Madam President, page 15
Two eyebrows jumped. "Yeeeah," Casey drew out the word. "Last time I checked, anyway. Surely you knew that. I mean, Liza said" She stopped, noticing that Lauren looked a little spooked. "Hey, are you okay?"
Lauren scratched her jaw. "Boy, that's a good question.” The idea's not totally new to you, Lauri, and you know it. You've thought about it before. Especially lately. So don't even think about acting all shocked.
She'd been mildly interested in a few women over the years. Lauren had wondered, if given the chance, whether things might have developed beyond friendship. But time marched on, and the opportunity never knocked. Her marriage to Judd had been one long study in unfulfillment for them both. So maybe it was time to broaden her horizons? She'd been skirting the edge of it for years. Lauren had to admit that it wasn't a lack of interest in women that had held her back. More like a lack of attraction. Or at least a feeling of attraction that was more than fleeting.
Attraction should be her mind immediately hit upon the answer, and she sighed quietly like what I feel for Dev. To pretend to be anything other than attracted to Devlyn was simply a lie, and she knew it. She was drawn to the older woman like a moth to a flame. Her heart hadn't as much as spared a second thought toward Dev's gender. Lauren tried not to think that Dev was probably kissing Dr. Delany at this very moment.
The writer firmly clamped down on her wandering thoughts and glanced up at Casey, who was, admittedly, a pretty woman. She concentrated on her for a second, holding her breath and purposely looking long and deep into Casey's warm brown eyes. Nothing. No glimmer of interest. No spark of desire. No attraction. No pull. It was nothing like what she felt with Dev, even from the very first. Lauren exhaled. But she's not Dev. So stop doing that!
"I'm sorry. And I'm fine," Lauren finally answered, realizing that she was staring. "What I meant to say earlier is that you're a woman who looks really familiar. Have we met?” Okay, that was pathetic. But Casey seemed to buy her answer without question.
"No, I'm sure I'd remember you." Casey led the way to the empty table that awaited her return.
"Where's Liza?" Lauren hoped the question came off casually, despite the fact that she was starting to get a little worried.
"Oh, she called a few minutes ago. Something came up at the White House, and so she and Art won't be meeting us tonight." Casey smiled as she slid into her seat, tossing her menu onto the empty place setting next to her. "It's just you and me for the whole night!"
Lauren's eyebrows crawled behind her bangs. "Umm wow. The whole evening?" What time was it? She fought the urge to glance at her watch. Give the woman a chance. If Dev were interested in you, she wouldn't be dating someone else, right? “That’s great," Lauren said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. The whole night.
* * *
In the dining room of the residence, David and Beth chatted with Candy, while Dev tried not to look totally miserable. She smiled at all the right times and feigned interest in what was being said as she pushed her pasta around on her plate.
She had lost her appetite long before dinner even made it to the table. It had been totally vanquished between the soup and salad; Dev had nearly dislocated her knee by smacking it into the table when she felt Candy's hand land on her thigh.
Once she had managed to get Candy's insistent hand off her leg, she looked up to find the woman openly leering at her. It had been a long time since anyone had looked at her like she was the main course. But coming from Candy it was downright unappealing. It actually made her a little sick to her stomach. Candice Delaney, respected MD by day, Superslut by night. Some things just never change. Dev just shook her head.
She imagined Lauren looking at her like that, with lust-filled, slate gray eyes, and her cheeks immediately flamed a bright scarlet. Oh, God. An involuntary moan escaped from deep in her throat.
The conversation around her suddenly stopped, and everyone stared.
Okay, that wasn't a good idea. “Hot pasta," Dev explained lamely, fanning the tepid entree.
With dessert, things went from bad to worse. While David and his wife were lost in their own conversation, Candy whispered an obscene suggestion to Dev, explaining just how she'd like to use the cherry sauce once they were alone. Dev cringed at the mere thought. Not even with someone else's tongue! Her shoulders slumped, and she tossed her napkin onto the table. How am I gonna survive this? Wonder how Lauren's doing? Couldn't be any worse than this.
* * *
Lauren's head bobbed dutifully as she poked her fork around her plate, barely listening to Casey's endless droning, but fascinated by the 188186stinky conglomeration of something that had been placed in front of her. Were those tiny legs? She gulped. Or tentacles? I didn't order anything with legs! A mental pause. I think.
"And that's how I became a medical technician at the morgue."
Lauren nearly dropped her fork. Her eyes shot upward. "You're what?!"
"A morgue clerk," Casey enthused, heartened to see that Lauren was as excited about it as she was. Maybe the writer wasn't as big a dud as she seemed. "It's such a totally interesting job! Why one time, after a mob hit downtown"
The biographer felt the blood drain from her face. She’s not going to tell me about it, is she? Oh, God! “So, what's your favorite book?" Lauren changed the subject as quickly as she could. The legs mixed in with what she thought were noodles on her plate were nearly enough to make her barf. Hearing about corpses would surely push her over the edge.
"You know, people are always asking each other that," Casey commented sagely. "I don't really have one. I've always preferred the movies." She rattled off a half dozen titles, none of which Lauren had even heard of. "Aren't those great? They're my favorites."
"Um sorry, I haven't seen any of those."
"Oh." Casey looked mortally wounded, and Lauren wasn't sure whether to feel bad or relieved. Maybe she could cut the evening short.
Both women were silent for several awkward moments. "What about travel?" Lauren prompted. "Have you been anywhere interesting? Or is there someplace you'd like to visit?"
"No. Not really."
More painful silence.
Casey took a long drink of Korean beer. "Astrology is a hobby of mine. I'm a Virgo. What's your sign?"
Casey suddenly found the contents of her glass very interesting. "Oh."
Lauren cocked her head to the side. "Oh, what? Is that bad or something?"
"No. Not really. Well, they just aren't very compatible with Virgoans." She shrugged lightly. "That's all."
No shit, Sherlock. Lauren covertly studied her watch. Who knew two hours could feel like this?
"You gonna eat that?" Without waiting for Lauren to answer, Casey reached over and stuck her fingers in Lauren's dinner, fishing out something green and slimy that she immediately popped into her mouth.
Lauren's eyes turned to slits, and she considered stabbing Casey with her fork. If that had been a French fry, Casey would be sporting fork marks on her hand right now. But, as it was, she really wouldn't miss one more piece of slimy thing.
"Umm..." Casey chewed happily. "Thanks, those are great. And I can't believe you didn't eat them right off. I can never wait. Ooo have I told you how much I love the symphony? Have you heard our local symphony? They're fabulous!"
Lauren shook her head. "I've heard they're wonderful, but I'm not really a big fan of the symphony. So I haven't seen them myself. But I like opera," she tried hopefully.
Casey's face twisted in disgust, and she stated flatly, "I hate opera."
Lauren looked down at her plate hopelessly. She scooped up a big bite, legs and all, and shoveled it into her mouth. She reasoned that she'd probably have to be rushed to the emergency room soon, and then she could escape the date from hell. Or she'd be dead. Either way worked.
Casey's face suddenly brightened. "But this body we had down at the morgue last week sort of looked like one of those fat opera guys."
"He was pale and bloated. I think they fished his carcass out of the river near Dulles Airport. But that's not the worst thing I've seen. Not by a long shot! The worst was this"
* * *
Dev seriously considered hurting David when he and Beth excused themselves after an insufferably long dinner, but suggested that the President give Candy a tour. She grabbed his arm as he was leaving. "I will make you pay for this!" she growled under her breath, knowing that only David was close enough to hear her.
"Well, you know what the old song says," he whispered back. "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with."
"Not in this lifetime, David."
"Good night, Madam President." He leaned over and spoke very quietly into Dev's ear, "I didn't remember her coming off this strong, Dev. This was a slight miscalculation on my part. I'm sorry."
Slight? “Good night, former Chief of Staff."
David and Beth made a hasty exit, and Dev turned to face the music. Why do I keep hearing "Little Red Corvette" playing in my mind? Dear God, I promise you I'll do something really good for the environment if you'll just get me out of this.
"Well," the President gestured nervously down the hall, "let's go see what we can find to look at around here."
"Come on, Dev." The woman moved closer, and Dev took a step back. "I don't bite." She grinned. "Unless you ask real nice. How about a tour of the Executive Bedroom?"
"They say Lincoln's bedroom is haunted." Dev stepped around Candy, only to have her ass pinched in the process.
* * *
"Thanks for the ride, Casey.” Which you insisted on giving me.
"No problem. I was coming back here to meet Liza anyway." The women made their way around to one of the staff entrances just as Casey's phone rang. It was Liza. "Well, what are you doing there?" Casey practically crowed into her cell phone. "We just came from there!" She placed her hand over the receiver and turned to Lauren, who was quietly digging for the ID that was required before she could sign in and gain entrance to the White House, even though the guard at the door knew exactly who she was and that she lived there.
God, I'm totally screwed if I ever lose this thing. Lauren finally pulled it out and signed the clipboard before turning a bored, slightly frustrated expression on her companion. "Let me guess," Lauren sighed. "She's at Been Gi's?" Please don't tell me this means I have to spend anymore time with you.
"Yup. And she wants to know if you wouldn't mind giving me the nickel tour." Casey gave her a hopeful expression. "She doesn't want to drive all the way back. She lives in the opposite direction."
Lauren held out an impatient hand. "Let me talk to Liza."
"Okay." Casey put the phone to her mouth again to say goodbye, but didn't pass it to Lauren. "Liza says it's not necessary to thank her, that you can do that on Monday. She, umm... she hung up."
Lauren's shoulders slumped and she exhaled wearily. Would this date never end? "C'mon, Casey, the nickel tour is really quick."
* * *
Dev wondered if she could still be President after her brain finally exploded in her skull. She figured if Ford could do it, she might be able to get away with it too. There were bigger stumbling blocks than brain death when it came to the Oval Office. Devlyn decided that if she had to remove Candy's hand from some part of her anatomy just one more time, she was going to have to throw ‘polite' out the window and simply kick Candy out on her ass.
"The umm China Room is this way." Dev gestured again.
As the pair entered from one side, Dev was more than relieved to see Lauren enter from the other doorway. Then the fact that she was with a woman registered just a millisecond behind that. What in the hell? A woman! Casey is a woman? “Lauren, you're home." It slipped out before Dev could get her lips and brain in sync with each other. The one thing that her mouth and brain could readily agree on, however, was to smile at Lauren. Which she did, quite readily, despite the fact that she felt hurt. It was clear that Lauren liked women. Just not her. Whoever didn't get me that FBI report is going to be looking for a new job come Monday.
"Hi, Devlyn." Lauren smiled warmly at the President, but threw a look of solid ice at the attractive woman standing next to her. "I don't believe I've met your friend."
"Oh, yeah." And what does this Casey woman have that I don't, Lauren Strayer? "Uh, Lauren, may I present Dr. Candice Delaney? Dr. Delaney, this is Ms. Lauren Strayer, the very talented young woman who is writing my biography."
Candy slipped a possessive arm through Dev's, only to have the tall woman shift away. She gave the President an annoyed look, and then offered her hand and a catty smile to Lauren, instantly sniffing the blonde out as her competition. "Nice to meet you, Ms. Strayer. I have some great Dev Marlowe stories from college," her voice was condescending, "if you need them."
Candy's Bostonian accent grated on Lauren's nerves like fingernails running down a blackboard. "Nice to meet you, too. And I see Devlyn everyday. I don't need any old stories. She's perfectly willing to tell me anything I want to know." The smile she gave Dr. Delaney was every bit as catty as the one she'd received. "I'm sure that Dev was pleased with how well you've held up over the years."
Dev snorted, but tried to cover it by pretending to cough. Then she got a good look at the woman with Lauren, who hadn't so much as given her the time of day, and whose eyes were feasting on Candy like she was well, a piece of candy. "Uh, Lauren, you haven't introduced us to your friend." Dev shifted her gaze back and forth between the two women, hoping to hell Lauren would pick up on it.
But Lauren was too busy mentally cataloging every reason that Candy Delaney wasn't nearly good enough for Devlyn to notice. It wasn't until Dev repeated her question that Lauren said, "Madam President, may I introduce Casey Dennis, Liza's cousin?"
Casey completely ignored Dev and continued to stare lustily at Candy. "Please tell me you're not the Dr. Candice Delaney," she said in awe. "I read your article on crabs last year, and I haven't been able to pee in a public restroom since." Casey's brown eyes grew moist, and her voice trembled. "You are... I mean, it was magnificent."
An enormous smile split Candy's face, and she openly appraised Lauren's date. "Why, thank you very much, Ms. Dennis. Tell me, are you in the field?" Candy stepped past Dev, and offered her limp hand to Casey."
"Oh, yeah!" Lauren said, almost too loudly. "Casey has a fascinating job, and she just loves to talk and talk about it."
Casey nodded enthusiastically. "It would be a honor to discuss my passion with someone as accomplished as you."
Lauren turned her best southern charm on Casey for the first and last time this evening. "Casey, darlin', maybe you could give Dr. Delaney a ride back to her hotel?"
"I'd be delighted." Casey grinned dumbly.
"Well," Dev clapped her hands together in sheer joy. "I'm glad that's settled. Jack!"
A young Secret Service agent popped into the room. "Yes, Madam President?"
"Would you please show Ms. Dennis and Dr. Delaney out?"
"Don't worry, Jack. I'll be going back to the residence, and I doubt that Ms. Strayer is out to hurt me."
"Yes, ma'am. Right this way, ladies." The young man gestured, and the two women were so wrapped up in talking with each other they barely mumbled a hasty goodnight to their original dates.
Lauren and Dev both held their breath until the women were gone. After a few seconds, they sighed in unison.
"Thank God," Dev mumbled
"Amen to that," Lauren agreed.
"What does Casey do for a living?"
Dev suddenly took a big step away from Lauren. "Well, eeeewwww," she teased.
* * *
Dev and Lauren started back to the residence. Dev stared at her shoes as she walked. She hated that seeing Lauren with another woman hurt. But it did. A lot, actually. She was feeling anger as well. Anger that she didn't have a right to
"Hmm?" Lauren stopped walking and faced Dev. She looked up into eyes brimming with sadness and something else. And she felt a twinge deep in her chest. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Dev smiled softly. "I, umm, well I didn't really get much to eat tonight. Don't suppose you'd like to come back to the residence with me. We could order up a couple of corned beef sandwiches and maybe watch a movie or something.” And then I can torture myself all night with something I'll never have.