredith tugged her hand. "Come
on. Sorry, Jake. We'll visit later."
"Girl, I see you ten hours
a day at work."
He went to the kitchen for
a beer. "I'll be on the porch. I'll distract the boys when they
"Should be in about a
half hour, when all that chicken wears off." Meredith glared at
"Bless your heart,"
The bedroom had a queen-sized
bed that took up nearly the entire room. An alcove at the far end had
a large mirror and two doorways on either side.
"We get our own bathroom,
at least. Is this all right?"
"Seems like my room,"
said. She went to look at herself in the mirror. "We probably shouldn't
be doing that so much, you know. The boys might get confused."
hobbled over with her crutch--why hadn't Jake given her one before,
the bastard--and stood behind Meredith. "It's fine. It doesn't
"Me either," Meredith
said. "That's what bothers me."
"It's not you. I like
your company." Meredith patted her side.
"A little too much?"
Meredith's expression softened.
She put her hands on the edge of the counter. "A little too much,"
Natalie nodded. She hobbled
to the bed and sat down, carefully leaning her crutch against it. "No
one's ever cared about me like that before."
"I find that hard to believe,
Natalie shrugged. "You're
probably right. I--I haven't really been paying attention."
Meredith came to the bed and
put her hands on Natalie's shoulders. "You've healed. I'm glad.
You're going to be okay. And you're going to love being back home."
Natalie didn't say anything.
She thought of the woman in front of her, and the boys and the sleeping
girl and her friend outside the door, and how much she wanted to pretend
that she was a guest, just someone to show the sights, that she didn't
actually belong. Not here.
Natalie put her arms around
Meredith's waist and rested her forehead against Meredith's torso, and
prayed, 'Please, God, don't let her pull away.'
Meredith hugged her, her arms
reaching around Natalie's back. She settled her chin onto the top of
"I'm not leaving,"
Meredith pulled away and sat
next to her on the bed. "I've got a lot of problems," she
"Don't we all?"
Natalie held her gaze and reached
up to touch her chin. Meredith took Natalie's hand. She pressed it to
Natalie swallowed. She broke
the gaze and scooted back on the bed until she could lie flat on her
back. She reached for Meredith's hand, and Meredith gave it, moving
up to sit against the headboard.
"Aren't you tired?"
Meredith shook her head. "I'll
watch you sleep."
Natalie closed her eyes.
Meredith smoothed her forehead.
She stroked Natalie's hair. Natalie drifted off to sleep.
* * *
Natalie woke up alone. And
The clock on the VCR read 4:30
but the afternoon sun made it seem like noon. She heard voices. She
spent the next five minutes getting herself up and then hobbled out
into the living room. The voices came from the deck, so she went out
there, and saw a tall man in shorts and a Bermuda shirt standing over
The smell of steak made her
"I'm Daniel," he
said. "I hope you like steak."
"I do when it smells like
that. I'm Natalie."
"Heard all about you.
How are you feeling?"
She hobbled closer. "I
feel great. Fantastic."
He grinned. "Glad to hear
She smiled. "Nice place
you have here."
"I like it. Course, I'm
from Waxhaw. Jake thinks it's nothing special."
"Not true," Jake
said from a lounge chair. He lifted his head. "You want a drink,
"I'm good. Where's Merry?"
"She's down with the kids,
fishing. Lean over the railing and you can see her."
Natalie crept to the railing
and peered down at the muddy creek that made up an inlet. The boys each
had long reeds in their hands, and they were giggling and pushing each
other. Meredith sat on the bank, watching them and a little girl who
was digging a hole in the bank.
"Have a seat," Jake
Natalie sat in the nearest
deck chair and blinked against the angle of the sun.
"Jake says you're a lawyer,"
"Here to help Merry?"
"I'd like to. Working
Jake said, "He's so happy
he has another smart person to talk to."
"I ain't that bright,"
Daniel said. "Just ask Jake. But at least I vote Republican."
"He does, the bastard.
He doesn't ever want us to get married," Jake said.
"'Course not. Republicans
need mistresses. So much more fun. Don't I buy you pretty things?"
Jake smiled and sighed and
looked in the direction of the ocean. "You sure do."
Natalie glanced in Meredith's
Jake said, "Oh, just try
it with her. I dare you."
"Oh, that woman has a
mind of her own."
"Does she?" Natalie
"She put you together,
didn't she?" Jake asked. "If I recall, you weren't initially
all that interested."
"It was the drugs. I wasn't
that interested in anything."
"Oh, that's a mess,"
Daniel said. "I have a steel rod in my leg. I wouldn't wish that
Daniel leaned over the railing.
"15 minutes," he called.
"Rest, relax, Natalie,"
Jake said. "You're on vacation."
Natalie tilted her head up
and closed her eyes.
"Ready to go?" Meredith
Natalie had been listening
to the crashing waves, low and steady. The plate beside her only had
juices left, red stains and a little grizzle. The rest of the steak
was in her stomach, in pieces. Conquered. She'd been dozing. The breeze
off the water was cool--just barely--and the sky had turned grey, and
then charcoal, without the benefit of a sunset. That was behind her
head, all the way past California where the other ocean was.
Meredith promised to wake her
up for the sunrise.
"I'm ready," she
said, and thinking about it, she was. The tinge of excitement grew,
taking over the lethargy and the desire for sleep. She wanted to be
out there in the night.
Jake went to one side, and
Meredith to the other, and they lifted her up. She groaned. The chair
had been perfect, and her body resented moving.
"I'll stretch her out,"
So Jake took her into the bedroom
and stretched her out while Meredith kissed the boys goodnight, and
it was humiliating and painful and left her in tears, and after it she
felt like jelly and like she could fly.
Jake and Daniel carried her
down stairs, and then she walked with Meredith to the beach.
Jake's beach was different
than the public access she'd seen in the morning--rockier and thinner.
The tide was just starting to go out again and the sand underfoot was
wet. They walked toward the point, where it was only rocks, and some
seaweed and some scrub, where the houses ended and they could see more
of the ocean. The moon hadn't risen but there were stars, and except
for the waves everything was quiet.
"Are you all right?"
Natalie leaned heavily on her,
holding her arm. She'd left her crutch at the bottom of the infernal
staircase. She felt weak and more broken than she had in days, and she
would pay tomorrow.
She smiled. "I'm good."
Meredith patted her arm.
Natalie said, "I was a
trial lawyer, you know--Am. I mean, it's nothing like on Law & Order.
Oh, how I wanted it to be. But it's mostly procedural items and long
dockets that have to be read aloud and witnesses who are reluctant and
afraid and who lie and who smell. And the jury, looking for blood. Bored.
Salivating. If they have to miss work, or miss their children, then
they want something.
"All they get is the tedium.
The endless tedium. But I didn't care. I would go there. I'd say, 'Look,
look at that killer,' or, 'We're going to tell you what he allegedly
did. But you know he did.' I took risks."
"But you weren't good
Natalie shook her head. "I
never felt like I was a nice enough person. So I worked harder."
"You're not going to tell
me I'm crazy?"
Meredith smiled, and said,
"I'm not a psychologist. You seem all right to me. A little testy."
"I was in a car accident!"
At the point of the beach--the
cape, or the horn, or whatever--where rocks made a natural barrier and
waves splashed unevenly, there was a bench. An ordinary, iron and wood
park bench, sitting there in the middle of the flatness.
"Kind of incongruous,
don't you think?" Natalie asked.
"I prefer to think of
it as art. The tourists complain, but they sit."
"Like we're about to do."
"Why, yes. Smartiepants."
"I made it weeks in Deborahville
without hearing that."
"Well, to your face,"
Meredith sat on the bench and
Natalie sat next to her. She said, "I take it back. I would have
never been able to get up from the ground."
"You're getting stronger
every day," Meredith said. "Soon you'll forget all this."
"Not all of this."
"The bad parts."
"Not all the bad parts,"
"You should," Meredith
Natalie looked at Meredith
and not the ocean, crashing, demanding attention, offering moonlight
dancing on water and fish leaping up like black spots and ships in the
distance with pretty lights.
"Tell me about the case,"
"I mean, the details.
The procedures. What they said. What you said. What you've filed. What
evidence has been presented--"
"Whoa, hold on."
"I want to help you,"
"You can't help me, Nat."
"I know what I'm doing.
I'm good. I win. Look, I know it's none of my business--"
Natalie held Meredith's gaze.
She licked her lips and noticed how the moonlight reflected in Meredith's
eyes. Little flecks of white that moved along a glossy black surface.
"I want--" Natalie
started, and then rethought her words. She said, deliberately, "I
want to be the one that saves you."
"You know, for a long
time," Meredith said, with equal slowness and precision, as if
the words were warding off crying--Natalie could hear that in her voice,
the sob underneath, and the way she blinked more. "I didn't want
to be saved."
"I know," Natalie
"But now--" Meredith
stopped and looked away.
"Let me help," Natalie
said. She put her hand over Meredith's on her lap.
"There's nothing you can
"I'm sure you're a good
lawyer and all, but you're not a part of it. I don't want you to be."
"Oh, you've convinced
me," Meredith said.
"That's not what I meant,"
Natalie said. She put her free hand on Meredith's shoulder and leaned
in and kissed her.
Meredith squeaked. Her mouth
opened slightly as she gasped, but other than that she didn't move.
Natalie pressed against the warmth of her lips long enough to make a
memory, and then pulled back. Meredith breathed. Natalie felt the breath
against her face. She let go of Meredith's shoulder.
"Sorry," she said.
"It doesn't change anything,"
Meredith said. She looked at Natalie evenly; their heads still close
together, their breaths mingling.
"I'll be convicted, Vince's
parents will get the boys, and you'll be back in Charlotte seeing it
all on the evening news."
"You're not my attorney,"
Meredith said. She swallowed.
Natalie could see the cracks
in the face--the way Meredith's lip quivered. The way she gazed at Natalie
instead of looking away. Natalie wanted to save her. She knew that people
didn't want that, that Meredith didn't want it.
"I want to help you,"
"Help me do what?"
Natalie considered. "Stay
out of jail?"
Meredith's lips were damp.
Her eyes were wide. She asked, "It's my fault I'm going. My decision.
I made it. It wasn't in a vacuum--It was every decision I've ever made,
since childhood. Since high school. And Vince--Do you think you can
irrevocably change the course of my life? It's going to keep going,
just the way it is."
Natalie was silent. Her eyes
stung with tears. She moved her hand from Meredith's shoulder to her
neck, cupping it gently. The skin was smooth and warm under her fingers.
She wanted to stroke it, to see where it led.
"You saved me," Natalie
Meredith turned away. "Not
in the strict definition," she said.
Natalie dropped her hand. She
felt something closing in on her--walls. Pain. Darkness. Convincing
by argument is all she had ever done. She knew the right words to get
someone to convict someone else; to get them to push someone else off
a cliff. But she could no more get defendants to confess than she could
get Meredith to fight.
Meredith was right--she didn't
change lives, she just got people to where they were going. Commit a
crime and get caught, and the rest was inevitable. With enough poverty
or enough oppression or enough torment, even committing a crime was
"Fine," she said.
"Fine. But can't I do something while I'm here? Tell me. Let me.
If I can."
"Natalya Ivanovich, are
Natalie dropped her head.
Meredith touched her shoulder.
"I will grant one wish
in return for being able to walk again." Natalie lifted her chin.
said. The word was so small that the ocean almost deafened it, and Natalie
had to turn around to look at her and see her lips moving.
But Meredith wouldn't meet
her eyes. She looked at the horizon instead, and said, "Then hold
Meredith didn't move until
Natalie took her in her arms. Stiffly, she leaned into Natalie. Natalie
put one arm around her shoulders and the other against her head, stroking
her hair. They stayed like that and looked out at the ocean together
until the moon rose and Natalie started to get cold.
Natalie tilted her head, preparing
to ask if Meredith was ready to limp back inside, or fetch a sedan chair
to carry her. Meredith had been completely still for minutes, but at
Natalie's shift, lifted her head. Her cheeks glistened with spilled
tears. She cupped the back of Natalie's neck and pulled her down. Natalie's
Their lips met solidly.
A thrill went through Natalie
as they kissed, as the touch lingered past doubts and hesitations, as
Meredith's lips parted and there was heat--amazing heat that went through
Natalie and made her feel supple again, and eager, and powerful. She
cupped the side of Meredith's face and returned each kiss.
Meredith moaned. The sound
escaped her throat and found Natalie's ears. Natalie, undone, kissed
the corner of Meredith's mouth. Meredith panted against her lips, and
then kissed her cheek, then the side of her face, then her hair.
Meredith clutched her so tightly
that Natalie felt strong for being able to withstand it.
"Oh, God," Meredith
Natalie chuckled. She cupped
Meredith's face and said, "Did you just take the Lord's name in
Meredith closed her eyes and
said, "No. I really, really meant it. You have no idea."
"I have some idea."
Meredith's eyelids fluttered
open. "You do?"
"Yes." Natalie, still
cupping her face, leaned in and kissed, trying to share all the things
that the hurried, passionate, accidental kisses hadn't. Her love. Her
Meredith kissed her back, tipping
her face up, smiling through the kisses until Natalie broke off, laughing.
Then she brought Meredith back against her. They watched the water,
and Natalie's heart quieted in her chest, though Meredith's hand was
on her leg, and the breeze blew Meredith's hair across her neck.
"I don't know what's going
to happen," Meredith said. "What I deserve, I suppose. But
this will help. I promise. I'll think of this--" She brushed at
her eyes and pulled away. "Can you stand?"
"I don't know," Natalie
Meredith stood up and offered
her hands. "Come on."
Natalie took her hands. She
tried to pull herself up. Pain shot through her shoulder. She fell back
onto the bench, wincing.
said, moving back to her side.
"Hard to breathe,"
Natalie said. She gritted her teeth.
Meredith wrapped her arms around
Natalie's waist and said, "Try again."
"Let me just stay here
forever," Natalie said.
"Sure. Reliving the best
night of my life."
Meredith gave an embarrassed
chuckle. She heaved, and Natalie put all her weight on her good leg
and let Meredith guide her into a balanced standing position. She teetered,
but her legs held under her. Neither turned to twigs. She turned carefully
and hugged Meredith.
Meredith held her--not just
up, but close--and the embrace was warm and strong and Natalie could
have stayed forever. And then Meredith rubbed her back. Natalie nearly
fell to the sand. The current that went through her was far more than
friendly. She bit her lip and stepped back from the torture of Meredith's
hug. She took Meredith's arm instead.
"Look, I can stand,"
Meredith smiled and stepped
back so they could walk back toward the house.
Pier lights glittered in the
distance. Natalie hobbled toward them, toward the sounds of civilization
and the nightlife of the beach. The dunes were empty of other people,
but full of crabs hidden somewhere in the sand, and seaweed and shells
The houses along the beach
were mostly dark and even in the moonlight the darkness was deep enough
that Natalie missed the wooden staircase. Meredith had to tug her to
get her to stop plodding forward.
"How could you tell?"
Meredith pointed to where Natalie's
crutch stood against the railing.
Natalie went toward the stairs,
aching, wanting to lie down in the sand and rest her muscles. Sharp
pains had started in her leg. She clutched the railing, and panted.
Then Meredith's hand was on her back, friendly again. Concerned.
"Help me with these?"
Meredith got her propped up,
and then walked behind her as she ascended, touching her hips and making
she didn't topple backwards. Going back down the stairs was more terrifying.
She mostly let gravity pull her, using Meredith to hold her up while
she lowered herself to the next step, rather than the crutches. Then
up again at Jake's.
"I'm so becoming an ADA
enforcement attorney," Natalie said.
Meredith said, "You'd
be good at it."
"I'm a good criminal attorney."
"Sorry. We won't talk
about it again."
"At least not tonight."
Jake was asleep on the couch
when they got in. He woke up, rubbing his eyes, and said, "I stayed
up to help Nat up the stairs."
"I can see that,"
"Sorry, Nat. You guys
Natalie shook her head.
"No, Jake," Meredith
said. "Go on to bed."
He went, leaving them in the
living room. Meredith said, "Take a shower. Hot. Trust me, you'll
feel better in the morning."
"I have to keep standing?"
"Just a little while longer,"
Natalie swallowed hard. She
put her hands on Meredith's shoulders.
Meredith pushed forward, against
her hands, and stretched up to kiss her.
Natalie felt Meredith's warm
lips against hers and the kiss held and lingered until Meredith was
in her arms again and Meredith's fingers were dancing up and down her
back. Natalie tingled.
Then, from somewhere, a kid
coughed. They broke apart. Meredith looked guilty. Natalie wanted to
wipe the expression away with kisses, or logic, but Meredith smiled
on her own and mouthed the word, "Shower."
The thought of hot water pouring
down Natalie's back, and steam rising to her face, was an enchanting
temptation. She limped to the bathroom. Meredith went to check on the
Natalie managed to get the
water on, but her clothes presented a problem. Her shoulder was done
for the night. Or at least, until the shower was done.
Meredith knocked on the door
and said, "I've got pajamas and towels."
Natalie opened the door.
Meredith put the bundle on
the closed toilet lid.
"I can't get undressed,"
Natalie frowned at her.
"Oh. All right."
Meredith put her hands on Natalie's waist, under her shirt, and said,
"Lift your arms."
"As far as you can."
Natalie lifted one arm haphazardly
above her head and the other arm out in front of her. Meredith maneuvered
the shirt up, over her head, then over the arm Natalie brought down
at her bidding to tuck through the shirt, and then over the bad arm.
Meredith so perfunctorily set
down the shirt and turned Natalie around to get at her bra clasp that
Natalie didn't have time to be embarrassed, or turned on, or embarrassed
about being turned on.
"I think you're fine from
here," Meredith said, "But holler if you need me." She
slipped through the door and closed it behind her.
Natalie nodded. She kicked
off her sandals and pushed down her pants. She put up her hair and then
tucked it into a shower cap. Already from the salt it felt gross in
her hands, but going to bed with wet hair seemed worse.
The shower left her skin red
and searing and drained her last vestiges of energy. She stepped out
thirsty, but warm and limber, and managed to get on the sweatpants and
tee shirt that Meredith had left before she padded back into the bedroom.
She wasn't sure what she expected
as she pushed open the door.
Meredith was asleep. She'd
pushed down the blankets and was lying on the sheets, as if she'd conked
out mid-plan. Natalie chuckled, and got into bed beside her, and turned
out the lamp.
She was sorry she was at the
beach, because the roar of the waves outside, crashing against the sand,
drowned out the sound of Meredith's breathing.
Natalie woke easily to sunlight,
and though she was stiff, she still felt miraculously warm from the
night before. Meredith was gone. The imprint of where she had slept
remained. Natalie sat up and ran her hand over the sheets. Two capsules
of Tylenol and a glass of water were on the nightstand and Natalie took
them without hesitation, and then considered the empty bedroom.
Sleep beckoned. She was tempted,
but there was also the smell of coffee and syrup from somewhere beyond
the door. Merritt shouted something. The ocean crashed. She wanted to
see the water.
She wondered if she knew Daniel
and Jake well enough to stumble out there with sleep-straggly hair and
pajamas. A robe hung behind the door, though, so she took that as a
compromise, patted her hair, and went into the living room.
Meredith sat at the kitchen
table with the boys. She looked up when she heard the door and met Natalie's
Natalie's cheeks flushed with
warmth. So there was no shame about the night before. She was glad.
She went to the table, where the boys were eating cereal.
Beau looked up and said, "Mommy
says we're going to the airport later."
A pang went through Natalie.
"Are you leaving?"
"Only for a little while.
I have a job in Charlotte, remember?"
Daniel, at the stove, narrowed
She wondered if he thought
she was lying--it was wrong to lie to children. She sat down at the
table and Daniel asked what she wanted on her omelet.
"There are omelets?"
Meredith nodded. She stabbed
some egg off her own plate with her fork and waved it at Natalie.
"We have ham, cheese,
spinach, pickles, relish, Tabasco, cheese, ketchup--"
"Just cheese and spinach,
"Gross," Beau said.
"Daddy didn't like spinach,
either," Merritt said.
Natalie glanced at Meredith.
She shrugged. "Must be
Jake came out of his bedroom,
wearing swim trunks and carrying a big inner tube. A sling was tied
around his chest, carrying a sleeping girl. "Ya'll boys ready for
Merritt got out of his chair
so fast he tripped, fell flat on his face on the floor, and started
Beau, witnessing this, carefully
got out of his chair and poked at his brother's back.
Jake went to the door and opened
it, and Beau darted past him and down the staircase.
"Don't get too far from
Jake, Beau!" Meredith shouted. She sighed.
"He won't drown,"
"He doesn't have the sense
God gave a rock," Meredith said.
Daniel slid an omelette onto
"You're a prince, Daniel,"
"My pleasure. And now
Merry gets to clean the kitchen." He scooped Merritt, who had quieted,
off the floor and threw him over his shoulder. "Later, ladies."
Natalie ate while Meredith
cleaned, and they talked some, not about the night before or the trial
or Charlotte, but about the weather and the boys. Natalie thought about
asking Meredith what her favorite color was, or her sign, but she realized
she knew all that already--she could make educated guesses--and she
didn't need to tease. So she ate until Meredith took her plate away,
and then went into the bathroom.
The Tylenol had done its job
to take the pain from her body and she moved easily to wash her face,
to comb her hair, to brush her teeth.
"Are we going to the beach?"
"Do you want to?"
Natalie came out of the bathroom.
Meredith was leaning against the edge of the couch, waiting for her.
"Yeah," Natalie said.
"If we have time."
"I sure think so,"
Meredith said. "Why?"
"I'll shower after, so
I won't smell like salt and sweat on the plane," Natalie said.
She'd meant to be jovial, but
Meredith chewed on her lip and gave her a wry look.
Natalie self-consciously ran
her fingers through her hair.
Meredith said, "I don't
think you'd smell as bad as all that."
"No?" Natalie's heart
felt like it was going to stop beating at any moment, but she took a
deep breath and walked toward Meredith anyway. Meredith wasn't crying,
wasn't angry--maybe she didn't need Natalie for what she needed her
for last night.
So maybe it was wanting.
Natalie leaned in and Meredith
rose off the couch to meet her. Their lips touched, and then their hands.
Natalie linked her fingers with Meredith's and they stood together,
Meredith lifted their linked
hands and kissed Natalie's knuckles.
"We don't have to go to
the beach, do we?" Natalie asked. "It's my last morning."
* * *
Meredith, heart pounding enough
to make her feel foolish, took Natalie to the balcony, where they could
see the ocean and the sky and the children. Past the front row of houses,
past the dunes, the ocean glittered and shifted, the water catching
the sunlight. They heard shouts of joy from the shore.
"Look, there they are,"
Meredith said, pointing to where two men and three smaller people swarmed
around each other on the sand. "I think they're playing hacky sack."
"That does sound fun,"
Natalie said. "But--"
"But," Meredith said.
She turned into Natalie's shoulder.
Natalie smelled so good--so
like a woman--Meredith buried her nose against Natalie and breathed.
She heard Natalie's heart beating under her cheek. Natalie's trembling
told her that for once--only this once, this day before Natalie left
her--she wasn't alone in what she felt.
"Back inside?" Meredith
Natalie moved faster than Meredith
had ever seen her, and they were barely back in the air-conditioned
shade of the living room when Natalie kissed her. Her hands found Meredith's
cheeks. Meredith simply gave in and hungry kisses consumed her lips.
She tugged on Natalie's shoulders, pulling her down. Meredith sat on
the couch, bracing herself against passion. Natalie's hands stroked
her shoulders with quick, fluttering rubs, as if she didn't know what
to do with her hands.
Meredith opened her mouth to
Natalie's kisses, her tongue equally eager, and bunched the fabric of
Natalie's shirt at her waist. She slipped her hands under Natalie's
shirt. The smooth skin under her fingers was pleasure enough, but the
resulting groan from Natalie made the decision irrevocable.
Just when Meredith wanted to
kiss Natalie until her mouth hurt, Natalie pulled back, looking at her
with dark, hesitant eyes.
Meredith took a deep breath.
She freed her hands and Natalie took them.
"I need--I need to. Please.
I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. But if I don't--"
She squeezed Natalie's hands. "I'll regret it for the rest of my
life. Will you?"
She took Natalie's hands and
brought them to her breasts, pressing them there, open and flat against
her. Unmistakable, and if Natalie called her indecent or worse, well,
there would only be the morning to get through.
The pressure of Natalie's hands
warmed her. She held her breath. Her body acted of its own accord. Her
nipples tightened. She longed for Natalie to press just a little bit
harder. Her mouth was dry with anticipation.
Natalie swallowed. Her jaw
worked, her throat moved, as if she wanted to say something, but it
was her glance over her shoulder at the bedroom that answered the question.
She looked back at Meredith, and Meredith found her mouth for a kiss.
Natalie squeezed--gently, perfectly.
Meredith closed her eyes.
"I want--" Natalie
said against her ear, and then hesitated.
"What? Tell me."
With her eyes closed, all that
existed was the heat of Natalie's hands and the touch of Natalie's breath.
She inhaled. She couldn't hear the ocean as she strained for Natalie's
"I want you to touch me,"
Natalie said. "Please, Merry."
Natalie took a step back. Meredith
stood and led her to the bedroom. Once across the threshold, she pulled
off her shirt. Before she could lower her arms, Natalie encircled her
waist from behind. Meredith leaned back. A sound escaped her lips. She
Natalie held her strongly and
she felt secure, even with Natalie's lips brushing her shoulder, her
neck, her ear.
Heat pooled in her stomach.
Lower. Her legs turned to liquid even as cold air chilled her chest.
She arched back, resting the back of her head on Natalie's shoulder,
curving into Natalie's hips.
Natalie held her stomach with
one hand. The other she slid down Meredith's thigh. Meredith reached
up and pulled down her bra straps and freed her arms, and then reached
behind her to bury her fingers in Natalie's hair. Meredith wanted to
keep her close.
Natalie kissed the side of
Meredith let go and turned
around. Natalie, face to face with her, could only smile and kiss her.
Her hands splayed across Meredith's back and unclasped her bra. Meredith
kissed her mouth, her chin, her neck. Meredith couldn't get close enough,
couldn't taste enough, couldn't touch enough. She pulled Natalie down
for a deep kiss, offering her tongue.
Natalie's mouth fell to her
shoulder, and she arched, offering more, and whispered, "Please."
"Anything you want,"
"Make love to me."
Natalie eased her back onto
the bed, and leaning over her, unzipped her jeans. Natalie's hand rested
on her abdomen, just above where Meredith needed it. She was only using
Meredith for leverage to crawl onto the bed.
Any feeling that this was too
soon after their first kiss, that she was a slut for considering it,
that it was wrong, that God hadn't sent Natalie to her to be corrupted
and that she was failing--any negative energy left her as soon as Natalie's
head lowered toward hers and their lips met. Meredith hugged Natalie's
shoulders. Natalie's weight settled against her side and on her chest.
Meredith wanted to cry.
Natalie rested her head on
Meredith's shoulder. Her forehead brushed against Meredith's cheek.
She stroked Meredith's stomach, and then her breasts, tentatively, avoiding
Meredith's nipples, which strained upward, pining for her touch.
Meredith said. Her voice came out hoarse. She cleared her throat, and
nearly yelped when Natalie brushed her nipple. She captured Natalie's
hand and held it to her breast. Her nipple pressed against Natalie's
Natalie cupped her, applying
pressure, and then drew back so that her fingertips grazed Meredith's
breast and tugged the nipple.
Natalie cupped her breast again,
easing the ache by offering her whole hand, massaging, and then tantalized
her again with her fingers.
"So what?" Natalie
"I don't want you to--hurt
yourself," Meredith said. She rolled onto her side, facing Natalie,
and replaced her shoulder with a pillow, so that Natalie's eyes were
even with hers, so that her lips were only inches away.
Natalie kissed her gently and
then said, "I'm fine."
Meredith shook her head.
Natalie carefully, slowly,
sat up, propping herself up on her good arm. She tickled Meredith's
abdomen with her weaker arm. "See? Very mobile." She twisted
and leaned down to kiss the hollow of Meredith's shoulder. "Nimble."
Her mouth moved lower.
Meredith could not protest.
She was too weak and too aroused to stop. She could only clutch Natalie's
head and encourage her as Natalie kissed her chest, and then the slope
of her breast, and then--
"Yes." Meredith said.
Natalie's mouth settled onto
her nipple and sucked. Meredith arched her back, pressing more of herself
against Natalie's lips. Natalie's tongue flicked across her nipple.
Meredith lost her breath. She squeezed her eyes shut, and wondered if
she could die from having her nipples kissed.
No wonder this was considered
so dangerous, she thought.
Natalie lifted her head and
said, "Doctor Wheeler said I could start having sex two weeks ago."
Meredith laughed. "Did
he say with who?"
"No." Natalie kissed
Meredith's stomach, and then mumbled, "But I'm sure he had some
"Too smart for his britches,
"Good old Hank,"
Natalie sat up and traced with
her fingers the places her mouth had been, where Meredith's skin had
a sheen left by kisses. She strayed, more boldly this time, into Meredith's
jeans, over her panties. Meredith squeezed her thighs together and moaned.
"You are so beautiful
like that," Natalie said.
Natalie cupped her where she
was all liquid and heat, her fingers hard against all the places no
one else had been. Meredith's toes curled. She hissed, "Natalie."
"Take off your clothes,"
Natalie said. "I can't--I can't quite manage that."
"Only if you take off
yours," Meredith said. Her threat was empty. She was already pushing
down her jeans and her panties.
Natalie worked up her shirt.
Meredith pulled down the covers, bunching them around Natalie. She wanted
to feel the cool sheets on her naked body.
Natalie carefully drew her
shirt off her shoulders.
"You picked out the pajamas."
Meredith wanted to touch Natalie
where she'd been touched--to feel the heat through the fabric, to see
Natalie arch and twist and breathe hard--but she was not that bold.
She sat on the bed, her arms around her bent knees, while Natalie worked
the pajama bottoms off her hips and kicked them to the floor.
Then she was naked.
Meredith, overwhelmed to have
a woman in her bed like this, drank in the sight of Natalie's flushed
skin, the freckles on her back and arms, the dark curls arrowing between
her legs that matched her dark hair.
She had been afraid of facing
this for so long--in her own heart, and in the world--and here was Natalie,
just sitting next to her, accessible. Touchable. Almost ordinary despite
her extraordinary beauty. The rightness of it--the obviousness of the
rightness--made her laugh, made her heart leap. Her soul and her body
and her mind were all aligned, all singing, "Yes."
From somewhere deeper, someone
was whispering, "Finally."
Natalie moved to the headboard
where she could lean back, sitting against the pillows, and beckoned
Meredith knelt and kissed her.
While they kissed they touched, hands on breasts, knees and legs bumping.
Meredith took in her fill of curves and angles and slopes that all gave
way to softness. She ended up straddled on top of Natalie, her curls
brushing against Natalie's stomach, one hand on Natalie's breast and
the other against the headboard, to hold her up so she could kiss Natalie's
lips. She felt open and swollen and ready, and accepted Natalie's tongue,
thrusting and firm, into her mouth.
"Please," she said
between kisses. She knew it would be quick and she didn't care. They
didn't have time. She didn't have the strength. She searched for Natalie's
hand, which had been steady on her thigh, and tugged.
Natalie touched her.
"Natalie," she said,
sighing. Her eyes closed.
Natalie's fingers laid her
bare, opened her up, filled her.
Meredith crumpled into Natalie's
shoulder and breathed, "There."
Her energy was at her core,
welcoming Natalie. Natalie was touching her more deeply than she'd ever
felt, and stroking gloriously, not just inside her but against her,
with smooth motions and knobby fingers. Something rose in Meredith--an
excitement that made her tremble. She strained to hold herself up. Her
hips moved against Natalie. Her thighs ached.
She could hear Natalie whispering
to her. She tried to listen.
said. "Look at me."
Moving with Natalie's eager,
gentle thrusts, Meredith pushed back from Natalie's shoulder far enough
to meet her eyes. Natalie held her gaze and smiled. Without breaking
the rhythm of her hand, the one that already knew Meredith so well,
had learned and exposed every wanton desire, Natalie said, "Kiss
Meredith moved forward to Natalie's
mouth. Natalie pushed apart her lips with her tongue and deepened the
There--the completion, the
sealing, and with it the orgasm that shook Meredith. She was breathless
and powerless against the penetrating kiss and Natalie's embrace. She
shook all over, seeking Natalie's hand to sooth the lingering tingles,
and then retreating, her whole body searingly sensitive and raw, like
she had just shed her skin.
She kissed Natalie one more
time and then rolled onto her back, panting. She pulled the sheet to
her waist, and then, after considering, over her breasts, and slowly
became aware of the sweat on her back, sticking to the pillow, and the
scent of herself.
"Natalie," she said.
Meredith leaned her head on
Natalie's shoulder. Natalie put an arm around her and Meredith moved
closer. She put her hand on Natalie's bare thigh, and laughed, and said,
Natalie kissed her hair.
"I've always heard there
was something depraved about the homosexual act," Meredith said.
She felt Natalie tense against her, but she went on. "Not in the
moral sense--in the physical sense. Like, the Freudian sense. Something
half-formed. Like, men settled for other men when they feared women.
Stunted. And vice versa. That we should feel sad for homosexuals, because
they couldn't experience--."
"Uh huh?" Natalie
"Not going to believe
that anymore. That was--everything I thought it was supposed to be."
She swallowed hard.
"Maybe it's too potent,
and thus, not fit for anyone stained with original sin."
fingers traced her jaw and said, "Is the beginning of wisdom."
"Oh, shut up, you."
Meredith turned against Natalie's
shoulder and smiled. Her hand traveled, in darting finger dances, up
Natalie's side and over the slope of her breast, and across her collarbone.
Natalie shifted, unsettled.
Meredith knew the feeling.
Her hand moved down Natalie's
chest, over her heart, between her breasts. Natalie trembled.
"Your turn," Meredith
"It's all right if you're
Meredith put her fingers on
Natalie's lips. "I am," she said.
Meredith kissed her shoulder
and then slid around to kiss her neck, her jaw, her ear.
"Please kiss me,"
Meredith kissed her. She ran
her hands down Natalie's side, enjoying how Natalie squirmed when tickled
and shuddered when stroked. Sated, she could take her time.
She kissed and nipped at Natalie's
mouth. Natalie growled.
Meredith pulled away, moving
back on the bed.
Meredith stroked the sole of
Natalie's foot. "Ticklish?"
Natalie's sole was smooth,
without calluses. Meredith knelt, feeling naughtily powerful that she
could move around, she could bend and dip and twist, and Natalie couldn't.
She kissed the pad of Natalie's big toe.
Meredith took the toe into
her mouth and sucked.
"Oh, Merry." Natalie
closed her eyes.
Meredith asked, "How are
your feet so soft?"
"I haven't really been
on them in six weeks."
"There's more to it than
that." Meredith moved up Natalie's legs, crouching, bracing herself
on one arm while she stroked Natalie's leg.
"Fine. Peppermint foot
"Once a month, at Le Nail.
But at least twice a week, myself," Natalie said.
"I had no idea,"
Meredith said. She kissed the side of Natalie's knee.
Natalie convulsed. "No
kids, no partner, cheap real estate in Charlotte--I spent what luxuries
I had on myself."
"Oh," Meredith said.
That confession came with a pang of sadness but Meredith added, "It
Meredith met her eyes and said
"I--" Then she hesitated.
Natalie pursed her lips.
"I need you to scoot down,"
Meredith kissed her belly,
and then her thigh.
said, carefully pushing off to shift down the bed, "Ask dumb questions."
Meredith settled onto her stomach,
sliding her arms under Natalie's legs. Natalie obliged by bending them
and looking like she was going to pass out. Her breathing was short
and rapid. Her mouth was slightly open. Meredith wanted to kiss her,
but she had the strength to be patient.
She lowered her head.
Meredith looked up. Natalie
touched her jaw, cupped her face, and met her eyes. She said, "This
is the best morning of my life. I'm serious. It's everything to me."
"Me too," Meredith
Natalie asked, "Hey, if
I pass out, will you give me mouth to mouth?"
Meredith lowered her head and
kissed tight, trimmed, damp curls. Natalie gasped. She held herself
still, trembling. Meredith took a deep breath, trying to gather courage.
Natalie's musky scent came with each intake of air.
"God, please," Natalie
said. "Merry, please."
Meredith took another long,
deep breath, nosing into Natalie's curls, inhaling. She opened her mouth
and pressed. Slick heat passed her lips. Natalie filled her senses.
She took a quick, tentative lick.
"Does that feel good?"
"Do it again."
Meredith kissed. Her tongue
explored, finding places that made Natalie gasp and moan.
"Yes, it's good, don't
stop," Natalie said, and then, "Merry. Merry."
Then she found the spot that
made Natalie whisper her name instead of call it. Natalie trembled against
her shoulders. She knew what Natalie was feeling--what she had felt
with Natalie against her. She used her lips and prayed that she was
good enough to bring Natalie pleasure, to make nothing but this moment
matter for her.
She bowed her head.
Natalie strained, stilling,
and then arched against Meredith's mouth. Meredith held her.
Natalie shuddered. Meredith
felt each tremble and pulse against her lips like kisses.
A hand touched Meredith's hair.
Meredith worked her way up
into a crouching position, her shoulders aching, her lips numb. Natalie's
stomach quivered under her. She licked her lips and looked up.
Meredith took Natalie in her
arms. Natalie stayed silent, breathing hard with tears rolling down
her cheeks. Meredith kissed her hair. She tightened her arms.
"I'm sorry," Natalie
"That was--I didn't expect--"
"Me either," Meredith
said. She held Natalie close. "Me either."
"But you're not crying."
"Too excited," Meredith
Natalie turned her head to
smile at Meredith.
Meredith said, "I'll cry
"Then I'll hold you."
"You'll be gone."
Meredith kissed her sweetly,
over and over until Natalie's breath was even and her tears had gone
"Mommy, I’m hungry,”
Beau growled, running into the living room in dripping-wet swim trunks,
naked and sunburned otherwise.
Meredith pointed to the kitchen
table, where sandwiches and milk were already made. Beau dutifully climbed
into a chair.
Daniel came through the door,
carrying Merritt over his shoulder. Merritt was giggling.
"Ready to get down?”
Daniel spun him around. Merritt
screamed. Beau rolled his eyes and kept eating.
"You’re going to strain
your back,” Jake said. He followed them in, putting his daughter on
the floor so she could run to Daniel and clutch at his leg.
"Lucky I know a physical
therapist,” Daniel said. But he put Merritt down. Merritt whimpered
and ran to Natalie.
"Hi Merry,” Natalie
said as he climbed onto a chair and then wedged himself onto her lap
between her and the table.
"I got bit by a crab,”
Daniel shook his head at Meredith.
Merritt held out his arm. He
"I see.” Natalie rubbed
his arm. "Does it hurt?”
"Why are you with Natalie,
Merritt?” Meredith asked.
"She’s hurt, like me.”
Natalie looked smug.
"Well, you’d both better
eat something if you want to get well.”
Merritt grinned at Natalie.
She hugged him and turned him around so he was facing the sandwiches.
"I see everyone’s dressed--"
Meredith shot Jake a look.
"And ready to go,” he
"Down in the trunk,”
Meredith said. "Except for the carry-on bag. Thought that would
"What about Hollingsworth?”
Merritt asked, around a mouthful of sandwich.
"Chew, swallow, then speak,”
Merritt chewed and swallowed.
Everyone waited. He asked, "Where’s Natalie’s cat?”
"He’ll stay with you
guys until I come back,” Natalie said. "If you promise to take
care of him.”
Natalie jerked her head back
from the sound.
Beau said, "I’ll brush
Meredith put her hands on Natalie’s
shoulders. She needed to touch Natalie. Talking about the cat was almost
too much for her to take. Natalie leaned her head back and smiled at
Meredith. Meredith puckered her lips.
Merritt, in his attempt to
get his milk, elbowed Natalie in the chest.
Meredith patted her head, and
said, "Okay, boys, go get changed. Let the men eat.”
"Then we have to leave?”
"Then there’s popsicles.
But only when you’re dressed and have your shoes on.”
Another elbow as Merritt bounded
off Natalie’s lap and into the bedroom.
"You shouldn’t bribe
your children,” Daniel said.
"I’ll remind you that
you said that when this girl turns three,” Meredith said.
* * *
The ride to the airport was
narrated only by the boys, who told them about their morning on the
beach in grand, rambling detail. Every time their attention would stray
Meredith would prompt them with pointed questions to keep talking.
"We built sand castles
right in the wet sand so the waves would come up and get them,” Beau
"It was awesome,” Merritt
"Boys and violence,”
Meredith said and shook her head.
Neither boy commented on how
Meredith and Natalie held hands through most of the drive. Natalie rubbed
Meredith pulled up to the curb
and made Natalie stay in the car while she got the bags checked, and
then made the boys sit in the car while she got Natalie up on her crutches,
with her carry-on over her shoulder and chest.
"I’ll be fine,” Natalie
"We could wait with you,”
Meredith said. She finally let the boys out of the cage and they ran
"Wait with me? What kind
of airport is this?”
"One on the beach of North
Carolina,” Meredith said, grinning.
Natalie shook her head. "I’ll
be all right,” she said. "I’ll go face the music.”
"All right boys, say goodbye,”
Natalie handed her one crutch
so she could give each of them a one-armed squeeze.
Merritt burst into tears, startling
the three of them and the baggage handler and the family getting out
of the car a few feet away.
"I don’t want you to
go,” Merritt said.
"I don’t want to go
either,” Natalie said.
"I have to. Remember Patrick?
He brought the cat.”
Merritt shook his head and
then asked, "Is he your husband?”
"No, honey. He’s just
going to help me.”
Merritt sniffled. Natalie held
him, and Beau did too, until a security guard at a station down the
sidewalk coughed at them.
Meredith pried Merritt off.
"She’ll call you tonight, okay?”
"Okay,” Natalie said.
Merritt got in the car and
slammed the door. He glared at them through the window.
Beau gave Natalie a more solemn
hug. "He’ll be all right," Beau said. "He’s just
Natalie ruffled his hair.
Meredith shooed him into the
car. Then she turned to Natalie, but it was Natalie who hobbled toward
her and caught her in a tight embrace.
"Oh, no,” Meredith said.
She buried her face in Natalie’s neck and prayed tears would not come.
Natalie held her, rubbing her back.
"It’ll be okay,” Natalie
mumbled against her hair.
Meredith inhaled. A sob was
in her throat. She breathed sharply and tried to swallow it, and pulled
back from Natalie to see her face.
Natalie gave her a faint smile.
"I’ll call Merritt tonight. Maybe I’ll even talk to you.”
Meredith brought Natalie’s
head down for a brief, tender kiss. Then she let go, turning back to
the car. Her lips tingled. The boys sniffled and rolled around and watched
Natalie’s hand touched her
back. "I love you,” Natalie said.
Meredith cried. Crutches thudded
against the sidewalk, and receded, and Meredith wiped at her cheeks
and went around to get into the car.
The family passed by on their
way to the door, and a woman asked, her tone somewhere between curious
and accusatory--right on the point of nosy, asked, "How sweet.
Is that your sister?"
"Yes," Meredith answered,
almost without even thinking. The woman gave her a sympathetic look.
Meredith got into the car and slammed the door.
"No," she said, but
the woman was already gone.
Her first test.
She started the car. The boys
buckled themselves in.
They'd fall asleep. She'd wake
them up when they got out of Wilmington. Maybe she'd take them to McDonalds,
and then home, where she'd try to pretend six weeks couldn't change
She'd change the rumpled sheets
in the bedroom, and feed the cat, and try and put everything back to
Patrick met Natalie at the
airport. He'd pulled rank--not just his, but hers--to meet her at the
gate rather than at baggage claim. With his presence came a price. The
photographer next to him, who took pictures of a smiling, tired, triumphant
city prosecutor on crutches.
"I'll take those,"
Patrick said to the flight attendant who'd carried her bags up the ramp
and kept her from falling.
Not "Can I help?"
or "Let me take the bags" but "I'll take those."
Natalie wondered how long Patrick had been getting his way.
Still, when he shooed the photographer
away and helped her into the handicapped golf cart, she was grateful
for his presence. The cart beeped and rolled. Natalie laughed at the
people scattering in front of its progress. She should have felt guilty--she'd
always been annoyed by those cars and the passengers. Instead she was
happy to be in Charlotte.
"Sleep on the plane?"
She'd been thinking of Meredith,
and biting her lip, and writing a letter.
"Staying in Deborahville
for now," Natalie said.
She said, "Holly took
to the kids. They--there was a whole cat thing. You wouldn't understand."
"Okay," he said.
"You'll miss him."
The golf cart dumped them at
the baggage claim and he called for his driver while they waited for
"Something happened while
you were on the plane," he said.
"They found Roland guilty."
"On a Sunday?"
"You're back in the city
Her heart twisted. "That's
wonderful." Relief spread through her. She felt lighter. She stretched.
"It is. Congratulations,
"I'm going back,"
she said--far sooner than she'd intended to. This was a conversation
for drinks or work, not for an airport terminal.
"What?" he said.
He'd instantly understood.
He didn't try to play dumb.
She pulled the letter out of
the side pocket of the bag he carried.
"This is my two month
notice. I'll need that much time to get things together. Job hunt. Pack.
Sell my condo." She'd bought it two years ago after a promotion.
Charlotte was so cheap she could have bought four. She'd pretended to
love the space. She'd tried. But it had never felt like a home.
"You're going down there
without a job?"
"I'll find one,"
she said. "There are a thousand things I can do."
He was getting angry--louder.
He swung to face her, to meet her eyes, to give her the death stare
that got so many confessions--so many people to stop acting in their
own self-interest and act in his.
"Nat, you'll get another
case like Roland. Don't make it about that. Your career--"
"My career? I'll find
"This is more than that
and you know it. You can have anything you want. A.D.A. Hell, D.A.,
if you showed one ounce of ambition."
"Sorry," he said.
He ran his hand along the back of his head. "Natalie, you don't
know this woman."
"Listen to me. Hear me
out. She's going to go to jail for a long time. A very long time. And
you're going to be, what, stuck with the kids? Do you want that? Them?"
"Yes," she said.
"She's going to use you.
She's going to hit you up for money and--"
"Patrick!" she took
his arms, shaking him. The crutches clattered to the floor. People looked
"That's my bag,"
They glanced at the luggage
He pulled away and got it for
her and stood it on its wheels. He stared at her, his nostrils wide.
She took his arms more gently.
"I don't care about any of that stuff."
"Nat. I don't want you
to get hurt. You're too good--"
"Just help me," she
said. She let him go, hanging her hands at her sides. "Okay? Help
me screw up my life."
He smiled. "Okay. Get
your apartment on the market as soon as you can. You can live with us.
Look, maybe we can get you severance, or disability, or you can telework,
just until you're settled in down there. I'll call my contacts and see
if anyone's heard of Deborahville--"
He rambled on, picking up her
crutches for her and then taking her bags. She followed him to the car,
glad he was on her side. Glad to follow his plans once again, glad he
would help her even if he couldn't use her as his pawn.
Maybe it had never been about
that. Maybe she'd just been a good attorney.
She smiled at him as they settled
into the backseat of the town car.
He smiled back and patted her
"Thanks for all this,
Patrick," she said.
"Sure, kid," he said.
And then, "How far are you from Hilton Head, anyway?"
* * *
Her apartment was cold and
smelled of dust and neglect. At least the power was still on. There
was a note from her neighbor about Patrick picking up her cat. She turned
on the lights and sat down on the couch. There was no edible food left
in the fridge, but there were six messages on her answering machine.
Two from Patrick, one from the neighbor, two from the police, and one
She played that one twice,
shocked at how foreign Meredith's accent sounded already, after three
hours back in Charlotte. The boys were noisy in the background, chaotic
and frightening. Her eyes welled up. She missed them.
She found it was easier to
miss them than Meredith. Children were innocent, and therefore, innocently
loved. Meredith--that left too many questions about the future. About
herself. About what she was doing in a cold and empty apartment a hundred
"Hey, Nat, just wanted
you to hear a friendly voice when you got home. The boys say hello--"
"Hi Natty!" they
"Anyway, welcome home."
Meredith had paused. Natalie counted the seconds. Then, "Take care,
Natalie couldn't listen to
it any more, not with the lump rising in her throat and the tears stinging
in her eyes. She ordered Chinese, and then realized she didn't have
any cash. She used the emergency supply in the shoebox in her closet.
While eating, she went over her finances.
She found herself surrounded
by Chinese containers and paperwork, depressed and tired and in pain.
Her cat was gone and she was alone with the hum of the refrigerator.
She picked up the television remote.
She set it down. That felt
like a line she couldn't cross--not yet. She knew she'd succumb eventually--to
the need for money, to the need for the fantasy of other people's lives
filling her home, to the path of least resistance.
She glanced at the phone. She
remembered all the nights she'd waited for it to ring.
She picked up the receiver
Two Months Later
Meredith sat in the uncomfortable,
too-small chair across from her lawyer. They were in a holding office,
waiting for the judge to arrive. In fifteen minutes, they would all
herd into the courtroom and her life--the sliver of life she had held
onto between Vincent's death and today--would be gone.
She'd been crying more and
more, and the boys had caught her last night. They'd piled into bed
with her and said "What's wrong, mommy?" and "We'll be
good, don't cry," which made her cry more.
Merritt had said, "Call
Natty, she'll help."
That had been even worse.
She put her head in her hand.
Her lawyer coughed. Samson
Okoru had worked his way through law school with the state's help, in
return for a defense attorney post in a small town.
On behalf of North Carolina,
and not on behalf of her, he did this. He was completely professional,
but she was pretty sure he thought she was guilty.
A knock came on the glass of
the open door. She looked up.
"Took you long enough,"
Meredith said. She stood.
"I started driving as
soon as I hung up the phone. It's a long drive," Natalie said.
"Do you have to go back?"
"This weekend, to put
the rest of my stuff into storage and sign the final paperwork. I can't
believe those turkeys are taking my condo."
"I'm sure it's a nice
"I’m sure," Natalie
Samson said, "You have
five minutes," and then left, heading for the water fountain.
"I'm sorry it took so
long," Natalie said.
"Don't be." Meredith
felt her eyes filling with tears. She hastily wiped them away. All that
time lost--all those weeks--she'd be damned if she was going to lose
this time, too, by crying.
"The preliminary background
check is done. I can take the boys if--while--" Natalie stopped
talking and swallowed.
Natalie reached out and pulled
Meredith against her.
Meredith bit her lip until
it hurt, and said, "Good."
Natalie's hand was against
her hair. Meredith was amazed at how right the embrace felt--how much
she remembered Natalie's body from before, when she'd spent weeks convincing
herself she'd imagined it. Here was Natalie--real and holding her.
Meredith reached up and cupped
Natalie's face. She pulled back far enough to see Natalie and laughed.
"I never saw you in a
suit before. I guess I never figured--you look so powerful."
"That's the idea."
"I promise, I'm just muscle.
The press are out there."
Samson tapped on the glass.
"The judge is here. The bailiff is calling us."
Natalie took Meredith's hand
from her cheek and kissed her palm. "I'm right here."
said. She held Natalie's gaze, trying to express all she felt, all the
thudding in her heart.
Natalie gave her a faint smile.
Samson held out his hand. Meredith
took it, brushing past Natalie.
The door to the courtroom opened
in front of her. She dropped her lawyer's hand.
Natalie's hand touched her
"Vince's parents are already
inside," Samson said.
She took a deep breath, and
said, "I'm ready."
* * *
The trial had been an exhausting
recitation of charges and details. They'd broken for lunch before opening
statements. Meredith struggled to stay awake as the judge droned on.
Natalie furiously scribbled
At lunch, the lawyer tucked
them into a dark van. Meredith just buried her face in Natalie's neck
while her lawyer practiced his opening statement.
Natalie gave him tips.
"Why didn't you do this
before?" Meredith asked. "If you were going to do it at all?"
Natalie looked guilty.
Samson coughed and took a sip
asked, lifting her head.
"We did," Natalie
"We talk on the phone
a few times a week," the lawyer admitted. "She's good."
"I could have been a D.A.,
they told me," Natalie said.
"Don't worry. I won't
be writing wills for old people. I'm consulting for a firm in Charlotte.
We'll see. I might get out of criminal law."
Natalie touched Meredith's
cheek and said, "My heart's not in it."
"The military wants a
plea arranged. They don't want PTSD or war atrocities all over the news.
Tomorrow we may have an offer."
"I can't go to jail,"
"It's the parents driving
it, then?" Natalie asked.
"The whole town. Merry,
you really should have considered Charlotte. Death has turned Vincent
into a hero."
"He was always a hero,"
"Your freedom isn't going
to change anyone's minds."
"What are they going to
do? Them and their minds? They'll be too damn polite to shun the boys,
and too damn greedy to shun my money at the market. And wait until I
deliver one of their babies or patch up a bloody knee."
Samson sipped water.
Natalie grinned. "And
to think she's staying because she likes these people."
"I'm not raising my boys
in some strange city with--strangers."
"You've got more friends
than you think, Merry" Samson said.
"I have enough."
"They've risked shunning
Natalie said, "It's hard
to do the right thing."
"Real easy to do the wrong
thing," Meredith said.
Natalie pulled her back into
a hug and kissed her head.
* * *
Meredith cried when the prosecution
called her a murderer.
She had promised Natalie and
Samson and herself that she wouldn't, but she did, right in the face
of the lies about money, about promiscuity, about selfish greed and
her cold-heartedness. She made herself look at the crime scene photo.
Vincent, lying on her kitchen floor, blood soaking his shirt. She remembered
the fear inside her--the picture transported her back to that fear,
sharp and painful.
She'd believed he could stand
back up and come after her. Calling 911 had been in some fashion about
calling for backup.
Vincent looked like an angel
in the picture.
When her lawyer spoke, she
only looked at her hands, feeling nauseous and ashamed at his gentleness.
He made a rational, calm argument for forgiveness.
She knew in her heart that
she didn't deserve forgiveness.
That night, Natalie came home
Natalie walked with a slight,
almost imperceptible limp. The boys knew who she was when she stepped
over the threshold. They hugged her. They squealed.
Natalie winced at the sound.
"I've been away too long," she said.
Meredith took her hand.
After pizza, they put the boys
to bed together. Meredith handled reading them stories, snuggled against
Beau, while Natalie sat with Merritt and closed her eyes and listened.
The boys seemed mostly asleep
when Meredith and Natalie left, but Meredith made Natalie stand outside
their door, listening. A minute in, they had to bring Merritt water.
Two minutes in, Meredith had to shush them.
"They must think you're
a god," Natalie whispered.
Meredith grinned. She took
Natalie's hand. They stood another minute. Meredith had to shush the
boys again. Natalie and Meredith giggled together.
Then Natalie's hands were running
up and down Meredith's arms and Meredith was holding her waist and the
boys could have lit their room on fire and they wouldn't have noticed.
Natalie bent her head and barely
brushed her mouth against Meredith's. Meredith held herself still, simply
returning the pressure and then increasing it until there was a solid,
She pulled away, smiling. "Hungry?"
Natalie grinned and shook her
"Want to watch television?"
"I think I hear the boys,"
"No you don't."
Meredith tugged Natalie closer,
slipping an arm around her waist. She said, "I don't know what
to do with you."
"You've got to put up
with me. We're a family now," Natalie said. She smoothed Meredith's
hair back from her face and kissed the corner of her mouth.
Meredith kissed Natalie's cheek.
She sighed as Natalie kissed her jaw.
"Are you going to be old-fashioned?"
Meredith tilted her head. "Bless
"That's the only phrase
I know in Russian. I learned it from the gangs at my high school, long
before I learned the English equivalent from my defendants."
Meredith snorted, and said,
"Fine, brat. Tell me."
"In the colloquial it
Meredith slapped Natalie's
Natalie laughed and pulled
Meredith into a hug. Meredith tucked her head against Natalie's neck.
Natalie stroked her hair.
"There, now you're as
bilingual as I am."
kissed her neck.
Natalie trembling, said, "I'm
not sure who's supposed to take care of who."
"I've been thinking. We
have complementary strengths," Meredith said.
Natalie pressed her cheek to
the boys' door.
Natalie shook her head.
Meredith pulled back from the
hug. She took Natalie's hand and led her upstairs and to the bedroom.
Natalie swallowed. Her hand was sweaty in Meredith's. Meredith held
Natalie's fingers between both of her hands.
"Are you ready?"
"Your bedroom," Natalie
"For the rest of our lives."
Natalie said, "I'm ready."
"You are old-fashioned,"
Natalie said, "Maybe we
should have waited. For this."
Meredith shook her head. "There
were no guarantees."
Natalie lifted her hand to
guide Meredith's fingers up to her lips. She kissed each one and said,
"There are now."
"I love you," Meredith
She had never said it in their
epic phone conversations over the last two months, afraid that her dream
wouldn't come true, afraid to spoil it.
"Me too," Natalie
said. "I love you, too."
"Come inside," Meredith
said. She pushed open the bedroom door. They walked in together.
Natalie pulled away and went
to the bed. She smoothed her hand over the pillow.
Meredith was proud of the quilt
on her bed, of the drapes she'd chosen, of the furniture that matched,
but her things weren't very modern. Maybe it wasn't the bedroom that
Natalie wanted to spend the rest of her life in.
"Hey," she called.
Natalie looked up.
"Now, don't think I'm
going to be sleeping naked every night. I have nightgowns and flannel
pajamas and slippers."
"Bunny slippers from the
boys--well, from Vince, through the boys, when they were two--kind of
morbid, I suppose. Real fur."
Natalie raised her eyebrows,
walking back to Meredith.
"And crocodile slippers.
Those are fake."
Natalie settled her hands on
Meredith swallowed and said,
"And my dad's old leather slippers. His feet were too big, though."
"What about tonight?"
Natalie asked, slipping one hand around Meredith's waist to bring her
started, her words cut short by Natalie's kiss.
She lost her breath when Natalie
touched her--first her breast and then her side and then her hip. She
guided Natalie's hand back to her breast, where Natalie squeezed. Meredith
broke off the kiss, squirming. She wrapped arms around Natalie's neck,
and leaned against her, afraid she would swoon.
Natalie worked her fingers
under Meredith's top. Meredith clung to Natalie, unable to keep a gasp
from escaping her lips. Natalie's lips touched her neck. Wherever Natalie
touched her, she felt answering fire inside of her. She pushed back
against Natalie's hands.
She was startled by her own
urgency, and even more startled by Natalie's. Natalie was touching her
before she had a chance to breathe, to regroup. She hadn't really caught
up to Natalie being there in her arms. Already making love to her.
They had not been sexual during
their separation. Nor loving, nor tender. As practically as possible
they made plans, rooted in realism, within their limitations. Flights
of fantasy had no place between them.
Romanticism was the enemy of
anyone facing prison.
Natalie's lips touched her
ear. She hissed, pulling herself more tightly against Natalie until
she was pressed against Natalie's thigh. Her hands gripped Natalie's
shoulders as hard as she could. Her shoulders ached.
Still the touch of Natalie's
lips made her feel as if she were falling--
"Natalie, the bed."
said. She pulled back, breathing hard. She disentangled herself enough
to pull them both to the bed. She turned down the sheets. She fluffed
Meredith rubbed Natalie's back,
feeling the muscles flex and extend.
"I'm sorry," Natalie
said, sitting on the edge of the bed to take off her socks. "I
have been thinking about this--a lot."
"Me too," Meredith
Meredith kissed the top of
Natalie dropped her socks on
"We'll have to talk about
that, too," Meredith said.
Natalie settled her hands on
Natalie stood. She took Meredith's
face in her hands to kiss her--hard and lingering. Deepening. Meredith
tangled her fingers in Natalie's hair. She tugged Natalie closer. Natalie
bit into Meredith's lip. Meredith seized. Natalie broke the kiss and
showered smaller, damp kisses on her cheeks and neck.
"I've never wanted to
do that to anyone," Meredith said.
"Not even Sharon Stone?"
Natalie turned them so that
Meredith's back was to the bed. She gently urged Meredith down. Meredith
sank onto the mattress. Natalie worked up Meredith's shirt and pulled
it over her head.
Meredith folded her arms around
her torso, blushing and feeling cold. "Maybe when she was a cowboy,"
"I didn't see her as a
"What were you thinking
Meredith poked Natalie in the
Natalie sat beside her on the
bed. Meredith shifted toward her.
Then they were kissing, and
Natalie's hands were on Meredith's bare skin, and that felt so fantastic
that when Natalie's lips moved to her collarbone she let Natalie kiss
her wherever she wanted to.
Meredith found herself lying
back on the bed with Natalie over her, her mouth following the slope
of Meredith's breast to the cup of the bra.
"Natalie," she begged.
Natalie worked her hands under
Meredith's back, against the mattress, and unclasped her bra. She drew
it back and Meredith freed her arms.
"Not on the floor,"
Natalie snorted and got off
the bed. "Where?"
"The closet--there's a
"A hamper?" Natalie
looked at the bra.
"Don't argue," Meredith
said. She worked herself up on the bed to lie back on the pillows.
"I can see how this is
going to go," Natalie said. She tossed the bra in the hamper and
Meredith was relieved to see
her smiling. She asked, "Will you miss the bachelor lifestyle?"
Natalie knelt on the bed. She
met Meredith's eyes with an expression of lust that made Meredith's
chest ache. She thought she should be scared, but all she felt was an
answering call inside her.
"Not as much as I would
miss this," Natalie said.
Meredith reached for her, but
Natalie ducked away. She opened the top button of Meredith's jeans.
Natalie unzipped the fly and
worked the jeans over Meredith's legs. Meredith blushed, feeling each
inch of her exposed. Natalie tugged her panties down with the jeans.
She did not ask Meredith before dumping them on the floor.
Meredith, naked, sat up and
cupped Natalie's chin and drew her forward. She leaned back and looked
into Natalie's eyes, dark and wide, gazing into hers. In the moment
before Natalie's lips touched hers, Meredith whimpered. The light brush
of Natalie's mouth was a relief.
Meredith pulled Natalie close,
holding Natalie's head so that their kiss became more intense. She arched
up, rubbing herself against Natalie's clothed body. She hooked one leg
over Natalie's calf.
They had been so careful at
the beach house, so unsure. There was none of that feeling here. No
thinking. Just touching. Groping. Natalie's lips burning and Meredith
tugging up the back of Natalie's shirt, stroking her back, wanting her
closer. Natalie's thigh moved between her legs. She groaned. Natalie
shivered against their kiss.
She groaned again at Natalie's
hand on her breast.
"Don't stop," she
Natalie kissed her shoulder.
Natalie's lips were so soft they felt like cotton against her skin.
Meredith wanted to lie back and feel each touch of Natalie's lips, but
desire was building within her that made the passivity impossible. She
found the seam of Natalie's pants and pressed. Natalie shifted, bringing
herself to Meredith's fingers.
"Yes," Natalie said.
"Make love to me."
Natalie was on top of her,
pressing down on her, and fully clothed against Meredith's nudity, but
Meredith felt powerful when she pressed her fingers and Natalie trembled.
"You'll have to--"
she tried to say. She pulled Natalie's shirt up her back.
Natalie stopped kissing her
neck only when the shirt bunched over her head, interfering, and then
she lifted her head long enough for Meredith to get the fabric off.
Meredith reached for the bra.
"Wait," Natalie said.
Meredith didn't wait. She unclasped
the bra and moved her hands underneath the loose cups. She stroked and
"God," Natalie said.
Meredith lifted up to kiss
Natalie's collarbone. Natalie made a strangled sound. It sent a charge
through Meredith, ending between her legs. She clutched Natalie's shoulders,
kissing her skin.
Natalie pushed her back to
the bed, gently but firmly, with one hand against her shoulder. She
met Meredith's eyes.
Natalie smiled back.
Meredith trembled, impressed
with Natalie's strength, decisiveness, her own body's response to it.
Natalie lowered herself. Their breasts touched. Natalie's weight on
top of her, her nipples against her, was almost enough to make Meredith
If Natalie's hand had been
said, sliding her hand down Natalie's abdomen, under the waistband of
her slacks. The fabric accommodated her hand just enough that she could
curl her fingers into Natalie's panties and press to show what she meant.
Natalie kissed her and then
rolled off of her, Meredith's hand sliding free. Natalie sprawled onto
her back, panting, looking at the ceiling. Her chest rose and fell with
Meredith watched her, propping
herself on one elbow.
Natalie turned her head and
said, "If you do that I'm going to--And I want to at least be naked,
with you, in our bed. The first time." The speech seemed to take
away her breath. She held Meredith's gaze, slightly open-mouthed.
Meredith reached for Natalie's
Natalie twitched. "I won't
make it," she said. "If you do that."
Natalie closed her eyes, gritted
her teeth, and then unzipped her slacks.
Meredith pulled the sheets
over them. She saw relief in Natalie's exhale. The slacks went somewhere
to the bottom of the bed, under the covers. Natalie turned and took
Meredith in her arms.
In Natalie's arms, with nothing
between them, Meredith smiled against Natalie's kisses. Natalie held
her loosely. She hugged Natalie back, nipping at her lips, opening herself
up to Natalie's tongue, which was darting and playful rather than urgently
forceful like before.
Meredith's breasts tingled,
but did not burn, against Natalie's. Only when Natalie rubbed her back,
with long, sensual strokes, lightly using her nails, did Meredith lay
Natalie kissed her, only kissed
her, until Meredith took Natalie's hand in hers and brought it between
"Now," she whispered,
and let go of Natalie's hand and instead mirrored the action against
Natalie, reveling in Natalie's surprised, urgent cry.
"Now," Natalie said.
Natalie breathed heavily against
Meredith's ear. Meredith couldn't stop herself from shaking against
Natalie's fingers, so eager to please her. Tears stung her eyes. Natalie's
hips moved against her, first deliberately, and then erratically.
When she thought she'd have
to stop touching Natalie because the orgasm was coming, shatteringly,
Natalie froze and let out a choked sob. Meredith pressed. She forgot
about herself and concentrated on Natalie's pleasure.
Meredith held her, reveling
in the sweat of their bodies and the spasms against her hand. Natalie
relaxed on top of her, slipping slightly to her side, and planted one
sloppy, wet kiss on her cheek.
"Oh," Meredith said.
Natalie's body shuddered, like
she was laughing but didn't have the breath for sound. Her hand moved,
dragging across Meredith's skin, igniting her so completely, her skin
flushed, her breath gone, that she came, lifting her hips up to Natalie's
hand, shameless. She saw spots.
whispered in her ear.
She took a deep breath and
her senses came rushing back to her body. In the aftermath she felt
sweaty and cold, and Natalie moved to hug her, half-spooning her until
Meredith rolled over, her back to Natalie, breathing in and out, blinking
as her bedroom took focus. Trying to recover herself.
She tried to speak, and had
to lick her lips and wet her mouth before getting out, "Closer."
Natalie's grip tightened, and
she felt Natalie's chin against her hair. She rolled back, crowding
into Natalie's embrace, lifting her face so that Natalie could kiss
her. Then she settled back, smiling at Natalie.
Natalie smiled. She smoothed
Meredith's damp hair off her forehead.
Meredith swallowed. "I
think this will work out," she said.
"As long as we don't have
to get out of bed," Natalie said.
Meredith pulled her down into
a long hug. She allowed herself a moment where the kids didn't knock
on the door, and the cat didn't meow, and no one came to rob her or
take her away or call her names. She heard nothing but Natalie's breathing.
Her eyes drifted shut.
Natalie squirmed, getting comfortable.
She left one arm splayed across Meredith's stomach, below her breasts.
Meredith breathed deeply. She never slept on her back.
"Don't fall asleep,"
"I want to talk to you
all night, and know you, and--"
"You're going to tell
me to put my clothes back on, aren't you."
'For the children's sake,"
Meredith said. "Not mine."
Natalie nuzzled her shoulder
and asked, "Later?"
Meredith yawned. She rubbed
Natalie's wrist, feeling the bones, tracing the curve, enjoying the
weight of Natalie's arm and how it secured her, anchored her to Natalie.
"So, what's your favorite
color?" Natalie asked.
Meredith laughed. She turned
toward Natalie, to remind herself of the color of Natalie's eyes and
make her choice from there.
The phone rang.
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