Kerry peered through the back door window. Gray skies furrowed together, promising yet another storm. The thermometer that hung just outside the entranceway read 7º. She snugged her coat more closely around herself and stepped out.
Immediately the inside of her nose crackled frozen, making it painful to breathe; her eyes stung from the wind that propelled her sideways. She picked her way around piles of dirty snow to grab the newspapers at the curb. Hurrying back to the house, her peripheral vision caught movement in the cargo space of Kim's SUV. She moved to investigate -– and yelped when she realized that someone was in there.
Kerry tried the rear door but it was locked. Using her crutch, she banged on the bumper. "Hey, you! Get up!"
A slight, dark haired figure sat up muzzily amid a jumble of clothing and blankets and stared at her in alarm, then relaxed, reaching out to pop the latch. "Uh. Hi."
The voice was a husky alto, thick with sleep; the face, thin and sharp-featured, the eyes hazel and wary. At first Kerry thought it was a somewhat androgynous looking young woman -– yet another of Kim's exes? -– but on closer examination the breadth of the hands and wrists and the prominent Adam's apple hinted at the latent masculinity of an adolescent boy. "Who are you and just what do you think you're doing?"
She crossed her arms and lifted an eyebrow. "Well?"
"The doc lets me crash here when my dad and my stepmom fight." He dug into a pocket. "See? I didn't break in."
"Dr. Legaspi gave you the key." It was a little hard to believe. Kim was fanatic about the Xterra. Hell, she even refused to turn it over to valet parking.
"She had the passenger side lock re-keyed for me. This doesn't work in the ignition." The boy grinned. "Not that I couldn't hotwire it, but she'd kick my ass if I did."
He regarded her curiously. "You must be the new girlfriend. I've seen you around."
Guess I must be. "Um, yeah. I'm Kerry. Look, Jordan, why don't you come inside and get warm, maybe have some breakfast?"
"Nah, I'll be fine. Grab some coffee down at the Harper C-shop or something."
Narrowing her eyes, Kerry drilled him with the look she usually reserved for Malucci in his more boneheaded moments. "First of all, you shouldn't be drinking coffee. And either blue lipstick is a fashion statement I'm not aware of or you're on the verge of hypothermia. So unless you want me to have Dr. Legaspi call your parents to come get you, you would be smart to haul your skinny little butt into the house right now."
"No way. She won't be up for another hour at least."
"Now," she barked, in a tone her hospital staff would have recognized.
"Okay, okay." He held up his hands in surrender, then stiffly got out. "Man, I'm getting too old for this."
Kerry suppressed a giggle and herded him inside.
Kerry sipped her coffee, awed at the monstrous amount of food he'd already managed to put away, with no sign of slowing down. "I realize that the civilized concept of chewing and swallowing before attempting to converse might be difficult for a starving wolf-child to comprehend, but you might look into it some time."
"You sound like my mom."
Oh, terrific. "Where do you live, Jordan?"
He looked at her, surprised. "At home. Couple doors down."
Kerry blinked. This was a fairly affluent neighborhood, thanks to the University's recent push for revival; Kenwood Park in particular still evinced vestiges of old money. "So why did you need a place to stay last night?"
"I told you, my dad and my stepmom were fighting. They get kind of... loud."
"Were you in any danger?" she asked, concerned. The boy didn't show any outward signs of abuse, but...
Jordan snorted. "No, I mean, they get loud afterward. You know. Make-up sex. I think that's why they fight in the first place. Place is too small not to hear them, so I usually go for a walk and let them get it out of their systems. Can I have some more hot chocolate?"
"You may," said Kerry, trying not to sound too schoolmarmish. She poured him another mugful from the thermos. "How old are you?"
"Thirteen. How old are you?"
"The doc usually likes 'em younger. But you're the first one that's stayed over. More than once, anyway."
Outrage warred with temptation. You are not going to discuss your lover's sex life with this child, Kerry Weaver. "How do you know Ki -– Dr. Legaspi?"
He shrugged. "Helped her when she moved in last summer. I do some yardwork for her, odd jobs, things like that. Sometimes we just hang, talk about girls and stuff. She's really cool."
They both looked up at the sound of footsteps in the hall. Kim's tousled head appeared in the doorway and squinted at them.
Kerry was very glad to see that Kim was fully dressed, wearing jeans and a flannel shirt rather than her usual early-morning state of deshabille.
Kim shuffled into the kitchen, drawled "Hi, honey" into the boy's ear... then caught him in a headlock and tickled him below the ribs. Squealing with laughter, he erupted out of his chair, nearly turning it over. The two of them tumbled like puppies in a wrestling match that ended abruptly when she snatched up the waistband of his boxer shorts -– not hard to do, since he was wearing ridiculously baggy pants that rode down past his narrow hips -– and twisted.
"Give?" She twisted harder as he wriggled.
"I give, I give!"
Kim let him go, then mussed his hair while he was regaining his balance so that he couldn't duck out of the way. She winked at Kerry. "Did he leave anything? Feeding this beast is an exercise in futility. Completely disproves the theorem that matter can be neither created nor destroyed."
"Don't worry, I saved you some. It's in the oven." Kerry had the feeling she'd just been given an inkling of what growing up in the Legaspi household must have been like. Kim's parents had to have had the patience of Mother Theresa. Or maybe they were simply shellshocked. Nine kids...
"Thanks. I hope you didn't scare Kerry too badly, Jordan. I forgot to warn her that you might turn up."
"Scare her? Shyeah, right. Almost crapped my pants when she started pounding on the door."
"She's a tough one."
"Kinda pushy, but if you like her I guess she must be okay. Pretty cute for an older chick."
"Excuse me," Kerry said, half irritated, half amused.
"Oh, wow." Kim closed her eyes as she swallowed. "Jordan, you never, ever insult a woman who puts bourbon-soaked raisins in your French toast."
"How come I didn't get any -– "
"That's it!" Kerry slammed a hand down on the table, making the dishes and utensils jump. Two startled faces goggled at her. "I'll thank you two to stop talking about me as though I weren't right here."
Kim got up and draped herself over Kerry from behind, hugging her across the shoulders, cheek resting on top of her head.
Kerry tensed. She peeked over at Jordan, who was helping himself to the contents of Kim's plate. Laughing quietly, she gave in to the embrace, leaning back to enjoy the warmth of the simple contact and the scent that had become as fundamental as air.
"Dude," said the boy, his mouth full, "does this mean I gotta get back in the truck?"
" 'Moon'," Kim said after a moment.
"What? How does that -– oh." Kerry filled in the letters. She leaned back into her corner of the sofa, Kim's long legs interlacing with hers. An insulated carafe of coffee sat on the low table within easy reach. From the stereo burbled the muted sounds of WHPK's weekend jazz programming.
They'd discovered that they both liked to do the New York Times Saturday crossword puzzle, the hardest one of the week. Kim had neatly circumvented a potential source of squabbling by simply having two copies of the paper delivered to her house.
It wasn't the only quietly thoughtful gesture Kerry had noticed since she'd begun spending the night at Kim's. Nonslip matting had appeared in the bathroom early on, followed soon by Kerry's favorite Weleda shampoo and lotions. Kim had taken to setting the alarm to go off half an hour before Kerry needed to leave, whenever that might be, just so they could have a little time to snuggle or talk. One morning, dawdling because her shift didn't start till 11:00, Kerry had come into the kitchen to find tucked under her waiting coffee mug a new monthly CTA Transit Pass; beside it stood an antique brass bobby's whistle and a cylinder of pepper spray. Kim had never mentioned it, only smiling when she saw the whistle on Kerry's keyring later that day.
Kim had gone out of her way to unobtrusively make room for Kerry in her life, never demanding or pushing, and Kerry had found it astonishingly easy to fit into the space.
Also a little perplexing, in light of something Jordan had said. "Kim, can I ask you something?"
"Hmm?" Taptaptap went the end of the pen against the fullest part of Kim's lower lip. "Fifty-three down. 'Castor's thumb?,' six letters, ends in X."
" 'Pollex,' with an E. You should know that."
"Don't look at me. Gross Anatomy was a long time ago."
"Oh, I don't know. You certainly seem to be well versed in delineating the origin, insertion and innervation of the ischiocavernosi."
It took a second, but then the slow smirk emerged. "That's an exercise in linguistics, not medicine."
"And you have excellent technique when it comes to bimanual palpation of the introitus and anterior structures. Twenty-one across. 'Measuring cups,' seven letters, starts with B, ends in ZE."
" 'Bra size'," said Kim immediately.
"Is this guy fixated on body parts or what?"
"Hey, you're the one who's talking dirty."
Kerry looked up. Her breath caught with a hitch.
The clear blue eyes practically arced with desire. Instantly a lick of heat unfurled in her belly.
She tossed aside her paper and crawled up to perch lightly on Kim's hips; straddling them, she braced herself on the sofa arm to lean in for a kiss.
"What's a three-letter word meaning 'Irresistible, impudent blonde shrink who's about to be ravished'?"
"Mmhmm?" She played idly with the golden curls that tumbled over her chest.
"You were about to ask me something earlier?"
"Oh, yeah. Got a little distracted."
"Can't imagine why." Kim craned her neck up for a kiss, then settled back into the curve of Kerry's arm.
Kerry shivered. There was still something wildly exciting about tasting herself on Kim's lips.
"Cat got your tongue?"
"In a manner of speaking."
That earned another lingering kiss. Kim shifted to lie on her side. "What did you want to talk about?"
"I was chatting with Jordan this morning, you know."
"Sure. He's a great kid. His parents work over at the Lab School. Dad teaches math, mom teaches English, stepmom teaches art and sculpture. They all share a duplex down the street."
"Must be awkward for them."
"Not really, they get along pretty well. Sometimes a little too well."
A light dawned. "Is that why you gave him the key to your car?"
"Yeah. Last night was relatively tame, I gather. At least they didn't get out the costumes."
Kerry's eyes widened. "Costumes... I don't even wanna know."
"You should see them. They have this equestrian setup thatmpf -– "
"I don't want to know," Kerry repeated, removing her hand only when Kim bit gently at the heel. "Jordan seems so well-adjusted."
"Are you kidding? He's the only sane person in that household."
"Anyway, he said I was the first one of your, um, girlfriends that he'd seen stay over, more than once."
"Ah. Observant little bastard."
"So I was wondering, why?"
Kim sighed, then gave her a crooked smile. "Because you're cute when you snore. Because whenever you return the clothes you borrow, they've been cleaned and pressed. Because you don't rearrange my stuff or make fun of my rubber duckie. Because you squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom up. I don't know. I only know that I love... having you here."
Her internal bullshit meter was redlining. Glibness, she had come to realize, was as much a defense mechanism for Kim as stonewalling was for her. So what was it that Kim was protecting?
"Hey. Where did you go?" A hand combed through her hair, coming to rest against her cheek.
You're one to talk about evasiveness, Weaver. Don't overreact. "It's nothing." Kerry dropped a kiss on Kim's thumb.
"Okay." The fine corrugations in Kim's forehead gradually smoothed away. "Did you have any plans for today?"
"Not really. What did you have in mind?"
"I was thinking we could go bookstore crawling down on 57th, maybe get something to eat at Medici."
"Medici? Isn't that a student hangout?"
"Yeah. So what'll it be, books first, or lunch?"
A loud gurgling noise from the vicinity of Kim's stomach answered that question. Kerry rolled her eyes. "You have the metabolism of a rabid hummingbird. Lunch it is."
Immediately her ears were assaulted by the din of people shouting at one another over the thumping music, which seemed to be an unlikely combination of big band and ska; the singer was wailing something about bathwater. Kerry held up two fingers to the bored, purple-haired hostess, who grabbed a couple of menus and turned on her hip, evidently not interested in whether or not her customer followed.
Kerry was led toward the back to a booth partly enclosed by dark scarred panelling. Resisting the urge to wipe off the seat before sitting down, she waved at Kim, who was silhouetted in the light of the open door.
And was promptly greeted by the elfin hostess, who enthusiastically flung herself at the taller woman and kissed her. Kim stiffened, her hands still in the pockets of her coat, smiling tightly until her limpet disengaged. Not put off, the girl continued talking animatedly, only leaving when Kim shook her head and came to join Kerry in the booth.
Kerry couldn't resist. "Robbing the cradle, are we? I didn't know you had groupies."
"I do some counseling with the U of C's Gay and Lesbian Alliance. She's one of my, um, counselees."
"Therapy appears to have been successful."
"No kidding. She wanted me to test-drive her new piercing."
"Tongue? Nipple? Belly button?"
"A little farther south."
"I thought you were supposed to abstain for three weeks after getting one of those."
"That's what I told her."
"What'd she say, come back in a month and you can eat for free?"
Kim made a face. "You are very, very bad, Kerry Weaver."
"Old age and treachery will get you everywhere. Now. This place is loud, crowded and poorly lit. The sign up front says BYO. From what I can see on the menu, the food's way overpriced. It smells like cigarettes and yesterday's greasetrap. Tell me again why we're here?"
"Because there's something I wanted to do with these."
Kim drew out from the inner pocket of her coat a roll of reddish-brown leather, beautifully soft looking, with the patina of age and long use. Untying the laces that held it folded together revealed a row of wooden handled tools tucked into individual slots.
"They belonged to my grandfather," Kim said, removing one of the tools, a knife with a short curved blade, and holding it out for Kerry to see. "Nana gave them to me when he died."
Carefully Kerry ran her finger along the edge; it was utterly smooth and wickedly sharp. "Now I know who to call when Surgery's backed up."
Kim smiled slightly, cleared an area in front of her, and began to apply the blade to the table top.
Kerry was about to say something about defacement of property but then looked more closely at the walls and seat of the booth.
Almost every square inch of rough wood within reach was covered in crudely scratched graffiti. Names, initials enclosed within lopsided hearts, phone numbers, anatomically improbable figures. The heavy oak table, however, was largely unmarked, probably because its tough varnished surface resisted the efforts of the makeshift instruments ordinarily available.
Leaning forward, Kerry watched in fascination as Kim guided the knife in sure, precise movements. The blade dipped and flashed, changing angles and switching frequently from hand to hand, the pattern too intricate to follow as yet. So intent was she on not disturbing Kim's concentration that the waiter who materialized at her elbow took her completely by surprise.
Not looking up, Kim said curtly, "The usual."
Flustered, Kerry named the first thing that caught her eye on the menu. "Portobello sandwich. Small house salad, vinegar and oil on the side."
The waiter murmured assent and disappeared. It didn't matter, as far as Kerry was concerned. He could have been naked, he could have been bleeding to death, he could have been on fire. All she could see were Kim's hands.
At last Kim put away the knife and got out a V-shaped gouge. Meticulously following the sharply incised lines, the gouge sheared away tiny curls that she periodically blew aside with a puff of air, revealing paler wood underneath.
Their food arrived almost unnoticed. Kim's "usual" was some kind of cholesterol bomb, a massive construct dripping with meatballs, cheese and peppers that sat ignored, congealing.
Gradually the design revealed itself: two interlocking K's in the form of stylized Celtic beasts, a lion and a griffin. The lion, decorated with complex spirals, grasped the griffin's leg firmly in its mouth; the griffin, its face a study in blissful serenity, embraced the vertical formed by the lion's neck. Both tails intertwined into a Josephine's knot, inextricably bound together.
Kerry found herself unspeakably moved, tears in her eyes.
Kim's severe expression relaxed as she took stock of her handiwork. She swept away the minute shavings that littered the tabletop, then picked up Kerry's forgotten cruet of olive oil. Pouring a small amount of the oil into her palm, she rubbed it over the carving. Instantly the cuts looked less raw, integrated into the surface. Finally she looked up at Kerry and beamed.
Reaching over to grasp Kim's hand, Kerry wiped the oil from it with her napkin and then held it, feeling its strength, running her thumbs over the hard-earned calluses.
"If you don't take me home right now," Kerry said in a low-pitched, slightly strangulated voice, "and fuck me, I am going to spontaneously combust."
The blue eyes glittered. With her free hand, Kim flagged a passing waitress. "Check, please."