Chapter 3: Frump Can Be Fixed

Me and you, and you and me
No matter how they toss the dice
It had to be
The only one for me is you,
and you for me
The Turtles

Denise sat at a table in the District Court attorney’s lounge, case paperwork spread out before her. She found it near impossible to focus on her work. Her brain was a confused swirl of anxieties, and at the top of that list was her petition to withdraw from the Harper woman’s case.

She was bracing herself for the inevitable call to appear before presiding judge Mary Beth Kennedy to lay out and defend her reasons for taking such a drastic step. Mary Beth could be a real hard-ass, and a very intimidating one at that. Just the general concept of facing her ex parte in camera was bad enough, but the thought of explaining her reasons made Denise’s tummy swirl in a most unpleasant way.

Then there was Gail. Nothing in Denise’s experience prepared her for the way Gail had taken hold of her. She’d always greatly admired Gail, and she’d long fantasized about being her friend. Gail’s admiration would be the pinnacle of validation. Somewhere along the way, that craving for her colleague’s friendship and professional respect had morphed into an overtly sexual schoolgirl crush.

An interest in other women wasn’t without precedent in her past. She had two brief, purely sexual flings, one as an undergrad, and the other while interning in law school. Both of those had been impulsive, opportunistic sexual affairs with no emotional connection involved. Though she enjoyed the experiences, she came away with no ongoing desire for more meaningful romantic relationships with other women.

Still, attractive women with strong, dominating personalities, women who relished being in command, had always sent zings through her tummy. She’d always assumed those jitters in her pelvis were some mix of anxiety and intimidation, but now when she thought about it honestly, her sex always felt flushed and tingly.

Be that as it may, right now, her brain roiled with anxiety over facing Mary Beth. Denise desperately hoped she could at least catch a glimpse of Gail, even from a distance. Simply seeing her would make Denise’s insides surge in a way that was undeniably, deliciously sexual.

Denise tried to focus her attention on the two case history files open before her. One was a new set of charges for a thuggish reprobate she’d represented half a dozen times before. He was a fine example of what so soured her on public defender criminal law, an arrogant bastard who was likely going to end up on a slab in the morgue sooner rather than later with either a bullet in his head or a needle in his arm.

“What a waste of fucking time,” she muttered. With luck, he would be her last new case. She buried her face in her palms, half expecting a solemn-faced bailiff to tap her shoulder and say, “Justice Kennedy wants you in her chambers. Now.” Instead of a tap on the shoulder by a court officer, something even more shocking shattered her reverie.

Gail hoped she’d spy her quarry in the attorney’s lounge. It would make things so much easier than having to come up with an excuse to track her down. She opened the door and stepped into the room.

There wasn’t much to the lounge. It was about the size of a large conference room with half a dozen cheap tables with stackable plastic chairs, a few inexpensive odd-lot easy chairs, a cooler for bottles of juice and water, and a coffee station. All attorneys gave at least twenty dollars a month to keep everything stocked.

It was impossible to miss Denise. She sat alone at one of tables, papers spread out around her laptop, the picture of a severely stressed woman. She was pale and looked like she might start crying at any moment. She was a woman who’d long ago surrendered to the comfort of frumpiness. There was a very pretty woman under the drab façade. Gail instinctively knew Denise was vulnerable by nature, a woman who needed someone to come in and take control.

That vulnerability, more than anything else, was what Gail found so attractive. Denise was the antithesis of Karen. She needed an Alpha in her life to thrive. She was a very smart woman - Gail knew she was a graduate of Georgetown Law - and that alone said she had her intellectual shit together. Why on earth was a Georgetown grad stuck here representing the Sandra Harpers of the world?

Oh yes, there was potential there. Gail could easily imagine being in bed with her, and the image was very appealing. When Gail looked at Denise what she saw was not unlike what Laci saw when she faced a blank canvas.

Gail drew two cups of coffee from the urn and tossed a handful of cream tubs and sugar packets on the carry tray and set out to make the opening gambit.

Denise didn’t see Gail approach the table. When she heard the familiar voice say, “You look like a woman in desperate need of coffee,” she nearly yelped out loud.

“Jesus Christ, you scared me,” she gasped. “I didn’t see you coming.”

“I’m sorry,” Gail said with a small chuckle. “Mind if I join you?”

“Of course! Let me make some room. I didn’t mean to take up the whole fricken table.” Her heart sped up, and her roiling mind stumbled over this totally unexpected new stressor. She felt clumsy and awkward as she scrambled to get her work in some semblance of order.

Gail, an amused smile tickling her lips, sat down, and put the coffee tray on the table. “Don’t worry about it. I came in for a cup of coffee and when I saw you, you looked like you really needed a break. I don’t know how you take your coffee so I just grabbed a bunch of condiments.”

“Oh jeez, you didn’t have to do that, but thank you.” She was sure Gail saw her hand tremble when she reached for the coffee cup. She managed to tear open a sugar packet and add it to her coffee without making a mess of it. At last, her attorney’s training kicked in and she regained her composure. “I really do need a break.”

Gail stirred a sugar and two tubs of half and half into her coffee. “That was obvious. You usually seem so cheerful and laid back. Today you look like a woman with the weight of the world on her shoulders. What’s got you so stressed out?”

Inwardly, Denise was shocked that Gail even noticed her in the normal course of their paths crossing. Good God, Gail was beyond gorgeous; she was stunning. People often remarked on her resemblance to the country music singer Shania Twain, and Denise thought that was an apt comparison. She was so self-assured, so self-confidant, and she carried herself with an air of authority. Denise had no trouble admitting, at least to herself, that Gail intimidated her.

Denise looked over the rim of her coffee cup, trying to judge the sincerity of Gail’s question: a casual conversation opener, or genuine interest? Gail’s guileless expression and attentive body language drew Denise in. She let out a deep sigh and put her coffee down.

“I guess I’m having an existential crisis,” she said with a short, bitter laugh.

Gail furrowed her brow. “Really? How so?”

“Bluntly? I need to get out of criminal law. I’m spent, there’s nothing left in the tank. That Harper woman, the mother of your client, she’s the last straw.” Denise glanced around warily. She knew she had to be careful about anything she said regarding Sandra. There were untold ethical and legal landmines strewn about.

“Not a pleasant woman,” Gail said agreed.

“It’s been building for a while, I’ve just been ground down by the treadmill. Like I said, she’s only the last straw. But I can’t represent her. I just can’t. I can’t give her adequate counsel. If she were a private client, it’d be straightforward, but she landed in my lap through the luck of the public defender draw. The system sucks, everyone knows it, no one talks about it out-loud, but I can’t take it anymore. I filed a motion to withdraw, which of course falls to Mary Beth. And I think I’m on her shit list.”

Gail chuckled and shifted in her seat. She crossed her legs dramatically in her best Catherine Trammel imitation, something not lost on Denise. Her heart sped up as she was ensnared in Gail’s web. The thrill zinging through her tummy said she was not interested in resisting. Gail’s eyes sparkled mischievously. “Ahhh, Mary Beth isn’t that bad. She’s a damned good judge, and she’s hard only because she takes it seriously, and wants the same from everybody else. If you’re sincere and well prepared, you’ll see just how understanding she can be.”

“I’m glad you think so, but she has me shitting bricks every time I have to deal with her, makes me think of a hard ass law school professor I had. I dread having to face her about it, but I don’t care. I intend to tell her that if I have to remain Harper’s counsel, I’m done. I’m surrendering my law license and going to work at Walmart if it comes to that. I’d probably be better off financially working there stocking shelves.”

“No shit!” Gail exclaimed with genuine surprise. “Are things that bad? C’mon, fess up woman.” She reached over and covered Denise’s hand with her own.

It was as if she’d touched a bare electrical wire when Gail covered her hand. Who could resist that? The voice in her head said, don’t whine, nobody likes a whiner. “Yeah, they’re that bad,” she said, staring down at her coffee. “You have no idea how shit the pay is for public defenders. The ones who make a decent living are the ones who work it like a factory. More cases equal more money, and they’re not usually difficult cases. I can’t do that anymore. I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but a few years ago I got a client accused of murder off on a technicality, a stupid Miranda violation,” she said in voice etched with bitterness.

Gail’s expression was attentive, even rapt. “Of course. I remember that.”

“It was an outcome almost any defense attorney would look at with great pride. Not me. I knew in my heart that he was guilty as sin. It made me physically ill to know I had a huge role in turning a murderer loose on the streets. If he’d been involved in another murder… I really don’t know what I would have done. I just can’t do that anymore. You can spout all the crap about every accused having the right to a vigorous defense, yada-yada-yada,” she said, her voice now dripping with bitterness. “But there’s nothing that says I have to be a part of it. So, I’m done. Harper’s pushed me over the edge.”

“What do you want to do? I’m not talking about Walmart or selling cars, either.”

Denise sighed. What do I have to lose? “Your line, family law. It’s what I intended to do after a spell doing criminal defense. But student loans caught up with me, and I got stuck in the rut.”

A wry smile tugged Gail’s mouth. “Family law is not easy work. You have to know the relevant law inside out, you have to master financial and real estate law, you have to be a marriage counselor - divorce isn’t always the best option - and you have to tell clients when they’re making bad choices and then stand your ground. Plus, there’s as much emotional stress as criminal law, especially when it comes to the kids caught in the cross-fire.”

Where was this leading? Denise’s wondered. “None of that’s a problem. It’s where my heart is. Do you know anyone wanting an apprentice family law attorney?” she said with a chuckle. The last was rhetorical; at least that was what she intended.

“Tell you what,” Gail said. She leaned in and rested her chin in her palm, pausing until her eyes captured Denise’s and riveted her in place. “I’m swamped with work, just buried, and it’s only getting worse. I’ve been after the partners for a year to hire another attorney to work with me, and I think I just about have them convinced. If you’re seriously interested in it, I’m willing to push the issue and offer up your name as someone I think would be worth a look. Interested?”

For a moment, an inner circuit breaker in Denise’s brain threatened to trip. She’d gone from stressed and anxious enough to be sick to her stomach, to the emotional equivalent of having a breeze blow a winning Powerball ticket into her lap in the space of, what? Half an hour? It was beyond surreal. “Are you serious?” Denise gasped, becoming animated. “What do you mean, am I interested? Did Dorothy follow the yellow brick road? I’m beyond interested!”

“Just making sure,” Gail chuckled.

“Holy shit, here I am, so disgusted I’m thinking of surrendering my law license, and suddenly you, of all people, come meandering along like some messenger from the gods and all but offer me a chance to save my career. Holy Christmas, maybe there really is a Santa Claus.”

Gail laughed out loud. “Your hyperbole is showing,” she teased, touching Denise’s hand in the process.

It felt as if a hive of honeybees suddenly swarmed in Denise’s sex. Good God, why - how - does she do this to me? “It’s no exaggeration,” Denise said, managing to keep her voice even. “I’m fed up and one way or another I need a change, and then you come along out of the blue, and…” she trailed off with a bewildered scowl.

“Karma,” Gail smiled. “The Gods are smiling on you for a change, thanking you for doing a shit job without complaining.”

“I suppose that’s as good an explanation as any.” Denise had long ago learned the skill of maintaining eye contact with even the most intimidating people, but it was proving painfully difficult to not look away from Gail’s penetrating, hypnotic eyes. She was sure she was making a fool of herself.

Gail, however, didn’t signal anything was amiss. “Whatever it is, karma, serendipity, I’d love to have you sit down with the partners and see if it’s a possibility for you come work for me. You’re a good and respected attorney doing a difficult and thankless job with great skill. You deserve a break. And I deserve a little help with my case load,” she added with a touch of levity.

“I’m so glad you have that kind of faith in me. I get tired of the attorneys from the prestige firms like Dewey Cheatem & Howe thinking all public defenders are bottom dwellers - I went to Georgetown Law for Chrissakes. I had noble ideas of making a difference and while paying my dues as a Public Defender helping the ‘oppressed’ before moving up to a real law firm, but the only oppressed in this system are the Public Defenders themselves.”

“Yup, there are plenty of arrogant assholes floating around, but I’m not one of them.” Gail glanced at her watch. “I have a hearing I need to get to in fifteen minutes. Here’s what I’ll do. I won’t be back in the office until tomorrow, but I’ll arrange a meeting with Mr. Lynch and see what his thinking is. I can’t make promises, but he isn’t likely to give me a hard time, I’ve been pissing and moaning about it for ages. Then, I’ll give you a call some time on Wednesday. How’s that sound?”

Denise let out a deep breath, and for a frightening instant she thought a moan might have escaped with it. “Sound? Cue ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’!” she said with soft chortle. When she looked up, Gail wore a beguiling expression.

Gail covered Denise’s hand with her own again. “Is there a time it’s best not to call?”

When Gail casually freed Denise’s hand, she ran it through her hair as she struggled to keep from seeming like a teenager overwhelmed by the sudden appearance of a secret crush. “Um, Wednesday?” she stammered. “Um, I have District Court in the morning, that recesses before noon, then I have client meetings in the office all afternoon.”

“Then I’ll shoot for noonish, I should have something for you by then.”

“It’s probably better to call me on my private phone, otherwise I’m liable to let it go to voice mail if I’m doing something. That definitely won’t happen with my private number.”

Gail smiled and woke up her own cell phone. “That’s a great idea. Here, let me open my contacts file. There you are. OK, shoot.” Gail entered it on her phone as Denise recited the number. “Got it. It’s a good idea to start updating your CV and writing a cover letter, and if all goes well, I’ll help you get everything put together.”

“My god, Gail, do you really think there’s a chance?”

Gail chuckled and patted Denise’s hand again. “I need someone to work with me, and I think you fit the bill perfectly. I wouldn’t have brought it up if I didn’t think there was a chance. More than a chance, really.”

“Even though I don’t have any real experience in family law?”

“Maybe not, but you’re an extremely smart and outstanding attorney, and you have the passion needed to approach it as more than a job. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Denise suddenly felt on the verge of tears. She let out a shuddery sigh and dropped her brow to her hand. “I’m just… wow. Half an hour ago I thought I might be selling cars next week, but now… I don’t know what brought you here, or what possessed you to bring me that coffee, but whatever it was I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a dream.” A few tears managed to leak out, and she squeezed the bridge of her nose.

Gail took Denise’s hand in hers and squeezed it with tenderness. “Funny, but I’ve heard those very words before from a special friend. I’m telling you what I told her. It’s real.” Gail let out a breath. “I have to get going,” she said as she stood. “But don’t worry, I’ll call you. Come, you need a hug.”

Denise felt dizzy, even faint when she stood up. The hug wasn’t a simple ritualistic touching of torsos with hips pushed back. It was an embrace ordinarily reserved for times calling for support or consolation. It lasted just a few seconds, but those few seconds were loaded with a dizzying surreality for Denise. “Don’t worry,” Gail reassured her. “Everything’s going to turn out fine, you’re too good an attorney to wither on the vine.”

“Thank you, Gail, thank you for caring.”

Gail backed away but kept her hands on Denise’s shoulders. “You’re welcome, because I do care.” Gail picked up her bag. “I’ll call you Wednesday. Bye.” She gave Denise a flirtatious smile and a little wave.

Denise took a deep breath and looked around. It didn’t seem as though anyone else in the room took any special notice of her. That was a relief. Hands trembling, she absently gathered up her papers without bothering to keep them sorted and stuffed them in her briefcase. Life was indeed strange and unpredictable.

Try as she might, Denise couldn’t deny the wait was driving her crazy. Luckily, Wednesday’s were court days until noon recess, which kept her mind distracted enough to function. Wednesday afternoons were always office time.

Denise kept feeling her pocket for her cellphone, as if reassuring herself it was still there, while simultaneously begging it to ring. She was as jittery as a high school girl waiting for her crush to ask her to the dance. She couldn’t sit quietly. Face it, she could barely concentrate on anything. Even her paralegal/office girl Monique noticed.

“You seem jumpy this morning. Everything OK?”

“I’m fine,” Denise said absently. “I’m expecting an important phone call. It’s personal, but when it comes, I’m going to be unavailable for a few minutes.”

“Will do. Are you going to be able to review the settlement offers on the Emerson and Doughty cases before you go into meetings? I don’t think you’re going to like them.”

“Shit, just what I need. Why don’t you give them to me now before I get waylaid?”

And now she sat at her desk, unable to concentrate on the settlement offers. They were laughable, that much was obvious, but beyond that, she couldn’t stop thinking of Gail and her promised call. No matter how you looked at it, it wasn’t an insignificant call, nor was it an exaggeration to say it was a potential life changer.

And who could forget the low-grade hum filling her long-neglected sex. This morning she stood in front of the full-length mirror on the bathroom door and eyed herself critically. She was hardly fat, but somewhere between voluptuous and buxom. Her breasts were robust, her waist and hips thick and comely, and she had a thin swath of pubic hair adorning her labia.

Nothing special she’d thought. How could a woman as beautiful as Gail be interested in anything other than a perfect girlfriend? Was Denise misreading the signals Gail gave off? She wasn’t exactly used to another woman flirting with her, never mind one as gorgeous as Gail.

Before she could stew any more, her cellphone rang. She jumped as if touched with a cattle prod. She fumbled her phone out of pocket, nearly dropping it in the process. Her fingers trembled making it hard to hold her phone, but she managed. “Hello?” she said, dipping into her trial experience to keep her voice neutral.

Gail’s voice was bright and cheery. “Hi, Denise? It’s me as promised.”

“Hi, Gail. Can you hang on just a sec?”


Denise got up and went to her office door. “Psst, Monique,” she whispered harshly to get her paralegal’s attention. “No calls for a few minutes, kay?” She hurried back to her desk and picked up her phone. “Hi, I’m back. Do you mind if I go to speakerphone?”

“Me? Why would I care?”

“Just checking.”

“So, I tried not to keep you hanging.”

“I’m hoping you have good news.”

“I have very good news.” Denise’s insides sank to her feet. “I spoke with Mr Phillipon and Mr. Lynch, and they both want to talk to you. I hope it doesn’t screw things up, but I arranged for you to sit down with them on Monday after hours. Is that OK?”

“OK? OK? Are you kidding?” Denise blushed all over like a teenager caught masturbating. She did a triumphant mental fist pump.

“I’ve been thinking,” Gail continued. “How about we get together this weekend and go to Baytown and take you out shopping, so we can find you an outfit for the interview, maybe get you into a salon for a hair restyle and a little pampering. How’s that sound?”

“Holy Jesus, Gail.” Denise ran her hand through her hair. “If you think it’ll help, I’ll walk in playing an accordion and blowing a kazoo.”

Gail laughed. “An accordion and a kazoo, huh? You’re gonna do fine. But yeah, I think it’d be cool to go all out to get you ready.”

“Ha!” Denise barked. The ever-present need to take digs at herself whenever talking with someone about her appearance rose up. “You don’t think I’m a lost cause?” She immediately mentally kicked herself. It wasn’t likely Gail found it an attractive trait.

Sure enough, Gail’s voice was mildly puzzle. “What do you mean?”

Denise scrambled to recover from her self-perceived faux pas. How could she blow an opportunity to spend a day with Gail because she had no self-confidence when it came to her looks? “Umm, well, I’ve always been kinda frumpy.” “So? Frump can be fixed,” Gail announced. “Frump is easy to fix. I’ll have you so gorgeous I’d take you for myself,” she said in a casual voice. “It won’t be hard, since you have a lot to work with.”

Denise nearly fell off her chair. Did she hear Gail right? Best to move carefully. And cut the shit with the negativity, she scolded herself. “That may be overstating my potential just a bit. But, damn, it sure sounds like fun. I’m totally all in. I’ll surrender myself to your sharp fashion sense,” Denise chuckled.

“Then it’s a date?”


“How about we meet at Jameson’s Market - you know where it is? - they have the best coffee and cinnamon rolls in town. Say nine o’clock? From there, we’ll go to the parking garage for my car. Of course, that assumes you live nearby and can walk there. I have no idea where you call home.”

“I have one of the new places in the Kelly Block.”

“That’s, what? Four blocks from Jameson’s?”

“About. I walk passed there whenever I have District Court. Nine is perfect for me,” Denise said. “Is there a dress code for this outing?”

“Don’t get all fussied up, that’s for later, just something comfortable. You’re going to be in a new outfit by the end of the day.”

There was a natural, matter-of-fact authority in Gail’s voice which assumed she was in charge and everybody knew it, including Denise, who instinctively ceded all control to her. She managed to keep her sense of humor. “So, I shouldn’t show up in a three-thousand-dollar Alexander McQueen cocktail dress?”

“You have a three-thousand-dollar Alexander McQueen dress?”

“No, of course not.”

“I was gonna say.”

“Had you going for a second?” Denise couldn’t hide the bright smile in her voice. It was a silly little back and forth, but there was a certain… intimacy to it, as if they were old friends. “So, you’ll be fine with Walmart jeans and a t-shirt.”

“Perfect, exactly what I need to work my magic,” Gail said, her voice a subtle, caressing purr which made Denise shiver. “Like I said, I’ll have you so gorgeous I’d take you myself.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Denise tittered, and she immediately wished she could have it back.

“Noooo, trust me, it’s not a bad thing at all,” Gail answered with a chuckle. “Now I’m really looking forward to it,” she pushed back. “I guess I’ll have to dress accordingly. I can’t wait, my… artistic juices are flowing,” she added with a teasing pause.

Denise’s head swirled. Not only did she feel like a middle schooler talking to her secret crush on the phone for the first time, there were so many double entendres in the conversation that it was surreal. Was she reading way more into an innocent conversation than it deserved? The risk of making a fool of herself was high indeed. Her rational side, not yet overwhelmed, decided it was best to give a more neutral answer – even as she unconsciously worked up the hem of her skirt, slid to the edge of her chair, and let her hand stroke her sex through her wet panties. “Well Ms. Artiste, your blank canvas is saying, ‘I am so ready.’”

“Just so it’s not all fun and games, I’ll make sure you have a good idea of what you’re going to face when you meet with Mr. Phillipon and Mr. Lynch. I’ve already softened them up for you. I’ll even give you a little homework.”

“Oh yeah?” Denise offered playfully. “What’s that, professor?”

“Nothing earth shaking but spelling and punctuation do count. Make sure to bring a cover letter and your CV for me to review ahead of time.”

“That’s it? Jeez, here I thought you had me going to Mary Beth’s law library.”

“Oh shit! I forgot! Congratulations on dumping Harper! Did you have to go nuclear?”

“I was upfront with Mary Beth from the start that it was either fire Harper or surrender my law license. It probably wasn’t the smartest move, back her into a corner like that, but I got away with it.”

“Did she actually give you any grief?”

“A little at first. It’s ‘very unusual,’ and ‘a client has the right to dump you at will, but you have to have cause.’ I pointed her to an article by Lefler in the ABA journal about how and when to fire a client. To her credit, she pulled it up on her laptop and read it. And then she told me, ‘You did your homework.’ She kinda hemmed and hawed, and finally she said, ‘I’ll grant the motion, but you can’t go anywhere until she has a new attorney who’s brought up to speed.”

“Outstanding!” Gail said. “You stood up to Mary Beth and you survived. See, she’s a very reasonable woman. She’s more bark than bite. Do you have anyone in mind who might want Harper?”

“Oh, that was easy. In the little sub-world of public defenders, there are guys who will take anyone, as long as they get paid on time and in full. Factory Law 101, economy of scale. I asked Freddie Bean if he’d like to have her, and he jumped on it. We’re going to get together and go over my files, so he can be up-to-speed.”

“Freddie Bean? I can just picture him. Present company excluded, I don’t always know criminal law folks very well.”

“Ex criminal law,” Denise cheerfully corrected.

“Ex criminal law,” Gail agreed. “Have you told Harper yet?”

“Yeah, last Friday.” Denise dropped her voice a couple of octaves to mimic Sandra’s rough, gravelly smoker’s voice. “’I don’t give a fuck, you’re useless anyway.’ Same as it ever was with her.”

“Yeah, she’s a piece of work.”

“How’s her daughter doing?”

“Ex-daughter, as the young lady in question is quick to point out. She’s doing fantastic. You know about the art festival last Saturday? That was her baby. She, more than anyone else, made it a success, plus she’s turned out to be an art prodigy. It’s amazing the talent that almost got buried… almost. You’re eventually going to meet her if you’re working with me. Her foster-Mom is my bestie.”

“I hear she’s beautiful.” Denise had her eyes closed as she savored the warmth suffusing her body. She lightly caressed her fingers over the damp fabric of her panties. You’re the beautiful one, the most gorgeous woman I know, and you’re flirting with me, there’s no question about that, it shouldn’t make sense, it doesn’t make sense, but I don’t want this feeling to go away.

Now Denise slipped her hand under her panties, opened her legs wider, and started massaging and kneading the base of her clit. The sensation surged deep into her pelvis, and she almost whimpered. How long had it been since she’d had sex? Over a year ago, and that wasn’t very satisfying.

“She is, wait’ll you see.”

“She can’t be more beautiful than you.” As soon as she said it, Denise, not used to flirting, wished she could have the words back. Oh shit! Did I say that? What a juvenile thing to say, probably thinks I’m totally Duh. I wonder if she can tell I’m touching myself?

But Gail was unperturbed. “Ha! Let’s see what you say after you meet her. Regardless, our mission is getting you de-frumped and made gorgeous this weekend, then get you hired so we can be a team. OK, I have a call on another line. So, we meet at nine Saturday morning at Jameson’s Market, no Alexander McQueen dresses allowed.”

Denise chuckled. She continued to massage the base of her clit. “I’ll be there with my accordion and kazoo,” she joked.

“I wouldn’t put it past you,” Gail said in a smiling voice. “OK, see you then. Bye.”

In all the years she’d been working in offices, Denise never once felt the need to masturbate. Now, it was imperative she relieve the throbbing pressure in her loins. She stood up and hurriedly pulled down her panties, looking around guiltily as if to make sure no one was watching. She hiked her skirt as high as she could, and she sat back down close to the edge of the chair.

Denise lay her head on her desk as she worked her fingers worked through the tangled tuft of pubic hair guarding her sex, and she plunged them into her into her pussy releasing a rivulet of nectar. She let out a soft, tinkling whimper like leaves before a gusty autumn wind.

What would it be like to kiss Gail, Denise wondered as she drew her finger up and down the sleeve of her pussy, stroking and rubbing her hot jewel with a firm hand. Would kissing Gail be long and romantic? Or filled with raw passion? She imagined Gail grabbing her by the arms and forcing her back against a wall, while using her body to pin Denise in place and kiss her with passion. Lips pressed close to Denise’s ear, Gail, in a voice that was part whisper, part purr, breathed “You belong to me. Don’t forget it.”

That was enough to send Denise tumbling over the edge in a flare of light and warmth. Her body tensed then released and she could only muffle her moans.

She kept her head resting on her forearm, while breathing hard. She slowly recovered from her orgasm. At last, she raised her head from her desk and scrambled to pull up her panties before Monique walked in on her.

Denise had to clean up before doing anything else. She wondered vaguely if Monique would be able to smell the residue of her passion.

Karen was filling the kitchen sink to wash the supper dishes, while Laci, chattering away, put away the clean ones, when her Beethoven’s 5th ringtone sounded. Who the hell? she thought. I hope it’s not a client, not this time of night, but it’s happened before, only one way to find out. She turned off the water, wiped her hands and retrieved her phone from the kitchen island. Gail! What the hell does she want? “Hey, what’s up?” she answered.

“Good evening, beautiful,” Gail said, and it was clear from her voice that she was happy. “I didn’t call during supper, did I?”

“No, as a matter of fact we were just about to do dishes.”

“Oh, what fun.”

“So, what’s up Sunshine? I can’t remember the last time you called in the evening.”

“Just calling to see if you have any lunch plans tomorrow.”

Karen shrugged. “Nothing special, probably eating a salad in my office. Why?”

“Wanna meet for lunch? My treat.”

Karen scowled. What was Gail up to? “Treat me to lunch? Why? You’re up to something.”

“Listen to her, casting aspersions.”

“Aspersions my ass, I know you.”

“Seriously, I have something I need to tell you, but I want it to be in person. And Tigger, too if possible. There’s this diner just across the bridge called Rien de Chic, kinda divey but I’ve heard great things.”

“Now you’ve got my attention. What kind of news? Did you win the lottery and you want to give me half?”

Gail guffawed. “As if. The lottery’s a scam, a voluntary tax, and I wouldn’t share it with you anyway, I’d run away to Tahiti and find one of those gorgeous women they have and offer to be her Sugar Mama.”

Karen couldn’t help laughing. “You really are a piece of work, you know that, don’t you?”

“Guilty as charged. So, what say you woman? Lunch?”

“What time are we talking about?”

“Name it. Tomorrow’s an office day. I have a couple of new clients to meet, but that isn’t until later.”

“Sure, if you’re treating. How about noon, give or take?”

“Sure. What about Laci?”

“Let me check.” Karen laid the phone down. Laci stood at the sink, listening intently to Karen’s side of the conversation. “Laci honey. Gail wants to take us to lunch tomorrow. I guess she has some kind of news she wants to tell us about – in person.”

Laci furrowed her brow, then shrugged. “Sure, if you can drop me off at the library in the morning. I wonder what’s up?” It was Karen’s turn to shrug. “I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.” She picked up her phone. “Sure, we’ll go. Meet you or pick you up?”

“Why don’t I meet you? You know where it is?”

“Yup, just across the bridge in the old Pop’s Sandwich Shop.”

“That’s the one. So, noon it is.”

“You sure you won’t tell me now rather than make me anguish for the next 18 hours?”

“Nope, I’m not gonna say anything, it needs to be in person.”

“Thanks a lot,” Karen sighed. “OK, noon, Rien de Chic, your treat.”

It was blazing hot, the noontime sun beating down until it was surely hot enough to fry the proverbial egg on the sidewalk, and the humidity, nosing into tropical territory, was suffocating. Karen turned off the car, and thus the air conditioning.

“Gah!” Karen grumbled. “We’re not in Florida, but you couldn’t prove it today.”

“It’s a good pool day,” Laci said, grabbing her purse and sketch pad. “Maybe you can take me home after lunch, and I’ll see if Emily’s Mom can bring her over and we can be bathing beauties for the afternoon.”

Karen smiled at Laci’s subtle, rapidly maturing wit. “I can pick her up if her Mom comes get her later.”

“I’ll text her. Look, there’s Gail’s car.”

That was one thing about Gail, she was punctual. “So, it is. The place looks packed. I hope she got us a decent table. C’mon, let’s get inside before we melt.”

The diner was indeed packed. The a/c struggled to keep up. Every counter stool was occupied by what looked like retired men who had “their” spots. There wasn’t a counter or booth to be had, and the air hummed with the sounds of jumbled together conversations and the clanking, sizzling sounds of a kitchen on screech trying to keep up with the mass of hungry customers. A group of four men wearing shirts indicating they worked for a plumbing supply store around the corner stood at the “Please seat yourself” sign.

Karen scanned the crowd looking for Gail. At last she spotted her standing up at a window booth waving them over. “There she is, at that window booth,” Karen said, pointing. “C’mon, let’s go.”

Laci followed behind Karen as they stepped passed the guys waiting for a table to open up. “Karen,” Laci said in a low voice. “What if those guys get mad at us for cutting ahead of them.”

“I doubt they will,” Karen answered. “We’re not taking a table away from them. And besides, if they do all we’d need to do is have you smile at them and the janitor will be sucking them off the floor with a Shop-Vac.”

Laci chuckled and said, “Where do you get those sayings?”

“The same place I get my smiles, of course,” she said with a wink.

Gail’s voice cut through the din. “Get your butts over here, I’m hungry.”

First Karen, then Laci hugged Gail and shared cheek pecks. Laci slid into the booth first and set her sketch pad on the table while Karen slid in beside her.

“Do you carry that drawing pad with you wherever you go?” Gail kidded with an admiring smile.

“Pretty much. You never know what you’re gonna see.”

“Good for you. Whatcha drawing now?” Laci turned the book, so Gail could see. “It looks like a bookcase.”

“Sorta. It’s one of the stacks in the library. I think I’d like to turn it into a painting, call it ‘Knowledge,’ and if it comes out right, donate it to the library.”

“You’re turning into what we used to call a ‘stack rat,’ people who’re as happy wandering the library as they were going to a party.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Laci said drolly.

“No, not at all. I was a stack rat, I loved the library.”

Their harried server came to the table with menus. Her handwritten name badge read Alice. “Good afternoon,” she said in a gravelly smoker’s voice. She looked like life hadn’t been kind to her, yet her tired smile was genuine. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“I think I’ll have a chocolate malt,” Gail said. “Diners, drive-ins, and dives are the only place you can get decent malts.”

“What’s a chocolate malt?” Laci said, furrowing her brow.

“Basically, it’s a milkshake that has malted milk powder mixed in,” Gail said. “You have to try it,” Gail said. “Once you do, a regular shake will never be quite good enough again.”

“OK, I’ll give it a try, at least it sounds good and not gross.”

“Two chocolate malts,” the server said as she scribbled on her pad. “I probably shoulda asked before, but is this separate checks?”

“No,” Gail said. “It’s all on me.”

“And you ma’am, what can I get you to drink?”

“What the hell,” Karen said, “make it three.”

“Three chocolate malts coming right up.”

“OK, Sunshine,” Karen said as the server left to get their malts. “What’s this big news you couldn’t tell me over the phone?”

“Don’t you want to look at the menu and decide what you want first?” Gail said with feigned innocence.

“I can read and listen at the same time, and I assume you can read and talk at the same time, so why don’t we do that, hmm?”

“You’re no fun,” Gail said with a faux pout worthy of Laci. But when she looked up, her expression was one of delight. Before she could begin, the waitress came with their malts. As she handed them out, she said, “You ladies ready to order?”

They were. Gail ordered a Philly cheesesteak, Karen and Laci chose lobster rolls.

“It’s really busy,” Karen commented.

“Yeah, Friday lunch is always crazy,” the waitress said. “But I certainly don’t mind. You ladies must be first timers, I can’t recall seeing you before, and I wouldn’t forget seeing any of you, that’s for sure.”

“I’ve been hearing good things about this place, so I figured it’s time to give it a try,” Gail said.

“I hope you enjoy it.”

“Alright,” Karen said when the waitress left with their orders. “Let’s get down to brass tacks. What’s this news? Stop with the drama.”

“Yeah,” Laci piped up. “I could be home laying by the pool.”

“Ooo, she’s getting sassy,” Gail said with a wink. “So, Monday I walked into the attorneys lounge at District Court to get a cup of the ghastly coffee there, and I saw Denise Ashton sitting alone at a table looking totally stressed.”

“Isn’t she the one you’ve been… checking out?” Karen said giving her a skeptical look.

“Well…I’ll get to that. So, I’ve been wanting to talk to her, and there was my chance. I brought her a coffee, and my god, you would have thought she was getting ready to argue a case before the Supreme Court. She was all stressed out and getting worked up, so I asked her what was up.” Gail wore a conspiratorial expression and she lowered her voice as befitting an especially juicy bit of gossip. “And yes, she’s Sandra’s attorney. Or should I say ex attorney.”

“What?” Laci cried, her eyes widening into saucers. “Ex lawyer?”

Gail nodded with satisfaction. She quickly related Denise’s decision to fire Sandra, consequences be damned.

“No way!” Laci said. “You’re serious! Holy crap! Now what?”

“That’s part of it. As far as Sandra is concerned, another public defender, a guy named Freddie Bean will take over - apparently he’s a frigging shyster, but he’s good at what he does. Unlike Denise, who was happy to let things play out, Freddie’s apt to go to the DA and put out feelers on a plea deal. Who knows what Sandra will say to that. According to Denise, she’s convinced her version is the correct one, that you guys broke in and beat her and her thug boyfriend with a baseball bat. That’s absurd on the face of it, and Freddie will figure that out soon enough. He’s not about to be intimidated by her, so he’ll likely press hard for her to take a deal.”

The server arrived with their lunches, and she efficiently put their plastic baskets mounded with heaps of fries and their sandwiches in front of them. “There you are, ladies. Can I get you anything else?”

“Umm, can I have a Diet Pepsi, please,” Laci said shyly.

“Of course, you can dear. I’ll be back in a jiff.”

“Thank you.”

With the waitress away, Gail picked up where she left off. “On a practical level, it means you’ll probably be contacted by the DA or AG’s lawyer within a month, but don’t worry about that, you’ll have plenty of warning and I’ll make sure you’re up to speed. But that’s not all.” Gail quickly launched into her offer to Denise, including their plans for Saturday.

“No kidding,” Karen said. “So, this is what you’ve been hinting at all summer.”

“Yeah, you said something about that,” Laci said looking at her lunch. She took a bite of the hot dog roll overflowing with lobster meat just barely bound together with a dollop of mayo. “This stuff is awesome,” Laci said of the sandwich. “So, you’re going to, like, ask her on a date?”

Gail played coy. “Well, we’ll see. Saturday is a kind of business date, get her fixed up and presentable, then we’ll see how it goes.”

“Don’t let her fool you,” Karen said with a sly smile. “She’s out to get laid a little more consistently.”

Laci laughed with glee. “Nothing wrong with that.”

Both Karen and Gail exchanged amused glances at Laci’s suddenly adult sense of humor. Karen playfully said, “Just you wait until I get you home, young lady.”

“Promises, promises,” she said with a toss of her head, pointedly taking another bite of the lobster roll.

“Ooo, she’s getting rude n’ crude in her old age,” Gail smiled.

“Are you really going to ask her out?” Laci said. “I can’t even picture her, I don’t think I’ve ever met her.”

“Yeah, she’s cute, not too dykey – not at all dykey, just what I like in a woman – smart as hell, and basically a blank slate.”

“’Blank slate’ meaning ‘easily intimidated,’” Karen said with a big smile.

“Hey, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. I’m tired of hooking up to fuck and run. I can see forty on the horizon, it’s time to grow up.”

“I hope I get to meet her someday,” Laci said, then stuffed a tangle of fries into her mouth. “I’d like to give her a hug just for dumping… her.”

“It seems Sandra certainly has a way of revolting anyone she comes in contact with,” Gail said.

“No! Ya think?” Laci said sarcastically, before dissolving into giggles. “I think the only ones who put up with her are her junkie friends, and all they care about is not getting fucked up alone. I hope she had fucking withdrawals when she got to jail and suffered the whole time.”

“Tell us how you really feel, sweetie,” Gail grinned. “Two F-bombs in two sentences, and I think I’ve heard you drop two in all the time I’ve known you.”

Laci shrugged. “I hate her,” she said bitterly, then added a forceful, “Bitch.”

Alice came scurrying over with Laci’s drink, and when they said they were all set, she again left them to their meals.

“Do you think your bosses will hire her?” Karen said. “I didn’t think the position was even approved.”

“It is now,” Gail said. “I talked to them Tuesday afternoon and said my load was getting near the crisis level – it’s not quite that bad, but a little hyperbole never hurts – and I even had a candidate who’d be my first choice as things stood now. Since I’d be the one mentoring and working with her, it’s pretty much a case of who I want, I get, and if it works out, I think I’ll be offered a partnership before Christmas. Since I won’t let her fail…” Gail trailed off suggestively.

“You’re going to have to keep your hands of each other when the office doors are closed,” Karen said with a salacious wink.

“Yeah, but,” Laci began, a scowl on her face. “But suppose you guys start getting, like serious? What about me and Karen? I mean, eventually she’s gonna know something’s up between us, and that won’t be a good thing.”

“Yeah, I know, that’s one of the flies in the ointment I’ve been thinking about. So far, the best I can come up with is let’s not try crossing that bridge until we come to it. I’m not even sure how the weekend is going to go, so there’s no use fretting over it just yet.”

“If anyone can figure out what to do, it’s you,” Karen said.

“I won’t ever do anything to hurt you guys. Anything. Ever.” Gail pushed her basket away and surveyed the remains of her lunch. The cheesesteak sub was demolished, and perhaps half of the fries went uneaten. “That was excellent!” she declared. “How were the lobster rolls?”

Karen licked her fingers. “Better than what you get in the tourist traps along the coast. It was outstanding. I think I’ll come here again.”

“It’s not like I’ve had a million lobster rolls, but it was excellent,” Laci added, the wreckage of her own lunch laid out like the remains of a lost civilization. “I guess I was hungry.”

Gail glanced at her watch and sighed. “I have a client meeting in half an hour. I’d better get going.”

Karen wiped her hands on her napkin. “Yeah, I have to take this one to pick up Emily, then bring them home, and by the time that’s done, it’ll be time for my first showing. So, you’ll call and bring us up to speed before the weekend is over? We’re going to Rockport Harbor, so we won’t be home until late, Sunday, though.”

“I hope I’m otherwise occupied all weekend, too, so…” Gail trailed off with a naughty smile as she stood up.

She stood in front of the open doors of her wardrobe, trying to decide what to wear. Gail wanted to make a bold statement when she strutted into the market to meet Denise. She was already in a state of low-grade but constant arousal over the thought that she might be making love with a woman she was very much interested in later that night.

By the end of the day, Gail mused, it was going to be an open question which one of them was the horniest. “I need sex!” Gail groaned out loud. “No, I need more than sex, I need a woman to call my own, goddamit!”

Gail was almost as neat and orderly as Laci, and it showed in her wardrobe. Everything hung on hangers (Gail paid a laundry service to do all her wash) in neat, careful order, like a line of soldiers on dress parade. She hummed a random tune while she pawed through her choices. “Oh yes, girlie,” she murmured under her breath, “you and I are going to have a lot of fun. Just you wait til I get you naked. I am going to make you feel things you did not even know existed.

“There we go,” she said at last with a satisfied smirk. “There’s my statement.” A few years before, Gail, flush with victory in a very lucrative divorce case, went on a total splurge and ordered a pair of hand-cut and sewn black calfskin leather pants and matching bolero jacket for nearly a grand. The soft, stretchy material clung like skin, in part because she’d deliberately ordered it half a size too small just to make sure it fit as tightly as possible.

She’d worn it just twice to what she called one of her girlie-girlie hang-outs in Baytown, with great effect. On the first wearing, it drew the attention of an extremely attractive older woman who was the proverbial “pillar of the community,” a married mother, and very prominent and well-known businesswoman (when hubby was away, she liked to play, and she liked to play gay, and she turned out to be one of the best fucks Gail had had since Karen.)

Gail briefly debated going commando, but then decided not with leather, even the thin, supple calfskin. About the only colors she liked with black pants, leather or not, was either more black or white. Keep it simple, she thought. Yes, perfect, a black tank top and an untucked white button-down shirt with rolled-up three-quarter sleeves.

Gail owned a collection of over forty pairs of shoes and boots, but she knew exactly where to find her stiletto heeled sandals she’d bought specifically for this outfit.

Clothes laid out, Gail glanced at her watch: almost seven thirty. It would take her an hour to shower, do her hair, put on her makeup, and dress. Plenty of time.

Gail made her empty bed and smiled. With a little luck and effort, she wouldn’t be waking up alone much longer.