Ready or Not [Now & Forever 2]

Ready or Not (concept only)

Ready or Not

Now & Forever

Book 2

By Jaye Em Edgecliff

Titles by Jaye

Now & Forever Series:

Love or Lust (Book 1)

Ready or Not (Book 2)

Books 3 and 4 TBA

Færie Patrol Series:

TBA

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

Ready or Not
© 2013 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.

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 contains people:  Tall people, short people, fat, and skinny.  It will contain intelligence, stupidity, ignorance, and knowledge.  It will contain people ambulating, masticating, respirating, and articulating.  It will contain people who are homosexuals.  It will contain heterosexual people.  It will contain males, females, and – God help us all – humans.

It should be known that the author is not promoting anything.  This story is for enjoyment, entertainment and, if the author might be permitted a moment of vanity, inspiration.

Reading it will not make you gay, straight, masculine, feminine, feline, canine, richer or poorer (well, maybe a little poorer as I hope you bought a copy, but I hope not significantly poorer).  It will not make you smarter or stupider, more or less violent.  It will not send you to Heaven or Hell (I think).  It will, however, give you super powers if read while being exposed to cosmic rays*.

If you like it, fantastic.  If you hate it, I’m sorry.  Just know that you’ve been warned.

Yours with love,

Jaye Em Edgecliff

 

*Please use cosmic radiation responsibly and only according to the direction of a scientific genius or similar.  Author cannot be held responsible for injury or disfigurement caused by exposure to strange solar emanations.

Dedicated, once more, 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

Before she knew it, Lauren was sitting in Zoë’s truck cruising along the interstate to meet her little Candy.  She stared out at the scenery wondering what this would be like:  All those weeks sleeping in Sally’s arms, learning to ride, and to care for the beautiful young filly that was easily five times her own size and growing.

Hoping and daydreaming, she imagined secluded forest glades with bubbling brooks on a sunny, warm afternoon, she and Sally on the soft mossy grass in the shade as the horses grazed nearby.  Her heart raced and her breath caught as the scene played in her mind:  Her lips on Sally’s, their hands exploring and little by little their skin revealed to each other and the glade as they slowly undressed each other …

Lauren sat up straighter with a start when a semi passed them at an ungodly speed and its air horn dopplered into the distance.  She squirmed, her body still remembering the reverie and its imagined sensations.

Lauren decided that she and Sally really needed to talk.  They’d agreed to at least wait until after their first anniversary, but she was feeling more and more impatient lately.  The trouble was how to bring up the subject without upsetting Sally.

Lauren had tried seduction, but Sally always sweetly, but firmly, refused.  Not wanting to seem pushy, Lauren hadn’t tried that often.  She knew Sally must want it too; she wasn’t always so careful not to wake Lauren or to be sure Lauren was really asleep some of the nights they’d been more intense in their making out before bed.  Lauren herself was getting frustrated enough she, one night, let her hands follow her mind’s example and wander, nothing new the past few months, but this time it was with Sally lying next to her and she didn’t bother trying not to wake her.  Either Sally was a sounder sleeper than usual that night or she’d pretended not to wake up, so that plan failed.  Lauren had decided that really wasn’t the way she’d have liked the first time to go in any event so decided to never try that tactic again.

Talk to Zoë, that annoyingly rational bit of her mind prompted while she fought to remind herself that there is no subtle means of relief when you’re wearing an ankle-length dress and squeezed into a truck cab between your girlfriend and her father.

What about?! she asked herself, trying not to think about that kind of conversation.

The promise she made Sally give and how Sally’s hiding behind it, too scared to act on her feelings.

Lauren had a comeback for that one; it’d worked all the other times she’d had this conversation with herself, Sally’s a big girl and knows what she feels.  She won’t thank me for complaining about our lack of a sex life to her mother.

So?  What’s the plan, then, girlie?

Patience, she told herself firmly.  I can wait as long as it takes for Sally to feel comfortable.

Good plan. I’ll just watch the weather reports in Hell, then, shall I?

“Shut up,” Lauren told herself, unintentionally aloud.

“Huh?  I didn’t say anything,” Sally said, blinking at her.

“Not you.  Sorry.  Lost in thought.  Can we stop somewhere soon?  I have got to walk around a bit.”

“We’ll stop for lunch in a bit.  Some town called Kennewick ahead has some pretty good sounding places to eat.”

“Define ‘a bit’,” Lauren said, still tingling and really wishing she could walk off some of her pent up energy.

Zoë touched the screen on her truck’s console which switched from showing various bits of data Lauren had found too uninteresting to guess at the meaning or purpose of to a crude CGI map and some numbers.  “Half hour?”

“‘Kay.”  Lauren nuzzled into Sally’s side and tried to calm and soothe her mind, to shift herself to just feeling sweet, romantic love, to satisfy herself with nearness and warmth.

As promised Kennewick rolled into view in a bit less than half an hour, and a few minutes afterward they were climbing out in front of a restaurant; Lauren didn’t note the name.  She just hurried out after Paolo and started stretching, which drew a few appreciable looks from passers-by, before she started walking around, still trying to put her fantasies, and the feelings they’d caused behind her.  “Go on; I’ll be in in a minute.”

As Sally started to follow her parents Lauren touched her shoulder.  “Keep me company?”

“Torture,” Sally teased.  “You all right, Pixie?  This can’t be the longest car ride you’ve been on.”

“No, but possibly the most cramped.  If I weren’t so little or you and your parents in such good shape it wouldn’t work.”

“Sorry about that.  It’s just that … flying and renting a car the whole time, trying to fit a saddle in the overhead rack …” Sally joked.

“Oh, I’m not complaining.  I love your folks and you.  Tight fit’s fine.”

“Wasn’t what I meant, anyway.  You’ve been flushed and breathing funny for the past hour or so.”

“I have no—have I?!”

“Oh, I doubt Mom or Dad noticed.  I only did because … dunno, I guess something about it got my attention.”

“Oh.  Yeah.  Fine.  I was daydreaming.”

“Of running a marathon, I’m sure,” Sally said with a gleam in her eye.

“Something like that.  I just needed some air, and this,” Lauren said kissing Sally hungrily and pulling her as close as she could without stopping the other girl’s breathing.

Someone across the street wolf whistled; someone driving by shouted something out their window as they passed that neither girl caught, but it’d sounded rude.  Catching her breath, Sally said, “Must’ve been some daydream.”

“It was.  Look, sweetheart, we need to talk, but it can wait till we’re in Glade Falls where we can have both time and privacy.  Let’s go eat before one of them decides we’ve run away or got kidnapped.”

Sally looked searchingly into Lauren’s eyes and Lauren’s mind screamed, I’m ready.  Please don’t be afraid, but she said nothing, just willed the thoughts to cross the small space between them.  But Sally only kissed her cheek and the moment was gone.  They walked hand-in-hand into the restaurant.

Dinner found them in Boise, and they stopped for the night in a place called Twin Falls.  The next day they passed right along the Great Salt Lake, something Lauren had never seen before, heading to Wyoming then into Colorado.  Lauren’s first view of Sally’s hometown was by moon and starlight, but it was impressive and beautiful nonetheless.

Lauren had got the impression the horses and property were tended by a friend who lived in the house, but that turned out not to be true.  He, originally, had set up an office out of a mobile home over closer by the stables, but after purchasing a neighbouring property up the road, he’d moved it all up there where he was working to convert the large house to a bed and breakfast and to replace the mobile home with a small permanent office that looked like a small log cabin.  It was there at those stables he maintained his trail riding services and school.  The smaller stables at the Constellino house were now used exclusively for extra housing of the horses, or for breeding, and the horses that were loosed to graze and run could move freely between the properties, giving them an impressive space to roam and play.

It was very late when they got to the house, and they were all tired.  The house, surprisingly, was fully furnished, when Lauren mentioned this Sally giggled.  “We didn’t move all our stuff.  Some of it, our favourites of course, and all our things, but a lot of it woulda looked too stupid in that ritzy suburbia house, so it stayed here so we had places to sit and sleep when we came here and we bought new for the move … actually, with Mom and Dad’s tastes, antiques; the only time they can ever agree is if it’s at least fifty years old.”

Lauren only stripped, shaking her head as she climbed gratefully into the bed.  Sally did the same after switching off the overhead light and turning on a bedside lamp.  “I seem to recall you saying we need to talk.  I can dig not last night or in the truck.  Well?  Morning or now?” she asked.

Lauren bit her lip nervously, sitting up cross-legged and taking Sally’s hands.  “Sally … I … Salencia, I love you.  I do.  I’d like to think for life, but I’m hardly ready to think like that.  I do love you enough to … well …”  Lauren could feel the blush starting, and her resolve crumbling.  Her fifteen hours practiced speech had gone out the window from the first word.

Sally looked at their joined hands.  “Sweetie, I know.  I’ve heard you the hundred or so times now you’ve said you’re ready.  But we have to be, so I have to be.  I love you, too, so much it hurts.  I’m happy.  I have something so wonderful with you I want to savour it.  I want to take my time and understand it.  I’m still afraid.  I, frankly, can’t understand how you aren’t.  I fantasise about us.  I dream; I’ll wake up in the morning sometimes thinking, ‘Sally, today you and Pixie are going to her place after school; you’ll light only a few candles, a soft glow with that rose scent she’s so crazy for, then you’ll make such sweet love to her that you’ll both achieve nirvana and orgasm at the same time.’  That’s, in fact, the exact quote that went through my mind one morning last month.  By the time I had your hand in mine and we were climbing those stairs I …. It’s not time yet.  Not now, for damn sure; I’m too tired and wouldn’t be able to give you the absolute attention you deserve.  Not yet in the … just … patience, Pixie.  I swear, it’s nothing to do with you.  I’m not mad that you’re horny for me – I’m flattered – and for whatever the words without actions might be worth, it’s quite mutual.  That…”  Sally stopped.

Lauren started to speak, but Sally put her fingers on the smaller girl’s lips to stop her.  She got off the bed and without ever letting go Lauren’s hand had her stand too.  She hugged Lauren’s naked form to her own and held her close for a long moment before saying, “Once, you worried if our relationship was lust instead of love.  Can we postulate a moment that there’s a … desire, beyond horny?  A physical … love crept into the skin?  What we have here, in this moment, with our bodies nude and close but … more, getting closer because we want – need – our hearts to touch the way we so often need our skin to touch when we hug like this clothed.  Dig?

“I need to feel … positive that it’s like that.  Maybe it doesn’t exist.  Maybe one day I’ll just go ‘holy shit, girl, you’ve got the most beautiful little pixie in creation trying to jump you, just let her – what kind of retarded are you?!’, but, please, may I have until the year we’ve agreed to before?  If I’m still nervous then and haven’t felt what I’m looking for, or have but’ve convinced myself it was something else – which I’m willing to believe I’ve done several times already – I’ll say ‘ready’, or I may be ready and willing and say to hell with fairy tale ideals.  I might be scared out of my mind and you don’t deserve that, but I swear I’ll get whatever therapy I need to get over it, but … for me, Pixie?  For my fairy tale?  I may’ve realised I don’t need Prince Charming, but maybe because of that I need my fairy tale ending all the more.  Does that make sense?”

“Until the Prince Charming bit, yeah,” Lauren said with tears in her eyes.  She felt awful for being impatient with Sally.  She also, to her own disgust, felt a shade disappointed and frustrated.  She squashed that feeling, buried it away in her mind and banned it from her heart.  It was still there, she thought, lurking in the shadows of her soul, but she could live with that; that’s what the dark side of her Self was for, after all: to hold those sinful or indecent thoughts, impulses, desires, the ungodly ideas and uncharitable feelings.  That part of her she always envisioned as a prison, walled by her faith, and she could hardly conceive of anything that could ever crumble such walls.

Throughout her long speech Sally had not loosened the hug.  Lauren stood there wrapped as close as could be without being joined to or inside someone she found the most desirable and beautiful creature on God’s Earth and realised that, for the first time in weeks – possibly months – she felt no desire for it to be more; not the burning physical ache, only … she felt what she decided was the seed that might grow into the feeling Sally just described.  She didn’t know if she thought that might be better than what she’d been feeling, and felt that sexual burning want and need lurking in her erogenous areas, but felt it being sated by the simple warmth and tenderness in Sally’s embrace.

Sally let go and smiled.  “Well … I can live with that.  I got a little lost at that part too.  Let’s get to bed; how’s that sound?”

“Exquisite torture, love.  One thing though:  Your fairy tale comes with a price.”

“What price?”

“Kiss me.  Kiss me now, and kiss me deeply.  I want it to tickle my damned feet.  I need you and if you’ll just give me that I can be patient a bit longer.”

“Only a bit?” Sally didn’t sound playful anymore, and Lauren regretted her choice of words.  She’d only been playing around, but, clearly, she’d pressed a button with that one.

“Honey, I was only kidding.  Even the kiss, though I won’t say no to it.  This hug, those words … sweetheart, I’m not sure I could tell you I love you and still mean it if I didn’t say ‘yes’.  Salencia, may I make a confession?”

“Sure, what?” Sally asked with forgiveness in her tone.

“I … I’ve been … I assumed you were just scared of that promise you made to Zoë.  That you, uh, that you were only insecure.  I think I … I just never thought of it the way you describe.  Love to the skin or something like that.  Girl’d have to be crazy to pass up an offer like that for a first time.  I’m so sorry I didn’t believe you would let go your fear when you really were ready, or … that came out wrong.”

“I understand, Pixie.  I guessed what you were thinking and doing.  I just didn’t say anything because a part of me wanted to give in.  A part of me said I have what I need and want.  Maybe I do feel what I described, but I don’t like that ‘maybe’ part.  I don’t like how afraid I get.  I’m too scared to be able to enjoy it even … it freezes me so that … you wouldn’t get much out of it.  I’d go all clumsy and stuff.”

Lauren hugged her tighter.  As she was starting to let go, she was surprised by Sally placing a hand to either side of her face, tilting it up to her own, and then kissing her deeply, tenderly, and breathlessly.  “Let’s go to bed,” she said in a whisper millimetres from Lauren’s lips when the kiss ended.

Fleuron

The following day was a first – Sally was up before Lauren.  Sally never was one of the world’s early risers, but it wasn’t unheard of for her to take a sunrise ride now and then.  Today she was so excited she woke at dawn and was dressed before Lauren could react to the loss of her body heat.

“Good morning gorgeous,” Sally said, straddling the small girl’s chest and pinning her down in imitation of one of Lauren’s favourite morning games.

“Mmmm … ‘searly.  Why’re you awake?  Mister Sunshine’s still in bed,” Lauren said groggily as she slowly took in the situation.

“Excited, but you can’t get up.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m sitting on you.”

“I noticed.  Could you scoot back or forward a little?  You’re giving me heartburn there.”

“Oh, God!  I’m sorry!” Sally said, mortified, as she scooted back some.  “Good morning toll paying time.  Or not, since I can’t do it right, apparently.”

“You do it fine,” Lauren said gently and kissed her.  “You’re all dressed.  Why?”

“Because riding nude isn’t much fun over a long distance.  Starts to chafe,” she explained perfectly deadpan.  It had been true, the one time she’d tried it, but she knew others who never had that problem.  She figured there must be a trick to it, but had never cared enough to ask.

“You’re going riding?”  Lauren sounded disappointed.  “For how long?  I thought you were going to give me my first lesson today.”

Sally finally realised what was upsetting the pixie-like little darling.  “No!  Babe … we’re going riding.  Everyone teaches it their own way.  I thought we could introduce you to Candy, then show you how to put the tack on, and then we can ride Stardance, you know, give you a feel for things the way a little kid might steer from a parent’s lap in the car.  Dig?”

“I don’t like the little kid analogy, but I get it.  Sounds nice.  We need to take food?”

“Nah.  Nice spring on the trail.  Has some fruits and berries growing there most of the time.  Can picnic on those and fill the canteens with water here and refill there.  Spring is very nice and hasn’t given me diphtheria yet.”

“‘Yet’?”

“Nothing impossible, I hear.”

“Cute.”

Lauren got dressed in jeans, those barely worn boots of hers, and a gauzy linen blouse that Sally hadn’t seen before and found herself hoping would (as it looked like it might) prove kind of see-through in bright sunlight.  She doubted it would, though; Lauren wasn’t shy but she did have a certain sense of propriety that would likely stop her wearing anything that thin that wasn’t a negligée.

Sally prepped a thermos of coffee while Lauren gathered a portable breakfast for herself and insisted on grabbing some for Sally too.  They filled the canteens and headed out to the stables with the first rays of the sun just starting to brighten the eastern hills.

“Hey, sweetheart!” Sally cooed to her stallion who immediately lowered his head to nuzzle into her hands and cheek.  She patted and kissed him happily then ran to grab a brush to rub the handsome grey down and grabbed another for Lauren to use on Candy.

“Hey, Pixie, first lesson:  Horses love this.  Here’s your girl.  Hey, Candy!  How’s the sweetest little filly ever born?  This is Lauren.  She’s your person.  You’re going to love her; she’s the best person in the world.  Darling, do like this; let her get to know you, then just brush her coat like this.”  Sally showed Lauren how to brush the horse after she’d let the little thing sniff her hand and get her nose petted.

Sally went back to brush Stardance who looked, for all the world, like the doting proud papa while she and Lauren were fawning over his baby, but when Sally approached he began nudging her impatiently in his eagerness for the brushing.  His coat was smooth and gleaming so she knew he didn’t need the rub down, but they both always enjoyed the ritual so she did it anyhow.  When finished she saddled him up while showing Lauren exactly how it was done then helped her into the saddle before joining her.

They rode into the woods along a narrow, winding trail heading roughly north as the sun crested over the distant mountaintops.  Sally placed the reigns in Lauren’s hand and then held her hand while she carefully explained how to tell Stardance when she wanted him to turn, slow, speed up, and by lunch Lauren had a fair idea what she was doing.

“Here’s the place.  See that fallen log?  There’s a little game trail the other side of it that leads back to this really quiet … uh … clearing place … thingy.”

“How did you grow up with all this and not know the words for any of it?”

“Glade, grove, meadow, clearing, hollow, and so on – I know the words, damned if I know the differences, though.”

“Fair enough.  How do I make him go over the log?”

That log … nothing, really.  I’m surprised he isn’t fighting his way to it already; he loves that spot as much as I do.”  Apparently the horse had just been lost in his own daydream and not realised where he was because as soon as the girls directed him toward the log he took over, carefully though, always aware of his human passengers.

“Oh!” Lauren said in surprise as the horse lightly jumped the log and she panicked briefly.  Sally was ready for it and caught her around the waist with her free hand just a half-heartbeat before the front hooves left the ground.

“That’s nothing.  Should feel it when he goes over a fence – but that wouldn’t be safe like this.  Doable, but … anyway, it’s another half mile or so; just lean back here and enjoy the scenery.  He can pick out the trail better than us; it can get a bit tricky to see there’s any trail at all, but he can smell his way.”

Lauren’s reply was to relax back into Sally’s grip and rest comfortably laid back against her chest.  The ride was warm and peaceful, and Sally delighted in the excitement in Lauren’s voice as she saw a few deer or the delight as a rabbit crossed their path ahead.  Sally recognised a mossy boulder ahead and put her hands over Lauren’s eyes.  “We’re there; just want it to be a surprise.  Ease him left a little … good, now straighten out.  Good, stop.  Behold!”

Lauren gasped as she got her first glimpse of a small pool, with a spring bubbling up at the edge, spilling into a tiny brook that hurried into the trees and down the side of the mountain, tiny cataracts and falls of stone making it like a mighty river in miniature.  One side of the brook was sunny and full of grasses and wildflowers; the side they stood on was shady with clear, rocky patches interspersed with small grassy or mossy areas and more wildflowers.  Everywhere was trees and shrubs, several of which contained berries or fruit, or flowers that Lauren recognised would become more berries or other fruits.

“Pretty, huh?”

“Can we never leave?”

Sally smiled.  “Candy’d take exception to that.  I’ll show you how to hobble Starry.  He’s a good boy and will come if I call, but he’s curious as hell and will wander out of earshot if he takes it into his head – but I hate tethering him out here, seems unfair.  Right now the only stuff ripe will be the berries, but there’s other good stuff to eat around, like wild onion; those apples aren’t quite ripe yet, and we’ll be in Washington again before the pears are edible.  Some of the nectarines might be ripe early though.”

“You always pig out on fruit here?”

“Nah.”  Sally pointed to a small pit beside the pool, “Sometimes there’s fish, and I’d catch and cook one.  One time tried snake … I’d killed it when it got a little too close for comfort, and I heard they taste all right.  Overrated, at least the ones around here.  Since then I’ve had a roasted constrictor of some kind in Central America; it was okay, but as lizards go, iguana is better.  Doesn’t matter; it’s all off the menu today.  Berries and, with any luck, honey, and onions.”

“Onions is a lucky thing?  Don’t want to kiss me, or you like onion breath?”

Sally giggled, “No, the honey’s luck.  Onion’s over there.  I know where a hollow part of a tree has some bees; it’s real tough getting it without getting them mad and stinging though.”

“Are you serious?!”  Lauren, she knew, was familiar with honey bees.  One of her uncles raised them.  She knew they were docile things when not defending a hive, but that special clothes were used when getting at the boxes of wax and honey.  Sally figured it was the special clothes part that was hanging her up.

“Yeah.  Saw it done a few times old school style, and it’s not too hard, just not real safe.  I’ll be back in a bit.  Refill the canteens and gather some berries and anything else tasty you spot, and I’ll be back – if I’m running, clear the way to the pool.”

“You’re insane!  Don’t, the fruit’s plenty,” Lauren said, sounding extremely worried.

“Relax, Pixie.  I’ve done it before.”  And she set off.  About ten minutes later she returned, cussing, with two handfuls of honeycomb and a few stings.  “That’s gone better,” she complained as she stepped back into the clearing.

“You stubborn, pig-headed …” Lauren scolded her and continued muttering angrily under her breath as she took the honey and daubed some on the stings.  “This had better be magical fairy honey to be worth scaring me like that.”

“No, I don’t think it is, but it’s really good.”

“You’re impossible!” she said in clear exasperation and not remotely amused.

Sally felt really bad once she realised how upset Lauren was.  “Sorry.  It’s okay; I’m not allergic so it’s really no big deal.”

“What if they’re killer bees, or … I had this horrible vision of that bit in My Girl in my head the whole time you were gone.”  That’s when Sally noticed the signs Lauren had been crying.

“Oh … God, honey, I’m … I am such an ass.  You … wait … ‘My Girl’?  Like the song?”  Having been distracted by realising her beloved had been, literally, worried to tears, she hadn’t really noticed the unfamiliar title.

“Movie.  It’s about this tomboy girl and her asthmatic (or something like that) best friend, and he dies when he gets attacked by wasps or bees or something.  Saw it once when I was in third grade.  It gave me nightmares.  For days I couldn’t sleep without seeing Maureen, or Lees, or … well you see, there’s … you see him attacked by the bee/wasp things for a few seconds, and then there’s funeral scene, and … you get the idea?”

Sally hugged her close.  “Honey, that’s adorably, sweetly, amazingly paranoid of you.  I’m not going to stick my hand in a beehive that’s on red alert, okay?  I startled a few, I think, is how I got these stings.  Maybe safe isn’t a word for it, but … it’s cool, all right?”

“Could you not do that again, though?  I mean without beekeeper stuff?”

“Really bothers you that much?”

“Yeah, I just … I’m being really stupid, aren’t I?”

Sally hesitated then decided on honesty.  “Yeah, but a lot of fear is.  I mean, snakes freak me out so bad I’m really bugged I’m here without one of my guns, but I didn’t want to bring them till I’d checked and cleaned ‘em first.  So you’re scared of bees, at least it makes sense.  I mean I knew a girl who was horrified of caterpillars.”

“You’re not promising to leave the bees alone.”

“Must I?”

Lauren bit her lip.  “No, I guess not, but …”

“But I will anyway.  I promise, unless I’m lost in the wilderness and scavenging for food to survive, or you say it’s okay, I won’t go raiding any wild beehives.”

“Sally, you don’t have to … it’s stupid paranoia … why?”

“Because I care about you.  Honey isn’t worth worrying you to tears.  If you tell me you’ll be nervous, but not so much you’ll cry, I’ll rescind my promise, but the only tears I ever want to see in your eyes are happy ones.”

Lauren blushed and took another bite of the honeycomb.  “This is pretty good honey … I got a few pounds of blackberries. I think these might be blueberries, and a couple of the nectarines were good.”

“A feast then.  Sure you don’t want charbroiled brook trout?” Sally teased.  Lauren made a disgusted face, and Sally laughed, “Thought not.”

Chapter 2

Lauren couldn’t believe her luck to have been invited along to somewhere so beautiful.  Six weeks.  Six glorious weeks sleeping in Sally’s arms.  Six weeks with her darling little Candy, who she’d fallen instantly in love with all over again when they’d finally met.  She loved watching the young horse playing and bounding in the pasture and the affectionate, enthusiastic ways she’d greet, frankly, everyone, but especially Lauren that made the newly minted horse owner feel the pretty little thing had fallen in love as much with her in return.

Sally, Zoë, and Paolo proved excellent teachers.  At first, Lauren practiced what Sally had taught her that first day from the back of an elderly and sweet tempered mare belonging to the friends caring for the horses and the property.  According to one of them, Charise, the mare “would take a shot of whale adrenaline and a week’s notice to really get excited about anything, and another hour of careful explanation to remember how to rear or buck.”

Marshaun, Charices’s spouse, had a training arena they borrowed for a day to teach Lauren how to stay in the saddle if Candy did take fright.  Sally, with her large, spirited for his breed (Lauren learned Arabians are noted for their gentle dispositions) stallion was the main teacher.  In safety gear and harness she sat on the tall horse and explained what to do and then, to Lauren’s shock – despite expecting it – caused the brute to start rearing and stamping down, even bucking a little though Stardance seemed to have no heart for that part; too fond of Sally to risk throwing his mistress.

“See?  Like that, babe.  Now, I’m going to soothe my poor boy here and make sure he understands what a good boy he was, doing what I asked, then we’ll suit you up and try it.”

“Do I have to?” Lauren looked at the horse with new eyes.  The sleek, muscular body suddenly registered on the words ‘muscle’ and ‘huge’.

“I want you to know how to not fall off if Candy gets squirrelly.  She’s little and might think it a fun game.  I know you know how to fall so all I’ll say to that is fall away from the crazed horse and get up fast and away fast.  If you can’t … be as small a target as you can and pray.”

That’s comforting.”

“Horses can spook,” Sally said with a shrug.  “They’re prey animals.  They can’t help it.  Still, this lot’s instincts seem better than most.  They’re more likely to run if scared enough, but run intelligently – not much chance of running you (and them) off a cliff; they mostly save stamping and rearing for trying to kill a small enough danger if they must or anything, if they’re cornered, and bucking they’ll only do if something gets on their back they don’t like or that hurts them.  Seen Starry kill a snake once, and Scarlett threw a demented bobcat almost twenty yards once.  Normally they’ll only do it at play, or when I can talk this big baby into it.”

“How do you get him to do that?”

“Command.  Had him since he was born, right?  I’d read stories where warhorses were taught to attack and such on command or to defend a fallen rider.  As a baby he does all the right stuff so I taught him commands for them.  He loves me too much, so it takes some real encouragement to do it if I’m on or near him, but if he thinks I’m in danger, or if I stand back where he can see me clearly, he’ll do it in a heartbeat.  Sooner if I’ve got a sugar beet or pear to give him as a treat.”

“So … kind of like a giant puppy?”

“Yep.”

By the end of the first week Lauren was riding Candy, alongside Sally, around the property and along the shorter trails.  The pair rode double on Stardance along several of Sally’s favourite trails.  Many of the resting spots inflamed Lauren’s imagination and fantasies, but she contented herself just being near Sally and kissing.

Early on Lauren had finally seen Sally’s guns, an antique rifle and replica-ish antique pistol.  She’d been offered shooting lessons but had cautiously declined as she had done on the occasions back home when Josie and Sally would go to the range together and invited her.  She had to admit they were pretty.  “Like cobras,” she commented while gingerly touching the mother of pearl handle of the shining pistol.

“Huh?” Sally asked while she prodded some esoteric piece of the old rifle with a small screwdriver.

“The guns.  They remind me of cobras, or tigers.  Beautiful, very nice to look at, but deadly and visibly so.  Nothing like a poison flower – no secret doom, just clear killing power that draws the eye and catches the breath; mesmerising, hypnotic.”

Sally looked at the gilt and polished mahogany of her rifle as if for the first time, then at the gleaming pistol.  “Huh.  I guess so.  Held a cobra once, did I ever tell you?  Theresa’s friends with a snake charmer in New Delhi.  It’s like a family pet.  Scary as hell, but they keep it well fed, very used to them, and they know how not to upset it so all-in-all it’s harmless.  Like these, know how to handle them they’re safe and kill only if and what you intend.”

“Still scare me.”

“Not like the bees, though?”

“No, they’re safe in your hands.  I trust you.”

“Thanks, Pix … I think.”  Sally smiled and shook her head.  “Why don’t you go saddle Stardance and the baby and we can go for a ride?”

“It’s awfully warm out today …”

“Nah, don’t be silly.  Beautiful, perfect day.”

Lauren shrugged.  “Fine.”

Fleuron

Sally watched Lauren go then sent a message from her phone.  She quickly finished her repair of the poor old Winchester, gave it a little oil, and popped in its cartridges.  She double-checked the safety was on, did the same for the revolver which she then slid into a hand-tooled leather holster and gun belt set, buckled it on, and then hurried out to find Lauren had Candy and Stardance ready, and perfectly so.  Saddling a horse was probably one place where Lauren’s meticulous and fastidious nature was very handy.  She could do the job perfectly after only the second try.  Sally went to grab the holster for the rifle and fixed it to the saddle.

“Why’re you bringing both of those?” Lauren asked.

“Well … normally bring both, babe.  Only haven’t because the rifle was broken.  It’s a good idea, see?  Shoot an angry bear with a Peacemaker, and you get exactly one thing.”

“A new rug?”

“Nope, a really angry bear.”  Sally patted the rifle.  “This will make a new rug or, at least, adjust the bear’s attitude a little.”

“Couldn’t we just climb a tree?”

“The horses can’t; some bears can … bad plan,” Sally explained gently.  Lauren, she knew, hated the idea of killing anything.  She had no idea how the sweet little thing ever managed to serve the assorted raw meats and pieces her family’s three cats lived on – and couldn’t think of a tactful way to ask that didn’t risk Lauren ceasing to be able to feed the playful trio of crazed felines.

“Ready?”

“Do we need to bring anything with us?”

“Did you remember to put on sunscreen?”  Sally had got quickly used to reminding her slightly absent-minded beloved to guard against burning.  Her pretty red hair came with a complexion that Sally tended to call ‘freckles and cream’ which could burn in the dead of winter if exposed to much sunlight.  She’d commented once that she was surprised Lauren didn’t burn under electric lights – that’d earned her a punch in the arm from the indignant pixie.

“Yes.”

“Then no.  I’ve got everything we’ll need in this bag,” Sally declared hanging a backpack from the saddle.

“No water?” Lauren asked with her eyebrow quirked, an expression that had never failed to amuse and endear Sally.

“Ah, shit!  Right … water’s a good idea.”

Lauren smirked and turned Candy.  “Got ‘em, babe.  Just messing with you.”

“Brat.”

“But your brat.”

Fleuron

They followed a familiar trail for a while.  Lauren puzzled over the choice early in – this wasn’t one they usually took Candy on.  “Sally?  Are you sure I wasn’t supposed to ride …”

“She’s got to get used to longer rides eventually.  This one’s a bit for her, but I don’t think too much – not with someone your size.  If I’m wrong I’ve got a rope and she can follow on a tether; you’re way too light to be harming her, but she could get kinda tired.”

“Sure?”

“Believe me, I’d never hurt the little darling; for one thing, Starry here wouldn’t forgive me if I did.”

“Where’re we going?”  She realised they’d taken a side trail she’d never noticed before then switched to a game trail.

“Somewhere cool.”

“How nice,” she said, plucking a pair of small apples from a tree as she passed and biting one while leaning forward to offer the other to Candy.  She’d got very good at riding hands free and controlling the horse with her knees, and the young thing under her had her parents’ intelligent nature and had picked it up quickly herself.

“None for us?”

“Only two hands and only saw the two ripe … and that’s stretching the term.”

“Forgiven then,” Sally said, standing in her stirrups to reach a peach she passed under and again for a barely-anything-like-ripe apple.  Stardance happily ate the latter while Sally gleefully bit into the bright fruit.

They rode for over twenty minutes before they came to a bit of an old track, like an old cart road or similar.  They followed that for several minutes before detouring off onto another trail which quickly opened up to reveal a clearing with a small waterfall, ten feet or so, falling into a large, deep pool; a pair of horses, one black as pitch and the other a palomino, tethered in a shady spot with soft grass near the water; a pair of towels laying near the pool’s little beach; a pair of clothes piles; and, splashing and laughing in the water, a dark haired girl that looked so generically Native American it caused Lauren to stare as she tried to guess at the tribe, or even just to guess at the rough part of the continent her ancestors were from, and a very dark skinned boy.  After a few moments it became quite clear they weren’t clothed at all.

“Sally … we … wait … is that …”  It occurred to her she recognised the slightly plump face of the girl and the quiet, intelligent eyes of the boy.  “Is that Lucy and Justin?!”

“Yep,” Sally said dropping out of her saddle with her shirt already pulled off and starting to undo her jeans.  “C’mon.  It’s fucking hot today – stupid global warming – you can meet them in the water.”

Lauren shrugged and climbed down.  She’d been to nude beaches in British Columbia and skinny dipped in Sarah’s pool with friends before.  She peeled out of her own clothes and tethered Candy next to Stardance over where she could make friends with the other two horses.

“Sally!” The large girl cried, swimming up to her and unashamedly wrapping Sally in a huge hug as they kissed each other on the cheek.  “So?  How’s the city treating you?  See you’re still too scrawny to call a scarecrow.”  She had a loud, jolly, vivacious voice.  She clearly didn’t know the meaning of words like ‘shame’, and she had the happy look that put Lauren in mind of the Dalai Lama – simply, and unconditionally, happy with the universe.

“Good, gave me a pixie.  Lucy?  This is my beloved, Lauren.  Lauren, this leviathan native mutt is Lucy.  Jay, get your overgrown arse over here and meet someone.  What’ve you suddenly learnt to be shy or something?”

Lucy kissed Lauren’s cheek while Justin swam over.  “Native mutt?” Lauren asked, kissing her back.

“I’m like a quarter everything, as well as a third Greek, a third Egyptian, and two-thirds Siberian.”

“But that adds up to …”

“Now you know why I’m so big,” she said, smiling contagiously.  “Seriously, though, I’m like part Apache, Cherokee, black, some kind of Eskimo, Chinese, Turkish, and Atlantian.  My family reunions make the U.N. look like a Klan meeting.  So Sally actually found someone skinnier than she is?!  Honey, there’s this thing called ‘food’, see … it’s an old Indian secret, if you get enough of it, you don’t blow over every time a bee sneezes two states over.”

“Lucy, leave the poor thing alone.  Not all of us have whales in our ancestry,” the very tall boy said, walking up.

“Base slander!” Lucy protested, indignantly.  “Orcas aren’t whales; they’re porpoises!  Big difference.”

Lauren had thought he, like Lucy, had been treading water when she’d seen him at first.  He wasn’t.  He was well over six foot, and looked like what might happen if Samuel L. Jackson had carnal knowledge of a frost giant.  “I’m Justin.  You can just call me Jay, if you like.  If Lucy gets too annoying, threaten to put her on a diet.  She’s inordinately proud, and fond, of her weight.”

He had a remarkably soft voice.  Deep, resonant, beautiful, but … that was it.  His voice, to Lauren, seemed out of place by being pretty in a way she couldn’t put her finger on.  She wondered, for a moment, if he sang opera.  He offered his hand and sweetly kissed her cheek after shaking.  Lauren surveyed Sally’s two best and closest friends; the giant black cowboy (his pile of clothes, of all things, even included a Stetson … then again, so did Sally’s), and the vivacious girl of indistinct origin.  She thought it odd that the girl should keep referring to herself as though she were fat, or that the other two would either.  Plump, full, heavy, yes, but Lauren could never fit the word fat to someone who wasn’t doughy and flabby.  It seemed, to her, an abuse of the language as well as an unkindness to people who were quite pretty or handsome if more sturdily and heartily built.

“Lucy’s not fat,” Lauren said.  “Just big.  You must have to fight them off with a tree trunk,” she said sincerely while admiring the girl.  Lauren was a sucker for faces and smiles, and she felt Lucy had stunningly radiant versions of both.

“Sally!  Where’d you find this one?  Either she’s the greatest actress born, or she’s insane!  I actually, almost, believed that!  She sounded all sincere and everything!”

Lauren blinked at her in shock.  Not insulted, just surprised.  Lucy’s voice and personality insinuated itself on reality, and her unfazable joy in life would make people see things her way for, at least, a few minutes.

“She was serious, Luce.  She’s right, too, by the way.  If you weren’t so stubbornly straight I’d have you … even if you are like six of me.”

“I’ve lost two pounds; I’m only four of you now.”

“Oh?  Well, that explains the reduced gravitational pull then.”

“You don’t have to be nice to me, Pixie.  Call me names; tell me just how damned fat I am.  It’s fun.  I’m like that skinny dyke over there, just go with it and have a good time.  Unless you plan to be like Jay here – he doesn’t get it either; no one but Sals and I are ever brave enough or crazy enough to insult someone who can bench an elephant.”

“How … er, I guess what do you …”

Jay answered her while Lauren struggled to find the words or will, she wasn’t sure which, to finish the question.  “Jane Goodall and her gorillas have a lot to do with it.”

“How … oh … Oh!  Sally!” Lauren stammered as it sunk in, then she stared in shocked indignation at the idea that her Sally could have ever said something like that.

“Luce started it!” Sally said, quite unrepentant.

“No, you were Goodall and the gorilla.  I’d been suggesting sasquatch and Wookies.”

“You sure?”

“Positive.”

“Oh.  That was rather clever of me.”

“I know, right?!  Weird.  I recorded it on the calendar; I’m curious to learn if it’s like a comet or if it was just a unique phenomenon.”

“So,” Jay asked Lauren as she moved into deeper water and settled onto her back to watch the clouds from the chill pool, leaving Lucy and Sally to what was obviously gearing up to be a long and involved discussion she wanted no part of, “you’re the one that finally won Sally’s heart?  You’re not what I’d expected.”  He followed Lauren’s example and lay on his back.  Between the fall nearby and their ears now being partly underwater, the banter between Sally and Luce was blissfully muffled.

“How so?”

“Honestly … given Sals’ track record I expected you to be built like a Playmate or to have a sexual appetite to make Pan crawl away in exhaustion.  She’s told me enough about you to know you’re not the latter, but … when she said little pixie … I always assumed … well … you know, like those postcards and stickers at Hot Topic.”

“Didn’t she ever send pictures?  She takes enough of the things.”

“She did, and … well … I saw from your expression I’m bigger than you expected, right?”

“I think I get it.  I’m tinier than you thought?”

“All over.  Sally used to not notice a girl unless she was either curvy enough to make Sally look like you, or someone she might think exciting.  Then again, she’d never have so sincerely flirted with Lucy the way she just did, either.  Seems like she’s changed some since she left.”

Really?!  She’s always been so …”

“Oh, no! Not like …”  He sat up and swam a little ways to a half sunken rock and motioned for Lauren to join him.  “Don’t get me wrong.  Sally would have thought it and meant it.  But … she’d have kept it inside, never said it, you follow?  She loves Lucy, and I think has always been kind of attracted to her, but always kept it … her little auto-flirts, as meaningless as what she does to me all the time.”

Lauren couldn’t help it, she felt mildly betrayed.  “You mean … just now … I know she sounded serious, but …”  She looked at Sally and Lucy together and tried to imagine what was in Sally’s mind as the other girl glanced at Lucy’s breasts bouncing in front of her.

Jay obviously realised what he’d done and said, “Lauren?  She wouldn’t, you know?  Besides that, Luce wouldn’t have her without being positive you were cool with it, and even then only after Sally had a sex-change first.  Sally’d simply never do it.  She’s a lot of talk, but she’s very much a romantic.  Romeo and Juliet, Westley and Buttercup, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell – she wants that.  She’s … she could teach a Rottweiler a few things about undying loyalty.  If you don’t know Sally loves Lucy in any capacity beyond friendship, or is attracted any more than the very real fact that Lucy does have nice hair, good skin, and a pretty face with a personality that needs that much person to fit it all in, then maybe I’m just wrong.  Or, maybe, Sally doesn’t know that she feels it, and if Sally doesn’t know … she won’t know unless you give her a reason to think about it.  She’s like … imprinted on you.  Which, by the way, leads me to my duty as her surrogate big brother – if you ever hurt Sally or take any kind of advantage of her I’ll be happily obligated to help Lucy with whatever torture she devises, and you will beg to be given over to all the denizens of Hell as a mercy, knowing Lucy’s imagination when she’s upset.  Sally’s more sensitive than she lets on, and she thinks the absolute world of you, understand?”

“Would it help to know that my own best friends – people I’ve known since we were in diapers – have informed me that if I hurt Sally I’d get the same or worse as they promised her if she ever hurt me?  And that part of that involved a cheese grater and a hot glue gun?”

“I can live with that,” he said, sounding impressed.

Lauren chuckled; Jay reminded her, a great deal, of Zach and Travis put together (and not just in terms of mass) without the constant innuendos and single entendres. She gestured to the tethered horses.  “Which one’s yours and does everyone in this town have one?”

“The palomino; her name is Buttercup, but I tend to call her Butters.  That black beauty there, obviously, is Luce’s, her name is Midnight, though she’s more like to answer to ‘damned stupid nag’ or ‘overgrown mule’; she can get really temperamental.”

“Who?  The horse or Lucy?” Lauren asked, smirking

Jay laughed, saying, “Both, I suppose, but I meant the horse.   And nah, several of us have a lot more than one.  Seriously, not everyone, no.  A lot do, definitely, because this is a horse town.  The whole economy here is trails, riding schools, some of us make livings on the rodeo circuit or at least some extra cash, and there’s the breeding.  I imagine it’s hard to find someone here who doesn’t know how to ride, but plenty who don’t own a horse.”

Lauren was thoughtful for a moment then soberly asked, “Jay … Sally’s told me about growing up here, and well … from something Luce said a little bit ago … are people really so mean to them?”

“Some.  More at one time, but … see, Luce used to really be fat for a long time.  Fat rolls, twice that size and six inches shorter (at least).  Shy, quiet, depressed, suicidal.  Don’t really know what happened.  Sally does, I think.  I’ve always guessed Sally even had something to do with it, if only by example, but sometime after Sally got the hang of how people treated her after coming out Lucy got in shape and toned up.  She decided she likes being ‘cuddly’ as she puts it, but she’s very big on being healthy.  She doesn’t touch junk food.  Her candy is fruit, her chips are carrots, and so on.  She’s gone from so obese she was winded walking from the front door to the car and so depressed she was trying to cut her own wrists to one of the fittest and happiest people you’ll ever know, but there’re a lot of stuck up girls around who make fun of her weight.  Fewer, now, to her face since she’s actually better at it than most of them and will prove it in a heartbeat.  A lot of the more jackassed boys refuse to go out with her … basically because she’s not a scrawny slut.”

He paused to tease a little fish that was investigating his fingertips before continuing, “They were hard on Sally for being a lesbian – but I reckon you know that and probably have your own share of it.  Sally’s told us about that girl in your dance class, for example.  Sick, isn’t it?  It really used to hurt her feelings, but … it’s not really so awful here.  Plenty of really decent and nice people.  They don’t really understand people like you or Sals, but they let it go – they figure you’re not hurting them any by being together, so what business of theirs is it?  Sally can sound pretty masochistic about the place, I know – depressed she had to leave, but makes it out like the people here are all backward bigots.”

“I’d noticed that.  She’ll admit it wasn’t really so bad, just her innate sense of statistics mixed with something of a cynical attitude.  ‘Twenty of two hundred is a lot worse than twenty people in a few thousand’ is how she put it.”

“And a good way to do it too.  Down in Estes Park it’s all fine, right?  Up here … well … put it this way, her neighbour’s son had mentioned to him that Sally’d asked a girl out, right?  Guy called CPS on Zoë and Paolo insisting the only way Sally could be gay is if she was being molested.”

“She told me about that,” Lauren said, frowning.

“She also tell you he’s in jail since last month now for beating his wife and kids?”

“No.  God, are they okay?”

“Yeah.  His own brother tipped off CPS and the cops when the oldest girl ran away from home and showed up at his door.”

“That’s … wow.”

“Karma’s fun, huh?”

“Guess so.”  Lauren nodded toward Lucy and Sally who were talking and laughing across the pool, splashing and dunking each other.  “I’m keeping you from Sally.  I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.  It’s all right.  I usually just sit back and watch when those two decide to try to drown each other.  I only risk getting close when they’re getting too successful or need me to be a diving board.”

“Diving … what?!”  Lauren glanced down his body and blushed furiously.

Jay pretended not to notice as he said, “Climb to the top of the falls and throw ‘em off into the deeper part of the pool away from the rocks.”

“Even Lucy?” Lauren asked amazed; the girl was anything but small, and while Jay was a very large guy the physics of him being able to throw Lucy anywhere seemed impossible.

“I weigh like twice as much as her and it’s mostly muscle, I can manage.  They can jump far enough to be safe, but they think it’s more fun being tossed … God only knows why,” he chuckled.

“They look like they’re having a lot more fun than us.  You sit here and watch if you want, I’m going to join them for a bit, and then I’d like to try this falls flinging thing of which you speak.”

“As you wish,” he said with a smirk and a half bow.

Lauren and Justin were soon splashing and laughing along with Lucy and Sally until they were all too exhausted and waterlogged so were laying out on the towels to dry in the sun.

“You two wanna come over for eats?  Mom and Dad would love to see you again.”

“Elouise isn’t going to bite Midnight again is she?” Luce asked with a frown.

Sally shrugged.  “Ask Elouise.  Put Midnight next to Stardance.”

“That horndog?!  Midnight’d be pregnant in ten seconds and unridable for the better part of a year.”

“So?  You’ve got Sunshine, and Midnight and Starry’d make a beautiful foal and can’t charge stud fees for accidents.  Besides, now you’re being crazy.  The stalls have these things called doors, and they keep the horses in; it’s amazing.”

“Gah!  Logic, nnnooooo!!!!  I’m dyiinnggg …” Lucy cried melodramatically, impersonating the Wicked Witch at the end of Wizard of Oz.  Sally threw a pebble at her.

“Going to come with us to the Ren Faire?” Jay asked.  “The pixie could watch you get trounced at jousting again.”

“I do not get trounced.  I lose with spectacular style.”

“You get eliminated in your first rounds and once lost to someone who was cross-eyed and riding an ass,” Lucy pointed out.

“I seem to recall he was in a saddle upon a furred quadruped of the donkey persuasion.  It is a family event, after all.  What you suggest would, certainly, have been disqualifyingly inappropriate,” Sally said in haughty tones.  Lucy threw a handful of pebbles at her for that.

Sally stuck her tongue out at her.  “Seriously, coming or not?  Ought to head back soon.”

“Just a sec.”  Lucy looked at her phone.  “Fuck.  No signal again.  You got anything, Jay?”

“Yep.  Best text it, though.  Any ants nearby step too heavy and you’ll drop.”

“Thanks.”  A moment later she handed the phone back.  “I’m good, and Pop says hi and that you’re coming to dinner Tuesday after the faire, no arguments and no excuses.  Zoë, Paolo, and the Pixie too.”

Fleuron

The four of them rode back chatting gaily.  Sally was happy to see her best friends again.  She was happier still to know Lauren got on well with them.  She wasn’t sure how she’d have handled it if they hadn’t.  She was sure Jay was safe; he was quiet, gentle, thoughtful, and altogether too serious by half but hard to dislike and not likely to hold much against someone that didn’t engage in ritual human sacrifice of non-volunteers, paedophilia, or military grade racists, sexists, or any other –ist that could be summed up as ‘loud-mouthed asshole.’  Lucy could be far more selective about people, but she’d given Lauren the benefit of the doubt on Sally’s recommendation and endless tales of how wonderful the girl was, and in the course of the afternoon Lauren’s own easy going sweet personality had soon won her a place of her own in Lucy’s spacious, but carefully guarded, heart.

“Hey, Papà!  Look what I found in the woods.  Can I keep ‘em?” Sally said, coming through the sliding door into the kitchen and kissing her father hello.

“How’d you find a gorilla and a whale in Colorado?!” Paolo asked, hugging them both hello, and as was his habit with most people, kissing them each on both cheeks.

“I busted out of the zoo Madagascar Penguins style, and she snuck out of Sea World disguised as the Goodyear blimp.”

“Hot air balloon.  They’re prettier.”

“And full of hot air,” Sally observed.  “Appropriate.  Dress you up as a clown and tie a basket to you and we’re done.”

“Shaddup, bean pole.  So, Pauly, where’s the old woman?”

“Who’re you calling ‘old woman’, Goodyear blimp?  Come give me a kiss,” Zoë said, coming in right behind them.

Lucy beamed.  “Zooëëë!!”  She gave her a bone crushing hug and planted a kiss right on her lips.  “I’ve missed you.  And you’re still forgetting to feed that child of yours.  Remember, every day she’s gotta be fed.”

“Every one of ‘em?  Are you sure it’s not just a few scraps on Sundays?”

“Whole meal on Sunday and scraps few times a day the rest.”

“Damn.  That’ll mess up the whole yacht-in-the-Keys budget, though, if we feed her.”

“You’ll manage.  Besides delayed yacht is better than the trouble of hunting her down after every stray breeze.”

“Good point.  If I must, I must.  Jay?  No hug and kiss?  Too grown up for that stuff now?”

“Biding my time, Zo.  How’s big city architecture?”

“Different, but six weeks paid and paid well to come see you guys is well worth it.  Sally drag you here to be fed?”

“Yep.”

“Fine, then you help Lauren set the table.  Lucy, you help Sally with the salad.”

“And what’ll you be doing, mother dear?” Sally asked.

“Supervising and selecting the wines.  You kids are still allowed a glass I assume?”

“Not just allowed, encouraged,” Lucy said.  “It’s really helping Mom’s blood pressure and cholesterol and my weight’s easier to manage.”

“Still insist on merlot with everything?”

“Yes, please.”

“Jay, Pixie?  What’ll it be?”

“Riesling,” Lauren said, looking toward the oven.

Jay sniffed.  “Zat squash?  Mmm, white zinfandel, please.”

The dinner was a raucous affair as it always was when the three friends were over since Zoë and Paolo so readily joined in the trio’s games and banter – and good thing too, since few were ever given very much choice in the matter.  They all caught up on local news and the goings on in the family’s ‘Exile in Washington’, as Justin put it.

They ate outside on the deck and after dinner and dessert hung out talking for hours more until the sky was star-filled and howls could be heard in the distance.

Eventually, Zoë asked, “You kids need a ride home, staying, or do you plan to try to get through those trails in the dark … again?”

“Getting lost is no fun.  But no point making you drive all over the mountain.  Slumber party?” Lucy answered.

“Suits me either way.  I’m on walkabout for a few days.  Camped out near the mine yesterday and planned to sleep at the fairy glade tonight.  A bed and shower are a better deal though,” Justin said, shrugging.

“Fairy glade?” Lauren asked shocked and plainly eager – her fondest wish was to meet a real fairy, and she devoured every bit of art and legend about them she could find.

“Little hollow south of where we were swimming.  Looks like something out of a fairy story, has a tiny spring and grows fairy rings nearly every time it rains.  There’s a cave like an hundred yards from it if the weather gets ugly, but the spring guarantees a nice soft bed of moss for when the sky’s clear.”

“Oh, but … isn’t the point of walkabout supposed to be seeing somewhere new?”

“Hardly anywhere around here that’d be new for me.  So I guess you could call it looking for places I’ve missed in the past.”

“Oh!  Cool.”

FleuronThe End (of the sample)Fleuron

For the rest of the story please buy the book

Love or Lust
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