Title: Emerald City Limits
Author: cgb (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Category: f/f Cathy/ Sarah Mackenzie (JAG)
Disclaimer: There once was a man from LA, and I took his characters out to play…
Acknowledgements: At the end.
Summary: " She’s standing in the rain, looking like she’s misplaced something important and can’t decide where to start searching for it."
Emerald City Limits by CGB
9.30am in the communications office and Bonnie is in a mischievous mood. She switches C-Span to “Petticoat Junction” and goes back to her desk, one eye on Toby’s door waiting for his reaction.
Eventually he comes out, looks up and yells, “Bonnie!” while Bonnie feigns surprise.
The ensuing exchange might be worth watching but I have juvenile crime statistics to label. I put coloured tags at the beginning of each year and mark off 1940 to 1958. Before I can tag 1959 Donna has perched herself on my desk.
“Cathy, why didn’t you finish college?”
I pause mid-labelling. “It’s a long story,” I say eventually.
“Was there a man involved?
Not even remotely. “No.”
She sighs. “I should finish college. Do you think you’ll go back one day?”
“I’m going back next year.”
She looks surprised. I wonder if Donna has ever contemplated leaving. I go back to my labelling.
She nods, seemingly deep in thought. “Well – that’s very wise of you.”
Ginger bounds up with Bonnie in tow.
“We got a thing,” she says. “Who’s got the cuter boss – you or Cathy?”
“Before ten o’clock?” Donna rolls her eyes. “What is it you guys do around here?”
One of the temps leans over his desk. “Sam, definitely.”
Ginger raises eyebrows and Bonnie smirks. I tag off 1960.
Donna looks at Bonnie. “Who are you picking?”
“Josh,” she says. “Pretty is not cute – and I never date a man prettier than me.”
They all laugh.
I glance down the hallway. No coups in foreign countries, no plummeting stock prices, no political scandals and no senior staff in sight. A breather – or calm before the storm.
That’s when I see her: two uniformed figures head down the hall towards Josh’s office. One navy, one marine. The woman is a marine. Dark eyes and olive skin - army greens suit her. She falls behind her partner when her cell phone sounds. She speaks into it, but I can’t hear what she says over the debate taking place around my desk.
“Come on Donna,” Ginger says. “Get off the fence.”
“Okay,” Donna says. “I pick CJ.”
They all laugh again.
“I pick her,” I say inclining my head towards the uniformed figure on the cell phone. They all turn to see who I’m talking about.
There is a pregnant silence. That’s not what they expected.
But they wouldn’t be here if they couldn’t take a surprise or two.
“Oh yeah,” Bonnie says. “Definitely prettier than Sam.”
She smiles at me and I smile back.
In college I’m shy and quiet. I don’t date boys or girls. I study hard and occasionally indulge myself with a movie or late night coffee on the weekend.
My roommate is the first to suggest it. She looks at the pictures above my desk: Liz Phair, Kristen Hersh, PJ Harvey.
“Do you like any, you know, guys?”
“No,” I say. I really don’t.
She shrugs. “Okay.”
Later she gets more provocative. “I hear Michael asked you out.” Michael is my friend. After months of close companionship he reveals a deep-seated affection for me. It’s traumatising. I spend two days in my room.
She sits on the bed. “Cathy, do you think you might be gay?”
“No,” I say, but the idea isn’t so bad.
It plays in my head for months until I find myself at the campus gay and lesbian support group. I meet Lily there and I forget to be afraid.
Lily and I kiss and cuddle on my bed. We’re young and feeling crazy, and naïve in so many ways. We forget to lock the doors on our dorm when we’re together and it’s only a matter of weeks before my mother catches us.
She doesn’t say anything. She turns around and walks back out into the hallway.
I leap off the bed and run after her. “Mom!” I yell.
She doesn’t turn around. “Mom!”
She stops and turns to face me. She looks more hurt than angry but her expression is a mixture of so many emotions it’s difficult to tell.
“Is this what I send you to college for? Is this your idea of education?”
People open their doors and watch us from their rooms, their faces grave.
She turns and resumes walking away from me. I follow her out to the car.
Before she gets in she looks at me. “You’re a woman now. All grown up. You can look after yourself.”
And then she drives away. I cry big heavy tears that fall in little ‘splats’ on the asphalt.
In a letter my parents tell me they never want to see me again. They refuse to pay my college fees.
I quit college and temp for a Senator. By the time the millennium turns I find myself in Washington.
The hours are long but the people are great. Lily and I talk on the phone letting distance be the deciding factor in our relationship.
“God – you’re working for Sam Seaborn!” she says. “He’s like CNN’s favourite White House staffer. I bet the girls love him.”
“Yeah,” I laugh. Sam’s romance is in his speeches. His lack of success with women is a constant source of amusement for Bonnie, Ginger and myself.
One day I tell them all I’m going back to college and they are happy for me but sad at the same time. Ginger cries. Bonnie looks at me in disbelief.
“Well you always said…” she shakes her head. “I can’t believe you’re leaving us.” Carol gives me a hug. “Good for you,” she says.
When the last box is in the car I look back on my cheap apartment. The plumbing was a nightmare; my neighbours were into a bizarre mix of techno and Hollywood musicals that never played earlier than midnight; I barely saw the place – and I know I’ll remember it was the best year of my life.
I spend summer in Korea trying to find the place my parents told me about. Korea is beautiful and mad, and despite everything my mother wanted to believe, there are lesbians who hide in bars and cut their hair short. They tell me stories like mine and smile wistfully when I talk about San Francisco and Greenwich Village.
But it isn’t long before I am back in the states feeling no wiser and wondering why nothing ever changes when nothing remains the same.
And maybe it is knowing this that leads me back to the capital in the weeks before going back to college.
They are all there, thinner, smarter, nervous, excited, confused. I want to be there for them, and I desperately want to get away.
I watch Bartlet’s promise to run for re-election from a bar in downtown DC. The murmurs of the crowd grow louder as he takes question after question and reminds me of why we all thought he was so great.
Later I join them as we party into the night.
Ginger’s Georgetown apartment is too quiet as I flick through her meagre CD collection. She’s eclectic. I’ll give her that – Alannis next to the Carpenters next to Moby. I choose the Carpenters. Karen has a voice for every occasion.
I pack my bags and pile them by the door. Ginger calls and says she’s working late. She tells me not to wait around and after contemplating movements for a while I load my car and head out into the rain filled night.
I’ve gone barely more than two blocks when I see her. She’s standing in the rain, looking like she’s misplaced something important and can’t decide where to start searching for it. She’s wearing a uniform. Not the same uniform I saw her in two years ago, but a dressed down version. Short sleeves and no hat.
My mother believed in signs. I laughed at her of course, but her faith was difficult to shake.
I have to stop. I lean out the window. “Are you okay?”
She seems to laugh. She holds out her hands and shrugs her shoulders. “I’m fine – really. Sorry – I’m fine.”
She doesn’t move out of the rain. I get out of the car. “Colonel Mackenzie?”
“Yes,” she looks at me, perplexed. “Do I know you?”
“Cathy Yahima. You don’t know me. I used to work in the White House and I – I remember you visited my boss.”
She nods. She’s JAG. I remember it from Sam’s appointment list. She probably visited the White House on more than one occasion. It doesn’t matter, I don’t expect her to remember me.
“Can I give you a ride somewhere, Colonel Mackenzie?”
She looks away. I think she wants to say ‘yes’. I hope she wants to say ‘yes’. She looks at the row of buildings on the other side of the street. There’s a light on the second floor, and I wonder who lives there.
“Yes – please.”
I open the passenger door for her and she gets in. She’s dripping wet. I retrieve a towel from the luggage in the backseat.
“Thanks.” She takes it from me and rubs her hair. She gives me an address. “Do you know the area?”
“Sure,” I say.
The rain subsides eventually. From the corner of my eye I see her shiver beneath the towel wrapped around her shoulders.
“Sarah,” she says, too quickly, like she’s been snapped out of a dream. “Call me Sarah.”
“Sarah, is there anything I can help you with?”
“Probably not,” she smiles. She laughs a little. “I drove…”
“I drove – I left my car back there.”
“Do you want me to take you back?”
She shakes her head. “I’m not usually like this.”
I smile. “I understand.”
She smiles, her eyes watching the road ahead. "It’s just up here.”
We pull up to the curb. She opens the door to get out. “I have a drier in my apartment, it would take fifteen minutes to dry this,” she says.
“Great - thanks,” I say.
Lily told me I was too backward, but I always believed that things would happen if I let them. A part of me was just bursting to be proven right. Other parts didn’t want to tempt fate.
You’re just going to get your towel, I tell myself. She’s just going to dry your towel. And it didn’t matter if it really was nothing, because it was worth it all to be under the Colonel’s dark-eyed stare just a little longer.
The apartment is in disarray. There are two empty boxes just inside the door and there are books stacked in a pile on the floor by the bookshelf.
But perhaps what is most disconcerting is a table with gift boxes. Someone’s just had a birthday – or an engagement.
She catches me looking at them. “I was about to be married.”
A broken heart, I think. The light above the street?
“He left - it wasn’t working out.”
“Is that where you were…”
“No,” she waves a hand dismissively. “That’s the reason he left.” She gestures towards the door. “I’ll go put this in the drier. Make yourself at home.”
She disappears. I take a seat on the couch, not quite sinking into but trying to look relaxed.
There are photos on the mantelpiece. From here, I can make out uniforms. All my knowledge of the armed services comes from my parents’ perverse fascination with MASH and Sarah looks nothing like Henry Blake or Sherman Potter so I figure the armed services have been through a few changes since the Korean War.
I cross my legs at the ankles and rub my feet against each other. My jeans are wet at the hems and a little cold.
Sarah reappears in sweats and offers to make coffee.
“Are you cold?” she says, and she doesn’t wait for an answer before she switches the gas heater on. “Do you live around here?”
In the light her eyes are a little puffy in the lids. I wonder how long she stood in the rain before I got there. “I’m from Kansas. I’m just visiting friends.”
She brings coffee and sits in the chair across from me. “You said you were working in the White House?”
I went back to college, I went to Korea, I tried to patch things up with my parents – with little result. I went to look for America and only gave up when I learned that my Modern Japanese History class was filling up fast.
“I went back to college.”
The phone rings.
She watches it for a while. We both do.
“Are you going to answer that?”
She shakes her head slowly. “No.”
The answering machine kicks in. It’s her voice.
“Hi, this is Sarah and Mic…” Before it can finish she’s on her feet and wrenching the phone and the answering machine out of the wall sockets.
She stares at the tangled cords on the floor.
“Wow,” I say quietly.
She makes a strange sound, as if she’s choking, but when she turns around she’s laughing. “Oh God,” she says. “Look at me. This just – this sort of thing doesn’t happen to me.”
But somehow I knew that.
I stand. My knees are tired-sore. I shift my weight from one foot to the other. “I should go…”
“Yes…” she nods.
“Will you be okay?” I want to put my hand on her shoulder. I raise it slightly but it falls to my side again.
“I’ll be fine.” She has the sweetest smile, however fleeting.
I turn to leave.
“Cathy – wait!”
I turn back again.
“Your towel.” She disappears. I bend down and rub my knees. I should sleep somewhere tonight and I think I should probably call Ginger and tell her to fluff me a pillow or two. I check the time. Only eleven – Ginger probably isn’t home yet.
Sarah reappears holding my towel. “You’ve been so kind,” she says.
“No problem – really. I probably just cost you a cab ride to your car…” I try to joke. She looks pained.
“If only that were the case…”
She shakes her head. I clutch my towel.
“You know when you came along, I was…” Her hands do a little aimless dance and then fall to her side. “I was thinking I needed a drink – only I don’t just have a drink, I usually have several – or more than I can count – and then I end up on the floor somewhere – or somewhere I shouldn’t be…”
“You have – you have a drinking problem?”
“Yeah. I have – a drinking problem, but – you know- it’s been so long…” She reaches out and places a hand on my arm. “Thank you, Cathy.”
I look down at where she’s holding my arm and I think that I should probably kiss her. I think that Lily would have told me to act first, think later, which is why we were together in the first place.
I shift position, bringing myself closer to her without seeming obvious – waiting to see if she makes the next move. And she does. Like some barn dance mating game she mimics my movement so we’re just inches apart.
Her eyes are huge. There are her eyes and her hand on my arm and nothing else.
“You know, this isn’t what I expected…”
Me neither, but I like surprises.
When she is naked, she closes her eyes.
I touch her from her neck to her pubis, as she lies back against the cushion of the bedspread. She raises her hips to meet my hand. She’s warm, almost burning across her chest and I wonder if the rain has given her a fever or whether I have.
She grips my shoulders when I kiss her. Her hands lift from my shoulders to my hair and she kisses me back, hard.
I take her hand and place her fingers in my mouth. Her fingernails are blunt and her touch is delicate. She smells like rain.
She asks for nothing and she is mostly silent save for the little cries that escape her as her climax builds. My fingers move inside her. I bend down to taste her and she throws her head back as the cries get louder.
Her eyes are closed and I wonder who she is thinking of and whether she’ll tell me when she comes. But she doesn’t. Instead she moans and says “God, God…” repeatedly before she can no longer take the pressure of my tongue against her and she moves away from me.
When we are level once more she kisses me. She lies on her side and smooths a hand across my stomach. Her eyes are wide and glowing with the heat of someone who has just had a fierce orgasm.
She raises herself and leans on her hand. “I can do the same for you,” she says. “Do you want me to?”
Her fingers trail up my ribcage.
In our last weeks together Lily and I visit the student union’s Monday night screening of classic cinema. On this night, it’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and Lily and I pack blankets and cushions for the unusually harsh seating.
Underneath the blanket she feels for my hand. When she finds it she presses a gummy bear into my palm.
That night I dreamt of floating in space. I had been cast off like the astronaut in 2001 – set in perpetual motion and destined to drift until I crashed into something.
“That film was enough to give anyone weird dreams,” Lily says when I tell her about it.
And maybe it was just powerful images still processing in my mind but I’ve been drifting since then - just waiting for the crash.
3am at a gas station just outside Falls Church. The attendant serves coffee in a foam cup. It’s too hot. I pass it from one hand to the other and back again, occasionally blowing across the top – as if that will help.
Back in the car it takes three attempts to get the engine running again and I’m pretty sure I flooded it on the second. The radio comes to life each time I turn the key so that I get a fragmented version of Johnny Cash singing “Heads Carolina, Tails California.” Nothing like country music when you’re running away.
Somewhere between finding my underwear and sneaking out the door, I thought about leaving a note, and wondered whether it would be appreciated. In the end I left my towel on the floor where it had fallen when she kissed me. A possibility.
Sometimes, at night, you see a car coming towards you with their brights on. You find yourself caught in a burst of light that obliterates the road in front of you until you’re sure you're no longer following the lines anymore. And then there’s a second or two where you think you could be veering off the road into the barrier, only it passes and your eyes adjust and you’re miraculously still on course. At this point, I'm always amazed at how the car seems to know the road better than I do.
Sometimes, it's the only reassurance I need.
Johnny Cash sings, and the car hugs the road, and we’re not in Kansas anymore, but we’re going back.
Acknowledgments: To the cast of thousands who are responsible for this story – Gail who is all things JAG, Kat Mac who tolerated my hideous grammar, Lilla who found the holes in the plot and for Johnny Cash, and mi compadre and partner in crime and girlslash, Teanna who makes it all fun.
And thanks to Sorkin, Bellisario (for Mac and for Mac only), and to a lesser extent (blink and you’ll miss it) Sherman Palladino, because I love messing with your characters.
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