No surprise, at our appointment that morning, Dr. Heilland was pretty interested in Sid’s status with the AIDS virus, although mostly in how we were dealing with it.
“You’re not trying to hide any angry feelings, Lisa?” he asked.
I frowned. “I don’t think so.”
“Lisa’s not one for hiding her feelings,” Sid said, looking at me.
I shifted, oddly uncomfortable for a change. The weird thing was, we never did talk about the trauma I’d been dealing with. Sid did spend a few minutes talking to Dr. Heilland alone while I used the rest room.
From Dr. Heilland’s, we went to our meeting at the Code Five diner.
“How are you feeling?” I asked Sid.
He winced. “Getting used to things.”
“I know.” I groaned. “Things were feeling pretty normal for a while. Now, it’s all weird again.”
“We’ll work it out.”
At the diner, the owner saw us coming and pointed us to a booth in the back corner. A lone man sat in the end seat, watching the door. It wasn’t entirely possible to say how tall he was, but he didn’t look any bigger than average height. He was balding and his remaining hair was brown and neatly clipped. His suit was a nice solid gray lightweight wool. I sighed as we walked toward the table. There was French Dip sandwich on special that day and it didn’t look too likely I’d get one.
Sid let me scoot into the booth first, then sat down next to me.
“Big Red,” the man said, shaking my hand. “Little Red.” He shook Sid’s.
“I’m Little Red,” I said through my teeth.
“Call me Clive,” he said, adding the specific division of the CIA that he was with. “Heard our friend Danschenko gave you a little present.”
“He sure did,” said Sid. “Kind of a sick joke, too. First, he hides a microdot in the jar, then sends one of your guys to go through our trash to find it.”
“It wasn’t one of our guys. It was one of the Colombians.”
“What?” I snapped.
Sid’s hand landed on my thigh as a reminder to keep cool. I took a deep breath.
“Alright,” Sid said, far more coolly than I could have. “What do you know about the Colombians and Danschenko?”
Clive sighed. “Danny boy has been walking the fence for us for years. Well, thanks to Gorbachev and all the changes in the Soviet Union, he wants to defect, which will not make his bosses back home happy at all. So, he’s playing everybody he knows against everyone else, hoping that in the chaos, his butt will be covered. He set up the kidnapping with the Colombians, then told me that he needed the van and the safe house to help a couple of his colleagues defect.”
“And you bought it,” said Sid.
“Not entirely.” Clive shrugged. “I don’t trust Danny boy any further than I can throw him. But, yeah, it seemed legit until I found out the Colombians were in town. That’s when I knew they had targeted the Martinez kid. The good thing was she’d joined your church youth group like I told her to.”
“Joined…?” I gaped and looked at Sid.
Sid glared at Clive. “You know who we are.”
“Of course, I do. I’ve been working with Red Knight for years and I know the plan.”
Red Knight is Henry’s code name.
“The plan,” Sid repeated.
“You don’t have Need to Know yet.”
Sid’s hand squeezed my thigh, and it was a good thing, too. I was about to bounce out of my seat and throttle Clive.
Clive waved Sid off. “In any case, when we set up the kid and her mother here, I told her to join the church group for an extra layer of security.”
“It would have nice to know that,” I said through my teeth.
“It worked out.”
Sid looked at Clive curiously. “When did you find out the Colombians had gotten the wrong target?”
“After I’d gotten my butt kicked for helping the kidnappers.” Clive rolled his eyes. “It’s a good thing your girl here is as good as Red Knight said she is. Once she got out, we were able to call local law enforcement.”
“As I understood it, they got the kidnappers.” Sid’s eyes narrowed. “How is it that they’re still on the loose?”
Clive chuckled. “Medellín has some really good lawyers and plenty of cash. They surrendered their passports, not that it will keep them here, and everyone knows it. If they’re still in the country, it’s because they’re trying to take out Danschenko. They seem to think he screwed them.”
“Such a surprise,” I grumbled, then suddenly remembered something. “When Danschenko gave us that caviar, he said something about us having had a traumatic week.” I glared at Clive. “He knew I’d gotten kidnapped. Does he know we’re operatives?”
“I don’t think so.” Clive shrugged as if he didn’t care either way.
Sid looked at him carefully. “If he does know, how will that affect the plan? I’m assuming you and your friends don’t want our covers blown.”
“Good question.” Clive nodded and smiled. “Of course, we don’t want your covers blown. As to what Danny knows about you two, I have no idea. But I wouldn’t worry about him.”
“So why are we here?” Sid asked.
Clive shifted. “Just wanted to check in with you guys. Danny’s in the wind at the moment.”
“We saw him last Monday.” Sid glanced at me. “The Colombians came calling.”
“He made it out. Will you let me know if he contacts you? We want to help.”
Clive glared at me. “You think you know so much?”
“I know about being held hostage for five days when you knew where I was and wouldn’t do anything. Funny how you’re friends with both Danschenko and Medillín.”
Clive shifted again. “You domestic types. You don’t get squat what we have to do in the field. Yeah. We make friends with people we don’t like because we have to.” He glared at Sid. “You were in country. You should know what that’s like.”
“Yes,” said Sid, his voice taking on that angry edge. “But I also know the ends don’t always justify the means.”
I pressed my lips together. Sid looked over at me, then leaned forward and sent Clive a truly menacing glare.
“She’s on a bit of a hair trigger.” Sid gestured my way. “As I’m sure you can imagine. It might be fun to trip it and see what she does to you.”
Clive sent me a glance, then got up. “Let me know if Danny gets in touch.”
I let out the breath I’d been holding. Sid looked at me.
“They’ve got French Dip on special.” I squirmed. “Can we stay?”
He sighed. “Sure.”
I waved the owner over and ordered my sandwich with cole slaw instead of fries. Sid had a salad.
“I wonder what he wants.” I fidgeted with the saltshaker.
“Clive?” Sid looked out the door thoughtfully. “My guess is that whatever was in that jar of caviar, it was not what they expected. Or they think Danschenko is holding out on them.”
“That makes sense.” I smiled at him. “Nice bit with the hair trigger.”
“Yeah.” He looked away.
“I hope I looked menacing enough.”
“Oh, you did.”
“Oh, no. I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright, honey.” He put his hand on mine. “We’re both under a lot of stress right now.”
I nodded. Sid had gone back to closed-mouth kisses that morning, which didn’t feel at all good, although I had teased him into one really good one right before we’d left for Dr. Heilland’s.
When we got back to the house, Henry called. Sid went over our meeting with Clive, then Henry told him what had been on the micro-dot: a list of known U.S. operatives in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
“Good lord, Sid,” I said when he’d repeated the conversation. “Where did Danschenko get that?”
“He presumably stole it and is now offering it to the CIA probably as a sign of good faith.”
“But if the list is wrong or purposely misleading it could nobble a lot of good agents.”
Sid nodded. “There is an appalling lack of trust on all sides.”
“Well, you can hardly blame them.” I sat back in my desk chair. “Now what?”
Sid shrugged. “Not much we can do.”
I went back to focusing on writing work. It did help steady me in one sense. Sid seemed to be feeling a little better after giving Clive some grief.
Then later that afternoon, I went into the rumpus room to find a book and found Conchetta dusting in there. She was wearing a Twisted Sister t-shirt and looked unhappy.
“You okay?” I asked.
She sighed. “He told me about the AIDS.”
“It’s not for sure yet.” I shrugged. “Conchetta, if something happens to Sid, I’ll still keep you on.”
“I know. I’m not worried about that.” She glared at the shelf for a moment, then left the room.
I couldn’t help smiling. Conchetta was very firm that she did not want to be friends with us. Too many times, she’d been called a friend by an employer only to be fired soon after. Yet, she clearly cared deeply about Sid, as if he were a surrogate son. [She cared about you, too. – SEH]
As Sid and I finished dinner that evening, I sighed.
“Sid, you know what you said on Tuesday about me rushing off to do whatever without taking you into account?”
“Well, I’m a little stuck. I’ve got to sew the buttons on Kathy’s dress tonight. Esther and I are taking her out for a bachelorette party tomorrow. I think I told you about that, didn’t I?”
“I think so.”
“Anyway, I have to have the buttons done tonight so that I can pin the hem in on her on Saturday, and there are a lot of buttons.”
He looked at me sadly. “Lisa, you don’t have to treat me like cut crystal.”
“No. It’s not that.” I sighed. “It’s that I have been running off to do my own thing and I don’t want to do that, and…” I bit my lip. “I’m just not sure how to take you into account, especially in terms of commitments I’ve already made. I don’t want to ask permission.”
“That would not be good.”
“No, it wouldn’t.”
Sid sighed and thought about it. “We’ll have to keep talking about what’s going on, then, I guess. Are you going to be holed up in your sewing room all night?”
“It’s hand sewing, and it will probably take all night. But I don’t have to be in my sewing room.”
On the other hand, that is exactly where we landed, on the couch, no less. I stitched away while Sid, who had already changed to his pajama bottoms, read to me, his feet in my lap, underneath the dress as I worked on it. We both agreed it was a decidedly pleasant way to spend the evening, and it did a lot to help us both finally relax.
However, when I invited him into my bedroom to sleep with me, he shook his head.
“It’s not the disease thing,” he said. “At least, I don’t think so.” His hand cupped my face. “But it is getting… Physically painful to lie next to you and not make love. And it’s not anything you’re doing. Just human anatomy, is all.”
I nodded, then kissed him goodnight. At least, he opened his mouth that time.
I had one nightmare and Sid was there. Then I went back to sleep, only to wake up soon after. Sid was yelling in his sleep. I hurried out to the sewing room, rubbing his back as he awoke. He tried pushing away, but I held on and he slowly relaxed.
It was in the middle of the next morning that things really, really got weird.
I could hear Sid on the phone in his office, but couldn’t hear what he said, which was just as well, as it was my turn to write a first draft of one of the articles we were working on together. A few minutes later, Sid came out of the office.
“We did talk about Nick coming down this weekend, didn’t we?” he asked.
“Yeah. He’s coming for Darby’s birthday party on Sunday,” I glanced up from the computer screen, then finished a sentence.
“I was just talking with Rachel’s friend, Marlou Parks? She called to verify the flight times and told me that she’d be at the airport to pick Nick up when he gets back. She set it up so that he can fly alone.”
I sat back in my chair. “That’s interesting.”
“Yeah. She even said that she knew there was some bad blood between me and Rachel but asked that I not judge her too harshly.”
“It’s too late for that one,” I grumbled.
Sid shrugged. “The question is, do we trust her?”
I thought back to when I’d seen her. “She didn’t seem flaky to me. And Nick really likes her.”
“There is that.”
“Why don’t we see what Nick has to say when he gets here?”
“Sounds good.” Then Sid dropped his bomb. “So, what do we tell him about us?”
“What do you mean?”
“If we’re getting married, that affects him as much as it does us.”
“Married?” I gasped. I’d forgotten that I’d suggested that. “Um. Are we?”
Sid stepped back, looking terrified.
“No!” I yelped. “Sid…”
“Don’t you want to be with me?” The fear in his eyes seared me to the bone.
I stood and went to him. “Sid, being with you is all I want. When I said for life, I meant it and I still do.”
“But you wanted to get married to make it easier with the church thing.”
“I know,” I squeaked.
“So, what gives?”
I took a deep breath. “I don’t think I’m ready to tell anyone yet.”
Sid suddenly burst into laughter. “Really?”
“I do not even want to think about what Janet and Sylvia will do,” I said, my voice dull and flat.
“Okay. Point taken.”
I put my hands on his chest. “Look, Sid, my commitment to you is sound. I want you and no one else. Getting used to marrying you. I’m shocked, but that one’s a little harder.”
He pressed his lips to my forehead. “Okay. I can live with that. But what do we tell Nick? And what about why you are not currently in my bedroom at night?”
“You mean the AIDS thing?”
I closed my eyes. “That would be pretty hard on a kid, especially since we don’t know whether you have it or not. And we do have a good excuse in terms of my morals for why I’m not there.”
Sid looked at me for a moment, as if he wanted to ask something else, but let it go.
I swallowed, then felt my spirit lift. “Here’s an idea. We need to know if Nick can keep a secret, right?”
“Well, that would make it easier to take custody, yes.”
“Why don’t we tell him that we are going to get married, but don’t want to tell anyone yet.”
“As in we don’t want people to pressure us into wedding plans when we’re not yet ready for that.”
“Which is the truth, really.”
Sid nuzzled me behind my ear. “That is a good idea.”
That having been settled, I went back to my first draft. But that did not mean that my innards were any the quieter.
Nick, when he came out of the tunnel at LAX that afternoon, was filled with his usual happy energy. He hugged Sid, then gave me an extra-long hug. I buried my face in the curly, dark hair so much like his father’s.
“I’m so glad to see you, Nick,” I said, feeling some loosening of the tension that had surrounded Sid and me for that day.
The bachelorette party that night was a lot of fun, too. Sid had already taken Nick out to dinner and to go see a movie when Esther picked me up in her aging Lincoln. We picked up Sarah Williams, then got Kathy, and had dinner in Santa Monica. Kathy had a bad feeling she knew where we were headed after that. Her fears were well-founded. It was one of the nicer male strip joints in Venice Beach.
Both she and Sarah were properly scandalized, but soon settled in and had a good time. There was no reason not to. They don’t strip all the way and when you can’t take it anymore, you don’t look. Okay, we all got a little embarrassed. Esther said it reminded her of the time she’d caught Frank trying to get to the bathroom with only his undershorts on. I was the coolest of the bunch. Esther called me on it.
“It’s a little embarrassing,” I said after the show. “But this is a piece of cake compared to the first time I came here.”
Sarah laughed. “You? At a strip show?”
“It gets worse,” I said. “Sid brought me.”
The other women gaped.
“I was having one of my blue days and he was trying to cheer me up.” I made a point of hiding my smile behind a sip of wine.
It had been a very special night, a couple weeks before my birthday. We’d had an exceptionally bad fight the night after Valentine’s Day, and it had seemed like the impasse in our relationship could never be resolved.
“I don’t think I could handle Dan being here with me,” Sarah said.
“Frank would be fun.” Esther raised her hand for the waiter. “The biggest problem would be keeping him from joining the dancers.” She grinned. “He looks pretty good in his undershorts.” Her face suddenly fell.
Sarah reached over and patted her hand. “It’s okay, Esther. It will all work out.”
Kathy and I stared at Sarah and Esther.
Esther made a face. “So, Sarah and I had a little talk not too long ago. Remind me not to get drunk around her again.”
“You weren’t drunk,” Sarah said.
“I don’t want to talk about guys, anyway.” Esther looked again for the waiter. “What does it take to get a drink around here?”
I was glad Esther didn’t want to continue the conversation. Sid and I were long past our impasse. I wondered when he would hear from the doctor. I suppose it was possible the test would come back positive, but I didn’t want to think about that. I didn’t want to think about the weirdness of that morning and how scared Sid had been when he’d thought I didn’t want him. And I really didn’t want to think about how deliciously tingly I felt at the thought of finally sleeping with him.
It didn’t help when he kissed me after his nightmare that night, and again when he kissed me after mine.
We were pretty worn out that morning when we got up. Over breakfast, Nick was full of chatter about the movie they’d seen the night before and what he and Sid were going to do that day. Nick had picked up an interest in baseball after spending a week or so at a baseball camp the summer before. So, Sid had gotten tickets to the Dodgers game that evening. They were playing the San Francisco Giants, and Nick was excited to see the Dodgers’ hot pitching ace, Fernando Valenzuela, and pelted us with batting averages and earned runs and how he was really a Giants fan, but Valenzuela was really, really good.
Sid smiled gently at me. He is not a sports fan, per se. He likes sports and can talk about them because that’s what guys talk about. As he once put it, he prefers indoor activities and playing rather than watching. I caught my breath again. Sid chuckled.
He and I had already talked about my plans for the day, so when we were done eating, I went back to my sewing room to work on projects and get things ready for Kathy. I heard the phone ring around ten, but since it was Sid’s line, I ignored it. Sid knocked on my door some minutes later.
“Come on in,” I said, frowning over the pattern instructions for a pair of dress slacks with an asymmetrical flap for the front opening.
Sid shut the door behind him. In the rumpus room, Nick was listening to his new Tears for Fears album on the stereo.
“That was Dr. Kline,” Sid said softly.
I swallowed. “And…?”
“Good news, bad news.” Sid leaned against the cutting table. “My test came back negative.”
“Oh, thank you, Jesus!”
Sid put up his hands. “It’s not time to celebrate yet. The problem is, they don’t entirely know how long it takes after infection for the virus to show up in the blood stream. Since the test was released, they’re getting better data, but they don’t really know yet. And it hasn’t even been a full month since my last contact. So, Dr. Kline wants to test me again in six months, and for me to assume I can still spread it until then.”
“In other words, we’re not going to be doing anything for a while.”
“Nope.” He grimaced. “Not to mention the enthralling fun of living in limbo for six months.”
“Yuck.” I went over and pulled him into my arms. “We’ll manage.”
He held me tightly. “Yeah.”
I looked over at the rumpus room. “Should we tell Nick?”
“I don’t think so. We don’t know anything yet and I don’t want him worrying about me. It’s a lot for a kid to be carrying around.”
“I don’t think I want to tell my family yet, either.” I frowned. “About anything about us right now. There’s just too much up in the air. I mean, Daddy’s figured out you’re with me for the duration.”
“Honey, he’d figured that out a couple years ago.” Sid pressed his lips to my forehead. “Listen, I’d better get back to Nick.”
Kathy arrived at three. She crowed over the dress again and all those buttons. I went to work on pinning in the hem and was just about done when Sid and Nick came into the sewing room.
“Lisa—” Sid stopped. “Where are you?”
“Down here.” I said through the pins in my mouth. I was lying on my side, pushing the last bit of silk taffeta into place.
“Wow, Kathy. You look great!” Nick yelled.
“Thank you, Nick.” Kathy said. “Don’t you think Lisa did a good job, Sid?”
“A very good job. Uh, Lisa, Nick wants to see batting practice, so we’re heading out to the stadium, now.”
“Have a good time, guys.”
Kathy looked at herself in the mirror. “Fernando pitching tonight?”
“Yep,” Nick said.
Kathy suddenly gasped. “Young man, is that a Giants’ cap I see you wearing?”
Nick laughed. “They’re my team.”
“Uh-huh. I see that we are going to have knock some sense into you.”
“And I root for the ‘Niners, too!” Nick blew a raspberry at her and ran off as Sid laughed.
“We’ll see you soon, Kathy. See you tonight, Lisa.”
“See you later.”
There was an awkward pause, then I slid the last pin into place.
“I think I’ve got it.” I pulled the extra pins from my mouth and jammed then into the pin cushion on my wrist.
“It looks beautiful, Lisa.” Kathy gazed into the mirror. “I can’t thank you enough.”
“Will you hold still? I want to be sure I’ve got it.”
The hem was level. I unbuttoned the dress and Kathy slid out of it. As she got dressed in her regular clothes, I hung the dress up on a hangar and put it on its peg.
“Lisa, what’s going on?”
“I’m fine, Kathy.” I fluffed the skirt on the wedding dress a little.
“No, you’re not,” she said softly. She glanced at the dress. “Is it the wedding bothering you?”
“No.” I snorted. “Not in the least.”
“Assuming there is one.” I blinked and shook my head.
“Sid doesn’t seem like he’s against the idea.”
“He’s not. But it’s not that simple.” I sank into my sewing chair and began weeping full out. “We found out on Wednesday that Sid may have been exposed to AIDS. And now we can’t have sex for another six months. And we keep talking about getting married and I don’t know if I want to be married, but I don’t know what else to do because I love him. And he’s worried that he’s given me AIDS and it’s just a horrible mess.”
Kathy knelt down next to me and held me tight. “And I’ll bet you’ve been trying to be strong for Sid, too, haven’t you?”
“I hope so.”
“But this AIDS thing. I thought that was gay men.”
“It’s transmitted by sexual contact and body fluids, so you can be straight and get it. Sharing needles if you’re using drugs. That’s how the one girlfriend got it from her boyfriend. Fortunately, that happened after Sid slept with her.” I wiped my face, then noticed the tear on my hand, and suddenly pulled away from Kathy. I held up my hand. “Body fluids. Sid and I have been kissing a lot, and it’s possible you can get it through saliva.”
I explained about the test and that Sid was negative, and why we still had to wait.
“I guess I am worried a little that he has it,” I finally said. “Not so much about me. It’s just losing him now that he’s given up sleeping around. The worst of it is, when we talk about getting married, I want to, and I don’t. You know, Kathy, for so long, I’ve wanted Sid to tell me he loves me, to give up other women, and now that he has, it just feels so weird and scary.”
“Small wonder. You two have been fighting your feelings for so long now, it’s bound to feel a little strange giving in.”
“You think that’s it?”
“Well, yes, and a possible deadly disease doesn’t help.” Kathy looked at me. “How likely is it that Sid picked it up?”
“Not likely at all, for a lot of reasons. Believe me, I’ve learned a lot more than I ever wanted to about gay sex. Oh, and you cannot get it through casual contact. Hugging is fine. And my tears aren’t going through any of your membranes, so you’re okay.”
“I wasn’t worried.” Kathy hugged me again. She paused. “You may not want to tell anybody at church, though.”
“You’re the first person I’ve told at all. Besides the shrink Sid and I have been seeing. For the trauma.”
“Then it’s a good thing you are, then.”
I cleaned myself up and we went to mass, and after I visited my shut-ins, Kathy and I went to dinner.
But that night, I had two nightmares to Sid’s one.