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The Sharpest Sight

"Why was she so late getting to the date that she asked you out on?" Megan said, stretching backward on the enormous pillows strewn on Simon's floor so that her back made a symphony of little popping noises.

"Her uncle passed out at work," Simon said, kicking the fridge closed and bringing her a beer. "She had to get to the hospital and make sure he was all right. He's pretty old, I think, and there's no one else to check on him."

"She couldn't call you?" Megan said, taking a swig.

"We exchanged cell numbers at the restaurant, so it won't happen again," Simon said, flopping down on a pillow and spilling beer down his shirt. "And the hospital had no cell reception, so she couldn't call the restaurant."

"Ah," Megan said. "How was the date once it started?"

Simon sighed, sipped his beer, and stared into space. "She's so great, Megan. Smart and funny and really together, and gorgeous and sexy..." He turned a serious look upon Megan. "I mean, a lot of people probably wouldn't be able to see the sexy. She's kind of older than most people think of being sexy, but I can see it and she's hot."

"What does she do for a living?" Megan said, tucking one arm behind her head and drinking more beer.

"I... um, I'm not sure. She works in an office." Simon closed his eyes, apparently pawing through his memory. "She manages projects and deals with clients."

"Ah," Megan said again, studying the beer label. "Did you get her last name yet?"

"Erm, no," Simon said, looking down at his hands. "It didn't seem important."

"What did you talk about?" Megan said, squinting at the ceiling.

"Um, well, the cafe," Simon said. "And my bike. And the city, the shelters, the Perisphere and Trylon, good restaurants, places in the city she likes to go but can't get to because she's really busy..."

"Well, it sounds like you had a good conversation," Megan said, finishing her beer.

"Yeah," Simon said, a silly grin on his face. "Oh, so how did work go today?"

"Lousy," Megan said, setting the beer down and sitting up finally. "The Captain is pissed on his own account, and also because Copperhead is pissed because Tizemt gave him notice. It was all I could do to ask for a day off. When I did, he gave it to me, then just stopped talking to me at all."

"Fuuuuck," Simon said, drinking from his own bottle.

"Yeah," Megan said, drying her hands on the legs of her jeans. "I better interview really well and land this gig with the construction company, because I don't think I can stand more than another couple of weeks with the Captain."

"You're really gonna do it, then?" Simon said, looking concerned.

"Yeah, why not?"

"Working for Mr. Hammer... I dunno." Simon scratched the back of his neck. "I wonder what kind of boss he'd be."

"Well, he's a site foreman," Megan said, tugging her shirttails out. "I'm interviewing with the top boss, who runs the company, and her second-in-command, who runs all the sites."

"Sounds intimidating as hell," Simon said, setting his bottle down on the floor.

"I'm just trying to think of it as having an interview with my mom," Megan said. "Or yours."

"Hah," Simon said, resettling his glasses on his nose.

Megan smiled at Simon and waggled her eyebrows. "Anyway, I've got a lot of steam to blow off..." She started unbuttoning her shirt.

Simon looked away, fiddled with his goatee uncomfortably for a moment, then said, "Well, I kinda have to open tomorrow morning..."

Megan paused briefly, staring at him. "Do you have an understanding with her?" she asked after a long moment, undoing the rest of the buttons.

Simon didn't look up, but started smoothing his mustache. "Not... exactly. I mean, I can't say to her, 'Are we going steady now?' or anything stupid like that, right? But we're going on another date on Friday..."

Megan got up on one knee and looked down at Simon. She put her hands on her hips, thumbs dragging down and back on the tails of her shirt so that the upper halves of the shirt were hooked over her breasts. The lower halves of the shirt were parted to expose the line of her breastbone, the curve of her belly, and the soft roll of skin above her jeans, features of which she knew Simon was particularly fond. She was feeling mean, and felt vaguely guilty about it.

Simon looked up at her looming figure, and Megan had the satisfaction of watching his gaze travel precisely where she knew it would. He licked his lips hesitantly, then said, "I just wouldn't feel right..."

Megan got to her feet, started buttoning and stopped feeling guilty. "No problem," she said briskly.

"Still friends, right?" Simon said, scurrying to his feet.

He kicked over his beer bottle, and the last little bit sloshed onto a pillow. Megan didn't point it out, only smiled lopsidedly and said, "Sure, dude. The benefits have been fun. Let me know if... well, you know."

Simon nodded slowly. "Yeah, sure." He bit his lip and looked down at his feet. "Sorry."

Megan shrugged and clapped him on the shoulder, a little harder than she'd intended. He rocked sideways and had to take a step to catch himself. "It happens, and we didn't exactly talk about what would happen if one of us found someone serious, right?" She leaned down, her shirt still open enough to give him one last glimpse, and kissed his cheek. "Seeya. G'night."

She was almost out the door when Simon said, "Wanna go for drinks Thursday? After your interview?"

Megan unclenched her jaw and smiled over her shoulder. He was fidgeting with his goatee again. "Sure. I'll come by when I get back."

She closed the door very gently. She decided somewhere around the middle of the staircase down to go out to the garden. She started to button her shirt up further, but abandoned the exercise.

She went for a stomp around the garden paths. The slates and stones had long since sunk deep into the soil, and grass had grown up between and over them, so her heavy steps were muted and not particularly damaging.

She shoved her hands into her jeans pockets. She pulled them out and punched her palm. She put them back into her pockets. She chewed her upper lip.

She didn't really understand why she was so irritated with Simon. They'd agreed after the first date that neither of them thought they'd work out as a traditional relationship, but the sex was pretty good, so they thought they'd keep that up. She had no desire at all to be his girlfriend. None. Because they could never make a good relationship for dozens of reasons. But maybe they kind of were involved, and that was why she had disliked Suzanne from the beginning, and grown to dislike the old cougar, er, woman, er, Suzanne even more with the latest adventures. Sour grapes? Surely not. Because she didn't want to be involved with Simon that way. She couldn't conceive of it. She preferred women, after all. And she'd only known him a month.

A month? Is that all it had been?

She emitted a wordless snarl, then a sigh, and kept stomping along grimly.

Somewhere around her fourth circumnavigation of the garden, she noticed G leaning against an artistically broken pillar, smoking and watching her.

"Hey," Megan said.

"Hey," G said. "Did a blade of grass kick your puppy? Or are you looking for that vamp Zoltan claims is buried out here 'for regeneration purposes'?" She provided the airquotes.

"Wha--?" Megan said. "Oh. No. Just... cranky. Annoyed."

"What'd he do?" When Megan eyed her sharply, G smiled and shook her head. "I heard you tromp out of his apartment a while ago."

Megan shrugged convulsively, simultaneously tossing her head. "Nothing. He didn't do anything. I'm just being stupid."

G took a drag on her cigarette.

Megan stared into the darkness of the garden.

They both started simultaneously as they were struck by a sudden flurry of cold raindrops. A rumble of distant thunder followed the initial assault.

G threw her cigarette down and crushed it under the toe of her boot as she turned to go inside. She paused in the doorway, one hand on the jamb, and looked back. The rain had started to come down in large, heavy, pounding drops, and the leaves of the trees and bushes in the gardens shook visibly under the barrage. Megan stood still in it, shoulders hunched, hands in pockets.

"Come in out of the rain," G said, the cynical traces of a smile still playing about on her face. "You may be super-a-bunch-of-things, but you can probably still get cold and wet."

Face burning, Megan shuffled after G.

G regarded her solemnly once they gained the back hall of the house. "Look," she said, "if you want to come up and have a drink and talk -- tonight, or tomorrow, or whenever -- just come by. Open invitation. Okay?"

Megan didn't trust her voice, but nodded. She didn't like the feeling that she was sulking, or pouting, or any of a number of teenager sorts of things to do.

G trotted up the back stairs. Megan heard her footfalls echoing on the bare boards, the jingle of keys and the chain that held them to a belt loop, and the thunk of the deadbolt sliding open. The door shut firmly, but she did not hear the deadbolt turn home.

Megan stood in the quiet of what had been the servant's door to the garden, listening to the sounds of the house settling down for the night: Mozart from Zoltan's basement rooms, silence from her own parlor rooms, footsteps from the second floor, and someone, probably on the third floor, playing what she thought might be Celtic fiddle music.

The dark, birdlike grandmother clock in the front hall struck ten.

An open invitation is an open invitation. Megan scaled the stairs, buttoning her shirt up as she went.


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