Tara set the phone down in the cradle and glanced around the bedroom. "I have nothing to wear," she declared, her hands firmly on her round hips. Dirty clothes overflowed from her wicker hamper, and an easy leap of logic told her that unless she could magically do a load of laundry in the next thirty minutes, she was going to meet Sue for their spontaneous lunch in the outfit she'd thrown on that morning. Well, it'll have to do, Tara decided. Jeans and a t-shirt were acceptable, she reasoned, especially since they were just going to Paper Moon. The blonde agent glanced down at her cell phone's display, where it was clipped neatly to her belt loop. Twenty-five minutes and counting. She'd better hurry. Tara did a quick tidying job on her small apartment, took a moment to feed her fish, then grabbed a jacket. Slipping her wallet into her back pocket, she checked her hair in her reflection on the side of the toaster and sprinted out the door. Fifteen minutes - she was going to be late.
Sixteen minutes later, the shuttle bus was dropping her off on M Street, and Tara hurried up 31st toward the Harbour. As she approached the little Italian eatery, she saw Sue at an outdoor table and waved happily. "Hey," she said breathlessly. "Sorry I'm late."
Smiling, Sue shook her head. "Not a problem," she said. "Hungry?"
"Starved," Tara declared, reaching for her menu. As she picked it up, she noticed that Sue was leaning on the table, staring at her chest with a furrowed brow. "Something wrong?" she asked, then realized her friend wasn't watching her mouth. She tapped the table, and when Sue felt the vibration in her arm, the older agent looked up. Tara repeated herself.
Shaking her head, Sue pointed at Tara's shirt, and commented, "Nice shirt."
Peering down, Tara laughed aloud. Stark black lettering declared " /homophobia " on the plain white t-shirt. "Oh, yeah." She met Sue's eyes again. "It was the only thing I had that wasn't dirty," the petite blonde explained. "It's HTML - computer code," she added. "The backslash is an 'end' command." Sue nodded, but her face was still unreadable, her expression hinting at confusion, and Tara began to worry a little. "Does it bother you?" Sue knew about Tara's sexuality; most of her co-workers knew, in fact. It was kind of hard to disguise it in such a tight, team-oriented atmosphere. Everyone who knew seemed okay with it, but Tara had never brought her politics into her job.
"Not at all. I like it." Sue's face cleared, and she smiled faintly. "I was thinking that maybe if more people thought that way, there would be a lot less hate in the world."
Relaxing, Tara sighed, breaking into a smile. "And you were thinking that I'm a big old computer geek, weren't you?"
"That, too." Sue winked at Tara and picked up her menu. "Let's eat." The waitress came to take their orders, and when she left, Sue eyed Tara's shirt again. "I think I want one for my birthday." She looked up to gauge Tara's reaction.
Tara nodded, still smiling. "I'll see what I can do."
A week later, Sue was surprised to see a box on her doorstep when she arrived home from work. Her book order from hadn't shipped yet, so it couldn't be that. And this was dressed up in wrapping paper, not a plain brown box, with a little tag that said simply, 'Happy early birthday'. While Lucy overcame her curiosity long enough to change clothes, Sue couldn't. She curled up on the couch and ripped into the box with delight. What she saw folded up inside made her laugh aloud. Lucy came out of her bedroom and sank into a chair. "What's that?" she signed.
"My birthday present," Sue replied aloud, grinning from ear-to-ear. She turned the shirt to face Lucy. It was a white spaghetti-strapped tank top, with a huge pink flower in the middle. A flowing pink script beneath the flower announced 'Girly girl'.
"Your birthday's not for months. Who's it from?" Lucy inquired.
Sue's grin faded to a sweet, gentle smile. Her throaty tone was soft when she declared confidently, "My next girlfriend."
Lucy's eyes widened. "Seriously?"
"Yes," Sue said simply.
"Been a long time since I've heard that from you," her roommate replied, eyes wide. "Who is she?" Lucy signed.
Draping the tee shirt over her lap, Sue signed back rapidly. "I don't think I'll say right now. Give me some time to work it out in my head, okay?" She tilted her head to one side, her eyes beseeching Lucy not to push the subject.
Nodding slowly, Lucy signed, "Of course, whatever you want. Just tell me if I can help." Her resolute stare warned Sue not to hesitate to ask.
"You've got it." She made the sign for 'best friend', then stood, gathering her gift, the box and wrapping. "I'm going to go to my room for a while before dinner," she said. "I have a thank-you note to write." Sue closed the bedroom door behind her, then settled at her desk, reaching into the drawer. She fished out the box of note cards; a variety of pastel colors, imprinted with a simple 'Thank You' in script. She composed and rewrote the note ten times in her head before lowering her pen to the paper. Forgoing a greeting, Sue wrote, 'Thank you for the gift. It made my day. It's perfect. Let me know how I can repay you.' She debated the closing for a while, then signed it with a single 'S'. Folding the flap into the envelope, Sue tucked the note in her briefcase, then went to join Lucy for dinner.
Tara poured herself a cup of coffee and crossed the room to her desk. As she pulled out the chair and sat down, she heard a soft crinkling sound. Examining the desk, she couldn't find anything, so she stood, turning to survey her work area. There on her chair was a small, now wrinkled, pastel green envelope. Tilting her head, the blonde picked up the card and sat back down, using her Mickey Mouse letter opener to slice it open. Slipping it out of the envelope, Tara read it once, and as her eyes took in the words a second time, a grin slid onto her full lips. Bobby passed her desk, calling out, "Mornin', Tara," but she just waved distractedly. It finally occurred to Tara that she probably shouldn't be caught mooning over Sue's note, even if it was signed ambiguously. Being gay was one thing; crushing on a straight colleague probably wouldn't go over as well with her teammates, never mind her higher-ups. Tara hid the note below a pile of paper clips in her desk drawer, then got down to work.
When Sue arrived a few minutes later, her eyes immediately went to Tara's desk. There was Tara, but no sign of the note. Bypassing the coffee machine, Sue stopped at her friend's workstation, and Tara looked up. "Good morning," she said.
"Morning," Tara said brightly. "Thank you for your note," she added in sign. "But you don't have to do anything for me. It was a birthday gift."
"My birthday isn't until May," Sue protested. "At least let me buy you lunch one day this week."
An hour away from the office with Sue? "Deal," Tara agreed with an easy smile.
Just then, Jack strode into the room, holding up a manila folder. "Morning, folks. We've got a lead on Jessica Leakey's disappearance, and it's a good one."
Tara smiled up at Sue, imitating Jack good-naturedly. " 'Okay, hamsters, back on your wheels.' " Sue tilted her head in inquiry, and Tara just shrugged, waving it off. "Trying to be funny," she explained. "Never mind. Lunch tomorrow?"
"It's a date." Sue's bright smile slipped half a notch as she watched Tara's face closely. She knew that just because Tara was gay didn't mean her blonde colleague was interested in her. There was no way Sue would risk telling Tara how she felt unless she knew her friend felt the same way. She'd been down that road before, and it had always ended badly.
"A date." I wish it were, Tara thought. You have no idea.