“Kalinda?” Even with her back to her, Alicia would have recognized the combination of high boots, short skirt and red leather amongst a thousand.
Her former friend does not react, save for the near imperceptible flex of one of her legs, a readiness for flight anybody less attuned to Kalinda’s body language would have missed. Alicia feels an odd sense of satisfaction that she still does... notice these things.
Kalinda lets her gloved hand follow the curve of the headstone before turning round. “What are you doing here, Alicia?” Her voice is even but tired.
“Shouldn’t you be on a plane, off to a far distant land by now?” Alicia asks, slipping both her hands in the pockets of her black cashmere coat. She forgot her own gloves at home and the chill of the crisp spring morning numbs her fingertips.
“I leave this afternoon.” She casts a glance at Will’s grave behind her. “I came to say goodbye.”
“With a baseball bat?” Alicia lifts her chin towards the bat propped against the side of the gray stone.
Kalinda smiles and Alicia reads the grief at its edges. It dawns on her that she never took a moment to consider how Will’s death had affected Kalinda. These two had been friends, and Alicia was aware the young woman’s loyalty had occasionally run far beyond the professional scope. She’d witnessed their weird chemistry over the years, the way they’d interacted with one another at work. Will would hold Kalinda’s gaze in a certain way across the conference table and Kalinda would simply nod before leaving the room. They’d shared a wavelength, a mutual understanding, a connection... something. (Alicia had asked him once if he’d fucked her. Will had laughed like a lunatic at the notion until Alicia smacked him with a pillow. “Oh, Alicia, trust me, I’m not the one K wants in her bed,” he’d replied once he’d caught his breath, his lips warm and wet against her breastbone. Alicia had not asked him to elaborate.)
“He gave it to me,” Kalinda says.
“The bat. Will gave it to me one Christmas, before you joined the firm. Said he was going to teach me how to use it right.”
Alicia takes a few steps forward, heels digging in the soft grass. “And did he?”
Kalinda shakes her head. “Nah, we never found the time,” she tucks a strand of black hair behind her ear, “but that’s okay, it was useful in other ways.”
Alicia smirks. “So, I’ve heard.” There wasn’t one person at Lockhart, Gardner & Bond, as it was called back then, who hadn’t known the fate that had befallen Blake Calamar’s car. Alicia had heard Diane summon Kalinda in her office the next day, thunder in her voice. Kalinda had exited from the meeting cool as a cucumber, chin held high, her laser sharp eyes daring anyone who crossed her path to comment. Will had been leaning against the door jamb of the conference room, playing with his baseball. When Kalinda had walked past him, he’d lobbed it at her. Kalinda’s left hand had shot up and caught it without breaking her stride. She’d thrown it back at him over her shoulder, not sparing him a look. “This isn’t how you play the game, K.” Will had called out as she disappeared round the corner.
Alicia could have told him that their in-house didn’t play by anybody’s rules except her own but Will most likely knew that already.
“I miss him,” Kalinda says, her breath hitching.
Alicia squeezes her arm, eyes welling up. “I know.”
They stand side by side for a while, looking down at Will’s sober headstone with its short epitaph. Just his name and two dates: William Paul GARDNER 1971 - 2014. There is a speck of moss already growing in the groove of the ‘D’. Alicia leans over to pick it off. As she does, the sense of loss, of free fall into the time when grief was fresh overwhelms her. She finds Kalinda’s arm. “I don’t want you to go,” she whispers, her grip tight, eyes on the horizon, the plume of her breath wispy and thin in the cold air.
She releases Kalinda, walks around the grave until she stands behind the headstone. She runs her palms over the smooth, cold granite edge, feels a tear escape in spite of herself, watches the spot where it lands on the stone darken like a black sun. She wipes her cheek with a harsh stroke of her fingers. “I need to know...”
“What?” Kalinda’s voice is soft and a little apprehensive. Alicia lifts her head to catch her eyes.
“What didn’t you tell me?”
Kalinda digs her hands in her side pockets, remains silent.
“Yesterday, before you said goodbye, you were about to say something else.”
Kalinda tilts her head. “Was I?”
Alicia is well-acquainted with Kalinda’s St Mary’s High doe-eyed routine, feels insulted that the woman would even think of trying it on her. She slaps both hands on the headstone, making Kalinda flinch.
“No, Kalinda. You do not lie to me. Not here.” Her voice cracks a little, she takes a deep breath to steady it. “So, I’m going to ask again: yesterday, at the bar, what did you hold back?”
Kalinda shrugs, looking nowhere near as sheepish as Alicia would want her to be. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Why don’t you let me be the judge of that?”
“Why do you wanna know?”
“Because I do.”
Kalinda lifts an eyebrow. Alicia can easily guess where her thoughts have taken her. She rolls her eyes. “Yeah, well, I’m not waiting two years for an answer this time.”
Kalinda walks around the grave on coltish legs, stops in front of her. Their eyes lock and Alicia isn’t sure what to make of the earnest intensity she reads then. “It’s nothing. Let it go, Alicia, please.”
(And she knows she should let it go. But Will is in the cold ground beneath her feet, her marriage is over, her career is a mess and everything is spinning out of control. And now Kalinda is leaving, because of Lemond Bishop but maybe not only. Alicia remembers a time when Kalinda should have run and didn’t, when she’d stood her ground and fought to keep both of them safe. And she realizes that she is angry, angry at Kalinda for putting herself in danger again, angry she isn't fighting harder, angry at herself because their friendship was recovering but she failed to nurture it and all those unsaid things between them could have factored into Kalinda giving up on Chicago in the end. She’s always prided herself on being cautious, and what good did it bring her? Time to face the music, even if she doesn’t know what the tune is, even if all the sheets have been scattered to the wind.)
Kalinda shakes her head, looks down at the ground where the tip of her boot is worrying a patch of grass.
“I want to know what it is I’m letting go of,” Alicia insists.
“Fine.” Kalinda steps forward, slips her hand to the back of Alicia’s neck and crushes their lips together. The kiss is brief but there is no mistaking the passion behind it. When Kalinda lets go, Alicia stumbles backwards, her back hitting the headstone.
“There’s your answer. Are you happy now?” Kalinda’s dark eyes are blazing with an unusual mix of fury, defiance, lust and pain.
Alicia brings trembling fingers to her lips. She looks at a point beyond Kalinda’s right shoulder, takes in the cemetery with its neat rows of tombstones, the majestic centennial yew trees casting their early morning shadows over the freshly-mown lawn. The tightness inside her chest, that never quite left her since that afternoon in Highland Park, when her world fell brutally apart, rips to shreds like a silk cocoon. She suddenly feels more grounded, her inner yaw coming back to center.
She drops her hand, returns her gaze to Kalinda. “Do that again.” Her voice sounds low and rough even to her own ears.
Kalinda looks up at the overcast sky with eyes a little too wide, a little too bright. “This isn’t a good idea.”
Alicia takes hold of the lapels of her leather jacket, gives a sharp tug. “Shut up, Kalinda.”
There is no slow seduction. No tentative brush of closed lips. Their mouths open as soon as they start kissing, teeth clash, tongues meet and spar until everything becomes wild, messy and exhilarating. Alicia considers briefly that Peter knows the softness of Kalinda’s mouth, has tasted the black cherry of her lipstick, finds to her great surprise that it turns her on. She moans into Kalinda, feels her lean closer, the weight of her breasts against her chest new and weird yet wonderful. Alicia catches her thin waist to haul her flush against her, the leather of her jacket creaking under her fingernails. Kalinda smiles around the kiss and Alicia bites her lower lip for it. She swallows Kalinda’s small shocked “ow”.
Not letting go of Alicia's lips, Kalinda pulls her gloves off jerkily, lets them fall to the ground. She unbuttons Alicia’s coat, slips her hands inside, pulls at the hem of her blue silk shirt. Her warm fingers tease the skin of Alicia’s stomach over the waistband of her slacks until Alicia covers Kalinda’s hand with her own. Kalinda freezes. She breaks the kiss, blinks up at Alicia and starts pulling her hand away. Alicia can already see the apology forming on her lips. She shushes Kalinda with a kiss while holding her hand firmly in place. With her free one, Alicia pops the button of her slacks open, slides down the zipper and pushes their joined hands downward.
Kalinda tongues the ley lines of her throat, her breath warm and shallow against her skin. “We should stop.” She breathes near her ear. "Public place..."
Alicia’s slides both their hands under her panties and between her legs, to the place where she is hot, swollen and so wet and fuck...
“No. Don’t stop,” she pants against her hair. "I'll... keep my eyes open." There is no one else here, and she would see anyone approach in the distance. Alicia's hands fly out to grab Kalinda’s ass, pulling her closer, her fingers clenching along the crease where her thighs end.
Kalinda gasps, buries her face in the crook of Alicia’s neck as she plunges two fingers inside her, grinds her palm against her clit, making Alicia arch under her touch, ruptured stars flaring behind her eyelids. Alicia wants to laugh, but you don’t laugh in a cemetery, not with Will’s headstone scraping at her back. (But if Will is watching this, she’s sure that he is laughing.) Then Kalinda curls her fingers just so, bites the tendon of her neck and Alicia knows how easily she bruises and she’s going to have to wear a scarf for a week but none of it matters because Kalinda’s dexterous fingers are making her come faster than she anticipated and everything goes white and still and... Oh God.
Kalinda bears her weight while she recovers, the hand that isn’t still cupping her stroking away the tremors coursing along her spine.
Alicia eventually lifts her head. Kalinda smiles her Kalinda smile, eyes like polished onyx.
“Well, that’s that.” Alicia says.
“Yeah.” Kalinda pulls back, brings her fingers to her lips to taste them. Taste her.
Alicia feels herself flush, chuckles to hide it, drops her head.
“You’re good at this.”
Alicia rolls her eyes, pushes herself off the headstone, straightens up her clothes. She pulls her phone out from her coat pocket. “This departure of yours, is it flexible?” She asks.
“We need to talk.”
Kalinda raises a wry eyebrow.”Talk?”
“Well, I could be less euphemistic, but it would be sacrilegious,” she says gesturing at their surroundings.
“Alicia, you just had an orgasm in a cemetery and you're worried about propriety?”
Alicia grins then hits speed dial. “Hi, Peter. Yeah, I need you to look after Grace for a couple of days.” She listens to her husband’s reply. “No, everything is fine. Something came up.” She winks at Kalinda. “No, not a case, more like... research.” Kalinda scoffs while retrieving her gloves. Alicia watches her as she leans over to pick up her baseball bat, flinging it over her shoulder. “All right. Tell Grace there’s money for the dry-cleaner in the usual place. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.” She hangs up.
“So, what now?” Kalinda asks.
Alicia walks towards her, takes her hand and starts leading them towards the exit. “Now we find a hotel.”
“Alicia, wait --”
Alicia turns to face her. “What?”
“Why are you doing this? To get back at Peter?”
Alicia gapes. “Is that what you think this is?”
Kalinda drums her nails over the handle of her bat. “Honestly, right now, I have no idea what this is. But if you knew --” she pauses, shakes her head.
“If I knew what?”
Kalinda chews on her lip, seems to come to a decision. “Nothing. Let’s go.” She starts heading up the path at a brisk pace.
Alicia catches up with her and grabs her elbow. “Kalinda, words.”
But Kalinda isn’t willing to share anything else. She just keeps walking.
Alicia matches her stride. “If I knew what it means to you. Is that it?”
Kalinda stops dead in her tracks, turns her head to stare up at her. Alicia is pretty sure she’s never seen Kalinda Sharma blush before.
Alicia lifts a hand to stroke her cheek with the back of her fingers. “Oh, Kalinda... I know. I didn’t, for a long time I didn’t. I was so angry at you and it was so much easier to hate you than Peter, because he’s been a part of my life for so long, someone I saw every day in my house, in my bed, in my kitchen for fifteen years, you know? And it was exhausting to hate you because I missed you and I didn’t want to miss you, didn’t want to feel anything about you, or know anything but I... ”
Kalinda silences her with an index finger pressed to her lips. “Stop talking, Alicia.”
And Alicia understands, can see it in the sheen over her eyes, all the emotions Kalinda can’t handle. She can relate to that. She takes hold of her finger, kisses it. “Is that our thing now? We don’t talk?”
Kalinda draws her finger down Alicia’s bottom lip. “That’s right.”
“What, like Fight Club?”
Kalinda huffs. “You’re impossible. Come on.”
They exit the cemetery and head towards their respective cars.
“There’s the Four Seasons on North Irving. I’ll meet you there.” Kalinda says, dropping her baseball bat at her side. She retrieves her keys from her pocket, tilts her head at Alicia. “How did you know to find me here?”
Alicia considers this. “I didn’t.”
“So, you just came to the cemetery to... ”
“Pay my respects, yes. Like I do every month.”
Kalinda smiles, looks up. “Maybe Will is watching over us.”
Alicia shakes her head. “You know I don’t believe in all that. It’s just a coincidence.”
Kalinda looks around her, and when she’s satisfied they’re not being watched, closes the gap between them to kiss her. “Or fate,” she murmurs against her lips.
Alicia is aware of their surroundings too. She gently moves Kalinda back. “Fate, which you are tempting right now. Let’s go.”
Kalinda’s face turns serious. “Maybe we shouldn’t -- tempt fate.”
Alicia looks down. “You know, I didn’t think you could get cold feet in those big boots of yours.”
“I’m not getting cold feet. I just want you to be sure you’re making the right choice.”
“What? So that I don’t end up blaming you again?”
“I didn’t say that.”
Alicia takes her by the shoulders. “Listen to me, Kalinda. I get it, you don’t want mess, and this is messy, *us* is messy, and damaged and complicated, but you and I are still going to go to that hotel, we’re going to get a room, then we’re going to take our clothes off and for the first time in many years, we are going to be honest with each other. But if this is too much for you, feel free to just get in that car and go.”
She releases her. “So what’s it gonna be?”
Kalinda shifts on her heels, pushes a wisp of hair away from her cheek. The smile that blooms on her lips an eternity later is almost shy, but devastatingly tender. “There better be room service.”