“Lacey,” yelled one of the kids, panting into the kitchen, “there’s a guy with a snake tail playing baseball with us and we won ’cause he hit lotsa homers!”
“Really?” the dark woman says placidly, stacking clean dishes on shelves. “Now is that extremely radically cool or what?”
“He says he’s not very good at it yet, just cause he misses some when Zap is pitching. He says his name is Dance. He’s cool. He mainly plays fiddle and banjo and stuff, I guess.”
“Oh, that’s right, you must have been at school when Dance was playing this morning,” Lacey says, reaching up into the cabinet. A tumbler is set down on the counter, and lemonade poured into it. “I thought nobody could hit Zap’s pitching,” Lacey says.
“Well, they went through everybody else pitching first, and couldn’t stop him,” the kid says. “I mean, bam, bam, bam–” the kid waves skinny dark arms skyward, jigging in place.
“Have you met Emma yet?” Lacey says, turning. “She’s our guest too. She’s Dance’s wife.”
“Oh, hi,” the kid says, waving at Emma, who waves back. The dusty creature in the scuffed jeans and torn shirt and scraped elbows is probably female by gender, but Emma is not willing to bet on it. “So is Drin your husband too? You know, the bearded guy, says he always umpires?”
“So you kiss ’em and all that icky stuff?” the kid says, gazing at her with big brown eyes over the rim of the lemonade tumbler.
Emma nods. “Sometimes they want to kiss each other, too. That’s okay by me too.”
The kid nods, and tips up the tumbler, emptying it, and sets it down. “Drin’s a good umpire. Is he a good kisser?”
Emma smiles. “Oh, well, I think so. Are you a good umpire too?”
The kid giggles. “Nooooo, I just play ball!”
“Are you a good kisser too?” Emma says.
“Nooooo!” the kid says, jumping around and making faces, until Emma laughs.
“What’s your name?”
“Fatal Johnson,” the kid announces, with a menacing flourish of one skinny arm.
“Yeah?” Emma says, putting down a peeled potato, and rummaging in the bag for another potato. She doesn’t comment that it sounds like a pretty new handle, to her. “You want to carry that bowl over to the sink for me, please?”
“All right, Fatal daughter of mine,” says Lacey, accepting the bowl of peeled spuds, “go hit the chores. I think you’ve got kennel pooper patrol this week, right?”
The black kid with the darker freckles scowls. “Yeaaaah,” she says, scowling.
“I bet Dance would hold the garbage sack for you if you said please, really nicely,” Emma says then, feeling the imp of the perverse warming her evil little heart.
“I bet he would too,” Lacey says, smiling right back at Emma, and then she winks, turning away to the racked skillets by the stove. After the kid’s elephant-sized sneakers pound away down the wooden floor, and the front screen door slams, Lacey chuckles. “Keep ’em moving.”
“They get cranky if you let ’em play videogames all day long,” Emma says primly.
“Oh yeah,” Lacey says. “Did I mention thank you for helping me get lunch together? Normally I’d be busy out in the barns, but when we’re shorthanded, I get to have a nice day in the cool, wearing my clean clothes for a change. Don’t know if you heard, I got all our biker girls out on bug-trace patrol with Preacher, and I got some of the older boys out fishing for croppie and crawdads for Dance. He surely seemed to enjoy those last night, didn’t he? Anyway, those two bunches, they’ll dawdle around and yak it up and be good for nothing by the time they get home. We’ll leave ’em a coupla ham casseroles to heat up. Hams, I got. It’s the cheese I’m running short on. It’s always something, place like this. Did you get to work out what was going on with Fozz’s computer setup in there?”
“Oh yeah,” Emma says, frowning. “It just needed some minor housecleaning, really, probably somebody opened up some silly attachment, and one of the trojans got in and munched on it a bit. Drin borrowed Billie Dean’s laptop and I got new drivers installed, no problem.”
Lacey sighs. “Boy, I said I was glad Drin’s cavalry got here, I wasn’t kidding. Fozz has about as much instinct for these kindsa cable rigs as a pig on skates. He starts talkin’ about turnin’ off the cable bills and plugging in some stupid pirate tap instead, and I just smack him. He’d get himself electrocuted or some damn thing. Not that it’d kill him, mind, but it’d make him cranky.”
Emma smiles. “A cranky Fozz sounds pretty scary.”
Lacey grunts. “Well, he’s such a big ol’ softy, nobody ever realizes he really means it until he’s folded a car in half or some damn thing just to make the point.”
“Drin’s got you worried, huh?” Lacey says.
“I think it hurt him to explain a little bit,” Emma says.
“Aaaand, there’s such a lot more needs explaining yet,” Lacey finishes the thought. “Tell you, there’s days I get tired of it being all about the all-guy-show, all the time, round here.”
“Girlfriend, where were you last week when I needed somebody who doesn’t lead with their dick?” Emma says, dryly.
Lacey chuckles. “Believe me, Gorgeous, if I was leading, you’d be upstairs flat on your ass with your knees in the air and me snuggling down nice and sweet where it all feels good. Fozz may be the light of my life, but he sure as hell ain’t the end of my needs, if you take my meaning. Me and Dance, when we got that heat on us, it ain’t gonna be just our main men helping us carry the load.”
Emma blinks up at her. “I’m honored,” she says, surprised.
Lacey smiles. “It ain’t something I say to just anybody, either,” she says, and turns away, rinsing her hands under the tap, and drying them on a dish towel. She frowns, glancing out the window above the sink. “Aside from being careful about juggling all those damned fragile egos out there, I’m particular about who’s up to the job of being perceived as an authority figure around here just because I pulled off my panties for ’em. Some people, I just can’t see myself smelling them up close. But Dance is right about you. You smell really good to me, too. You’re just purely a snakebait mama, Emma, he’s right. No idea why, and I bet all of us would love to know why.”
Emma looks at her. “You’re very…direct. Like Dance.”
“Oh, I’m like Dance in some other ways, too, but I just don’t like showing it off too much. It’s such a kick watching Dance learn to use that tail of his. It’s like watching a kid learn to walk, you know. I know, I know, you’ll want to talk about me and my embarrassing offers with your boys, too, when you get a chance to catch your breath halfway. If you do. But I just…wanted you to know you’re welcome here, and I am really happy you’re staying with us.”
Emma looks up at the tall woman. She doesn’t feel worried, or afraid, or even all that startled. What she feels is sympathetic. It’s so much like being hit on by a righteously butch gal that she would trust with her car keys, or her boys, or with her virtue, even if Emma refused the offer–so much so that it doesn’t even occur to her to hesitate. She stands up, and crosses the kitchen floor, and puts both arms around Lacey. “It starts feeling like a long time when you’re holding down the whole damned fort by yourself,” she says. She can feel Lacey draw in a deep breath, and then sigh it out, slowly.
“Yeah,” Lacey says, and rests her hand a moment on Emma’s wrist, lightly. “Yeah, there’s that, too.”
“Dance says you’re hot as a pistol,” Emma says then.
“Yeah?” Lacey says, perking up. “He said that?”
Emma thinks the woman has been badly neglected, holding down a really demanding fort for way too long, if something as small as that cheers her up so ridiculously. “I think he’s right,” Emma says stoutly.
“Oh stop now, honey, you’ll have me wetting my good jeans until I drag you down on the kitchen table to have my wicked way with you, and then we’d never get any dinner,” Lacey says, and hugs her back a moment, tight, and releases her.
Emma smiles at her. “I’ll talk to the boys,” she says, like a promise.
Lacey puts up her hand and wipes away tears. “Oh my dear, you don’t have to flatter me just to be kind. You’re right, it’s been a long hard haul around here. Don’t know why it just– hits all of a sudden–”
Emma says, “It all hit Dance pretty suddenly too.”
“Don’t you worry, I’m gonna work with Dance, get him up to speed on whatall I know, allowing for how it’s maybe different between him and me. For one thing, I ain’t a back-fang gal, and I don’t think his reflexes are gonna hit the same way, when somebody surprises him at a symphony concert or something. We’ll have to try things out, get him back to his music practicing again. I don’t know why that seems so important, but it does.”
Emma pats the other woman’s lean, powerful shoulder. She sighs, and goes back to the table. She frowns at the piles of potato peelings. “How come there’s so many zoomorphic people dumped off here, where you could rescue them? Kiplings, Drin called them. Or black market ripoffs of those.”
“I have a theory on that,” Lacey says. “Middle of the night, you ask yourself things like that. ‘Hey, self, why am I on this godforsaken backwater planet, stuck out in this pathetic old dump, anyway?’ And you, now, Emma, you’re not a zoomorph like Dance, not at all. So there you are, asking yourself, ‘Hey, why weren’t all of us scattered out all over the goddamn universe, or something?'”
Fozzie wanders in with an empty tumbler, holds it out to be refilled. He looks at Lacey, and then at Emma. He shrugs a little, casually. “Probably because this was the main outlet what the other end of the Underground Railroad folks could trust for dumping refugees and have ’em get here in one piece.”
They both stare at him.
“How come you never told me– you never said–” Lacey begins, visibly on the edge of outrage.
Fozzie shrugs. “One thing and another going on, I guess you just never asked,” he says, and he wanders out again, sipping lemonade, and humming a Stones tune. “You may not get what you waaaaant,” he sings then, in the other room, “but you might get what you neeeeeed…”
The noise that Lacy makes sounds like, “Aaaaarghhh!” and is supplemented by the higher tone of Emma’s voice doing the same thing.
Challenge: both ‘Cornered’ and ‘Diamond’
Title: You Didn’t Ask