~ A Place To Dance ~
by Ali Vali
Disclaimers: The characters in the following story are of my own creation. Any similarities to anyone living or dead are purely coincidental. No part of this story may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from me, the author.
If the thought of two women being romantically involved is not for you, then this story is one you won't want to read. But seriously if you are underage and live someplace where that is not allowed move on, literally.
Sit back and enjoy the story, any comments can be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I want to thank my betas for correcting this for me. Beth, Jaden, my Florida buddy, and Ken, you are all godsends. I bow to your grammatical knowledge.
This is dedicated as always to the one woman who holds my heart. As in all things you've taught me to enjoy life and to live it so it makes me want to dance.
I would also like to thank all the wonderful people who take the time to read these stories. Thank you for all the great notes you have sent. I appreciate them all.
A Place To Dance
Tim Andolini looked at the blonde sitting across from him and sighed. Sometimes it just sucked to be married, especially when someone like Christina Griffin walked in and turned your brain to mush. Women who looked as good as Christina could make you forget your name and your religion in the wisp of one flirty smile. Thirty seconds into his fantasy of Christina dancing for him in a bikini Tim remembered had a wife and two children.
"Ms. Griffin, my partner called this morning and said the foundation has been poured with no problems. If this weather holds, construction will begin next Monday." Tim pointed out the large expanse of windows in his office to point out the blue cloudless skies. "If you have any questions you can call either myself or Jolly, and we'll be happy to help."
"Thanks, Tim. Let's hope this weather does hold. I've discovered I'm not one for apartment living. My house sold sooner than I thought so I didn't have much of a choice but to move into what seems like a box with three small windows. I'm looking forward to the space this is going to give me." Christina tapped her finger on the house plans spread out over Tim's desk.
Christina had found the architectural firm of Andolini and Andolini through a friend and so far had been impressed with their work. The house Jolly Andolini had designed was going to be built on a large parcel of land Christina's parents had given her as a graduation present a couple of years before.
For years young professionals stayed in the city's old neighborhoods, preferring the charm of New Orleans's architectural masterpieces of wood and slate erected decades before, to the stodginess of the suburbs. The shores of the lake were left either in their natural states or were inhabited by older generations looking for a quiet lifestyle. A paradise for the lovers of Purple Martins that came in the spring to roast under the Lake Ponchatrain's twenty four mile long bridge, leaving for warmer climates in the fall.
Surprisingly it was the flocking Martins that brought a renewed interest to the area. Bird lovers of every age sat on the lake's levees every afternoon to watch the massive black cloud of birds return to their nests for the night after consuming their weight in mosquitoes as if someone had rung a recess bell. After the nightly show people went back to watching the multitude of boats that glided over the brown murky waters of Louisiana's greatest body of water.
Jolly seemed to have understood the specialness of the area, creating a home that would blend in with the woods and Lake Ponchatrain at the back of the property. The house the young architect had designed called for large plantation style windows that not only would infuse the rooms with light, but serve as a perfect place to see the natural beauty of the area. From the veranda of the master bedroom suite, Christina could sit and either watch the flight of the punctual insect eating machines or the ancient willows and magnolias that had stood witness to the area's history unfolding over the years. The small blonde was looking forward to meeting Tim's partner who was an apparent artist at the drafting table.
"Will the infamous Jolly ever be around for me to thank for this great house you two are building me?"
"Jolly isn't much for being in the office on days like this, Ms. Griffin," said Tim with a smile. He rolled up her plans and placed them in a tube for her to take with her. "Remember, it's not too late if you want to make changes to the rooms."
"Thanks, Tim, I'll expect an update from you when we start."
They shook hands and Tim stood by the windows to watch Christina leave. She removed the tailored jacket of her suit and threw it and the house plans into the passenger seat before getting into the midnight blue BMW z3. The voyeur enjoyed the flash of leg he got as she slid into the small car. The ringing phone on his desk was what pulled him away from watching the car backing out below.
"Who are you checking out now?"
Tim dropped into his office chair and started twirling a pen in his hand to keep from laughing. "I could be hard at work you know."
"Yeah, and I could build the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks but I don't see that happening, buddy. Was Ms. Griffin happy with her final draft?" Jolly walked up the levee to look at the lake and get away from the noise of the trucks delivering the lumber they would need for the next week.
"Very pleased. Her only disappointment was the genius who did them wasn't here to bask in her praise."
"That's what I have you for, Timmy, to charm the clients into loving the plans of what will eventually be. I'm sure 'the hot babe' as you call her would rather I see to the construction of her house," said Jolly.
"Tell me again why you went to school to become an architect, if all you really wanted to do is be a carpenter? You should've gone to contractor school. I believe one of the courses was how to spit, scream at laborers and get your pants to hang low enough to see the top of your butt crack. I'm fairly sure you would've aced it. I've heard that mouth of yours, you're like a sailor when you want to be." Tim propped his feet on his desk prepared to fight their ongoing argument. "Think of how many more projects we could take on if you didn't insist on overseeing and participating in the building phase."
"Tim, I told you before, take on as many projects as you want, but?"
"I know, I know. When someone spends this kind of money and has envisioned this kind of space, they deserve your all. I just worry about you."
"I know, Timmy, it's why I love you so much," said Jolly.
"You aren't your old man, Jolly. Cookie cutter isn't your style, and that's why I love you so much."
"Thanks, buddy, but think, if you'd stayed with the firm you'd be rich by now," teased Jolly.
"True, but you seem to attract all the beautiful artsy kinda of people who wouldn't go near Uncle Anthony so it's an even trade. Thanks to you I can live vicariously in my own little twisted fantasies."
"I'll make sure and mention that to Pam the next time I see her."
"Pam knows what I'm capable of and she married me anyway. Good thing there's a large streak of mental illness running down the center of her family tree. Now get going and see if all of your wood arrived." Tim dropped his feet to the ground and hung up the phone.
As he turned the light on over his drafting table he thought about his relationship with Jolly. He was convinced it was their partnership, which had kept his work clean and fresh. Unlike some of their classmates who had gone to the large firms and lost the creativity that had driven them to study architecture in the first place, Tim was proud of every project.
He and Jolly specialized in building things that became an extension of their surroundings. In their six short years together as business partners, they had made Architectural Digest ten times, so despite his grumbling, they were doing more than all right. They had a waiting list of projects for people who were willing to put off construction for at least a year, rather than to going on without their designs.
From the start he knew their partnership would be a success considering they'd seen each other almost every day from the time of their birth. Jolly had stood by him through every major event in his life offering praise or a shoulder to cry on depending on what fate threw his way. If there was one thing in his life Tim never questioned it was Jolly's being there for him and his family.
The only other project Tim and his wife Pam worked on constantly was getting Jolly married and settled. His cousin was almost relationship phobic after a lifetime of watching her parents go at each other with hateful intent. Anthony Holland, Jolly's father, wasn't someone who tolerated dissent well, especially from his children. The big man had used his height and bulk to intimidate and bully his family into what he wanted from them. All of his children had succumbed to his wishes except for one.
Jolly had almost gone out of her way to follow her heart to a life that made her happy, but made Anthony's blood pressure rise. The only thing father and daughter had in common was that they were both architects, albeit successful for different reasons. Tim remembered the day Jolly packed up her office at her father's firm and walked out. Before leaving she told him he had sold his work out for the money and his family's love because of his need for control. Her cousin would've applauded her if he hadn't been holding a box filled with his own stuff. To complete her break from her father, Jolly had taken her mother's maiden name as a tribute to her grandfather. Papa Francois, as Tim and Jolly called him, was the real reason Jolly had studied architecture.
The two young Andolinis had started with a small office and a few clients willing to take a chance. Within six months their gamble had paid off and it irked Anthony that the two children who had run around together from the time they were toddlers had clawed their way to a stellar reputation one project at a time. The old man had expected his daughter and nephew to come crawling back three months from the day they both walked out. Jolly's mother had often commented that of all the Holland and Andolini children, Jolly and Tim had been the two who inherited Papa François's looks. Their grandfather had been a hero to both children, but especially to Jolly. Francois's children had married two very different people, but his two first-born grandchildren had formed a bond that time had only strengthened.
"How'd the meeting go? All set to build next week?" asked Lisa Whitney. She had been Christina's assistant for three years. Together with a small staff they ran one of the largest and most successful art galleries in New Orleans.
"Seems that way, if it doesn't start to rain every day. I'm praying that doesn't happen since I haven't been able to find half my stuff in all the boxes around that apartment you found for me. I hope you like this outfit and the other three I've managed to put together. They're the only ones I have at the moment. I'm starting to think the movers tossed some boxes out along the way so they wouldn't have to carry them upstairs."
Lisa laughed at her boss. The woman was known for her organizational skills as well as her ability to find new and exciting artists. Having been exiled to a small space for about eight months was about to kill her. "I'll say a prayer for drought conditions until you're done."
"Thanks. Has the stuff for the new show started to arrive yet?" Christina walked to her office past the empty walls that had been cleared for an opening they were hosting at the end of the next week.
"The truck is at Mimi's studio now, so they should be able to start hanging by tomorrow morning. Before you ask, the invitations have been sent out and Amy's working on calling the "A" list so we have good attendance."
Christina smiled up from the ton of mail on her desk glad she had found the young woman who had a knack for reading her mind. "I want to sell as many pieces as possible opening night. Mimi's going to be a hot commodity after this and I want her experience with us to be memorable."
"Yes, captain. Anything else?"
"Yes, see if you can clear some time for me next week so I can drive out to the property and check out the progress of the construction. I think it'll be fun to see it the whole way through."
"Boss?" the question came through the intercom on Christina's desk.
"Mimi Mulle's on line one for you."
Christina picked up the receiver and answered with her most professional voice. "Mimi, hi. I was just talking about you. Did the guys get there all right?"
"They're packing up crates as we speak. I just wanted to call and let you know I'll be out of town for a couple of days so just leave a message if you need anything. I'll be checking the machine throughout the weekend."
"Have fun and don't worry about any of your stuff. We'll get together at the beginning of next week to make sure you're happy with the display before the opening."
"Thanks, Chris. I'm looking forward to working with you. I've got every confidence in you and Lisa to make the show a success. Call me if you have any problems."
Christina dedicated the rest of the weekend to emptying as many boxes as she could so there would be a chance of her wearing something else besides the few outfits she was able to find and hang in her closet. She had driven out to the construction site of her house and was pleased by how few trees had to be cleared away to make room for the foundation slab. The large multi-leveled piece of cement looked like a blank canvas to her just waiting for someone to come along and create something wonderful.
Christina smiled thinking of the first day she had walked this little piece of the world that belonged to her. Her father had inherited the land from an aunt, and when he saw the light that filtered through the trees in the afternoon, he thought Christina would be in heaven if she had a studio there one day. That dream was getting closer and she couldn't wait to get back to her true passion, which was painting.
The phone on her hip buzzed and Christina's smile grew bigger when she saw it was her parent's cell number. "Hi, guys," she said brightly into the phone knowing her parents would each be listening in on the other end.
"Hi, sweetheart. What's got you out so early already on a Sunday morning?" asked Hillary her mother.
"Just checking my land, ma," teased Christina.
"I still can't believe you're building a house and you've never met the architect. This person could be a nut for all you know," chastised Hillary.
"Hill, leave her alone. I'm sure Chris knows what she's doing, and I've looked at the prints myself and they look like a winner, baby." There wasn't much Dell Griffin wasn't willing to side with his only child on. He had watched the bubbly child grow into a confident young woman and talented artist, so if she wanted to live in a tent under a tree it would have been fine with him.
"Thanks, daddy, and he's right, mom, I love the design Jolly came up with. The same firm built Marie and Allen's house and I hardly ever see them since they find it hard to walk out the door. When are you two due back?"
"Six weeks, sweetie, so call us if you need anything." Dell and Hillary were on their annual summer vacation in Europe, so except for the daily postcard Christina got, their phone calls were the only way she knew where they were for sure.
With one last look at the trees, cement and pile of lumber awaiting the crew the next morning, Christina drove back to the city missing Jolly driving up from the back of the property. The architect was there to check every plumbing and electrical connection coming out of the slab wanting everything to go smoothly the next day. Christina didn't know it, but Jolly had incorporated some of the designs she had been working on for her own house into the one they were going to start Monday.
"At least someone will enjoy all those pictures in my head since I doubt I'll ever build the one I'm thinking of," said Jolly to the trees around her. Mimi had been out of town visiting a friend for the weekend so Jolly found herself lost. It'd be good to get back to something she loved in the morning. Designing was fun, but watching it come to life was the best part.
"On three, ok?"
"You got it," said the row of workers waiting to lift the second section of outer wall into place. Starting at six that morning the workers had framed the studs that would anchor the skeleton to the outside of the first floor and had been working together to put them into place.
Jolly sat straddled at the top of a fifteen-foot ladder waiting for the long span of wood to be lifted so that she could hammer the supports into place. With any luck they could get the section they were working on done by lunch.
"Ok, one, two, up boys." She loved the smell of pine that came up to meet her when the wall came up. A quick hammer put the nails that would hold it up into place and Jolly was sliding down to scramble up to the other side to get the job done.
"Why fourteen feet, boss?" asked Hank, one of the master carpenters Jolly had contracted to work on the project.
"It's a fifteen foot levee, so if Ms. Griffin hopes to get a look at the lake from upstairs I thought I'd give her an unobstructed view by going another four feet on each floor. With the two foot cross beams in between floors she'll get a great waterfront view from upstairs. The size of the house will make it look great and we'll be able to go bigger on the crown molding to bring the scale down a little." Jolly wiped her brow of the sweat already pouring out of her. With a pair of shorts, work boots, t-shirt and tool belt she blended in well with all the rest of the crew she had put together for this job.
The guys pulled out their coolers and headed for the trees for lunch. They loved working on any of Jolly and Tim's projects because Jolly was there for most of them working along side them to make sure the job met her specifications. At first they had doubts about working with the architect thinking that she would be there just to bitch about every aspect of the process, but those had quickly died when they saw her work. Jolly had a way with wood that could make any guy envious of her skill. The inside of the homes they had built together had a mix of glass and wood that gave them a uniquely stylish, but comfortable appearance. For a carpenter, Jolly's plans were always fun to put together.
"Boss, the lumber company's back with the cross beams for the second floor," said Buck, one of her helpers. He hated to disturb her as she poured over the plans but the guy making the delivery was anxious to get going for lunch himself.
"Put them by the back over there and tell the guys to tarp them after lunch. I don't want them warping if they get wet with dew out here in the morning. It'll be a couple, maybe three days before we need those anyway."
The work continued until six when they knocked off after getting up most of the framework for the walls downstairs. A small BMW passed a line of old trucks coming out of the site on its way in. Christina waved to the tired looking group as she kept on toward what was starting to look like a house.
The next day, Christina made it a point to make it to the site before the crew left for the day to talk to the foreman and get his rough timeline on the completion date. When she drove up there was a crane lifting beams up to the two workers who were doing what looked like a high wire act on the top of the skeletal walls of the downstairs. Half of the pieces that would support the ceiling at the bottom and the floor at the top were in place and the artist found it funny they wouldn't finish one floor before starting in on the second.
Leaving her suit jacket on the seat next to her, Christina stepped out of the car and leaned against it as she watched one of the workers putting the beams in place. Oh my, she looks like a goddess up there, thought the blonde she shielded her eyes from the sun. Balanced on the balls of her feet was a tall woman swinging a hammer. The long nails they were using to secure the long pieces were being driven with three forceful strokes, and Christina could see why that looked so easy when she looked at the heavily muscled tan skin on display.
"That will be the last one, Joe, then we'll take a break and let Buck and somebody else up here."
"You got it. Heads up, boss." The crane operator lifted the last beam and swung it into place waiting for the nails to go in before releasing the cable holding it up. None of the workers noticed the good looking woman move away from her car and walk into the site until she was standing below where the two workers where nailing the supports up.
Christina stood there and watched the woman finish her side, and was surprised when the worker did something the artist wasn't expecting. The female carpenter jumped from her perch, doing a back flip and landing two inches in front of her startled audience. By pure reflex, Jolly grabbed Christina as she was falling backward into a pile of sawdust. It was only after she had grabbed the smaller woman that Jolly remembered how dirty her hands were and from the feel of it, the shirtsleeves she had a hold of were fine Irish linen. And cream colored too. Crap this isn't my day. Jolly quickly released her captive hoping the woman would stay on her feet.
"Sorry, Ms. Griffin, I didn't see you standing there. If you send the cleaning bill to the office I'll have Tim take care of it. I really didn't mean to startle you."
Christina looked at the big hands the carpenter was holding up and didn't even want to see how much of the gunk covering them had been left on her clothes. "You big goober. Don't you know what you did was dangerous not only to me but to yourself as well. If this is how your foreman runs this place, one of you should be dead before the end of the month." The only thing missing from the tirade Christina had going was her finger poking Jolly in the chest. Most of the men hid their smiles behind rough hands as the small spitfire lit into their boss with a set of perfect handprints on her sleeves.
"I promise you we run a safe operation, ma'am, and I do apologize for your clothes and for scaring you. Is there anything I can do for you?" Jolly wiped her hands on the back of her shorts in case there would be any more touching involved before Christina left. Tim had not exaggerated for once and she could see the gallery owner was a beautiful woman even if designer sunglasses covered her face.
"No, I just came to see what was going on before heading to a meeting on this side of town. I had a few minutes so I thought I'd stop in. Now I'm going to look like I got mauled along the way," said Christina pointing to her sleeves.
Christina wanted to stay mad, she really did, but looking up at the poker straight light brown hair and deep blue eyes was doing something to her righteous indignation. For a brief moment she had felt like a romance novel heroine being swept up by the rogue pirate who turns out to be the good guy. The thought of Lisa's face if she showed up on a date somewhere with a construction worker was almost worth asking the woman out.
"I'd offer you some club soda but I just drank my last one. Is there any way that I can make this up to you?" Jolly put her hands up, laughing when Christina took a step back.
"You could put your hands in your pockets for me, and keep them there until I drive away."
"Fair enough. How about I walk you to your car then we'll know you'll be out of harms way from any other falling carpenters during your visit," suggested Jolly.
They walked in silence to the small sports car each looking everywhere except each other. Jolly opened Christina's door for her then put her hand back in her back pocket as a joke. After the engine purred to life and was about to drive away, it occurred to Christina to ask how Jolly knew her name. Her run in with the carpenter had made her forget the purpose of her visit, but if the good-looking worker was going to be there, she sure didn't mind coming back.
"Hey, goober, how'd you know I was Christina Griffin?" asked the blonde with her head sticking out the car window.
"Timmy did a great job of describing you."
The sunglasses came down to reveal big blue eyes with a flirtatious look to them and Jolly could have taken the rest of the day off just to stare at them. When Christina saw she had the woman's attention she went on with her questions. "Aren't you going to introduce yourself?"
"Goober. Ms. Big Goober to you. Now run along, ma'am, you wouldn't want to be late. Oh, and if anyone asks just tell them the mauler got off a lot worse than you." As Jolly turned and walked back to her men, Christina thought to herself a tool belt never looked so sexy.
"Come on, tell me your name."
"Jolly," was shouted over a broad shoulder before the architect disappeared into the construction sight.
Christina caught sight of her again as the tall body climbed back into position to receive more beams from the crane operator to the applause of her crew. "Holy crap," she muttered to herself. All she could do now was pray that the walls of her kitchen didn't collapse after her insult.
"Then she called you a goober?"
"A big goober."
"Well you are big, Jolly, even you've got to concede to that. Goober though, implies you're somewhat clumsy and we both know that's not the case. You're big, but I'd have to say you're the most graceful person I know. Zip me up and let's get going. Hopefully there's a gallery full of people waiting to buy some great art," said Mimi. Jolly walked up behind her and zipped up the smallest mini dress she had ever seen on a woman, thinking only Mimi could make it look chic.
"You'd better hope no one with a big check book spills anything on her tonight, it may mean curtains for your career," teased Jolly as she picked up Mimi's wrap and put it around the petite woman's shoulders.
Jolly gathered the small woman into a hug and kissed her on the cheek before she could walk to the door. "Before you get caught up in the swell of well wishers and forget all about me, let me congratulate you, sprout. I'm so proud of you."
"You're the best, Jolly, so there's no chance I'll forget about you. Thanks for coming with me tonight. There isn't another person I could think of that I want to share this with. Just for your unselfish acts on my behalf I have a surprise for you."
"You didn't have to do that, sweetheart. Just seeing that my investment has started to pull in dividends is good enough for me." That earned her a slap on the arm as Mimi pointed to the door and the fact she was ready to go.
"Tell me you left the truck at home tonight?" asked Mimi already pouting.
"Come on, I wouldn't do that to you. I borrowed Buck's since his has less dings in it." Jolly's date was about to start complaining until she saw the Land Cruiser's lights come on when its owner pressed the alarm key as they neared it.
At the gallery, Christina and Lisa stood in front of one of the paintings and tried to figure out why Mimi had created it. It was so different from the colorful free creations that marked the rest of the exhibit in that it was a portrait of someone nailing together bits of draft drawings. The person perched on top of the little numbers and scales that made up drafts was caught mid swing with just her back showing. A short ponytail looked like it was about to whisk sweat on you if you got to close and the hand the shiny chrome hammer was held in, looked like it had spent plenty of afternoons practicing its craft.
"I've gotten a ton of inquiries on this piece but Mimi left instructions this one was to be in the show but wasn't for sale. Think she's some hot babe Mimi's dating?" asked Lisa pointing to the woman in the piece.
Christina thought back to a couple of days ago when she came in contact with her own hammer wielder and saw how Mimi could get carried away by someone like this. "Tell her that when she gets here and maybe she'll change her mind. Sometimes the price keeps pace with the increased interest. I'm sure she won't want to miss out on a really large sale."
The buzz around the door clued both women their tardy artist had finally decided to make an appearance. Not for the first time Christina looked at the small blonde who had created the large canvases hanging in her gallery and smiled.
Mimi was constant motion and it showed in her work. It'd had to take tremendous energy to put the amount of talent she was able to cram into each piece. Christina was just glad to get her first formal showing since there was already a buzz about her in the art world. This night was important to them if she was to continue to represent Mimi and her talent. The artist was still young so Christina was banking on the fact Mimi's art would only mature with her age.
"Chris, Lisa, I'm sorry we're late but the traffic was murder getting here. How am I doing?"
Both Christina and her assistant looked up at the woman Mimi had a strangle hold on and smiled, now used to the disjointed conversations Mimi engaged in. Whoever her date was looked at Mimi adoringly and was oblivious to what a great looking couple they made as she too listened to the artist jump from one topic to the next. "Great, there are only a few pieces not sold, but they won't be here for long. The night's not over and people are already demanding another show as soon as possible," said Christina. As she was talking it was hard to focus on Mimi and not the big Amazon she was holding hands with. There was something familiar about the woman wearing the best looking suit she had seen in forever, but it wasn't jumping out at her.
"That's great, I knew you two would do wonders for me, but if you'll excuse me I have a gift to give. Come on, killer, I want to show you your surprise." Mimi pulled Jolly along by the hand until they were standing in front of the strange out of place painting. The artist waited not wanting to influence Jolly's opinion as she looked at her creation for the first time. "Do you like it?" She asked after what seemed like an eternity had passed with Jolly not saying anything.
"Mimi, thank you it's beautiful. I was wondering what you found so fascinating last summer at the project we had going. I love it, and I love you."
Christina watched from a few feet away as the tall woman pulled Mimi into her arms and hugged her with affection. She was whispering something in a small ear but her eyes had not left the painting on the wall. All the women in the gallery could see why the very out Mimi had not shown them any interest in the weeks she had been coming in to finalize the show. With a date like the one she had come with, they wouldn't be looking either.
"How much?" asked Jolly.
"Nothing, it's my gift of thanks to you for all you've done for me, Jolly. If it were up to mom and that husband of hers, the only painting I'd be doing would be the outside of the house. I did this because it was me doing something I love, capturing you doing something you love. I think it would look great in your office, and Tim told me it might prompt you into spending more time there," teased Mimi. Jolly looked into the big green eyes and got lost for a moment. Mimi had a way of giving pieces of her heart away with the art she created, and Jolly had come to cherish all of the ones she'd received.
"That's been getting a lot of hits tonight, Mimi. You sure you won't consider parting with it?" asked Christina.
"Ask the owner. If she's willing to sell it, it's hers to do so," said Mimi pointing to her companion.
"Sorry, Ms. Griffin, but the painting's coming home with me." Jolly held her hand out for Christina to shake and almost laughed at the question in her mind if her hand was clean.
"Have we met?"
"This is the big goober cleaned up," supplied Mimi with a little too much glee. The look on Christina's face was almost worth another go at portrait painting.
"Oh my God," whispered Christina. It was the hair that had thrown her off. The day she had met Jolly for the first time the architect had had it pulled into a tight short ponytail. The thought of Mimi never gracing her door again for calling her girlfriend a goober occurred to Christina as she continued to ignore the offered hand.
Jolly for her part was willing to leave it hanging out there all night if it gave her the chance to see those blue eyes again. It was Lisa nudging Christina from the back that got her boss to finally notice her second mistake with the tall woman.
"No, my friends call me Jolly," teased the architect. Mimi looked on as Jolly took the small hand in her own and almost swallowed it when she wrapped her fingers around it. The softening around the blue eyes was a sure sign for Mimi that Jolly liked the gallery owner, and she tried her hardest to keep her smile in place thinking of only Jolly's happiness.
"I'm so sorry for the other day. You just scared me when you jumped on me and my mouth got away from me. I'm not usually so bitchy as to go around calling people names like that, and you left before you gave me the opportunity to apologize." Christina stopped babbling when Jolly squeezed her fingers.
"Jolly, you jumped her? I don't remember that being part of the story you told me an hour ago. Go on, Chris, tell me more," said Mimi ignoring the glare she was getting from Jolly.
"I didn't jump on her, well not technically anyway. I was taking a break from laying beams and jumped down from the second floor. Ms. Griffin was nice enough to be standing there to break my fall."
"Then you called her a big goober?" asked Mimi.
"No it was after she grabbed me and ruined one of my favorite shirts and I'd recovered from my scare. Then I called her a big goober," supplied Christina.
"You ruined her shirt?" Mimi was loving this conversation.
"I offered to pay the cleaning bill," said Jolly. The sinking feeling the tides were turning against her occurred to Jolly as the two blondes bantered back and forth. At that moment, the fear in Christina's eyes fell away and was replaced by something else.
"Yes, he told me the dirt was no problem, but the tree sap was another story. I hope this doesn't effect our working relationship, Mimi?" asked Christina.
"Why, because you called my sister a big goober? Not a chance, and believe me, Chris, it won't be the last time someone says that about her. Though I would've loved to have seen the exchange. You must have been some kinda fierce for her not to chew your head off. That's more Jolly's style."
Christina looked at the two of them together and tried to see the family resemblance. Jolly had to be a good seven inches taller than the bubbly blonde at her side. "I don't see it at all."
"My father's second wife came with a ready made family to add to the one he already had. The munchkin here was the only redeeming one in the litter," explained Jolly.
"That explains the names Mulle and Andolini," added Christina.
"I already had a father so I wasn't interested in adoption like the rest of my siblings, not that Anthony's a complete loser. His main fault was marrying my mother and ruining my chances at dating the big blue ox here, but I'm a forgiving kind of person. Jolly was the only one aside from my dad who believed in my work. She paid my way through school, so you should be thanking her for tonight," said Mimi. She hugged Jolly again getting her to let go of Christina's hand. The move let her see that Lisa was still nudging her boss to go and mingle, so the artist intervened again since Christina seemed captivated by Jolly.
"Come on, Lisa. You can introduce me to the people with the most money to spend. Behave until I get back," Mimi told Jolly.
"Let me apologize formally for calling you a bad name," said Christina moving closer to Jolly.
"Big goober's not a bad name so forget about it."
"If your father's still living, why did you pay her way through school?" Christina rewound what she had just said and could have kicked herself for letting it spill out of her mouth. "I'm sorry, that's none of my business. Forget I said it."
Jolly laughed at the fact she wasn't the only one who was nervous. "Don't worry about it. Mimi and I are a lot alike, Ms. Griffin. I love her a great deal so I'd do anything to make her happy. Because we're so alike it makes us complex and misunderstood on occasion, but we grow on you eventually. My father is Anthony Holland, and he didn't pay because he's not a man who believes in frivolous things. Learning how to perfect your painting skills to him is just that. We parted ways a long time ago and when I saw Mimi getting ready to cave and pick what my father considered a more responsible career track, I stepped in. I'm not rich, but I thought it was a good way to spend some money. Mimi deserved better than she's gotten in her life and I was just glad I could help her." Jolly scanned the room looking for the person she was speaking about, smiling when she saw Mimi talking to one of the guests in her usual effusive manner. "She's easy to love." And that woman Mimi's talking to looks like she'd like to find out how easy to love Mimi is, thought Jolly as she continued to look on.
"Are you two alike in that way too?" asked Christina with a tease in her tone. "And please call me Christina."
"No, in that regard we aren't I'm afraid." Mimi's calling out to Jolly from across the room to meet someone kept Christina from responding to the comment Jolly had made. "Excuse me, duty calls."
"I'll see you soon."
Jolly smiled and took Christina's hand again squeezing her fingers before stepping away from her. "I hope so."
Lisa returned from her circuit around the room and looked again at the nice looking couple Mimi and Jolly made. "That Mimi's one lucky girl."
"She's her step sister and I'm feeling a little lucky myself," said Christina before moving closer to Jolly again. The night was young and she felt like getting Jolly's hands on her again for whatever reason.
"You're calling her, right?"
"I'm building her house, Mimi, so I assume I'll be seeing her around. I don't think I need to call her."
"You're kidding me, right? The way the woman was checking you out all night, she's so wanting you to dial her number, Babe."
"Mimi, does it ever occur to you that I might not appreciate you referring to me as a big blue ox?" Jolly turned onto Mimi's street, which was the only thing that kept her from shaking a finger in the young woman's face.
"You don't fool me, Jolly Andolini, you love that nickname just like you love me. And stop trying to change the subject. Tomorrow around noon I want you to call her and ask her how's she's doing."
"You trying to get rid of me?"
God no, you idiot, thought Mimi rolling her eyes knowing Jolly couldn't see her. "No, Jolly, I want you to be happy, and Christina sure was making you smile."
"Here we are, Mimi," said Jolly pointing to the front of the house. "Let's get you inside so you can get some sleep. You need to get busy tomorrow painting new stuff for all the people who missed out tonight. All the buzz tonight was about how you didn't make enough of them."
Mimi accepted a hand out of the vehicle before she poked Jolly in the chest. "They aren't muffins, Jolly. They're pieces of my soul so show some respect please."
"I love the piece you gave me, and I love my painting too." Mimi hugged her for the comment before poking her again.
"Tomorrow no later than noon, I mean it, and thanks for going with me tonight."
"Anytime, shrimp. Don't forget to lock up and I love you too."
"Dinner on Monday?"
"I wouldn't miss it," said Jolly kissing Mimi good night before she went in. She waited to hear the lock slide into place before walking back to her car and leaving.
Mimi stood on the other side of the door and listened to Jolly's steps fade away. She stood motionless until the car door closed and she couldn't hear the engine anymore. Not for the first time she made a wish Jolly would forget the scars Anthony had put on her heart and be happy. If she had possessed a more selfish heart, Mimi's wishes would've centered on asking for things she thought she couldn't have.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Griffin. You just missed her. Jolly let us start early today so we could knock off early for the weekend. Buck and I volunteered to pick up all the tools then we'll be heading out too. If it's important just call Tim and he'll find her for you," said Hank.
"If I offer to buy you two dinner, could I bribe her address out of you?"
The two carpenters looked down at the blonde sitting behind the steering wheel of one of their dream cars and thought about her offer. Jolly loved her privacy, but finding this gorgeous creature ringing her doorbell made them think it would be a good thing, not something she would fire them over.
"No bribe needed, ma'am. Though if she looks pissed when she sees you tell her Mimi told you. The boss has the hardest time getting mad at that sweet girl," said Buck.
"Deal," answered Christina pulling out a pen and paper to write down the address.
It added to the mystery of Jolly, when Christina turned her car back toward the city. The address the two carpenters had given her was in the warehouse district down by the river. Over the years the area had become a sea of abandoned spaces, its buildings victimized by vandals as the businesses that had utilized them moved south of the border. Over time smart developers bought them cheap and started turning them into high priced lofts and condos.
The district had made a total turnaround thanks to the young business people willing to pay the outrageous prices for what was basically an apartment. Christina was having a hard time picturing the person who was creating the beautiful home on the lake for her living in the area. The street address on the piece of paper in her hand turned out to be an old furniture store warehouse on the cusp of the district. It was one of the only ones with enough floors and was close enough to have a descent view of the river a few blocks away.
After she found a parking spot close to the front entrance, Christina ran to follow some residents in so she wouldn't have to buzz Jolly's number. She figured it would be harder to turn her away from the front door than from the sidewalk. The lobby was not what she expected when Christina looked at the pieces of old warehouse equipment that had been left as pieces of interest. Someone had painted them in outrageously colorful patterns giving them new life as pieces of art instead of their boring utilitarian past existences. The second surprise was the old time elevator that was large and had a door you pulled down instead of one that slid closed. Christina leaned against one of the sides and waited for it to make its way to the fourteenth floor.
A soft curse escaped when it stopped one floor short and no amount of button pushing would make the thing move. Without getting out, Christina pulled out her cell phone and called the one person she could think of that could help her. Two minutes after her phone call with Mimi the elevator started back up again and when it stopped, Christina found herself at the entrance to Jolly's living room.
The blonde never noticed the amused figure at the head of the stainless steel staircase when she got a good look at Jolly's walls. Everywhere there wasn't exposed brick someone had painted a huge mural that made you feel like you were in a submarine. The underwater masterpiece had been done by a genius with a lot of time on their hands.
"It's beautiful," whispered Christina to no one but herself.
"It's Mimi," said the deep voice from somewhere above her.
"Don't jump," teased Christina looking up. Her smile grew bigger when she saw Jolly standing there wearing only a robe. "I can see why the elevator doesn't come all the way up without a little prompting on your part."
"I don't know, Ms. Griffin, it might spice up my showers a little if I took the lock off. Make yourself at home while I get cleaned up. Feel free to look around, and if you want anything, the kitchen is through there," Jolly pointed to the area directly under her.
Christina hoped the owner of the space took her time in the shower since she planned to take her up on her offer to look around. The room she was in with the underwater fantasy world was sparsely furnished; she guessed it was so it wouldn't take away from the art. The only thing that could have given Mimi's work a run for its money was the floor. She could see the wood strips were probably the originals despite the pristine finish that coated them. There too, there was nothing too much to take away from the beauty of the wood.
A quick scan found two guestrooms and a complete gym just off the living room. The kitchen was huge with all stainless steel appliances and white tile. Not being able to resist the urge, Christina opened the refrigerator to see how Jolly lived. She was convinced you could tell a lot about a person by what was in their icebox.
The first shelf was filled with fruit juice bottles, the second with soda, the third with four types of beer and the last with a variety of breads. The detective shook her head at Jolly's apparent non-culinary skills. Christina moved on and found it was the last room that she loved the most.
The big open area was a studio much like the one she hoped Jolly would build for her when the house was done. The only difference was the wood working tools that lined the walls. So many of them, Christina didn't know what most were used for, much less be able to name them.
Jolly found her a little while later running her hand over the piece of wood clamped to the worktable. Jolly thought the carvings along the edges of the piece were a poor imitation of the paintings in the living room, but no less amount of love and devotion had gone into its creation.
"So beautiful." Christina said as she looked at the fish chasing each other along the edges of the wood.
"It's a lap desk for Mimi. Not as good as the original but I figured she might like it when she's sketching in bed."
"You're wrong, Jolly, this is gorgeous. I can see there's more than one artist in your family. You aren't mad that I just barged in on you, are you?"
"I'm glad you're here so no, I'm not mad. Trust me if I didn't want you here, you'd still be on the thirteenth floor trying to figure out how to get up here."
Christina smiled and stepped closer to the woman who had been consuming large parts of her daydreams since Thursday's opening. "I'm glad too, and I hope this doesn't sound too forward, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about you since the day you jumped me."
Jolly laughed and pointed toward the kitchen. She was in her bare feet so a walk through the studio was not in her plans. "If I get you to marry me, I refuse to allow our grandchildren to hear that story from your point of view." She would have to listen to Mimi more often when she talked about women. Jolly wasn't any stranger to dating, but starting at square one was always awkward. Christina had snagged her attention from the moment Jolly had wrapped her hands around her and looked down at her at the house site.
Christina's smile grew bigger as a small part of her brain wanted Jolly to drop to one knee and pop the question, already certain of what her answer would be. "That's negotiable."
"You want something to drink?"
"Grab something for the both of us to go with the food I brought with me," said Christina. It was then Jolly noticed the large paper bag sitting on the counter. When Jolly opened a drawer and took something out, Christina was surprised it wasn't a fork when it was pressed into her palm.
"Here I think anyone who can't stop thinking about me and brings me Chinese food deserves a way to make the elevator go all the way up when she comes over."
The small blonde looked at the key Jolly was offering her and said, "Let it go and I'm keeping it."
"That's why I offered it. What do you want to drink?"
Christina could not resist the attempt to play so she opted for the one thing the icebox didn't have. "I'd love a bottle of water if you have it."
Jolly laughed at the confused look she got when she held up two different kinds. "You didn't look in the door, and before you ask, there's an alarm upstairs that let's me in on unauthorized entry."
"Funny, you're so funny. Mimi forgot to mention that to me."
"This is my 'I'm trying to date you' witty personality - Mimi's unfamiliar with it," teased Jolly. "Want to eat down here or go up a little?"
"Up sounds interesting," answered Christina.
Jolly packed the food back in the bag and grabbed Christina's hand for the walk upstairs. She opened one of the sets of doors in the master suite and walked her dinner date out to the private terrace.
From the brick lined enclosure Christina could see there was a great view of the river traffic as well as a comfortable looking set of teak patio furniture. Jolly pulled out her chair at the table and went to the outside bar to get plates, utensils and some drinks from the box under the high countertop. When she came back to set it all up, Jolly was happy to find Christina had kicked off her shoes and had propped her feet on the chair across from her. The arrangement meant Jolly had to sit next to her if she didn't want to push the small feet to the floor.
They started to scoop food out onto their plates as the first date questions started flying. "Did you become an architect because your father was one?"
"My grandfather had more of an influence on me than Anthony did. My father believes bigger is better, and conformity is the name of the game. Not that thinking that way is wrong, it's just not for me," explained Jolly.
"Was your grandfather in the business?"
"Papa was a carpenter, and since I was old enough to form any kind of intent on what I wanted to do, it was to be just like him. My mother's father had a way of making wood become the pictures in his head, and it fascinated me to watch. Becoming an architect taught me what would last and what was possible, but standing next to him at his work table taught me to love doing it."
Christina looked at Jolly's face as she spoke about the man who was her mentor. It was apparent that she loved him. "He sounds like a wonderful man."
"He was. We lost him last year to a stroke. Funny, the one thing he never taught me was how much you could miss someone." Jolly shook her melancholy when Christina slipped her hand into hers.
"He's not really gone if that workshop full of tools downstairs is any indication. The gift he gave you will make him live on for years to come. Until you pass that gift on to your children."
"Thanks, that's a nice way of thinking about it. How about you, what made you pick an art gallery?"
"I studied art for six years before I decided I needed a real job to supplement my hobby. With the education, I had the background to know what was good, and with a little luck I've been able to find new talent." Christina shrugged her shoulders as a way of saying it was the best explanation she could come up with.
"I seriously doubt anyone who studies something for that long is just a hobbyist. You'll have to invite me to the new house to see your etchings," teased Jolly.
"What about you, any other hidden talents I haven't discovered yet?"
"Are you talking hobbies or some sort of hidden sexual talent I might possess?" asked Jolly.
"Let's finish eating before we move on to your inner layers of secrets, shall we?" As they continued their talk, Christina was glad she had taken the chance and come over.
The dishes lay forgotten as their information swapping continued and when Christina looked at her watch and saw it was after eleven, she was shocked and sorry their time was coming to an end. The thought of going back to her apartment alone was something she was not looking forward to.
"Hot date?" asked Jolly when she saw Christina looking at her watch.
"Yes, I'm on it right now. I just can't believe I took up most of your day, but I don't want to leave. Would it make me sound easy if I told you I wanted to spend the night?"
"That depends," said Jolly.
"If you slept with me or not." Jolly dodged the slap heading for her head as she laughed. "Do you have to run off?"
"Then come on." Jolly pulled her up and walked her to a room off the living room Christina had missed in her self-guided tour.
Mounted on the wall was a large flat-screened television with a comfortable looking couch sitting in front of it. With a bowl of popcorn between them, they sat to watch a movie before Jolly walked Christina to one of the guestrooms. Pointing to the locations of towels and sleepwear if she was interested, Jolly shifted from foot to foot in the doorway wondering if a good night kiss was going too fast. Christina helped her out by pulling her head down and pressing her lips softly to Jolly's.
"Thanks for a wonderful day," said Christina when they parted.
"I should be thanking you. If you hadn't shown up, I'd be knee deep in wood shavings by now. When that happens, Mimi screams at me for not getting out more." Jolly kissed her again to thank her for her thoughtfulness before moving to her own room.
"Good night, Chris. Call me if you need anything."
"Sweet dreams, Jolly." Christina answered to Jolly's back. The night had been wonderful, but it amazed her how many times Jolly could bring up Mimi's name in a conversation no matter what the subject had been.
"Can I ask where you are?"
"You'll think I'm slutty if I tell you, so I think I'll pass," answered Christina as she put stuff back into her purse. The ringing coming out of the leather bag had woken her up and dumping everything out was the only way to make it stop.
"Chris, you dog, I already think that about you so now you have to tell me," said Lisa, her reasons for calling forgotten.
"I spent the night at Jolly's." The silence from the other end made Christina think she had lost her connection with her assistant. "You still there?"
"Um, yeah. You can't see me but I'm on my knees worshipping you at the moment. I can't believe you bagged your carpenter, and so quickly. This must be a new record for you," said Lisa with a little too much gleefulness for the hour.
"Calm down, crude one. We ate, watched a movie then she kissed me goodnight at the guestroom door. There was no bagging involved."
Lisa laughed from her end trying to imagine Christina trying to keep her hands to herself all night. In a way, Christina had learned all her womanizing ways from a very good teacher who was thankfully out of her boss's life. "I'm sure not from your lack of trying." The groan coming from the other end got Lisa to stop kidding around and get to the point. "Sorry, I couldn't resist. Your parents called looking for you and considering the early hour didn't want the whole skinny on your personal life. This prompted them to call me at six on a Sunday. I guess it's all right for me to dial your cell and take the chance of finding you doing something naughty. Hillary and Dell love you, but even they have their limits."
"Is anything wrong?" asked Christina as she swung her legs over the side of the bed.
"Honey, calm down. If it were important they would have called you even if you had Jolly tied to the bed. They just were moving to their final destination and called to check up on you. Forgive me for calling you so early, but it was pay back for disturbing my beauty sleep. Do you have time to give me the scoop on last night?"
Christina looked at the equally sleepy Jolly standing in her doorway and turned her phone off. Lisa would have to accept her apology later but this was too good to pass up.
"Hey, I didn't mean to barge in on you, but I heard you talking and I wanted to make sure you were ok." Jolly looked like a piece of forbidden fruit standing in the door and Christina's mouth watered at the thought of taking a bite.
Jolly walked closer when Christina crooked her finger at her and gave her a warm smile. "Aren't you sweet, but you look tired."
"Your second floor beams have done a number on my back. I was just going to take some aspirin when I heard you talking." Jolly put her hands in the small of her back and stretched much to Christina's delight. Years of woodworking had done wonders for the tall architect's body, as the muscles, which stood out in relief while she tensed, attested to.
Christina patted the bed and scooted over to make room for its owner. "I have a better cure, so come over here and lie down." The first moan out of Jolly made Christina want to peel the borrowed t-shirt she was wearing off and do the massage naked.
"Everything ok? You don't have to run off do you?" asked Jolly picking up the discarding phone. The small hands working on her lower back were loosening spots she didn't even realize were sore.
"I have all day for you."
"You do that like a girl."
Christina looked down her body slowly before looking back up at Jolly. "No one has ever complained about that before."
"I didn't say I didn't like the fact you're a girl. You just swing a hammer like one is all."
"Leave me alone, this is the first time I've done this," said Christina bumping shoulders with Jolly. After going out for breakfast they had driven out to the work site to check things for the next day when Christina had asked for a carpentry lesson. It would make a good story to tell her friends once the place was finished. None of them would believe she had a part in constructing even a small part of the house.
"If you're a fast learner then I can go back to the office tomorrow and you can supervise the construction," teased Jolly.
"No thank you, I'll leave the building to the experts and stick with my finger paints. Now take me somewhere and feed me."
"Feed you? We just ate breakfast."
Christina held Jolly's hand up and showed her the time. They had been there for over three hours and the heat was starting to get to her. "Tell me you aren't this clueless when it comes to designing things?"
"Just for that, no nice cabinets in the kitchen for you." The small blonde trailed after Jolly like a puppy when she went to put away her tools before heading out. Jolly had admonished herself all day to go slow, but her heart was falling. She had never felt so comfortable around another person except for Mimi, and she was quickly learning Christina Griffin was someone who was hard to say no to about anything.
Once everything was put away, Jolly drove them out to a restaurant on the lake for lunch and afterward offered to take the blonde to a movie as a way to keep her a little longer. The weekend was turning out to be one of the best in memory and despite the work she had waiting for her, Jolly wanted to spend the night on the couch again watching Christina instead of the television.
Christina was thinking the same thing as they walked hand in hand back to Jolly's vehicle. The woman walking silently beside her was so different than all the women who had gone through Christina's life. Jolly was rough around the edges, but she was so genuine.
"Are you going to be building more of my house tomorrow?" Christina asked when Jolly opened the passenger door for her and gave her a boost into the seat. She grabbed her date around the neck before she could escape to the other side of the car.
"I'm going to help the guys with the second story floors then I have to get back to the office so I can design nice things for other people. Why, you want to learn how to use a screwdriver?"
"All this talk of tools is making me hot," joked Christina before kissing Jolly on the cheek.
"Come on I'll drop you off by your car so you can get some rest before you have to go to work tomorrow. I apologize for monopolizing all your time today, but I couldn't bear to let you go."
"You don't have to apologize for that, Jolly. I enjoyed today. And I'm not just saying that because I want nice cabinets in my kitchen either. Just remember the nicer they are the better those dinners I'm going to make you are going to be once you finish putting my kitchen together." Christina loved the contact of Jolly's body so close to hers, so much that she pulled them even closer together.
"You're going to cook for me?"
"I got a look at that great kitchen of yours, the one with no food in it, and I figured I'd have to if I want to keep you looking good."
Jolly looked at her confused by what Christina had said. Then it occurred to her Christina had only seen the refrigerator in the kitchen and not the one in the pantry. "You never know Ms. Griffin, I might just have some hidden tricks up my sleeve you don't know about." Jolly laughed when Christina made a point to look up her sleeves.
When she got into her own car after arriving back at Jolly's place, Christina leaned against the seat and looked at the wonderful sight leaning in from the window. "You put them all on there?" She took the card that Jolly was offering.
"If you can't find me with all this, I've either fallen off your roof or I'm dead."
"Don't say that. Can I call you?"
"Honey, I didn't give you all my numbers because I think I have a good looking business card. I want you to call me. Besides you'll be too busy answering calls from me to call. Drive safe and I'll see you soon." Jolly straightened her legs so she could get further into the car and kiss Christina good night.
"What're you doing?" Was the question that came over the receiver when Jolly picked up.
"I'm carving. You got home ok?" Jolly asked as another fish came to life on the piece of wood she was making for Mimi.
"I was getting ready to go to bed, but I wanted to talk to you first. Thanks for the great weekend, Jolly. I hope we can have a repeat real soon."
"Count on it. Now get some sleep so you can sell lots of stuff. You haven't seen my bill yet, and I don't want to end up with your house by default."
Christina drove to the site before heading into her office just to see if Jolly was there yet. When she got out of the car the only option she had was to sit on the hood and put her hand over her mouth to muffle the laugh that wanted to spill out. There on the partially finished second floor was Jolly and a hand full of men doing a line dance to some country western song on the radio. The one thing Christina was grateful for was the dancer she was interested in was the only one without a beer gut.
The group bowed at the end of the song and accepted her applause with gratitude. When Jolly reached her car she looked over her shoulder and gave everyone a glare that meant get back to work.
"Good morning, twinkle toes. I tried calling you early but you were either in the shower or up there putting down my floor."
"Sorry I missed you but I had to get up early and start work." Jolly looked down at her hands to make sure they were relatively clean before offering one to Christina. "You seem to call me names when you aren't pleased with me."
"You could not drive another nail into this place and I'd be pleased with you."
"Good to know. Kiss me then, you have to go and I have to get back to work."
When they broke apart the applause was coming from the opposite direction of the car and it was Christina that bowed this time. She wiped the pink lipstick off of Jolly's lips before pecking them one more time. Looking in the rearview mirror, she could see Jolly watching the car drive away. Hopefully Jolly would have that half dazed look for a long time to come.
Continued in Chapter 2
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