September 17th, 2012

Fic: Girls at Night, Part I





Title:                Girls at Night
Author:            blacktop
Characters:     Joss Carter, John Reese, OC
Rating:            PG
Warnings:       Fluff and other high calorie content
Word count:    4,350
Summary:       The scene at Sugar's was boiling hot, no doubt about it


Note:               This story is posted in two parts




 

Showering on a Saturday night felt strange, but good.  Instead of getting ready for bed, she was prepping for a date. 

Joss let the water pound her shoulders and relax the aches in the small of her back.  Rich rose-scented steam filled the tiny retreat as she carefully shaved her legs, loofahed her elbows, and peeled the refining mask from her face. 

The roar of the shower competed with her Apollo-worthy renditions of Aretha, Whitney, and Rihanna as she rinsed the foam from her body.

Going out Saturday night was a rare treat nowadays.

Between Taylor’s blossoming social life, her irregular relationship with Reese, and the intense demands of her job, Joss usually considered herself lucky to be under the covers and out like a light by nine p.m. most weekends.

She didn’t miss the hectic life of a single woman on the prowl, though she admired her girlfriends who could strut through the hunt in high style.  They had energy to burn and a glowing optimism she couldn’t remember if she had ever possessed.

She did miss those comfortable old-school dates she used to enjoy with her husband.  A movie, a slice at a local bar, a tall pitcher to share, flicking the foam off his upper lip, laughing at nothing important at all, calling the sitter to say they were running late, snuggling on the living room sofa while the baby slept upstairs. 

She missed those years, when she had felt lucky and undefeated.  She missed him so much.

But her friends insisted she had to get out more.  They said she was withering away, hiding her light, drying up.  All those ugly metaphors for saying her life had ended before it began.   She didn’t believe it, really.  She was just tired, not stuck in a rut.

 But they kept at it.  And the nagging worked her last nerve. 

 So to quiet their carping, she reserved time once every other month to meet with them for a special date.  Just girls out on a Saturday night like in the old days, no agenda, no goals, no pressure, men only if they wanted.

The chick-dates turned out to be more fun than she had expected and she was looking forward to this evening’s get-together.

When she stepped out of the shower, she had to swipe several times to clear off the foggy mirror so she could see to put on her make up.  An extra lick of liner and three coats of mascara.  Did she need eye shadow too?  The blush seemed too much at first, but it did make her cheekbones pop, an effect enhanced by pulling her hair high into a sleek French twist.

She would try out the lipstick after she slipped on the russet silk blouse and gray crepe trousers hanging on her closet door.  She’d bought the lipstick that morning to match the blouse but now she wondered if the dim lights of a bar would magnify its bold tones.  Maybe she needed a subtler shade.

Taylor had left for the movies an hour ago with his boys, crumpling the twenty dollar bill she gave him in his jeans pocket in hurried embarrassment so that they wouldn’t see that his mother still gave him money.

Now, with her make up on, her hair smoothed and pinned, she felt painted, special, ready for anything.

Except John Reese.

Who was in her bed.  Under the sheets.  Naked, staring, and aroused.

There really wasn’t much of an argument to be made, when it came right down to it.  Hair could be re-arranged, make up could be reapplied, and no one would care if she was a bit late anyway.

She thought she was distracted, hurried, annoyed even.  Sex was the furthest thing from her mind, she believed. 

But afterwards, as she buttoned her silky blouse, the sheer force of that damned orgasm continued to dazzle her.

Blinking helped somewhat, but she was still buzzed, still breathless.

She decided to scrap the French twist (the hairpins were hopelessly lost somewhere under the pillows anyway) and her color was high enough she didn’t need to re-apply the blush.

But she was determined to repair the smudged liner and remove the raccoon’s ring of mascara below her eyes. 

So as she worked on her face in the bathroom, Reese leaned at the open door with a sheet wrapped around his hips and flung over one shoulder, Roman style.

“Where are you going?” 

The smugness would have been annoying, but he kept the smile off his face so she didn’t complain.

“Out.”

“With whom?”

“No one you know.”

“You mean like: Prentiss, Daro, and Marla?”

“How do you know them?”

“I have my sources.”

She couldn’t roll her eyes while she was applying black liquid liner so she put extra mustard into her question.

“You mean Finch has installed a surveillance camera at my beauty parlor?”

“Not yet.  But that’s a good idea.  I’ll pass it on.”

He didn’t know her mother, thank God, so the source was obvious.

“Taylor told you.  Figures.”

“He is smart, observant, and loyal.  But he bet against me.  Bad idea.  So he owed me.”

“And Taylor paid his debt to you in intel on me?”

“Sure, why not.  I said he was smart.”

No use in denying the plan in that case since he had the outline already.

“Well then, you know that we four get together every other month for drinks or dinner.  This month it’s drinks.”

“At Sugar’s?”

“Yeah, and that’s all you’re getting out of me.”

She pushed past him to return to the bedroom to put on her trousers.  He smelled like sex, warm and inviting.  She knew their unique shared scent was all over her too. 

She went back into the bathroom, soaped up a washcloth, and made a concerted effort at scrubbing the crucial junctures.  That and another spritz of her new Tom Ford perfume would have to do.

When she came out again, Reese was sitting at the edge of the bed. She could see his toes peeking from beneath the folds of the sheet.  They were curled under in an awkward pose that contradicted his casual expression.  He looked like a little boy picking out a switch in anticipation of a thrashing.

He was tense about something.

“Do they know about me?”

“What about you?”

She knew what he meant, where this was going, but she wanted him to lead.  However, he said nothing further, which pissed her off.

“Look, I can’t talk to anybody about you.  About this.”

She waved her hand between them and looked around the room.

“About any of this.  You know that.  Too many questions, too few answers.”

She felt mean and small.  But right.

“Do you want to?”  His voice sounded tight and raspy.

“Sure I do.  If we were just a normal couple in a normal relationship, you know I’d talk about you with my girls.  But that’s not gonna happen, and you know it.”

His silence killed her.  And frustration goaded her.

“I mean, how am I supposed to explain how we met?  Which beginning do I share with them?  The one where you are a reeking pile of rags with mad covert ops skills?”

She had to let it all burst out now, no way to stop it, no matter how sad his eyes looked.

“Or do I go with how you romantically snuffed my C.I. to save my life?  Or maybe the ‘I almost got you killed by some CIA bastard’ story would be the best one to tell.  They already think I’m crazy anyway, so why not give them proof positive?”

He had no answer to that.

The buzz evaporated.  The intimacy dispersed into the chilly air. 

He didn’t shift from his spot at the foot of the bed.  She finished dressing in silence, moving through his penetrating appraisal with a stiff gait.  

She didn’t want to go out anymore; the fun was spoiled for sure.  But it was a matter of principle now and she completed her preparations and left in a rank cloud of regret.

 

++++++

 

Sugar’s was a scene, no doubt about it.

The restaurant, located on three floors of a grand old townhouse, was packed with a Saturday night crowd which throbbed with intent.  The purpose was sex; the method was by any means necessary.

Joss had regretted her four inch heels when she was staggering on the corner near her apartment looking for a cab. 

But when she walked into Sugar’s she was happy to have them on.  She knew the strut gave a nice bounce to her ass.  And the perilous angle thrust her chest forward just so; the extra blouse button she had undone before she pushed through the mahogany door was straining as she sat at the center table her friends had claimed.

She knew that the choice of Sugar’s was made by Prentiss, the It Girl of their group. 

Prentiss followed the fashion, restaurant, art, and publishing industries in the city with fierceness.  Her job as a literary agent required that she keep up with all of it, but her interest was long-standing.  Joss could remember so many nights in law school listening in awe as Prentiss regaled her with passionate lectures on the cutthroat world of contemporary art or books when they were supposed to be reading contract law cases.

When Prentiss beat breast cancer three years ago she decided to keep her close cropped natural as a badge of her struggle and her victory.

Now she presided over the girlfriends’ table at Sugar’s, waving Joss into their warm circle as she approached.

“You are never ever late, so you know we’ll forgive you this one time.  But I hope you have a good excuse for it.”

Joss was always the quietest one of the group, so little was expected now.  Stretching for a slight lie would work.

“No excuse, just a son who needed some last minute advice before he took off on a date.”

“You mean to tell me Taylor is dating already?  Wasn’t he a baby just last week?”   Marla’s green eyes glittered in the candlelight as she turned up her face for a quick kiss.

Joss’s college roommate Marla was a high school guidance counselor.  She was also the coach of the girls’ basketball team, which was particularly impressive given her five foot three stature.  Physical toughness was an absolute requirement in Marla’s family where her grandmother, a Bergen-Belsen survivor, presided.

“Time flies when you don’t have kids, I guess.”

Joss didn’t think that Marla regretted not having children of her own.  She gave every indication that the hundreds of students she sent off to college every year were more offspring than she could ever have hoped for.

The fourth member of their little gang looked over Joss with a penetrating gaze.  If anyone was going to figure out she was lying, it would be Daro.

Daro was tall, sardonic, and drop dead gorgeous with her cinnamon skin and golden box-braids swishing against her shoulders as she scanned the room.  There was plenty for the taking at Sugar’s tonight but Daro, devoutly committed to her partner and their teenage boys, was not on the prowl. 

Prentiss loved to tease that Daro put the “same” into same-sex marriage: never flirted, never stepped out, never even looked at another woman for sixteen years. 

Despite her beauty and the invitations it generated from admiring men and women, Daro was just not interested.  Famously, at least in their crowd, she couldn’t be coaxed, prodded, bought, enticed, or seduced, no matter how many drinks she put away.  As she had proclaimed at the gala launch party for her latest book, she had all she wanted in Barb and the boys.

She just liked to drink and hang out with her girls, she said.  And she liked to observe all these exotic mating rituals at Sugar’s, she said, because it provided such good material for her poetry.  

Joss thought Daro might be the luckiest one of them all.

 

++++++

 

The server glided into view as soon as Joss took a seat and introduced himself as Terence.  As round, black, and shiny as a bowling ball, he looked the perfect advertisement for the high quality of Sugar’s kitchen.

Joss requested a “Signifying Monkey,” a jaunty combination of gin, lemon juice, and bitters, mixed into a sugar syrup flavored with jalapeno and rosemary.  

Terence looked at her with professional skepticism, but cheerfully promised to hurry back with the drink as well as another round for her three friends.

She had no idea what this “Signifying Monkey” concoction would taste like but she wanted to be adventurous that night and she loved the name.

She noted that the table was already burdened with a succulent assortment of appetizers, each with the Southern twist that Sugar’s was celebrated for:  tiny crab cakes, golden pieces of fried catfish, mounds of lemon potato salad sprinkled with dill, chicken tenders which really earned their name, little scoops of dirty rice with shrimp cradled in leaves of red cabbage, and glistening oysters on the half shell.

Anchoring the down-home array was a huge bottle of Louisiana hot sauce at one end of the table and a basket heaped with thumb-sized cornbread muffins at the other.

“Who’s supposed to eat all this? I thought we were only having a drink.”

Joss giggled.  The excess of the spread before her and the delicious buzz in the room were making her drunk even before she had her first sip.

“Or are you all planning to stay here ‘til dawn?”

Prentiss had a quick retort: “We’ll stay here all summer, if that’s what it takes!”

“What it takes for what, exactly?” Daro didn’t mind launching a little jab at her agent from time to time.

“To get what I want, baby!”

The bawdy exchange that followed permitted each woman to elaborate on exactly what qualities they were looking for in a partner, or at least in a one-night sweetheart.

Joss stayed quiet for the most part, letting her laughter punctuate the outrageous lists the others came up with.

The potent contents of the “Briar Patch,” “Dozens,” and “Double Dutch” drinks the women consumed lubricated their lewd conversation and made time fly as the heat rose in the boisterous room.

Joss looked over her friends and without prejudice thought that they were absolutely the best-looking women in the place.

Prentiss was all sleek and compact in a dazzling white jumpsuit whose bustier bodice showed off her bare shoulders.  Waterfall earrings in silver and a stack of silver bangles from wrist to elbow made her deep berry skin gleam.

Marla had stuck with her trusty shirtdress style, in pale lettuce-green this time.  But since it was open almost to her navel with a high collar that framed her face and strawberry curls the dress wasn’t matronly in the slightest.  The prim pearls at her ears and throat only made her daring outfit that much sexier, Joss thought.

The cropped black cigarette pants Daro wore were a favorite look, held in place this time by a wide black obi belt that emphasized her tiny waist.  The simple tank top was anything but plain with its bronze sequins sparkling all over.   She didn’t wear earrings, just a small gold stud in her left nostril.  And the two heavy gold cuffs were the real thing, Joss knew.   Being the “voice of a generation” meant that the business of poetry had been exceedingly good to Daro.

Joss was at least two rounds behind her friends but didn’t mind playing catch up, so she ordered a second “Monkey” as soon as the first was drained.

To balance out all the food she was inhaling, she reasoned.

If she went home a little tipsy, who would care?  Taylor would be in bed by the time she got back and Reese would be long gone, so she might as well enjoy herself for once.

Except he wasn’t long gone.

He was right there, staring at her from a small table at the back of the house near the kitchen door.




Fic: Girls at Night, Part II



When Reese had arrived at Sugar’s wasn’t certain, how long he had been stationed with his sights on her circle of girlfriends wasn’t clear either.  What he planned to do was an open question.  That he was up to no good was beyond doubt.

Aided by the hot liquor inside her, Joss decided to try to ignore him.  They had done and said more than enough for the night, she figured.

But it wasn’t easy. He just had to wear that lilac shirt, damn him.

With three buttons popped to show his hard smooth chest, goddam him.

His clever fingers curled around a short glass she knew was filled with scotch on the rocks.

Prentiss, naturally, noticed first.

“Joss, you have a stone fox staring you down.  Lookee there!”  She waved a long elegant finger in Reese’s direction and continued fluttering her hand until Joss slapped it down.

“Don’t point at him, for God’s sake!”

“Why not?  He started it.  Not me.  I’m the innocent one here.”

Prentiss widened her eyes and looked to Marla for confirmation.

So Marla just had to jump in with gusto.

“Damn straight.  And by the way, the brain waves he’s sending your direction?  They’re anything but innocent.  My panties are steaming just from the heat reflecting off you, hon.”

The three conspirators laughed and begin their plotting.

Ringleader Prentiss argued for a direct assault.

“Just go up and talk with him, Joss.  You at least owe us a report on the exact color of those wild eyes. I’m betting baby blue.”

Marla’s suggestion of hazel was shot down quickly.

“Gray with foggy green undertones,” Daro chimed in.  Then she was off on a roll.

“If I was gonna get poetical on your sorry asses, I would say they are the color of polar icebergs splitting under the punishing rays of an arctic sun.  But I ain’t gonna say that, no…no...” 

She trailed off and took a long draw from her bourbon and tea.

Marla was the practical one.  “If you don’t want him, Joss, can I have him?  No use letting a perfectly good man like that go to waste.”

Prentiss was in a mood for reminiscing.

“I dated a blue-eyed soul brother once.”

But Joss and Daro were having none of that.

“Only once?”  

They clicked their tongues in unison at the underestimation.  Daro then held up her left hand and silently began ticking off, finger by finger, the legendary romantic encounters of their friend.  She had to reach for Joss’s right hand to complete the inventory.

Tossing her braids, Daro signaled to the waiter for another Briar Patch and pronounced her final word on the subject:

“Beautiful face, too bad about the plumbing.  But you should go for it, babe, you deserve it.”

At that moment Terence rolled to their table with a huge silver ice bucket cradling a bottle swathed in a white napkin.  He carried four tall flute glasses between the fingers of his pudgy right hand.

With solemn ceremony he unfurled the napkin to reveal the sweating neck of a giant bottle of Champagne.  Its glittering foil label trumpeted the brand and the vintage, Bollinger Blanc de Noirs, Vieilles Vignes Francaises 1997. 

“The gentleman over there ordered it for your table.”  He gestured with flying eyebrows towards Reese.  “He sends his compliments to the lady in red.”

Terence, impressed out of his usual complacency, whispered to the women that this Bollinger’s was the most expensive bottle in the cellar.

As he worked open the wire cage containing the cork, the besotted Terence didn’t take his eyes off Joss.  He poured her the first glass and waited in hushed expectancy for her approval. 

It was as if Terence had bought the Champagne for her himself.

She sipped from the flute, nodded at the waiter, but didn’t turn her eyes to Reese.

Terence filled her glass and then poured for the other three.  Joss’s stubborn silence provoked a risky outburst from the waiter.   He looked her in the eye and put his tip on the line.

“Lady, I know it’s none of my business.  But if you’re not interested, there’s a chick at the bar who definitely is.  Maybe you saw her – blonde hair down her back, leopard print mini, tight red sweater.”

Four pairs of eyes narrowed ferociously at Terence.  He edged away from the table, his hands raised defensively in front of his broad chest.

“Don’t shoot the messenger!  I’m just sayin’.”

When Terence left, all hell broke loose.

 

After a several minutes in the whirlwind, Joss had to get up from the table just to put a halt to the commotion.  When she asked the bartender for directions to the ladies room, she found she was forced to pass close by Reese’s table.

As she approached him she felt her womb throb with each stride, rejoicing in brute recognition: Yes, yes, yes!

Double damn.

Might as well face it straight on.

She let some Signifying Monkey bravado leak into her words when she stopped in front of Reese.

“What are you doing here?” 

He looked up at her with those pale blue, hazel, gray-green, poetically icy eyes and shrugged out a reply.

“Having a drink, same as you.”

“Spying on me.”

“Meeting you.”   His drawl didn’t disguise the emphasis on the first word.

She hesitated and wondered if it could be the liquor which caused her to sway on her feet.

“Well, I’m not going to introduce you to them.”

“I know.  You don’t have to.” 

He looked down then and she could count his black eyelashes as they lay across the cheekbones she knew so well. 

Her counting was interrupted when he continued.

“Just lean over and whisper something in my ear.  Pretend to say something sassy.  And I’ll pretend to be shocked.”

She leaned low (two could play at this undone button game) and spoke softly into his ear.

“I get what you’re doing and I appreciate it.”

He nodded and raised his eyebrows slightly, which didn’t look like shock to her, but she thought it would convince their audience.

He pulled a small black leather notebook from the breast pocket of his suit jacket.  Tearing out an unlined white sheet, he placed it on the table cloth and used the little pen tucked in the book to write something. 

The awkward curve of his left hand obscured the inscription from her view.

He folded the paper in half and handed it to her, his fingers lingering over her palm the way they always did.

“Now turn on your heel and walk away with a swagger, like you just told me off good.” 

A half smile danced at the corner of his lips as the final scene of their little theatre played out.

The folded sheet tucked in her pants pocket, Joss returned to her friends and let the rest of the evening unfurl like the finest, softest, most beautiful napkin in Sugar’s pantry.

What’s his name? Marla needed details.

John.  Just John.

Prentiss asked what the ardent stranger had written on the sheet of paper. 

A phone number.

Daro wanted to know if Joss planned to call him.

Can’t say just yet.  Maybe.

Why not, Marla demanded.

Got to think about it, that’s all.

Prentiss demanded a blow-by-blow account of their first date, which she was sure was going to be a smash, whenever it happened.

Daro, woozy but upbeat, repeated her earlier pronouncement:

You should go for it, babe.  You deserve it.

Joss hoped she did.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Reese touch his ear and speak softly into the air.  A familiar keen look sparked his features as he listened to Finch’s instructions.  The arrival of a new round of appetizers distracted her briefly.  

When she turned her head again, Reese had disappeared into the jostling crowd.

The night went on in its appointed round.  Marla’s trip to the bar to investigate the feral girl in leopard resulted in an exchange with a boyish architect from Albany. 

He didn’t look married but then appearances could be deceiving.  Marla offered spirited resistance to her friends’ jaded warnings, an optimism that was rewarded several minutes later when the man in question cautiously approached their table to introduce himself formally to the circle.  At that the friends nodded an unspoken endorsement. 

Relieved and happy, Marla left with him shortly afterwards.

Returning from a trip to the restroom, Prentiss whispered with Terence the waiter.  She wanted to make sure that the next two rounds of Briar Patches for Daro contained no more than a drop of actual liquor.

This watering down of drinks was a ritual the two women had practiced for years.  Although neither would ever acknowledge it out loud, Daro relied on this protective support, just as she needed her friend to escort her home when the boozy evenings ended.  And Prentiss readily shouldered responsibility for her friend’s safety. 

Always had, always would.

Before they left the restaurant, Prentiss and Joss made sure the faithful Terence received a handsome tip, a bonus that rewarded his vigilant service that night.

The departure of the four women caused only the briefest ripple as Sugar’s boiling jumbalaya of humanity and desire continued pulsing until dawn.

 

++++++

 

When she got back to her apartment just after midnight, Joss was full of sassy drink, warm friendship, and a fizzy elation she hadn’t felt in years.

Undressing, she found Reese’s note in her pants pockets.

She placed it unread on the night stand next to her side of the bed.  Then she washed off the remains of the evening in a rather haphazard manner before rolling under the rumpled covers and reaching to turn off the lamp.

She unfolded the note at last and studied it.

On the sheet in bold outline, perfectly formed and full of grace, was a heart.

It was simple and honest and she knew with her own that it was true.