Authors: Again the Magic
Her facial muscles tightened, and she glanced at Ez with a hint of desperation in her smoky eyes before turning back to O'Mara to say hesitantly, "I... uh... I got my degree in phys. ed. and taught for a while and... Ez and I have been sharing an apartment for about five years. I was with a computer company for a while, and then I worked in a bookstore the last three years. When Grandma Arlen died and left me enough money to buy a shop of my own, I found this place and... Well, here I am."
She met O'Mara's sardonically amused gaze and quickly looked away.
Damn, he always sees too much!
O'Mara shot a questioning look at Ez, who shook his head slightly. His eyes returned to Kitt, and he said, in a neutral tone, "That's certainly a succinct summary."
Pushing back her chair, Kitt jumped to her feet and started stacking dishes. "Oh, I haven't really done anything very interesting. Listen, why don't you all get comfortable while I clean up this mess? Ez, there's more wine. Gus, if you're getting bored with all this talk of old times, you can take the portable TV into my room. Is there anything you like to watch on Friday evenings?" She could hear herself babbling, but couldn't seem to stop. "Thanks, Midge, but it will go faster if I pile everything on the breakfast bar and you go around into the kitchen and work from the other side. Or I'll do it while you—"
She came to an abrupt halt when large hands closed gently over her upper arms and O'Mara's voice murmured in her ear, "Relax, Kitt. I'm not going to push you."
She knew he was standing close behind her, but only his hands touched her. They were resting on her arms more than actually holding her, and she realized that she could easily move away. He would let her go. But she stood still, hearing his slow, even breathing and feeling the warmth of his hands through her sleeves. Gradually, her muscles relaxed; she took a long, deep breath, let it out slowly, and turned her head to look into the compassionate eyes only a few inches away. And it was happening again. She could feel understanding and reassurance wrapping around her, and she said, just above a whisper, "I'm all right."
His voice was husky as he answered, "For now. We'll take care of the long term later. When you're ready."
She felt his hands slide down her arms in a light caress before dropping away as he turned and followed Ez across the living room.
The rest of the evening flew past, carried on clouds of nostalgia and gusts of laughter. Ez needed little encouragement to draw on his fund of stories about the pitfalls of dealing with female college students. O'Mara delighted
Midge with hair-raising stories of filming on location. Curled up at the end of the sofa, Kitt said little beyond adding a pithy comment now and then to Ez's outrageous tales.
"Shades of Charlemagne! It's time for all wee mites to be in bed," exclaimed Ez, glancing at his watch and then lunging to his feet. Two strides took him to the sofa where Midge was perched cross-legged. Wrapping his huge hands around her waist, he plucked her up and held her in midair, feet dangling over a foot from the floor. She grabbed at his arms, her fingers digging into his bulging muscles to secure a hold, and jack-knifed her jeans-clad legs up to rest her knees on his chest.
Grinning impudently into his face, she asked, "Now what are you going to do?"
"See you home, of course," he announced, giving her a mockingly lecherous look as he carried her toward the coat closet. He had to set her down while they put on their jackets, but then quickly swung her up in his arms and walked toward the sliding door to the deck.
"Will you stop wiggling, wench? This is for your own protection. I heard there's a gigantic lobster roaming the area, and he'd make an hors d'oeuvre out of a bit of a thing like you." Ez failed miserably in trying to keep a straight face, and Midge was laughing up at him, arms wound around his neck, as they disappeared into the darkness. Midge's faint "Goodnight, everyone" was definitely an afterthought.
Kitt and O'Mara had been amused observers of the performance and now looked at each other, laughing.
"Can you figure out who's making the running?" O'Mara asked.
"Oh, I think they both are—right at each other!"
"I wouldn't miss this for worlds. You're right, Ez's courting methods aren't to be believed!"
The laughter slowly faded from O'Mara's face. He leaned his chin on his hand, elbow resting on the arm of the large Victorian grandfather chair. He watched Kitt trying to avoid his eyes.
There was a waiting stillness. Tiny points of light flickered on Kitt's lashes as her eyes shifted about the room, inevitably coming to rest on O'Mara. She tried to concentrate on examining his navy-blue wool shirt and beige cord jeans, but it only increased her awareness of the powerful body and long, muscular legs under his clothes. The top buttons of his shirt were undone, and she could see a smudge of soft blackness in the open vee. She had a sudden vision of a younger O'Mara standing on the beach in swim trunks, his arms, legs and chest furred with soft, curling black hair, the thick mat on his chest narrowing down over his taut stomach to the edge of his trunks.
She felt every muscle in her body knot at the vividness of the memory. The stillness in the room thickened with tension, and her eyes darted up to meet his.
He's doing it again. He's reading my mind.
Warily, she watched him rise to his feet and walk toward her, his hands held out to her. She hesitated, her mouth going dry with the beginning of fear.
His eyes on hers were compelling, and she slowly lifted her hands to take his. As they touched, a frisson of dread shimmered along her nerve ends, and she was shivering as he pulled her to her feet in front of him.
O'Mara. This is O'Mara.
It was a litany running in an endless circle in her mind, and she clung to it as if it were a lifeline.
She'd kicked off her clogs some time earlier, and now stood in her stocking feet, still only a few inches shorter than he. He could feel the tremors shaking her, and increased the pressure of his hands. Every muscle in her body tensed, this time in determination rather than sexual awareness, as she forced herself to resist the nearly overwhelming need to yank her hands away and run.
"Shhhh. Quietly, Kitt. Just stand still." It was the same low, purring tone he might use to soothe Gus from a nightmare. At first, Kitt could barely hear it through the pounding of blood in her ears. Then, gradually, the words penetrated. "I told you, I'm not going to rush you. I know something is very wrong, but we've got all the time we need to sort it out. Now that I've found you again, there's no reason to hurry things. We can take it at your pace, and I'm not going to ask questions that you're not ready to answer."
She felt the easing of tension as her muscles unknotted, and she opened her eyes, raising them to the clear, calm reassurance of his gaze. "O'Mara." It was a statement.
"Nobody else," he said, smiling slightly. "Now, I've got to get Gus home to bed, and I think you've had enough for one day. I've promised him a fishing trip tomorrow, and we'll probably be late returning, so I won't see you. Is the shop open on Sunday?" She nodded mutely, and he asked, "What time?"
"Noon." Her voice was hoarse.
"Good. Set your alarm early. I'll be by to pick you up at five-thirty, and we'll go to watch the sunrise and have breakfast. No, don't argue," he commanded as her mouth opened. "I'll bet you haven't watched a sunrise over the ocean in years."
"No. Not since the last time with you." Her face had a remembering look. She still stood before him, her hands lightly clasped in his.
"Stand easy, Kitt," he whispered as he bent his head and softly touched his lips to hers, straightening up again before she had time to do more than blink. He let go of her left hand and turned to walk down the hall toward her bedroom, drawing her after him by his hold on her other hand.
"Let's see what Gus is doing. Hope he's asleep. We've got to get off early in the morning."
He pushed open the door, and Kitt moved up beside him to look into the room. The TV was showing an old western, but the volume was turned down. Gus was sprawled on his side on Kitt's bed, his arm across Hero who was curled up tight against his stomach. Both were sound asleep.
Kitt and O'Mara exchanged indulgent smiles. "Seems a shame to separate them. However...." He walked quietly to the bed and leaned over, speaking softly to the dog, and put his hand on Gus's shoulder.
"Gus. Time to go. Do you want to walk or shall I carry you?"
The boy sat up, mumbled, "Walk," and slid off the bed. His father's hands on his shoulders steadied him as he staggered, still three-quarters asleep, toward the living room. Kitt followed, carrying a potted amaryllis bulb. She collected their jackets and handed O'Mara his, turning to help Gus. Hero leaned against the boy's legs, and Gus slitted his eyes open to look down at him.
"Bye, Hero," he muttered. "See you soon. Nice supper, Kitt. See you, too." He yawned and stood swaying while his eyes closed again. "Walk," he protested sleepily as O'Mara picked him up.
"Not down those stairs." He settled Gus against his shoulder, holding him securely in one arm, and reached for the pot that Kitt was shifting from hand to hand as she put on her jacket.
"I'll carry it down. Hero's got to go out anyway."
In the parking lot, O'Mara opened the door of his Jeep Renegade and set Gus down in the passenger seat, tucking his plant in beside him. Hero scrambled into the back, turned around twice, and collapsed in a comfortable ball, his nose tucked under his hind legs.
"Come out of there, you nut." Kitt laughed, opening the driver's door and snapping her fingers. Slowly, and with obvious reluctance, Hero uncoiled, stretched and finally jumped out of the jeep. O'Mara slid into his seat and closed the door. Rolling down the window, he grinned teasingly at Kitt and said, "Don't forget. Sunday at five-thirty."
"You're mad, you know," she groaned, and then laughed. Hands in pockets, she stood watching as he swung out of the lot and turned down Ocean Avenue.
Kitt walked a short distance down the road with Hero, moving in a semi-daze, barely aware of her surroundings. Her mind was a twirling kaleidoscope of flashing scenes from the evening, from the years of her marriage, from those long-ago summers. The colors were vivid, reflecting the emotions flickering through and around the jumble of pictures: blazing, blistering reds, oranges and acid yellow of anger, hate and violence; cool blues and greens and warm lemon of peaceful, endless summer; grays, browns and soft beige of numbness and despair; and, strongest of all, the spring green of new life and the deep, flaming blue pulling her inexorably into that life.
It was too much. Her head was aching with confusion and, with every ounce of willpower she possessed, Kitt blanked it all out. She turned and walked back toward home, head down, eyes on her feet, counting her steps. Her concentration on nothing was so total that she didn't hear Ez's car or see him waiting for her.
"Yeoo—" She choked off the yelp of surprise and grabbed Ez's arms to regain her balance. His hands reached out to steady her as she bounced off his chest.
"You really are in a fog, pet, when you can't see something this big," Ez said, a faint question in his voice.
"Sorry. Guess I was rather out of it." Kitt started up the stairs and said over her shoulder, "I think I had a bit too much wine. How about some coffee?"
"Sounds good. You sure it's just wine that's got you walking into barn doors?"
"What else?" asked Kitt, sliding open the door. She dropped her jacket onto the back of the sofa and headed for the kitchen. She tried desperately to keep a nonchalant expression on her face, knowing it was a futile effort; the mental link between her and Ez was incredibly strong, even stronger than that between her and O'Mara.
Throwing his jacket over hers, Ez moved lazily to the low breakfast bar and sat down, leaning forward on his crossed arms and watching Kitt intently. "It could be O'Mara. Didn't you find it just a little bit intriguing that we still had that old rapport going, even after all these years? And don't try to tell me you don't know what I'm talking about. Ten minutes after you walked into that room tonight, you two were so aware of each other that even Midge picked it up. In fact, I could see smoke rising a couple of times when we were in the shop."
"Ez, it isn't... I don't...." Kitt's hands were shaking, and she set down the jar of coffee with a clatter. Hands pressing flat on the counter, she dropped her head, squeezing her eyes shut.
"Oh, damn, damn. I don't need this!" Her voice was ragged with the effort to suppress tears. "Everything was going so well. I finally had it all together—peace and work I liked in a place I liked. And
walks in and...."
Kitt pushed away from the counter, swinging around to face Ez and holding out her hands in appeal. "It just doesn't make any sense. Ez, you can't wipe out twelve years, can you? It was all there, just as though we'd only been apart for weeks. All the feeling we used to have for each other... and... and something more. I don't know... I can't explain what it is. But, Ez, I'm not ready to handle it. I couldn't...."
He got up and swung his legs over the low counter. "Look, go sit down before you fall over. I'll fix the coffee."
"Now," Ez said a few minutes later, handing Kitt her coffee and dropping into an easy chair. "Take a few swallows of that and calm down. Nobody's going to force you into anything, least of all O'Mara."
"I know. That's what he said—that we've got plenty of time and he wasn't going to push me."
"Did he say that after we left?" Ez asked. "What happened? You were certainly off somewhere in limbo when you walked into me."
"Nothing much happened. He held my hands and..." Her voice dropped to a whisper that Ez had to lean forward to hear, "He kissed me."
"Kissed you!" Ez yelped. "And you call that 'nothing much'? Dammit, Kitt, you haven't even been able to let a man touch your arm, never mind hold hands or kiss you, for five years. And now you say it was 'nothing much'?"