Mixed Signals

Chapter 3

Contrary to her promise, Celica did very little thinking. A twenty-four hour bender began the moment she blew out the door and ended in the wee hours of the following morning when she returned home and passed out. As usual, her good friend alcohol was always there to numb the pain she was too frightened to deal with head-on, so the intermittent thinking she did between shots of this and pints of that brought her no closer to a breakthrough than she was before. On top of that, her killer hangover made her late for work in the morning, and she received a severe dressing-down from her superior officer, Integra Martel.

"What have I told you about all this?" Integra demanded. "For pity's sake, I can still smell peppermint schnapps on your breath!"

"No, you can't," Celica groaned from behind her sunglasses. "That's my toothpaste. Don't be so melodramatic."

Integra sighed wearily. "Well, take a seat. You'll be on report duty today while the rest of us pretend we're Special Security Divison, because I refuse to place an officer in the field who's not at the peak of performance."

"Roger, Chief. Desk jockey. I'll do my best."

Sylvia snickered. "I doubt it, you lush. But try not to mess anything up so bad it sets us back three days - like after last Appreciation Day. Remember? All those-"

"I remember, I remember. Leave me alone, okay?"

Once everyone had exited to man the mobile response vehicles, Celica slumped against her terminal. This was great. Her personal life was beginning to bleed into her work. All she wanted was to go home and sleep.

"So this is how it's going to be now, huh?"

Celica jumped, gaping at Accela across the table from her. "Y-you- I thought you left with the others!"

"I stayed behind to have a word with you. I do still have that right, don't I?"

Now she collapsed back into her seat, leaning too far back. "It's a free city."

"What are you doing, what it this? You told me you were going to try to dry out a little, and now you come in positively reeking of booze. Are you just going to drink until you die?"

"Maybe I will," she said defiantly. "It's my right as a registered citizen to spend my off-hours however I want. Even if it kills me."

Now Accela did stand, eyes narrowed. "Good luck with that, then."

She was nearly at the door, steps hurried and efficient, when Celica whispered, "Wait."

"Why should I?"

"I'm..." But what words could have any real effect? She knew there was plenty she wanted to say, to try and convince her friend that she was still exactly that: a friend. However, what little came to her sounded trite and prosaic. "I'm sorry."

"You know what, Celica? You are. You really, really are." With that parting gibe, she left.

It was about twenty minutes before Celica could stop crying enough to get to work on the reports.

o o o

It's been a week, Accela Warrick thought to herself as she wandered through the aisles at the supermarket. Every morning, Celica shows up at RUC Headquarters a few minutes late, and she always smells like whiskey. And she won't talk to me. Well, that's not true; she tells me to stay out of it, then tries to say something else, then tells me to forget it. But she won't REALLY open up. Am I... losing her?

This thought brought up a whole other batch of worries. What did she mean when she worried about "losing" Celica? As a friend? Or as something deeper than a friend?

There could be no comfortably denying outright that she'd felt something when they kissed. Not that she wanted anything of the kind. She liked having such a dependable best friend, someone who could come over and hang out and be sociable, who she could trust with her innermost thoughts and hardships. But Celica seemed to desire more. Oh, she denied it, made a big stink about not meaning to force anything deeper, but Accela wasn't that naive; she'd felt her lips, heard her frenzied heartbeat beforehand. Her frantic attempts to backpedal were probably only because Accela hadn't been open-minded enough to join her in pursuing an alternate lifestyle. She didn't want anything of the kind. Period.

That didn't mean she enjoyed watching her best friend suffer. It tore her to ribbons inside. But there was nothing she could do until Celica could grow up and accept their friendship as it was, without pressing for some ugly perversion of it. Nothing but suffer along with her, from afar.

"Hello again!"

Accela smiled when she noticed the person calling to her; it was that green-haired girl, the one who always dressed in orange spandex. "Oh, hello. Fancy running into you here! What are you after?"

"I am hoping to prepare something extra special tonight," she said, cheeks glowing. "Something with potatoes!"

"Ahh, I see," she giggled. "Have you thought about chives? They usually complement potatoes quite nicely."

Giant green eyes blinked. "What are 'chives'?"

Accela's impromptu shopping assistance was a salve for her aching soul. This odd girl had bumped into her on more than one occasion, and asked for her advice several times as well. Wasn't it fun to have someone to chat with, someone completely removed from the work situation, or the... other situation? They both parted ways in the parking lot, and Accela tottered home, a lightness in her heart that hadn't been present before. She scarcely thought of her troubles with her coworker... and when she did, she felt more resigned to let things run their course. Why work herself into a fury? Celica was obviously going through something, and she'd be there for her when she needed it. Until then, all she could do was step back and wait to be approached.

o o o

"Another one, Bob."

Bob frowned at his customer. "Are you sure? That's the fifth one tonight. Maybe want me to start cutting 'em with cola?"

"Straight up, pops," Celica mumbled, pounding the counter with her fist. "Let's go, lemme have it."

While the bartender was busy pouring her drink and shaking his head, a tall, lean man with tousled red hair leaned his back against the bar. "Hey, baby. What's so horribly wrong in this crazy world that a pretty thing like you is drinking alone tonight?"

"Everything." Her drink arrived, and she swallowed half of it in one gulp. "My life's a total vacuum of horrors. What's it to ya?"

"Well, I figured we could go someplace and... discuss it. A little one-on-one therapy session."

Celica let out a bark of laughter. "That's funny. You wanna hook up with me, and you don't even care that I'm sitting here in pain. Just as long as I'm a warm body."

"Don't even have to be warm, really." When she cocked an eyebrow, he laughed. "That was a joke. You've heard of those before, right? No, I dig everything you got to offer, pain and all - and you look like you could use a good roll in the hay." Perhaps because she started growling, he held up both hands and inched away from her, but was no less at ease with himself than before. "Whoa, don't be like that. All I'm offering is some cold comfort, a distraction; we both get what we're after, no strings. Say no if you want... but I don't think you do."

Twenty minutes later found them getting awfully hot and bothered in a seedy motel room nearby. Half of her clothes were already on the floor and she was working on his, hands frenzied, lips mashing into his as she panted.

I think he had me dead to rights, she thought as she jerked his shirt the rest of the way open, ripping buttons from their places. I do need this. God, this feels amazing - how long has it been?

He was aroused. Probably had been before they got inside the room, even, the perverted scum. But perverted scum was what she required on such a night; someone who made no bones about what they were doing, who just wanted to sate his primal urges with a willing companion. Both of them would climax, both of them would leave satisfied, and both of them would probably never see each other again. Simple, beautiful, and functional.

But as he slowly kissed between her thighs, building to the moment when he would start on what lay within, she watched his head bobbing... and noticed his hair was red. Unwillingly, she was reminded of the last redhead she had been so bodily close to.

"Accela..."

"Huh?" the man said, sitting up. "You say somethin', babe?"

"Nah," she grunted, rubbing her own chest through her brassiere. "Keep at it, loverboy; you're doing well so far."

"Thanks," he laughed, going back to his actions. But now she couldn't stop thinking of Accela. Why? At first, the thoughts weren't too unseemly; just wondering what she was out there doing, if she was okay, if she was lonely. She determinedly forced her mind back to the pleasure at hand, watching this chiseled chunk of man-flesh going at her, touching her, making her feel sparks... except that he wasn't.

Not half the sparks she'd felt from kissing her best friend.

Now, as his hand gently eased against her through the thin fabric, her brain was so unkind as to conjure up memories of her lips against Accela's, their legs rubbing together, her hands on her wet, naked back in the shower. Tears formed at the corner of her eyes from the dismay of being forced to watch those scenes play over and over in her mind as she was being touched so intimately. Couldn't they wait until she and the guy from the bar were finished?

"Oh, that's so good," the guy grunted as he moved the cotton aside, face inches away; she could feel his hot breath. He was closing the distance...

"STOP!"

Then she was on her feet, arms wrapped around her stomach.

"What?" he sputtered, surprised. "I... hang on, what's the matter?"

"I'm sorry," she apologized earnestly, passing a hand through her sweat-dampened hair. "Seriously, guy. I... I mean, I came up here, thinking I could do this, I really did, but now... God, I don't know what's wrong with me."

He let out one of those half-amused, half-shocked laughs. "Okay, so... what, wasn't I doing it right? You seemed to be appreciating it so far."

"No, don't get the wrong idea," she said kindly, picking up her button-down white shirt and pulling it on. "This really doesn't have anything to do with how good you are. Because so far as I can tell, you have some mad skills, and you're a total hottie, but... I don't think this is gonna happen. I really am sorry."

"Wait a damn minute." He stood now, gesturing to the endowment beneath his well-cut jeans. "Maybe you suddenly aren't up for having some fun, but come on... don't leave me hangin'."

"Kinda gotta," she laughed. "Sex is like, the last thing I feel like doing all of a sudden. It'd just suck."

He smirked at her. "I wouldn't mind that."

Celica had been reaching for her purse, but now she held up both hands. "Ohhh, no you don't, cowboy; I don't do that. I mean, I've tried it before, yes - which is why I no longer do it. Talk about disgusting."

"You gotta give me something, here!" he complained, gesturing to himself again. Celica could see the bulge was nothing to sneeze at, and felt some momentary misgivings about what she was turning her back on. "Put yourself in my place; I'm all worked up. How would you feel if I just walked out on you?"

That brought to mind an image of herself storming out of her friend's apartment like a coward. Accela had been right about that; it was a huge mistake to flee the scene of the crime instead of staying behind to work things out. "Rotten, that's how."

"Well?"

Nodding, Celica reached into her purse and plopped a twenty down on the dresser. "This should be enough to cover the cost of a pay-per-view movie. Knock yourself out."

"Hey- hey wait up, don't go yet!"

His hand slammed into the door as her hand began to turn the knob.

"You don't wanna do this," she said in a low, dangerous tone. "Trust me. It'd be a lot smarter for you to let me leave."

"I don't think I'm asking too much," he panted into her ear, animal lust still gripping him. "Just... maybe use your hands or whatever. Anything, come on, just take care of me a little so I don't feel like I got used up and thrown away."

She pulled the door open a crack, but his weight shut it as quickly. "You sure? Anything?"

"Anything."

With alarming speed, she spun to face him and drove her knee into his nether regions. He crumpled like a paper doll in a trash compactor.

"There," she sighed as she stood over him, watching him moan and writhe on the carpet. "Your balls enjoyed a little brush with a woman, right? You did say 'anything'."

"You... friggin'... you bitch..."

"I know I am," she sighed, bending over him and placing a hand on his shoulder. "And I'm not saying you're such a bad guy, you were mostly pretty cool about all this. My baggage was a huge cockblock for you tonight, and again, I sympathize. Just... don't ever, EVER stop a woman from leaving a room by force again. You never know when she might work for RUC Security."

His eyes somehow bulged out even farther. "A cop...!"

Her badge was instantly in his face, and he squeezed his eyes shut again. "Oh, you're not under arrest or anything, don't worry. Having me build up your load and not let you finish, then getting kicked in the gonads? You've been through plenty for one night. Silver lining is, at least you can tell your buddies back at the bar that you got some physical contact; I won't even contradict them if they happen to ask." Then she stood and, after a moment's debate, grabbed the money off the dresser. "But for blocking my initial exit, I'm taking this back. Toodles."

He didn't bother to say another word as she walked out on him, humming a tune to herself and smiling.

o o o TO BE CONTINUED o o o

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