Love or Lust [Now & Forever 1]

Love or Lust cover

Love or Lust

Now & Forever

Book 1

By Jaye Em Edgecliff

Titles by Jaye

Now & Forever Series:

Love or Lust (Book 1)

Ready or Not (Book 2)  Coming Soon

Books 3 and 4 TBA

Færie Patrol Series:

TBA

For news, and updates visit http://jayeedgecliff.com

Love or Lust
© 2012 Jaye Em Edgecliff
All rights reserved

The story contained herein is a work of fiction.  All names and descriptions are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to persons living, dead, yet to live, real or imaginary is coincidence.  Except the Latin II teacher who is somewhat based upon the very fond memories of my own Mr R.

No part of this story should be reproduced in whole or in part except under the terms of the copyright laws of your country.  The author believes fully in the concepts of Fair Use and will take no issue with anything that clearly falls within that realm as defined by law.

Rights not covered by Fair Use and are protected by copyright, but the author does waive:  The phenomena known as fan fiction with proper disclaimers waiving claim to characters and plot elements not belonging to the fan fiction author and which make no effort to profit in any form from use of these characters and elements are welcome to exist.  Also electronically published editions of the book are DRM free whenever and wherever possible with the intention that you should have the full right and capability to make as many backups in whatever form you so choose and that you should have the power to read the book on any and all of your devices as possible.

Trademarked and copyrighted titles, place names, and products used without endorsement by those copyright and trademark holders and the author makes no claims of ownership to those products or properties.

Disclaimer

The story which follows may offend you.  God only knows why, but it might.  There, you’ve been warned.

Specific things that people may, for various reasons, find offensive:  The story contains human beings – primarily teenagers, mostly of a thoughtful and intelligent nature, but some of the other sort as well.  It also contains adults, also of the mature and intelligent nature as well as the other kind.

There is frank and honest dialogue about movies, music, books, sex, sexuality, love, lust, religion, sin, virtues, society, people (no, those last two are not the same thing), and many other topics.  There are homosexuals.  There are heterosexuals.  There is romance, love, tenderness.  There is bigotry, rudeness, sarcasm, humour, seriousness, and several other things that, mostly, end in –ness.

There is not sex.  No graphic rape or murder; no dark tragedy.  There is life and hope and friendship.

It does not ‘promote homosexuality’ which is a completely daft phrase.  To the best of my knowledge no one has ever said every Human being ought to be homosexual – that would be very bad for the continuation of the species.  It does promote ‘the homosexual agenda’ if, by that, you mean the idea that homosexuals are also homo sapiens and, as such, deserve all the same civil and human rights that everyone else enjoys.

If any of these things offend or upset you the author would like it known that she, frankly, doesn’t give a damn and that you read this at your own discretion.  If such things do not bother you then I hope you find these pages to your liking

Yours with love,

Jaye Em Edgecliff

Dedicated to love, life, and happiness.  Perhaps, if all people took the time to love and laugh, to find Joy in this world that we have been given, then no one will ever have to say ‘life’s not fair’ and perhaps, God willing, the human race might finally find peace, trust, and brotherhood.

Table of Contents

Titles by Jaye
Copyright Notice
Disclaimer
Dedication
Chapter 1
Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Lauren was sitting on a park bench watching the ducks swimming while her mind teemed and writhed with thoughts.  For what seemed the millionth time she was thinking about herself and her boyfriend Daren.  They’d been dating since the end of seventh grade, and they’d known each other since fifth.

She was thinking because she wasn’t happy.

But you’re not unhappy, she told herself.

Oh, not that argument again.  She sighed.  It’s not like in fairy tales and romances.  Love takes time, I know, but after this much …

It was always the same debates.  She liked Daren, and even loved him.  However the love didn’t really feel much different than what she felt for her best friends, Allison, Sarah and Lisa.

He was quite handsome; he played baseball for school (but not well) and took boxing lessons (which he was better at) and was in rather good shape.  God had blessed him with a nice face, a good voice, and soft brown hair that was great to run her fingers through.  That didn’t matter though.

You can’t base a relationship on good looks.  Lust never lasts, she would always remind herself when her thoughts went in that direction.  Besides that, as much as she liked looking at him that too was … the best word she could think of for it was ‘wrong’.  She’d heard of attraction, obviously.  Lisa would go on and on with a gleam in her eye and almost drooling over Wesley Snipes, and Sarah was equally dreamy over Justin Bieber (which got her teased mercilessly by Lauren and Lisa as they accused her of being a future paedophile).  Lauren had simply never felt like that about anyone.

She was thoroughly sick of all of it; the doubt and confusion.  She’d talked to her friends, but they weren’t much help.

“What about when you kiss him?” Sarah had asked once.

With an indifferent shrug, Lauren had asked, “What about it?”

“Well … does he make you hot?”

Lauren simply shrugged again.  “It’s not bad.  I like it, but … I dunno.”

“Probably one of you just needs more practice,” Sarah said with a wicked smirk before Lauren threw a pillow at her.

She was just whispering a prayer asking for guidance or a sign … something.  She’d really tried to work things out for herself.  She and Daren were free agents on summer breaks, as of this year, but she’d been no more, and often quite less, thrilled with the other boys she’d dated.  Half of them seemed to think redheads were easy.  She’d even had to remind one rather demonstratively just what it is redheads are infamous for … his voice came back down to normal pitch by end of the week.

It just hadn’t helped.  She still liked kissing, but it was nothing special; she’d enjoyed the dates, but nothing about them she couldn’t have with any friend, male or female.  As often as not, it seemed, making out actually bored her.

She’d even asked her mother who’d tried to be helpful with, “You’re young yet.  Give it time.  Perhaps your body simply hasn’t finished ‘throwing all the switches’.”

This had satisfied Lauren for a day or two.  She had, after all, just grown out of training bras back in March, but the comfort hadn’t lasted as that annoying little nagging voice of logic tapped her on the mental shoulder and reminded her that if that were true she wouldn’t be having those urges and the half remembered dreams of hands and a warm body held close that so often left her sitting up in bed tingling from head to toe and breathing like she’d run a marathon.

She always wondered about those dreams.  She never remembered much detail from them, but something always seemed a little off about them, but all she could ever put her finger on was that it always seemed like the same person:  Someone whose skin was darker than Daren’s and, for a few seconds after she woke up, she felt like she could smell strawberries … like a shampoo.  Daren used Head and Shoulders, his hair never smelled nice.  Jacob’s hair smelled like strawberries a lot, but he made her look dark complexioned, and made Justin Bieber look as macho and beefy as Wesley Snipes.  She liked to think, too, that she’d not have hot impassioned dreams about Allison’s boyfriend.  They’d been friends since they’d been so little they’d spent church services in the little nursery playroom, and it seemed like such a thing would border on betraying their friendship.  She knew plenty of other guys too, of course, but none anything like in the dream.

She finished her prayer and sat staring out across the park; seeing it, really, for the first time in almost half an hour.  She noticed a tall girl about her own age she didn’t know and had never seen around before catching her breath off the side of the jogging track that ran around the pond.  The girl was watching Lauren with a curious expression, and Lauren felt herself unable to look away from her.

This new girl looked a good few inches taller than Lauren’s not quite five foot frame, had dark black hair that looked like silk, and a kind of dark olive complexion.  Her eyes looked like deep, dark pools not exactly black, but too dark to really call brown.  Lauren noticed the girl was already rather curvy, and that for some inexplicable reason she was feeling very drawn to and fascinated by this girl.

Lauren was still sorting out her thoughts and deciding to go over to say hi, and wondering what to say after that when she was saved the bother by the tall girl walking up to her and saying, “Hi, I’m Salencia – you can call me Sally, if you prefer.  I’m new around here and … are you hungry?”

Fleuron

Salencia didn’t care much for running, not really, she found it rather boring.  Still, she hated feeling out of shape even worse and it would be a few more days until her dad could help her hang her punching bag and before they could look into a place to stable Stardance; the downside of this move being nowhere big enough to keep a horse at the house.  That’d upset her, but her mother’s new job meant more money and more time with she and her father.  That made it forgivable that her horse was back in Colorado, if not great.

She found the park early on in her run and had just meant to jog through it.  If she had to run she’d be damned if she’d run in stupid circles around a lake, no matter how picturesque.  She was on her fourth lap of the little … she realised it was probably small enough to just be called a pond and wondered for a moment what the difference really was.  Over by the water was a girl Sally just couldn’t keep her eyes off of.

The girl was deep in thought and looked troubled.  Sally felt herself overpowered by a need to do everything she could to make that pretty face stop looking unhappy.

With any luck the pretty redhead will be eternally grateful and the two of us can fall madly in bed together, she mused.

Sally could feel part of herself admonishing whatever part of her that thought had come from while another realised it was actually a half remembered line from something and tried to remember what.

She would be more than content, she realised, just to be the beautiful creature’s friend.  She felt drawn to her and just wanted to spend whatever time with her the universe felt inclined to offer in whatever way she could.

That puzzled Salencia a bit.  She’d never actually had a girlfriend, and knew a boyfriend was somewhere between bubonic plague and dental surgery on her appealing things-o-meter, but she’d always been quite happy and unashamed to lust after and fantasise over her pretty and fates-be-damned undoubtedly straight friends back home.  This one, though, she felt … wrong simply lusting for, like she was sullying something pure.

She’d stopped and sat in the grass for a moment to catch her breath under a tree.  She just couldn’t help staring at the girl.  She was much smaller than Sally, cute and lithe, her wavy hair looked like copper and a she had a darlingly freckled complexion to match.  She made Salencia think of gymnasts or a redheaded Natalie Portman.  After a while, and just as Sally had got her breath back, the girl looked up from her thoughts and Sally’s breath caught in her chest.  The tiny girl had the prettiest eyes … and they were looking right into Salencia’s own.

Sally’s heart sped up to rates far beyond what the run had caused.  The universe seemed to have run out of oxygen for a moment.  Sally’s mind, or maybe it was heart, afterward she couldn’t remember clearly enough, but either way it made itself up for her and she was halfway to the bench before realising she’d even stood up.

Oh well, guess I should say something … but … what?! she thought.

She took a deep breath, smiled and said the first thing to come to what passed for her mind right then, “Hi, I’m Salencia – you can call me Sally, if you prefer.  I’m new around here and … are you hungry?”

Seriously?!  That?!  You spend half an hour running circles around a little pond-lake-water thing and that’s your winning sweep-her-off-her-feet line?  Gods!

Sally wasn’t really listening to herself.  She was busy drowning in two wide, large pools of hazel, and very nearly missed the angelic creature smile and answer, “I’m Lauren and … yeah, now you mention it I’m starving.  Got anywhere in mind?”

Salencia forced herself back out of those eyes and swallowed before saying in a mercifully normal voice, “Not really.  Kinda hoped you could point the way and we’d grab a couple of Dibbler-burgers.”

One copper coloured eyebrow rose and the fey little creature asked, “A what?

“Dibbler.  As in Throat … Discworld … Terry Pratchett … you read, right?”

Blinking in puzzlement and looking like she thought Sally mad, “You want a fictional burger?  That’s gotta be one hell of a diet, but I wouldn’t think someone with your body would need it.”  She snapped her mouth shut looking like she’d said something she hadn’t meant to and blushed furiously.

At the blush Sally melted.  Still she managed to laugh.  “Nah, fast food.  Throat’s sausages are ‘genuine pig’ instead of pork.  Just like most fast food places serve ‘genuine carbon based substances’ and ‘it’s gotta be a burger – it says so on the wrapper.’”

Lauren grimaced.  “Ugh!  Is that what they’re like?  How about something that God had something to do with creating?”

Sally shrugged.  “Lead on gorgeous,” she said with a smile and burst out laughing at the shocked and self-conscious expression that Lauren got; adding, “If you’re going to go around looking like every reason anyone ever needed to move to Ireland you shouldn’t be so surprised when people think you’re pretty.  Anyway, what’s this place?  And since it serves real food instead of rejects from a Twinkie factory, should we detour by my house for a shower and a change of clothes?”

Lauren frowned.  “Hadn’t thought of that.  Clothes, not really but … where do you live?”

“Few blocks that way, Sage Drive.”  Sally pointed east and across the park.

“That’s the opposite direction, and rather more than ‘a few blocks’.  My place is on the way and closer.  You can use my shower.  We’ll toss your clothes in the wash, and you can borrow something from my sister’s room – you’re almost the same size, I think – then we stop by and get your stuff on the way back.”

“Thought you said the clothes don’t matter.”  Sally pointed out, frowning.

“You want to take a shower then put your sweaty clothes back on?” Lauren asked with her eyebrow arched once more.  Salencia thought it adorable.

“Well, no, but if you’re planning to throw ‘em in the wash …”

Lauren interrupted.  “And do you want to eat or do laundry?  Toss the stuff in the wash, shower and dress, toss ‘em in the dryer on the way out the door, change back into them when we get back.”

Sally shrugged, conceding to logic.  “Fine, where’re we going?”

“Lorenzo’s.  It’s a nice little bistro and coffee shop about a quarter mile from here.”

“Fine by me, then,” Sally said as she held out her hand to help her new friend stand.  When their eyes had met Sally had felt as though she were struck by lightning.  Lauren’s hand in hers was like a supernova.

“You all right?” Lauren asked with such heartfelt concern that Sally briefly wondered if she’d passed out or something.

And, Sally wondered, was that my imagination or did something flicker in her expression when we touched, too?

Aloud she said, “F-fine.  Sorry, yeah, guess I’m just hungrier than I realised.”

Fleuron

Lauren took Salencia’s hand happily in her own and felt a charge surge through her, a thrill and warmth, and suddenly it seemed a very unwelcome idea that she should ever let go of that hand.  She saw Sally’s expression go kind of odd and worried she was ill.  “You all right?” she asked, more concerned of the answer than she remembered ever being about anything in her life.

“F-fine.  Sorry, yeah, guess I’m just hungrier than I realised,” she said as her colour returned.

“Should I walk you home?”

“No, no, I’m good, just … you’re not an alien from some far galaxy or a top secret experimental android are you?”

Lauren stared at her new friend a moment blinking slowly.  “No.  And, do I want to ask why?”

“Probably all this thick air.  This much oxygen has got to be bad for my brain.  Too close to sea level and all that.”

“Okay,” Lauren said as they set off.  Neither had made any move to retrieve her hand from the other’s grip.  “So, when’d you move here?”

“Couple days ago, from Colorado – that’s how I’m still getting used to breathing air.  Mom’s got a new job of the fool-to-pass variety:  more pay, less work.”

“Awesome, what’s she do?  What about your dad?”

“I don’t know what Mom does.  Dad’s a librarian.”

“What do you mean you don’t know what your mother does?” Lauren asked in shock.  “Is she a spy or something?”

“No,” Sally answered laughing.  “Some kind of architectural engineer.  I’ve just never had enough attention span to understand what that means.”

Lauren joined in Sally’s giggling and when they caught their breath she asked, “What about school?”  For reasons she couldn’t fathom, she found herself praying to God Sally’d say Immaculate Conception, her own school.

“Immaculate Conception,” Sally said without a lot of enthusiasm.

Lauren’s heart skipped six beats and it was Sally’s turn to ask, “You okay?”

“Yeah, sorry … just … hey, that’s where I go to school!  The ‘rents don’t think much of public schools, but thought if I were home schooled I’d never take my nose out of a book long enough to interact with any of the rest of the human race.”

Sally chuckled.  “Bookworm, huh?  Still don’t know Pratchett, though?!  Such poor taste you must have, m’dear.  My parents like Catholic schools.  They’re convinced they’re the best sources of education outside a future where Wikipedia can be copied wholesale into our brains.  And they’re afraid I’d drive them to the madhouse if either had tried to stay home to home school me.  They say it seems cruel to subject me to unsuspecting nuns, but at the school I’d be outnumbered and then they add ‘misery shared is halved.’  What about you?  What’s the story behind this radiant beauty?”

Lauren blushed again and wondered if Sally were flirting or if this was just more of her idiosyncratic sense of humour.  And which do you hope it is? asked a treacherous little voice.  “From here.  All my life.  Parents are both doctors.  They run a natural and homeopathic clinic in the city.”

“Homeo-what?!  Like when effeminate guys get it cut off or macho girls get one sewn on?”

“No!  God … no, that’s … wait, sewn … I’m pretty sure that’s not how that works,” Lauren stammered in shock.

“It’s not,” Sally said laughing.  “They sort of grow one out of your clit with hormones, then rearrange some tissues.  My cousin had it done; he told me all about it.  Says it’s kind of weird to think about it, but was worth it for his peace of mind,” she explained seriously.

“Oh, cool.  Well homeopathy is … just a kind of medicine, really, but with more natural cures and letting the body heal itself than pumping it full of drugs and chemicals.  Mom and Dad don’t think much of it, but they didn’t open the clinic, just took it over, and it already had the homeopathic doctors.  They’re both N.D.s so they do some of that too, difference is something to do with approach and the fact they’ll prescribe pharmaceuticals.  ‘Nothing wrong with amoxicillin, in moderation,’ Dad says.”

“Awesome!  Hippie docs!  Is the lobby painted tie-dye?” Sally asked and Lauren realised she was sincerely impressed, not making fun.

Besides, “No, Mom put her foot down about that, apparently.  Dad had to settle with that for his office, which Mom threatens to paint surgical appliance pink when he’s misbehaving.”

They walked the rest of the way chatting about inconsequential things and joking as though they’d known one another for years, instead of only minutes.

“Welcome to Casa De Hippie Docs,” Lauren said as they approached a large, beautiful Victorian house.

“Wow!  Hippie meds must sell well.”

“They do all right … well, okay, they do really well yeah, but mostly this is the result of years of fixing up.  They bought it really cheap when Maureen was a baby and it was a near wreck.  It’s kind of what they do on weekends.”

“What?  Still?”

“Okay, did.  Sorry.  Mind’s being weird.  C’mon, looks like Mom’s home.  You’ll love her.”

They ran in together, still not having let go of each other’s hands.  Lauren’s mom was sitting on the sofa laughing at a trio of tiny kittens at play.  As they came in she looked up saying, “Hey honey; new friend?”

“Yeah this is …” Lauren began but Sally beat her to it.

Sally made a flourishing bow as she said, “Salencia Lily Constellino, at your service milady,” coming over all courtly, and faintly British.

Lauren’s jaw dropped, uncertain just what to think of that and Sally smiled at the reaction as she explained, in her normal voice.  “Sorry, I just love doing that to people when I think it won’t completely freak them out.  Bunch of friends back home are huge into S.C.A. type stuff and got me into it.  I sometimes can’t help myself.  For what it’s worth I also know far more about armour, swords, and smithing than anyone should ever want to; and remind me to show you how good I am at juggling knives sometime if you’re really mad at me.”

Lauren and her mother looked at each other then at Sally.  Lauren finally asked, “Why if I’m mad?”

“I can’t juggle,” Sally explained deadpan.

Lauren’s eyebrow went up again and her mother’s too.  They looked so much alike Sally started laughing again.  “It’s so cute when you do that eyebrow thing.”

Lauren blushed a little and explained to her mother, “We’re going to Lorenzo’s for some lunch.  Sally’s going to use my shower and I’m going to raid Maureen’s closet for something while her stuff’s in the wash.”  To Sally she said, “C’mon, it’s this way.”

Lauren’s room was large, well lit by many windows, and held a beautiful antique writing desk with a MacBook Air on it; every other surface in it was covered with books, comics, CDs, assorted stuffed animals, and little figurines of faeries.  Vertical surfaces were so covered with posters of various shapes and sizes of Jimmy Buffet, more faeries, and some ballet performances that it was hard to tell what the actual wall looked like.  There was no TV, but a very nice and very expensive looking stereo took up most of one shelf.

“Welcome to my room,” Lauren said then pointed at a door wallpapered in ballets.  “Bathroom’s through there.  Towels are in the linen closet right next to the shower.”

“Awesome, thanks,” Sally said and peeled out of her clothes.  “See you in a bit.”

Lauren stared at her new friend in a mix of shock and admiration.  She wasn’t shy about nudity; her grandparents had all been among the original hippies and her parents were far from mainstream themselves as a result.  Her mother often explained it as, ‘We’ll never overcome the Fall if we continue to bear the results of eating the fruit,’ referring to Genesis.

She gathered up Sally’s clothes and carried them down to toss in the wash.  Her mom came into the laundry room asking, “Lauren, honey, may I talk to you for a moment?”

“Yeah, Mom?”

“You know you can tell your father and me anything, right?  Remember what we’ve always told you about love?”

Confused by all of this Lauren just nodded her head, waiting for her mom to get to her point or punchline.  “Yeah, why?”

Her mother shook her head with a bemused smile.  “You’re a teenager.  You’re supposed to roll your eyes, ignore me and storm out of the room muttering,” she teased.  “Seriously, I don’t think I’ve seen you this happy since that time you got autographs from all the Coral Reefers and Buffett.”

Lauren shrugged.  “It’s Sally.  She … it’s like we’re just instant best friends, cue metaphoric explosions and some cliché angel choirs.”

Her mom chuckled.  “Well, since you’re going to Lorenzo’s pick up a rhubarb pie and, if Salencia can join us for dinner, get one of whatever kind she likes too, okay?”  Then she counted out some cash and handed the bills to her daughter.

“‘Kay,” Lauren said hugging and kissing her mother as she took the money before running up to her elder sister’s room.  Maureen, who’d been accepted to Harvard the year before, was away at college, but had left a sizable portion of her wardrobe at home.

Lauren rummaged through the closet and found a pleated denim skirt and linen blouse that would fit Sally well enough, but she traded the skirt out for a pair of jeans that, while probably a bit snug, would look better with Sally’s running shoes.

Maureen had never got the hang of casual wear.  She’d, as far as Lauren knew, never owned a T-shirt, or even a sundress.  The woman went to the zoo dressed the way many people would for church; needless to say there was precious little choice that would go with the sneakers, and Maureen had inherited the inordinately tiny feet of their mother’s side of the family so Sally borrowing shoes was out of the question.

As an afterthought Lauren grabbed the skirt as well, laying them both out on her bed to let Sally decide.  She’d just finished tidying up the lay of the blouse on the comforter when the shower shut off.  A few moments later found Sally stepping out towelling her hair.

Fleuron

Salencia stood in the shower with her mind swimming.  She wasn’t shy and had stripped off in front of friends plenty of times to skinny dip, or even to change at sleepovers and so on.  Still, she’d only just met Lauren.  She didn’t know what possessed her to do that, but she thought she saw a glimmer of admiration in the jaw dropped shock.

And she didn’t seem upset in any case, she thought.

Fantasies and day dreams began filling her mind and threatened to take control of her hands, but she forced herself to concentrate on showering and even turned down the hot water hoping it’d help.

The towels were so thick and fluffy soft she looked at the tag to see what they were – she wanted to get her parents to buy her a few sets.  She stared dumbfounded at a towel that claimed to be one hundred per cent bamboo.  She thought of the scaffoldings in whichever Rush Hour movie had taken place in China, of every Bruce Lee movie with a fighting stick, and of pandas gnawing away at a tall, woody, tree.

The universe has gone mad.  I wonder if this is a dream.  Too bad the pinching thing doesn’t work.  Last time I tried that I kept dreaming and woke up with a painful bruise.  Fuck you, Hollywood.

She stepped out of the room towelling her hair and just had to ask, “What kinda towels are these?  Some joker put gag-tags on ‘em saying they’re made of wood.”

“Grass.”

“Huh?  That’s a new use for pot.  Glaucoma, high, pain … towels.  Hmm … it’ll never catch on.”

“Smartass, no – bamboo.  It’s a grass, and they’re made from it.”

“Seriously?”  Sally asked, surprised, staring at the towel in her hand.

“Scout’s honour,” Lauren said solemnly.

“You’re a Girl Scout?”  Sally asked trying to picture Lauren in the uniform.  It didn’t fit.  It just didn’t set with the knee length broomstick skirt and peasant blouse.  It didn’t fit with the Parrothead earrings or the purse that looked made of some kind of hemp net.  Finally Sally had met a concept even her quirky mind couldn’t reconcile.

“Brownies, for about six months.  I hated selling cookies.”

Sally cocked her head, blinked twice, and shrugged.  Then she noticed the clothes.  “Uh …”

“Sorry, Maureen was weird about clothes.  These are the closest to normal she got.  It’s this or dress up.”

“‘Or dress up’?!”  Sally asked shocked. “Girl, I didn’t dress that nice to meet the governor!”

“You met the governor?”

“Back home.  Well … It was a science fair thing and … anyway this is only a step or two down from the nicest thing I own.”

“What?  Your skin?”  And again Lauren looked amazed at the sound of her own voice.  She seemed so thoroughly mortified at saying that that Sally wanted to just ignore it, but her own wishful thinking took over.

“Lauren … if you’re attracted to me, I don’t mind.”  Sally explained before admitting, “I am gay, but even if I weren’t … well … there’s no reason I could ever think of to be upset that someone says I’m pretty.”

Still nude and more comfortable than anyone, even someone as imperturbable as herself, had any right to be in the circumstances, she took Lauren’s hand, drew her over and sat her on the bed beside herself.  Sally then put her arm around the smaller girl’s waist.

“Lauren, I’ll be honest with you.  I think you’re gorgeous and I’m not going to pretend I don’t.  I promise, though, that while I might flirt a little, that’s just how I am.  I’ve flirted with boys even though I generally consider men useful only for looking cool while holding large weapons in movies, moving heavy furniture, and for being daddies (which I don’t always count as men – it’s more like what happens when a man metamorphoses into something far better, like butterflies).  I won’t try to jump you or anything.  Friends, any hand to any god you care to name, ‘kay?  Unless …”  She said the last word very hopefully, but soon broke the spell, “But you gotta promise to relax.  I love hearing I’m pretty.  Don’t look like saying it is tantamount to gargling bleach.”

“I’m sorry.  I just … I’m …” Lauren took a deep breath and started over.  “I do think you’re very pretty.  And … I’m sorry I look like I’m ‘gargling bleach’ when I say so.  I just don’t normally blurt things like that out and it surprised me.  I – I’ve got … look, Sal …”  She was looking slightly panicked and rather confused.  “Could I have a moment?  I’ve got to do something.  I’ll be right back.  The blouse should fit, if little tighter than it was made to, but it shouldn’t strangle you and if you only button the middle few buttons it’d be a really nice effect on you I think, and the skirt will fit over your hips a lot better, but the jeans – if you can get them on – will look better with those sneakers.”  She let go of Sally’s hand and jumped up from the encircling arm with a very reluctant expression then hurried out of the room, glancing back for a moment at the door before running again.

Salencia’s feelings were mixed.  A bit hurt by the reaction, but she wasn’t oblivious and her imagination translated Lauren’s reaction as optimistically as it could, and was wildly inventive where it had to be.  Not much of a skirt person – except her uniform at her old schools where she felt the skirt looked infinitely better on her than those goofy trousers – and thinking the jeans would look insanely good on her arse, she chose them.

Moments later she was buttoning the skirt and glaring at the jeans for trying to suffocate her like that.  She agreed about the shoes, though, so just left them off.  If the bistro had outdoor tables she’d just go barefoot.  If not, she’d simply have to live with looking a bit silly in front of total strangers.

Fleuron

Lauren ran from the room, confused.  She ran to her mother’s arms and said, “Mommy, I need advice.  I’m either going a little mad, Sally’s some kind of siren, or …” she couldn’t say it.  She’d always liked guys.  Sure, she’d always noticed how pretty her friends looked, but so what?  Anyone can think someone’s pretty.

“Lauren?  Honey, what’s wrong?”

“God got confused, I think.”

“Excuse me?  Can we try that over, and, this time, assume I don’t know what you’re talking about?” her mother asked patiently.

“When I met Sally I’d just been praying for some guidance about how I was feeling about Daren … or more to the point how I wasn’t feeling.  Since I first looked into her eyes I’ve just been fascinated by her, then she took my hand and I could barely breathe, my heart raced, and I felt … I don’t know what.  She thinks I’m attractive, she’s gay, and I think I find her attractive too which is silly since I’m not gay … or I don’t think I’m gay … but I definitely like her and just now when she was drying off and I was looking at her naked I caught myself thinking that it’s a sight I’d like to see a lot, and that’s possibly lust which is a sin but I’m pretty sure, too, that I’m forgiven a little lust as a teenager with all the hormones and such, but I don’t want to push God’s patience – I don’t want to be a pillar of salt.”  Lauren’s words had become increasingly more rapid and most of it had come out as a single slightly hysterical and definitely distraught breath.

“He doesn’t do the salt thing anymore,” her mother assured her smiling.  “I had a feeling when I saw you two come in that we’d be having a conversation like this – though I had imagined it either calmer or more excited; Old Testament inspired panic is a surprise.”

Lauren bit her lip nervously and fidgeted as her mother continued, “Honey, I agree.  I think you like her too.  Affection isn’t binary, dear.  You can like men and women equally, or one more than another.  Some people, honestly, aren’t interested in either, they just love someone.  They’re uninterested in all other members of the human race. In other words, maybe you’re a Sally-sexual.  Hell, maybe it’s just a hormone swing, but your eyes certainly beg to differ.  You looked like you were about to introduce me to someone who’d just asked you to marry them when you walked in the door.”

“But I’m not …” Lauren tried to protest, but she was cut off.

“Honey, don’t label yourself.  Or if you do, label yourself Lauren Felicia Conners, and fit that description as fully as possible whatever it means.  Sally is a very pretty girl.  I’m sure God will forgive your appreciating His handiwork … and if He does try to send you to Hell for it He’ll have to deal with me, and an angry mother is nothing compared to an angry redheaded mother.  The Wrath of God pales before such things.  Talk to her, see where it leads.  Even if it doesn’t last and doesn’t work out you’re happy right now – happier than I can really remember ever seeing you – and happiness in life should never be passed up.  Tomorrow may never come, and even if it does, regret is born from ‘might have been.’  Do you want to be sixty and think back to today and wonder what things would have turned out like if you’d taken the chance and then it had lasted?”  She hugged her daughter.  “Just be yourself and listen to your heart.  If it says something’s okay, you’ll probably be all right, but if you’re ever in doubt tell me or your father first.  Promise?”

“‘Kay, Mom,” Lauren hugged her back then ran back upstairs.

“You all right?  What was that about?” Sally asked when Lauren came through the door.

“Yeah, just had to ask Mom something.”  She took a deep breath, then another.  “Sally …” just then Lauren finally looked up at her friend to look her in the eyes and so only just saw her.  “Wow!”

“Thanks.  You were saying?”

“Yeah … sorry.  Look, I’m suddenly starving.  Can we talk while we walk?” Lauren asked deflating a little and biting her lip.

“Sure, hey that place have outside tables?  The pants would’ve killed me and you’re right about the shoes.”

“They do, but you have to go through the dining room to get there.  You’ll just have to look a little fashion challenged.”

“C’est la vie,” Sally said pulling her shoes back on.

Now it was Laurens turn to help Sally up.  The same fire as before surged as their hands touched and Lauren just looked into Salencia’s eyes; she felt her conscious self step out for coffee for a moment, and when it’d come back a few seconds later, it found she was kissing Sally and enjoying it more than she’d ever enjoyed any kiss before.  Some part of her stopped herself from jumping back in surprise so the kiss was able to end slowly and naturally.

Sally seemed out of breath as she said, “If speaking French always makes you do that I’m never speaking English again.”

Lauren, too, was breathing heavily.  “Did you mean it?  You’re attracted to me?”

“Yeah.  Who wouldn’t be if they’ve got eyes?  I’ll be honest, I feel something else for you too I can’t really put words around, but if you don’t mind a girlfriend … Well … I’d like to figure them out.”

Lauren looked inside herself.  She’d read of love at first sight.  She’d always thought it was something for cliché romances.  When she’d read about ‘true stories’ of it she’d always thought they must’ve been exaggerations, but now she was getting very definite ideas to the contrary.  “Sally, please don’t freak out.”

“You’re not going to say you’re completely straight and kissing me like that was some kind of Tourette’s syndrome, are you?”

“No.  I just … I don’t think I’m bi, straight, or gay … which is really confusing, I know.  I do think, maybe, that I’m in love with you.  And I’d be happy to be your girlfriend and find out if I’m right.  And I know we’ve only just met so ‘love’ seems a horribly powerful and a little scary a word and …”

Sally interrupted.  “Lauren?  As much as I like the sound of your voice, and as much as I’m sure you’re trying to make some point, let’s just say ‘I’m not freaked out’, and ‘I think ‘love’ might be a good word for how I feel, too’, and then, ‘a finer experiment hath never been proposed, let us explore this hypothesis of ‘love’’; then that pretty mouth can come here, seal this little bit of insanity with a kiss, and then you can take me to lunch.”

“Deal,” Lauren said wrapping her arms around Sally’s waist as Sally put her arms around Lauren’s neck, and they kissed hungrily for a moment.

“Damn, Pixie, you could jumpstart a corpse the way you kiss!” Sally said, smiling, as the kiss ended.

Lauren blushed.  “Pixie?”

“You’re cute, tiny, pretty, Irish as Guinness, and, I think, some sort of fey pretending to be a girl:  Pixie.”

“I am a girl!” Lauren said in amused indignation, playfully punching Sally’s shoulder.  Then in a sultry tone, “And if you behave yourself, one day I might just prove it to you.”

Sally just blinked for a moment as various brain cells caught up with the present.  When they’d all got done working out what Lauren’d just said her jaw dropped.  After a few moments, with a bemused expression, she asked, “Lauren … what’s the rest of your name?”

“Conners.  Why?”

“Because I think I’d feel pretty stupid if I told someone ‘I’ve got a girlfriend’ and they asked ‘Who?’, and I say ‘Lauren’, then they’re all ‘Oh, Lauren who?’ and all I can say is ‘Damn, you know … it never came up, maybe I better ask.’”

“Didn’t I … but … I bet you don’t know Mom’s name either?” Lauren stammered, a little flustered

“I do now.  Doctor Conners,” Sally pointed out as they took each other’s hand and headed downstairs

“Yvette.”

“Not Doctor?”

“Only on formal invitations and such.”

“Gotcha.”

“Oh, and do you want to stay for dinner?  Mom invited you while I was throwing your stuff in the wash.”

“Sure.  I’ll call Dad later.”

“Cool,” Lauren said, taking Sally’s hand back into her own and leading her from the room.

As they passed through the living room Lauren told her mother, “Mom, Sally’s staying for dinner.  If Daren calls, please tell him I’ll see him tomorrow.”

“Wouldn’t it be kinder to tell him today?” Yvette said gently, but with an undertone that made Lauren stop walking with a slight flinch.

“Tell him what?” Lauren asked suspiciously.

“Lauren, stop playing games.  I assume you’re breaking up with him?”

Lauren deflated a little.  “Yeah, but it might upset him, and I didn’t want to kill my happy buzz until tomorrow.”

“Oh?  And what if you’re having too good a day tomorrow too?  Then the next day?  Sweetheart, you won’t be far from his house at lunch.  Go after you eat.  You know, or at least I hope you do, you’ll feel guilty if you don’t,” her mother said patiently.

“You’ve got a boyfriend?” Sally asked curiously.

Lauren imagined a bit of reproach in the tone.  “Yes,” she said sheepishly and quite miserably and hastily tried to explain.  “I tried to say, but …”

“I don’t mind, actually.  I just … you seemed like … lonely when I met you.  I’m surprised, is all.  I’d expect, on a day like this, he’d have been at that park with you,” Sally said calmly.

Lauren mouthed silently for a moment.  Then she reached a decision.  “Okay.  And no, I’ll call him.  No … face-to-face.  Sally, may we make a detour after lunch?  I’ve a boyfriend I’m unhappy with, and I need to break up with him, and he’s a great friend if, now I come to think of it, not an altogether good boyfriend and this might upset him, and I might cry, and I’d like someone to hold me if I do and it’ll help to have you near so I don’t chicken out.”

Sally stared at Lauren for a moment as her brain finally caught up with her ears, then looked at Yvette.  “Is she always like that?”

“Only when overwhelmed.  I’m sorry, I don’t think I introduced myself earlier – too amused by your joking – I’m Yvette.  You’re welcome here as much as you like, by the way, so long as Lauren is happy.”

“And if she’s not?” Sally asked apprehensively, and with an expression like someone suddenly overwhelmingly curious about a disturbing topic.

“Best avoid Lauren.  She’s got her mother’s temper,” she said with a perfect poker face.

“But aren’t you her … right.  So!  No pissing off the Irish, bad for life expectancy … got it.  I promise if I ever genuinely upset your daughter I’ll promptly commit seppuku or hari kari or juggle some katanas or similar.”

Yvette chuckled.  “No call for that, dear.  I was teasing.  Have fun.”

As they left Sally asked, “She was teasing … right?”

“About herself?  Sure.  About me … well … remind me to tell you about James’ brief career as a soprano sometime.”

“What?  Like the TV show?”

“Is it about singers?”

“Mob … you’ve heard of it, I’m sure.”

“Probably, but I don’t pay much attention.  TV bores me.”

As they walked hand-in-hand Sally asked cautiously, “Lauren … you’re sure about this?”

“Nope, but I’m happy.  I feel for you more than I have for anyone else and I feel something wonderful.  I asked God to guide me, and I met you.  A coincidence?  Maybe, but maybe it’s not.  I like you, a lot – there’s just something about you.  You are very pretty, but I like you in my heart as if we’ve known each other forever and not for … well this past half-hour.  That’s never happened to me before and I think it’s important, and a sign.  If I’m wrong I’ve got a new friend.  If I’m right … I’ve found love.  God willing a true and forever love, and I’m determined to find out.  Fair enough?”

“Fair enough.  Mind if I ask one more thing?”

“No.”

“Shouldn’t you be feeling ashamed, running to a preacher in tears, then begging for Jesus to rescue you from Satan or something?”

“Why would I do that?”

“When you say things like ‘God willing’ and ‘I asked God to guide me’ … well … you sounded like you meant it.  I’ve just never met someone so totally into God who wasn’t to some degree, uh, a little jumpy about the whole same-sex thing,” she said in a puzzled tone.

“Oh, I imagine everyone is.  I mean why else would so many magazines spend so much space on ways to keep things interesting in the bedroom?”  Lauren said as poker faced as her mother had just been minutes before.

Sally stared at her for a moment before continuing, “I’m serious.  I’m used to people like you either ‘helpfully’ quoting the Bible at me, or if they’re interested in me too, freaking out and getting re-baptised.”

Lauren nodded and took a deep breath, “I knew what you meant.  I’ve met those people.  We’ll go to school with a few; you might want to know that.  I … Love is pure.  Lust is what’s sinful.  If you love someone, it can only come from God; if you only want their sex that’s lust and God had nothing to do with it.  After that I shouldn’t think what’s between anyone’s legs has got much to do with anything.  Ours is to love and care, and His to judge.  I’m not going to tell someone that God made them love another person only so He could test their faith.  That’s for them to decide.  I think God’s love is … I just can’t believe that God would make people gay to throw them in Hell, or so they can spend their lives miserable or lonely.  Jesus came to help us.  Not to … not to engender hatred and fear.”

“I’m always sad when I meet people like you describe,” she continued softly, and a little sadly.  “They look at God’s creation and everywhere they look they see Lucifer.  We may be barred from Eden, but we weren’t cast into Hell either; they seem to feel they have.  ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’  That’s Jesus’ words from Matthew.  That doesn’t sound to me like it’s still an abomination for men to lie with men … and the Bible really never said much about women in the first place.”

“How old are you?” Sally asked thoughtfully.

“Fourteen and a half, why?”

“Human years?”

“Yes!”

“Just checking.  So you really buy all the Jesus and God business?”  Sally asked curiously.

“Yeah.  I take it you don’t?”

“I … I’m not an atheist.  I just don’t think all the business with churches and temples matters.  It seems to me, if any god gives any damn at all how we behave it’s enough not to act like assholes to each other.”

“So?  That just means you understand and, I assume, do by nature what some people have to go to church to learn and be reminded of.  I don’t need to go, that’s the whole point of faith … and some weeks I don’t, but I enjoy it, so I always try to – it’s not supposed to be about fearing God’s wrath, it’s supposed to be about hope and God’s love and sharing that with your neighbours, friends, and family; all the fire and brimstone in the Bible generally came down to people being some pretty big assholes to each other.  Maybe you can sleep over this weekend and come to church with me.  Or you can sleep over and wait for us to get back while you sleep in … or I might skip church and you can have company.”

“You just, more or less, told your mother I’m your girlfriend.  Is she going to let us have a sleepover?”

“Why not?”

“A lot of people’s parents get stitchy about sex.”

“Expecting to get laid are you?  Hmm … we’ll see,” Lauren teased before more soberly adding, “We can’t get pregnant and Mom trusts me not to do things I’d regret.  Her doctor habits might kick in and cause some questions about how many lovers you’ve had and the like, but she’d be doing it for our protection.”

“Oh.  Is that the place?”

“Yeah, c’mon.”

Chapter 2

Lunch proved an interesting experience.  Lauren was obviously a regular as she was being brought a sweet iced tea with strawberries in it the moment they walked through the door.

“Hey, Alphonz, what’s good today?”

“Good afternoon, Miss Conners.  How would you feel about linguini and a Caesar?” said the smiling waiter.

“Fine, I’ll have that and could we get a couple whole pies for my mom?”

“Absolutely.  What sort?”

“Rhubarb and … Sally?” she said turning to Salencia.

“Huh?”

“What kind of pie do you like?”

“Dutch apple, why?”

“Alphonz, does Lorenzo still do those caramel Dutch apples?”

“Of course!”

“Then one of those.”

“Very good, and what might I get you, my dear?”

Sally looked at them both, a little overwhelmed.  “A menu?”

Alphonz and Lauren laughed and he had a menu out and in Sally’s hands in a blink.  “Take your time.  I’ll be back in a moment.  Would your mother like the pies delivered?”

“Since when do you deliver?”

“We don’t, but if she doesn’t need them right away I can have Lorenzo bake up a fresh pair and my shift will be over right about then, and I could run them by for you.”

“You’d do that?!”

“After what your father did for my sister?  Gladly.”

“Yeah!  Sure … I’ll write down the address, thank you.”

As he walked away Sally tried to catch up with the situation, giving up she just said, “You know, most people have lemon in their tea.”

“I like strawberries.”

“And … eat here a lot do you?”

“A bit.  It’s very good, plus Mom and Dad don’t know how to cook much variety.  It sometimes feels like, between them, they know how to make like six things, so we eat out a lot.”

“Oh?  Do I need to back out of dinner?”

Lauren laughed.  “No, either they’ll be picking something up, or if they do cook they know their limits.  What they can cook they’re really good at.”

“Okay.”  Sally stared at the menu for several moments and then asked, “Lauren, is this place vegetarian?”

“Yeah.”

“Thought so.  I was looking for chicken … anything.  Okay.  Recommendations?”

“You like pasta?”

“Who doesn’t?” Sally said aghast.

“Get what I ordered.  It’s the second most delicious thing I can think of,” Lauren said firmly.

“Second?  What’s the first?” Sally asked hoping it was on the menu.

“Your kisses,” Lauren answered so matter-of-factly that Sally found herself looking for it on the menu before it dawned on her and she blushed.

They enjoyed lunch and Salencia had to admit it was very good.  She also decided that, while tea with strawberries was interesting, she’d need to come back to try blackberries.  The restaurant offered a variety of fresh fruits customers could request for their drinks.

They spent the lunch just talking about the things they liked; music, movies, books, and so forth.  They learned their tastes overlapped remarkably.  They both loved all kinds of music, though Sally was more of a jazz fan and Lauren was a major Parrothead.  It seemed like their book tastes were a little further apart – the only novel that got broght up which they’d both read and liked was The Hobbit, but they both adored nearly all the same poets.  As for movies, they seemed to agree entirely on everything, including that Maureen O’Hara and Errol Flynn were the greatest actors to ever hit Hollywood.

Sally was sending a text to her father about dinner when Lauren asked, “Oh, hey, can I borrow that to tell Mom about Alphonz and the pies?”

“You don’t have a cell?”

“Nah.  Mom and Dad have offered to get me one, but it seemed silly.  I couldn’t think of much use I’d have for it.  They’ve both got one, but they only really use them much for work emergencies and to call triple-A if anything happens to the car that Mom can’t fix.”

“Your mom fixes cars?”

“Somewhat.  Depends what’s wrong, but she knows enough to save a fortune on mechanics.  Dad’s handy with tools too, actually, but mostly only carpentry and surgical.  He says the wheel is too mechanical for him to comprehend.”  They both giggled at that.

They sipped tea and nibbled breadsticks for a few moments after Lauren got off the phone before Sally asked a little sadly, “Ready?”

“For what?” Lauren asked, a little puzzled.

“To stop committing adultery?”

“Wh—oh, you’re horrible!  It’s not adultery; we’re not married!” she said shocked, indignant, and trying not to laugh.  Then she sighed sadly.  “Do I have to?  Couldn’t I just send him some flowers of a certain colour or something?”

“C’mon, Pixie.  No ducking out.  I’d actually just say stay with both of us – I wouldn’t mind if neither of you do, though I’m yours; he can keep his hands to you or himself – but you don’t sound happy with him, the fair thing to do is break up with him – gently.”

“Salencia, I’m pretty sure ‘gently’ and ‘break’ don’t belong in the same sentence.  Let’s go.”

They walked in silence toward Daren’s house.  When they got there Sally stopped at the end of the walk and sat down on the low stone wall.  “I’ll wait here for you.  Give you two some privacy.”

Lauren slumped down beside her.  “Sally … why is this so hard?  Before I met you I was considering doing exactly this, but now …”

She sounded about to cry, so Sally bit back the quip she was about to make, hugged her while she tried to think of an explanation, then decided to put her mouth on autopilot and hope, for once, it wouldn’t decide to slam her into a mountain.  “Guilt.  You’re honest and it’s bothering you to break up with him to be with me.  It’s like you’re cheating.”

“You haven’t got a girlfriend I ought to know about, have you?” Lauren asked quizzically.

“Only ever had one,” Sally answered sheepishly.

“What was she like?”

Sally looked at Lauren and in a sarcastic tone said, “About five foot, beautiful red hair, gorgeous hazel eyes, adorable freckles, not too bright but a fabulous kisser.”

“Brat!  I thought you meant one before me!”  She paused and Sally could see the implications catch up with her.  “I’m your first?  Really?!

Sally shrugged.  “All the girls I was ever attracted to were firmly on the other side of the fence or in total denial about it,” she said frowning before she looked into Lauren’s eyes and smiled.  “It’s okay though, you’re better’n them.  Now quit stalling.”

“Yes, dear,” Lauren said kissing her cheek as she started up the walk.

Fleuron

As she reached the door Lauren felt faint, but she rang the bell and waited.  Soon Daren’s father came to the door.

“Hi, Lauren.  Are you looking for Daren?  I think he’s in his room.”

“Thanks, Mister Jones, but … but I just need to talk to him a moment …” Lauren said nervously.

Mr Jones took a deep breath.  “I think I understand.  Are you all right?  Daren hasn’t done something he needs to regret, has he?” he asked very kindly.

Lauren hurriedly assured him, “No.  Not any … no, he’s always a perfect gentleman.  It’s me and I feel bad, but it’s for the best and the only thing fair to him and it would help if you were upset with me or something.”

He chuckled.  “Lauren, honey, you’re young and these things happen.  Let him down easy and I doubt I’ll have much reason to buy a shotgun.  Sure you wouldn’t like to come in?”

Lauren shook her head.  “I’m afraid I might chicken out.  My friend over there is supposed to stop me running away and … I’m not making sense, am I?”

Mr Jones chuckled a bit more.  “Not much, no, but if you’re more comfortable on the front step that’s your business.  I’ll get Daren.”

A few agonising moments later Daren came down and stepped outside with Lauren.  “Hey, what’s up?  Dad said you had something important to talk about?”

“Yeah, kinda.  Look, Daren, I … I like you.  You’re a pretty good guy and friend, but …”

“You’re breaking up with me, but still want to be friends.  Do girls have some sort of manual or something that tells you to say that?” he said huffily.

“Daren!  No, I’m serious!  That’s why I’m breaking up with you.  You have to’ve noticed we’re not exactly igniting flames of passion when we’re together.  We’re friends who sometimes make out when they’re hanging out together.  It’s a fabulous day, school starts in a week, and you didn’t even try to see if I wanted to spend it with you!”

Daren got angry.  “You didn’t either!”

Exactly!  We only spend time with each other to do stuff – I think we spend less time with each other than we did before we were dating.  We can definitely stand to be apart.  It’s like in that movie we saw with the girl from Mamma Mia! in it.”

“Oh?  And you’ve fallen madly in love with some snotty British prick too?” he asked rolling his eyes.

“No, a new girl from Colorado … but I was already thinking all of this before I met her.  The … well, the rest just sort of cemented the deal,” Lauren said very softly.

“What new …”  Daren paused and looked like he was replaying the conversation back in his head a few times.  “You said ‘girl.’”

“No shit?  Really?  Did I?  Let’s see: curves, tits, minus one dick … yep, girl.”  Lauren didn’t really feel as up to the sarcasm as she’d thought and it lacked the venom it’d had in her head.

“That’s a pretty stupid joke.”

“It’s not.  I was thinking of breaking up with you; agonising, actually, because you are nice and everything.  I meant it when I said I like you and would love to stay friends.  I met her … and … fireworks.  Daren, I think I love her.  You?  We’ve been dating over a year and the only certainty I have is that I don’t love you.  I dearly wish this language had a kinder way to phrase that because it sounds terrible, and I feel bad to say it – but it’s true, I … I don’t.  Not like that, anyway.”  She raised her voice some, “Sally, love, could … could you come here please?”

As Sally approached, Daren’s eyes glued first to her chest and then to her hips, which God seemed to have installed a pendulum in as she seemed incapable of walking without them swaying.  “Stop drooling, Daren, it doesn’t help your case any,” Lauren said irritably.

“What’s up, hon?  Hey Daren.  I’m Salencia; call me Sally.  Lauren’s told me some good things about you.  Do you go to Immaculate Conception, too?” she said brightly as she came up.

Daren didn’t say anything and Lauren explained, “Give him a minute.  He’s imagining us having sex, I think.”  She kicked his ankle.  “Earth to Daren!  Manners, honey.”

“Hi,” he said half-heartedly.  “Is it true?  You’ve stolen my girlfriend away?”  He sounded like he was trying to sound flippant, but only managed to sound moodier.

“Not so much stolen as found lying around without anyone to claim her,” Sally said a touch unkindly.  She blinked and grimaced.  “Sorry, that came out wrong.  It was supposed to, kind of, be a joke, but … bad taste.  Bad Sally.  Uh … yeah, it was an accident if that makes it any better.”

“You’ve accidentally made my girlfriend gay?  Is that even possible?  If so, you’ll understand if I keep my distance.  I’d like to have children someday,” he said incredulously.

Lauren rounded on him.  “Daren!  That’s a horrible thing to say!  Now I’m not sorry I’m breaking up with you!  Grow up you jackass!”  She glared at him until he apologised.

“Sorry,” he said, again only half-heartedly.  “Lauren, how could you do this to me?  The guys are going to give me no end of hell for ‘turning my girlfriend into a lesbian’, and I’ll bet a reputation like that’s not going to help me find a new girlfriend any.”

At Lauren’s shocked and disgusted expression he got something like a sheepish look, but it was terribly spoiled by the scowl he still wore.  This upset Lauren even worse.  “Sally, honey, could you say a few things to this gentleman that I’m too much a good little church going, God loving girl to say?”

“Like what, Pixie?” Sally said brightly as she stepped protectively closer to Lauren’s side.

“Eff him, and such like.  Keep it short, and no threats, but after that just be creative.”

“Ah, gotcha.”

“I get the idea, you two.  I am standing right here,” Daren snapped.

“Good, saves time and muddying up my karma, then,” Sally said sweetly.  To Lauren she added, “Shall we away, darling?” as she offered her arm like a high class gentleman might.

Lauren took the arm, looking into Daren’s eyes, her anger rapidly draining away; she started to cry at the expression on his face.  Sally started to walk them back to the street and Lauren kept looking back until Daren stormed into the house without a flicker of regret at the tears welling in Lauren’s eyes, and then the tears broke free and she started sobbing.  Sally pulled her close and put her arms around her.  She tried to walk Lauren home, but got confused and lost which spoiled the effect a little.

Fleuron

Sally heard the things Daren said and was shocked.  Lauren talked about him like the almost perfect guy.  Lousy at baseball, but a fair boxer, very laid back, good for a laugh and generally very nice.

I mean, true, he wouldn’t have been happy, so he wasn’t at his best, but that was … what a dick! she thought to herself.

Sally noticed that Lauren kept looking back as they walked away, but she didn’t herself so never saw whatever it was Daren did that made Lauren finally start to really cry.  Nevertheless, when the tears started Sally found herself torn, briefly, between re-enacting that scene from Temple of Doom and holding Lauren until she felt better.  It took less than a microsecond to decide Lauren needed her, so she just held the smaller girl close.

Sally tried to get them back on her own, but after two wrong turns Lauren said, “You’re lost, aren’t you?” with a sniffle.

“Yeah,” she admitted sadly.

“Right up ahead.  Turn right and go over the bridge, then straight …”

Before long they were walking up to the beautiful antique home and through the oak double front doors.  “Yvette?  We’re back,” Sally called out.

“How’d it … oh,” she said coming out of the kitchen.  “That well, huh?” she said seeing Lauren’s expression, tear streaked face, and puffy eyes.  She’d stopped crying a couple of blocks back, but she’d had too good a go at it before then not to show.

“Sally, dear, your clothes are dry and lying in Lauren’s room, but Maureen will never miss those things you’re wearing – she didn’t like them and rarely wore them.  If you want to keep them you’re welcome to; they look quite lovely on you.  Could you, please, take Lauren up to the tub and draw her a bath?  I’m going to grab some things and will be up in a moment.”

“‘Kay … wait … what tub?”

“I’ll show you,” Lauren sniffled.

They went up and into a large bathroom off the hall.  Dominating the space was a masterpiece of tile and jets, brass fixtures and what (from the wax) were clearly several built-in candle holders.  Sally stopped and stared.  “You call this a tub?”

“You trying to quote Paul Hogan?”

“‘Tub’?  You … this … tub?!

“Got a better word?”

“Aquatic heaven?”

“That’s two words.”

“Hush, Pixie.”

Sally gently sat her new love – and it shocked her to realise that love felt like exactly the right word – on the edge of the remarkable tub and then started filling it with steaming water.  While it filled, her heart racing, she helped Lauren out of her clothes.  Her breath caught and her mind shut down at the sight of Lauren’s naked body.

“Might want to close your mouth, dear, you’ll let in a draught,” Yvette teased coming through the door with some candles and some kind of jar full of herbs.

Sally’s jaw shut with a faint snap, but her eyes never left the beautiful, lithe form before her.  “Lauren, you are … beautiful.  Could you never get dressed again?” she asked awed.

Lauren smiled at the compliment.  “Winters get too cold, and the school’s got a dress code, sorry.”

Yvette had set down her bundles and turned off the water.  “Sally, would you like to help?”

Having forgotten, for the moment, that Yvette existed, let alone was in the room, Sally jumped which made Lauren giggle, but the laughter lacked the music and heart that it had all the other times Sally’d heard it.

“Did Daren do or say something when you broke up with him honey?” Yvette asked hearing the difference in Lauren’s laughter too, apparently.

“Only that he’s a jerk, a bit selfish, and really childish,” Lauren said bitterly.

“Thought it might be something like that,” the older, blue eyed twin of Lauren said sadly.  “Couldn’t imagine you’d cry that much if he’d taken it well.  Into the bath with you.  Sally?”

“Yes’m?”

“You still haven’t said if you’d like to help,” Yvette said softly and with a faint smile.

“Sorry.  Uh, help how?”

“How’re you at massage?”

“Don’t know, never really tried unless you count rubbing out aches I get from jogs or rides.”

Yvette was adding handfuls of the herbs from the jar, which Sally noted seemed to be mostly dried flowers, and the room was soon full of the smell of lavender carried in the steam of the bath.  Lauren was lying back with her eyes closed, and Yvette had a long match lit.  “While I light the candles why don’t you get in and help Lauren get comfortable?”

Sally didn’t wait to argue, she happily laid her clothes aside and climbed in, cuddling Lauren into her lap and starting to just caress the small girl’s arms and shoulders.  Lauren snuggled back against Sally’s body and sighed contentedly.

Right here is where I’d gladly spend the rest of my life, Sally thought happily.  She expected to be aroused, being a teen with a stunningly gorgeous naked redhead in her lap, but she was far from it; just comfortable, relaxed, and content.  She felt tears in her eyes as she filled with emotions for a girl she’d only just met but felt like she’d known all her life.

Yvette had the candles lit, and they filled the room with a smell Sally couldn’t quite place.  Slightly spicy, and a bit like sandalwood, but somehow off.  It blended with the lavender in the bath to dissolve all stress and leech it away into the water.

She felt Yvette kneel behind her on the edge of the tub where she took Sally’s hands in her own.  “Like this, dear,” she said as she guided Sally’s hands gently, but firmly across Lauren’s temples, face, shoulders, arms, chest, belly, as if she were wiping away all the stress and pain of the day.  From seemingly nowhere (she’d later learn various rooms of the house had access to a huge music library and a cleverly hidden speaker setup.  The Conners took music very seriously) she heard soft music playing.  Enya, she was pretty sure, and later a classical piece she didn’t know and then …

“Sally?  Lauren?  Wake up, dears, dinner’s nearly ready.  You should get out now if you plan to dress, but you’ve got another couple of minutes if not.”  Sally woke to see Yvette stroking Lauren’s hair and realised, as the perfect little creature in her arms stirred, that it was the same sort of gentle touch that had woken her.  When she saw them waking up, Yvette smiled and left.

“Feeling better?”  Sally asked.

“Much.  I can’t remember when I last slept so well.  I’m going to have to keep you,” Lauren said, turning in Sally’s arms and giving her a kiss and hug.  “Mmm.  This is nice,” the small girl purred with her head on Sally’s shoulder.  “I don’t want to let go yet.  Hope you don’t mind dining naked.”

Sally frowned and thought about it.  It’d never occurred to her to try.  “My but you seem to have no shame, little Pixie.  What about keeping a little mystery?”

“From another girl, who’s currently sharing a bath with me, and a pair of doctors – one of whom is a woman, and both of whom once changed my diapers?”  Lauren giggled.  “What mystery?”

Sally sighed theatrically.  “Good point.  If you’re happier like this I won’t complain.  Dining with your parents in my skin is a small price to pay for seeing you in yours.”

Lauren looked mildly surprised.  “You really don’t mind?  Wow, I was mostly joking.  It really doesn’t matter to anyone here if you come down dressed or naked, but I don’t normally care to – I always drop hot food right on my crotch.  Every time.  Still … I really don’t want to let go, and I really like seeing you this way.”

“What way?  Pruney and from an inch and a half away?  Such odd tastes ye wee faeries ha’.”  Sally put on a cheap faux-Irish accent for the last sentence.

Lauren started tickling Sally.  “Brat,” she laughed as Sally fought to shield her sides and find an opening for a counterattack.  Water splashed and sloshed.

“Girls!  Dinner!” they heard after a while.

“Whoops!” Lauren said, then louder, “Be right down!”

Looking around, Sally bit her lip.  “We made a mess.”

“So?  We’ll mop it up after we eat.  Hit the drain and I’ll grab towels.  Want a robe?” Lauren said climbing out.

“You taking one?”

“Yeah.  Meant it – I really do drop hot food in my lap if I eat naked.  I swore last time never again.  I was eating Thai food.  PLOP, right between the legs in all the wrong places.”

“You could put a napkin in your lap.”

“Tried that.  I just hit my tits instead.”

“Now, you’re just making excuses.”

“Fine, if you will, I will.”

Sally looked over Lauren as they both dried.  “Done.  It’s a deal.  Dry off, toss the towel, and let’s go eat.”

Lauren looked at her with an impish expression and started to say something when, “Girls!?”

“Coming!” they shouted in unison then giggled.

When they got downstairs Sally was blasted with a whiff of spices.  Lauren smiled.  “Mmm!  Daddy cooked!  That means Indian, hope you have a cast iron stomach.  He cooks authentic or not at all.”

“Are you kidding?  Mom’s Puerto Rican and Indian; I’ve actually eaten peppers that are banned by the Geneva Convention.”

“Daddy!” Lauren squealed running to give a hug to a man with a build like the one Sally often imagined when reading about John Carter of Mars, wheat blond ponytail to the middle of his shoulder blades, and eyes the same green-hazel as Lauren’s, all with a face that looked even more designed for mischief and smiles than Robin Williams’.  “This is Salencia, my new girlfriend, and you’d call her Sally anyway so there’s no point telling you to.”

Eyeing his daughter and Sally’s state of undress critically his eyebrows both rose, “A little eager, were we?”

Lauren and Sally both blushed and Lauren glared at him.  “Daaad!  We were just in the bath relaxing.  Behave!”

Yvette added to her daughter’s chastising.  “Remember, dear, surgical appliance pink.  I’ve got the buckets in the storage room.”

“Yes dear and dear, I’ll behave.  Hi, Sally, I’m Lucas, nice to meet you.  Please, sit, dig in, there’s enough for an army here.”

Sally sat, smiling.  The table did, indeed, seem set for an army.  There was a huge clay dish of paneer with spinach, peppers, and spices in a rich sauce; a couple of large woven baskets of fresh hot naan; a dish of mango chutney; and other delights that Sally couldn’t name.  “Lauren, when you said ‘six things between them’ I was kind of thinking you meant things like scrambled eggs, grilled cheeses, and spaghetti.  This is … amazing.”

Lauren laughed while Lucas beamed at the implied compliment.  “Sorry.  Meant like six meals, and it’s probably more than that … and I did say they were good at them.”

Sally glanced around the table a moment, considered the restaurant, and finally started to contemplate what Lauren’d said when she’d mentioned getting a burger earlier.  “Lauren?”

“Yes, Sally?”

“Are you a vegetarian?”

“Yep,” she said scooping a large bite of the paneer and spinach with a piece of the soft flatbread.

“Thought so.  So, that oh so romantic looking bouquet of roses made of bacon I saw once is right out, then?”

“Do you ever want to see me wearing this again?” she asked in a sweetly casual tone.

“Right, no bacon bouquets,” Sally said and they both laughed.

“Oh!  Mom, Dad?  Can Sally stay over Saturday night?  I want to drag her sexy heathen arse to church Sunday and get her so-well save-ed,” Lauren said in a fairly good televangelist voice.

“Only if you promise never to talk like that again, honey,” Lucas said.

“Like what?  Since when am I not allowed to say ‘arse’?” she said looking far too innocent.

“That voice, dear,” Yvette said.  “It’s got to be a crime to sound like that in the state of Washington, and I’ve absolutely no intention to move to the Carolinas.”

Sally chimed in.  “And there’s got to be a special Hell for people who do that to the language – I’m sure I remember that from theology class.”

“No one appreciates me,” Lauren said with a melodramatic pout.

Lucas looked up at Sally.  “Is she coercing you, or would you really like to stay over and come to church with us?”

“I’d love to,” Sally said feelingly.  “Hey, what’s the yellow rice stuff?  It’s really good.  I wouldn’t mind taking one of the buckets of it home … and marrying it.”

Lucas beamed.  “Lemon rice: peanuts, jasmine rice, saffron, lemon juice, a few spices, and my secret ingredient.”

“A shot of rum per two cups of rice,” Lauren translated without missing a beat.  “And you can’t marry the rice.  I don’t share well, and you’re mine,” she said grinning.

“Really?  So I have to choose, you or the rice?  Damn, I’m going to have to think about that … could probably answer tomorrow, like noonish,” Sally said with a mischievous grin.

“Hey!”  Lauren stuck her tongue out at Sally, then to her father she said, “Daddy, if your cooking steals my girlfriend I’m disowning you.”

“Take the redhead,” Lucas advised.  “Rice might be safer but copper tops are more fun.”

“Daddy!” Lauren said blushing.

“What?” he said growing a halo.  “You’ve got hands …”

Daddy!” she said turning crimson.

“Which makes it easier to play cards with you,” he finished smoothly.

Lauren glared at her father while saying, “Mother, please control your husband.”

“Both of you behave,” Yvette scolded.  “Sally, honey, if you want to run screaming at any point I understand and, with fair warning, I’ll be glad to hold the door for you.  It’s not too late you know?”

Sally smiled and looked over at Lauren.  “No, thank you, Yvette.  I think I might, just possibly, be in love with your little Pixie here, and have already promised her and myself that we shall thoroughly investigate that hypothesis,” she said with solemn dignity.

“Your funeral,” Lucas said.

“Lauren, after dinner, run out back and get my paint rollers.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Hey!  No, that’s violating the Hippocratic Oath.  I’m sure there’s something in there about repainting offices a torturous colour.”

“What do you think, ladies?” Yvette asked them.

“Let ‘im live,” Sally said.  “Reprieve and probation,” offered Lauren at the same time.

“Verdict’s in, love.  Tie-dye stays … for now.”

After dinner were the pies and ice cream, and more talk, and laughter, then Sally and Lauren went up to her room to listen to music, but then remembered the mess.  They mopped up, still laughing and joking and having fun then went to sit on Lauren’s bed listening to her iTunes collection and chatting until Sally looked at the clock.

“Whoops!  Better head home before my folks decide I’ve moved in and rent out my room.  Call me tomorrow.  If I haven’t been executed for being out too late, you can come over.”

“Sure.  You might want to put clothes on first, though.”

Sally looked down, she’d gotten so used to being undressed she’d nearly forgotten she was.  “Good idea.”  They laughed, hugged and kissed after Sally tossed her clothes back on and then she ran downstairs thanking Yvette and Lucas, again, for dinner as they handed her containers full of her favourite parts of the meal to take home.

FleuronThe End (of the sample)Fleuron

For the rest of the story please buy the book

Love or Lust

One thought on “Love or Lust [Now & Forever 1]

  1. Pingback: A decision, of sorts, and not reached lightly | Jaye Em Edgecliff

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