Read One Degree of Separation Online

Authors: Karin Kallmaker

Tags: #Fiction, #Librarians, #General, #Romance, #Small Town Life, #Lesbian, #(v4.0), #Iowa City (Iowa)

One Degree of Separation (9 page)

BOOK: One Degree of Separation

“I wish I could afford a house on my own,” Sandy chimed in from the line. “Ellie and I share the house okay, but it’s getting awkward. But neither of us can afford to buy the other out, even at I.C. prices.”

“You should buy it, Marian. Sell yours and move next door.” For a forty-year-old plus, Jersey could be as practical as a teenager. Marian shook her head. “That would be nuts.”


“I don’t have the capital. My house is worth at least forty thousand less than theirs. I only own a house because of that once-in-a-lifetime insurance settlement from my folks.” Jersey’s usually clear expression clouded. “Oh. But it’ll be hard to have other people work in the garden, won’t it? After you helped build that arbor? And the fountain wall?”

“Tell me about it,” Marian muttered.


“No, I’m sorry, Jersey.” Marian managed to look up. “I’m depressed about it, that’s all. I am happy for them, really.”

“Understandable.” Wen prodded the magazine. “What
you reading?”

“The five things that turn a man off, if you can believe that.”

“As if,” Sandy snorted. She set two coffees in front of Wen and returned her billfold.

“Oh, what are they?” Mary Jane set a frothy cup in front of Marian before settling with a sigh of relief into the chair next to her.

“I want to know if I’m ever with one.”

“I want to know, too,” Jersey chimed in. “Maybe I did them and that’s why I’m with women now.”

Marian ran a finger up the side of her cup and popped the result-ing dollop of whipped cream into her mouth. Inner Therapist, who always showed up when she was depressed, pointed out that she was using coffee as a narcotic. So arrest me, Marian thought waspishly.

She summoned a cheerful expression with difficulty. “Number one: saying ‘you’re better than all the other guys I’ve been with.’” She had to grin at the howls of laughter that erupted around her.

“I think that would be the wrong thing to say to any lover!” Wen rolled her eyes.

“Oh, I don’t know.” Mary Jane adopted a philosophical attitude.

“Sometimes that’s exactly what I want to hear.”

“Oh, really, that can be great to hear. I’ll vouch for that.” Sandy gave Jersey an arch look.

Jersey blushed furiously. “Honey!”

Marian glanced at the others, trying not to laugh.

“Oh, shit,” Jersey muttered. “I just said ‘honey’ to my ex! Thank goodness Terry’s not here.”

“It’s okay.” Wen reached across the table to pat Jersey’s hand. “As long as you stick with ‘honey’ for everybody you’ll never get it wrong when it really matters.”

“Honey or baby.” Mary Jane had that too-innocent expression again. Marian thought she could only pull it off because she was in work drag. In her days-off jeans and men’s tank tops, Mary Jane looked far more earthy.

“Just how many partners have you had?” Sandy fixed her brown eyes on Mary Jane. “You never admit to anything.”

“First, tell me how many is too many.”

“A thousand.”

“I’ve been with fewer than that. So far.” Mary Jane’s blue eyes were definitely twinkling as she nonchalantly examined her nails.

Marian had to sigh. From all appearances, Mary Jane was single.

Why couldn’t she be in love with her? Why did it have to be Hemma? She blinked furiously. “Item two is too much talking during sex.”

There was a thoughtful silence.

“Not during,” Sandy finally said. “I can see that.”

“Well, depends on the topic during. Not about the grocery list—that would probably dim my pilot light.” Wen craned her neck to glance at the door. “No sign of Patty, huh?”

“If it’s an hour we’ll send a rescue team over to the herb shop.” Jersey gave Wen a meaningful look.

Wen shrugged. “I hardly think that will be necessary. But if she doesn’t get here soon I’m going to drink her coffee, too.” Marian finished a deeply satisfying slug from her drink. “Item three is sort of on the same topic. Talking too explicitly.”

“Poppycock.” Mary Jane gave Marian her best managerial stare.

“That’s absurd. A well-chosen sweaty word or two at the right moment can be a wonderful thing. Whatever are their reasons?”

“They say that most guys like the idea of a having a wild time with a wild woman, but in actuality they still prefer to believe the women they’re with are less experienced than they are. Too much hot talk can bruise their ego.”

“That’s bizarre.” Sandy was shaking her head. “Okay, it’s not like I was with a lot of guys before I figured out I was gay, but they would have all agreed with Mary Jane on the purpose of some hot talk.

Their egos are not that fragile—there’s Patty.”

“What’s the scoop?” Patty lowered herself to the cushion near Wen’s feet and reached gratefully for the mug Wen indicated.

Marian admired Patty’s biceps, not for the first time. She even found a little grin when Patty caught her at it and winked. Patty had always been good for her ego. “By the way, Carrie will be along in a half-hour, she thought.”

Marian recapped the list so far, and each viewpoint expressed.

“Your turn, Patty. What’s your opinion of hot talk during sex?”

“I like it. I like knowing what she wants. I think all talk is important. I mean, if she’s talking about her grocery list while I’m making love to her, that’s a message.”

“Good point,” Jersey conceded.

Wen squeezed Patty’s leg with a sad smile. “Yeah, it probably means I need a pain pill.”

Patty colored slightly. “Honey, anything you want, any way you want it, you know that.”

“I know, it’s just ...” Wen’s eyes filled with tears.

Mary Jane leaned over to put one hand on Wen’s arm. “Hey, it’s okay.”

Wen managed a watery smile. “I’m sorry, everybody. I had a doctor’s visit this morning.”

The sigh of understanding that Marian let out was shared by everyone. Wen was always bruised emotionally and physically after seeing the doctor. She patted Wen’s knee. “If I had magic pixie dust I’d use it all on you.”

“Thanks.” Wen’s shrug was obviously forced. “Another topic please—I appreciate the diversion.”

Sandy dabbed at a dribble of cream that had smeared the sleeve of her trim pocket T. “I have a general question on the topic of hot talk.

After all, I’m reentering the dating pool. Or trying to. What kinds of things work as hot talk and what don’t?”

Mary Jane ended the expectant silence with, “Don’t everybody look at me.”

“You had a definite opinion about it, that’s all.” Sandy pointed the stir stick at Mary Jane. “Spill it.”

“It’s too contextual to say categorically what works and what doesn’t.” Mary Jane rolled one shoulder expressively. “A woman can say ‘roll me over’ in the right tone of voice and I’ll break out in a sweat.”

I ought to be in love with Mary Jane, Marian thought while she chuckled. No doubt the sex would be grand.

Ellie appeared in the doorway and navigated the bottleneck around the line. “Sorry I’m late. Here’s your keys. Lucky you got a lift.” She hooked her hair behind her ear. “Any sign of her? Is there mocha frozen yogurt?”

“Thanks, no, and I think so.” Marian slipped the keys into the pocket of her shorts. She realized she didn’t want to admit who had been her benefactor. “We’re discussing what works as hot talk in bed.”

“I’ve always liked
. It’s a hot word, said the right way.” Ellie glanced momentarily at Sandy, then headed for the line.

“Mary Jane also said tone of voice can be more important than the words.” Wen added huskily, “Roll me over, baby.” Mary Jane fanned herself with a napkin. “Don’t do that here, honey, it’ll get you in trouble.”

Marian blinked as she processed the look that passed between Wen and Mary Jane. Abruptly, it seemed to have far more levels than normal. Wen and Patty had been together ten years, at least. Maybe there had been a thing between Wen and Mary Jane before that.

Inner Historian made a note about another possible entry for the Iowa City dance card.

Jersey abruptly perked up. “There’s my girl.” Terry had to say several excuse me’s to get past the line, and she reached their cluster looking mildly annoyed. “Hey all, the dog’s gonna live, but it wasn’t fun.”

“Glad you made it,” Jersey said after Terry kissed her.

“Tell me I can have a double shot,” Ellie pleaded from the line. “I worked on a knee and a tennis elbow this morning. Then I went on ripping out Jenny’s guest bathroom pipes. Got that mostly done. My daddy’d be proud.”

“I know I’m going to have a double shot,” Terry said. “I don’t know how you do it, juggling two careers.” Ellie shrugged. “Physical therapy I love, but plumbing pays the bills. I broke another nail, though.” She turned to give her order.

“Item four, then,” Marian pronounced. “Don’t look in his eyes for too long.”

“I don’t like eye contact,” Jersey said. “I don’t know why. It’s not just that it’s really intimate.”

“It interferes with the fantasies running in my head.” Sandy glanced briefly at Ellie in line. “I feel things more if I close my eyes.” Marian looked up from the magazine. “What if what you’re looking at is really arousing?” The image of Hemma’s naked back flashed in her mind and she fought back a flush.

“I’m with Sandy,” Patty said. “Blindfolds aren’t so much kinky as they are permission to focus on inner feelings.” Marian saw a flicker of sadness cross Wen’s face, then it eased into a smile edged with wickedness. “I wish it didn’t say ‘sleep’ in neon orange, though.”

Patty swatted her partner’s hand. “Enough of that. What’s the last one?”

“Oh.” With difficulty Marian dismissed the image of buffed Patty in a blindfold, and scanned the remainder of the article. “Don’t cry.” 68

“Sometimes, crying is the whole effing point of effing.” Sandy studied her napkin. “Catharsis is catharsis. I’ve gone to bed with people just to have a great cry afterward.”

“It can pay to have tissues near the bed,” Terry added.

“Since when?” Jersey shifted in her chair so she could lean against Terry next to her. Terry shrugged and kissed the top of Jersey’s head.

“Crying doesn’t put me off, as long as she’s crying for the right reasons,” Mary Jane said quietly.

“It’s my orgasm and I’ll cry if I want to,” Marian pronounced.

“Given my hormones, any excuse is good enough.”

“I thought you weren’t seeing anybody.” Sandy drained the last of her drink and frowned at the empty cup. “The ginseng peppermint tea is hard to beat. I may have to have another.” Marian couldn’t resist. “Orgasms do not require another person in the room.” She didn’t even blush, though she thought of all the times she had watched Hemma, then gone to bed to fantasize about her.

“I know that. I’m single, too, remember?” Sandy studiously did not look up as Ellie joined them.

“I don’t know what you all are talking about, but there’s only one thing on my mind.” Ellie slouched into the chair next to Marian.

“And that’s the mystery woman. I can’t get anywhere, and it’ll make me crazy to watch someone else bag her.”

“Oh.” Patty straightened in her chair and slowly brought her focus to Marian. “That reminds me—doesn’t she drive that enormous yellow Hummer? And wasn’t that you, Marian, getting out of that monster this afternoon?”

The blush started somewhere in the small of her back, and traveled rapidly over her shoulders, up her neck, then turned Marian’s ears so red she felt the heat on her scalp. She hated it when everyone stared at her.

“Ellie had my keys,” she finally muttered.

“Well, well, well.” Head to one side, Mary Jane appraised her with surprise. “I didn’t know you had it in you.” 

“I didn’t do anything.”

“Then why are you red as a tomato?” Ellie bounced in indignation.

Marian wanted to crawl under the table. “Because I kicked her car.”

They all blinked at her. Terry finally spoke. “You kicked her car? You. Kicked her car.”

“Ellie had my keys, and I couldn’t get in my car even if I wanted to because this behemoth was two inches from my door. I was having a bad day, and Libby gave me a lift to work, that’s all.”

“Libby?” Ellie’s eyebrows were so far down they were nearly touching. “Her name is Libby?”

Marian nodded. “I read it off her license.”

“And her car was there next to yours by accident and you didn’t mention this to me?”

“I didn’t know it was her car when I kicked it. I figured it was some damned Californian with more money than sense.” Sandy spread her hands. “Maybe it is. Who knows anything about her?”

“California plates?” Ellie’s tone was dangerously quiet.

“Yes. She’s here until end of next month, El. Doing research of some kind. And not wanting to date. Not in the market.”

“For a lift to work, you covered a lot of ground.” I’m not going to tell about the trip to her house, Marian thought stubbornly. They can’t make me.

“That’s her,” Jersey said in a loud whisper.

All heads but Marian’s turned toward the door.

Ellie stood up for a better look. “Who are those two she’s with?”

“Students,” Patty said. “Headache bait.”

“Hey,” Jersey protested. “I’m a student when I’m not stringing wire, remember, and I do not give anybody, including Terry, headaches.”

“You’re not the typical student,” Patty reminded her.

Ellie plumped back into her seat. “This is gonna kill me. Two students talking to a woman of that quality.” Sandy abruptly pushed away from the table. “I want to go see who the band is tonight.”

There was a pointed silence after Sandy left.

“I can’t go on pussyfooting around like I’m not trying to date.” Ellie’s chin was at its most mulish. “She knows I’ve been dating.”

“You don’t have to wave it in her face, do you?” Marian had never been really close to Sandy, but she’d always felt Sandy was kind and generous. In a lot of ways, Sandy and Ellie had been an odd couple.

Ellie was as mercurial as Sandy was placid. The breakup had been Ellie’s idea.

“What if I told you we broke up because she was having an affair?”

Terry’s coffee slipped out of her hand and she steadied it on the table. “Did she say that?”

“You’re kidding!” Wen paused with her coffee halfway to her mouth. “I don’t believe it.”

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