Chapter One: Strange Sister
The woman pounding on the computer keyboard in the twilight of morning was in her forties, though if you asked her she would probably refuse to tell you which end of her forties she was at. She had black, short hair with a unmanageable curl, square framed glasses and a bit of red in her deep brown eyes from lack of sleep. She was dressed in a battered sweatshirt and blue jeans, presenting a youthful figure despite her age.
She was a writer, and she was on a deadline.
Allison Kane didn't consider herself a artist or any kind of creative visionary. In her more self-depreciating moments Allison described herself as a hack. Working as a freelance writer Allison did everything from ghost writing to short stories, fantasy novels to trashy erotica. She had rewritten technical papers for readability, done translation editing and even written for comics. And her cardinal rule was always finishing under her jobs under deadline, which was how she kept getting work.
And all of them written under the appropriate pen names, of course. You couldn't have a woman's name on a police procedural, nor could you put a down to earth name like Allison on her Gothic regency romances. It was rather like wearing various stylistic hats, with the added difficulty of maintaining the different narrative voices too. Thankfully Allison had discovered early on she could create a male 'voice' for her author and stick with it.
'Probably helps that I'm gay too,' Allison mused as she finished the paragraph and a chapter. Glad that the end was finally in sight she saved her work, pushing away from her desk with a weary sigh. 'Coffee,' she thought as she got up, 'need coffee.'
The office was a former store room in the back of a large two bedroom apartment, with a desk, bookcases with various reference works, a old couch, and her computer. The book shelves for her references and other books took up a whole wall, from books on police investigation and blood splatter to life and times in the middle ages. She had checked into all of the books on the six shelves at one time or another, often repeatedly, and had even gone online to dig up facts too. The couch came in handy if she needed to rest or cat-nap, when sleepless hours finally got to be too much.
Groggily Allison walked up the hall into the kitchen, noting that the lights were on and a fresh pot was perking away, the clock on the wall reading seven in the morning. The slim blonde who was standing in front of the stove turned with a welcoming smile, "Mother! You're up."
Allison hid a wince, mostly, disguising it with a yawn. Her daughter-in-law Diane was a sweet, kind natured young woman who had married her son Mark last year, and Allison was still trying to adapt. In all honesty Allison hated being called 'Mother' but hadn't put her foot down about it, mostly because she felt there was no malice in the girl.
'Woman,' Allison mentally corrected herself. "Thanks," she nodded to the perking coffee machine as she said, "I was just going to make some instant, Diane."
"Instant coffee?! How can you drink that stuff?" Diane shuddered theatrically, bringing on a reluctant smile to Allison's face.
"Lot's of practice. Why, you should have seen me in college," Allison said as she peered at the pot and noted it was half way done, "I practically lived on the stuff."
"Hmm," Diane made a non-committal sound. "Were you up all night?" she asked Allison perceptively. "That's not good for you, you know," she added worriedly, her perky breasts swinging free underneath her loose white blouse. On nights when she wasn't feeling... frisky, she wore the old blouse and pajama pants. On other nights she apparently had a lingerie collection that had to be seen to be disbelieved.
'And I wish I hadn't seen it,' Allison admitted, trying to get her sleepily wandering thoughts in order. "I've pulled all nighters before," she told Diane as the coffee machine finally wheezed to a stop, coffee dribbling into the pot, "I'll be fine."
As the last drops fell Allison took the pot and poured herself a cup, ignoring the hissing as a bit of the coffee hit the hot pan. She swiped the mess up with a wash cloth then put the pot back before casually rinsing out the rag. Getting a clean spoon from the drawer she added a bit of sugar and some extra coffee whitener, stirring it until it was all mixed.
"I suppose so," Diane admitted as she looked at Allison with compassion and added softly, "but I want to help."
"This coffee is help enough," Allison said briskly as she walked by her in the small kitchen, careful not to get too close, "thanks."
As Allison returned to her office, coffee cup safely in hand, she felt a slight pang of guilt over brushing off the other woman. Ever since her son Mark and his new bride had been forced to move in with her because of the mortgage crisis, the young woman had been apologetic and honestly helpful. Mark himself felt terrible about having to effectively move back into his old room, and had done everything he could to make up for it.
'And be honest with yourself,' Allison thought as she took off her glasses, holding them in one hand as she rubbed her dry eyes with the other, 'it's not your son moving back home that's bothering you. It's something about her....'
Slipping her glasses back on, Allison took a drink of nearly too hot coffee then turned back to her desk with determination. In the mystery she was writing the criminal had been caught and the wrongdoers punished, so now in the final chapter Allison had to resolve the romantic subplot. Her fingers flew as she glanced from the screen to her notes, following her plot and expanding on the tearful goodbye between the two women.
It was overdone, melodramatic and unbelievable, Allison decided as she gave the final chapter a quick re-read. "My editor will love it," she mused to herself as she saved her work. She formatted the file, altering the spacing and font, noting with some amusement how the page count leaped. 'Too bad they don't pay me by the page,' she thought wryly as she copied the file to a high volume disk as well as attaching it to a email to her editor. Having had a few technology failures in the past she always sent her work more than one way, just in case.
Just then the phone rang. Reaching across her messy desk and avoiding the cup of now warm coffee Allison picked it up as she barked, "What?"
"You sound as pleasant as usual," Helen Jacobs, her editor over at Heartland books, said cheerfully. "Got my book done?" she asked comfortably.
Allison could easily imagine Helen sitting in her leather office chair, her long brown hair tied back as the attractively plump woman drank her own coffee. 'Well, knowing her it's herbal tea,' she thought, amused. The woman was such a odd mix of holistic vegan and business woman that it was hard to keep track of what trend she was following this month.
"Just finished," Allison answered her dourly," it should be in your email now."
Allison heard the sound of a clicking mouse then Helen yelped, "Yes!"
"And next time you need a new Ali Jones mystery,' Allison referred to her pseudonym at the lesbian publisher, "give me a bit more lead time, huh? You sprung that contract on me awfully late in the game. I barely had a month and a half!"
"I'm sorry about that," and Allison really thought that Helen was sorry from the tone of her voice, "but a normally reliable author bailed on a job, and I knew if I asked you you could fill the hole on our schedule." She sounded like a cat in the cream as she added, "And our publisher will be even happier with our releasing the right number of books that quarter."
"If you get a bonus, I want to get a cut," Allison said, not entirely joking as she picked up and peered into her half full cup of now cold coffee. Deciding it was still drinkable she finished it off in a long pull, shuddering a bit at how it tasted cold.
"Sure," Helen chuckled, taking the bonus comment as a joke, "Since when would I ever let down my most favorite of all authors?"
"Don't lay it on too thick," Allison snickered softly as she put the cup down. She fought back a yawn as she said, "Make sure you go over the last few chapters. I hadn't slept in eighteen hours, so a few errors might slip through."
"You haven't slept?" Helen realized. "I'll let you go, then."
"Thanks," and this time Allison really did yawn as she hung up the phone. Pure inertia kept Allison in her seat for a few moments, long enough for a knock to come at the closed door. "Yes?" she called out as she swiveled the creaking chair to the door.
Mark entered with a smile on his handsome face, the slim twenty-something carrying his briefcase and dressed quite smartly in a suit. Whenever any of her friends met Mark they instantly knew he was her boy, though Allison didn't know to be sorry for him or not. They had similar black hair, both needed glasses and while he was taller and a bit beefier than her, they had very similar faces. At least one friend had joked he was her male clone.
Mark sat down on the old couch, sitting at the edge so she didn't have to crane her neck as he asked her, "How's the book going?" He didn't need to be told she was working on a novel, of course. Growing up with Allison he had seen how she worked, the long hours in seclusion and the occasionally violently kicked garbage can when she got stuck.
'I'm glad I finally grew out of that habit,' Allison mused to herself silently. "Just finished," she told him with a weary smile, "and I have no urgent jobs due, too." She stretched tiredly, "I can actually take my time on the next one."
"Good," Mark nodded, "that's good." He hesitated, looking like a combination of embarrassed and shy as well as a little guilty. Raising the boy Allison had only seen that certain combination a few times, and it usually meant trouble.
"What is it?" Allison asked a bit warily.
"What makes you think I want something?" Mark asked, trying to look innocent. It failed, of course, and he sighed, "You know me too well."
"Uh huh," Allison smiled, "so what's going on?"
"I've been asked to tour several of our factories," Mark said uncomfortably.
The company that Mark worked for made expensive toys for middle class sheep, in Allison's personal opinion. They were expensive, overdecorated and often didn't work quite as advertized, but well enough to keep them from being sued. But a fool and his money were soon parted and Allison had no problem with that as long as he didn't peddle the stuff to her.
"I'd normally ask Diane to come along with me, but the plants are so far out of the way that...," Mark shrugged expressively.
"Places like Cecily, Alaska," Allison guessed jokingly, "or a place with just a 'no tell hotel' and no running water."
"For all I know, that's on my list,." Mark sighed, his eyebrows meeting as he frowned. They were nice, dainty eyebrows at that, and once again Allison wondered if god had a sense of humor in making him so feminine.
"So you want to leave her with here me while you travel," Allison guessed where he was going after a moment's thought.
"That would be it," Mark nodded.
Allison tapped a finger on her desk, making a eraser bounce a bit. "Have you told her yet?" she asked him after a moment.
Turning she saw Mark with a very sheepish look on his face. "Uhm," he smiled weakly, "it really hasn't come up."
"I think you're going to have to bring it up," Allison sighed tiredly. She gave him a stern look as she added, "You have to tell her, especially if you're leaving her with me for a while. It's not fair to her otherwise."
Mark sighed softly but nodded. "I guess you're right," he admitted. He stood up, stretching, "Can we talk about it when I get back tonight?"
"Sounds like a plan," Allison agreed as she watched him step out the door and go off to work.
After Mark was gone Allison got up, stretching once more as she tried to work out the kinks from sitting so long. She looked thoughtfully at the couch, considering just crashing there, then decided it just wouldn't be good on her back. Collecting her dirty cup she walked out of her office, closing the door behind her as she walked back into the kitchen.
Diane was sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper as Allison walked in with her dirty cup. "Let me get that," Diane said as she moved to rise.
"It's fine," Allison said as she dumped the cup out in the sink, rinsed it with hot water then dried it with a towel. She turned towards the table in the 'dining room,' really just a larger area connected to the kitchen and leaned up against the clean but slightly stained counter. She gave the younger woman a tired smile as she said, "I'm going to go lay down for a few hours. If my alarm doesn't wake me, could you get me up?"
"Certainly," Diane smiled kindly.
Tiredly Allison pushed off from the counter as she said, "Night then."
Allison went back past her office and by the double that Mark and Diane shared before reaching her own room. She flicked on the light as she went into her neat room, past her second set of bookshelves, television and DVD player and on to her bed. Sitting down on the side of her bed Allison undid her jeans, pulling them off and laying them on the end of her bed before pulling on a well worn pair of pajama bottoms and a ratty old t-shirt. The bedside lamp went on, she turned off the overhead light and walked back to her bed. Once that was done she took off her glasses, set them on the nightstand and flopped back onto the firm mattress.
Sleep came over Allison quickly, and she soon found herself plunged into dreams. Images flicked through her mind's eye, disjointed sequences that didn't match up with anything in her life. A riot of colors resolved into nothingness as a sensuous touch made her nerves sing. A soft, lilting voice murmured something she couldn't understand....
Opening her eyes Allison blinked sleepily, seeing Diane staring down at her in amusement. "Are you awake?" she asked in amusement.
"Urgh," Allison made a incoherent noise as she noticed how blue Diane's eyes were. 'Never mind that!' she thought to herself sharply. "What time is it?" she asked as she half sat up, Diane falling back to let her.
"A little after two," Diane said as she reached over to the nightstand and handed Allison her glasses. "The alarm rung once, you hit snooze and it rang again. I figured I should check on you before it rang a third time," she said mildly.
"Thanks," Allison said as she slipped her glasses on, feeling oddly protected behind those square black frames.
"You're nearly as hard to wake up as Mark," Diane teased her gently, "does it run in the family, you think?"
"Wouldn't surprise me," Allison agreed sleepily. In fact part of her wanted to lay back down again right there, and another part was slyly suggesting Diane could keep them company.... Allison's eyes widened as she thought, 'What the hell?!'
"Are you all right?" Diane blinked, seeing Allison stiffen and her eyes widen.
Allison smiled weakly as she answered, "Sorry, yeah, I'm fine." As she sat there Allison was very aware that all she was wearing was a very thin shirt and old jammies around a attractive woman, and despite her brain telling her body this was her daughter-in-law, her body wasn't listening. Fighting the urge to pull a sheet over her body like some distressed damsel she smiled wryly to herself as she said, "I'd better get dressed. Could you excuse me?"
"Oh, certainly," Diane said, giving her a odd look as she got up. Before leaving the room she smiled, "Don't fall back asleep, okay?"
"Sure," Allison nodded as Diane left. Once the young woman was gone Allison did indeed get out of bed, sliding her pajama pants off and changing to some clean underwear and pants. But as she did that her thoughts raced, bubbling and churning against each other.
Allison was stunned at how attracted to Diane she had been, how well aware she was of those fine curves and valleys she had. She realized that in that moment if Diane had shown any interest at all, she probably would have pulled her down onto the bed and gave her a real education.
'And probably scare her half to death,' Allison told herself firmly as she exchanged the thin shirt for her usual sweatshirt. She firmly tried to put it all aside, to convince herself that it was all just a hot flash or something, but deep down she wasn't buying it.
Emerging from her bedroom Allison walked along the hall to the kitchen, smiling as she saw Diane working on her laptop. It was a older model that Allison had that she had stopped using, preferring to keep most of her work on her personal computer. When Mark had asked about giving Diane the laptop Allison was all for it, going through and transferring all her incomplete drafts and other projects, then taking it over to a friend of hers for a tune up. She presumed Diane used it for her accounting and household uses, but she hadn't asked.
Pushing her long, straight hair out of her eyes Diane smiled as she asked, "Everything all right?"
"It's fine," Allison reassured her as she walked over to the fridge, opening the door and peering inside as she debated making a snack. Thankfully her hormones or whatever were quiet, letting her concentrate on other things.
Since Diane wasn't working currently she had subtlety taken over the cooking and shopping, of which Allison was glad to be done with. She had always been a absent minded cook, more often focused on the next paragraph rather than the dish she was making. As soon as he had been able Mark nudged her aside in the cooking department, much like his wife was doing now.
"Ah," Diane looked concerned at the possible disaster that might be coming to her kitchen, "I can make you something...."
"Don't worry," Allison reassured her as she found some slices of roast beef from two nights ago, "I'm just going to reheat some meat for a sandwich."
Finding a non-metallic plate Allison laid out two slices, then put them in the microwave oven across from the fridge. Setting it for two minutes on medium she got the bread and condiments out as the microwave cooked the meat. Once the bell dinged Allison put the meat on the bread, added mayo, cheese and a bit of hot sauce, then pressed another slice of bread on top. Getting a can of cola out of the fridge Allison carried her plate over the table and sat down to eat.
Allison had to fight back a chuckle at the face Allison made. Clearly she wanted her to eat a well rounded meal for lunch, not a snack like this. "Do you need me to go out for anything?" Allison asked politely as she munched.
"No," Diane shook her head as she set the laptop aside, "we've got all the ingredients for dinner, I'm making noodles and meat balls." She smiled at Allison's questioning look, "We have some perfectly nice twisted noodles that I think will hold tomato sauce quite well, so why not use them?"
"Why not, Indeed," Allison agreed seriously. Taking a drink of her coke she asked, "Anything I can do to help make dinner?"
"I've got it covered," Diane promised. She smiled as Allison finished her food, "Don't spoil your dinner, okay?"
"Yes, mom," Allison winked teasingly as she walked over to the sink. Briskly she washed her dishes and dried them as she and Diane continued to chat pleasantly. "I'm going to go check my email," she said as she put the dishes away, "call me if you need anything."
"Sure," Diana agreed, though Allison felt quite certain she wouldn't call.
Back down the hall to her office and Allison checked her mail provider. Ignoring the annoying request to update her account she ruthlessly dumped the junk mail, then perused the rest. Several friends had sent 'where are you?' mails and she scribbled a fast answer to all of them, then she read a glowing email from Helen. She LOVED the new book, and she had bounced it to a assistant-editor to read. They'd mail it back to her with any changes in a week or so.
Next Allison checked her blog and read several friend's journals, soon wasting a good hour on following links and looking at humorous cat pictures. It wasn't until her son came home after five that Allison got up, logging off and going to see how dinner was going.
"Hi honey," Mark smiled as he bent a bit to kiss Diane, lingering a moment before pulling back. Seeing his mother enter the dining room he smiled, "Hi, Mom."
"Welcome home," Diane smiled as he shrugged off his suit coat and loosened his tie.
Once Mark changed out of the monkey suit, as he often called his business wear, they settled around the kitchen table to eat. The dinner was as good as Diane's usually were, well made and creatively put together. This time she had taken rolls and buttered them lightly with garlic, going well with the spaghetti sauce. They talked, as usual, and Allison noticed Mark trying to start something. He'd open his mouth, hesitate, then blurt something else out.
'Guess it's up to me,' Allison thought wryly. She sipped her soda then cleared her throat, "Diane, there is something I need to talk to you about."
"Oh?" Diane looked curious while Mark looked very relieved not to have to start this conversation himself.
"I've been meaning to tell you this for a while now," Allison gave Mark a look, "but Mark didn't think it would be a problem." She smiled wryly, "He grew up with me and thinks I'm normal."
"You are normal," Mark protested.
"See what I mean?" Allison shrugged. She looked over at Diane and smiled slightly as she told her, "I'm a lesbian."
Diane blinked as she processed this. Then she looked at Mark as she murmured, "But how...?"
Allison smiled as she dug out the well worn story. "Back when I was young I decided to give heterosexuality a shot," she explained, "just my luck I got knocked up immediately. I considered putting Mark up for adoption but he grew on me."
"Sorta like a fungus," Mark joked.
Diane bit back a laugh. Looking at Allison her gaze was frankly admiring as she said, "It must have been hard back then."
"It wasn't exactly the Dark Ages," Allison laughed. She gave the other woman a thoughtful look and asked, "Are you okay with this?"
"I think so," Diane answered frankly, "I mean, it's a lot to think about."
"That's good," Mark smiled tentatively as he continued, "because there's something else we have to discuss."
"What?: Diane asked warily. "No, let me guess," she joked, "you've decided you're gay and are running off to California?"
Allison laughed aloud as Mark blushed. "Mother!" he scolded. Once she got her laughter under control he smiled at his wife, "I'm going to have to go on a trip for my company, by car to some of our more remote factories." He sighed, "I'm not expecting much in the way of hotels or other benefits from this trip...."
Allison cut to the point, "He wants to know if you'd have any problem staying here with me while he was gone."
Diane opened her mouth to answer instantly, then closed it. "My knee jerk liberal reaction is to say there's no problem," she admitted. "But to be honest, I have to think about it. Okay?" she asked.
"That's fine," Allison agreed with a warm smile. Taking her empty plate she carried it to the sink, "In fact, I'll just leave you two to talk about it." And with that, she walked back to her room.
To be continued....