(From A Suggestion By Mordmorgan)
With midnight and the scheduled end of her shift was more than an hour behind her, Audrey Piersall was bored out of her mind. As interesting as the streets of Manhattan were, after ten hours everything began to become one big blur. She'd spent so much time driving her cab this last month that it was starting to feel like a second home.
While the extra money she was making by driving so much was nice, she didn't really need it. She'd been spending so much time behind the wheel simply because she needed something to do. Something to get her mind off what she'd just been through. Besides, it wasn't like she had anything, or anyone, to spend it on, other than herself.
She and her lover, Cleo Burton, had broken up just over a month ago. When they'd moved in together after a year of dating, Audrey had been convinced that the relationship would last forever. That bubble had burst when Cleo had sat her down one night and told her she'd taken a new job out in Chicago. Cleo had explained that while she still loved Audrey, she didn't think they were meant to spend their lives together. She hadn't even given Audrey time to think about it, or even the option of going with her. After all, driving a cab in Chicago wouldn't be that different than New York. Two days later, Cleo was on a plane and out of her life.
At first, Audrey had just stayed in her apartment, hiding from the world. After a week of that, a few of her friends had dragged her out to go to the clubs with them. She had tried to have a good time, but her heart just wasn't in it.
Trying to get her out of the malaise she was sinking into, a few of her single girlfriends even dropped a few hints that they be interested in keeping her company in a more intimate manner, but Audrey politely declined. She was unwilling to cross the line between friends and lovers just for some quick satisfaction. The thirty-two year old was also unwilling and unready to start hitting the bars alone or to be fixed up on a blind date. It was still too soon. So she had been driving her taxi instead, lost in her own little world.
"Dispatch to Cab 58, come in," Audrey's radio crackled.
"Cab 58," Audrey responded as she picked up the mike, "what's up?
With the lousy reception on the cab's radio, she could never be sure, but the voice coming out of the box sounded like Naomi Walchuck, one of her girlfriends who had been trying to help her get over Cleo.
"I've got a call for a pick up outside Club Flare to go to East 53rd and 2nd Ave. Can you take it?"
"Sure, nothing better to do. That's a bit away though."
"You're the closest available," the voice said. After a pause, it went on. "After this is done, you might want to consider calling it a day, 58."
Audrey laughed. Now she knew for sure it was Naomi. The others in the group called her 'Mommy' due to her tendency to try and take care of the others.
"Alright, alright," she said. "Mark me down as signed out after this fare is done ... Mommy."
"Good girl," Naomi laughed. She then went on in a less cheery voice, "Am I to assume that you'll be back at it again tomorrow?"
"No, I'll probably take the weekend off. It's supposed to get pretty miserable the next couple of days. But don't count on me going out. I'll just get caught up on my cleaning and reading."
"Alright, I still hope to see you," said Naomi.
With that, Audrey signed off. She proceeded to make her way to her pick up, figuring out what she would do at home. There was no way she was going out, so she'd have to screen her calls. That, of course, was what answering machines were for.
Club Flare was over on the West Side, down by the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. It took longer than Audrey would've liked to get through all the New Jersey bound traffic, and to make matters worse, a heavy rain started to fall as she pulled up in front.
The redhead rolled down her window and looked around for her fare, hoping that they hadn't got tired of waiting and made other arrangements. Then, from inside the club's doorway came a blue-coated figure scurrying towards the cab as she tried to avoid getting too wet. Or at least she was trying to since it was hard to scurry in high heels.
The rear door opened and then as quickly closed as the figure dropped into the back seat. A stream of curses spilled from her lips, giving Audrey pause. Some she understood, but others, the more malicious ones judging from their tone, were in a language she didn't understand. If she had to guess, the cab driver suspected that they were directed at something other than the rain.
She gave her passenger a moment to compose herself and settle in, then she turned around and verified the address she had been given over the radio.
"East 53rd and 2nd Ave, right?" she asked, getting her first good look at her passenger.
"That's right, the Carlstead Towers," the woman in the back seat said in a strong yet lyrical voice, wiping a few locks of wet hair from her face as she spoke.
Without realizing it, Audrey found herself staring at the well-dressed woman. Long lustrous black hair, made more so by the rain, framed an almost elfin face of classic Asian beauty. Audrey also couldn't help but notice the amount of leg being shown, even though the woman's skirt was pulled down.
As Audrey waited for a chance to get back into traffic, another thought entered her head. The woman looked very familiar.
After having driven a taxi for a while, Audrey had gotten pretty good at telling which fares were talkers and which simply wanted to get where they were going without any chit chat. The passenger in the back seemed to be a talker. Audrey decided to see if she was right. It was long drive and she was still bored. Besides, she had found that talkers were often appreciative for someone to chat with and were usually better tippers.
"If you don't mind me asking why are you even partying over on this side of town? There are some much nicer clubs closer to where you live."
"That's true, but this was supposed to be a blind date. A friend fixed me up with her cousin, who's from out of town. The Flare is her favorite club, so she suggested we go there."
"Well, I guess that explains it, except for one thing..."
"Where's my blind date?" the woman laughed. "That's okay, you don't have to be tactful, and it's an obvious question."
Glancing at her rearview mirror, Audrey was relieved to see that her passenger was smiling. For a moment, she was worried that she might've asked too personal a question.
"The not so pleasant answer is that I was dumped," she said, her tone reflecting that she was trying to make the best of the situation. "Everything was going great, Max and I had really hit it off. Then this blonde bimbo 'accidentally' bumped into Max, knocking a drink to the floor. She apologized and offering to buy a replacement, all the while doing deep breathing exercises that anyone would have to be blind not to take notice of. The next thing I know, Max and the bimbo are out on the dance floor together and I'm on my cell phone calling for a cab home."
"Men can be such assholes," Audrey said from the front seat, "put a nice set of boobs in front of them and they lose what little sense they have."
The woman laughed again, the sound a musical tinkle. "I know this may sound corny, but who said it was a he? Max was short for Maxine. I guess it's just as well. She was apparently a breast woman, and I'm not exactly overflowing my dress."
Audrey silently noted that while that may be true up top, it wasn't true of down below. She again glanced at the woman's legs while she waited for a red light to change. The woman had crossed her legs, resulting in the dress riding up even further.
After the light turned green, Audrey gave some thought to what the woman had just told her. The fact that she'd been at the Flare was unsurprising. While not really a lesbian bar, per se, it often had several female couples and single women looking for the same. Every once in a while the place would hold 'Ladies Night' parties, as well. She and Cleo had been to the place for one of the 'Ladies Night' parties and had gone back a couple of times just to dance.
"Did I shock you?" the woman in back asked, taking Audrey's sudden silence as disapproval.
"No, not at all," Audrey said, her eyes trying to watch for a reaction in the mirror. "I was just thinking that anyone who'd leave a beautiful woman like you for some bimbo should have her head examined. I know I'd never do it. But that's the sort that you find at a club like that."
"Really," the Asian woman said, digesting the new piece of information. "Am I correct in assuming that you've been to Club Flare yourself?"
"Yeah, me and my ex went there a few times," Audrey replied. "Mostly just to dance."
"And your ex is?"
"She flew away to Chicago to work for a cable network out there," Audrey added. "Evidently, her career meant more to her than I did."
The mention of the cable network Cleo had gone to work for suddenly caused Audrey to remember where it was she'd seen the woman in back before. Her name was Keiko Yamaguchi and she was the six o'clock anchor on Cable One News.
The reflection in the mirror worked both ways and Keiko was experienced enough at reading people's faces to know that Audrey had recognized her. Her own expression told the driver knew that she knew that she knew.
They continued to make small talk on the run up the FDR drive but Audrey knew she already had no chance. There was no way an on-air personality like Keiko was going to be interested in a mere cab driver. Absolutely no way.
"Here we are, the Carlstead Towers," Audrey announced as she pulled under the overhang so that her fare wouldn't get wet again.
Out of the corner of her eye, Audrey could see Keiko looking over her shoulder to see the fare on the meter. From her vantage point, she could also see down the Asian woman's dress through an opening in her coat. At least well enough to decide that the anchorwoman underrated herself in that department.
"Here you go," Keiko said as she handed Audrey the fare plus a tip that was more than generous. "It was a nice ride, I enjoyed talking to you."
"Thank you," Audrey said as she took the money and dropped it into her lockbox, "I did too." she added as she signed her route sheet to show what time she finished for the night.
It took a few moments for her to realize that her passenger hadn't yet exited her cab. She turned around to ask if there was a problem.
"You said this was your last fare for the night, didn't you?" Keiko asked.
Audrey nodded that it was.
"Well I was wondering if you'd like to come up and have a cup of coffee or something," Keiko smiled. "I'm not going to fall asleep anytime soon and I'd rather have a little company than just zone out in front of the television."
Taken back by the unexpected offer, Audrey took a long moment to answer. When she did, it was a resounding yes.
Leaving Keiko standing safely under the overhang, Audrey parked her cab in an empty spot in front of the building. There was room in the small area reserved for guests, but she decided it was more prudent to leave her cab out on the street.
As she followed the thirty-year-old newswoman into the lobby of the exclusive high rise, Audrey was glad to see the look of surprise on the face of the night doorman. It said Keiko wasn't in the habit of bringing home women late at night. Then again, it could've been just Audrey's dress that surprised him, she reminded herself. Sneakers, white corduroy pants and a black sleeveless tank top hardly went with the evening dress Keiko was wearing.
They took the elevator up to the twenty-third floor, then walked down a long hall to a corner apartment. The living room they stepped into was rather sparsely furnished, giving Audrey the impression that Keiko didn't spend a lot of time at home.
"Why don't you make yourself comfortable while I get out of these wet things," Keiko said as she put Audrey's umbrella into a small stand by the door. "Could you be a dear and turn on the coffee maker on the kitchen counter while I change?"
Leaving her guest to make the coffee, Keiko disappeared into the bedroom to change. Audrey found the coffee maker easily enough and merely had to hit the on button since it was one of those with a timer and had already been loaded up for the morning. Checking in the cabinet above, she found large mugs and the traditional accouterments, loading them onto a serving tray she found on the counter. A small measure of milk from the refrigerator completed the package.
"You didn't have to do all that," she heard Keiko say from behind her as she walked into the kitchen. "I was the one who invited you up for coffee after all."
"I didn't mind," Audrey smiled as she turned to face her hostess.
"It feels so good to get out of that wet dress," the Japanese woman said as she ran the small towel through her hair one last time before discarding it on a nearby kitchen chair.
A pair of loose green sweat pants and a comfortable T-shirt had replaced the dress in question. It only took Audrey a half-second to note that like herself, Keiko wasn't wearing a bra.
"Why don't you make yourself comfortable on the couch and I'll bring in the coffee," Keiko said, seemingly ignoring the fact that Audrey had been staring at her long enough to be noticed.
"Sure," Audrey replied, suddenly aware what she'd been doing.
Taking a second look around the living room while she waited, Audrey realized that she had been wrong in her initial assumption. It wasn't that the apartment was sparingly furnished, it was that it was full of gaps. As if a number of furnishings and decorations had been recently removed. A situation she should've recognized since her own place had a similar aspect.
"Here we go," Keiko said as she reentered the room carrying the tray Audrey had prepared.
As she set it down on the table, Audrey saw that Keiko had added a small selection of tiny cakes and cookies. Each one more appetizing that the last.
For a few minutes, they drank their coffee in silence, as if each was unsure how to restart their conversation outside the safety of the cab ride. Finally, Audrey decided a compliment on the apartment was a safe enough opening line.
"Thank you, I do love it here," Keiko answered. "It used to belong to my sister-in-law so I was able to get the insider price on it when the building went condo a few years back."
"Oh, you were married?"
"Just for a little while, right after high school," Keiko smiled. "Biggest mistake of my life."
"I've had a few friends go through that as well," Audrey offered in support. "They didn't discover, or at least admit their preference until after they'd given in to conventionality and gotten married."
"Oh, my marriage didn't come apart because I suddenly discovered I was into women," Keiko laughed. "It was nothing like that."
"I'm sorry, I just assumed..."
"Don't worry about it, other people had thought the same thing," the younger woman replied. "It had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with culture."
Audrey listened intently as Keiko explained that it wasn't until after the wedding that she learned that her dreams and the role of traditional Japanese wife that her new family expected her to follow were incompatible. An annulment followed a year later, leaving Isoruku free to find a more compatible bride. With the exception of his sister, Midori, who had been her best friend growing up, the entire family now acted as if she had never existed.
"That's some story," Audrey commented.
"But one that happens more often I'd venture than the one you suggested," Keiko added. "Especially when you're talking about Sansei, which is what I am."
"Sansei?" Audrey asked, unfamiliar with the term.
"Third generation," Keiko explained, "we grow up with parents that only know Japan through their grandparents. There are still a number of traditional families that try and keep the old customs alive."
"So when did you discover you were interested in girls?" Audrey asked, deciding it was now safe enough to broach the question.
"About two years after the divorce," Keiko replied. "I was still living out in Los Angeles then, working for Channel 8 and had been sent to New York on a story. Never having been here before, I decided to stay a few extra days and see the city."
Keiko paused and took a slow sip of coffee.
"I wound up at a YWCA around the corner from my hotel one night, trying to talk my way into an aerobics class," Keiko continued. "The instructor, Karen was her name, later invited me out to dinner."
"Did you know she was gay?"
"Not at first," Keiko admitted. "I wasn't until we got back to her apartment and I saw a photograph of Karen and her lover that it hit me. Evidently, she was away on some long term business trip."
"And what did you think then?"
"I wasn't sure what to think," Keiko smiled. "I'd have been lying if the idea of being with another women had never crossed my mind before, but the thought and opportunity never seemed to cross."
"Until then," Audrey grinned.
"Until then," Keiko smiled back.
"So what happened?"
"Let's just say I truly made the most of the unexpected convergence," Keiko answered, her broadening smile telling the other woman that it had indeed been a life changing moment.
They just smiled at each other for a long moment, until Keiko asked Audrey what about her.
"Well never been married," she began, "in fact, never ever dated a guy. I grew up in a small town an hour's drive north of Boston and sort of knew I was attracted to girls back in grade school. Of course I never had the nerve to do anything about it until my senior year of high school."
"Who was she?" Keiko asked curiously.
"Her name was Barbara Ann Whitmore, and she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever met in my life," Audrey said after a long pause. "I don't know how I ever made it through history when I spent just about every minute of class staring at her."
"So the two of you went to school together."
"What does not exactly mean?"
"Barbara Ann wasn't in my history class," Audrey said with a wicked grin, "she was teaching it."
"Omigod!" Keiko gasped, her hand coming up to her mouth in surprise. "You slept with your teacher?"
"Maybe I shouldn't have said that," Audrey said, taking Keiko's reaction as disapproval.
"No, please don't feel that way," Keiko insisted, "I just never met anyone who actually did that. Straight, gay, whatever, that has to be just about every high school student's ultimate fantasy."
That made Audrey feel better.
"How did it happen?"
"Well, to be honest, I never imagined in my life that she was gay," Audrey went on. "She was about thirty-five I think, with curly blonde hair and the most incredible blue eyes. Every male teacher in school wanted to get into her pants, even a few of the married ones."
"I can well imagine," Keiko said, trying to imagine Barbara Ann from Audrey's description.
"It was the night of the senior prom and the last thing I wanted to do was spent the night in heterosexual hell, letting some dork take me to the dance and then spent the rest of the night trying to keep his hands off me. So I borrowed my brother's car and drove into Boston to find some more interesting way to celebrate graduation. I had heard about a club called Scarlett's on one of the local BBS's and decided to see just how good my fake ID was."
"Don't tell me,"
"Yeah, you can see where this is going, but I swear to God, that's exactly what happened. I was like a kid in a candy store, wall-to-wall women, all of them looking for the same thing as me. I must've had four or five offers before I'd even ordered my first drink."
From the look on Audrey's face, Keiko could almost feel the emotions the memories were bringing back.
"Then I saw her, standing at the far end of the bar. At first, I told myself that I was imagining it, that it was just someone that looked like her. But it was here, and suddenly every other woman in the place seemed to fade away until it was only the two of us."
"What did you say to her?"
"It's funny, but I don't remember," Audrey said. "All I do remember is her telling me that she had a strong feeling that I was into girls, and that she had taken note of how much time I'd spent staring at her in class. The next thing I knew, the two of us were on the dance floor, holding each other close. Then we were kissing, then ... well, I'm sure you get the idea."
"What happened after?" Keiko asked.
"I never saw her again," Audrey answered. "Evidently, she had taken another position down in Florida and was leaving the day before graduation."
"But at least you had that one night," Keiko pointed out.
"That we did," Audrey smiled.
"To Barbara Ann and Karen, our first lovers," Keiko said as she raised her mug. "Wherever they are, and whoever they're with, we hope they're happy."
Agreement filled her face as Audrey lifted her own mug.
"So now that we've traded first times, do you mind if I ask a personal question?" Audrey asked after they'd spent a few more moments finishing their coffees.
"I'm not sure how much more personal we could get, but sure, ask away," Keiko asked, her curiosity aroused.
"Why?" she simply said.
"I don't understand."
"Why me?" Audrey expanded. "Why'd you invite up for coffee? I'd find it hard to believe that a woman like you, especially one who is obviously out enough for co-workers to be setting her up blind dates, is lacking for companionship. I'd bet that, even at this time of night, you'd only have to make a call and someone would be sharing your bed come the morning."
"I was wondering if that question was going to come up," Keiko replied after thinking about it a moment, "and up to this second I thought I had the perfect flip answer for it. Now I'm not so sure."
"Well let's try the flip answer and maybe I'll buy it," Audrey suggested.
"Well have you ever seen that old television show about the cab drivers, the one with all the quirky drivers?"
Audrey indicated that she had. Even if she had only been nine when it went off the air, it was one those classic shows that they were always running on cable.
"Well, when I got in your cab and you turned around that first time, I thought you bore a striking resemblance to the actress who played the female cabbie on that show."
"Really?" Audrey said, her tone indicating that the flip answer really wasn't going to do it. "Well I guess there is some resemblance, same red hair and..." she added, her gaze dropping down to her well rounded bust.
"But the real reason is," Keiko continued, "was that I think I felt a sort of... , I don't know, call it empathy, when you mentioned that your girlfriend had walked out on you."
"What was her name?" Audrey asked.
"The girl who did the same to you."
"Monique, and how did you know?"
"I didn't at first, but then it hit me," Audrey said as she gestured to the room around them. "The empty spaces were things that were hers used to be."
"I guess your place is the same way."
"Pretty much so," Audrey confirmed.
"I guess I just wanted someone to talk too," Keiko said, "someone who would understand."
"I guess we all need that at times," Audrey replied, trying to keep a smile on her face. "And I guess that answers the one question I kept thinking about but was too bashful to ask."
"And what was that?"
"If you invited me up here to talk or fuck," Audrey revealed.
"Hmmm," Keiko mused as she studied the look on her guest's face, one that she took to be one of disappointment. "Is there any reason that we can't do both?
Silence hung in the air for what seemed the longest time as the two women faced each other on the couch, each with an arm stretched along the back and their legs tucked under. Neither was sure what to say next, but actions speak louder than words they both decided at the same time and one outstretched arm came to rest against the other.
The sensation of warm flesh against flesh caused both of them to giggle, a laugh that lasted just long enough to close the distance between them. Their first kiss was soft and gentle, but full of promise. After a heartbeats hesitation, each of them opened their mouths wide and pressed out to caress the tongue of the other. Audrey brought her arm off the edge of the couch and down around Keiko's back, sliding her hand up through her dark hair to pull her even closer.
Keiko responding by bringing one hand to rest against the redhead's large right breast, even as Audrey slipped her other hand down to the Asian woman's ass. Each kiss became more intimate than the last, their tongues probing the deepest recesses of each other's mouths.
The urgent intensity that Audrey felt reminded her that while it might only have been a month since Cleo had left, it had been more than twice as long since they'd been this intimate with each other. Measuring her own reaction to that of the woman in her arms, she could only guess that it had also been at least that long for Keiko.