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The Changing of Seasons Started by: AuroraMastrosimone on Oct 09, '19 05:59

"You mentioned him before, back in Milan. Well... good luck catching your rabbit. And another time sounds fine. Tara's actually scheming to try to get us to move in together." Ori glanced at Tara for a moment before looking back at Brigitte. "You get an extra layer of security, I get money and the chance to live somewhere where there aren't any rats to name. Find somewhere with soundproof walls so I don't have to listen to you and this Eli 'skinning rabbits' and I'd consider it."

She shrugged. It was an interesting possibility, but she didn't particularly care. She hadn't been 'home' in over a week, so it didn't matter too much. 

"Have fun in Montreal, then. Ready, Tara?"

Ori looked again at Tara before looking away and crossing her arms.

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"I'll see what I can find in the way or high rises with soundproofing."  Brigitte chuckled on her way out of Tara's room.  "Later ladies."

Tara smiled softly at Ori's eyes coming to rest on her even for a moment.  Reaching into her purse she pulled out a set of keys.  "I might have located the keys to the Duesenberg.  It belonged to my grandmother and she knew her cars... thought you might like to drive or would you rather we take a cab?"

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Ori looked at Tara steadily for the first time and grinned.

"Oh... this'll be fun."

Five minutes later they'd left a note and talked their way past the bodyguards into the garage. Oriana had walked around the car first, trailing a single admiring finger around the body before lowering herself onto the leather seats.

"Your grandmother had excellent taste. Hop in- and buckle up."

Soon, they were hurtling along the freeway. Oriana's hair was blowing wildly behind her, and Tara's was threatening to escape her bun from the sheer forced of the wind. Oriana slid the car to the left lane, moving past a slower moving car and shifting the engine into the next gear. 

"This is fun!" shouted Oriana.

"What?!" 

"Nothing!"

They exited the highway after an exhilarating ride; Oriana, despite her penchant for speed, was a good driver, and she really only opened up the engine when it was safe to do so. Getting off the highway so soon after leaving the Mastrosimone house was like being transported to a different world: a world full of shitty looking buildings and businesses and shady looking individuals working on every corner. Oriana parked the car in front of a particularly rough looking bar and exited with Tara following closely at her heels.

Oriana, running a hand through her wild, windblown hair, strolled into the bar like she owned the place. A few patrons glanced her way, and the bartender scoffed at her.

"Shit. Disappear for a week and come back looking like you've had a roll in the hay."

Oriana smirked. "Anyone been in my room?"

"Just your usual roommates."

"Good." 

Oriana fished some money out of her pocket and slid it to the bartender, before walking past the mostly empty bar and heading up the curved stairwell. There was only one door at the top, and Ori undid three or four locks before it finally swung open. The interior of the bedroom was old and an ill repair, dusty but not outright dirty. There was a bed, a wardrobe with another lock on it, a couch, a small stove,  a small, beat up radio, and a door that presumably led to a bathroom.

"Just give me a minute to rinse off. Grab the key from under the wardrobe and pick something out for me. Your taste, obviously, has come a long way- or was that Brigitte?"

Not waiting for an answer and kicking off her shoes, evidently eager to get in the shower, Ori made her way to the bathroom and closed the door behind her. Inside the wardrobe, Tara found an assortment of guns, knives, dresses, shirts, pants, skirts, and other clothing that seemed far too nice for the setting. It was obvious where all of Ori's money went. Listening to the water run, Tara considered the dozen dresses hanging in the wardrobe.

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Tara opened the wardrobe and stared a moment, uncomfortable at first with entering into her friend's private things, but the fear was soon replaced by that insatiable curiosity that so often led Tara to do things that she knew she shouldn't: sneaking out to follow her mother, stealing the journals, sneaking into town ...

Gingerly she touched one garment and the next, her fingers floating across gauzy blue cloth the color of a summer sky and black cotton.  Soft colors and fabrics contrast with the harshness of leather and heavy knit. Like Ori herself, the closet was a contradiction, no theme, no stable identifying factor which would have labeled the other woman as one type of personality or another.  Her clothing was as varied as the skin of a chameleon, and then Tara realized, that was very likely intentional.  This was a go bag as much as anything, more full... fancier perhaps, but no better than the bags she and her siblings had packed since the day they were born and the ones under her parents' bed.

Tara drew a breath and decided to stop looking for some insight into Oriana in something as stupid as clothing - only Brigitte would anything into it more than 'what looked pretty' at the moment.  

Instantly Tara dismissed the blue one.  It felt wrong alongside her white, as if they would be going to a costume party as the sky on a summer day, a thought that made her giggle.  The pearl color one was also pretty but dismissed for similar reasons, and if she was being really honest, it was too soft for Ori.  It felt, wrong somehow.

Tara admired the gold cocktail dress and could imagine Ori wearing it into a casino, all smiles, laughing and surrounded by men who were longing to get a closer look at more than just her lucky hand of cards.  Tara put the dress back.

The navy blue one seemed nice.  It was something that Tara might have worn but with the plunging neckline, it felt too similar to her own dress in style.  Were they wanting to look like twins?  No.  Not so much, though she did want to see Ori in the dress... maybe she'd find another reason for her to wear it in the future?  Tara made mental note to find such a reason.

This left two dresses.  The black cocktail dress was classic.  It wasn't overly fancy and was probably a perfect mate to her own dress.  Tara held it up beside her and looked down at the two dresses side by side.  Closing her eyes she imagined the most foolish and impossible scene, Ori dancing with her in the way her parents so often danced - the way they had when they took her out for her sixteenth birthday.  The whole room had watched them and held their breath as if Fred Astaire, who her father always claimed to know personally, had come out onto the floor.  They were perfection itself and in her mind's eye, she imagined Ori twirling her in such a way and for a moment she almost threw the dress on to the bed choosing it.

She hesitated though, as she opened her eyes, and realized that such fantasies were the thing of fairytales.  Even if, IF, Ori did like girls and they shared something more than friendship ... well, there would never be a world in which she and Ori could act that way in public.  Ori and she would never walk around boldly holding hands - let alone dancing.  Sighing she put the dress back, her hand lingering on it a moment before withdrawing and pulling out the final dress.

By default, it would be her choice and yet, Tara found herself admiring the garment for its own qualities.  The colors, for one, made her smile.  They reminded her of the forest which she felt so at home in.  There was the leather, which wasn't overly soft like the blue and pearl dresses had been.  Instead, the dress was a mix of hard and soft, like Ori herself.  Moments where she was all aggressive and resistant to the outside world, and other times where she was soft and flexible, the sort of thing you wanted to wrap your whole life up in.

Tara caressed the fabric in her hands and then brushed it against her cheek.  The daydream of dancing returned, and for a moment Tara indulged it, inhaling the scent of the fabric, smiling fondly.  This dress, this one was her Ori.  Tara pulled it away to look at it again and in horror recoiled as she saw the smudge of peach makeup on it!  

"Oh no, no no..."  Tara quickly tried to wipe away Brigitte's carefully applied foundation from the dress and then realized Ori would be out any second and now her make-up wasn't blended on her face!  Having to make a split-second decision, Tara put the dress back into the wardrobe, makeup stain facing towards the back and threw the black dress on the bed.  Pulling the compact from her purse she began fixing the make-up as Brigitte had shown her and finished just before she heard Ori coming out of the bathroom.  

"The black one."  She said quickly, trying desperately not to look overly nervous and frustrated at her own stupidity!  She hoped it was a long ass time before Ori pulled out her green and leather dress.  Maybe she wouldn't have any clue how the make-up got on there?  Tara prayed for a miracle, an angel to come down and lift the pale color out of the fabric so that she might be spared absolute humiliation.  

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Ori stood in the shower, letting the water run through her hair as she swished water around in her mouth and spat it against the wall. Part of her felt like she should already be going after Francesco. He killed Lucia, Ori reminded herself, steeling her conscious self that was feeling butterflies in her stomach. No, that part of her felt like she should be going out with Francesco, rather than going after him. That Oriana must have been confused about what happened that day with Ginevra, Lucia, and the other girls. She needed to put a bullet in Francesco Bianchi, preferably from a long distance so he couldn't start talking and twist up her insides and her indecision the way he always did. 

 

But no, she still had to report to Billy before she left. It wouldn't do to vanish before a debriefing. This night was Tara... it'd be fun. It barely looked like the same girl, although Ori had seen flashes of what Tara was capable of becoming, back in the woods. There was no use in thinking about Tara as anything other than a friend- or possible eye candy. In addition to all the baggage she already had, Oriana fully intended to leave New York as soon as she could and hunt down Francesco.

Perhaps Tara would come with her?

The thought froze Ori. It would be easier to hunt with a friend- someone to remind her that Ori had to pull the trigger. Except that Tara would almost certainly get herself killed. Unless her training... Ori shook her head, dismissing the thought. Tara was a friend- and all of Ori's friends died. It was better not to let the girl get too involved. 

The hot water ran out before Oriana's thoughts did, and she cursed as she wrenched the water off. She grabbed a long, fluffy towel that was one of her few luxuries and, after drying off, put her hair up in it. Then she slipped into the silk robe hanging in the back of her bathroom door; it was red, and it fell to her mid-thigh. Was it wrong that she was annoyed by how distracting Tara looked? Time to re-balance the scales, then. Leaving the front of the robe slightly more open than it had to be, Ori emerged from the bathroom.

"The black? Good choice. Certainly appropriate, considering the two of us. Give me a few minutes."

It was more than a few minutes, but Ori emerged with her hair slightly wavy, makeup applied, and with the black cocktail dress on. 

"Shall we?"

A few minutes later they were in the car; this time, Ori stuck to the side streets, unwilling to go too fast.

"So what sort of place did you want to go to again? I've got a couple different targets- options."

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Ori had this way about her, it was comparable to driving in the Duesenberg.  Sleek, sexy, it made you want to do all the things that were against the rules - go too fast, hug the curves too tightly, and run every bright red light that screamed stop with absolute reckless abandon. 

Fuck the rules.  Fuck the whole damn world!  

Tara moved across the room and grabbed the other woman at the base of her neck pulling her down slightly to kiss her, her hand sliding inside the robe to explore the places on another human body her hands had never gone before.

"So what sort of place did you want to go to again? I've got a couple different targets- options."

Tara had been drifting in and out of fantasies of this sort since the moment Ori had first came out of the bathroom.  Her heart felt like it would explode and she wanted to scream at the top of her lungs for elation and fear that warred within her.  She knew it wasn't a second date, the first date hadn't been a date, but it felt like a second date.

"I, um... I don't know any restaurants except the ones my mother takes me to.  That's half the point of asking you to take me out.  I grew up in the middle of the woods, New York might be home but I barely know the city still.  The only places I go are wall-to-wall button men watching my every move so my dad doesn't kick their asses..."

She sighed.  "If I'm ever going to let my hair down and enjoy myself, well, I got to get out from under their eyes a while.  With Mattaranzi dead, we got nothing to worry about and nothing but time.  I figured why not go out and celebrate a bit?  Find some hot spot with something good to eat and drink, maybe a real happenin' band.  I figured you probably knew those sorts of places.  You look like you know where a girl can have a good time in any city you walk into."  

Tara smiled at her, she was trying to compliment Ori but instantly realized it might be taken the wrong way and she blushed.  "I mean to say... just that you're a bit more worldly than I am.  That's all and since I'm all thumbs I need a pro to teach me how to do this too."

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"It's hard not to be more worldly than you, Tara. But give it some time. You'll catch up. There's a jazz bar on Manhattan, not the sort of place your parents would go. It's... well, it's not a rough crowd. But there's a lot of underworld types there, mostly businessmen. Earners, Wise Guys, mostly. Good dancing, if that's your thing. I've been there a few times, and it's been... fruitful."

She shrugged. 

"But I don't know too many places either, except where my jobs have taken me. The Silver Shark is... well, it's a little out there, like I said. Flashy, in your face. The sort of place that would annoy me if I wasn't dead in ten years, but for now I just sort of enjoy the loudness and the darkness. They do have good fish, though, and I'm starving after you let me sleep so long. I need to sink my teeth into something substantial."

 

A few minutes later they pulled up to the club. It was bigger than most establishments- a converted warehouse that had been reconverted to a large restaurant and dance hall. There were a couple dozen tables on an elevated area with a bar, while the band was located on the other side of the large room. A dance floor, still mostly empty considering the early hour, rested in between the band and the dining area. The band was playing slow for now, but there was a slow building sense of electricity in the air.

The rest of the tables were filling up, but Ori seemed to know the host and got them a table for two. The music was audible, but it didn't interrupt conversation. Ori sat down and carefully crossed her legs, placing her small purse on the table with a heavier than expected clunk.

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Tara’s stomach complained softly as the scents of dinner being served wafted to her.  She eagerly looked left and right, taking in everything and everyone in the room. The linens on the tables, the china, stemware - everything was beautiful!  As much as she hated Brigitte’s stories about the cities she claimed she never wanted to see, she marveled at the massive wonders made of steel and glass that housed such places as this.

Tara wasn’t a tall woman, but here she felt small, beneath the high vaulted ceiling dressed up in it’s twinkling lights far above them.  The rumble of the dozens of people talking was like a hive of bees all agitated from her stealing their honey. The clinking of silverware on the plates was a strange counterpoint to the perfectly performed music at the far end of the room.  Tara stared a long moment at the woman singing in front of the band, the way her gloved hand cradled the shining silver microphone and crooned her words into it like a lover coming in for a kiss… 

The younger woman smiled warmly and stepped half a step closer to Ori as a man that they were passing gave her with an appreciative glance.  Tara felt like the whole room was staring at them, as if they knew what she was thinking - what she really wanted.  

The host pulled out Tara’s chair and then Oriana’s.  “Wow, this is some place! Look at that dance floor. They must have someone polish the damn thing by hand, you could almost see your reflection in it I bet!”  Her eyes were alight with excitement, wide with wonder, it wasn’t that she hadn’t seen such things before - she had - but never in this context. Perhaps she could never make Oriana understand it, but she wouldn’t apologize for it or pretend she wasn’t as happy as she was.  If there was anything she was willing to accept as fact from the journals… it was that life should be enjoyed and happiness was never meant to be hidden.

Oriana grinned, although it wasn’t clear if she was more amused by the club itself or Tara’s reaction. Oriana had made sure that she was seated where she could get a clear view of the entrances, as well as an office, visible up a flight of stairs and through a large window. 

The waiter approached and Oriana arched a curious eyebrow. Tara didn’t say anything, so Ori said “Pinot Grigio- a bottle.” That sent the waiter hurrying away and Ori shrugged. “Not sure if you drink.”

“Italians, aren’t we all born drinking something?”  she smirked. “I don’t even remember the first time I had wine.”

“I should have figured your parents got wine in the woods. Unfortunately for me, I’m a lightweight. My only flaw as an agent. I got good at hiding it, making it seem like I’d had more, that sort of thing. It was one of the few things I really failed at. No matter how much I drank, I couldn’t build up much of a tolerance.”

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Tara tilted her head to the side, “I never would have guessed that about you.  You’re in such good physical condition, I would have figured your body would have just… I don’t know, handled it?  My dad can drink, but if you put him head to head with my tiny mother… guess who wins every time?” She chuckled. “So maybe you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, as they say?”

 

“Yeah,” Oriana nodded. “It just goes right to my head. I can’t explain it, fix it… tried everything.” 

 

“Hopefully it’s not a sign you have a weaker liver.  My grandfather had some liver issues before he … passed away.  Had to stop drinking according to my mom.”

 

“Well that’s fucking cheerful.”

 

Tara bit her lip and looked away sheepishly.  “Sorry.” She winced. “I just… sometimes I say the first thing in my head.  I guess maybe I could filter things a little better, couldn’t I?” She tried to laugh it off.

 

“Saying the first thing in your head is something you need to work on, mob bo- thank you,” purred Oriana as the waiter brought the bottle of wine.

 

Tara laughed behind her hand.

 

“And what are you ladies having this evening?”

 

Tara stopped herself from immediately blurting out that Oriana would have the crow.  Instead she smirked at the other woman and her ‘carefully chosen words.’

 

“Salmon for me,” said Oriana immediately. “Grilled.”

 

“Doubtful you have venison?”  Tara arched an eyebrow. Seeing the look on the waiter’s face she nodded.  “Steak then. Medium rare.” She folded up the menu and passed it off not having looked at it really.  She’d only been to about half a dozen places and at none of them had her parents ever ordered off a menu.  Steak was always a safe bet, or chicken. Seldom did she find places that didn’t have one or both.

 

The waiter left them again. Oriana poured herself a glass of wine, then poured one for Tara. 

“Should we toast to your successful trip?”  She said, still feeling like there were eyes watching them all around the room.  As a result she tried to keep her eyes on her companion’s eyes and occasionally her mouth while she was speaking.  The black dress really was kinda pretty, even if it was more simple than the green one. It had been a solid choice.

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“Here’s to you keeping me sane while I was penned up in Milan. That was the hardest part of the whole damn trip. I almost ditched your family about thirty times, except that I knew they’d have been in trouble without me.”

Tara paused and realized of everything she’d said to her so far, that one thing probably meant the most to her.  Oriana hadn’t stayed out of a sense of duty to Catalina or for the kicks that a job like that might have given her, she’d stayed because her family needed her.  Tara raised her glass, “Here’s to the most gifted teacher a girl could ask for. Hopefully all of our classes together are as pleasurable as this one.” She smiled and put her glass to her lips to take a sip.

Oriana smirked.

“For not knowing too many places in New York, you didn’t pick a bad one.  I almost half expected us to end up in … well, maybe that’s me talking without thinking again.”  she slammed her jaw shut, rolling her eyes at her loose tongue.

“In where?”

“When my sister and I went searching for you, before we went out into the woods together, we must have visited ever dive bar on the edges of Manhattan.  Some of them weren’t too bad, and I could have spent time in those but a few were… well, let’s just say they were places my father wouldn’t have approved of and my grandfather would have probably gone looking for a rough night and long following morning.”

“Well, I can’t take you anywhere you won’t get hit on, but I figured we’d at least avoid the places where guys are too ready to grab your ass. And your grandfather sounds like fun.”

“I didn’t know him, but Mom has the best stories about him and from what I saw in Nona’s journal she’s only missing about ½ of who he really was in total.  Which is pretty good I think. I suppose most parents don’t share who they really are with their kids … and maybe kids don’t really share who they are with their parents either for that matter.”  

She drank from her wine glass, thinking about Ori’s comment regarding men hitting on her.  Was she fishing? Did she suspect or was it just about how she felt regarding the parties at college?  That was probably more likely, an assumption based on everything she’d said so far. She decided a single remark on it couldn’t be that bad and so she gave her words only a moment more thought than the previous ones, “And I appreciate you protecting my ass… from guys I mean.  At the other places. And the parties.” She drank from her glass again. “You know what I mean.”

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“Still wearing your ring, I see. Didn’t expect you to need it around your family.”

 

“Oh they know about the story we made up.  I figured it was better to keep it on all the time.  That way if I run into anyone I know, I don’t have to justify why I’m not wearing it.”

 

“Makes sense. Thought about going back to school anymore? Since I’ve been out of it for a day.” Oriana glanced around for the waiter- no way their food would be ready, yet, but she hadn’t been this hungry except when she was on the run. Even then, it wasn’t usually this bad. She drank her wine, enjoying the flavor even as it splashed on her empty stomach. She glanced up toward the office as she listened to Tara.

 

“Well, not really.  Honestly, Brigitte pretty much kidnapped me and we spent all day out in these stores in Manhattan where they try to ply you with wine to buy more dresses than you need.  I got this one but Brigitte bought four.” she chuckled. “She really is hopeless. I almost pity the man who marries her. He’s going to be working his whole life just to keep her supplied in dresses and shoes.”  Tara fidgeted with the ring, now that she was reminded of it, it was hard not to do so. It was becoming a nervous habit for her. If she had half a mind for gambling, she’d realize it was a terrible tell.

 

“She’ll be fine. She was tougher than I thought she’d be in Italy. I still had to keep an eye out for her, but she handled herself well.”

 

“It’s good to know in a pinch she can handle herself.  She’s a good person really. I mean, I know she’s a touch spoiled and materialistic but no one in the world has a bigger heart except maybe my Dad or Gavin.  Probably Gavin if we’re being honest and if animals count. My brother once nursed a possum back to health only to have it attack him for his troubles about a dozen times.”  she shook her head.

 

“Big hearts get people in trouble. People are worse than possums.” Oriana glared over her shoulder. “And if this food doesn’t hurry up, I’m going to stab someone.”

 

Tara put down her napkin.  “Give me a moment.” She said standing up.

 

“I should really stop you, because I’m not sure you understand how restaurants work. But I’m curious to see what you’re going to do here. Just don’t drop your name. Incognito, remember?”

 

“Trust me.  This part I’ve seen done a dozen times.  Salmon, right?” she smirked and made her way towards the kitchen.  Tara’s father normally did this with waiters and she probably could have gotten away with it, but Ori had a point, dropping her name wouldn’t be the wisest move.  So, she’d just go right to the source and make sure she dropped her friend’s name… of whom she had many, in her wallet.  

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Mastrosimone made men jump, but so did the names of US Presidents and given into the right hands, the salmon meant for table five was going to find its way to Ori first.  The other table would just have to wait a little longer. For a man being paid to wait on tables or bus them, it was a small thing… he’d get an ear full from someone above him but the greenbacks in his pocket would soften the blow, of that Tara was sure.  

The conversation was a quick one, very little had to be said once the cash was pushed into the young man’s pocket, she just made sure he knew where the fish was to be misdirected and she slipped back out of the kitchen as quickly as she’d gone in - as if she was supposed to have been there the whole damn time.  People didn’t ask questions when you acted like you were MEANT to be in a place. No one wanted to be the person who asked the nice lady in the nice dress what the hell she was doing when she LOOKED like she knew where she was meant to be.  

Tara smoothed out her dress and walked back to the table calmly and settled back into her chair and waited.  She watched the door to the kitchen and sure enough, the fish was on its way to the table, as promised. Of course, she hadn’t thought to ask for her steak but she could wait.  It was Ori she didn’t want in a sour mood all night after all and if a little food put her in good spirits - so be it.

Ori didn’t want until the plate was on the table before she made her move for it. She cut it quickly, eating and expertly slicing her way through the first half without looking up toward Tara. Halfway through, she slowed down and leaned back in her chair, crossing her legs again.

“Sorry. Been a long… three days? Just that soup and sandwich. We were moving quick out of Venice, and then with all the sleeping… I get in the zone when I’m working.” She shrugged. “Thanks. I was just going to swipe someone else’s, but I guess your way works better.”

Tara watched Ori eating and found it oddly enjoyable.  Seeing her dig into her plate eagerly, a plate she’d provided her with, made something in Tara feel … warm?  Yes. Warm. It was a pleasant feeling to know she could make people do things and that she could provide something to someone she cared about.  That Ori was happy, that she had made Ori happy, that was one of the most pleasant feelings she’d had in a very long while.  

“Well, creative kitchen expediting is probably not a degree at Vassar, but it is a class at the sort of schooling that my father was providing to me while you were away.  One of many lessons I had to digest fast. Who has time for waiting on waiters when the whole fucking city is burning around your ears if you don’t answer this message or that phone call?  It seemed like no one in the whole damn city knew how to wipe their ass without a direct order from my dad’s desk for the last week.” she shook her head. “I am glad you like the salmon, and I think I like it when I’m the one helping you with something for once.  Rare as it is, it’s rather like the wine I think.”

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“How so?” Oriana, reminded of the wine, drank more and savored it.

 

Tara thought about her words a lot longer than she had earlier, clearly concerned with what was about to issue forth from the lips that had sunk a million social ships.  “Valuable.”  

 

For a while that was the only answer.  She had a look in her eyes that suggested she was thinking about that concept a bit more than she was explaining and then, after another minute of considering she continued, as Oriana ate and listened.  

 

“The wine has an effect on you.  It makes you feel a certain way. If it's crafted of well-grown fruit in the right season, in the right place - if it sits long enough, it becomes something more than spoiled juice.  It becomes desirable. People will pay a lot of money to experience it. The longer it sits, the rarer it is, the more people will give for it. The most expensive bottles cost more money than most men see in their entire lives and … when you find something that makes you happy, well… you pay the price.  I’m just saying that it was nice. I liked it because it was rare. You know so much more than me. That’s all.”

 

Tara took another, deep, draught from her glass.

 

“Well, I think the wine is having an effect on you. You’re even more talkative than usual. And usually is a lot. And I don’t know that much more than you. Just… different things.”

 

“I’m fruit juice.  You’re wine. What you know scares some people.  It doesn’t scare me. I know that what we know and what we do - it isn’t who we are.  There’s more to you than this.”

 

“Not much. And why are you fruit juice?”

 

Tara laughed.  “When you came into my house and found the great Aurora baking cookies - you’re gonna tell me that you didn’t think of it as all a little mundane?  I mean, if mom is mundane… well, I’m … boring. Basic. Fruit juice beside wine.”

 

“Aurora baking cookies is sad… but I suppose it’s also a victory. I’m better than she is, but the odds of me living to be 30 are basically zero. She lived long enough to get bored.” Oriana shrugged. 

 

Tara stared at Oriana. She wanted to tell the woman she was wrong.  She wanted to tell her that she could have just as long of a life but facts were what they were.  It was what she wanted Brigitte and Gavin to accept, what she’d begged them to see and only now were they reaping the fruits of having ignored her warnings.  The harvest was a bitter one for the whole family and she supposed she would do everything she could to soften the impending doom that seemed to be looming above them… but Ori was right.  How could she hope to see forty in such a life? If she really was making this choice, for herself and her family, then Vassar wasn’t just a pipe dream, it was a waste of time. If her life had a timer - maybe she was better living it while she still had the time?

 

“And you’re fishing for compliments. You ran a city, basically, while your father was out of commission, and you’ve been getting checked out by at least four guys since we sat down. Calling yourself fruit juice isn’t going to make me… well, unless you’re just trying to get me to tell you that you need to go bad.” Oriana smirked and returned to her salmon.

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“Four guys?”  She arched an eyebrow, ignoring the accusation that she was fishing for compliments.

“Grey suit, 10 o’ clock. Blue shirt, 5 o’clock and his friend. And an old guy behind you, but I’m not sure about him. You might just look like his granddaughter or something”

Tara rested her chin on her hand and casually looked around at the men that Ori mentioned before looking back to her friend.  “Maybe. But let’s face it, you could put tits on a fish and a guy would look. It’s hardly a sign of quality that a man is fascinated by the low cut of my dress.”

“What is a sign of quality then, Queen of Forest Romance?”

“Witty repartee,”  Tara smirked and almost immediately regretted saying it.  She didn’t want to flirt with Ori but it was hard not to, especially here, waiting on her dinner and watching the other woman so comfortable in this environment.  

“Maybe a few other things, but are we really going to discuss what I find fascinating about the opposite sex?  We could be talking about much more interesting topics.”

“Such as?” Oriana finished her salmon and pushed the plate away from her, content, just as Tara’s dinner- and another salmon- arrived. 

“I’m sorry, Miss, I wasn’t aware you already-”

“It’s fine, I’ll take it.”

Oriana accept the second plate and cut into it, moving slowly but obviously pleased with the situation.

Tara looked relieved as her dinner arrived, as if the poor beast had died just to save her from her damnable tongue  Tara instantly began to eat, hoping that the desire to fill her belly might move them onto another topic afterward.

“The chef cooked this perfectly.  It’s delicious. Would you like to try it?”  She motioned to her plate.

“I’m good, thank you. I tend to stick to fish and chicken, although I do appreciate a good steak. Just don’t want to mix things up too much after not eating for so long.”

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Tara nodded.  “Well, I assume since you picked a place with a dance floor that you must dance at least a little?”

 

“Part of my training.”

 

“I suppose that makes sense.  Normally I’d dance with my father or Gavin if we were out and about.  I’m definitely not letting gray suit or the other two guys offer their services - but maybe someone else.”  Tara began looking around the room wondering what man might be able to keep up with her who wouldn’t immediately try to put the moves on her.

 

“You will want to dance, right?  I mean, that is why you picked this place?”

 

“I picked this place because you seemed like you wanted something like this. I’ll dance. Just… give me some time to sit first. I feel like…” She leaned back in her seat. “... a grizzly bear. Or something.”

 

“You ate two fish, you’ll be lucky if you don’t look like one by the time the night is over.”  She chuckled. “Though after three days with so little food, I suppose it makes sense.”  

 

“Salmon’s light enough. One of the reasons I like it. I’ll be fine.”

 

“You seem to have picked this place for my sake - if I had asked you to take me where you go for a good time… where would we have ended up?”

 

“Here. I’m mostly sure that the owner has a bounty on him. Thought I’d do some scouting. But it is a good place. I wouldn’t take you somewhere boring.”

 

Tara smirked.  Her mind wandered back to the journals.  There were only a few parts that she and Brigitte had hovered over together, giggling madly.  None of those passages were written by Aurora - she’d tried to skip most of the intimate parts of her mother’s writings.  Lucy and Bella’s however, well, who could blame a girl for wanting to read those?  

 

Grandpa Gavin, in his youth had often taken Nona Bella out to places where he was also doing double duty.  Dating and plotting murder. In fact, it seemed that more than once work was part of the fun. Listening to Ori talk this way only served to bring back all the sordid details from those journals to her mind causing Tara to blush a bit and the corners of her mouth to bend up towards her eyes.

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“So… a work night and a little fun.  Business and pleasure?” She sipped her wine again, considering refilling her glass.  

“Don’t expect to actually make a move tonight. Just want to look for patterns, security. All the boring parts that help things run smoothly.”

“And the fact that I just walked into the kitchen without being stopped was probably not a bad sign for your future work here?  Well, I’m glad my little ask worked out well for you too.” Tara cast her eyes about the room.

“I’m not complaining. What about the bar over there? Two guys, leaning on the end. Look like brothers. Tall, big shoulders. Strong jaws. More to your liking? Or the blond guy and his friend on the dance floor?”

She shrugged.  “Brigitte likes big guys.  I don’t know.” She met Ori’s eyes, “What’s your pleasure tonight?  Some of this should be about you after all. Girls night out - you should get a little enjoyment out of this task of dragging me out onto the town.”

“I’m enjoying myself.”

“They could be brothers,”  Tara said thoughtfully. “I do think they look very similar.  Can’t be much older than I am. Do you suppose they’ve even looked our way?  I mean, not that it would be hard for you to get them to look this way probably…”

“Stop it. Go over there and say hi, they’ll be fighting over you. Fisher.”

Tara hesitated.  She felt like an idiot.  The last thing she wanted to do was to get two guys to fight over her when she didn’t want the attention of one of them, let alone two!  At best they were tools to enjoy a spin around the dance floor but inevitably they would want to talk and that would lead to flirting because a beautiful woman in need of a dance partner must obviously be in want of a boyfriend.  

Me and my fucking mouth…  Tara wiped her lips clean of the last bits of wine and steak.

Oriana smirked.

“Or stay here. But don’t be self-defecating.” Oriana finished her glass of wine and had started to pour the other. “Deprecating…. But not the other thing, either.” She paused. “I need bread.”

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“You could switch to water, if you wanted.”  Tara said realizing only now how hard the wine was hitting her friend and how hard Ori was hitting the wine.

 

“It’s fine. I’m not going to fall over. Pretty sure I could still kill everyone in this room. Just an empty stomach. And it goes to my head, like I said.” Finishing pouring the wine, she sipped from her water instead.

 

“Well, better be careful with that, we know where things like that le…”  Tara snapped her jaw shut and pushed the wine away and took up her own water.  “You know what? Maybe we could both stand for less wine tonight. I’ll stay away from it in solidarity with you.  Water for me for a while until this food settles in me.”

 

“I’m just restless.” She glanced up at the office again. “I get… lost a bit when I’m not working on anything.”

 

“Do you work all the time then?”  Tara asked, her voice a little gentler, less jovial and more concerned.

 

“Pretty much. It’s basically been my life since I was 12. Even when I was in the orphanage they kept us busy all day. Program was more intense than that. I got used to always having something I was supposed to be working on. So now I finish something like Venice, and I get a rush from it, but then I have to start working on the next thing.”

 

“What sort of things did you stay busy with at the orphanage?  Did you … have any hobbies or anything you enjoyed as a kid?” Tara rested her chin on her palm again.

 

“They had work for us. Cleaning. Reading. School. Mostly singing.”

 

“Do you still enjoy singing then?  I mean, I assume you probably sang mostly hymns at an Italian Orphanage, yes?  And read the bible… but reading and singing are pretty normal hobbies.”

 

“I don’t really sing anymore. This line of work isn’t really conducive to that.”

 

“Maybe that’s because you haven’t found a creative way to work it in.”  Tara smirked. “You know they do have a stage up there. And I bet the owner has to interview all his acts before he slates them to appear.  Probably has them demonstrate their talent, in private shows… could be that you use your skill with singing to get close to your mark.”

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“I’ve considered it. Almost posed as a singer for a party in Italy we were trying to get into, but decided on another approach. For now, I’d rather not be remembered- and singing is the quickest way to do the opposite.”

“It’s a damn crime.”  She shook her head. “No one should have to give up something they love for the life - seems a pattern I keep seeing though.  Art is sacrificed on the altar of power.”

“Well, life’s not fair. In fact, it’s aggressively unfair, as you know.”

Tara looked at her wine and picked the glass back up and lifted it slightly to Ori, “Which is why we cheat.  Fuck what life says. Right? We make our own rules. The ride only lasts so long so why should we be miserable on it - that’s what Brigitte is always saying.  Maybe she’s got a point.”  

“Maybe. But I don’t want to sing. Sometimes, rarely, I do want to. Mostly, I don’t.”

Tara took another drink and leaned over the table and in a conspiratorial voice she asked, “So what do you want to do?”

Tara drank her wine finishing the last of her second glass.

Oriana was quiet for a long time, as she looked steadily at Tara.

“You can be a real pain in the ass sometimes, you know that?” She said it, however, with a smile. She was teasing, not stinging.

Tara pushed Ori’s wine glass back towards her, staring back and returning her smile.

“If I drink that, driving home becomes a riskier proposition.”

“Maybe we don’t drive home.”  She offered.  

“Have you ever been drunk before?”

“Do you really want another story about me and my siblings and-”

“Yes.”

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Tara sighed.  “Yes. I’ve been drunk.  Three times before coming to Vassar.  Twice at Vassar. The first time was me, Brigitte, and Gavin out in the woods.  We found this old hunting cabin and got in through a window. The hunters left some alcohol, whiskey unless I miss my mark, hard to say it wasn’t labeled and all I recall about it was that it burned my mouth and made me vomit so hard I was sure I’d know the color of my stomach before it was done.”

 

Tara couldn’t hold in the laugh, “Of course, Gavin cried the whole way back home and Brigitte was begging us not to tell.  She was the only one who didn’t get sick and she swore she was never going to show us anything fun ever again because we ruined it for her.  I later learned that wasn’t her first or last visit to that hunter’s cabin.”

 

Tara’s smirk said all one needed to know about the hunter.

 

“The second time was me and Gavin in town.  That trip got Gavin into a shit ton of trouble but not for months after the fact.”

 

“How so?”

 

“He wasn’t supposed to take me into town.  I made the mistake of letting one of my ill-gotten books make an appearance and my parents knew one of us had made it into town without them knowing about it.  When Gavin took the rap I thought I was off the hook, but yeah, no. At least they never learned about the drinking at the tavern. Gavin would have gotten his ass kicked for that one.”

 

“The last time in Canada was when I showed them the journals.  We let Jack and Isabella drink that day too. Was their first time.  We had something of a family meeting without mom and dad that day and had some real airing of laundry amongst ourselves.  Needless to say, that’s a fight I lost and I drank more of the rum than anyone. I and rum have always had a very special relationship since that day.”  Tara rolled her eyes at the end of her statement about rum.  She could still taste the spiced alcohol on her tongue to this very day and yet, she’d gone back to it a few times since then.

.  

“Once mom and dad found out about Gavin’s girlfriend in town and then the missing journals the whole damn thing blew up.  It was like every secret any of us had just got put on the damn table and there wasn’t enough alcohol in all of Canada to make any of it better.  Mom and Dad were upset, we were upset, everyone was yelling … it was chaos. And before I knew it things were decided. We were coming here. And here we are.  And I, well, I drank another bottle of rum.”

 

“Families are messy.”

 

“They were doing what they thought was best.  They were wrong, of course, but silver linings… I met you.”  She smiled.  

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“The other two times are less interesting.  Parties at Vassar. Me making an idiot of myself and me ending the night wrapped around a drink trying to forget that I tried to make friends at all.”  Tara shrugged. “Things have gotten better since I met you though so, again, counting this all as build up to a pretty damn good win.”

“I’m not going to say that we’re not friends, because we are, but I will remind you that you questionable taste.”

Tara lowered her voice, she wasn’t yet so tipsy that she’d forgotten some things weren’t to be spoken of in mixed company, “Its like you said, probably not going to see thirty.  I could run back to the woods but alone? What’s the point? We had a good thing. Mom had her eyes on Philly and the past too much… couldn’t let shit go. Dad, couldn’t let go of failing at being a Don.  Brigitte, she always wanted to come back to all the lights and the comforts … Gavin would do anything mom asked of him and the twins just don’t know what the fuck they signed up for. They think it all sounds so damn exciting and I guess, from a certain point of view it is.  It is exciting… but you know what else it is? Horrifying.” Tara had pain in her eyes, sadness, and regret.

“You wanted to have fun tonight, and now we’re talking about this shit.” Oriana sighed. “My fault. I asked for the stories. Do you know how to dance?”

Tara waved a hand dismissively at it being ‘her fault’ but didn’t argue.  “Of course. It's one of the few activities my mother did teach us.  Her and Dad both. It’s … it was their thing.  Dancing. My god, I hadn’t even thought about that… fuck.”

“Yea, we’re getting more cheerful by the moment. Brothers? Or the blond guy and his friend?”

Tara realized then what a huge mistake this all was.  How could she have asked Ori on a damn date! She sighed in frustration and stood up.  “I don’t want to dance with any of them.” She tossed her napkin on the table. “Sorry for ruining your night.  I need a damn minute.” She walked off.

Oriana closed her eyes, muttering to herself. “Fucking Pinot Grigio. Every. Damn. Time. Never again.”

Tara went to the restroom.  She took a moment to calm down.  There had to be a way to salvage this fucking mess of a night.  First she train wrecked it with… how had she done it? Fuck it all she couldn’t be bothered with what was.  What NOW was really the point. She could, maybe, go back and ask the guy at the bar to dance. Maybe Oriana would dance and by the time they both started to sober up they could leave and just try to forget this whole damn mess happened. 

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