Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Reunion (Liv): Are They Ever Wrong?

Hey all!  Thanks for sticking around :)  Since I'm not really writing along any sort of real storyline anymore, this post takes a jump about two years into the future.  Enjoy!

"I have good news!" Brody said cheerfully when I answered his call.

"You're bringing me back some real cheese curds?" I asked.  Brody was currently in Milwaukee, working on a new contract.  I missed Wisconsin cheese curds.

Brody laughed.  "I can do that too, so I guess I have double good news.  Everything is going really well, so I'll be back tomorrow instead of Saturday."

"That is good news!" I agreed.  "Though I can't promise the house will be clean.  I've been exhausted this week."

"I don't care even a little about the state of the house, I'm just looking forward to seeing you," he said.  "My flight gets in at 7:05, maybe we can get dinner together on the way home?"

"That sounds great!"

We talked for a few more minutes and then we hung up so we could both get to bed.  The next day, when school was done at 2:50, signaling the end of my work day, I calculated that if I went straight home, I could nap for an hour and a half before I had to shower and get ready to go pick up Brody.  I had no idea why I was so tired this week.

I let Eddie out, then brought him upstairs with me.  We fell asleep with ease and I grumbled when my alarm went off.  I hauled myself out of bed and into the shower, then re-straightened my hair and put on some light makeup.  It was an unseasonably warm February day, so I pulled on a navy polka dot dress, a gray cardigan, and tights.  It had been awhile since I'd gotten dressed up just for the hell of it, and I had a lot more energy after my nap.

I got to the airport at 6:50 and parked in the cell phone lot, waiting to hear from Brody.  I was glad he never checked bags for these short trips, because I was eager to see him.  He'd only been gone for 3 days, but we'd both had a busy week before that and hadn't gotten to spend much time together then either.  Brody's work schedule was so much more reasonable now, but we both got swamped from time to time.

I got a text from him at 7:11 saying that he was getting off the plane, so I drove over to arrivals to find him.  I only had to wait a few minutes before I spotted him.  "Hi!" I exclaimed, jumping out of the car and throwing my arms around him.  "I missed you."

"Well, hello!" he said with a laugh, hugging me with the arm that wasn't holding his carry-on.  "I missed you too, Liv."  He kissed the top of my head, then my forehead, then my lips when I tilted my head up.

I dragged myself away so we could get in the car and get out of the airport.  My stomach was rumbling and I needed some dinner soon.  "How was your flight?" I asked Brody as I pulled away from the curb.

"It was alright," he replied, rubbing the spot between his eyebrows tiredly.  "There was a screaming baby right behind me.  I felt terrible for his parents, but also for my ears."

I snorted.  "That does make for a rather miserable flight," I agreed.  "I promise I won't do any screaming tonight."

Brody opened his mouth, closed it, opened it, and closed it again, shaking his head and laughing.  "Not going to touch that one," he said.

My face turned red as I laughed with him.  "I mean, I guess that would be up to you."

Brody snorted and reached across the center console for my hand.  "I know I was only gone a few days, but I really missed you."

"I missed you too," I told him, glancing at him and smiling.  We figured out where to go for dinner and I navigated there easily, finally able to get around this city without an issue.  It taken long enough.

We got lucky and didn't even have to wait for a table.  It was nice to eat and relax with Brody after a busy week.  I yawned several times over dessert, prompting Brody to offer to drive home.  "Long day?" he asked.

"I've just been so tired this week," I said, shaking my head.

I closed my eyes and the next thing I knew, Brody was gently shaking me awake.  "We're home," he told me softly.

"Mmm, I knew that," I mumbled sleepily.  "I wasn't sleeping."

Brody laughed as he pulled his carry-on out of the back.  "Okay," he replied.  "Then we'd better get you to bed so you can sleep."

Eddie jumped around like a crazy dog when Brody and I came inside.  "Hey bud!" Brody said, crouch down to rub his ears.  Eddie licked Brody's face and wiggled excitedly.  "I missed you too, were you a good boy for Liv?"  Eddie wiggled harder and let out a sharp bark, clearly indicating he was the best boy.  "I'll let him out, go get ready for bed," Brody said to me.

"No, you just got home, and I know you want to shower.  I can let him out," I protested.

In the end, Brody won, and I trudged upstairs to wash off my makeup and brush my teeth while Brody went out on the deck with Eddie.  By the time I was done, Brody was in the bedroom, throwing some things from his suitcase into the laundry basket.  He kissed me on his way past me into the bathroom.  "I'm just going to take a quick shower, okay?"  I nodded and climbed into bed.

 I made myself stay awake while I waited for Brody to get out of the shower.  When he got into bed I rolled to face him and my lips found his in the dark.  "Hi," I said between kisses.

"I didn't think you would have any energy," he replied with a chuckle, moving his lips to my neck.  "Not that I'm complaining."

"Shut up and kiss me, or you'll miss your chance," I warned him.  He laughed and kissed me hard, rolling over until he was on top of me, between my legs.  I had just enough energy for one round of sex, and then I happily fell asleep in Brody's arms.

I didn't even wake up when Brody got up in the morning.  When I did wake up, I rolled over, confused by the emptiness of the bed next to me.  I squinted at the clock, surprised to see it was 9:30.  Brody had probably been up for hours.

"Good morning, beautiful," he greeted me with a smile when I made my way downstairs.

"Morning," I grumbled.

"Want some breakfast?  Eggs, maybe?"

My stomach turned at the thought of eggs and I shook my head.  "Just coffee," I said, frowning and sitting down at the table.  Eddie trotted over to me and laid his head in my lap.  I rubbed it briefly.  When I stopped, he nudged me and whined softly.  "Down," I commanded him.  He laid down, but he looked at me reproachfully and whined again.

Brody looked at me with concern.  "Are you feeling alright?"

"Yeah, my stomach is just a little upset," I said, rubbing my forehead.

Brody frowned.  "Well, drinking just coffee on an empty stomach isn't going to help," he pointed out.  "Toast?"

"Sure," I agreed.  I yawned.  I was so tired.  Brody, saint that he was, made me some toast and coffee and brought both to me.

When I gagged a little on my first bite of toast, Brody said, "Do you think maybe you should take a test?"

"I'm not pregnant," I replied, choking down another bite of toast.  My stomach roiled angrily and I set the uneaten toast down on the plate Brody had provided.  "I don't feel pregnant."

"Sweetheart, you don't know what 'pregnant' feels like," Brody pointed out gently.

He had a point.  I didn't.  Despite us spending the last 8 months trying to get pregnant, I still had no idea what being pregnant felt like.  I'd thought I was pregnant.  Several times, in fact.  Each time, I convinced myself that this was it, that I was absolutely, positively, without a shadow of a doubt pregnant.  And each time, I filled the bathroom garbage with First Response pregnancy tests with just one line.  Well, after the third time that happened, I'd switched to cheaper tests.

"Maybe if I still feel like this tomorrow," I said, finally.  I had felt a little sick the last couple mornings too.

Brody kissed the top of my head as I attempted another bite of toast, then said, "Sounds like a plan.  I'm going to get a little bit of work done, and then I'm all yours after lunch, okay?"

"Okay," I agreed, smiling at him.

I had been planning on going to the gym and then the grocery store this morning, but I was so tired and nauseated that I decided to just go back to bed for a little while.  The toast had settled my stomach a bit and I fell back to sleep fairly easily.  When I woke up, I felt much better.

Feeling more curious than anything, I decided to listen to Brody's suggestion and pulled a pregnancy test out of a drawer in the bathroom.  I left the test on the counter to process while I jumped in the shower.  I rushed through my shower, realizing I needed to know what the test said right now.

Still dripping water, with a towel hastily wrapped around me, I took a deep breath and looked at the test.  "Oh my god," I whispered.  Then, "Brody!"  Not sure if he'd heard me all the way down in his office, I stuck my head out of the bathroom, into our room, and yelled again.  "BRODY!" 

Turned out it wasn't necessary, and he appeared breathlessly in our room not 3 seconds later.  "Are you okay?" he asked me, looking alarmed.  "Liv?  What's wrong?"

Finding myself suddenly unable to speak, I waved him into the bathroom and motioned at the counter.  Brody looked at the pregnancy test, then at me, and then at the test again.  Then he put one hand on either side of my face.  "Two lines're pregnant?"

I nodded as much as I could with Brody's hands on my face.  "I'm pregnant," I confirmed, a lump rising in my throat.

"You're pregnant," Brody repeated.

"I'm pregnant."

We stared at each other for several more seconds before Brody's face split into a huge grin and he wrapped his arms around me.  By the time he let go, I was crying, and his eyes weren't exactly dry either.  He backed out of the bathroom, tugging me with him.  Brody sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled me down onto his lap.  Wrapping one arm around me, he touched my stomach lightly with the fingers of his other hand.  "Do you think..." he started, looking up at me.  "I mean, are they ever wrong?  The tests?"

I shrugged.  "Sometimes?  Maybe?  I guess I don't really know.  I could take another one."

"Not right now," he said quickly.  He spread his hand flat across my stomach and stared at it in wonder.  "It doesn't look like you're pregnant."

I laughed.  "Well, I'm sure that will change," I told him, leaning against him and resting my cheek against the top of his head.

Brody shifted me off his lap and stood, pulling me against him.  "I love you so much, Liv," he said.  Then he crouched in front of me until he was eye level with my stomach and said, "And I love you."

I bit my lip and looked down at him, suddenly overwhelmed with emotion.  "I love you, too," I said softly, pulling him to his feet before I lost it completely.  Just then, Eddie wandered in, happily panting away.  He bounded over and nudged both of our legs before laying down and rolling onto his side, looking up at us.  I laughed.  "I love you, too, Eddie," I said, bending to rub his belly.

Brody shook his head.  "You sure know how to steal a lady's thunder, Ed," he said, sitting on the floor and rubbing behind Eddie's ear.  Eddie whined and shoved his head against Brody's hand, leaning into it.  I joined them on the floor, snuggling against Brody's side as Eddie stretched himself across our laps.  "We're going to have a baby," Brody said softly, kissing the top of my head.

"Yeah," I agreed.  "We are."  

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Reunion (Kinsley)

"Nooo," I groaned, rolling onto my side and pulling the blanket up to my face.  "Too early, even for me."

"You warned me that you'd argue," Damien pointed out, pulling the blanket down to my knees.  "And you told me to persist.  C'mon, let's get up and run."

I let out a noise that was half sigh, half rabid growl.  Opening my eyes as little as possible, I reached for my phone.  "It's 4:59," I whined.  "It's not even 5!"

Damien paused, his eyes on his watch.  "It is now," he said with a grin, 20 seconds later.  "Up!"

"I hate you and everything else," I informed him, rubbing pathetically at my eyes, which I couldn't seem to open.  "Fuck."

Damien had talked me into a signing up for a 10k with him.  I'm not even a little bit sure how I let that happen, but at this moment I was not pleased about it.  "You know," I muttered, swinging my legs over the side of the bed and maybe-or-maybe-not-accidentally kicking him in the hip as I did so, "Some of us prefer to exercise in the evenings."

"But I love running with you when you have such a great attitude about it," he said, straight-faced. "And in the evening you're sort of cheerful.  It's awful."

"Oh, I can give you attitude any time you want," I retorted, pulling a tank top out of my drawer.  I tossed it on the bed and opened the next drawer.  "Where are all my fucking shorts?"

"Probably in the large pile of dirty laundry you have," Damien pointed out helpfully.  I chose to say nothing, instead just giving him a withering look.  He laughed and kissed my cheek.  "Coffee?"

"It's the least you could do," I grumbled.

By the time I had some passably clean-ish shorts and my tank top on, Damien had a cup of coffee for me.  I drank half of it in a couple gulps, then set it down on the counter.  "Okay," I said.  "Let's get it over with."

Oddly enough, after the run, a shower, and more coffee, I felt significantly better.  Good, even.  "Isn't it great to have your workout done already?"  Damien asked, coming out of my bathroom with a towel around his waist.

I eyed that towel hungrily and said, "I mean, I still have some energy left if--"

"Tonight," Damien promised.  "I have to get ready and get out of here."

I frowned.  "Fine, but I'm going to hold you to it!"

"We'll see who is holding who to what later," he replied, leaning down to kiss me.

I groaned.  "You're cruel!" I exclaimed as he straightened.  "Now I'm going to be thinking about it all day."

"You make that sound like a bad thing," he said with a shrug.  "I'll see you tonight.  What time are we meeting Kaleb and his girlfriend?"

"6:30," I said, standing up to kiss him one more time before he left.

Damien let his lips linger on mine, and I wasn't entirely sure I could make it through an entire work day and dinner with my brother and his new girlfriend before getting my hands on him.  "I'll be there," he told me, breaking into my inappropriate thoughts.

We said goodbye and I finished getting ready for work.  I really did feel great after our run this morning.  It probably helped that I really was a morning person.  Just not a 5am morning person.

My work day went fairly fast, though I was slightly nervous about meeting Kaleb's new girlfriend.  My relationship with my brother was still so new itself, I wasn't terribly sure about adding a new person to the mix.  But Kaleb was so excited to introduce me to Ellen, so I felt bad for being so hesitant.

I left work about 10 minutes before 6 and got to the restaurant about 15 minutes early.  I put our name on the list and for a table and went to the bar, hoping a drink would help settle my nerves.  I ordered a run and coke and sipped it slowly, because an appearance by Drunk Kinsley would be the worst thing for the evening.

A gentle hand on my shoulder startled me, and I looked up to see Damien.  "Sorry," he said guiltily.  "I should have known better than to sneak up on you."

"It's okay," I said, tilting my chin up for a quick kiss.  "Hi."

"Hi," he replied, smiling.  He sat down on the empty stool next to me and started to say something else, but then I saw Kaleb come in with a tall, pretty brunette.  I stood up and waved to him and they came over.

Kaleb smiled at us, and I recognized the line between his eyebrows.  He was just as nervous as I was.  "Hey!" I greeted them.  "Kaleb, you remember Damien, right?"  Kaleb had only spent time with Damien once (outside the disastrous Thanksgiving that had reintroduced me to Kaleb in the first place) and it had been awhile.

"Of course, good to see you again," Kaleb said, shaking his hand.  "This is my girlfriend Ellen.  Ellen, this is my sister Kinsley and her boyfriend Damien."  

"Hi, nice to meet you," she said, smiling shyly.

"Nice to meet you too," I said, taking her outstretched hand.  Just then, my phone buzzed with a text from the restaurant letting us know our table was ready.  Technology.

I was really glad Damien was there, because without him, our dinner would have been really awkward.  As it was, Kaleb and I were still awkward at times, and Ellen was quiet.  Damien could talk to anyone, and I was grateful for that.  I loosened up by the time our food came, and I chatted with Kaleb and Ellen, getting to know her.  "How did you guys meet?" I asked.

Ellen blushed and Kaleb laughed.  "I love this story," Kaleb said.  "I was at a bar with some buddies, and I was standing behind Ellen, waiting to get a drink.  Her friend grabbed her ass, and she thought it was me, so she slapped me."  Ellen's face was a color that I've only ever seen on Liv's.  "Luckily, I thought she was pretty, so I didn't hold it against her."

"One of these days I'm going to make something up.  Maybe something that's embarrassing to you!" Ellen exclaimed, but she was laughing.

"I met Kinsley when my friend ran into her friend and knocked her drink on the ground.  That's not nearly as good of a story," Damien said.

"It gets better if you add in that we only got together because your friend pretty much stalked my friend for the next couple weeks," I pointed out.

Damien laughed.  "To this day, James maintains that was all purely coincidental."

Ellen and Kaleb had to leave right after dinner, but Damien and I moved back to the bar to have another drink.  "She seems nice," I said.  "I'm glad I got to meet her."

"You and Kaleb seem a little more comfortable," Damien replied.  It had been a long and awkward road for Kaleb and I to reconnect, but we were both determined to push through it.  We'd been through a lot together and then had been out of communication for so long, some discomfort was to be expected.

We finished our drinks and then headed to Damien's house.  When we got there, Damien looked in the fridge and brought us both a beer.  Luckily it was Friday, so it didn't matter if I got a little tipsy.  I took the beer and took a long drink before I settled against Damien on the couch.  We didn't talk, both of us tired after a long week and an early morning.  We didn't need to, either.  It was one of the things I loved most about Damien--we could simply sit together silently and enjoy being with each other without feeling pressured to make conversation when it wasn't flowing naturally.

After I tipped the last of the beer into my mouth, Damien gently pulled the empty bottle from my fingers and set it on the end table.  "Ready for bed?" he asked.  I nodded, closing my eyes.  Several seconds later, Damien chuckled.  "You need to get up if we're going to bed," he said.

"Right," I replied, still making no move to get up.  Damien shifted so he could stand, then leaned down and before I could stop him, he scooped me up.  I laughed.  "Put me down, I'll walk!"

"Missed your chance," he said, walking to his bedroom with me in his arms.  He set me down on the bed and climbed on with me, kneeling above me as he kissed me.  "Still have some energy left?" he asked, pulling his lips from mine and kissing along my jaw to my neck.

"Always," I responded, wrapping my hand around the back of his neck.  I sighed contentedly as his continued to kiss down my neck and then along the neckline of my shirt.  30 seconds later, and most of my clothes were scattered around the bed.  He teased one nipple with his teeth and tongue, lightly gripped the hair at the back of my head with one hand, and used the other hand to stroke between my legs.  He got me close, then stopped suddenly, leaving me groaning in frustration.

I watched him pull his clothes off and grinned at him as he got back in bed, positioning himself between my legs.  He reached down and stroked me again until I was back to the point of nearly orgasming, then moved his hand and pushed into me.  I gasped and gripped his arms, and it didn't take long for me to come, digging my nails into his triceps and burying my face in his shoulder.  He thrust for several more seconds before pulling out, flipping me onto my stomach, and slamming back into me.   I came again a few minutes later, and he followed close behind.

"I can't believe you made me wait all day for that," I groaned, my face pressed into the pillow.

"Well it would have been really inappropriate to do that at the restaurant," he replied.

I rolled over and smacked him with the pillow.  "Really?"

He laughed and reached for me, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me closer.  "Really," he said, trying to be serious.

I rolled my eyes in the dark, settling against him.  We laid cuddled together for about 10 minutes before my yawning took over and I wiggled away.  "Goodnight, Damien," I mumbled, getting comfortable on my side of the bed.

"Goodnight, Kinsley," he said, leaning over to plant a kiss on my forehead and then one on my lips, lingering gently.  Between the early wake up, the long run that morning, the alcohol, and the sex, I was asleep by the time his lips left mine.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

I'm still here!

Hi all,
I'm sorry for my absence.  I've been swamped at work and gone on weekends.  I'm not sure when I'll be able to post again, but I hope in the next week or so.  I miss writing, and I have a few posts partially written, so I'm still planning to post a few more, I just need some more time.  This is why I had to stop writing regularly, unfortunately.  The good news is my job will be changing a bit in a couple months and my life will hopefully go back to normal(ish) then!

Thanks for your patience!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

No post this week

Hi all, so far I've actually managed a post a week (give or take a day or two) but it's looking very unlikely that I'll get one out this week.  I just wanted to let you all know so you're not checking this week.  Check back next week!  Thanks for your readership!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Reunion (Lauren): House Hunting

"I hate this kitchen," I say, looking around and wrinkling my nose.

Alex cocks an eyebrow at me and snorts.  "You hardly even cook, Laur, why does the kitchen matter?"

"The kitchen is where you entertain people," I reply, rolling my eyes.  

Now Alex just laughs.  "You don't do much of that either," he points out.

I huff in irritation and wander towards the next room.  "Well someday maybe I will."

Our realtor isn't hiding his disdain for my attitude and I don't blame him. "Hey," Alex says quietly, out of earshot of the realtor.  He lightly touches my back and I glance at him.  "What's up?"

"I'm frustrated," I tell him, sighing and briefly leaning my head onto his shoulder.  "This sucks."

"It does," he replies, kissing the top of my head. "Let's get through this one and then I'll take you out to dinner.  I think you might be hangry."

I glare at him from the corner of my eye and stalk into the living room.  This house is laid out stupidly.  I frown at one of the windows.  "This window frame is moldy.  I'm done here."

"Sorry," I hear Alex say to our realtor.  He catches up with me (impressively quickly, he's well-recovered from his skiing accident) and hisses, "Would you cut it out?  You can be honest without being bitchy."

I bite my tongue to keep from snapping back at him, because he's absolutely right.  "I'm sorry, Rick," I say repentantly to our realtor.  "I think the process is getting to me."

"Maybe you guys should take a break," Rick suggests.  "Even just a few weeks."  He must really be over my bullshit if he's passing up an opportunity to make money.  Or, maybe he senses the futility of the situation and thinks he's wasting his time.  I'm not sure he's wrong, at this point.  Anything I like, Alex hates.  Anything Alex likes, I don't.  There have been lots of jokes of side by side townhomes and having nothing in common.  It's not really funny anymore, though.

"We'll talk it over at dinner and let you know what we want to do," Alex answers, nudging me towards the door with a hand on my lower back.  

I say goodbye to Rick and walk out to the car with Alex.  Alex opens the passenger door for me and I manage a smile as I slide inside.  Once I'm settled into the seat I sigh and push my hands into my hair.  "Alex, I'm sorry," I tell him when he gets in the car.  "I just feel like we've been looking forever."

He laughs.  "It's only been a few months, Lauren.  But it has been frustrating.  With me recovering from my accident and getting back to work, and you starting a new job, maybe it isn't the best time to be looking for a house."

I stay quiet for a minute, then say, "So what are you saying?"

"Maybe we should put things on hold for awhile," he replies.  "You can get a little more settled in your job, and we can try again in the fall."

"And until then?"

He shrugs.  "We keep things how they are.  You've got your place, I have mine."

I consider this, but I'm not sure I love that idea either.  "I need food before we can have this conversation, I think," I respond.

"Well I probably should have fed you before we even looked at that house," Alex says with a smirk.  "So I'll definitely feed you before pushing you into any conversation about our future."

I glare at him, and even though he's looking at the road, he laughs.  I'm sure he can feel my eyeballs boring into his head.  "So much wit, so few brains."

"You're right, I should know better than to provoke you when you're hungry."  He reaches over the center console for my hand and I let him take it, winding my fingers through his.

Once Alex and I have drinks and an appetizer in front of us, I say, "Well, taking a break from looking for a house seems like a good idea."

"I agree," Alex replies with a nod.

"Well I imagine you would," I tell him, matter of factly.  "So in the meantime it just makes sense for me to move in with you."

Alex, who is taking a drink, sputters and coughs.  He sets his drink down and grabs his napkin.  Once he's gotten it together, he says, "I'm sorry, I think maybe I misheard you.  Did you just say it makes sense for you to move in with me?"  For once, he wasn't being sarcastic.

"Yes," I say, rolling my eyes.  "That's what I said.  Unless you don't want me to."

Alex shakes his head.  "Of course I want you to," he replies quickly.  "I'm just a bit surprised."

I shrug and take a sip of my drink.  "Well why pay for two places when we spend most every night together anyway?  And I thought about my place, but yours is closer to work for both of us and there's a bit more room, even if your house is laid out inefficiently."

"Oh, my house is inefficient?  That seems like a significant issue.  Are you sure you can handle it?"

I purse my lips and sigh.  "Of course, it won't be as big of an issue if I have more room because I've killed you for your insolence."

Alex laughs, shaking his head as our food arrives.  "I knew my mouth was going to get me in trouble eventually."

Once our waiter is a safe distance away, I smirk and say, "Your mouth can make up for its bad behavior later."

Alex cocks an eyebrow and nods knowingly.  "If you're lucky."

On the way out, Alex says, "So, shall we stay at your new place tonight or your old one?  Maybe the old one, so you can savor your last nights there?"

"Well at the rate you're going, I won't be having a new place, I'll just stay at the old one.  Forever."

Alex slings his arm around my shoulders and kisses my cheek.  "I love you, Laur."

"I love you too," I say, nestling into him in a rare show of public affection.  "Let's stay at my place."

We stop at Alex's to pick up some clothes for him for tomorrow, then head to my place.  When we get there, he settles onto the couch, but I have other plans.  "I believe your mouth has some redeeming itself to do," I remind him, straddling his lap carefully.  He claims to feel great, but I'm still paranoid about hurting him.

"That's right," he replies, dropping his head to kiss along my collarbone.  "I should have known you wouldn't let me forget."

"Shut up and kiss me," I demand.

Alex laughs and obliges me, grinning as he presses his lips to mine.  "Let's go upstairs," he whispers, letting his lips trail along my jaw to my neck.  "This couch is terrible.  We're keeping mine."

I gasp in indignation and smack his arm lightly.  "Fine, but my bed is the clear winner over yours."

"I think we'd better test it out, I don't remember," he replies, gripping my hips and shifting his weight so I could stand.

I lead him upstairs and into my room, and I'm turning around to kiss him again when he shoves me onto the bed.  The skirt of my flimsy summer sundress flips up around my upper thighs as I land, laughing.  "Well?" I ask, cocking an eyebrow at him.  "You've got me here, now what?"

He climbs onto the bed, nudging my legs apart slightly with his knee as he positions himself above me.  "Now my mouth pays its penance."  He kisses me softly, then moves his lips to my neck.  I groan softly as he gently nips at my sensitive skin before moving lower.  His mouth glides along the neckline of my dress while his hands slide beneath the skirt.  He tugs my thong down, dragging his fingertips along my thighs as he removes it and lets it fall to the floor.  When his fingers slip back under my skirt, I gasp.  Alex teases me until I'm practically begging for more.  He finally positions himself between my thighs but continues to tease me by trailing kisses up and down my inner thighs.  When I grab his head to try to pull it closer, he grabs my wrists and pins them to the bed next to my hips.  "Patience," he says, his breath warm against my skin.

When he finally puts his mouth where I want it, my orgasm takes less than a minute.  I'm so worked up by that point that he probably could have gotten me off by merely breathing on me.  I'm glad he doesn't waste any time after that getting rid of his pants.  He pushes into me while I'm still twitching from my orgasm, not even bother to take off his shirt or my dress.  We're in a weird spot at the edge of the bed but it doesn't matter.

When we're done, we get re-situated on the bed and I turn my head to the side to look at him.  "You're right," he says, settling against the pillows.  "Your bed is better."

"I know," I reply, smirking.

He rolls his eyes, but laughs.  "So hey, if you want to think about moving in with me a little before you decide for sure--"

"I already thought about it, and I already decided," I interrupt.  I push myself up on one elbow and narrow my eyes.  "Unless you need some time to think about it."

"Absolutely not," he replies immediately.  "I've wanted you to move in for a long time.  I'm still just surprised."

"Well get over it," I say, "And make me some room in your pathetic closet."

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Reunion (Liv): Not My Style

"I can't believe you chose to work when you can just hang out for the summer.  Do you know how many people would kill for a schedule like that?!"  Lauren was baffled by the fact that I had begged my bosses for some work to do to keep myself busy.  They had happily put me to work about 10 hours a week, which was perfect.

"I would hate it," Kinsley said, nodding at me.  "I get it.  I think too much when I don't have enough to do."

I laughed.  "It was great for two weeks," I said.  "But that's enough.  I never realized how many hobbies I don't have until I suddenly had time to do them.  Or not do them, as it were.  And it doesn't help that Brody works about a thousand hours a week and you guys both have jobs and boyfriends and lives and can't entertain me all the time."

"Speaking of boyfriends," Kinsley said, grinning wickedly at Lauren, "How's the cohabitation space search going?"

"That," Lauren said, sighing.  "Not well.  We found a place and we put in an offer and lost it in a bidding war.  Then we found another place, our offer was accepted, but they found significant issues with the pipes during the inspection. We looked at a rental that I really liked but Alex hated.  And then of course, a bunch of places that sucked."

"That sucks," I said, frowning.  "You're staying month to month at your townhome then, right?"

"Yeah," Lauren replied.  "But I hate being in limbo."

Lauren, Kinsley, and I hung out at the restaurant for awhile after we were done eating, finishing our drinks and chatting.  After we ate, I went to the grocery store, not in any hurry to get home to an empty house.

When I got home, I was surprised to find Brody's SUV in the garage.  "Brody?" I called, struggling through the door with grocery bags in hand.  I was halfway to the kitchen when Brody appeared from his office.

"Hi, gorgeous," he said, kissing me on the cheek as he took the grocery bags from my hands.

"What are you doing home?" I asked.  "I mean, not that I'm not thrilled to see you.  Because I am."

Brody laughed.  "A likely story.  I came home awhile ago because I wasn't feeling very well.  Annnnd then I realized I hadn't eaten all day.  I was fine once I ate, so I've just been working here."

"You need to take better care of yourself," I said, frowning at him in concern.

"Don't worry," he assured me.  "I don't anticipate it happening again.  I mean, how could it, with a fridge full of your delicious cooking?"  He squeezed my arm and kissed me, then started to put groceries away.  I helped him, putting the dry things away in the pantry while he put stuff in the fridge.  "Anyway, listen.  Pete asked me to support a charity that's important to him, and since he's important to me, I'm going to do it."

"Well, that seems like a good idea," I replied.

"I thought so," he said, grinning.  "At least until I found out that he asked me just in time for their annual fundraising event.  Which I now have to go to."

I laughed, trying to picture Brody at a formal charity event.  It definitely seemed like something he would hate.  "Well, have fun with that," I said.

"Oh no," he replied, shaking his head.  "One doesn't go to a charity event without a date."

"And I suppose that means I get to be your date, huh?" I asked.

"I'd be honored," he said with a wink.

I couldn't say no to that.  "Fine," I agreed.  "But you'll have to be reeeaaallllyyyy nice to me between now and then."

"How nice are we talking here?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow and taking a step towards me.  "Like, taking the garbage out without being asked nice?  Buying you diamonds nice?"

I laughed.  "You already take the garbage out without being asked," I pointed out.  "Diamonds aren't necessary.  How about a massage?  That seems like a good compromise."

"Well, a massage doesn't really seem like a middle ground between taking the garbage out and buying you diamonds, but I think I can handle that."

"Good!" I said.  I grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the stairs.

"Oh, you meant now," Brody said, feigning surprise.  "Hmmm, I'm not so sure I can--"  He stopped, laughing when I turned and glared at him.  He pulled me to a stop and tugged me closer to him, wrapping his arms around my waist and grinning at me.

"You're lucky you're cute," I told him, pursing my lips to try to keep myself from returning his smile.
He grinned wider.  "So lucky," he replied, leaning down to kiss me.

"That massage isn't happening, is it?" I asked, barely moving my lips from his.

"Nope," he replied, moving his mouth along my jaw, to my ear, and down my neck.  "Not tonight.  I owe you one."


"I feel like an imposter," I groaned, watching Lauren fix one last piece of hair.  She'd pinned it to one side, leaving loose waves out in strategic places.  I smoothed my hands down the midsection of my navy gown, feeling far more nervous than the situation called for.

"You don't look like an imposter," she said, smiling at her handiwork in the mirror.  "I mean, this is some of my best work."

I laughed.  "You did do a great job," I said.  "Thank you.  I would have looked ridiculous in this dress without my hair properly done."

Lauren started to respond, but a soft knock at the open door interrupted her.  "Almost ready?" Brody asked.  I turned towards him and watched his mouth drop open slightly.  "Wow," he said, looking me over.  "You look unbelievably amazing."

"Thank you," Lauren said, before I could respond.  "I've been working out."

"Go home, Lauren," I said, laughing.

"Some thanks," she huffed, gathering her bobby pins and hair spray.

I rolled my eyes.  "Thank you, I love you, now go home so my husband can properly appreciate your hard work!"

The look of horror on her face was perfect.  "I'm already gone," she said.  "I don't want anything to do with your marital appreciation."

"I wish I had more time to properly appreciate you right now," Brody told me after she was gone.  "But I assure you that I'm looking forward to getting that dress off of you later."

"I kind of like it," I said, checking myself out in the mirror one last time.  "I might just keep it on forever."

Brody frowned.  "Well, that would be tragic, though you are quite gorgeous with it on."  I laughed and nudged him out the door, thanking him as we walked downstairs.

"I feel kind of ridiculous," I admitted.  "This isn't really my style."

"You're not the only one," he said.  "I can't believe I let myself get talked into this.  Though it's a good cause and the exposure is good for my company."

"Oh please.  You can charm anyone.  I'm the idiot that will ramble and say embarrassing things.  Oh god, please promise to pinch me if I start to ramble.  Don't let me look like an idiot tonight!"

Brody laughed.  "I promise.  No one is going to look like an idiot."

When we got to the event, we immediately headed for the bar.  I was grateful to have a glass of wine in my hand, mostly because it gave me something to do with my hands.  "There you two are," came a familiar voice behind us, as we moved away from the bar.

We turned to see Pete and his wife, Serena.  "You clean up well, Pete!" Brody said, grinning and shaking his hand.  Brody kissed Serena on the cheek and then she lightly hugged me.  I may have felt awkward and out of place, but Serena looked like she knew exactly what she was doing.

We made small talk for a couple minutes before Pete dragged Brody off to introduce him to someone.  Serena and I stayed near the bar chatting until Brody and Pete returned.  "There's a surprising number of people here I know," Brody said, looking around.

"You know everyone, so I'm not sure why that's surprising," I pointed out.

He grinned.  He knew it was true.  "Walk with me?" he requested, holding his arm out to me.  I took it and as we walked across the room, Brody said, "I was so distracted by how beautiful you look that I forgot to tell you my good news."  I looked at him expectantly.  "We filled the last open position today."

"So..." I said, not sure I wanted to say out loud what I thought that meant.

"So there's an actual end in sight for my ridiculous hours now," he said.  "She'll start in 3 weeks, and I think about 2 weeks after that I'm going to start cutting down my hours and seeing how it goes.  I'm already working on shifting some of my responsibilities to the team leads."

"That is so exciting!" I replied.  "I mean, selfishly, I'm really glad that I'll get to have you around a little more.  But I'm also really excited for you.  You've worked so hard."

"Brody!" someone called, before he could respond.  Brody turned and smiled at someone.  He introduced me to the man, who was apparently a Denver Broncos cornerback.  "Your husband is the best PR I've ever had," he told me, grinning.  "And I went through quite a few before him."

"That's why I'm keeping you when we restructure," Brody said, laughing.  "I'm not going to let you run through my team."

"I told him he works too hard but he won't listen to me," the cornerback said to me.

"Join the club," I said with a chuckle.  "He won't listen to me either."

The rest of the evening was much of the same:  smiling through introductions, making small talk with the many people at the event that Brody knew, and wishing I had worn more comfortable shoes.  But the food was good, the bar was open, and I even had a little bit of fun.

"Well, what did you think?" Brody asked as we got in his SUV at the end of the night.

I groaned, slipping my heels off.  "Well, I think I need to invest in some more comfortable shoes if we ever do this again."

"Again?" he asked.

"I said 'if'," I reminded him.

"You also said 'again'," he replied, and I could see his smirk even in the dark.

I laughed.  "It wasn't so bad," I admitted.

"I agree," he replied.  "It didn't hurt that I happened to have the most beautiful date there."

I snorted and shook my head as he reached for my hand over the center console.  "Flattery will get you everywhere, I suppose."

"I can only hope," he said, winking at me.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Reunion (Liv): Summer

Hi all!  I'm glad you enjoyed the first post.  Just wanted to let you know I'm not posting on any sort of schedule here.  I'm shooting for about one post a week, but I make no promises.  I have a handful of ideas so I'm looking at maybe 10-12 total posts?  We'll see how carried away I get :)

I was composing an email to my boss, asking if there was anything I could do to pick up a few hours over the summer.  Groups, writing assessments, anything but sitting around being unproductive, when Brody called.  "Hey you," I said cheerfully.  "Will you be home for dinner tonight?"

"I won't," he said.  "In fact, I won't be home until late, that's why I'm calling."  I sighed, disappointed.  "Wait a second before you get too upset," he urged me.  "I'm staying late tonight so I can take tomorrow and Monday off to spend with you at the cabin."


"Of course, would I lie about that?" he asked.  "Don't wait up for me, okay?  Get some sleep, and we'll leave tomorrow morning.  I'm not even taking my phone with me."

"Okay, well, if that's the case I suppose I can manage on my own tonight," I replied, grinning.

I fell asleep around 10, but woke up when Brody came in, because he stubbed his toe on the dresser and swore.  I groaned and rolled over.  "Brody?" I croaked.

"Sorry," he said softly.

"What time is it?" I asked, my voice muffled by sleep and the pillow.

I felt the mattress sink under him.  "You don't want to know," he replied, stroking my back.  "I'm sorry I woke you."

"S'okay," I mumbled.  "Come to bed."

"Just a minute," he replied.  I felt his lips on my cheek, and then the mattress moved again as he stood up.  I heard him go into the bathroom, and I rolled over and tried to fall back to sleep.  But despite my best efforts, I was now awake.

Brody was in bed in a couple minutes and I snuggled up to him.  "How was your day?" I asked.  "Besides long."

"It was pretty good, actually," he replied.  "Everything is really coming together.  I think I'm going to be able to work some more normal hours really soon."

"Yeah?" I asked, lifting my head to look at him.  "I really hope so."

"Me too," he said.  I nestled into him, shifting a little closer.  Brody pulled me tightly against him, and I soon fell back to sleep.

Amazingly, Brody was still up before me.  He was out drinking coffee on the deck with Eddie when I made my way downstairs.  "Why are you up already?" I asked, squinting in the bright morning sunlight.  Eddie lifted his head at the sound of my voice and jumped up, trotting happily over to slobber all over my bare legs.  "Good morning, sweet boy," I said to him, scratching the top of his head.

"I get a 'why are you up already?' and he gets a 'good morning, sweet boy'?" Brody asked, smirking and raising an eyebrow.  "I see how I rank."

I laughed.  "Good morning, sweet boy," I said, kissing him on the cheek and settling into the chair next to him.

"Much better," he answered, grinning.  "And I have no idea why I'm up already.  I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep.  I was going to make breakfast in a little bit, I didn't expect you to be up quite yet."  I yawned in response, drawing a chuckle from Brody.  "I need more coffee, do you want some too?"  I nodded and leaned my head back, closing my eyes and enjoying the warm sun.  Eddie had stretched out again, this time under my chair.

Once I had woken up a little, Brody and I made breakfast together.  Then we packed for the weekend, loaded Eddie into my SUV, and got on our way.  I drove so Brody could relax.  Despite his good mood this morning, I could tell he was exhausted.  Sure enough, he fell asleep within 20 minutes.  Eddie sat happily in the backseat, nose pressed to the window.  I had it open about 4 inches for him, and he was slobbering all over the place.  "Oh Ed," I said, glancing at him in the rearview mirror.  He looked at me briefly with his goofy smile, then turned his attention back to the wind rushing into the car.

I had to wake Brody up when we got close, because I could never remember where to turn off the main road.  He yawned and stretched as much as the confines of the car allowed as we pulled up in front of the cabin.  I pulled my car under the carport.  This was Eddie's first trip here, so I snapped his leash on before I let him out.  He looked around excitedly as I let him sniff around the yard for a few minutes before we went inside.

Brody had brought most of our stuff in while I was letting Ed get acclimated.  I was hopeful we'd be spending some more time here soon, and I wasn't interested in hauling a bunch of Eddie's stuff back and forth each time, so I'd stopped at the store yesterday evening and picked up two new beds (one for the living area and one for our he's not spoiled at all!), food and water dishes, a long tie out, and a few of his favorite toys and chews.  "What do you think, bud?" I asked him, bringing him inside and letting him off the leash.  He sniffed around cautiously, smelling everything before moving to the next room.  He looked over his shoulder at me, whined once, and wagged his tail.  I followed him into the next room, where he happily sniffed around under my supervision.  We did this room by room for the entire cabin.

Brody was flopped on the bed in the master bedroom when we got done with our tour.  "Did he tip you, Madame Tour Guide?" he asked, smirking at me.  "He's got you wrapped around his little finger."

"It's a mutual wrapping," I retorted.  "Jealous I haven't paid as much attention to you yet?"

"A little bit," he said.

I laughed.  "Roll over," I said, tapping his hip.  He rolled onto his stomach and I straddled his hips, starting to massage his shoulders.

"That feels good," Brody groaned, his voice muffled by the bed.  I worked my way down his back, then back up, ending by massaging his scalp for several minutes.  "I'm so sleepy," he mumbled.

"Sleep for awhile," I suggested.  "I'll take Eddie for a walk and make some lunch, and if you're still sleeping when it's ready, I'll wake you up then, if you want."

"Okay," he said.  I swapped my flip flops for a pair of sneakers and by the time I had them changed, Brody was asleep in the middle of the bed in the same position he'd been in when I was rubbing his back.  I shook my head and pulled the blinds closed so it was a little darker for him, though I'm not convinced it would have made any difference.

Eddie followed me out of the room, and wiggled happily when I snapped his leash back on.  "Want to go for a walk, bud?" I asked him.  He wiggled harder, too well-behaved to do anything else.  I laughed and led him to the door.

We walked for about 40 minutes, and Eddie was thrilled with the new smells and sights.  I even jogged with him for a little while, and he ran alongside me, lips and tongue flapping happily away.  When we got back, he slurped up some water and trotted to the bedroom to keep Brody company.

I took my car into the nearest town and stopped at the store for something for lunch and for dinner.  I picked up some chicken breasts and stuff for salad for lunch, then picked out some steaks and scallops for dinner.  I found a few snacks, eggs and bread and milk for breakfast in the morning, and some juice.  At the liquor store next door I grabbed some beer and wine, and then I headed back up to the cabin.

Brody was still fast asleep when I got back, and Eddie was snoring on the floor at the foot of the bed.  He lifted his head to look at me sleepily when I peeked in, but for once he stuck by Brody, putting his head back down and huffing out a very dramatic breath.

I headed out to the grill on the deck and started it up.  While the grill was heating up and the chicken was cooking, I cut up some veggies and fruit and threw together salads.  When everything was done, I went into the bedroom to wake Brody up.  I laughed when I saw that Eddie, who was almost never allowed in our bed (I let him when Brody was out of town, but we didn't let him when we were both in bed), was stretched out next to Brody.

When I woke Brody up, he was just as surprised as I was to see Eddie next to him.  "He took advantage of my tiredness!" Brody said, but he was laughing.  Once Brody got out of bed, we went outside to eat on the deck.  It had been hot in the city for the entire week, and the slightly cooler air here was welcome.

Brody's nap had done its job, and after lunch he had a lot more energy.  When I got up to put Eddie on his tie out and let him off the deck, Brody wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me down into his lap.  I yelped in surprise, toppling onto him.  "Hi," he said, with a mischievous grin.

"Hi," I replied, laughing.  "Something I can help you with?"

"Actually, there's something I'd like to help you with," he said.  He pulled me closer and kissed me, and I shifted into a more comfortable position before losing myself in the kiss.

"Mmm, should we go inside?" I asked softly, barely pulling my lips from his.

"No," he responded, pushing his hand through my hair and then pulling my lips back to his.  His other hand roamed over my hip and down to my bare leg.  He slipped his fingertips under the edge of my shorts and pressed them into my skin.  Eventually, he tugged at my shirt, working it up and then pulling it over my head.

"Brody!" I exclaimed, laughing.  "We're outside."

He shrugged, smiling wickedly.  "Do you see any people?  Or houses?  Or anything but trees?"

"Good point," I admitted, looking around briefly.  Brody kissed along my collarbone, drawing my attention back to him.  I groaned softly as he swirled the tip of his tongue in a light circle at the base of my throat.

"So, do you want to go inside?" Brody asked, pausing.  His breath was warm against my skin and his lips brushed gently against my neck as he spoke.

"No," I whispered, digging my fingers into his arms as he lightly nipped at my shoulder.  Brody chuckled and reached behind me to unhook my bra.  I shivered as he removed it, dragging his fingertips down my arms along with the straps.  He leaned forward and flicked his tongue across one nipple, then wrapped his hands around my waist and lifted me off his lap and onto the table.  His mouth moved to the other nipple and his hands worked on the button and zipper of my shorts.

I sighed happily, shifting my weight so Brody could pull my shorts off.  He knelt in front of me and slid his hands up my thighs, pushing my legs apart as he did.  Brody kissed his way up my inner thigh and I gasped when his mouth reached its destination.  I almost slid off the table when I came, but Brody's strong grip on my hips kept me in place.  I pulled him up and yanked his shirt off.  He beat me to undoing his shorts, but not by much.  I wrapped my hand around him, stroking him until he pushed my hand away and pushed into me.

I enjoyed the thrill of being outside and completely exposed, even though the risk of actual exposure to anyone else's eyes was low.  Brody was in no hurry, and I enjoyed every second of it.  When we were finished, he yawned.

"Still tired?" I asked, laughing.

"More like tired again," he replied.  "You have a way of wearing a man out."

We decided to head inside and relax in bed for awhile.  I pulled my shorts and shirt back on and looked out into the yard.  Eddie was laying flat on his side, his legs stretched in either direction as far as they'd go.  "Eddie!" I called.  "Hey, Eddie!  Do you want to come inside?"  He lifted his head to look at me lazily, one eye still closed.  Then he shut the open eye and laid his head back down.  "Eddie!  Come inside!" I called again.  In response, he rolled lazily onto his back, rolled back and forth a couple times, and then stopped, legs still in the air.  "I guess Eddie is staying outside," I said with a laugh.  I checked his tie out and then followed Brody inside.

Once in the bedroom, I wriggled out of my clothes again and climbed under the blankets.  Brody was already there, and barely let me get all the way into bed before he pulled me against him.  We spent the rest of the afternoon in bed, alternating between talking or dozing and having lazy sex.  Brody got up once to let Eddie in, otherwise we stayed in bed until I dragged Brody out to help me make dinner.  After dinner, we took Eddie for a walk and then settled into the jetted tub in the bathroom with a bottle of wine.

We spent the rest of the weekend enjoying each other's company, cooking together (which was something I loved but we hardly ever got a chance to do anymore), hiking, and being lazy.  On the drive home Monday afternoon, Brody said, very seriously, "I think we should do this monthly.  At least monthly, maybe more.  I needed this.  We needed this."

I agreed.  I'd had a good idea what I was getting into when I gave Brody my blessing to buy his new office building, but it was now getting old really fast.  It probably didn't help that the worst of it had come when I was off work for the summer and actually had time to go and do fun things, but couldn't do them with my husband.  Of course, that didn't stop me.  I had spent quite a bit of time with Lauren and Kinsley so far, but I missed doing things like this weekend with Brody.  I supported him 100%, and I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel, but I was counting down the days.

We'd also started to get a lot of questions from people about when we were going to have kids.  And since "When my husband works fewer than 90 hours a week and our child will actually recognize him," wasn't a socially appropriate answer, I'd done a lot of smiling, shrugging, and saying, "We're not quite ready," or "when things settle down a little."  Those answers resulted in lectures on how if we waited to be completely ready, we'd never have kids, or that things will never truly settle down, what's a baby on top of it?  But I knew better.  I was in full support of Brody right now, but I knew if we added a baby to the mix now, I'd grow to resent him really quickly.  And I didn't ever want to resent him.

"What are you thinking about?" Brody asked me, breaking into my thoughts on babies and support and resentment.

"Babies," I said honestly.

Brody didn't say anything for several seconds and then said, "Okay, you're going to have to give me more than that."

"Sorry, I was just thinking about having a baby someday.   We haven't talked about it in awhile."  I glanced at Brody's anxious face and realized why he was nervous.  "Oh!  No, I don't mean I want to have a baby now," I said, laughing.  The relief on Brody's face was almost comical.  "Sorry, you saying we needed this made me think about how tough the last several weeks have been, which made me think about missing doing fun things with you, which made me think about the absurd number of people who think the contents of my uterus are any of their business, and then I was about to start thinking about all the things I want to do before we start having kids, but you interrupted my completely logical train of thought."

"Completely logical," Brody said with a smile.  "So continue your thoughts out loud.  What are the things you want to do before we start having kids?"

"Well, I don't know.  I hadn't gotten there yet, remember?"  I smirked at him, and he laughed.  "But I know I want to travel more.  I want to do more with my career.  I need to finish the licensure process.  I have a little bit of supervision left to get before I can do that."

"And I want to be able to be around more," he said.

I nodded.  "Trust me, I want that too," I assured him.  "In fact, I require it."

"Well, I'm hoping that will start happening really soon," he said.  "Once we finish filling the open positions and have everyone trained, I should be able to decrease my hours fairly significantly."

"How many open positions are left?" I asked.

"Three," Brody said.  "Considering we started with 16 to fill with the expansion, I'm hoping we can have them filled within a month."  

I considered this.  "So with training and everything...?"

"My goal is by the end of the summer.  But I can do a little cutting already, I think.  Everything is going so smoothly right now.  I probably shouldn't have said that out loud, I guess.  But it is, and I think it's about time to start cutting down and seeing what happens.  We've got a couple departments that are fully staffed now.  There's no reason for me to still be involved so heavily with them."

"Sounds like you have a plan," I said, smiling.

He chuckled.  "I do," he replied.  "We'll see if it happens the way I want it to, but having a plan is good in any case."

"I'll take it," I said, grinning.  Brody reached for my hand across the center console, and we finished the drive in easy silence.