DISCLAIMER: If I owned them, Sam and Janet would have good hair simultaneously in every season.
THANKS: as ever, to Xander, for cheery (!) encouragement and excellent advice on what to cut and what to keep. This story is for Rocket's "Emergency Stand-by Date" challenge. I didn't even consider Sam as a frustrated romance novelist, but that would be funny, now that I think about it...
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"Listen, Jeremy cancelled on me, so I have an extra ticket to a wine tasting at the Fine Arts Center. Wanna go?"
"Isn't this the third time Jeremy has cancelled in what, like a month?"
"Sam, of all people, I understand when a doctor gets called into surgery. And it's only been twice this month. The other time was in April."
"I thought he was a plastic surgeon. That doesn't sound very time-sensitive."
"Well, maybe he had an emergency botox treatment for some whacked-out actor shooting in Denver. I'm sure I'll get the whole story when I talk to him tomorrow. Anyway, are you interested?"
"Yeah. Do you plan on spitting or swallowing at this thing?"
Janet pondered the dirty thoughts going through her mind at Sam's outrageously suggestive statement. "Since I'm inviting, I'll drive-- you can drink for both of us."
"That was the correct answer, Madame. What time?"
"I'll pick you up at 7."
"What sort of outfit do I wear to a wine tasting?"
Janet considered Sam's options, since she'd been present during most of her fancy purchases over the past eight years. "How about that purple sheath you wore to Hammond's retirement party?"
There was a short pause. "A dress?"
Janet frowned. "Well, I guess those black velvet pants will work, maybe with the blue silk top I got you for your birthday."
"No, I can wear a dress. I just didn't expect it to be... dressy."
"Sam, it's a wine tasting, not a beer drinking competition."
"Too bad for me. Okay, it's already five, I have to shower now that I have a date for tonight."
"See you in a few."
Janet hung up. She smiled, having already forgotten her mild disappointment that Jeremy cancelled at the last minute. She thought of Sam in the purple dress, and the butterflies in her stomach were small enough that she didn't wonder why she was looking forward to the evening much more now than she had been an hour before.
"Wow," Janet said. "Did you do your hair?"
Sam put a hand to her head. "No, I only towel dried it. Does it look bad?"
"No," Janet said, swallowing. "It looks nice. You look... nice."
Grinning, Sam did a little twirl in the entryway. "The purple dress was at the cleaners, so that one was out. I had this in the back of the closet, and crossed my fingers that it wasn't too much. Is it?"
Janet ran her eyes down Sam's slim form, encased in a black, clingy dress with a boat neck cut. "No," Janet said weakly, equating her attention to envy because Sam looked so delectable in her attire. She felt positively bland in comparison. "It's wonderful."
"That dress is my favorite one you have," Sam said sweetly, grabbing her shawl and closing the front door behind them. "The collar shows off your shoulders." Sam locked up, and turned back. "You look beautiful."
"Thanks." Janet nearly tripped going down the steps of the walkway.
"What do they call that neckline?"
"A halter," Janet said, happy to be thinking of things other than the line of Sam's back as it led down to her well-defined rear.
"It, uh, shows off your assets," Sam said.
"Thanks. But I don't hold a candle to you."
Sam didn't respond as they got in the car.
Janet watched as Sam sipped the Muscat. She winced at the taste, and Janet snorted quietly into her glass.
"This is not good." Sam set the glass down and used the spittoon for the first time. "No more of that."
"It's too sweet for you, Sam. Not all Muscat is sweet though, don't let that one ruin your opinion." Janet sipped at her Shiraz, breathing in slightly to enhance the taste on her tongue. She spit it out, a little sad not to be able to enjoy the after-effects as well as the flavor. "Try this one, it's spicier."
Sam took the glass, meeting Janet's eyes. "Thanks."
"Have a sniff."
Swirling the wine in the glass, Sam covered the top with her hand as Janet had shown her earlier. After a few seconds, she inhaled into the glass. "Smells like... berries."
Janet felt a flush of pride. "Yep. You've got a good nose. You should always come with me to these."
"Maybe I will." Sam took a sip. "Now this one, I like."
"You can have it. There's a Pinot Gris I had my eye on earlier. Come with me?"
Sam followed her, both of them picking at hors d'oeuvres as they made their way across the floor. "These little quiches are fantastic," Sam groaned, biting one in half.
"You should keep noshing, Sam. You've already had a full glass, and we've only been here half an hour."
"I'll slow down. Don't worry, Doc, I won't embarrass you by falling down drunk."
Janet stopped, turning around. "You would never embarrass me, Sam," Janet said honestly. "I just don't want you to get sick. It's early, and I plan on keeping you out very late. Besides, I've gotten falling down drunk at an event not unlike this one, so I know how easy it is."
Sam's eyes widened. "I've known you eight years, and I've never seen you drunk. Why not?"
"I don't know. I don't like to get..." Wincing, she started again as they headed for a nearby table. "Someone's got to be the den mother when the gang gets together, and it might as well be me."
Hovering behind her, Sam asked, "What were you going to say?"
She shrugged. "I suppose I...I don't enjoy being out of control very much."
Sam's warm hand settled on the bare skin of her back, sending goosebumps down her arms. "You can trust me, Janet. I'd watch out for you."
Looking over her shoulder, Janet smiled. "I know."
"Next time, I'll drive," Sam said fuzzily.
Sam didn't seem drunk; just extremely relaxed. They'd talked all evening almost exclusively to each other, which surprised Janet. When she attended last month's tasting with Jeremy, she'd only seen him sporadically, mostly chatting with new friends and familiar faces from prior events. It was a great way to meet people, but tonight... she'd liked the company fine.
Janet grinned. "Next time?"
"Yeah, next time, you get to indulge. I wouldn't mind seeing you a little schnockered."
That idea made Janet strangely uneasy, but not unpleasantly so. "Okay. Deal. What are you doing three weeks from tonight?"
Sam's eyebrows rose. "Driving you to the Fine Arts Center for a wine-tasting?"
"No, driving me to La Petite Maison for a formal tasting, dinner included. You game?"
"How could I say no?"
"I'll mark your work calendar. Don't schedule any visits to P3X-9 zillion, okay?"
"It's a date," Sam said. "This was really fun, Janet. I can't remember having a better time."
"Me too." In the back of her mind, she imagined what Jeremy would say when she told him he was uninvited to La Petite Maison. "Thanks for coming with me at the last minute."
"I love to be your back-up plan." Sam leaned in for a hug. "Good night."
Pulling her seat belt down, Janet embraced her. Sam's skin was smooth, the strength of muscle standing out beneath her fingertips.
Almost under her breath, Sam murmured, "How come you always smell so good?"
Janet pretended not to hear the words, and waved as Sam left the car. She leaned back against the seat, watching Sam unlock her door and go inside. Swallowing against a dry mouth, she told herself it was only friendly interest that made her want to follow Sam into the house.
"Hey, Janet. How are you?"
"I'm doing well, and you?"
"Can't complain, though I'm really sorry we missed the wine tasting."
"I'm sorry you couldn't make it. I had a good time."
There was a short pause. "You went without me?"
Janet realized she might have made a small faux pas. "Well, yeah. I brought Sam along at the last minute."
Another pause. "I bought those tickets for us to use together."
"Jeremy, you cancelled. What did you expect me to do?"
"I don't know, but I certainly didn't expect you to take some other guy in my place."
Janet frowned for a second before she realized the problem. Laughing, she replied, "I brought Samantha, Jeremy. Sam, from work, was my date. I must have mentioned her, haven't I?"
"Oh." Janet heard him take a breath. "Damn. I'm sorry I flew off the handle there."
"It's okay, Jeremy. A little jealousy never hurts my ego, believe me. But what I'm really calling about is the make-up dinner we were supposed to have tonight."
"Don't tell me you haven't left work."
"I need to cover for another physician who called in sick. I'm really sorry."
"I still don't know why a research facility needs a doctor on call at all times."
"Accidents happen, Dr. Murphy, you know that as well as I do."
"I know, I know. I did my time in the ER."
"Listen, I'll give you a call soon, and we'll set something else up, okay?" Janet said, hoping he wouldn't try to pin her down right that minute.
"Do you have your calendar in front of you?"
She knew it wouldn't be that easy. "I'm actually late for a meeting. I'll call you, okay?"
"Okay, Janet. Speak to you soon. Don't make me wait long."
"I won't. Bye, Jeremy."
She hung up the phone, and typed a message to herself in Outlook to call Jeremy on Thursday. After the fact, she realized she'd neglected to mention their soon to be cancelled date at La Petite Maison. Oh well, she thought, she'd mention it next time. He'd probably call it off anyway.
Janet gave Sam's open door a knock. "Hey there. What are you up to?"
Sam slumped in her chair. "Nothing. I wish it was something, but this translation is giving me an aneurysm. Even Daniel can't make much of it. I swear, this job is going to make my brain leak out of my ears one of these days."
"Lucky for you there's a good CMO on staff here."
"You're right." Sam smiled, and it made Janet smile back. "Things quiet in the infirmary?"
Sam focused on her screen for a moment, typing a few words on her keypad. "So, did you make plans with the elusive Doctor Murphy?"
"I tried for tomorrow, but turns out he'll be away at a conference in Chicago."
"They have conferences about butt implants?"
Janet giggled against her will. "He does a lot more than elective surgery, Sam. I know for a fact that he's worked in the city, gratis, repairing cleft palates for kids who don't have health insurance."
That wiped away Sam's sardonic expression. "Wow. That's pretty great."
"He's a nice guy. We haven't really gotten to know each other that well yet."
"Is that code for, 'haven't had sex yet?'"
That set Janet to laughing again. "We've only been out twice, Sam. I'm not as easy as you might think."
Sam blinked slowly, leaning forward to rest her elbows on the desk. "Easy is not a word I'd use to describe you, Janet Fraiser."
For some reason, Janet found it difficult to draw breath. A long moment passed between them, and Janet swore Sam's pupils dilated, just a touch.
Before she could shake herself out of the trance, the phone rang. Sam grabbed it forcefully. "What?"
Janet turned away, trying to get her bearings.
Sam continued her conversation, slightly chagrined. "Sorry, Daniel. I was surprised by the phone call. What's up?"
Running a hand through her hair, Janet decided she needed some air. She waved to Sam, who waved back apologetically. "Later?" she mouthed.
Janet nodded in agreement. "See you," she said quietly.
On her way back to her office, Janet tried in vain to remember what Jeremy's smile looked like.
Janet puttered around her house, still thinking about Cassie. They'd had their weekly Saturday conversation lasting a little more than an hour, and things were going well during Cass's first semester at Duke. She'd made friends, hated her freshman seminar teacher, and had yet to fall prey to the Greek system. There were a few minor complaints; the dining hall's lack of vegetarian meals, the rising cost of gasoline, and the endless fire drills in her building, but overall, she was enjoying her first taste of freedom on earth.
On the other hand, Janet found herself bored out of her mind. She was turning into one of those mothers who couldn't handle it when her children flew the coop. Sundays were the worst, because though she wanted to call Cassie, she'd promised to give her space and allow her to do the calling on her own. Six days would have to go by before she could pick up the phone herself.
She was contemplating a nap when there was a knock at the door. Peeking through the side curtain, she recognized the vehicle out front.
Swinging open the door with an inadvertent grin, she said, "I'm sorry, I'm not interested in purchasing any Encyclopedias, ma'am."
Sam stood, holding a box that looked suspiciously as though it might hold pizza, as well as a brown grocery bag in her free hand. "Hey there. Am I interrupting anything?"
"No, of course not. Come in. And please tell me that's pizza."
"Green peppers and pepperoni. You busy?"
"No. Bored as hell. Thank goodness you're here. What did you bring?"
Setting the box down in the kitchen, Sam looked up with a slightly guilty look on her face. "I brought some movies, because I knew Jeremy was gone for the weekend, and I'd hoped you hadn't made other plans."
A slight tingle arose in Janet's stomach, and she seated herself on a stool. "I didn't make plans."
"Feel free to reject my choices, but I brought the last Harry Potter, because I know you missed it in the theatres, and that BBC series you were talking about last week."
"Yeah. It's something like six episodes, which I thought was more than enough for an evening in." She hoisted the brown bag onto the counter top and fished around inside it. "I also brought a bottle of that Shiraz you liked from last weekend."
Janet's mouth dropped open as Sam presented the bottle to her. Taking it, she murmured, "You bought me the Clarendon Hills 2001? How? I was with you practically the entire night."
"You did take a break to the little girl's room, and I had a word with the sommelier."
"These bottles run nearly a hundred dollars."
From her back pocket, Sam produced a corkscrew. "Then I suggest we enjoy it. Though I doubt it was meant to be paired with pizza, I'm sure it'll be okay."
Without further ado, Sam began to uncork the bottle, and Janet tried to find the words to thank her. "Sam, I don't know what to say."
A slight frown marred Sam's forehead. "This is the one you liked, isn't it?"
Nodding, Janet replied, "Yes, it was my favorite of the night. I just... wasn't expecting such a generous gift."
"Well, I'm a generous person," Sam smirked, removing the cork from the bottle more gracefully than Janet could have imagined. "I brought the Pinot Noir I liked too. We can have that later, if you're up for it."
"You are a wonder, Sam Carter," Janet said, crossing the space between them to embrace her friend in a warm hug. "You showed up at exactly the right time."
"I'm glad," Sam said, her fingers resting lightly against the back of Janet's neck.
In the hall mirror, Janet checked her hair. This would be the first night she'd seen Jeremy in almost three weeks, and she was looking forward to it. He'd stayed longer than expected at the medical conference the prior weekend, and she'd spent three nights on base after two teams had come back through the gate with a virulent strain of the flu. Finally, everyone seemed healthy, so she'd agreed to have dinner with Jeremy at the last minute. She figured if she didn't take the opportunity now, it might be another three weeks. Besides, she still had to tell him about La Petite Maison, and thought it might be nicer in person.
The doorbell rang, and she went to get it, fixing her collar at the same time. When she opened the door, Jeremy held out a bouquet of flowers. "Hey," he said pleasantly.
"These are for you. I think I remember you saying you loved lilies."
Janet smiled, ignoring the fact that he'd remembered incorrectly. Her mother had always insisted it was the thought that counted. "They're beautiful, thank you. Come in while I put them in water?"
"Sure." Jeremy wiped his feet on the mat and stepped inside. "You look great."
"Thanks." She'd brought out the black halter again, since Jeremy hadn't seen it. And Sam had been extremely complimentary to her the night she wore it, so it would be nice to hear the same compliments from a man.
"Are you ready to go?" He asked after the flowers were in water.
She was irritated with herself for being disappointed he didn't make more of a fuss about her outfit. She was expecting too much, she thought; Sam was just more open with her flattery than Jeremy was. Besides, he'd brought flowers. That was sweet.
"Yeah. Are you going to tell me where we're going?"
"I made reservations at MacKenzies."
"The chop house?" Janet barely kept the frown from her face.
"Yeah, they have great steak, and a fantastic martini bar. You'll love it."
"Okay. I'm not much of a steak eater, but I'm sure they'll have something else I'll enjoy."
Jeremy helped her pull on her light coat. "I didn't realize you don't care for steak. We can go somewhere else if you like."
"No, no. I'm sure MacKenzie's will be lovely."
"I have a favor to ask."
"I'm at MacKenzie's Chop House, and--"
"What the hell are you doing at a steak place?"
Janet grinned. "Jeremy made reservations. Anyway, we just sat down to dinner, and he got called in, some problem with a patient. Can you pick me up? If you can't, it's no problem, I'll get a cab--"
"It'll take longer for a cab to come, I'm only ten minutes away. I'll be there."
"Thanks, Sam, you're a life saver. Hang on." Janet tilted her head away from the phone and told Jeremy, "I've got a ride. You go on."
"I'm really sorry, Janet. It's bad timing."
She was more inclined to think it was a bad omen. "It's okay, go take care of your patient."
"Thanks," he said, and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. "I'll call you tomorrow."
"Okay." She watched him leave, and went back to the phone. "Still there?"
"I'm pulling on my jacket."
Janet imagined Sam in her black leather jacket, and hoped that would be the one she wore. But she rarely wore it when she wasn't on her bike. "You're not going to make me ride that death trap, are you?"
"Depends, are you wearing a dress?"
"Yep. The halter one."
"I'm definitely bringing the bike."
"Sam," Janet giggled. "Don't you dare."
"You're going to give the entire city of Colorado Springs a treat they won't forget."
"Ha ha. Get your ass over here."
"Hey, did you order yet?"
Janet glanced down at the menu. "Nope. Didn't have a chance."
"Listen, do you want to stay?" Janet heard Sam close and lock her front door in the background. "You know I love my steak. Is there anything there you can eat?"
"Sure, lots of stuff. You didn't have plans tonight?"
"Nope. I was working on the translation when you called, and I'm sick of looking at it."
Suddenly everything was a lot brighter, and warmth seemed to flood through Janet's limbs. She relaxed in her seat with a grin. "You're saving me again, you know."
"It's what I live for. Order me the Baseball Cut, will you? I'll be there in ten."
"You got it." Janet flipped the phone shut.
The waiter approached discreetly. "Will you be staying this evening, ma'am?"
"Yes, and there will be someone filling that seat in about ten minutes. Can I look over the menu a little more?"
"Of course. May I bring you a drink in the meantime?"
She glanced down at the martini menu. "A Scarlet Letter, please." It sounded about as sinful as she was feeling that night.
Nine minutes later, Sam strolled in, and Janet felt herself blushing when she saw Sam in the black leather jacket. She wondered if the restaurant had turned up the thermostat over the past few minutes. "Hey," she said, sipping her drink.
"Hey yourself." Sam sat down, hair wild and unkempt, her white shirt buttoned incorrectly. "Sorry it took so long to get here."
Janet's eyebrows lifted. "Looks like you were in a hurry," she said, gesturing toward the buttons.
Sam looked down. "Oops. I just threw it on. I'll fix it."
Eyes wide, Janet watched as Sam unbuttoned her shirt in the middle of the restaurant, blushing even harder than she had before. Though there was a white tank beneath the shirt, the vision of Sam's fingers working the buttons... did something to her. She clenched her fists, noticing the way her heart pounded even as Sam rebuttoned the shirt properly.
"There. I hope I'm not too underdressed," Sam said, looking around the restaurant.
"You're beautiful," Janet said, and pressed her lips together, surprised the words had escaped her mouth. "I mean, you're fine. There's no dress code here, anyhow."
Sam watched her closely, almost as if she was examining a specimen under a microscope. It made Janet squirm inside, and her heart continued to pound. She was starting to think--
"Did Jeremy like your dress?" Sam asked abruptly.
The question distracted her. "I guess. He said I looked great."
"Is that all?"
Janet frowned. "Yes."
"He's must be blind. You're gorgeous, Janet. You deserve someone who knows it, and tells you so."
Blinking rapidly, Janet was at a loss for words. She exhaled, and felt as though things in her world were turning upside down. "He's a nice man."
"You keep saying that." Sam took a drink from her water glass. "I should be thanking him, actually. We haven't spent as much time together since Cass went away, and that's my fault. I hope you'll forgive me."
The change of subject surprised her, but Janet had missed Sam's Saturdays at the house. She'd felt a faint resentment for not being enough of a reason on her own for Sam to come over. "I- I do. It's my fault too, for not saying anything."
"Well, we're making up for lost time then," Sam said, looking relieved.
"Did you order?"
"Baseball cut for you, mango chutney salmon for me."
"Yum. I'm trying that, just so you know."
"Only if you're good," Janet said, smirking over her drink.
Sam licked her lips before smiling slowly. "Oh I promise, I'll be good."
Janet heard the phone ring in her office, and sprinted to grab it. "Hello?" she said breathlessly.
"Hey, Janet, it's Jeremy."
Nervous butterflies sprung up in her stomach. "Hi Jeremy. Everything go well the other night with your patient?"
"Yeah. It was a little hairy for a while, but it worked out. How are you?"
"Fine. Busy, but fine." She hoped that would put him off asking her out-- she didn't have it in her at the moment to make plans with him.
"Busy. That doesn't sound very promising."
"This week is tough for me, Jeremy, but I'm glad you called. I wanted to talk to you about something."
"I-- I've told Sam I'll treat her to La Petite Maison for that wine tasting we'd planned on. I felt so badly for interrupting her plans that Friday night when you had to leave that I promised to do something special for her. She brought up Saturday, I mentioned dinner, and before I knew it, I'd invited her. I'm really sorry." She hoped a few little white lies wouldn't hurt, but Jeremy didn't need to know that Sam had stayed for dinner with her at MacKenzie's on Friday, and they'd been tossed out at midnight when the place closed.
"I can't say I'm not disappointed, Janet, but I understand."
Janet released a breath. "Thanks Jeremy, I knew you'd be great about this. I'll make it up to you next week."
Her stomach clenched. "I promise."
"Call me after you go to that dinner, okay? I want to hear all about the Maison so I'll know if I should take you there again sometime."
"I sure will. And thanks again for being so understanding."
"Of course. Talk to you soon."
He hung up, and Janet was relieved to have that conversation over and done with. That gave her five days not to have to worry about calling him, and she could concentrate on Sam.
She looked up, blankly. "Concentrate on Sam," she said aloud. There was something--
Siler, who happened to be in the infirmary having a broken finger set, barged into her office. "Dr. Fraiser, Jonesie just came in with a relapse of that flu from last week."
"I'm coming." She leapt up from her chair, already mentally cataloguing the things she had to do to set up a quarantine.
Janet washed her hands for a final time in the infirmary, immensely pleased to be nearly done with her shift. Four of the flu victims from the week before had somehow incubated the virus, and they'd had a tough time shaking it a second time. Fortunately, there had been no fatalities, but the eight original infected were requarantined for another few days, and Janet had been stuck on base managing everything. It could have been worse, she reasoned; she could've become infected herself.
Now all she wanted was a hot bath and 12 hours of sleep in her own bed, but first, she'd pay a visit to Sam. They'd spoken multiple times each day and had marathon instant message sessions since Janet had insisted on keeping herself quarantined in case she was a carrier. Boredom had set in quickly after the patients had been set on their rounds of antibiotics, so the computer and the phone became her salvation.
She peered into Sam's office and leaned against the door. "Hey, stranger."
"Janet!" Sam said cheerily, setting her book down. "Welcome back to the land of the living."
The look on Sam's face was so full of glee, Janet felt like leaping over the desk and grabbing her in a huge hug. Quickly she repressed the urge, simply stepping inside the office to sit on a stool. "Just sent the last patient home for another two days' rest, which means I get to sleep in my own bed tonight."
"You must be sick to death of this place."
"Yes. We were lucky-- the strain of whatever flu it was ran its course extremely fast. Otherwise it could have been weeks. That would have been... difficult."
"Not to mention inconvenient. We have a date tomorrow night."
Janet blinked. "A date? What day is this?"
"Oh my gosh, I nearly forgot. "
"Don't worry, I'd have dragged you from the building wearing a hazmat suit. There's no way I'm missing it."
Janet smiled curiously as she picked up the book Sam had been reading when she came in. "Wine for Dummies?"
Looking a little shy, Sam explained, "I had to brush up. The other tasting we went to was so last minute that I didn't have a chance to do any reading. This time I at least wanted to know something about tannins and oak and acidity."
"I'm impressed. But not surprised."
Sam shrugged. "I am a little predictable. I'd never been to a tasting before, so I hadn't thought about wine in a very critical way. There were two categories: wine I liked, and wine I didn't."
"Fair enough. I'm glad you're interested enough to do some reading. Maybe we can... go again. Somewhere else, I mean."
Sam sighed. "Absolutely. I wouldn't mind getting away for a weekend."
A weekend, Janet thought. A weekend with Sam.
"Anyway, I'm driving tomorrow. What's the plan?"
Janet shook her head once, trying to focus on the conversation. "Um, the tasting starts at 7, with dinner at 8. Can you swing by at 6:30?"
"Perfect. And don't worry, I won't make you ride the bike."
Chuckling, Janet replied, "See that you don't. I've been looking forward to this for months-- the food's going to be great."
Leaning in, Sam asked conspiratorially, "Have you heard from Jeremy since you last talked?"
"No. He seems to have backed off a little, for some reason."
"Maybe he can sense your hesitation?" Sam offered.
"Do you think I'm hesitant?" She hadn't tried very hard to get together with the man over the last few weeks; then again, she'd been incredibly busy at work.
"I'm not sure. You know best," Sam reasoned, her eyes wide and compassionate.
"Perhaps I am a little. Hesitant, I mean. It's been a long time since anyone's shown real interest in me."
Sam's eyebrows climbed her forehead. She snorted indelicately. "Janet, you really are as sharp as a bag of wet mice."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"There's interest everywhere. All you need is to open your eyes and recognize it."
Janet looked down at her hands. "I'm not very good at reading signals, I'll admit."
"Hey, it's nothing to be ashamed of. But you should know, Jeremy's not the only fish in the sea. Look around once in a while. You'd be amazed at what you might find."
"You make it sound so simple."
"It can be, Janet. Have patience."
Janet cleared her throat. "When did you get to be such an expert in relationships?"
Laughing, Sam replied, "I'm no expert, at all. But a while ago, I had a few realizations, and I've come to know that patience is the key to finding love, and keeping it."
"Makes sense," Janet said, nodding. She felt her eyelids drooping a little, and decided to call it a night. "I want to stay, but I'm afraid I won't make it home if I stick around any longer."
"I should go too. Can I walk you out?"
"Sure. Meet me in the infirmary when you're ready."
Janet headed back to pick up her things, pondering Sam's advice. Maybe she was trying too hard to get something going with Jeremy. He was a nice person, as she continually told herself and other people, but there wasn't much of a spark. She'd have to think it over some more before making a decision. Leading someone as kind as Jeremy on was a waste of time-- for both of them.
A few minutes later, she gathered her things, and spotted Sam waiting in the corridor. "Ready?"
"You bet," Sam answered, taking the heavier of Janet's bags on her own shoulder.
"Thanks, Sam. You're too good to me."
"I'm happy to help."
As they entered the elevator, Janet thought about how sweet and considerate Sam was, and speculated on why she was still single. If she was single. The idea thundered through her brain-- all that talk of finding love and having patience-- what was the source? Janet was disturbed. She felt strange, almost sick to her stomach. Had Sam not mentioned a new lover to her? Janet trusted Sam implicitly, and she couldn't bear it if Sam hadn't felt confident enough to be honest with her in return.
"What's that look for?" Sam asked. "Are you okay?"
Janet bit the bullet. "Are you seeing someone and didn't tell me?"
"No," Sam said, her mouth dropping open. "Why would you think that?"
Slumping back against the elevator wall, Janet replied, "Because of what you were saying before. About love, I mean."
"I'd tell you if I was, Janet, I swear. But like I said, I just had some realizations. That's all."
"All right. I'd hate it if you felt you couldn't be honest with me."
Looking seriously into Janet's eyes, Sam replied, "I'll tell you the whole story sometime soon. Very soon."
Janet swayed a bit, mesmerized by the intensity of Sam's voice. "Okay."
The doors opened at the surface, and Janet followed her out of the elevator.
Checking the clock for at least the hundredth time that evening, Janet felt assured she'd be ready on time. Somehow she'd lost track of the day, probably because she'd tried to fit so many things in without considering drive time. The grocery store, the hair salon, three department stores plus a few boutiques downtown, and suddenly it was six o'clock. Thank goodness she'd finally found a dress.
As she slipped it over her head, she admired the way it fell around her hips, flaring out above the knee. Sleeveless and dark purple, the neckline came just off the shoulders to reveal just a touch of cleavage. She'd spent far too much money on it, but the saleswoman had crowed with approval when she'd stepped out of the dressing room. "Sweetheart," the older woman had said, "you'll kill him before you even get out the door."
"I'll take it," Janet had asserted, that instant.
Her freshly highlighted hair had been brushed straight, but the layers gave it exactly the right amount of body. She couldn't wait to see Sam's reaction. She spent only a few minutes on her make up, trying to keep it as light as possible. A splash of perfume later and she was done.
At the bottom of the stairs, she slipped her feet into the impractical, strappy black heels that would at least get her a few inches closer to Sam's height. Peeking into the mirror in the hallway, she hardly recognized the woman in the reflection. Her face was flushed, eyes bright, lips tipped in an unconsciously anticipatory grin. Lifting one hand to her cheek, she peered closer, in awe of the transformation.
The doorbell rang, and her heart seemed to swell inside her chest. She hurried to the door and pulled it open, eyes widening at the vision before her. Gripping the doorjamb, she stared at Sam, who stared back with a pleased expression.
"Hi," Sam finally said with a little laugh.
"Hey," Janet replied, stepping back for Sam to enter.
As she passed, Sam pulled one hand from behind her back. "I brought these for you, from the garden." Janet took the three freshly cut irises, stunned into silence. "It was good timing-- they just blossomed."
Janet looked up. "They're my favorite."
Smiling, Sam replied, "I know."
"Let me put them in some water." Janet caressed the deep blue blossoms, amazed that Sam had brought her flowers, much less grown them herself. Carefully she cut and arranged them in a slim vase, hearing Sam's gentle footsteps approach. "They're lovely."
"I'm glad you like them."
Without turning, Janet sensed Sam was right behind her, and the hairs on the back of her neck lifted in response. It seemed the air around them was electrified, and had been since they'd set eyes on each other. In her mind's eye, Janet saw Sam in the doorway again, in a pale blue silken dress with flowers embroidered into the fabric. It was an Asian design, and the thin straps drew attention to the sleek muscles of Sam's shoulders and arms. Her back was bare, and her feet were encased in low heels that enhanced the curve of Sam's calves.
Janet's face heated in a violent blush, and her whole body reacted when she felt Sam's hand fall on her shoulder. "Are you ready to go?"
A memory flitted through her mind-- of the last date, or rather non-date, with Jeremy. The contrast between that night and this one was striking. With Jeremy, there was no chemistry. With Sam, standing inches away, it was like a storm brewed around them, darkness and light colliding in a maelstrom of energy.
"Ready," she murmured in response, and Sam's hand dropped away from her shoulder.
When she turned around, Sam's heartbreakingly beautiful form was moving toward the door. Clarity struck Janet with a force beyond her experience, and all the phone calls and evenings together, emergency dates and accidental office meetings, came into sharp relief. She was undoubtedly in love with Sam, and had been for a long time.
"Come on," said Sam. "We'll be late."
Somehow Janet convinced her legs to move forward, and she swallowed down the uneasiness that came over her. Now that she was aware of her feelings, how would she hide them? How would she survive this evening that was already more romantic than any night she could recall?
Janet remained in a daze on the drive to the restaurant, and Sam was quiet as she carefully steered through the traffic downtown. Occasionally, she glanced over at Sam, admiring the slope of her neck, the bend of her arm, the gentleness of her hands as they rested on the wheel. Closing her eyes, Janet let her head fall back against the seat. She'd expended so much energy hiding the truth from herself that she felt drained having discovered it.
Fingers touched her arm. "Janet?"
Startled, she replied, "Hmm?"
"We're here. Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine."
"You're so quiet."
"I just-- I'm a little tired, maybe. I think."
"Are you up for this? If you're not well--"
"I'm fine, Sam. Let's go in."
Sam watched her for another moment, before nodding. "Okay."
Sam unhooked her seat belt, and Janet realized she'd have to learn to adjust to the melancholy of being in love with someone who didn't love her back. As she made her way into the restaurant, which was closed to the public for the evening, she felt so foolish. How could she not fall for someone like Sam? She was beautiful, unassuming, kind-hearted and brilliant, among a thousand other amazing qualities. The fact that Janet could love a woman was... new, but not impossible to believe. Her affairs with men hadn't lasted, and her marriage had been a disaster from the beginning. When she thought about it, beyond Cassie, her most rewarding and longest relationship with anyone had been with Sam. Eight years they'd been friends, closer now than ever before. How inconvenient for Janet to suddenly understand the source of her affection was much deeper than she'd imagined.
"We're here for the wine-tasting," Sam said to the host. "The reservation is under the name Fraiser."
"Ah yes. You're at table four, Cristian will show you the way." A handsome young waiter appeared, and Janet followed, with Sam trailing behind. They settled in at a large round table, with a few guests already seated.
Cristian leaned down to explain, "I can take your order whenever you're ready, but dinner will be in an hour. Feel free to explore the various wine selections, and you can choose whichever you'd like to have with your meal."
"Thanks," Janet said, with Sam repeating the word. Janet opened her menu and looked at it blankly for a minute before Sam interrupted.
"Janet, if you won't tell me what's going on, I- I don't know what I'll do."
Gazing into the deep blue of Sam's eyes, Janet felt tears gather in her own. She was already falling apart, and it had only been twenty minutes. "I'll be right back," Janet said, and Sam stood to follow her. "Stay, please. I need a minute," Janet begged.
The confusion on Sam's face nearly killed Janet, but she wanted a moment to herself, to pull it together. She made her way to the restroom and leaned on the sink, breathing deeply. This was going to be an impossible task; sitting next to this woman who'd unwittingly invaded her heart without Janet ever noticing. Minutes passed and Janet was able to put on a brave face, though she wasn't sure how well it would hold up.
Someone entered the restroom, and Janet looked up to nod weakly at someone familiar. She recognized the woman from the wine-tasting three weeks ago, but they hadn't met.
The woman said, "I don't mean to get involved here, but are you two having a fight?"
Janet tilted her head. "Pardon?"
"You and your sweetheart?"
"You're together, aren't you?"
Janet blinked furiously. "Me and Sam? We-- no, no. We're not." Janet sniffled, and the tears came back.
"Oh, damn, I've stuck my foot in it again, my apologies. It's just that my partner and I, when we saw you a few weeks back we thought for sure you were a new couple to meet, and you're at our table and everything, and the other woman, she looked so distraught when you left we thought you'd had some kind of an argument."
Focused on only one word the woman had said, Janet managed, "Your partner?"
"Sal. Sally, my girlfriend. Life partner. Legal spouse according to Canada, that sort of thing."
"You thought we were... together?"
"Well, sure. You were so adorable when we saw you, heads close together, in your own little world. And of course you're both so gorgeous you're a perfect match. I'm really sorry, I'm just nosy, and hope I haven't offended--"
"It wasn't only me you were watching then, was it? It was both of us."
"Yes." The woman's eyes narrowed. "If you don't mind, what--"
"Do you think it's at all possible that she might feel the sa-- that she might care about me, in the way you're talking about?"
The woman's mouth dropped open. "Oh," she said. "Oh. I, well, I don't know her, or you, for that matter, but if you're asking for my honest opinion from what little I've seen, the answer is unequivocally yes."
Janet's heart began to pound once again. Her eyes darted from the bathroom door to the stall, and back to the woman who'd given her hope. Janet began, "I--"
The bathroom door banged open, and Sam strode in, a fire in her eyes. "Janet, talk to me. I need to know what's wrong, right now."
The other woman gestured to the door. "I'll uh... excuse myself," she said as she slipped out.
Left alone in the room with Sam, Janet decided she might as well take the plunge. She couldn't hide it anyway-- Sam was already jumping down her throat. "I was putting your flowers in water tonight, and I realized I'm in love with you." As soon as the words left her mouth, Janet cringed. She couldn't fathom a more indelicate way of confessing her feelings.
The color drained from Sam's face, and her eyes slipped shut. Janet watched as she seemed to crumple, though her body didn't move more than a few inches. Finally, Sam exhaled an enormous breath, her head dropping forward. When she lifted it again, her eyes opened, and a feeble smile graced Sam's face. "Thank goodness. I was beginning to think I'd never get through to you."
"What?" Janet barked, hoping no one outside the door could hear her. "What does that mean?"
"Janet, what if six months ago, right before Cassie left, I'd come over to your house and said, 'There's something I need to tell you. I'm crazy about you, have been for ages. Will you be mine?' What would you have said, honestly?"
Sam had made no move to come closer, and Janet frowned. "Well, I... I don't know. I'd have listened, and thought about how you felt."
"What would you have felt? Inside, in your heart."
"I--" Janet considered it, trying to remember her state of mind six months ago. She and Sam hadn't been seeing much of each other, mainly because Sam had been working herself into the ground. Cassie was getting ready to attend Duke, and Janet had spent all her time focusing on helping her daughter prepare. Sam had been on the sidelines, but still there, in the back of Janet's mind. Not out front, the way she was now. "I wouldn't have been ready," she admitted. "I wasn't even thinking about love, or relationships. Then when Cassie left, I tried. With Ethan first, and now Jeremy. And there you were," Janet said with amazement in her eyes, "standing right in front of me."
"Waiting, patiently," Sam said, and the conversation of a few days before echoed in Janet's mind. "Sometimes not so patiently."
"Sam," Janet breathed, wishing she were closer to her, but unsure of how to initiate contact.
"Come here," Sam said, and Janet slipped into what felt like a full-body embrace, all nearly six feet of Sam pressing against her as close as could be. "I didn't mind waiting, Janet," she whispered.
"Thank goodness," Janet repeated. The electricity she'd felt earlier in the kitchen streamed back into Janet's body, and she became aware of the soft shapes of the form fitting against her. Breasts, belly, thighs, and the yielding mouth barely touching her neck.
The bathroom door swung open. "Oh, sorry," an older woman said, and slowly, Sam pulled away.
"It's okay," she said, "we were just leaving."
Slipping her hand under Janet's arm, Sam led her from the small enclosure out into the main room. Feeling a little dizzy, Janet leaned against the tall figure as the made their way through the recently arrived crowd of people. An endless journey later, Janet fell into her chair as Sam slid in next to her, pulling the seat close. She felt overwhelmed, confused, and already drunk, though she hadn't had a sip of wine.
"Are we okay?" Sam said softly, in her ear.
Turning to look at Sam, Janet couldn't stop the smile. "Yes. More than okay." She found herself on the verge of tears, until she realized the waiter Cristian was standing behind Sam's shoulder. "Yes?" she said to him.
"I don't mean to intrude, ladies, but may I take your order?"
Janet stared at him, unable to interpret his question for a moment. "Oh," she said finally, "dinner."
"Oh yeah," Sam said, glancing at the untouched menus still on their table.
Hastily they both grabbed the list of options, and seconds later, Janet replied, "I'll have the risotto."
Sam added, "The sea bass, please."
"Then allow me to recommend with your meals, a Pinot Noir with the risotto, and a Sauvignon Blanc with the sea bass," Cristian offered pleasantly. As he turned to go, Janet thought she saw him wink at her, but the movement was so quick, she wasn't sure she'd seen it at all.
"Thanks," Sam said distantly, appearing as dazed as Janet. "I, um, we should... would you like to taste some wines?"
Janet found herself drifting closer to Sam, and inhaled to clear her head. "That sounds lovely."
They stood in unison, Sam trailing behind Janet as she approached the first table. A variety of Chardonnays were available to sample, and she took a sip from the first glass. The texture was smooth, the first taste of the alcohol hot going down her throat. As she felt Sam's hand gently settle on her hip, she allowed her eyes to close. It occurred to her that it wouldn't do to be drunk tonight, so from that moment on, Janet settled on being very careful of how much to indulge.
"How is it?" Sam asked, the sound of her voice low and intimate.
"I think," Janet said, "that I'm the wrong person to ask. I can't seem to concentrate on anything but you right now."
The way Sam's face transformed at that moment was indescribably beautiful, and Janet knew it was something she'd never forget. The emotion was so clearly written in her features that Janet couldn't believe she hadn't noticed before, but then again, she hadn't been looking properly. Seconds passed as they gazed at each other, until Janet felt something poking her in the side.
"Hey, girls," an amused voice said.
Janet wiped her mouth and turned to see the woman she'd talked with in the bathroom, flanked by a taller, slimmer woman.
"Hi," Janet said.
The woman flashed a knowing grin, as did her partner. "Everything all right here?" she asked.
"Yes," Sam replied, slightly confused.
"Oh," Janet said, gesturing to the pair, "we sort of met in the restroom earlier. I'm sorry, what was your name?"
"Beverly," the woman replied. "And this is Sal." Janet reached out to shake their hands, introducing Sam as well. "You look much better than you did a little while ago," Beverly added.
Janet was unable to keep from smiling. "I am. And I should thank you. You were kind to me, and uh, helped me very much."
Beverly nodded sympathetically. "Good. I hope we can get to know more about you both over dinner."
"Sure," Sam said.
As Beverly headed to the next table, Janet overheard her say to Sal, "Told you so. That's two more toasters in the coffer."
"Oh, please," Sal replied.
Janet glanced at Sam, whose bewildered expression certainly mirrored her own. "Toasters?" Sam said.
"No idea," Janet replied, taking her second sample of wine from the waiter.
The conversation flowed around the table very smoothly, considering it was made up of four couples who'd never met before. However, Janet didn't contribute much, nor did Sam. They listened, but Janet was content to sit quietly, stealing glimpses of her date out of the corner of her eye when she thought no one was looking.
Following the serving of the appetizers, Janet felt a bare ankle brush against hers. She hid her smile as she rubbed her calf against Sam's, welcoming the contact that sent tendrils of warmth through her. Carefully she dissected the artichoke on her plate, spreading a small amount of the sauce on a leaf. Raising an eyebrow, she tilted her head to catch Sam's eye while sucking the meat from the shell.
Sam pursed her lips, and a faint blush spread all the way her neck to the tips of her ears. "You don't waste any time, do you," she murmured.
Janet chuckled. "Too much too soon?"
"I wouldn't say watching you eat an artichoke is too much," she replied. "I'm just not used to you being aware that I'm watching you. It's different than before."
"Are you sure about this? Us, I mean?" Janet said, curious to know how much thinking Sam had done about changing the nature of their relationship. She certainly hadn't had a chance to do much on her own.
"Positive, if you are. Believe me, I've spent plenty of time considering the consequences."
"Well, we could lose our jobs." Janet winced. "Unlikely," Sam added quickly, "but possible. Or, we could mess up a perfectly good friendship."
"You mean if it doesn't work out?"
Janet dipped another leaf in the sauce. "I don't think that will happen."
"It not working out, or us messing up a friendship?"
Grinning, Janet replied, "Either."
"That's a good start," Sam breathed, looking relieved.
"I wouldn't have fallen in love with you if you weren't worth the effort, Sam. You are."
Sam met her eyes. "So are you."
"So, Sam," said a voice across the table, breaking the intimacy of their conversation, "How long have you and Janet known each other?" Sal looked genuinely interested, leaning forward over her plate.
"Almost eight years," Sam replied. Sal seemed started, as did Beverly. "We work together."
"Interesting," Sal said. "What do you do for a living?"
Janet guessed at which vague details Sam would be willing to offer. "We're Air Force, based out of Cheyenne Mountain."
"Ahhh," Beverly and Sal said simultaneously, as if that explained everything.
Another man at the table, whose name escaped Janet at the moment, asked, "What do you do there?"
"I'm a doctor, and Sam studies deep space telemetry and astrophysics," Janet supplied proudly.
Eyebrows around the table flew up. "Brains and beauty," Sal supplied, tipping her glass to Janet in a toast.
The nameless man said in Sam's direction, "That must be a fascinating subject, astrophysics. What specifically do you study?"
Janet saw her preparing her typical reply. "It's mostly theory, really. Wormholes, quarks, black holes, that sort of thing."
Janet wasn't sure what the man expected Sam to say, but he seemed dissatisfied with the answer, so the conversation shifted in a new direction. The man and his female companion started discussing their own jobs as professors at a local college, and Janet completely tuned out. She preferred to focus on the feel of Sam's skin against hers, under the table.
When their meals arrived, Janet was mildly buzzed and feeling wonderful. The smile was permanently etched upon her face, and Sam was amused at her relaxed state of being. "You look like the cat who ate the canary," Sam said.
"Well, I'm feeling very decadent. I'm here with the most beautiful woman in the room, enjoying fantastic wine, amazing food, and who knows what will be served for dessert?"
Sam grinned, her teeth showing white even in the low illumination of the restaurant. "Now I know why you've never gotten drunk in front of me before."
Janet's brow furrowed. "Why is that?"
"Because if I'd ever seen you before with that look on your face, there's no way I'd be able to resist kissing you."
Slowly, the smile faded from Janet's lips. Her eyes drifted to Sam's mouth, noting the color, the shape...
"Janet," Sam said.
"I don't think this is the right place for what you're thinking."
Janet realized she was only inches away from Sam's face. Quickly she jerked straight up in her seat, and the reasons why she'd never gotten tipsy with the gang came flooding back. Her behavior tended to become more than a little amorous, and though she hadn't consciously recognized her attraction to Sam prior to this evening, she assumed it would've reared up had the circumstances been right. "Sorry," she said.
Sam touched her forehead, as if she had a headache. "Oh, Janet, if you knew how sorry I wasn't, you'd find it hard to believe."
Janet wondered how much longer it would be till the next course arrived, because the way she was feeling now, she'd be ready to go in about five minutes.
Sitting back in her seat, Janet was happy when Cristian removed her empty dinner plate. She'd decimated her meal, leaving almost nothing behind except a few crumbs and a little sauce. Sam had done the same, and while she'd switched to soda after their appetizers, Janet had enjoyed another glass of wine at Sam's behest.
Shortly thereafter, Cristian wheeled out a delectable tray of desserts, and Janet chose the chocolate mousse to complement Sam's fruit tart. "We can share," Sam had said. "I love chocolate and strawberries."
Images flitted through Janet's mind hearing that, and she mumbled, "You might be sorry you said that someday."
"I doubt it," Sam replied assuredly.
Sal caught their attention a few moments later, handing a business card across the table. "Listen, we haven't had much of a chance to chat tonight, but if you'd like to get together and have a quieter dinner, please call me. We love to meet up with new friends."
Janet smiled. "Thanks so much." She glanced at Sam, who nodded imperceptibly. "We might take you up on that."
"I hope you do," Sal said earnestly.
Desserts arrived, and Janet moved her plate very close to Sam's so they could trade. As she swallowed a mouthful of Sam's fruit tart, a thought occurred to her. "When did you know? About me, I mean. When you told me about your... revelation, you said it was a while ago. What happened?"
Sam smiled into her glass, her eyes glazing over as if looking back at a beloved memory. "Remember when I came home with the sprained ankle, all scratched up from P3-26-- er, that place with all that underbrush? You gave O'Neill the what-for because he hadn't tended to my wounds, or even given me a chance to wrap my ankle before hauling us off to meet the natives. It swelled up three times its normal size by the time we got back."
Janet nodded. "Sure."
"Then after you reamed out Jack, you turned on me, going on about how irresponsible it was for me to remain in the field, and how it didn't serve the team or the military if I wasn't in peak condition at all times."
Wincing, Janet remembered. She'd been on quite a tear that day, having dealt with more than a dozen injuries over the prior two days of soldiers getting into trouble for no better reasons than curiosity or stupidity. "Yeah."
Laughing, Sam said, "You were so mad you stomped off and slammed the door to your office. I hadn't seen you lose your temper like that for ages, and certainly not over a sprained ankle and some scrapes."
"Hey, I wasn't entirely wrong about that."
"Anyway, you came back a while later after one of the nurses wrapped my ankle, and instead of handing me crutches and sending me on my way, you unwrapped the bandage and did the whole thing again."
"I forgot about that."
Sam's gaze was soft. "You were so gentle with me, and your hands were warm while you wrapped my foot as if you could do it blindfolded. Standing there in your lab coat, you were beautiful and self-assured, even with no make-up and dark circles under your eyes."
"You make it sound so romantic," Janet quipped.
"It wasn't right then, mind you," Sam said. "But something changed, or maybe I simply noticed myself noticing you. In ways that I hadn't ever noticed a best friend before."
"For example?" Janet fished.
"Shameless," Sam said slyly. "Your eyes, your smile, the way your collarbone disappeared under your shirts. The veins in your hands, especially the one that leads down the back of your wrist."
Examining the limb in question, Janet pointed, "That one?"
Sam's eyes actually narrowed as she traced a finger down its path. "Mm hmm."
Tingles spread from her wrist up her arm, all through her torso. "Ah," she managed.
"Anyway, the day Cass got her acceptance letter from Duke, you were terrified. I hugged you so tightly, and I didn't want to let go. Ever. So I knew then."
Wanting to hear the words, Janet asked, "Knew what?"
Sam frowned before she seemed to realize what Janet was asking for. "I love you," she said seriously. "With all my heart."
Janet wished she could lean in for a kiss. "You are a wonder, Sam Carter." She'd said those words to Sam recently, and only now understood the depth of the emotion behind them.
"Likewise," Sam said, the tips of her ears an endearing shade of pink.
"Thank goodness you let me stumble along to figure it out for myself."
"Oh, you had help. You just didn't know it," Sam said.
"I've led you down this garden path, Janet. Resistance was futile."
In disbelief, Janet retorted, "You expect me to think you planned this whole thing, and somehow, using your feminine wiles, convinced me to fall in love with you?"
Sam grinned brightly. "It worked, didn't it?"
"You make it sound like I had no choice in the matter."
"I'm very intent on getting what I want, Janet. I wouldn't have accepted anything less."
Janet swallowed at the look on Sam's face. She hoped no one was paying attention at the moment, because it appeared as though Sam wanted to tear every thread of clothing off Janet's body and have her for dinner, damn the meal they'd just eaten. Her nipples hardened beneath her dress. "So," Janet said, clearing her throat, "how did you go about convincing me then?"
"It was easy. When you called, I answered. When you asked me to come over, I came. I listened, and cared, and did everything I could to make you happy." Sam shrugged. "Oh yeah, and I bought out that shop on 6th street. You didn't really think all those dresses I've been wearing lately were just hanging in the back of my closet, did you?"
"You bought clothes?"
"You know as well as I do that fatigues aren't exactly the most flattering of fashion choices, Janet. So I took my credit card one day, got a very nice woman to help me pick out things that might catch your eye. Like that black dress from the first wine-tasting."
Janet recalled the cut of the shoulders. "I love that dress. You looked fantastic."
"I got this one then, too."
Running her eyes down the slim form, Janet felt heat creep down her chest. "It's gorgeous."
"When I first figured everything out, I backed away from you a little, and worked too much," Sam said as Janet nodded, remembering that period of time. "But then I decided I didn't want to waste away my life alone. So I tried a little harder, and hoped you'd see me."
Sighing, Janet took Sam's hand. "I always saw you, Sam. I guess I didn't see you so clearly till recently."
"I'm glad it happened this way," Sam answered with a squeeze to her hand. "And relieved, since I'm almost out of new clothes."
Janet laughed, and had another bite of cake.
The car rolled to a stop outside Janet's house. Anticipation hovered around them, and Janet's heart thudded furiously in her chest. "Come in for a while?" she asked.
"Are you sure?" Sam said, sounding as breathless as Janet felt.
There was a long pause. "Okay."
Somehow Janet made the walk up to the front stoop without stumbling, and she imagined she could feel the heat of Sam's body against her own though they weren't touching. To her surprise, she opened the door smoothly, her fingers managing the lock on their own.
"Nightcap?" Janet offered.
Janet fixed two glasses of Baileys and carried them back to the sofa, where Sam sat primly on one side. She couldn't remember ever being so nervous in her life, though she was sure that was an exaggeration of momentous proportions. Carefully she sipped from her glass, hoping her hand wasn't shaking too much.
They sat for another moment before Sam finally asked, "How long do I have to wait to kiss you?"
Janet set the glass down. "Now would be fine," she replied, and seconds later, Sam's mouth was on hers. Heat exploded within her, and she couldn't believe she'd let eight years go by without kissing the woman in her arms. Blonde hair was silk beneath her touch, and she groaned when a smooth, liqueur infused tongue slid inside her mouth. Now the heat from Sam's body really was pressed against her, and the fabric of their clothing rustled as contact was made. A hand caressed her face, and Janet opened her eyes to see Sam staring back at her. She pulled away for a moment, waiting.
"I really do love you," Sam said.
The words wrapped around her sweetly, and her lips curled in a smile. "Show me."
The phone rang, startling Janet out of a sound sleep. She automatically reached for the handset, only to find her hand fell on a bare shoulder rather than the nightstand. Head popping up, she noticed Sam was fast asleep on her regular side of the bed. "We'll have to discuss sleeping arrangements later," she mumbled.
The phone trilled again, and Sam finally woke, squinting against the dim light as Janet reached across her. "Huh?" she grunted.
"Shh," Janet said, and answered the phone. "Hello?"
"Good morning. It's Jeremy."
She flushed. "Hi, Jeremy. How nice of you to call so early in the morning."
"Janet, it's after 11."
Whoops, she thought, glancing at the clock. "Oh, sorry, I um-- had a hard time falling asleep." She had no idea what time they'd finally dropped off from sheer exhaustion.
"I'm sorry I woke you, but I wanted to know how the event at La Petite Maison was."
Janet froze for a second, wondering if she should tell him anything about it. After a brief internal debate, she decided lying wasn't an option. "It was fine, but I need to speak to you, Jeremy. About something else."
There was a silence on the other end of the line. "We're done, aren't we," he said, sounding resigned.
Janet wanted to meet with him and break the news in person, but she couldn't turn down an opportunity when it was presented to her. "I'm sorry, Jeremy."
"I knew you'd lose interest. It's my job, isn't it. I work too much."
"Listen, I know saying 'It wasn't you' is the last thing you want to hear, but in this case it's really true. Suffice it to say that my... interests have shifted a bit recently. Although I'm sorry it didn't work between us, I think we're both better off the way things turned out."
A leg slid between hers. "Interests?" whispered Sam.
Janet wrinkled her nose. "Quiet," she mouthed back.
"No hard feelings, Janet. You're a lovely woman. I hope you find someone who can give you all the time and attention you deserve."
"I hope the same for you, Jeremy. I wish you only the best."
"Maybe I'll see you around again?" he tried one last time.
She stroked the side of Sam's cheek. "I don't think so, Jeremy. I hope if we do see each other, we can be friends."
"Okay Janet, if you're sure."
"I'll sign off then, before I make a bigger fool of myself."
"Take care, Jeremy. Good luck."
"And to you. Bye."
The connection was broken before she had time to reply. Guilt crept over her briefly, till Sam caught her attention. "You had to do it sometime. Better now than if you'd been truly involved."
Janet snuggled down against Sam's warm body. "You're right. But I hate that I was dense enough to lead him on."
"I don't think he'd agree. I know if I were in his shoes, I'd be grateful for every second I had with you."
Pressing her nose to Sam's neck, she exhaled in contentment. "That's because you're a romantic at heart."
Sam snorted above her. "You're the one who fell in love with me because I brought you irises."
Janet lifted her head, a thought occurring to her. "And why did you plant irises in your own garden?"
Forehead crinkling, Sam didn't reply for a moment. "Maybe I really like irises."
"Sure you do." Janet stared, waiting for Sam to crack.
"Oh fine, they were for you all along," Sam huffed, defeated. "But don't forget, I made you fall in love with me."
Resting her head back on Sam's shoulder, Janet sighed. "You certainly did."
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