Containing a birthday celebration and a little girl-talk.

It was Friday the fourteenth, Lyssa's fortieth birthday. The staff of Cutting Edges had sent her out of the office on a time-consuming and hokey pretext in order to transform the office into a corny concoction of crepe paper and confetti, lighting provided by candles Harry had bought en masse at an after-Christmas sale at Hallmark's. The old office had never looked so good--it was so dim you couldn't see most of it.

The office had never looked bigger, either. The desks, cleared of computers and more archaic writing tools, were shoved to the wall below the windows where they served as tables for the food and drinks. Diana's new band, Slight of Hand, was set up in the corner across from the door, and speakers, cables, mikes and instruments took up a large portion of the available floor space. The musicians were doing a sound check as quickly as possible; Lyssa and Roxana were expected back any minute.

It was quite a mixed crowd that had found its way to the Cutting Edges office for the celebration, varying in age from borderline adolescence to fifty-something. From a racial standpoint, the crowd was too predominantly white to be politically correct, a circumstance Lyssa would not have condoned but could hardly change. She hadn't done the inviting. With the possible exception of Marty and a small Indonesian woman, in fact, the guests were practically indistinguishable from wasps, whether they were Irish-Catholic or sported an Italian name or not.

One of the fifty-somethings was standing with a non-Anglo- Saxon-Protestant and observing the musicians. "This will be interesting," Deborah said to Mercy. "Live music even."

"Have you ever heard Diana?" Mercy asked. Deborah shook her head. The band consisted of seventy-five per cent women, and the male drummer had much longer hair than either Diana or the bass player, a Nordic version of Diana, tall and slim with short blond hair: even the bangs she threw out of her eyes with a toss of her head were the same as Diana's. The drummer couldn't compete with the guitar player, however, and her long curly mane of dark brown hair that went almost to her waist. The guitar player's face was ordinary, but her hair was extraordinary, and her beauty of hair more than made up for her lack of beauty of feature.

Diana was busy ordering her band around and getting ordered back as well. They worked well together, although the three women were all on the energetic, dominating side. Wes rarely got more than a word in edgewise, but he didn't seem to mind. He appreciated the wealth of attractive female companionship and kept his mouth shut.

Lily, Myrine and their male appendages were pouring glasses of champagne and arranging refreshments at the desks turned tables.

Lyssa's male appendage was half-hiding behind a wall of roses, with Hannah next to him listening to his summary of the parties present. "And the domesticated punker in the corner playing keyboards is Diana," Marty said.

"Oh, I know her already," Hannah replied. "I've even seen her perform. The band is different, though."

"A result of her short-lived attempt to create an all-girl band. The guy behind the drums there is testimony to how short- lived." Hannah giggled. "And over here is our Famous Author..."

"I know her too," Hannah said, dismissing Fame with a wave of her hand.

"Well, who don't you know?" Marty asked with pretended exasperation.

"The one next to Deborah."

"That's the domesticated professor with literary ambitions, Mercy Kennedy Flunk."

"Mercy? What kind of a name is that?"

Marty chuckled. "That's what everyone says. But don't you read your mother's magazine? Mercy writes for it too."

"I never noticed," Hannah admitted guiltily. "And the little dark woman with the big glasses?"

"Carrie, one of the directors of the local rape crisis center." Hannah looked at Marty questioningly. "We're planning a series of articles on rape, and she's helping us out. She's in the PR department."

"PR, huh?"

Marty shrugged. "And that's the longest running relationship between an Amazon and a representative of the male of the species since Hippolyte and Theseus," he said quickly to change the subject, and nodded in the direction of Lily and Adam. Lily was making obscene decorations out of long white radishes garnished with small red ones and laughing uproariously, while Harry's significant other looked on with a smile. "The one next to them is Denise, Harry's whatever."

"Why whatever?"

"They're engaged in an experiment, very radical for Puritan American standards--they have a child together, but no piece of paper to give them permission."

Hannah shook her head, but more in disappointment than disbelief. "My mom never tells me these kinds of things. I never hear the good stuff."

Marty looked at her with raised eyebrow. "Hannah, she probably doesn't even think about it."

Hannah grinned. "I guess you're right. Mom's not exactly a gossip, is she?"

"Definitely not." Marty looked absently over at Denise and the others. "And she would have made a lousy philosopher."

Hannah had no time to ask him what he meant by that cryptic remark. Harry burst into the room. "She's coming!" he announced.

Slight of Hand stopped making irritating noises. Lily stopped making provoking decorations. Marty and Hannah stopped whispering and giggling. Everyone stood at attention. All eyes were fixed on the door. It opened, and Lyssa entered, followed by Roxana.

"Happy birthday!" the crowd cried.

"Okay, girls, hit it," Diana said. As the token male, Wes was forced to include himself in this gender-specific command, and the band started into a jazzed-up version of the birthday song, the non-musicians singing along as well as they could.

At the end of the song Marty accosted Lyssa with his wall of roses, a dozen red ones to be precise. "Do you know what day it is today?" he asked.

Lyssa looked at him with a bright smile. "My birthday."

"Certainly, that too. But what else?"

"Oregon Statehood Day."

"Is it really? I didn't know that."

"What kind of Oregonian are you?" Lyssa's delight was almost making her witty.

"A poor one apparently. Now guess again."

"I give up."

"You really are stubborn, aren't you? It's Valentine's Day, you impossible woman, and all these roses here, which incidentally cost me a fortune, are to show you I'm courting you and prove to you that I won't consider giving up just because of some inhospitable mood of yours." Marty stopped and took a deep breath. "I don't think I've ever made such a long speech. Am I doing it right?"

Lyssa laughed. "A little late. You know perfectly well that my inhospitable mood is over. But better late than never." She took the roses and gave Marty a very public kiss on the lips.

"Good job, Mom!" Hannah said from the sidelines, applauding, and the whole crowd joined her. Lyssa turned slightly red but grinned and bowed bravely.

"Now we're going to play an original song in celebration of Lyssa's birthday," Diana announced. "`Wine, Music and Men'-- something every woman needs!"

"Speak for yourself," Roxana said.

"Personally, I prefer beer," Mercy threw in.

"Here's the wine!" Lily called out from where she was stationed next to the table. "Help yourselves!"

"I'll drink to that," Harry said.

Return to Cutting Edges title page.