“Why do I get the distinct impression you’re not listening to me, Lisa?”
Maybe because she wasn’t listening to her.
“I am, Mom. I’m just exhausted. I had an entire day of hearings and another tomorrow. And then I fly back on the red eye.”
“Well, your career is important. I wouldn’t dispute that. But at the moment, your father and I are concerned about Tyson. You’re sure he hasn’t called you?”
“I’m sure,” Lisa said.
It wasn’t quite a lie. Ty hadn’t called her. At least not since he told her he was leaving school and wanted to crash at her place for a little while. She hadn’t heard from him in five days, and could only assume based on this frantic call from their mother that the dumb-ass had gone through with it—took off and left school in pursuit of some indistinct ‘new life.’ This was not their family’s first dog-and-pony show with her brother.
Ty had always been wild and hard to control, restless and unpredictable. And as he grew older—though never wiser—everyone was beginning to come to terms with the fact that maturity wasn’t the issue. Ty was just one of those people. Telling him the stove was hot had never sufficed for him as a kid, he had to touch it to find out for himself. Well, this time, he was definitely going to get burned, because their parents were at the end of their rope with him. Lisa could hear it now in her mother’s voice—the exhaustion, the resignation and defeat beneath the worry.
“If he does, will you call me? Right away?”
“I promise,” Lisa said, looking at her watch.
It was almost nine-thirty, and some of her colleagues had gone for dinner in Georgetown to a steakhouse one of them read about someplace. Lisa begged off as being too tired, but now she was beginning to feel a restless energy and thought she might hit the streets after all. Since she was in DC at least once a month, she had her own favorite haunts in the city, and was already running inventory in her mind, trying to decide which one to visit.
“You don’t think he’s just … left, do you?” her mother asked, a thin reed of apprehension in her voice.
“No, Mom. I wouldn’t worry about that. Of course he hasn’t. Where would he go? He’s probably just taking some time to think or something.”
“When Ty ‘thinks’ he rarely seems to reach the correct conclusions.”
Lisa bristled for a moment on her brother’s behalf. That was the kind of thing they said directly to his face, as well as behind his back. No wonder he kept trying to escape the gilded cage of their parents’ so-called love. No wonder he was always running away.
“Okay, Mom. I’ve got to get something to eat. It’s late and I have another early day tomorrow.”
“Alright, well, call me if …”
“Yes, yes,” Lisa said, rushing her off the phone.
This time she was staying at the Mayflower Renaissance, the historic and upscale hotel where then-NY governor Elliot Spitzer had his tryst with a high-priced call girl, ruining both his reputation and political future. Lisa liked the Mayflower though the rooms were in need of some modernization. But the Old World feel of the place was what attracted its guests, Georgetown dowagers, and socialites in town from Virginia horse country for a tea with friends. Or at least, that was who it used to attract. Elliot Spitzer’s reputation and career hadn’t been the only casualty of the call-girl scandal.
By the time she’d showered and changed out of her power suit, Lisa had decided to grab a quick bite at a Thai place she knew in DuPont Circle and then head to Cobalt. Though she definitely went to gay bars back in San Francisco, it was funny how much more ‘out’ she felt in DC. Maybe because no one knew her here, and she could be one of the anonymous crowd. Her coworkers were safely some distance away in stodgy Georgetown, so she could be whoever the hell she wanted to be tonight.
Being in the closet in San Francisco of all places made her feel like a coward. And she kind of was. Coming out in San Francisco wasn’t like coming out in the conservative small Connecticut town where she and Ty grew up. In San Francisco, coming out was joining an already-established community. Even at her job, where she was most careful to conceal her sexuality, there were dozens of gay men and women living their truth.
But instead of just declaring herself one of them (not in word, because she would never do that, but in deed at least) Lisa pretended. She pretended and then went out on Fridays to places like Hood Range, where women like Tessa Denison strutted around like they owned the world and casually amassed lover after lover after lover.
As she waited for the doorman to hail her a cab at the curb, Lisa wondered whether she’d made a mistake letting Tessa stay at her place when Ty was expected. Would she say something, do something, that would give Lisa’s secret away? She hadn’t been thinking clearly when she asked Tessa to house-sit for her. She didn’t even need a house-sitter, for heaven’s sake. She had a wireless security system that would text her if there was anything awry at her apartment, and if that failed, a bunch of nosey neighbors would be her fail-safes.
But Tessa was like no one Lisa had ever met before and she was a little high on her when she made the suggestion, wanting to know that as soon as she got back from DC, she would see her. And because she was somewhat of a live wire, you never knew with Tessa whether she might just up and disappear or something.
For weeks before they hooked up, Lisa had watched Tessa at the bar, admiring her ease in her own skin. She picked up women the way other people picked lint off their shoulder—casually, thoughtlessly, and with the barest modicum of effort. It seemed like all Tessa ever had to do was smile at someone and they were hers for the asking.
If ever she was in a serious relationship, Tessa was definitely not the kind of person Lisa would do that with. She could only imagine the agony that awaited anyone who came along who was dumb enough think Tessa Denison could be held down. But for now, she was perfect—perhaps some of her bravery, her brash manner of living would rub off, and Lisa could stop carrying this oppressive, heavy lie of a life.
“So, San Francisco, huh? What’s that like?”
Lisa tore her eyes away from the slender, dark-haired woman a few seats down the bar and back to Kim, the woman next to her.
She’d approached just as Lisa sat down and asked whether she could buy her a drink and Lisa agreed, because she didn’t want to sit alone while eyeing someone longingly from afar. But Kim was not her physical type at all. She was blonde, for starters, and had what looked to be about twenty extra pounds on her. Lisa thought being overweight was a sign of indiscipline. She could stomach many things, but lack of discipline was her biggest pet peeve. In some things she could let it slide, but control over one’s own body was just basic. If a person couldn’t manage that, she had no time for them.
“It’s like living in any other large city, I guess,” Lisa said, her eyes shifting once again to the dark-haired woman. “Different enclaves, that kind of thing.”
Kim picked up on her inattention and looked over her shoulder, catching sight of the woman Lisa had been staring at. “She’s pretty,” she said. “More your type, I take it.”
A tone in Kim’s voice made Lisa look at her again. She wasn’t interested, but she didn’t want the woman to feel she was a complete nonentity, either. So she smiled at her.
“A weakness for dark-haired beauties,” she admitted. “What’s your weakness? Physically I mean.”
Kim gave a little smile. “Women who look like you, I guess.”
Lisa took a sip of her wine. “Oh.”
“That wasn’t a play for a pity-lay by the way. Just an honest answer.”
“I wouldn’t think … I didn’t think that,” Lisa blushed. “And besides, I doubt you need to make people sorry for you to want to sleep with you.”
“No,” Kim acknowledged. “But since my divorce, I guess I’m a little down on myself.”
“You were married?” Lisa sat forward.
She’d always been fascinated by those gay couples who just …went for it. It was one thing to be out—something she couldn’t even begin to consider doing just yet. And quite another to just live out loud like that, get married and everything like straight people. Again, Lisa thought about her cowardice.
“I like to tell people that my ex and I were among the first wave of gay marriages. And the first wave of gay divorces.”
“Since then I put on thirty pounds and started questioning every little thing about myself. So if I sounded a little down on myself before, that’s all it is. Residual divorce stuff.”
“What was your …”
“Wife,” Kim supplied.
“Your wife’s name?”
“Candace. We were Kimberly and Candace Merchant.”
“Huge. A real show wedding.”
“Were your families ..?”
“Yeah. On both sides. It was a great party. Great day.”
“Then I’m sorry it didn’t work out,” Lisa said sincerely. “That must have been very painful.”
“Want to … tell me about it?”
Kim grinned at her. “This has to be the worst date etiquette. Bending your ear about my failed marriage.”
“Well, we’re not on a date.” Lisa shrugged. “So you should feel free to bend away. And besides, I asked. I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t interested.”
“Okay,” Kim nodded. “Since you insist, I’m going to hit you with it. The Kimberly Merchant Marital Tale of Woe.”
“Hit me,” Lisa said.
Lisa still couldn’t believe they ended up in bed. The entire time she kept telling herself that Kim was not her type, definitely not her type, not that attractive, dammit, not her type. But after their conversation in the bar, Lisa had found herself overlooking the extra pounds, the blondeness, the somewhat dumpy and unfashionable clothes. All of it fell away and instead she focused on the bright intelligence in Kim’s eyes, the pleasant crinkling at their corners and their overwhelming and vivid shade of green.
When Kim was naked, Lisa didn’t even have to look away from the slight paunch, the soft indistinctness of her arms, and the way her breasts splayed slightly to the sides with their own weight. Lisa had looked at her head on and still, to her oft-repeated surprise while they made love, wanted Kim just as much as if she was the most perfectly-sculpted bombshell of a female specimen.
Now though, it was almost four a.m. and she had to think about preparing for her hearing on Capitol Hill that morning, which meant that her enjoyment of Kim’s company notwithstanding, she needed to be alone and get her game-face on. The Senate hearing was the long-awaited crescendo to a hard-fought legislative campaign, and it had to go well. Though she knew she had little control over that, Lisa still liked to be prepared. She would be sitting next to her company’s CEO, feeding him information that it was up to him to deliver with all the sincerity and conviction of the Pope delivering Mass in the Vatican. And though she couldn’t deliver his lines for him, she believed her confidence might fuel his.
She hoped that the sound of the shower would awaken her guest, and she would discreetly exit the suite before Lisa was done. That way she could review her notes, gather her thoughts and spend some time on choosing among the five suits she brought along as options. But when she got out and heard signs of movement in the next room, Lisa sighed, realizing her hope was in vain. Kim was still there.
She was dressed and sitting at the edge of the bed at least.
“Hey,” Lisa said. “I had a good time last night. But I hope you don’t mind if …”
Kim broke out into laughter that sounded like it had been barely-repressed up until that moment. “I made a bet with myself,” she explained. “About how long it would take before you asked me to leave. I lost. I thought five minutes at least. You took five seconds.”
Standing there in the hotel robe, Lisa blushed. This was the second time Kim had made her blush in their very brief acquaintance. Something she rarely did.
“You make me sound like such a bitch. I’m sorry, but I just have this …”
“Yes, you told me last night, remember? The hearing. That’s a big deal. Don’t worry, I’m getting out of your way in just a moment.”
Kim slid on her flats and stood, going to the mirror to rake her fingers through her hair. Lisa watched her.
“You could … I’m about to order room service coffee if you want to have a cup,” she offered.
“No. Thank you,” Kim said. “Last night was lovely. But I know we’re not in that place anymore. You’re here to work and I was …” She shrugged. “It was very nice spending time with you, Lisa.”
Kim turned to leave.
“Wait,” Lisa said.
Kim turned, her expression quizzical.
“I’d like it if you’d stay.”
“Would you really?” Kim didn’t sound insecure, just skeptical.
Now that she knew her a little better, Lisa was quite certain Kim wasn’t insecure as a rule and that it was just like she said, that her marriage had thrown her for a loop.
Lisa held up a hand. “Swear.”
“Maybe I can give you some of my tips for Senate hearings in the meantime,” Kim suggested.
“Tips for ..? Wait, are you a lobbyist too? How come you never said anything last night?”
“Not a lobbyist, no. I’m on staff for the Senate Judiciary Committee. And we never talked about my career last night. We talked aboutyour career, and my marriage.”
“You must think I’m a self-centered bitch.”
Kim shook her head slowly. “No. I don’t.”
Lisa smiled. “Well, let’s order that coffee and then, yes, I’d love to hear some of your tips for testifying at Senate hearings.”
Note to the Reader: The preceding excerpt is NOT a part of the novel, but a segment that wound up on the cutting room floor. Nevertheless, I hope you’ll check the book out.
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