CHANGE BEGINS – Part 1
by JoAnn Baca
CHANGE BEGINS – Part 2
by Jo Fredericks
PG-13 (mildly steamy)
Change begins at the end of your comfort zone.
~ Roy T. Bennett
Catherine waited while the office’s ancient Xerox machine did what it usually did: it groaned and made an ominous grinding sound until it finally yielded a copy of the document she had fed into it. The internal stapler hadn’t punctured the entire document, but she was ready for such a disappointment, wielding a staple remover to dislodge the partially inserted staple.
“If we only had good equipment, we’d get our work done a lot faster,” grumbled the lawyer behind her who was waiting to use the copier. As Catherine grabbed her originals from the document feeder tray, he stepped up beside her, ready to replace her at the ancient machine. Catherine heard it groaning again as he fed his original to it.
Impatiently checking her watch, a sheaf of paperwork crinkled in her hand, another colleague awaited her turn at the creaky copier. “When are we hiring more secretaries?” she grumbled as Catherine passed her.
“I assume that was a rhetorical question,” Catherine replied. She turned to look her coworker in the eye and they said in tandem: “Budget cuts.”
Catherine returned to her desk, trying to use her own stapler to bind the copied document. But when she pressed it, no staple emerged. Sighing, she fished through the drawers of her battered old desk, fingers sifting through the jumble of paperclips and markers until she found a box of staples. She knew there had been at least two strips of staples in it the last time she’d checked, but it was empty now, some sneak thief in her office having helped themselves to them. She could hardly blame them – office supplies were like gold these days. Still…
Catherine tossed the empty box into the trash and, grumbling nearly as loudly as the copier machine, stalked to Joe’s office.
He was out but what she needed didn’t depend on his presence. Doing what she deemed necessary, she rifled through the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet until she found his “secret” stash of staples.
Joe stopped short after entering his office, eyeing Catherine’s backside as she was bent over, in the process of committing petty theft. He grasped the sad reality that he needed a new hiding place for his hoarded office supplies.
Hearing him come in, Catherine remarked over her shoulder, “Remember that I’m your top investigator, Joe. Consider this a training exercise.” She rose and turned, shoving the file drawer shut with the heel of her boot and waving a strip of staples. “You still have a nearly full box, so don’t get too upset. What I have done is for the greater good!”
She left him shaking his head, laughing, and returned to her desk.
* * *
“You leaving, Radcliffe?”
The fact that she was wrapped up in her winter coat and was slipping on her leather gloves made it obvious, so she didn’t reply to his question. Instead she said, “Not if you need something.”
Joe shrugged. “The Marshall case. If we could still access LEXIS, this research would be a cinch, but without it, I’ve been in the law library most of the afternoon…”
Without a second thought, she began tugging off her gloves. “Still looking for a precedent?”
He nodded. She could see how relieved he was that she understood the urgency. “I hate to admit it, but you have a certain talent for finding obscure cases.”
“And of course you need it ‘yesterday,’” she added, smiling.
“You got it in one, kiddo.” He returned the smile with his lips, but she saw the intense look in his eyes.
She shrugged out of her coat. “Shall we?” she asked, taking his arm, and together they waked back to the library, zigzagging around the desks in their path.
* * *
“No applause, just a raise, if you please,” she announced an hour later as she waved him over to her side of the library table. She pointed to a particular decision in a volume of case law. Joe took the book and quickly read it through. When he was finished, he looked up at her and remarked, “How could I have missed this? It’s perfect!”
“Just another demonstration of why I should be moved from investigations to trial work.” Catherine said it with a nonchalant air, trying not to make it too pointed a comment. This was something she had been asking about for a while, but with the budget cuts, staffing had been frozen, and promotions like the one she was asking for were nearly impossible to come by. She knew she couldn’t expect it, but it didn’t mean she wouldn’t take an opportunity like this to point out her worth.
Dozens of case books were scattered on the table and empty chairs, mute evidence of their search. Catherine stood to begin replacing them on the shelves. “By the way,” she said casually, “you likely would have found that case earlier, but that volume was misplaced on the shelf.”
That knowledge darkened his brow. “Was it even in the right vicinity?” he growled, angry that someone’s thoughtless replacement of that one volume had potentially wasted hours of his time.
Catherine shook her head. “I actually only stumbled on it by chance. But you know how it’s been – everyone’s been pushed to their limits. Mistakes like mis-shelving are bound to happen when the lawyers have to do so much of the administrative work in addition to meeting their casework deadlines.”
The anger on his face dissipated as he took in the logic of her comment. She was sure he’d spent enough time trying to coax the cranky copier to work correctly and re-shelving books himself to know the truth of her observation. Still, she could understand his frustration well enough.
“You’re right,” he conceded. “Oh, and I won’t forget this.” He pointed to the case she had found.
She knew he wouldn’t…which would have to be enough for the time being. Meanwhile, she would keep harboring hope.
She turned to shelve another volume of the Reporter. Joe took it from her and set it back on the table. “Weren’t you going home? Don’t let me keep you.” Joe’s rakish smile was her dismissal.
As Catherine slipped into her winter gear for the trek home, she looked around. The office was quiet, most of the lights were off, although here and there an attorney was at their desk, head bent over notes, hours after what was euphemistically called quitting time. In the library, the desk lamp was on where Joe was working again, the pile of books still waiting to be shelved…and where she would likely find him if she returned several hours from now.
She thought about what she had asked for: a promotion to trial work. It was less dangerous and more predictable than her current assignments, to be sure. But it would still eat up a lot of hours. Was this what she wanted out of life?
Food for thought.
At the notion of food, her stomach grumbled. She smiled and shook her head. What and who she was truly hungry for had nothing to do with her stomach.
She resolved to ask about a change in circumstances there, too.
CHANGE BEGINS – Part 2
by Jo Fredericks
This portion of the story is slightly steamy (PG-13 rating)
A picnic by the waterfall was an idyllic way to spend a Saturday afternoon with Vincent, both because of the splendid natural architecture of the enormous cavern and (mostly) because she got Vincent all to herself for a few hours. Catherine sighed, content to lean against Vincent’s shoulder as she nibbled on dessert.
“Do I detect a note of vanilla?” she chanced asking, thoughtfully assessing the flavors in the best oatmeal cookie she had ever eaten.
“I can tell you are no baker,” he replied, chuckling. “I believe vanilla is in every oatmeal cookie recipe, William’s included.”
“Baking isn’t my strong suit,” she admitted, turning to look at him, a blush creeping over her features. “The only time I tried to make a cake, there were more lumps than cake.”
“You can’t be good at everything, Catherine.” He softened his assessment with a kiss to her nose. The tremor that shot through her at the touch of his lips made her glad that she had confessed the gap in her domestic skills.
“I brought chocolate.” Catherine reached into her backpack for the Toblerone bar, which she had remembered he liked. If Vincent ever expressed the slightest bit of delight in something she offered him when he visited her Above, she made a note to ensure she never forgot and that it was always available to offer to him in the future. Toblerone was high on his “delight” list, she knew. So she was expecting his happy sigh as he saw the quirkily shaped box, and she was not disappointed.
He lay back on the blanket, pulling her with him with his free arm. She unwrapped the candy for him so he would not have to remove his arm from around her, handing it to him in perfect triangular chunks. He grasped the offered pieces eagerly, one by one. She enjoyed the sensation of his jaw working against the top of her head as he rhythmically chewed the morsels. Life, she thought, cannot get better than this. She snuggled deeper into his embrace, listening to the music of the heart she knew was completely given to her, something he demonstrated in so many ways whenever they were together.
For long moments they didn’t speak, as Vincent consumed his gift. His zest for it was tempered by practicality, however. Once he had eaten half the bar, he asked her to re-wrap the rest. She understood the desire to delay more pleasure so he could savor it anew later. But his whispered “thank you” made her yearn to give him more…to give him everything. She sighed inwardly, wondering what the x factor was – something she hadn’t yet discovered, obviously – that could change Vincent’s mind about sharing other pleasures…not store-bought ones but those she knew they both longed for.
Catherine had to move from his side to do his bidding. Reluctantly, she pulled away, slipping out from under his arm so she could wrap the chocolate and place it in his backpack. She was on her knees, slipping it into a side pocket of the backpack, when she felt him shift position behind her. Suddenly, strong arms encircled her, his hands sliding down to capture hers.
He was pressed warmly against her, his broad chest to her back, his knees on either side of hers. She stayed perfectly still, the feeling of him surrounding her making her stomach flutter and her breath hitch unevenly in her chest. She briefly entertained the notion that she had passed out and was dreaming, because this was the most unexpected move Vincent had ever made…and that included that heart-meltingly intense moment when she had pricked her palm on the thorn of her rose bush and he had bent to kiss her pain away.
Unbidden, a low moan emerged from her throat and she finally moved, arching her head back, meeting his softly bristled cheek with her hotly blushing one. He brushed his cheek against hers, caressing her, while his hands stroked up her arms until he cupped her shoulders. Holding her still, he dipped his head forward, his lips grazing the long line of her neck, the tip of his tongue flicking along the pulsing vein carrying her heartblood.
Catherine was dizzy with anticipation, wanting desperately to turn within his arms and capture that unique mouth of his with her own. But while he was holding her still, she would be obedient to his need, and she was eager to discover all he would offer, all he desired.
When his palms moved from her shoulders to her breasts, her entire body quivered in response. He kneaded her gently for a moment then slipped one hand under her blouse to stroke her stomach. His fingers inched upward, working their way under her bra to cup one bare breast, which he squeezed and tugged until she pushed helplessly against his hand, silently demanding more. Her own arms reached behind her, behind him, to grasp his buttocks and pull him closer, grinding her hips against him, exhilarated with his body’s immediate response.
She wanted him so much, wanted his hands on her everywhere, his lips, his tongue…and more. She begged him, “Please…” and he let her turn within his arms, until she was facing him, both of them kneeling and leaning into each other, thigh to thigh, stomach to stomach, arms wrapped around each other, faces so close now…just millimeters apart…that a kiss was a temptation too great to deny.
Their mouths molded together as if made for each other, their breath a mixture of vanilla and chocolate that made them both smile inwardly. Their hunger was fed now by what their bodies decreed, and greedily they took what they wanted, what they needed, feeding each other’s passions and inflaming more.
Catherine gasped at Vincent’s intimate touch. He was nudging her gently…
Her eyelids fluttered open.
“You must have been dreaming,” he murmured, and she raised herself on one elbow to gaze down on him. He had a bemused smile on his face…and a little chocolate at the corner of his mouth. “I think you drifted off as I was eating the chocolate you brought.”
It had been a dream!
Frustration bloomed in her heart, and Catherine’s eyes filled with tears. She rose to her knees, her back to Vincent, embarrassed beyond belief by what he must have sensed through their Bond while she slumbered in his arms. She began to stuff the rest of the chocolate bar into his backpack for something to do, trying to regain her composure, disappointment filling her at her pointless imaginings which would do nothing but make sleep impossible again tonight.
As she was on her knees, closing the side pocket of the backpack…she felt Vincent shift position behind her. Suddenly, strong arms encircled her, his hands sliding down to capture hers…