The Inside Out

by LA Tucker

Part XXIII: Where East and West Intersect

Chloe shifted in the bed, trying to catch her breath and at the same time, ease the cramping in her wrist and shoulder.  As she moved to her left, she heard the telltale crackling of a Little Debbie Swiss cake roll cellophane wrapper being crushed under her hip. She giggled a little as she began to withdraw her fingers from ...

"No. Leave them there for now." Sara half moaned, and without using her hands, she squeezed Chloe's digits with warm, still tremoring inner muscles. "It feels so good. Just don't move them, I don't think ..."

Chloe giggled more. "You can think right now? You're way ahead of me."  She couldn't help herself, she wiggled her fingers expertly just right. In response, Sara's hips instantly rose a little off the bed, and with a light hand,  she reached and thwapped the mischievious redhead on the top of the head. Chloe snorted, and settled into Sara's chest, instinctively resting her head  where she could hear the reassuring, still rapid thrumming of the heart below her ear.

"Whew."  Sara breathed, boneless and mildly but pleasantly dizzy.  "Whew," she repeated, just for emphasis and in a small way, to prove to herself that her breathing was getting under control, and she would be able to soon respire normally again.  Sometimes, just after the trailing end of an orgasm, a small doubt would flicker through her mind that she would be somehow endlessly suspended in this awkward place of recovery, never again to achieve a placidly beating heart or breathe without gasping.  The time between the peak of the climax, and the sated, loose conciousness of afterglow somehow reminded her of the symptoms of a panic attack.  Chest heaving for air, mind struggling for clarity, complete loss of muscle control. What a thing to think of now, she scolded herself.

Chloe was aware that the woman beneath her was struggling with some unwelcome thoughts, and it mildly disturbed her.  She wanted Sara to feel just as good as she did in this time of loving reflection and romantic connection. She moved her fingers just slightly again, just enough to pull Sara back from wherever she had gone to in her mind.

Another soft thwap to her head let Chloe know that her diversionary tactics had worked. It was time for some pillow talk, although Sara's body was already acting as Chloe's surrogate pillow.

"I believe there's a Little Debbie wrapper stuck permanently to my butt,"  Chloe said in a dreamy, unconcerned voice. "I wonder how it got there?"

Sara played dumb, her usual tactic when something was her fault.  She was the last one to chow one down before they'd started their latest session of passion. "It jumped from the wastebasket onto the bed?"

Unfortunately for Sara, Chloe's free hand was in the general area of her lover's backside, and she applied a quick, sharp pinch there to show that she didn't approve of Sara's weak explanation. Sara's hips flew up again, but Chloe's fingers remained determinedly inside. "Try again, lover."

Thwap. "Between you pinching me, and me smacking you on the head, this really could be considered light S and M,"  Sara joked. "Now where'd I put that whip of mine, huh?  And the nipple clamps?"

Chloe raised her head high enough to bare her snapping front teeth at her teasing lover. "These are the only nipple clamps I have, not counting my fingers, which are otherwise happily engaged,  and all of them came with the original package."  She gnashed her teeth together again, and then grinned, seeing Sara's approving smile in the dim candlelight of the room.  She snuggled back onto the warm flesh and spoke into the top of Sara's breast. "Sara?"

"Hmm?"  Sara was feeling delightfully satisfied, distracted and a very dehydrated.  The back of her throat was as dry as a desert wash. She thought about asking Chloe to get up and fetch her something to drink, but thought that might look a bit insensitive and selfish of her since it was the wee small hours of the morning. Still, she was awfully thirsty, and she was the one in recovery mode right now, so she decided her needs took priority. Suddenly she remembered that Chloe had just asked her something, at least she thought she had. To cover for her lack of an attention span, she just echoed her previous reply. "Hmm?"  She hoped that would jog Chloe into repeating the question.

It worked, somewhat, but since Chloe had done nothing but say her name, the question she asked was really a new one. "Did you really eat the last Little Debbie?"

Sara laughed, and then prepared herself for the upcoming retaliation. "I think I did.  I needed a quick reload of energy. I had stuff I wanted to do, or as I remember it, you had stuff you wanted to do ..."  Chloe's fingers, still buried deep within her, twitched their disapproval of her lover's attempt at humor. But the dark haired woman wasn't as sensitive there as she was a few scant minutes ago, so the movement tickled rather than jolted her as it had before.

"Damn.  We should take out stock in whatever company makes them."  Chloe felt Sara's hand reach down and gently touch at her wrist, and that was the signal for Chloe to withdraw, which she did without reluctance as her arm was still cramping from its previous energetic endeavors.  She gently pulled out and both of them simultaneously sighed at the loss of such intimate and loving contact.

Just to tease her lover a little longer, Chloe took her dampened fingers, and made a display of dabbing the wetness lingering on her fingertips behind both her earlobes, and then across her breastbone, as if applying the most sensual of perfumes.

Sara chuckled as she watched her do this, and then stretched under her fragrant lover, trying to crack her joints and get into a more comfortable position. "Wow, I sure am thirsty," she said rather plaintively.

Chloe shifted off her, but laid on her side within the crook of Sara's arm, looking up into her lover's face. "And I sure could use a Little Debbie right now," she said in an equally pitious voice.

It was decided.  It was now going to be a battle of whomever could sound more pathetic and needy.

"But I have to shoot a commercial tomorrow afternoon," Sara parried.

"And I have to direct you in that commercial, Annie Oakley," Chloe quite ably deflected.

"But your side of the bed is closer to the kitchen," Sara blinked, fluttering her eyelashes.  "And the bathroom." Whine. "All I want is some water." Frown.

"You should have thought of that before you pigged down the last bite of chocolate in the house, babycakes. I might be feeling more charitable right now if you'd saved me one."

Chloe's defensive strategy was incredibly effective tonight and Sara had to pull back and regroup.  She drew upon her acting skills, and tried to channel Debra Winger's dying scene in 'Terms of Endearment'. Well, at least the drained and wan expression on her face, because she really couldn't remember one word of the dialogue. She tried to approximate Debra's sandpaper dry voice, but ended up sounding exactly like Marlon Brando in the 'Godfather'."Jeez, yid think yid have a lil sympathy, I have t'speak my lines so people can understan 'em," she said as hoarsely as she could and that bad Italian accent snuck in, "and well, dis could lead ta laryngitis. Or woise," she rasped, "m'tongue could dry up an' fall out."

When that effort brought absolutely no positive response from Chloe except a derisive snort and giggling poke, she resorted to a dirty, lowdown and never-fail offensive frontal attack.

She met Chloe's eyes, making sure she had her undivided attention, and slowly pushed out her lower lip in a completely pitiful and adorable pout.

Chloe took one look and groaned in defeat. "I'm such a sucker for you." she ceded, equal parts surrender and simple truth imbedded in her statement.

A bathroom stop and refrigerator visit later, Chloe returned to the bedroom, a bottled water in her hand, and Sara flicked an eyebrow up in delighted victory. "Thanks," she managed to get out before she sucked half the bottle down. "Ahh.:"  Chloe stood at the edge of the bed, frowned at the empty Swiss Cake Roll box on the nightstand and bestowed Sara with her best dirty look.  Sara patted the mattress beside her. "C'mon little girl," she said, her voice no longer carrying a coarse edge to it, "Let me see if I can perform some specialized surgery and remove that wrapper from your gluteus maximus."

Chloe looked over her shoulder, and to her embarrasment, saw that she was still wearing the cellophane on her lower butt cheek.  She reached to remove it, but Sara, rejuvenated and with her thirst freshly slaked, was faster and grabbed Chloe's wrists, and pulled her onto the bed on top of her. "Nuh uh uh," she grinned, and held her tighter as Chloe squirmed and giggled, "the night is young, and so are we, sorta, and I want to remove that wrapper, " she said with a wolfish growl as she deliberately showed off her snapping white teeth and sharp incisors, "with my nipple clamps."

In the course of less than 72 hours, Chloe Donahue, stalwart Stonecreek citizen and general all around Good Egg, had gone from responsible librarian and county employee to uncaring future laid-off disgruntled worker and miffed book-pusher.  In her working past, it was almost unheard of for her to miss a day's work at the library.  She went in even when feeling deathly ill, spreading germs to the local citizenry with a single-minded devotion to her job.  That devotion was simply misguided and useless now that her job was going to be a memory, so she felt no guilt in calling her supervisor to request a substitute for the next few days. She had vacation, personal days and sick time massively accrued, and she fully intended to use up every single day she could before she got her pink slip.

The Tuesday after Labor Day was to be an incredibly full and potentially taxing one for her.  She had a commercial to direct, and then was leaving directly from the car lot to travel to Erie and Glenhurst College for a faculty meeting/dinner. Truth be told, she was looking forward to the Glenhurst to-do with more eagerness than her second stint as a novice director of television commercials.  She felt awkward and unsure that her production ideas were valid and interesting, even after she'd discussed them with her eager and steadfastly believing lover.

Sara, on the other hand, was feelling more positive and self-assured than she had in a long, long time.  The thought of making tacky car commercials no longer bothered her in the slightest, knowing that Chloe would be there with a gentle hand and an ecouraging smile to pull her through the more difficult moments. She truly doubted there would be any difficult moments; she felt as though she was off to the car lot to spend a few hours horsing around with Chloe in front of a camera. She was so delighted and grateful, she even made a great showing of calling a local optometrist for an eye exam the following week.   Chloe showed her appreciation of her lover's move to solve her eye problems in typical Chloe teasing fashion. While they were getting showered and dressed in preparation to leave for Stevens' Ford, she kept inserting the word 'Bifocals' into odd moments of their conversation.  Each mention of 'bifocals' brought an answering growl and sometimes threatening snarl from Sara.  Oh, how Chloe loved to tease Sara about her minor insecurities, which were too many to count even on a whole Girl Scout troop's worth of fingers and toes.

After a quick stop at the Quickie Mart to buy two packages of poster board for giant cue cards, they drove off towards the dealership with both high hopes and in Chloe's case, an endless bout of breakfast burrito heartburn.

Chloe was in the middle of the camera and lighting set up in front of this week's set of vehicles when Roger Stevens pulled up in a perfectly detailed and shining Expedition with several natty, dark suited fellows in tow.   Chloe was watching out of the corner of her eye as they approached her girlfriend, who was standing under the aluminum awning near the showroom entrance. Sara was practicing a quick draw and twirling her replica six-shooters when they approached. Chloe looked up from the stationary camera monitor with cursory interest as she watched Sara replace her guns in the holsters low on her fringed suede skirt,  shake their hands in a friendly manner and grace them with her trademark all too toothy smile.  Chloe gazed for a moment, always enthralled with how Sara could switch gears from her usual goofy, reticent self, to a polished and charming actress in the blink of a squinted eye.  Ellis  drew her attention away by asking a question, and she soon was caught up in the business getting this car commercial show on the road.

When Chloe had Ellis' assurances that they were ready to roll, she again looked up to see Sara still standing with Roger Stevens and the three suited gentlemen he'd brought with him.  Ruthie Stevens joined the small group, and was patting a mostly silent Sara gently on the arm as she talked enthusiastically about her. Chloe caught Sara's eye, and lifted her hand in the air with five fingers splayed out, signaling Sara that they were ready to proceed.  Sara nodded back, and quickly excused herself to go check her self-done make-up job one last time.  Chloe saw her enter the dealership, and then winced as Roger, Ruthie started walking the small male contingent in her direction..

Sara was comfortable in the suede cowgirl outfit, even in the not so oppressive heat of this early September day.  She'd always liked the smell and feel of leather, although she wasn't fond of the long trailing fringe that fell from the arms and hem of the dark brown jacket.  She headed towards Roger and Ruthie's office to use the small restroom located there. She entered the dully appointed office, frowning again at the numerous #1 plaques on the wall, and just as she was crossing close to the desk to enter the bathroom, the private phone on Roger's desk began to ring.

She stopped, and stared at it a moment.

Should I answer it?  Nah, a secretary will get it.

It rang again shrilly.

Sara hesitated in front of the bathroom door, and gazed at the large business phone, resplendent with over 20 mysterious buttons on its front panel.  It rang again. And again.

Apparently, Roger and Ruthie's secretary was out behind the service garage, having a smoke with her boyfriend mechanic. It rang again, and Sara, being no different than most folks who found themselve alone with an insistently ringing telephone, argued with herself as to whether or not to answer it.

Whoever it was was being very persistent, because the phone kept up its demanding jangle.

Sara sighed, took a few steps toward the desk, and impatiently grabbed at the reciever. The heavy fringe on the jacket swiped across the surface of the console, Sara lost her bearings and instead of grasping the receiver cleanly, she watched in shock as the telephone, receiver and cradle and all, tumbled off the desk and turned over in mid flight to land upside down on the floor with a crash. Some plastic part broke off, and shot under the desk.

"OH SHIT!" Sara swore, and blinked as her exortation seemed to fill the room and travel beyond.

She quickly leaned over to pick up the recieiver, and lifted it to her mouth and ear, hearing nothing but very low static. "WHAT THE FUCK?" she swore hastily and crossly, but those words reverberated even louder through the office, and she heard them echoing as if they were being piped through a PA system to the showroom and even the car lot outside.

Which is exactly what was happening, although Sara's mind hadn't grasped the fact that everything she was saying was being transmitted, very loudly, to every corner of Steven's Ford, because of a stuck PAGE button on the front panel of the still overturned telephone command panel.

Meanwhile, out in the parking lot, Chloe, Roger, Ruthie and three marketing executives who had flown in from Ford's world headquarters especially to meet the reclusive movie star who had signed on to make commercials for one of their middle markets dealerships, looked skyward as though they had just heard the voice of God.  A highly annoyed and feminine sounding God, Chloe noted, somewhat absurdly.

They all kept their necks craned heavenward, waiting.  It was only seconds later when the next pronouncement from the heavens reached their ears.

"OH, FOR CHRIST'S SAKE!" the female voice boomed, and then there was a equally loud crunching sound and then silence prevailed over the land.

Five minutes later, a still redfaced and glowering Sara D'Amico strode out of the showroom's doors, stonefaced, squinting, fringe flapping in the breeze, and arrived in front of her lover and the various highly placed employees of Ford Motors.  Not one of them had the nerve to look her in the eye.  She stopped in front of Ruthie, held out broken chunk of plastic, and Ruthie took it cautiously as though it might explode in her hand.

Sara walked over to her mark in front of a red used Ford Focus, and wordlessly nodded her readiness at Chloe to begin.

Chloe shuddered and decided it wasn't prudent to tease a woman who had guns holstered on her hips, even if they were plastic replicas. To all the people huddled behind the camera, the guns looked very real, and that was good enough for them.

Chloe left the car lot at around 4 PM, begging off from a dinner invitation from Ruthie and Roger because of her previous commitment to attend the faculty get-together at Glenhurst. She really didn't get to spend any 'alone' time with Sara before leaving, because there was always someone 'important' at Sara's elbow, demanding her attention.  Chloe was pretty much busily engaged most of the afternoon with Ellis, discussing the various shots and how Chloe wanted them pasted together.  Running late, she'd had time for only a friendly, curteous goodbye to everyone before Dave picked her up to take her home to get changed for her trip into Erie.

Sara, feeling both honored and waylaid by the Ford executive's surprise appearance on the lot, let herself be talked into a meal with all of them at a pricey restaurant on Erie's bayfront.  She was going to sneak home to get more appropriate clothing for the dinner, but Ruthie slyly tugged at her fringed sleeve, led her into the manager's office, opened the closet door there, and pulled out a beautiful and sleek designer pants suit that she was sure would fit Sara.  Much to Sara's shock, the clothing fit her perfectly, although the bust was a little bit roomier than she would have liked. But considering that Sara's other choices, wearing the suede outfit that she'd worn for the commercial, or the t-shirt and shorts she'd arrived in, she didn't have much choice.  The six of them rode into Erie in the plush Expediton, and Sara remained cheerfully accessible but inwardly disappointed that she didn't get to speak privately with Chloe before she departed.

Chloe, arrived at the private dining hall at Glenhurst was also thinking of her absent lover, and her own aggravation at how disjointed she felt not saying a proper goodbye to her. The cocktail hour was underway, and Chloe ordered a mixed drink, and did what was expected of her. She mingled and networked and shmoozed, trying her best to remember the names of any important faculty members that might help further the educational and professional goals in her future. Although a very social and engaging person to the core, she still couldn't help thinking about Sara. She took the opportunity during the obligatory after dinner speeches to reflect back on the chaotic fun of the afternoon and the way they seemed to work so easily together, even with Ford execs and car lot owners and the assorted mechanic looking on. Every time she would look through the camera to set up a shot before Ellis would begin taping, she would find that Sara was surreptitiously grinning right at her, tweaking her with a wink, a roll of the eyes, a pink tongue stuck out, all purely for the new director's entertainment. These thoughts kept Chloe softly smiling and preoccupied throughout the most tedious of speeches by the most boring of the academics, and more than one of her new colleagues caught her grinning at highly innappropriate times, and they concluded that the new part-time member of the English department had simply visited the open bar one too many times.

The dinner at the seafood restaurant on the bayfront was pleasent enough, and potentially beneficial to Sara's future, so she did her best to stay focused and interested. She was pleased to find that each of the executives, ranging from her age to Roger's age, treated her with the utmost respect and didn't try to impress her with their credentials or fall into the predictable male pattern of trying to flirt with her.  She mused briefly that these three men were not cut from the slick entertainment world cloth, they were stolid business men whose conversational topics tended to stick strickly to the business of selling Ford products.  She found herself engaged in an enjoyable talk with them about the finer aspects of the older, classic cars, and they all seemed to be impressed by her knowledge of the mechanical features of the Ford line of motor vehicles, both old and new,  By the time dinner was half over, they all were pleased with the way the day and the evening was turning out, so much so that by the time the desert cart was wheeled up to the table, the leader of the three executives suggested that he would like to extend the evening with coffee and desert out on the waterside patio of the restaurant.  Sara surprised herself by readily agreeing, and they moved as a group to a table by the water and continued their interesting discussion.

It was nearly 11 PM when they arrived back at the dealership, and after many sincere handshakes all around the men departed, and Sara changed back into her shorts and t-shirt and hugged Ruthie and Roger goodbye. She climbed wearily into her conversion van to begin the 15 minute trek back to Stonecreek.  At one point earlier in the evening, when she had left the dinner table to visit the ladies room, she'd stopped at a phone booth in the lobby, and tried to call Chloe. In itself, that should have been a simple task, but as she was asking the cashier for change for the pay phone, she realized that she had no idea where to find Chloe at this late hour. She assumed that Chloe would have returned to Stonecreek by now, but ... where did she return to?  They hadn't had the chance to set up a rendezvous place.  So she found herself taking the time to call Chloe's house, then her own house, and even at Dave and Marcy's, each time frustrated by connecting with only an answering machine and leaving a message that she would meet her at Chloe's small house in a few hours.  And as she drove home, with the window open and Mary Chapin Carpenter entreating her to 'Shut Up and Kiss Me', she complained to herself again about Chloe's avowed dislike and refusal to purchase a cell phone.

What are we going to do when our lives get busy, and we can't connect?  What if she's going to be late?  What if she doesn't feel well, or she's going to go straight to her house and work on one of her bazillion projects, and she can't reach me, because I'm up at the course, or at the car lot, or at Dave and Marcy's, or in the new house?  I don't want to be constantly calling 15 different places looking for her. What if she tells me she's going to stay at her own house that night, and then that rusty old Subaru breaks down on the way back from Erie, or she ends up in a ditch when the snow starts flying? I hate playing phone tag. If I just knew for sure where she was going to be at the end of any given day ... Sara's grip on the wheel got tighter, and she pretty much ignored Mary Chapin explaining that 'some days you're the windshield, some days you're the bug'.  Sara started mentally counting up the number of places Chloe could be during the course of a week, a day, an hour: Fort Lafayette High School, Dave and Marcy's, the library, the car dealership, the editing studio in Erie or her office or classroom at Glenhurst, with Doris at the diner, at her own home, at Sara's new home ....  This is crazy.  I should just buy her the damned cell phone, and force her to carry it around with her.  But then Sara sighed, knowing that Chloe's objections to cell phonemania had nothing to do with finances, it was purely a stubborn conviction she held that they were invasive to privacy, that too many people, including Sara, became terrible drivers when talking on one, and simply appeared vapid when chatting with a friend as they walked past the shelves at Bob's Video Shack.

There had to be a solution. She could feel it, she was this close to figuring it out when she saw she was approaching mid-town Stonecreek, and saw a brightly lit sign there.  She pulled over into a parking space, knowing the answer she'd sought was not far away.

Chloe returned home to her small house next to the run down Marathon station just shortly before the news came on at 11.  She found her answering machine light blinking, and she listened, hearing a message from Doris that made her giggle and then Sara's deep contralto filled her kitchen, sounding frustrated and tired, complaining in snipped tones that she 'didn't know where the hell they were supposed to meet tonight' so she would head to Chloe's after her dinner. There was a short pause, and then there was an embarrassed sounding and softer 'I love you' tacked onto the end of the message.

The future former librarian's heart warmed at that final sentiment, and she moved about her house, tidying it up while she ran a bath in her old clawfoot tub. She felt grimy and gritty from her long day in the sun, and she hadn't had the time to spare to grab a quick shower between the car lot duties and her trip to Glenhurst.  She approximated, from Sara's message, that her lover would arrive in an hour or so, and she wanted nothing more than to relax in a lukewarm tub before she got here.

She undressed, and murmured, "Calgon, take me away," even though she was pouring some generic fragrance aroma therapy bath beads under the water, ones that Nelson had bought her for her birthday early in June.  She sighed as she swished her hand under the water, watching the bubbles appear, and thinking of the young man so far away.  I hope he's all right.  I hope he knows we miss him.  I hope he knows I miss him.

She filled the tub as high as she could, and eased down into the water slowly, even though it wasn't all that hot.  She preferred a cooler tub, never liking the feeling that she was a tea bag steeping in a huge cup of boiling water.  See, another reason why I would never want a jacuzzi at the house. She slid down further, the bubbles touching her nose as she laid her head back. What am I thinking, it's going to be her house, she can do what she wants with it.

She was trying to lose those disconcerting thoughts, and any other stray thoughts that came sneaking into her tired brain, when she looked up and saw Sara leaning in her bathroom doorway, arms folded, and with a devilish grin on her face.

"Howdy, ma'am," Sara drawled, her inflection a holdover from the commercial from earlier in the day. "I was wondering if you could direct me to a clean, cheap room for the night?  I bedded my horse down out yonder, and I don't reckon I want to be sharin' the stables with him."

Chloe giggled, and shot a delighted smirk at her lover. "Why, I'm sure we can find some room for y'all, although you may have to double up with someone, we are pretty busy this time of the year."

Sara scratched her butt thoughfully before she replied, "Well, if she's as pretty as you, I won't mind a bit, ma'am.  In fact, I'd prefer it. Especially if she smells like ..."  Sara paused, and sniffed the air, trying to come up with a description for the fragrance there.

Chloe reached and lifted up the nearby box of bath beads, wrinkling her nose. "Strawberry cupcakes?"

Sara laughed. "The stuff from Nelson? Jeez, do men think women want to smell like bakery products?"

Chloe sighed. "His heart was in the right place."

"Nelson's heart has always been in the right place," Sara corrected.  She saw Chloe's sad smile of agreement. "Well, how'd it go tonight? Meet any more Deans?  Dean Cain?  Dino from 'The Flintstones?"

The redhead simply rolled her eyes and slid farther into the tub, the bubbles tickling her chin. They slithered and popped as she spoke. "Wow, and I thought librarian dinners were dull. These folks were so stiff, I think they all soak in starch every morning."

"No fun?"

Chloe blew on the foam. "No fun."  She cocked her head. "How about you?  Talk about Ford Tortoises all night?  The Phicus?  How about the Ford Exponent?"

Sara, appropriately enough, squinted her eyes before replying. "I never, ever said the Ford Exponent."

"Well, given enough time, you would have, eventually."

Sara laughed. "True. True."  She took a few steps towards the tub, but stopped and leaned against the wall without coming any closer. "But some interesting topics of conversation did take place."

Chloe lifted a bubble covered leg and laid her calf on the side of the tub, wiggling her toes at Sara. "Such as?"

Sara tilted her head, and bit her lip before replying, coyly, "Oh, this and that and Firestone tires and gas mileage and asking me if I'd like to do regional commercials for them in a month or so, and then go national next Spring ...."  She snuck a peek at Chloe, who blinked, and then became increasingly wide-eyed.

"You're KIDDING."

Sara shook her head, her widening smile letting Chloe know she was speaking the truth. "Nope. I mean, yup, that's what they did.  We have to do some negotiations, but that's the plan.  Voice overs, and appear in the commercials. No costumes though, dammitall anyways, but dignified all the same. "

Chloe was so excited, she sat upright in the tub, and pushed on the edges, intending to get out and go to her lover.  Sara took the few remaining steps, and put a restraining hand on Chloe's wet shoulder and knelt down next to the tub. "Hold on there, missy, no need to slop up the floor with water."

Chloe really didn't like being restrained, at least not in the bathtub. "But c'mon, at least kiss me or something, I mean, you are excited about this, aren't you?" Chloe searched Sara's eyes. "You are, aren't you?" she repeated, unsure of the look she saw there.

Sara leaned and gave her a long and tender kiss, assuring her she was very much happy about the offer. She leaned back on her heels again, grinning at the adorable way the bubbles were clinging to the sides of Chloe's neck and chin, making it appear that she was a young and still redheaded Kris Kringle. "So, whattya think?  Think I should do it?"

Chloe didn't want to appear to be too eager, but she couldn't tamp down her enthusiasm. "Yes!! I mean, well, of course! Well, I think so, at least unless, well..."

Sara read Chloe's fluttering mind. "Here's the deal.  Filming once a month in Chicago or New York City.  Voiceovers I can do right in the studio here in Erie with Ellis." Sara's smile dimmed a little, and she continued, a small frown forming. "But the local stuff would stop.  I'll be doing regional 'til the national stuff in the spring, but Roger and Ruthie are going to have to get themselves a new pitchwoman."  She stated the obvious, regret in her voice. "So I guess we won't be working together any more. But Roger says he wants you to keep directing for him.  He said I looked like I was having such a great time today, that he'd like to get back to doing the commercials himself, but this time with a talented director to make him look good," she grinned smugly, "YOU." She sat back on the floor, leaning her back up against the wall, waiting for Chloe's reaction to all of this.

Chloe's brow furrowed in concentration, a million questions flying around in the small space between her ears. She sorted through all of them, and came up with a two parter that seemed to be more important than the rest. She started slowly. "So ... does this mean an eventual return to making movies? Or do I see a John Deere dealership in your future?"  Although her skin was oversaturated and pruning, her tongue felt thick and dry just asking those two questions.

Sara got a slow half grin on her face. "Hmm. That's a toughie. Lemme think on that." She propped her elbow on her knee, resting her hand on her fist in 'The Thinker's' position, and pretended to mull it all over until she felt a wet blob of bubbles hit her square in the head. She laughed. "Oh, c'mon, Chloe, get real! You know I live for axle grease, not greasepaint." She was delighted to see a relieved smile come to Chloe's face.

Sara smiled again, and took a deep breath before she began. "Actually, now that I've had a chance to think about it,:" she continued softly, meeting Chloe's eyes, "I live for just the sheer happiness of being around you." She gazed affectionately at Chloe, who was never good at hiding her feelings, and she saw Chloe's eyes start to mist over at her sweet words. She kicked off her sneakers, and moved closer to the tub, so their hands could touch. "And," she said ever more softly, "they're giving me a signing bonus, so I can get the house without Doris co-signing for it. So ..." she continued in her halting fashion, "you'd better get this house listed as soon as you can, because I want you moving in with me as soon as we can possibly arrange it."

"But I told you I wasn't going to sell this place yet." Chloe said, her happy tears becoming mixed with confused ones.

"Even if I want us to get the mortgage together?" Sara asked gently.

Chloe was torn and unsure. These were exactly the words she'd dreamt of hearing from Sara, but ... "So, you get this job, with, I'm assuming, a bunch of money behind it, and that's what changes your mind?" she asked pointedly, but tempered it with a hopeful small smile.

"No. Not at all." Sara leaned so her chin was resting on the edge of the tub, and she reached across and wiped a tear from Chloe's cheek. "No, I realized it ... well, I always knew it was what I wanted ... I know now that one bad week out of our lives shouldn't screw up our entire future.  A week that was good for you, and bad for me.  A week that shouldn't influence the rest of our lives together. But some good things came out of it, and for that, I'm glad. You were wrong, I was a little wrong, but ... if you're still interested in trying to get past the small nitpicky things and look at the big perfect picture with me, like Doris said, then ... I'd very much like it if you'd ... "

The cold water in the tub was chilling Chloe on the outside, but she didn't notice because she felt so incredibly warm on the inside.  She leaned and gave her approval to the plan by sealing the deal with a passionate kiss.  Sara leaned into her, and Chloe's hands came out of the water, and grasped Sara by the shoulders, deepening the embrace.  Barely breaking apart, they smiled at each other for a long moment. Chloe tipped her head to kiss her again, but Sara suddenly moved back, a bigger lopsided grin highlighting her dark features.

She stood up, and laughed as Chloe looked at her, bewildered at her abrupt movement. "Wait a minute, wait a minute, I have something ... hold on, don't move ...  it's out in the living room. I had to stop at Stan's bar and get it from him, it was in his back room ...." She lifted a finger. "One second, I'll be right back!" excitement tinging her voice.  She gave Chloe's questioning face a reassuring smile and then darted out the bathroom door.

Chloe stood up from the tub, and stepped out onto the bathmat, to take the few steps to where the towels hung on the back of the door. But Sara arrived in the doorway before she got there, holding a big bulging garbage bag in her arms. She dropped it to the floor, and as Chloe stood there dripping, she pulled out its contents, holding it up high in the air for Chloe to see..

It took only a moment for Chloe to recognize what it was.  A big, furry bearskin rug.

Seconds later, Sara found herself flat on her back on top of that same soft dark pelt, being kissed all over by a very naked, amorous and bubble covered Chloe Donahue.

Sara laughed between the kisses. "Chloe! You're gettin' me all wet!" she protested, but not very vehemently.

Chloe stopped, grinned suggestively at her squirming lover, growled like a grizzly in heat and replied, "Not half as wet as you're gonna be."



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