***Hotel room in Los Angeles***
Carlie Carlisle had experienced a few earthquakes in her decade and a half in Southern California. But this one was stronger than those others, and it was lasting way longer. She almost wondered if it would ever end. But she knew that it must, right?
They say your life flashes before your eyes before you die, and she certainly had her regrets, but if she was going to die, this was how she wanted to go. In the arms of the woman she loved. It had taken her years to come to terms with that. Perhaps until this very moment, she had not really accepted it.
Or who she was. Her first sexual experience was with her best friend at summer camp. When she got home and told her parents she thought she might be lesbian, her mother had dismissed it, pointing to statistics about same-sex experimentation among teens. And as a blond cheerleader, she had more attention from the boys than she wanted. Though she was a virgin when she graduated, rumors had her fucking half the football team.
College wasn’t much better. She had a massive crush on a sorority sister, but the other girl was firmly heterosexual. When Carlie drunkenly confessed and tried to kiss her, rumors spread across campus. She had gone so far as to lose her virginity to a boy just to prove she wasn’t a ‘dyke.’ She spent all of her twenties and most of her thirties trying to convince herself she was bi, at least.
It was only the last couple of years as the career she had dedicated her life to began to fall apart that Carlie started to examine all the things she had sacrificed to get where she was professionally. And this woman was at the top of that list.
No, it wasn’t her life that flashed through Carlie Carlisle’s head. It was the one she could have had. Nights falling asleep like this in Monique’s arms. Mornings waking up next to her. Maybe even marriage and children.
Instead, she had chosen her image and career. Because what would America think if they knew that QBLA’s hot, sultry weather girl was lesbian? And where had it gotten her? One step away from being fired. Aging women did not have the same gravitas that her wrinkled and gray-haired co-anchor did.
She was coming to accept that the career she loved was over. Goodness knows, she had made enough money. Well, if she sold her condo and moved somewhere cheaper. But none of it would matter if what she believed was true. Yes, this had begun as a way to leave a legacy in newscasting. After all, breaking the news that the world as we know it was coming to an end was the story of the century.
Even if it did not save her career, at least she could feel all those sacrifices had been worth it. That her choices had made a difference. That was it. Somewhere along the line, this had become about more than just salvaging her waning career. It was about the truth. And getting that truth out before it was too late.
Monique shoved her shoulders, and they rolled over. Carlie felt so bereft that her mind did not even register what the other woman was doing for a moment. She shook her head and focused as her friend and lover began to grab things and shove them into her oversized bag. “What are you doing?”
She spun to face Carlie, her dark eyes wide with panic. “I need to get out of here.”
“Why? It’s stopped. The earthquake has stopped, Monique.” She knew that she sounded like she was speaking to a child. But right now, she wasn’t certain where Monique’s mind was. This was not like the calm, collected scientist Carlie knew and loved. “We’re safer inside. The hotel is new, built to the latest code, so there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Nothing to worry about?” Her lover threw her arms wide, pointing to the large window that looked out on LAX as planes landed and took off. “My family. My family is out there somewhere. My daughter. Maria and the other children. I have to get to them.”
A bullet to the brain would have been quicker and kinder than those words. How could she have forgotten? The woman that Monique loved. The child that they had together. It had been her justification for not committing to their relationship. Why should she risk her career by coming out of the closet when Monique still loved her ex?
Monique grabbed her phone from beside the bed and headed towards the door, but she stopped with her hand on the knob. “Sacré bleu,” she turned back towards Carlie. “Give me your keys.”
Carlie shook her head, “What? Why do you want my keys?”
“I took a cab from the airport. I need your car.”
She was shaking her head. Not that Carlie wouldn’t give this woman anything she wanted, but Monique was not in a frame of mind to be driving right now. Especially not in an emergency situation.
Monique reached into the front pocket of that bag and pulled out something. What she said next floored Carlie, “I’ll trade you. This disk has all the information you want. I promised Brent not to go public for forty-eight hours. But it’s yours if you give me your keys.”
Fifteen minutes ago, when she came into that hotel room, Carlie’s answer would have been instant. But those couple of minutes had shaken something loose inside of her. Yes, it might seem ridiculous to sacrifice her career and life to reunite your lover with the family and woman Monique loved but….
Carlie stood up on shaky legs and crossed the room. She wrapped her finger around Monique’s and fisted both around the USB drive. Then she lightly brushed her lips across Monique’s. The kiss was bittersweet and so much less than what Carlie wanted but probably more than she had the right to ask of the universe.
“Where are we going?”
Monique shook her head, and Carlie was reminded of how it felt to thread her fingers through that riot of curls as she held her lover’s face between her legs. But those were just memories. “Rosarita. Rosarita, Mexico. Brent’s people traced Maria and the children there. At least that’s the last we know.”
Carlie knew how precious that information was to her friend. They had been together the weekend that Monique learned of the massacre of Maria’s husband, family, and many supporters. Over three dozen people murdered in cold blood.
She had held Monique through the hysterics when they believed Maria and the children among the victims. She had witnessed the elation when they learned that their bodies were not among the victims. And she knew of the time and money the woman had poured into finding her family. But Monique’s detectives were always just behind them. Carlie wasn’t the type to pray, but she sent one up anyway. She hoped this time the information was good.