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West Coast Dreaming
By Lesley Mitchell
The wide expanse of the beach was golden in places, nearer white in others. The dunes were layered with browns and reds and topped with the yellows and greens of the tenacious plants that held on against the shifting nature of their footholds and the raw power of the weather that shaped the coast.
This late afternoon, however, was calm. The retreated sea showed only minor ruffles and the pure, cornflower blue of the sky was enhanced by the streaks of cloud, rather than marred by their presence.
They sat together in comfortable silence; the pile of driftwood collected during their earlier walk at their feet, awaiting a spark. In the meantime, they waited. Waited and watched the sun sink towards the far away horizon, so wide you could practically see it curve. They watched the fierce pinks, oranges and yellows painted across the canvas of the sky, and saw them fade, first to pastels, then there was only the deep midnight blue of night.
As the first stars flickered back into existence, they lit the fire.
There were no strict seating arrangements for the booth at Papa Joe's. There were some near constants, though; Jill liked to sit by the window, Lindsay preferred the aisle. Claire would happily share with either of her friends, or sit alone. Whichever of their group reached the diner first would slide onto one or other of the deep green vinyl covered bench seats, under the faintly humming blue neon sign, to stake their claim and wait for the others to arrive.
The three women were well known by the staff. They were regulars, who often stopped by of an evening to decompress with a cocktail, or to grab a snack at an hour that might possibly pass as lunch, but only if you worked to the sort of weird and hectic schedules that passed for normal in the Hall of Justice. There was the tall, lanky brunette with her cop swagger, and the gun and badge to go with it, and the gravelly Texan drawl; the flirty blonde, always immaculate in her sharp suits as if she were just about to step into a courtroom, and drank bourbon when the others had cocktails; and the black woman, with her warm smile, motherly attitude and hands that were always a little too clean.
This evening, Jill and Lindsay arrived first. One after the other, they stepped out of the enveloping dark of the evening to the tinkle of the bell over the door. A bus boy looked up, pausing in his task of clearing a table, and nodded a greeting to the pair as they moved across the room.
By the time Claire caught up with them, they were seated on either side of the polished wooden table, drinks in hands, chatting casually about nothing in particular, and it took a moment before they registered her presence.
Standing at the end of the booth with her arms folded, she radiated foot-tapping irritation, and the two seated women quailed just a tiny bit under her stern gaze, which took in everything from Lindsay's studiously casual demeanour, to the leather jacket resting on the back of entirely the wrong chair. After a moment, however, she relented, at least a little.
"You," she said pointedly, seating herself next to the blonde lawyer, "do not look in the least bit sick."
At once, Jill raised a hand, dramatically, to her forehead. "Oh, the pain..."
Claire shook her head, raising a hand and gesturing for silence. Jill dropped her own hand, immediately, conceding defeat, though her blue eyes held the faintest sparkle of amusement.
The first round won without a fight, she rounded on Lindsay. "And, you," she continued, accusingly, "look positively radiant with health."
"No, no excuses. I had Jacobi in my morgue, following me around, and asking questions about you. Between us, we couldn't remember a single day you'd taken sick, when you weren't in the hospital, and even then you'd practically needed tying down."
"Oh, no," she said, turning her attention back to Jill. "You don't get off the hook, either. I found out you were 'sick' when Denise called me to her office to explain the finer details of an autopsy to her.
So, what exactly possessed you two workaholics of the decade to call in sick?"
Folding her arms once more, she looked at the twinned sheepish looks that her friends wore, and the furtive, veiled glances that passed between them. She raised an eyebrow.
"Seriously? You, who both usually have to be forced to take a break, call in sick on the same day, and expect me not to notice? Spill!"
Lindsay cleared her throat, and there was something that resembled terror in her tone when she spoke. "Er, Claire..."
"Oh, it's OK, honey," said Claire in a softer tone, at her friend's obvious distress. She reached across the booth and took the brunette's hand. "I know what it is you're going to tell me." Lindsay shot a relieved look at Jill. "I'm only surprised it took you this long."
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