Disclaimer: I don't claim to be a history buff. Nope, I sure don't. So if I've messed up a few dates or there are some things just a little out of place, I apologize.
Oh yeah, and there's a little bit of somethin' for those folks who are over 18, if ya catch my drift. *wink*
Lee stood behind the counter, looking out of the big picture window at the front of the diner. She could see people coming, and people going. Sometimes she wondered where they might all end up. Most of the time she just prayed they wouldn't end up in the little diner that stood right in the center of town. And yet, inevitably, they would come. Actually, she didn't really mind waiting on the customers who came in, some of them were even kind of nice to her. Like Georgie. She always came in at the same time every Friday, 11:30 sharp. Lee looked down at the tiny watch on her wrist. 11:20. Georgie would be in soon. That would be the start of the lunchtime rush. Lee sighed, knowing it would be a busy day.
"Lee, wake up! Order's ready,"she heard bellowed from the kitchen.
"Alright, Pops! I don't need ya yellin' so the whole world can hear ya,"Lee hollered back.
"Then 'urry up and get to work, no?"was yelled back. Lee smiled. Her father had been trained as a chef in one of the most premier culinary schools in Paris and had been well on his way to becoming one of the most well known chef's in France. But that had been before the "Great War", as he called it. After joining the military and coming home a changed man, he worked hard, saved and scrimped, and took his whole family across the Atlantic to a new world. One that promised a better future for him and his family. It wasn't enough to settle on the east coast in the fabled New York City, with its 5th Avenue and Manhattan. Nope, the family had continued westward. And continued... and continued. Until they hit the Golden State itself. Lee didn't remember the trip; she had only been two years old. Her older brother Frank had told her about the different sceneries they had passed, from the plains to passing through the Rocky Mountains. Lee sighed, remembering the easy smile of her older brother.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm on it!"Lee hollered, exasperated. She picked up the order and was heading toward one of the booths when she heard the door open behind her. She looked at her watch. 11:30 on the nose.
"Hey Georgie,"she called, not looking behind her, "have a seat, the usual should be up in about a minute or so."
"Umm, alright, but as far as I know, I'm not Georgie."
Lee was so taken by the strangers voice that she almost dropped the plate she was carrying. She quickly regained her balance and turned to face the newcomer. She wasn't prepared for what she saw. There, standing in the doorway was a woman. But not your typical woman. She was clad in men's work trousers and strong, well-worn boots. She had a coat on to keep off the chill from the cool October air, which she was quickly unbuttoning due to the heat in the diner. She was facing away from Lee, so all she could see was her dark brown hair falling loosely to her shoulders.
"Hey, tootsie! Roll that food on over here, why don't ya?"
Lee turned to the customer who had interrupted her perusal of the new customer and glared at him before unceremoniously dropping his plate of food on the table in front of him.
"There you go, Charlie,"Lee grumbled, turning from him and heading back behind the counter. No matter how many times she had told him not to call her "Toots"or "Tootsie"he just wouldn't listen, so now she just let it slide. As she made her way to the new customer, who had taken a seat at the counter, she could hear her chuckles.
"Find something funny?"Lee asked angrily. The stranger looked up at Lee and offered a small smile.
"Sorry, you just don't look like a 'tootsie' to me,"the woman commented. Lee felt some of her anger drain away, but still didn't smile back at the newcomer.
"Yeah well, I've been tryin' to tell him that for years. Need a menu?"
The smile slid from the woman's face as she turned chocolate eyes toward Lee.
"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you,"she started, "I don't even know you and I've already made a horrible impression."
Lee nodded her head. That's an understatement.
"Can we start over?"the stranger offered, a genuine glint to her eyes. Seeing that the woman truly wanted to make amends, Lee backed down.
The stranger stuck out her hand across the counter.
"My name's BillyAnn, most folks just call me Billy,"she supplied. Lee took the offered hand and shook it, noticing how rough the palm was.
"Well, it's a pleasure to meet you, Lee,"Billy smiled. After letting go, Billy picked up the menu that had been sitting at the place next to her. She began looking through it and just as quickly put it down.
"What do you recommend?"
Lee looked at this strange woman. She seemed very confident, and was quick to share a smile. Yet the way she dressed was just so uncommon.
"Pretty much everything here is good,"Lee replied, loudly enough to be heard throughout the diner, "wouldn't you folks agree?"
"Yup, ain't any place got better steak and eggs!"
"That's right, toots!"
"See?"Lee replied, smirking at the snickers from the other customers.
"Well, alright then,"Billy replied, not backing down from the teasing, "I think I'll have a BLT on rye, with potatoes on the side and a cup of coffee if you got any hot."
"Comin' right up,"Lee replied, writing down the order on the pad she carried around in her apron. She tore off the order and put in on the wheel, spinning it and ringing the order bell at the same time.
"Order on the wheel, Pops!"
"Alright, petit cher."
The sound of the door opening and closing once again drew Lee's attention. This time it really was Georgie.
"Good morning Georgie,"Lee said, smiling fondly at the older woman while watching her take a seat next to Billy, who was slowly sipping the cup of coffee Lee had just placed in front of her. She looked at her watch and noticed that it was already 11:45.
"Little late today, Georgie,"Lee asked, setting down a glass of milk in front of Georgie.
"I know,"Georgie sighed, taking a long draft of the milk, "things have been getting backed up at the store, what with Marty taken off with that chunky, no good goober of a girlfriend of his."
Georgie was definitely not afraid to speak her mind. She'd had too be assertive in her life, with her husband passing in the early part of the century, leaving her with two boys to raise, she'd had to become a little bit feisty. Her grandson, Marty, had started helping her at the cleaners when her eldest son, Richard, had taken a bad fall last winter and was no longer able to do any heavy lifting. Lee sighed. She had been chased around school by Marty all the way until they had both graduated. While Lee had opted to attend college, Marty had stuck around town, gathering himself a reputation. Lee had watched while attending classes in Berkeley as Marty had slipped into the Hep Cat scene, spending his nights dancing at the swing clubs in the city. Apparently, that's where he had met Kitty. Lee smiled at the colorful description of the young woman that Georgie had used. Kitty, or Kathryn, most called her simply Kit Kat, was actually quite an attractive blonde and skinny as a rail. But, according to Georgie, she would be the downfall of Marty.
"I'm sorry to hear things are so rough for you, Georgie,"Lee said, placing her order of tuna fish on white in front of her.
"Bahh,"Georgie said, waving her hands in front of her, "no use worryin' over that zero. I think I'm just gonna have to break down and hire someone."
"Order up, Lee!"
Lee turned to pick up the order, trying to think if she knew anyone who was looking for a job. She placed the BLT and potatoes in front of Billy and turned back to grab the coffee pot on the warmer when she heard the newcomer speak up.
"Well,"she heard Billy start, "I'm actually looking for job."
Georgie, who had been about to take a bite of her sandwich, stopped and eyed the stranger.
"You are huh?"Georgie asked skeptically.
"Yup,"Billy replied, wiping her hands on her napkin, "I'm pretty new in town and was about to start looking for a job."
"Huh,"Georgie looked at her thoughtfully. Lee stood, transfixed. It looked as though Georgie was concentrating very hard all the while staring into Billy's eyes. For her part, Billy didn't even flinch. After what felt like an eternity but could only have been a few moments, Georgie nodded and turned back to her plate.
"Alright, then. You're hired,"Georgie said before taking a big bite from her sandwich. For a moment, all Lee could do was stand there, her mouth hanging open, watching the two women eat their sandwiches. She quickly came back to her senses and crossed her arms in front of her.
"Georgie, you don't even know this woman!"
"I know all I need to know,"Georgie replied, continuing to eat.
"What? I... er, I mean... but you... you don't even know her name!"Lee exclaimed.
"Huh,"Georgie stopped, turning to Billy, "she does have a point there. What's your name, young lady?"
"BillyAnn Finnigan. Most folks just call me Billy, though,"Billy offered with her mouth still slightly full.
"Billy it is then,"Georgie replied, going back to her own sandwich.
"Ahh!"Lee threw her hands up in the air with exasperation. Georgie had always been a little bit on the eccentric side, but this took the cake. Another customer entered the diner and Lee was happy for the distraction from the two women at the counter. With the entrance of the latest customer, the lunch rush officially began. Lee was kept so busy running back and forth behind the counter that she couldn't keep tabs on Georgie and her new employee. All she could do was catch snippets of their conversation.
"...up in the mountains for bit, in a family cabin..."she heard Billy explaining at one point.
The next time she passed by she caught a bit of Georgie talking.
"... heavy lifting is part of the job, and it's hard work. That's why I won't hire any of those runts from the high school. We do all the washing for the local hotel and this here place..."
Lee continued hustling back and forth and shortly all the usual lunchtime customers were seated, orders taken and coffee poured. When she was finally able to rejoin Georgie and Billy, they were already headed to the door to put their coats back on. Lee was still mystified by Georgie's behavior and stood with her arms crossed in front of her chest.
"Guess I'll see you tomorrow then, Georgie?"Lee asked.
"Yup, maybe now I'll be on time,"Georgie replied, smiling up at her taller companion.
"Suppose I'll be seeing you tomorrow as well?"she said, looking up at the taller woman.
"Looks like you can count on it, Lee,"Billy replied with a quick grin. Lee couldn't help herself, she smiled back, much to her own frustration.
"Bye, Lee. Tell your Pops thanks,"Georgie said, opening the door to the cold air out on the street.
"Will do, Georgie,"Lee replied. Billy waved quickly and followed Georgie out of the diner. Lee turned back to the counter and grabbed the coffee pot off the warmer. She was still trying to process what had just happened when she looked down at the bills left behind by the two women who had just left. Georgie had left the same dollar tip that she always left, but Billy had left two dollars and fifty sense, almost thirty-five percent of her bill. Lee stood for a moment, staring at the money, before pocketing the tip.
She trusted Georgie, but who was this Billy woman? Lee shook her head, knowing that she needed to figure just that question out. Turning back to her customers she plastered on a smile and held up the coffee pot.
"Who needs a refill?"
For the next two weeks, like clockwork, Georgie and Billy would show up at the diner right at 11:30 and would be gone within forty-five minutes every day except Sunday, the only day the diner was closed. Lee barely had time to ask any more questions about Billy, but from what she observed, it was as if the two women who sat at the counter day in and day out had known each other all their lives. They were always chatting while eating their sandwiches. It drove Lee crazy not to be a part of the conversation, so curious was she about the newcomer. On the occasion that Lee would have a moment to spend with the two women, the conversation would turn to Lee. Billy asked about her childhood growing up in the small town just over the hill and across the bay from San Francisco. Georgie was always helpful in supplying funny and somewhat embarrassing stories of Lee's childhood.
"... and then..."Georgie was laughing, making it hard to tell the current story, "... and then Lee just looked up at old Mr. Peterson with her hands on her hips and said, 'well if you hadna put your house there, then I wouldna broke the window!' It was priceless!"
Billy tipped her head back and laughed a full belly laugh. Lee blushed profusely.
"Yeah, well, that time it wasn't all my fault,"Lee grumbled, remembering the taunts of her brother, telling her she was just a silly little butterfingers and that girls couldn't play baseball. She had shown him that day. The look on his face when she hit that ball through Mr. Peterson's window had almost been worth the extra chores her father had made her do around the diner to pay for the window to be replaced. Almost.
"That brother of yours, he always did egg ya on, didn't he?"Georgie commented, wiping the tears from her eyes.
"Yeah,"Lee replied, looking away from the women. She still missed him. Unconsciously she looked at the door, remembering the day the soldier had walked through the same door, quieting the usually bustling diner. He had doffed his hat and asked to speak to her father, a telegram held in his hand. Her heart had sped up, and she had grown cold. After speaking to her father the soldier had left quietly and her normally jovial father followed him to the door, turning the open sign to closed. For the first time in nearly twenty years, the diner had closed on a Thursday. That had been May 3rd, 1945. Five days before V-E Day. Just like that, Frank was gone. For good. Two and a half years later it still hurt to know he would never walk through that door again. Georgie must have sensed Lee's sad thoughts. She put her hand on the one Lee had resting on the counter.
"Frank was a good man, Lee. He's still missed,"Georgie said softly.
"Thanks Georgie,"Lee replied quietly, taking her eyes from the door. They landed on Billy, who's eyes had taken on their own far away look. When Billy's caramel colored eyes met her own green ones, Lee sensed a great deal of sadness that lay within the taller woman. The connection only lasted a moment; Billy broke eye contact and turned to Georgie.
"Um,"Billy started, clearing her throat, "don't you think we should be getting back to the store, Georgie?"
"I suppose we should,"Georgie sighed, standing up. "You take it easy, Lee. See you on Monday."
"Sure thing, Georgie,"Lee replied, watching the two women don their coats and make their way out of the diner. As she always did, Billy held the door for Georgie, then turned and waved to Lee with a smile. Lee smiled and waved back, watching the door close behind the two women.
As the day came to a close, there were only a few customers still sitting in the diner. During the weekdays, the diner was open from seven in the morning to four in the afternoon, closing for dinner. Saturdays, though, the store closed at three, giving those customers just enough time to come in for a late lunch before closing. Lee looked at the watch on her wrist and noticed that there was only a half an hour till closing. With a sigh of relief she grabbed a couple of the ketchup bottles and began putting them behind the counter.
"Lee!"she heard her Pops yelling from the back of the diner.
"Yeah?"she hollered back, gathering up more bottles.
Her father exited the back of the diner carrying a large linen bag over his shoulder. Her father wasn't a tall man, but where he lacked in height he made up in girth. It wasn't that he had mounds of fat on his body; he was just a very stout man. His arms were corded with muscles he had developed while lifting large amounts of food and from constantly working in the kitchen for so many years.
"Ms. Georgie and Billy must 'ave left this one be'ind on accident,"he said, placing the bundle near Lee's feet.
"Ok,"Lee said, looking down at the sack. Her father rolled his eyes.
"Would you take this to the cleaners, s'il vous plait?"he asked. Lee sighed.
"Sure thing, Pops,"Lee, grumbled, putting the bottles of ketchup down, "what about the rest of this mess?"
"Tut, is nothing! I will clean up while you are gone, cher,"her father said, waving his hands in the air as if by magic alone the diner would be clean upon her return.
"Whatever you say, Pops,"Lee said, smiling. She untied her apron and placed it on the counter before walking over to the coat tree and grabbing her coat, which was buried under the last of the customers' coats. After putting on her long coat she went back and grabbed the linen bag, grunting at the weight of the bag.
"What do ya got in here, Pops? Anvils?"Lee puffed.
"Is your counter rags and aprons. When were they cleaned last, eh?"her father replied, crossing his bulky arms over his chest.
"Yeah, yeah. I don't know,"Lee grumbled, pushing open the door with her behind, "be back in a little bit."
Lee trudged down the street, the cold October air biting at her skin. Halloween was just around the corner and the stores lining the main street were variously decorated to denote the coming holiday. Witches on broomsticks hung from awnings, ghosts popped out of doorways and little goblins poked their heads out from inside flowerpots. Lee smiled wistfully, wishing that she had time to decorate the diner as festively as the other business owners were able to. She rounded the corner, brining Georgie's Cleaners into view. Lee stopped dead in her tracks. The front windows of the cleaners were adorned with one of the most brilliant scenes of Halloween mischief that she had ever seen. There were children, running to and fro, trying to stay away from the witches flying through the air. A graveyard adorned one window in particular, complete with grave markers and zombie arms reaching skyward, desperate to make their way from the grave. Yet another window had an old, spooky house sitting upon a hill with a winding road. As Lee came closer to that particular window, she could just make out the faint shadows of what must have been ghosts floating through the windows of the house.
"Incredible, isn't it?"
Lee yelped and turned to see Georgie standing next to her, also admiring the paintings on the windows.
"Yes,"Lee replied, breathlessly, still quite shaken from the scare she had taken.
"I don't think the windows have ever looked this great,"Georgie continued as if she hadn't noticed that she had scared the life out of Lee. "I think it's even brought me more business."
"Did you do this?"Lee asked, turning back to the impressive artwork.
"Me?"Georgie scoffed, "heck no! I couldn't draw a circle if you asked me to!"
"Nope, it wasn't me. It was Billy,"Georgie supplied. Lee turned to her, mouth agape.
"Yup,"Georgie continued, "came in one morning, and there it was. Nearly scared the pants of me. Then I saw Billy walking up and she had paint stains on her hands. She tried to tell me she didn't know who had done it, but you know no one can keep secrets from me! She finally admitted to staying late one night and doin' it up like this."
Lee continued to look at the painting, finding more things hidden in the painting itself. Some of the kids in the painting bore a strong resemblance to some of the local children whose parents owned shops along Main Street. Georgie's little dog Jonah had even been zombie-fied in the painting. Unconsciously Lee began to smile.
"Well I think it's amazing,"Lee said quietly.
"And ya know what the best part is?"Georgie asked, a mischievous glint to her eyes.
"Billy says she mixes something special with the paint so it just peels right off when the holiday's over,"Georgie beamed. Lee chuckled. Georgie would be excited about how easy it was going to be to clean the windows.
"What's that you got there, Lee?"Georgie asked, nodding her head towards the sack Lee had dropped at her feet.
"Oh! It's some stuff we forgot to give you with the last pick up,"Lee replied, picking up the heavy sack and handing it to Georgie.
"Alright, thanks Lee,"Georgie said, turning to make her way back in to the shop.
"Hey Georgie?"Lee called out, causing the older woman to turn back, "is Billy still here?"
"Nope, she run off bout an hour ago to do some errands for me, don't expect her back to soon,"Georgie answered.
"Will you tell her I think the windows are great?"
"Sure will, short stuff."
And with that, Georgie left Lee alone in front of the store.
"They're beautiful,"Lee whispered to herself. "Wish I had this kind of talent."
Lee was about to leave when another face caught her eye. It was one of the specters floating near the house. It was a young woman, not much older than Lee's twenty-four years. The woman was ghostly pale, but that didn't hide her beauty. The intricacy with which she was painted was incredible. Billy had taken time painting this young woman. Lee reached out as if to touch the woman's face, then thought better of it, not wanting to mar the beauty of the painting.
"I wonder who this is,"Lee muttered. Taking a step back from the windows, Lee took in the scene one more time before leaving.
"You keep on surprising me, BillyAnn Finnigan,"Lee said, smiling. With that, she turned and started making her way back towards the diner. Unbeknownst to her, caramel colored eyes watched Lee's retreating form as she made her way around the corner and out of site. Billy moved out of the alley where she had been watching Lee's interaction with Georgie. Billy had seen the look of awe in Lee's eyes and that had brought a smile to her lips. Looking back at her handiwork, Billy's eyes were drawn to the same woman that had gotten Lee's attention. Billy walked up closer to the painting and put her finger on top of the painting, where the woman's heart would be.
"Oh Betty, I think you'd like Lee,"Billy whispered to the woman in the painting, "I know I do. And I think I may have a little surprise for her."
After spending a leisurely Sunday morning with her father, Lee decided to treat them to a matinee at the local theater. There was a Lucille Ball flick playing, and Lee's father had a fondness for the actress, so she pulled out some of her tips from the day before and they were off to the movies. After an enjoyable afternoon at the moves, Lee's father decided he wanted to make a quick stop by the diner.
"I just need to check on one little thing, Lee,"her father explained when Lee protested.
"But today is your only day off! We're not supposed to go anywhere near the diner,"Lee whined.
"It will only take a moment, cher,"her father stated with a tone that brokered no argument. As they neared the corner to they would need to turn onto Main Street, Lee heard someone calling out her father's name.
"Pete! The diner looks great!"someone yelled from across the street. Lee looked and saw John, the owner of the barbershop waving.
"Umm, merci?"Pete replied, tilting his head in question. As the two turned the corner they were faced with a mob of people standing in front of the diner, their voices combining in a symphony of sounds.
"What's going on, Pops?"Lee asked, alarm reaching her voice.
"I do not know,"Pete replied, moving quickly to get a look at his diner. As they drew closer, people words began to filter to them.
"I wonder who the artist is?"
"Look at that detail!"
"I think that's Pete right there, but he looks like a ghost!"
"And isn't that Lee? She's got fangs!"
Lee and her father reached the front of the diner and stopped abruptly. Before them on the large picture window was a painting of their diner, yet it was completely different. Gone was the cheerful façade. What replaced it was a ghoulish paradise for eating. Zombies lined up outside of the diner, trying to get in. Ghosts and vampires sat at booths just inside the windows. And standing behind the counter was Lee, hair flowing free and vampire fangs protruding from her lips. Lee blushed at the raised eyebrow on the painted version of her, knowing that was probably close to the very same look she had given Billy the day she had first arrived at the diner.
"Oh my,"she heard her father say, "that's me!"
She followed his gaze and saw that, indeed, he did look like a ghost, floating back in the kitchen. There were a few pots visible in the back, and they were boiling over with all kinds of nasty things.
"Lee, you know who has done this?"her father asked, waving his hands dramatically at the painting. Lee smiled to herself, thinking of Billy.
"Yeah Pops, yeah I do."
No matter how hard she tried, Lee was unable to get Billy to admit to having painted the windows during Halloween. When Lee would ask her about it, Billy would just smile enigmatically up at her and repeat the same thing over and over again.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Lee."
And every time, Lee would let out an exasperated sigh, followed by a chuckle from Georgie. October passed into November, which quickly descended into December. During Thanksgiving, new paintings had shown up on both Georgie's Cleaners and Lee Lee's Diner. Each had been quite distinctive, Georgie's displaying another scene of children at play, this time young pilgrims and Native Americans were depicted playing games of tag and hide and go seek, while adults worked together to provide a feast. Lee's curiosity was peeked once again as the same woman who had been a ghost in the Halloween painting had shown up as one of the pilgrims laying out food. Who was that woman? And why do I feel jealous of her? Lee found herself pondering that question almost as often as she found herself wondering why Billy wouldn't admit to her that she was the artist.
On the window of the diner, Billy had once again painted the diner, but this time the scene was one of giving. Someone must have told Billy about Pete's open door, open seat policy for Thanksgiving. Every year, Lee and her father kept the diner open on Thanksgiving, making it available for all those who had no where else to go. Pete would whip up a masterful feast and feed folks throughout the day at no cost.
"Thanksgiving is a 'appy tradition, you cannot pay for 'appiness!"he would declare whenever anyone would question him about why he did this every year. Lee figured Georgie had told Billy about the policy. What touched her most were the depictions of herself and her father. In the painting, her father was standing in front of the counter, a smile on his face and his arms waving about his head as if he were having an animated conversation with everyone in the room. It was so like her father. But what grabbed her most was the way that Billy had captured her. In the painting, she was sitting at the counter, talking to who could only be Georgie. There was so much joy in her face; it was hard for her to reconcile the fact that that was how Billy saw her.
And yet, no matter how she tried, she could not get Billy to admit to having done the paintings.
Lee looked down at her watch and noticed that it was getting close to 11:30. An unconscious smile crossed over her face before she caught herself. More often then not lately she had caught herself smiling at just the thought of seeing Billy. She had also caught herself straightening her apron and taking a quick glance in the window to make sure her hair wasn't falling out of its bun and hanging all over the place. She just laughed it off as a silly wish to get to know Billy better. But part of her knew there was something more there, but what that was, she just couldn't figure out.
Lee jumped, startled from her musings.
"Yeah Pops?"Lee called back, heading behind the counter to the ledge between the kitchen and the front.
"Will you go into the back and open up the door to the delivery man, I am up to my elbows in potatoes,"Pete hollered.
"Sure thing Pops,"Lee swept through the swinging door that would lead her into the kitchen and towards the back door. When she got to the door, she swung it open, and instead of facing the usual deliveryman, she was facing his fist. He had been about to knock once more, frustrated that he was being kept out in the cold December morning. Lee lost her balance and fell backwards, landing squarely on her behind. She grabbed her left eye, already beginning to feel pain.
"Mon Dieu!"Pete yelled loudly, "Lee! Sam! What have you done?!"
"I was knocking, and she threw open the door and... and..."Sam was cowering, frightened of the bulky man who was hurtling towards his fallen daughter. Lee groaned and tried to open her eye and was faced with a starburst of color. She quickly shut her eye again, deciding not to do that again for quite a while.
"What happened?"a new voice insisted. Lee looked up with her good eye and thought she recognized Billy bending down to her looking extremely concerned.
"I think I got knocked a good one, Billy,"Lee said, trying to laugh, but only managing to groan instead.
"Let me take a look at you, ok, darling?"Billy muttered, removing Lee's hand from her eye. Even through the pain, Lee took some pleasure in hearing Billy refer to her as darling. A small smile came to her lips but quickly disappeared when Billy's fingers hit some particularly tender flesh surrounding her eye.
"Looks like you're going to have one heck of a shiner, Lee,"Billy murmured, her finger tips playing along Lee's cheekbone, sending shivers down Lee's spine. "I need you to try to open your eye for me, Ok Lee?"
"Mmm... huh?"Lee asked, having been lost in the sensation of Billy's closeness.
"Try opening your eye for me,"Billy asked again. Lee slowly opened her left eye and almost immediately wanted to close it again.
"No, Lee, keep it open. I need to check it to see if there's anything wrong,"Billy commanded. Lee dutifully kept her eye open, Billy's face becoming clearer the longer she kept it open. As Billy came into focus, Lee could see the real concern in her eyes. For a moment, their eyes locked once again. Lee's breath caught in her throat and in that moment it was as if everyone else had drifted away and only she and Billy existed. She could feel Billy's hands still on her face and neck and raised her own hand to cover the one resting on her face.
"What happened Billy?"
The sound of Georgie's voice seemed to break the spell the two women had fallen into. Billy broke eye contact and dropped her hands to her lap.
"Looks like Lee went through a couple of rounds with a heavy weight champ,"Georgie observed, breaking the tension that had settled.
"How do you feel, mon petit cher?"Pete asked, kneeling down next to Lee.
"Like a hundredgrand, Pops,"Lee muttered.
"Don't you mean a million bucks?"Billy asked, smiling.
"Nope, I definitely don't feel like a million,"Lee replied, trying to get up off the floor.
"Here, let me help you,"Billy offered, putting her hand out for Lee to grab. Once she was standing, Lee blinked a few more times, then seemed to right herself.
"Looks like everything's working,"Lee announced, "though I think I'll have a sore behind for a while, too."
Everyone laughed, cutting the tension even further.
"Well, then, if all's well, then I'm ready for my sandwich!"Georgie announced, heading back out to the dining room. Billy smiled down at Lee.
"That's Georgie, always thinking with her stomach,"she said.
"Yeah,"was all Lee could reply, once again caught up in Billy's eyes.
"Umm... Lee? I'm sorry, but, umm... can you sign for the meat?"
Lee looked over at Sam, frowning. She stalked over to him and took the clipboard he was offering and scribbled her name.
"Thanks L-Lee,"Sam stammered, "I really am sorry about your eye."
"It's alright Sam, just be more careful next time,"Lee replied, pushing him out the door and closing it behind him. She took a deep breath, smoothed out her apron, and turned back to Billy. But she wasn't there. Lee looked around the kitchen, but Billy was nowhere to be seen. She made her way back out to the front of the diner, but found Georgie eating alone.
"Where'd Billy go, Georgie?"Lee asked.
"Said she forgot she had an errand to do and told me to tell ya to bag up her lunch to go today if ya could,"Georgie replied around the mouthful of tuna in her mouth.
Lee stood behind the counter, not sure what to think. Why had Billy taken off? Did she do something wrong?
"Don't worry none, short stuff,"Georgie offered, "she'll be back soon enough."
Lee looked at Georgie, who just winked at her. Sometimes she wondered if the old woman could read minds.
Lee was desperately searching the necklace she had been sure she was wearing that morning.
"Hey Pops? Have you seen Mama's necklace? The one you gave me after she died?"Lee yelled to her father who was sitting in the living room, reading.
"No, cher. Are you sure you were wearing it today?"he hollered back.
"Pretty sure,"she mumbled. Maybe it had fallen off when she was at the diner that day. She grabbed her warmest coat and threw it on, preparing herself to head out into the cold Christmas Eve air.
"Where are you going?"her father asked as she opened the front door.
"I'm just going to run down to the diner and see if it fell on the floor in the back,"Lee answered.
"But it's late,"her father protested.
"I know, but that necklace means a lot to me,"Lee replied, "I won't be able to sleep tonight if I don't know where it is."
Lee's father thought for a moment, then nodded his head.
"Just don't be long."Lee ran over and kissed him on the cheek.
Lee walked briskly down the street, deciding to take the shortcut that would take her buy (by) the theater. Her father swore it wasn't any quicker. Lee knew he purposely walked slower to make it look like it wasn't quicker. As she passed the theater she began thinking about Billy again. The taller woman hadn't left her thoughts for more than a few minutes ever since the day Sam had decked her. She knew something was happening between the two of them, and it both frightened and exhilarated her. She knew she had been different from the other girls in high school, knowing that she preferred the company of women to the company of men. But she kept this to herself. Having Georgie's grandson chase her around had been the perfect cover. In college, though, she had met some like-minded women and had even had a brief romantic relationship with her. Was this what was happening between her and Billy? Did Billy feel the same way about her? Lee decided that she would just have to wait and see what happened next. As she came closer to where she would need to turn on Main Street, Georgie's Cleaners came into view. Lee's brisk walk began to slow, then stop all together. There was a new painting on Georgie's windows. It was a beautiful winter wonderland, complete with snowmen and Christmas trees and children sledding down hills. There was a candy mountain, overflowing with chocolates and other goodies. There were even carolers singing under lamplight. One familiar caroler grabbed her attention. It was the same woman who had been the ghost and the pilgrim earlier that year. Lee found herself staring at this woman, willing her to share her secrets with her. As she was about to reach out and touch the woman, she heard a loud crunch followed by some very colorful language in a voice that had now become quite familiar. She pulled herself away from the painting and took off in a run towards the diner and towards the sounds that were still coming from that direction.
When she rounded the corner, she was faced with a very unhappy Billy holding pieces of a large lantern. Lee slowly made her way towards Billy. Upon hearing footsteps, Billy jerked her head up in surprise.
"Merry Christmas,"Lee offered.
"Back at ya,"Billy replied quietly.
"Looks like I caught you this time, huh?"Lee said, smiling. Billy looked sheepish and averted her gaze.
"I suppose you did,"she muttered.
"What happened?"Lee asked, gesturing to the broken lamp.
"Oh,"Billy said as if just realizing she was holding something, "I...uh, lost my footing on the stool and dropped the lamp."
"Well, we have a couple of those inside the diner, you know, in case the power goes out,"Lee supplied, "I mean, if you want to borrow one, that'd be alright."
"Sure, thanks,"Billy replied, still not looking Lee in the eye.
"C'mon then,"Lee said, gesturing for Billy to follow her into the diner.
"If you don't mind me asking, why are you out here so late?"Billy asked as Lee unlocked the door.
"I think I may have lost something this morning,"Lee replied flipping the light switch. With the darkness outside, she was able to get a full view of what Billy had painted so far. The diner looked incredible with snow on the roof and Santa and his reindeer flying high above. The storefront was lined with decorations and a small Christmas tree was in one corner of the diner overflowing with presents.
"It really is beautiful work, Billy,"Lee whispered, not taking her eyes off of the painting.
"Thank you, that means a lot,"Billy replied, just as quietly. Lee shook her head, breaking herself out of her reverie.
"Let me get you that lamp,"Lee said, turning to look for the stash of emergency lamps. Before she could get far, Billy grabbed her arm. Lee turned back, a question in her eyes.
"I was actually already finished, I was just checking to make sure I hadn't made any mistakes,"Billy confessed.
"Oh,"Lee replied. They stood there looking at each other for a moment.
"I guess I should go, then,"Billy said, turning to leave.
"No!"Lee shouted, startling them both. "I mean, you're here, you can...um... help me look for my lost necklace."
"Alright,"Billy readily agreed.
"C'mon, then. I think I may have lost it back here,"Lee said, taking Billy's hand, guiding her into the back of the diner.
"What does it look like?"Billy asked.
"It has a thin gold chain with a tiny emerald pendant on it,"Lee said, bending over to check the floor.
"Sounds pretty,"Billy said, also looking at the floor.
"It was my mother's,"Lee replied. They continued to look for a while and were both about to give up when Billy spotted something shiny on the floor. She bent down to pick it up.
"I think I found it,"Billy said triumphantly holding up the necklace.
"Oh! You are a life saver, Billy!"Lee exclaimed, taking the necklace from her. "This is one of the few treasures I still have of my mothers. My father bought this for her in Paris before they came here. He said it reminded him of the color of her eyes."
"I guess you have her eyes then,"Billy remarked. Lee looked up at her and smiled.
"Yeah, I did,"she replied. Without thinking, Lee reached out and pulled Billy in for a hug. Usually Lee wasn't much one for hugs, but something inside her compelled her to take the woman before her into her arms. Billy put her arms around Lee in return.
"What's this for?"Billy asked softly.
"Because I wanted to,"Lee replied, her face buried in the material of Billy's jacket. They stood that way for a moment. Lee took a deep breath. "Billy?"
"Who's the woman you paint on Georgie's window?"Lee asked. She could feel Billy stiffen in her embrace and pulled away. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have –"
"No,"Billy said, putting a finger over Lee's lips, "I'll tell you who she is. But first, I just have to do this."
Billy removed her fingers and replaced them with the softest lips Lee had ever felt. Lee lifted her arms back up to caress Billy's back as the kiss began to deepen. She could feel Billy's tongue caress her bottom lip and she open her mouth to let it enter into her mouth. Billy's arms tightened their hold on Lee as she thoroughly explored the contours of Lee's mouth. They continued to kiss for a while longer, slowly bringing the kiss to an end with small nips and finally pulling themselves apart. Lee looked up into Billy's eyes and saw the same mixture of desire and love that she knew had to be reflected in her own eyes.
"C'mon, I've got a little story to tell you,"Billy said, taking Lee's hand, leading her to the front of the diner and to one of the booths. She gestured to one of the seats and Lee sat down, Billy taking the opposite side.
"The woman is... was, my first lover, Betty,"Billy started bluntly. Lee was surprised at first, but then the paintings came back to her and she could see the love that was reflected with each brush stroke. Billy continued. "We were in the Army together. Well, not technically the army, we were nurses stationed in Hawaii. Most of the girls at the base just called us the Bee Bee's, you know, for Billy and Betty? We were inseparable. We thought we had the perfect assignment. The weather was gorgeous; there really wasn't much for us to do. What could be more perfect than being assigned to Pearl Harbor?"
"Oh God,"Lee gasped.
"On December 7th, my life changed. The attack was incredible. Bombs were exploding at the docks and the airfields, almost immediately wounded were being transported to the infirmary. As we were working, someone noticed that Betty was missing. I started to panic, she had been sent out to one of the airfields earlier that day with inoculations for the men. As the day wore on and the wounded and dead began to pile up, my worry continued to grow. That evening, as I was about to pass out from exhaustion, my commanding officer pulled me aside and asked me to follow her. I had no idea where we were going and I was too tired to notice the bodies piled up in the hallway. We came to one gurney in particular and stopped. My officer told me she was sorry, but she needed me to identify one of the bodies brought in from an airfield. Without thinking I tore the sheet away the body, and there was Betty. Battered and broken. Dead. I feinted. I wasn't sure how long I was out, but apparently it was long enough for someone to move me to a hospital bed. I panicked at first, not knowing where I was, until another nurse came in and reassured me that I was safe. It was then that I started to cry."
Lee's eyes were welling up and she could tell that Billy was having a hard time sharing this story. She reached across the table and took one of Billy's hands into her own.
"After I had calmed down, I realized I needed to get back to work. That's what Betty would have done. So I went back to work, caring for the wounded, preparing the dead to be transported. Betty's body was transported back to her family and I was left all alone on the island. When it came time to sign up to be either sent home or sent over sees, I opted to come home. I had seen enough of war. So I came back home here, to California. My family owned property up in the Sierra's and so I took off and spent a few years up there, trying to connect back to the world I thought I knew. That's when I started painting. It was as if something possessed me, driving me to paint. When I felt ready to come back to the world, I hitched my way up here and was just planning on passing through when I stopped at a little diner called Lee Lee's."
Lee smiled a watery smile and Billy returned it to her.
"As soon as I saw you behind the counter, I knew I wanted to get to know you,"Billy continued, "and as time went on, I knew I was feeling something more for you. I just didn't know how to tell you."
"Billy-" Lee started.
"No, hold on, I want to finish,"Billy pleaded, "the only way I could figure out to tell you was by painting-"
"Me, wasn't it?"Lee interrupted.
"Yes, how did you know?"Billy asked, eyes wide.
"The way you painted me as the vampire, so full of passion. The joy on my face in the Thanksgiving painting. And here,"Lee pointed to the tiny portrait of herself, "there is so much love reflected in my face, how could I not see it?"
"I just wanted you to know how I felt,"Billy shyly continued, "I can't afford to get you something really nice, and I really wanted to get you something special for Christmas. So I thought I would show you the only way I knew how."
"You don't need to buy me something, Billy,"Lee answered, "just love me as much as I have come to love you."
Billy's eyes lit up.
"I had hoped,"Billy said.
"Well you hoped right, sweetheart,"Lee said, squeezing Billy's hand. "C'mon, I'll help you get all that stuff out front cleaned up."
Together, Lee and Billy gathered up all the paints, brushes and the stepladder Billy had brought along. After locking up, the two women headed silently over to Georgie's Cleaners. Billy had been staying in the loft just above the cleaners. Lee followed as Billy unlocked the door to the stairs leading up to the tiny loft. After locking the door behind them, they traveled up the stairs into Billy's loft.
"That all goes into the corner over there,"Billy indicated a part of the loft that was covered by a drop clothe. They put their things down, then turned to face each other.
"I guess I should be leaving,"Lee murmured, looking into Billy's eyes.
"Don't,"Billy asked quietly.
"Don't what?"Lee pushed, needing to hear what Billy wanted.
"Don't leave. Stay with me tonight,"Billy pleaded, placing her hand on Lee's cheek.
"Yes what?"Billy playfully asked. Lee smiled.
"Yes, I'll stay with you tonight."
Billy leaned down and captured Lee's lips in a passionate kiss. Both women battled for dominance, neither willing to give up control. As Lee's hands began to wander up Billy's back, Billy began to unbutton the heavy coat that Lee was wearing. Trembling fingers fumbled with the buttons and Lee stepped back, pointing (to) the bed.
"Sit down,"she commanded. Billy took a seat on the edge of the bed, anticipation and hunger written across her features. Lee groaned as she began to unbutton her coat. Once finished with that she slipped it off and let it fall to the floor. She took a step closer to Billy, now reaching for the buttons of her blouse. Once she finished unbuttoning that, she slid it from her shoulders and dropped it onto the floor to join her coat. Unable to sit still any longer, Billy kneeled in front of Lee, running her hands up her legs and up the side of her skirt. She found the zipper on the side and slowly unzipped Lee's skirt, letting that drop to the floor as well. Now Lee was only clad in her bra and stockings. Billy lifted one of Lee's feet to rest on her knee, undoing the strap to her shoe and pulling it off. She did the same with the other foot. For her part, Lee was having a hard time catching her breath. All of the sensations were incredibly overwhelming. She began pulling on Billy's clothes, wanting to feel her body. Billy stood and once again took Lee's lips into a heated kiss. Billy pulled her shirt from her trousers and in her frustration she just pulled he shirt apart, buttons popping and flying across the room. Lee reached down and undid the buckle on Billy's pants and opened the top button and zipper. Billy shimmied out of her trousers, leaving her clad only in an undershirt. Billy reached behind Lee unclasping he(r) bra then reached down to pull down Lee's stockings. As she stood back up, Billy pulled the undershirt up over her head. Billy and Lee faced each other, both now completely naked.
"God, you're beautiful,"Billy murmured, taking in all of Lee's body.
"And you are gorgeous,"Lee replied. Billy took Lee's hand and led her to the bed. They lay down together; both groaning when skin contacted skin. They began to kiss again, only this time, more slowly. Hands began to wander, caresses lengthened. Billy began to tease one of Lee's painfully erect nipples. Lee groaned at the new sensation. Billy began to nibble her way down Lee's neck, alternately kissing and lightly biting Lee's neck and collarbone. When she reached Lee's breasts, she began by licking in large circles that got smaller and smaller until Billy's tongue finally came to rest on her nipple. Billy began flicking her tongue back and forth over the nipple causing Lee to gasp out loud and thrust her hips up into Billy.
"Please,"Lee pleaded. Billy answered by taking the whole nipple into her mouth and gently sucking it. Lee brought her hand up to hold Billy's head in place, enjoying the sweet torture immensely. As Billy lavished attention to her breasts with her mouth she could feel Billy's hand begin to move across her stomach to play in the tawny thatch of hair at the apex of her thighs. Billy began to suck in earnest as her hand slipped into the abundant wetness that lay between Lee's thighs.
"Oh!"Lee exclaimed as Billy began to tease her highly sensitive nub. She could feel her hips begin to move in time with Billy's motions. Billy reached lower and with one long thrust imbedded herself inside Lee. Both women moaned at the feeling. Billy began to slowly thrust in and out of Lee, bringing her fingers nearly all the way out, only to thrust them back inside. Lee's hips began to match Billy's thrusts in earnest and soon she felt herself nearing the edge. When she felt Billy bring her thumb up to her nub, it pushed her over the edge. Lee cried out in pleasure, thrusting her hips one more time.
Billy pulled her fingers slowly out of Lee once she had once again relaxed. Instead of being lethargic after such an incredible experience, Lee pounced on Billy, pinning her underneath her with a heated kiss. Lee thrust her tongue inside Billy's mouth, then just as quickly pulled it out and began licking her way down Billy's body. Billy's hands locked themselves in Lee's hair, guiding her to where she needed her the most. Lee hovered just above the glistening wetness before her.
"I love you, BillyAnn,"Lee whispered quietly before descending upon her lover.
"I love...oh! I love you, too,"Billy whimpered as she felt Lee run her tongue along the length of her sex. Lee could tell that Billy was close and that tonight was not the night to go slow. There would be plenty of time for slow later. She focused her attention on the distended nub at the top of Billy's sex, sucking it into her mouth and flicking it back and forth with her tongue!
"Lee! Inside! Please!"Billy cried out, her hold on Lee's hair getting stronger. Lee brought her hand up and in one swift motion entered her. That was all Billy needed to be pushed over the top. Lee could feel Billy's sex clenching her fingers over and over with her release. Once Billy's grip on her hair loosened, Lee placed one more kiss on Billy's sex, then climbed up to lay next to her lover.
"Mmm,"Billy hummed, kissing Lee slowly. Billy reached down and grabbed the blankets and pulled them up over the two women. They snuggled in together, Lee laying her head on Billy's shoulder.
"Goodnight, BillyAnn,"Lee murmured against Billy's skin.
"Goodnight, Lee,"Billy quietly replied.
"What was that?"Billy asked, cracking one eye open.
"My full name. Lee is short for Aurélie."
"It's a beautiful name,"Billy replied, once more. "Goodnight, then, Aurélie."
Snuggled together, both women drifted off to sleep.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
"What the hell?!"Lee gasped after being torn from her sleep by a loud banging on the door to Billy's loft.
"Someone's apparently at the door,"Billy replied dryly.
"'Ello? Billy?! 'Ave you seen my daughter?"
"Fer cryin' out loud, Pete. It's five in the morning!"Georgie yelled from the other side of the door.
"I can't find my daughter, Georgie!"
"Hold on a sec there. Hey Billy?"Georgie called out.
"Is Lee up there with you?"
"Good. See, Pete? She's fine. She's with Billy!"
Lee could hear her father grumble on the other side of the door, but the grumbling grew quieter as the man apparently left the stairwell.
"Sorry bout that ladies, I tried to stop him!"
"It's alright, Georgie,"Billy replied.
"Well, Merry Christmas then, I'll see y'all at the diner in a little bit!"
Billy and Lee waited until they heard Georgie's footsteps completely disappear before breaking out into laughter.
Ok, now for the fun part!
Kiss, Hugs, Snickers, Chuckles, Treasures, Mounds, Butterfinger, 100 Grand, Crunch, Symphony, KitKat, Runts, Chunky, 5th Avenue, Goobers, Starburst, Lifesaver, Zero, Tootsie Roll, Nips
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